COLLEGE STATION, Sept. 18, 2008 – It’s probably happened to you: You’re walking down the sidewalk, you hear a faint chirping sound, and you look down to see a plump baby bird staring up at you and you think that a cute new pet has fallen right into your lap.
But wildlife experts have three words of advice: leave it alone.
“Take pictures, enjoy them, admire them, but don’t mess with them,” says Teresa Shisk-Saling, a veterinary technician at the College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences at Texas A&M University. “The absolute worst thing you can do is pick it up, take it home and try to make it a pet.”
Touching a bird is a bad idea for several reasons. Parasites, salmonella and other bacterial diseases can all be picked up from wildlife, and although birds are not typically known for biting, they can do some damage with their beaks.
In addition, a well-intentioned animal lover may only do more harm than good by moving the bird. The most common reason a young bird ventures out of the nest is because it is fledging, and human interference does not help.
“It is a teenager, and it’s learning how to fly and be on its own,” Shisk-Saling says.
“You may see it and think it’s by itself, but chances are mom and dad are real close by keeping an eye on it—and you’re getting in the way.”
The only exception to the hands-off rule is if the bird is injured or in obvious danger, such as being stranded in the middle of the road.
“If it is bright, alert, and chirping, it is not hurt,” Shisk-Saling says.
However, if the animal shows none of these signs, it should be put in a dark, quiet and warm place, such as a box, and taken to a veterinarian or wildlife specialist. Shisk-Saling cautions rescuers not to feed the bird because it can cause complications, and the bird may already have a digestive tract injury.
“If it can’t wait a couple of hours to be fed correctly, it is probably not going to make it anyway,” Shisk-Saling says.
Occasionally, while moving around in the nest, a baby bird will stumble over the edge, or high winds and rain can knock a nest out of a tree, she adds. If this is the case, Shisk-Saling says that some assistance can be given to the animal.
“You can put it back in the nest, but if the nest is too far up, call and get advice from a vet or wildlife expert in your area,” Shisk-Saling says.
“It is also important to keep in mind that some birds pick up their young and carry them back to the nest, and the parents are not going to abandon the young bird.”
Another way to keep these treetop critters safe is to minimize their predators. Some types of birds, such as mockingbirds, are good at defending their offspring against predators. Others are not, and cat wounds are a common injury seen in wild birds.
Cats should be kept indoors, especially during spring and early summer. If your cat does venture outside, put a bell on its collar to warn baby birds that cannot move quickly.
Shisk-Saling says that being educated on how to handle—or not handle—wildlife will benefit both you and the animal. “If a baby bird does stumble into your path, simply enjoy its chirp without thoughts of taking it home,” she adds.
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