SHOULD YOU DO IF YOU FIND A BABY BIRD?
Q: What should I do if I find a baby bird on the ground? I have seen two in our neighborhood recently that were in danger of being run over by a car or caught by a dog. Is there some group that takes care of homeless birds?
A: This question and ones like it are common during spring and early summer. My answer is a simple one. In most instances the right response is to leave the bird alone. Exceptions arise, but more often than not you do more harm than good by getting involved in a rescue attempt of a little bird.
Exceptions for intervening in a baby bird sighting include removing it from a road where it could get run over (consider your own safety first in regard to traffic). A second reason is to rescue it from an overfed pet dog or cat that is responding to a kill instinct not based on hunger. In either case, simply pick up the bird and release it nearby, and in the second instance put the pet inside. The oft-stated belief that if you touch a baby bird its parents will abandon it has little substance. I know someone who puts recognition bands on dozens of baby bluebirds each year, yet the parents continue to care for them. Abandoning a baby simply because another animal touched it would not be a particularly adaptive response.
The reasons not to rescue a baby bird are far more numerous than are the reasons to do so. A little bird could be fluttering around on the ground because it attempted flight too early and launched itself prematurely. It may be being watched from the trees by its parents who are prepared to teach it to feed. Meanwhile, the parents may be trying to guard against predators that might harm the helpless baby while it is learning to fly. Many people and pets have experienced the wrath of a blue jay or mockingbird protecting its grounded young.
Leaving a baby bird alone after an initial rescue may seem unacceptable to some people because it provides potential for further exposure to a world of predators, cars, and other hazards. But your continued involvement in the process will probably not benefit the species nor, unless you are really good at bird-raising, the individual bird. Plus, for most U.S. birds a permit is required for keeping them in captivity.
But another reason, an ironic one to be sure, is that you might keep a baby bird alive for longer than the parents intended. The bird may be helpless for a reason. Maybe it was intentionally ejected from the nest by the parents or a sibling. Birds have a variety of strategies to deal with limited food resources. One of them is to feed and raise fewer young than the number of eggs they lay. So, in "helping" a baby bird, you may not be fulfilling the preferences of the parents who have assessed that they have too many mouths to feed. They may have intentionally ejected, or allowed a sibling to eject, the baby from the nest.
The act of nest siblicide, the killing of a brother or sister, has been documented for some bird species. Siblicidal birds are not cannibals. They do not eat their brothers and sisters, they just kill them, or force them from the nest, which results in the death of the rejected bird. Siblicide has been documented in eagles, egrets, pelicans, and other large birds, and some smaller species may also force their nest mates to the ground before they are ready.
of any animal species, whether we judge them as cooperative or cruel,
are generally those behaviors with the highest probability of passing
an individual's genes on to the next generation. The next time you see
a baby bird that's too young to fly, it may not represent an accident
but a deliberate act condoned by the parents. If you would feel better
rescuing the baby from an immediate danger, do so. But leave the bird's
ultimate fate up to nature.