Back off that bird - why helping abandoned chicks could do more harm than good

Back off that bird - why helping abandoned chicks could do more harm than good

Back off that bird - why helping abandoned chicks could do more harm than good

First published in News

Spring is in full swing; trees are heavy with the heady scent of blossom and garden birds seem to have taken on round-the-clock singing duties.

It is at this time of year that the babies start to appear too, infant mammals such as squirrels, mice and voles and the occasional baby hedgehog.

But it is the plight of helpless fledgling birds that can cause us consternation, when discovered seemingly far from their nest, abandoned, alone and teetering on the edge of disaster.

Remember though, these baby robins, finches, thrushes, tits and starlings are far more resilient than it may first appear.

And this year, wildlife charities are calling for the public to ‘back away from baby birds’ in a bid to stop us stepping in to help – and in most cases doing far more harm than good.

To turn your back on a baby bird may seem to require a heart of stone, these pitiful balls of fluff with their wispy plumage and plaintive calls can appear the very epitome of vulnerability.

But the RSPB advises that doing nothing is actually the best course of action.

RSPB wildlife adviser Richard James explains: “Just before baby birds are ready to tentatively extend a wing, wiggle a tail feather and take flight for the first time, they leave their nest.

“These youngsters may spend a few days scurrying around the ground until they are fully fledged and able to fly.

“It’s vital that people resist the urge to intervene – these baby birds may look cute and helpless but this is a natural part of the bird’s development, so keep your distance and step away.”

Baby birds will quite naturally spend a few days mooching around the flower beds, before they make the giant leap into the world of flight and independence, and far from abandoning their offspring, parent birds are usually discreetly watching them nearby.

Therefore, stepping in to help baby birds can significantly reduce their chance of long-term survival.

Adam Grogan, senior scientific officer for the RSPCA – which every spring receives thousands of fledglings handed in by the public who misguidedly believe they have been abandoned – explains: “Most of these birds are not orphans and would have had a better life in the wild. Unless a baby bird is clearly a nestling, or is a fledgling that is injured or in immediate danger, it is best to leave them alone.”

That said, there are certain situations where stepping in can be a real help to fledglings and nestlings, especially if they are in immediate danger – if you discover an injured baby bird, you should contact the RSPCA as soon as possible.

Also, if a baby bird is discovered on a busy road or path, the RSPB recommend that it should be picked up and moved to a safer place nearby, but this must be in chirping distance of where the bird was originally found – this will enable parents to quickly locate their offspring.

Pets can represent another problem, if your cat or dog is hungrily eyeing-up a fledgling, it is advised to keep them inside for a few days, specifically around dusk and dawn.

A number of baby birds will fall from the nest well before they are ready to fledge, and these scrawny, featherless, nestlings with giant-eyes and gaping mouths will need immediate help.

If you know exactly which nest the bird has fallen from, the RSPB advises placing it back if safe to do so.

Do remember though, nature is red in tooth and claw and some of these nestlings, if they are unhealthy or dying, will have been ejected by parents on purpose.

So despite what our hearts may be telling us, if you do come across a seemingly abandoned chick that is not in immediate pain or danger... back off that bird!

Comments (3)

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5:24pm Sun 15 Jun 14

whataboutthat says...

Hello Kitty (sorry)...
Hello Kitty (sorry)... whataboutthat
  • Score: 0

9:36pm Sun 15 Jun 14

Sir Beachy Head says...

I agree. I've been a pornithologist for years and know my tits from my blackbirds. The bird in the photo here is a Wheatear and quite a rare sight.

If you want to do your bit for your local bird population then don't buy a cat and if you get the chance make a neighbours cat vanish.
I agree. I've been a pornithologist for years and know my tits from my blackbirds. The bird in the photo here is a Wheatear and quite a rare sight. If you want to do your bit for your local bird population then don't buy a cat and if you get the chance make a neighbours cat vanish. Sir Beachy Head
  • Score: 1

6:21am Tue 17 Jun 14

Phixer says...

If only we could follow RSPCA advice for our human offspring.
If only we could follow RSPCA advice for our human offspring. Phixer
  • Score: 0

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