Right steps help protect baby birds
Baby birds, like this killdeer fledgling, are vulnerable to backyard predators such as dogs and cats.

FORT JACKSON, SC -- Spring and summer are the seasons when approximately 150 species of birds nest in South Carolina. Birds have preferences on where they nest and the type of nests they construct.

Many can be found in our backyards, while others choose remote locations such as coastal islands. These birds may nest in cavities, trees or shrubs, structures and on the ground.

Those who spend a lot of time outdoors will likely come across a baby bird that is out of its nest. Here are a few tips to figure out whether the bird is orphaned and what can be done to help.

Few baby nestling birds fall from their nests unless there has been a severe storm or other natural disaster. Many species leave the nest before their flight feathers are fully developed and are called fledglings.

The parents lead or coax the fledglings to a safe location and continue to feed and care for them as they gain the ability to fly. Parents return to feed the fledglings several times an hour; watching to see if the birds receive parental care is one way to tell that a baby bird has not been orphaned. Fledglings should be left alone so the parents can continue to raise them.

"Fledglings are quite vulnerable to predation by dogs and cats. If you find a fledgling, you should ensure your and your neighbors' dogs are contained and cats are kept indoors. Millions of baby birds are killed each year by uncontrolled pets," said Fort Jackson Wildlife Branch biologist Stanley Rikard.

It is acceptable to move a fledgling in harm's way to a nearby tree or shrub if it appears to be in danger. It is an old wives' tale that once a human touches a baby bird the parents will not accept it.

Anyone who finds a nestling or fledgling that is clearly not being cared for, or that is clearly injured in some way, there are several steps that can be taken.

The first step is to try to locate the nest, as most of the time it will be close by and well hidden. Once the nest is located, a nestling can be returned to the nest and monitored to see if the parents return. Fledglings placed in a nest will continue to leave the nest and move out on limbs or on the ground.

If step one does not work, the second step is to contact a local veterinarian or conservation department for the nearest wildlife rehabilitator.

On Fort Jackson, call the Wildlife Office at 751-5376 or 751-5011. One wildlife rehabilitator in the Columbia area is Carolina Wildlife Care. Their website is www.carolinawildlife.org and their injured animal hotline is 772-3994.

"What you should not do is try to raise the baby bird on your own. Many bird deaths are caused by well-meaning people," Rikard said. "Improper feeding and stress can cause the death of a baby bird, and forcing birds to drink water can also cause drowning and death.

Young birds need to eat every 15 to 20 minutes from sunrise to sunset and each species has a specific diet. Most people are unable to provide this much time and effort in raising young birds."

It is illegal to possess a wild bird, and holding wild birds in captivity without special state and federal permits is illegal. The Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918 contains specific details on the protection of all birds that inhabit the United States.

While helping baby birds may seem the altruistic and best alternative, it is best to leave them alone so the parents can properly care for them. Some things that can be done to help are: Do not trim trees or shrubs during nest season (April-August), contain dogs and cats and avoid disturbing a nesting bird or parents attending fledglings.

Page last updated Thu April 22nd, 2010 at 08:10