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Hatchlings & Nestlings

Hatchlings are typically naked or may have slight down, but their eyes are still closed. They are not able to maintain their own body temperature, so the first priority is keeping them warm or re-warming them if they are chilled. Nestlings are young birds not yet ready to leave the nest and are fully dependent on their parents for food. They will have feathering, and depending on age, may have the very beginnings of tail feathers and the beginnings of wing feathers, but are unable to fly. Here is a quick guide for helping baby birds: 

1. If the baby birds are still in their nest, but you suspect the parents have abandoned them, please contact a rehabilitator for guidance. Sometimes the parents may not be seen or may be secretly visiting the nest in an attempt to protect the nest from predators. 

2. If you have found a baby bird on the ground, feel it's body to determine if it is warm or chilled. If warm, please proceed to section B below for tips on re-nesting guidance. If it is chilled/cold, please use one of the following methods in section A to safely and slowly re-warm it. 

Section A: Re-warming chilled baby birds safely

  • Heating Pad: use a heating pad on the lowest setting - place the baby bird into a small container lined with paper towel and place the container on top of the heating pad. Lightly cover the top of the container with tissue paper to keep heat in while allowing air to enter. DO NOT place the heating pad into the container and DO NOT place the baby bird directly on the heating pad. It is unable to move away if too hot and could get burned. 

  • Heated Rice Sock: use a tube sock and fill it most of the way with dry rice or beans, tying the end closed. Microwave this sock for 30-60 seconds and then wrap the sock with a clean paper towel layer and place it into a container with the baby bird. The baby bird should be NEXT to the sock, NOT ON TOP of the heated sock. it is unable to move away from the heat if the sock is too hot and could get burned.

  • Heat Lamp: heat lamps should be used with caution as they can fall and start fires or burn the baby bird. They can also dry out the surrounding air and can contribute to dehydration. If using a heat lamp, be sure to also use a thermometer so you can closely monitor how warm/hot the area gets. 

It's important to gradually re-warm a chilled bird. Rapid warming can cause shock and stress as well as a rebound effect where they get too hot. Once the baby bird is warm, it should become more active and may beg for food. This is a good sign that you can now move to Section B.

Section B: Re-nesting or rehab?

Baby birds, and especially hatchlings, have much better odds of survival if raised by their parents. Their parents' saliva contains enzymes and microbes their little bodies need to start metabolizing nutrients from their food. It's ideal to try re-nesting if the nest can be located and the parents are still around. If the location of the original nest is known, here are the options:

  • if the original nest is intact and can be reached safely, place the baby bird(s) back into their nest. You can watch from afar during the day to see if the parent(s) visit the nest, but remember, if you are too close or the parents can see you, they may stay away from the nest.

  • If the original nest is not intact, but the location is known, an artificial nest can be created using a plastic planter, strawberry basket, or similar item. Plastic is needed so it will not decay in the elements and any container must have holes in the bottom for drainage in the event of rain. Line the nest with pine needle/leaf debris for bedding. Securely hang the artificial nest as close to the location of the original nest as possible and then place the baby bird(s) inside. You can watch from afar to see if the parents return, but remember, if you are too close and the parents can see you they may stay away from the nest.

If you have found a baby bird and the location of the nest is unknown, then it will need to be raised/rehabilitated by a licensed rehabilitator and must be kept warm until placement is secured. Please contact a rehabilitator for further guidance. Please DO NOT put any liquids into a bird's mouth as they can inhale the liquid.

People often ask about whether or not they can pick up baby birds and place them back into their nests. People have heard that the parents will not care for them once human scent is on their feathers. This is a MYTH. It is true for many mammals, but most songbirds do not rely on their sense of smell in the same way mammals do. Parent birds will continue to care for their nestlings even after they are handled by people. 


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