Summer is bursting with new life. Wildflowers are blooming, pollinators are buzzing, and all around us animals are raising their young. This offers a chance for some great wildlife sightings, like fawns in a meadow or fox pups at play. Sometimes we also come across young birds — newly hatched babies or fledglings — out of their nest, and want to help.
Here’s a step-by-step guide on what to do if you find a baby bird:
1. Check for injury. First, determine if the bird is injured. Young birds can look helpless and fragile, but this does not mean they’re hurt. Look for obvious signs of injury, like blood. If the bird is clearly injured, consult a wildlife rehabilitator (see No. 5). Otherwise, continue to No. 2.
2. Figure out how young the bird is. This is important to assess, so you’ll know what to do next.
• Hatchlings: Newly hatched birds have their eyes closed and only a few wisps of downy feathers. Hatchlings are not ready to leave the nest.
• Nestlings: Nestlings have their eyes open. Their wings are covered in little tubes, which protect their growing feathers. Nestlings are also not ready to leave the nest.
• Fledglings: Fledglings are fully feathered. They hop, walk, flutter, and have already taken their first flight. Fledglings have left the nest, but their parents are probably close by and paying careful attention.
3. If you’ve found a hatchling or nestling, look for its nest. When you find the nest (which is probably very close by), simply place the bird back inside. It’s a myth that bird parents will reject their young if they’ve been touched by a human. Most birds have a poor sense of smell, and will not notice your scent on their baby.
4. If you’ve found a fledgling, the best thing to do is to leave it alone. The vast majority of “abandoned” birds are actually healthy fledglings whose parents are keeping close watch nearby. This fledgling stage is a natural part of a bird’s life. If the bird is in immediate danger (for instance, if it’s on a road or sidewalk), move it to a nearby bush or very low tree branch and let the parents take it from there.
5. If the bird is clearly injured, consult a professional. Do not try to raise a wild bird by yourself! Caring for wild birds requires special training, and it’s against the law to do so without a license. If you need help with an injured bird or aren’t sure what to do, contact a local wildlife rehabilitator. You can find a list of licensed wildlife rehabilitators on N.H. Fish and Game’s website at www.wildlife.state.nh.us/wildlife/rehabilitators.html