When to Help Baby Garden Birds

By garden birds we mean the birds most commonly found in your garden such as Sparrows, Blackbirds, Starlings, Tits, Robins etc, including corvids such as Crows, Magpies and Jays, as well as Woodpigeons and Collared Doves.

Although often seen in the garden, the nesting habits of feral pigeons are different as they were originally coast/cliff nesting birds. See this post for advice if the baby is a feral pigeon.

 

What are the issues? #

Babies of the species discussed here leave the nest before they can fly so rescues receive very high numbers of calls about them every year. Most don’t need rescuing but there are important exceptions to this rule.

 

When to rescue #

Bird has been caught by a cat or dog
Any bird caught by a predator will need to be checked for injuries and given antibiotics. Bacteria on the cat’s teeth can cause fatal septicaemia if they get into the bloodstream.

Any bird with an obvious injury
Such as a dropped wing, leg injury or obvious wound. The bird will need specialist treatment and rehabilitation.

A young collared dove with weak legs and/or sheathed feathers

A calcium deficient collared dove
A calcium deficient collared dove

Collared doves aren’t native to the UK. They naturally breed all year round but babies hatched in autumn and winter don’t get enough vitamin D to process calcium, leading to a calcium deficiency which manifests itself as a rickets-like problem with the legs and poorly developed feathers. These babies will not survive without help.

Both parents have been killed
If you know for sure that both parents are dead, the babies will need to be rescued. Some species will survive with one parent – contact a rescue for advice in this situation.

A woodpigeon with growths on its feet and round its beak
Young woodpigeons are particularly prone to suffering with a bird pox virus which causes round growths to appear on their face, legs and feet. Although there is no treatment, supportive care can help them through it.

 

When to take other action #

A hatchling out of the nest

A starling hatchling
A starling hatchling

A baby this young will not survive long out of the nest. They will either be taken by a predator or die of cold as they rely on the body heat of their parents or siblings to keep warm. If at all possible, the baby should be returned to the nest. If this is not possible, they will need some help from a rescue.

A nestling out of the nest

A nestling blackbird
A nestling blackbird

These babies should be returned to the nest if possible. If not, making a makeshift nest and placing it in the same tree/bush might also work or, if the baby is developed enough to perch, pop them on to a branch. The parents should find them from their cheeping noises but if they do not return to the baby within about an hour, contact a rescue for advice.

The nest has been destroyed
If the nest of some fledgling birds is destroyed the babies can likely be left alone, just keep an eye on them and move them up into a bush or tree if needed. If the babies are at hatchling or nestling stage making a makeshift nest and placing it in the same tree/bush might work but do keep a close eye on the situation to check if the parents return to the new nest. If the parents do not return to the baby within about an hour, contact a rescue for advice.

A fledgling in danger from a cat, cars or any other threat

Hatchlings and nestlings should be returned to the nest as detailed above. Rescues get many calls each year about fledglings who the caller is worried may be caught by a cat. It isn’t practical, legal or ethical to take in young birds just in case they get harmed. In this situation, keep cats indoors (and ask your neighbours to do the same) and place the baby somewhere safe such as a bush or low tree branch. Leaving the nest before they can fly is normal and they should have mastered flying within a few days. There’s more on this here. 

A fledgling blackbird.
A fledgling blackbird.

When to leave alone #

A fledgling bird which is not injured and not in immediate danger
As mentioned above, leaving the nest before they can fly is normal for these species and they should have mastered flying within a few days. Just keep pets indoors as much as possible and let the baby get used to using their wings. There’s more on this here.

An apparently abandoned nest of baby pigeons
Once the babies get to about a week old and start to grow feathers, they no longer need to be ‘brooded’ by the parents to stay warm. Pigeons only feed their babies 4-6 times a day so you won’t see them flitting back and forth frequently as you would many other species. Both parents are involved in raising the babies and both can feed them so it would be very unusual for them to be totally abandoned. There’s more on this here.

Finding Help #

You can find details of rescues in your area by searching our directory. If you're unsure whether to intervene or you have difficulty finding a rescue who can help, we have information about sources of bespoke help. We also have articles with detailed, practical advice about capturing an animal, providing short term care, contacting a wildlife rescue, and getting the animal to them.

Updated on May 28, 2024