story and photo by Gabrielle L. Wheeler
Empty nest syndrome is hitting bird pairs across the country, but parents still have work to do to care for their new fledglings. Boasting new adult feathers, fledgling song birds and birds of prey leap from their too-small nests to try out their wings and prepare for the migration ahead. Here’s what is going on with these young birds, and what to do if you come across a little bird on the ground.
Young song birds and birds of prey are generally raised by both parents in a nest that they eventually outgrow. When their adult feathers come in, they ‘leave the nest,’ which may involve returning to it nightly or not at all. After the young birds are out of the nest, the parents begin to instruct on how to fend for itself. Parents teach how to stay safe and avoid predators, as well as how to capture food. Part of this instruction is having the parents leave the young birds on their own more and more, often times on the ground.
Humans love to help animals they think are helpless. Baby birds are helpless during some parts of their lives, and nestlings that have lost their parent or are abandoned do need intervention. In that case, a licensed wildlife rehabilitator should be called to relocate the tiny birds, so they can be nursed to adulthood and released. A fledgling spotted on the ground with a set of stiff feathers, though, is right where it needs to be and doesn’t need any help. Rather than pick it up and try to save it, the best thing you can do is leave it alone.
The next best thing is to put your animals inside. A 2013 study led by Scott Loss suggested that 1.2 to 4 billion birds are killed a year by outdoor cats. That’s a lot of birds! To give fledglings any chance at survival, our best action is to keep our domesticated lions and tigers inside, preferably all the time. Dogs can also harm fledglings unintentionally, so if you see a young bird in your vicinity, make sure your dog cannot reach it. If your pet has harmed a fledgling and it is still alive, refer to the DEC’s list of licensed wildlife rehabilitators to at https://www.dec.ny.gov/animals/83977.html to find a rehabilitator near you. Remember, it is illegal to possess wildlife without a license in New York state, and birds are doubly protected by the Migratory Bird Act, so avoid unnecessary tickets by calling a licensed wildlife rehabilitator to come and retrieve a hurt animal or if you have any questions.