RSPCA advice on what to do if you find a sick, injured or abandoned baby bird this spring
The RSPCA says it is braced for a 'flood' of orphaned, sick and injured baby birds this spring - prompting it to issue fresh advice to those who may come across a chick by itself in the coming weeks.
Last year, wildlife centres cared for nearly 3,000 'orphaned' baby birds picked up by well-meaning people but the charity says it believes many were not orphans and may have been better left in the wild.
At the height of lockdown, the RSPCA also took around five inquires every hour at peak times from worried callers about young wild birds in trouble.
The majority of the almost 9,000 inquiries received in 2020 about baby birds came between May and July with inquiries peaking in June. While London led with 746 calls, followed by Kent in second with 395, Warwickshire had 55 calls, Worcestershire 72, and the West Midlands 372.
As staff gear up for a hectic bird breeding season, which will inevitably lead to more reports of very young birds perceived to be in trouble, animal welfare experts have produced some fresh advice and a new downloadable guide people can follow should they come across a baby bird by itself in their garden or whilst out on a walk.
The majority of pleas for help from the RSPCA ask for advice in caring for fledgings, which are older baby birds starting to fly. The charity also took 1,413 calls last year about very young baby birds, called nestlings.
Nestlings, which have no feathers or only a few, will not survive without the protection of the nest, says the charity, and so where possible nestlings should be re-nested and left in the wild.
The very new babies should not be handled unless absolutely necessary, anyone picking them up should wear sturdy gloves whilst refraining from giving them food or water and if the baby is warm, active and vocal and has come out of a visible nest attempts can often be made to put the baby back. Instructions for this, depending on the circumstances, can be found on the RSPCA website.
When it comes to fledglings - which have all or most of their feathers - the RSPCA says they will brave leaving the nest just before they can fly meaning it is not unusual to see these baby birds on the ground.
People who come across a fledgling by itself, that doesn't appear sick or injured, are advised to keep pets away, ensure the baby isn't in a position of danger, leave the baby where it was found or in a very nearby safe place and watch out for the potential return of its parents.
Even healthy fledgings who have already been picked-up and perhaps put into a box, can still be successfully returned to their parents if they're taken back and left in a sheltered spot a short distance from where they were first collected.
RSPCA’s Scientific Officer Evie Button said: “Our wildlife centres are now on high alert as the baby bird season kicks off. As well as handling thousands of calls - around 9,000 - last year, more than 5,400 orphaned, injured or sick young birds were brought into our four specialist centres. That’s a lot of round-the-clock hand-feeding, monitoring and rehabilitation of all types of young birds, from cygnets, sparrows and swallows to guillemots, goshawks and gulls!
“It’s wonderful that people want to do the best for our wildlife, but sometimes it’s difficult to know when to intervene and when to hold back. It is really important to ensure it is only those that really need help that are brought in, and in most cases, the best thing you can do for them is to help them stay in the wild using methods like re-nesting.
"If in doubt, our new, downloadable guides - one for fledglings and one for nestlings - are full of advice and can help to identify whether the young bird is a fledgling - which unless sick or injured, is likely to survive outside the nest without human intervention - or a younger, more vulnerable nestling, which will probably need extra help.”
Follow the RSPCA's new guides for both fledglings and nestlings here.