As reports into the RSPCA soar, the animal charity publishes advice on when to intervene and when to leave well alone
Calls from concerned animal-lovers about baby birds found away from the nest have been flooding into the RSPCA this spring, with 1,472 reports already received so far this year (2018).
Whether they’ve been attacked and injured by another animal, separated from their mum, or even orphaned, the animal charity is ready to help these vulnerable little creatures.
During the annual baby bird boom at this time of year, the RSPCA’s wildlife centres care for over a thousand 'orphaned' fledglings each year, picked up by well-meaning people. But many of these birds are not orphans and would have been better off if they had been left in the wild.
So the animal charity has produced a useful printable step-by-step guide explaining the types of situations where the babies of common garden birds might genuinely need helping, and when the young bird is purely exhibiting natural behaviour as part of its development, in which case it is usually better to leave well alone.
visual guide to helping baby birds © RSPCA
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. For example, tawny owlets can climb back up into the nest, so 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 and we would advise anyone who has encountered young birds of these species in need of help, to call the RSPCA’s emergency line on 0300 1234 999, for further advice.
For further advice, visit the RSPCA’s webpage about orphaned young birds.