Animal charity the RSPCA has published advice on when to intervene and when to leave well alone after reports of baby birds found away from the nest soar.
Calls from concerned animal-lovers have been flooding into the RSPCA this spring, with 1,472 reports already received so far in 2018.
The RSPCA’s wildlife centres care for over a thousand ‘orphaned’ fledglings each year, with this their busiest period. During the spring baby bird boom, many are picked up by well-meaning people, but often these birds are not orphans and would have been better off if they had been left in the wild.
To help people identify if the baby bird has been injured, separated from their mum, or even orphaned, the animal charity has produced a useful printable step-by-step guide explaining the types of situations where the baby birds might genuinely need help or when the young bird is purely exhibiting natural behaviour, in which case it is better to leave well alone.
In 2016, the RSPCA’s Wildlife Centres admitted a total of 7,910 nestling, fledgling and juvenile birds, rising to 8,845 in 2018 (11.8% increase), with the top five species being herring gull, mallard duck, wood pigeon, blackbird, and feral pigeon.
RSPCA’s Wildlife Officer Llewelyn Lowen says: “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.
“The first step is to identify whether the young bird is a nestling or fledgling. Nestlings are baby birds that have no feathers, or very few. Because they will not survive long outside the protection of the nest, these very young birds should be taken to a vet, or a local wildlife rehabilitator. If neither is available, the RSPCA’s emergency line can be reached on 0300 1234 999. We also provide advice on how to safely catch, handle and care for the nestling until it can be taken to an expert.
“Fledglings on the other hand have all or most of their feathers and leave the nest just before they can fly. Unlike nestlings they can also perch, hop and walk. If one is seen away from the nest, it should be left alone and watched from a distance for up to two hours to ensure the parents are returning. It is likely the parents are nearby and will still be feeding the bird. We advise never to try to return a bird to the nest as this may disturb the other young birds and may be illegal. If a fledgling is in immediate danger, it should be placed in a sheltered spot a short distance away.”
The RSPCA advises that there are exceptions to these rules, as with tawny owlets who can climb back up into the nest. If one is found under a possible nest site, the little bird should be monitored from a distance to see if the parents are nearby. If their call is heard, the young bird should be left alone. If, after monitoring, the fledgling is genuinely orphaned, it should be taken it to a wildlife rehabilitator.
Other species, like gulls, ducks, swans, geese, swifts, swallows, house martins and birds of prey need to be dealt with on a case-by-case basis and the RSPCA advise anyone who has encountered young birds of these species in need of help, to call their emergency line on 0300 1234 999.
For further advice, visit the RSPCA’s webpage about orphaned young birds. Main image: Young long-tailed tit (RSCPA)