Two Tales of Baby Birds

by DFS-Pet-Blog on September 2, 2011

I generally write about my dogs, but my interest in birds and wild birds has been piqued lately. And it turns out that it’s a great time to renew this interest.

Mourning Dove

Mourning Dove

A colleague called me Tuesday night asking what she should do with the baby Mourning Dove her husband found that day in a fallen nest. One of the nestlings had died, but the other one was still alive and active. She knew I had volunteered briefly at a wildlife rehabilitation center and that I had professional wildlife rehabilitator friends that had recently opened a rehab center near Rhinelander called “Wild Instincts.”

I gave her the number and she called Mark, the head rehabber, who told her initially that she should try to put the nest and nestling up in a nearby tree. My colleague said that the nest was destroyed- just a few fragments around the nestling – and that was not possible, even though the mother bird was looking down at the surviving nestling with concern. Additionally, my colleague was afraid to touch the baby since she had heard mother birds would not touch babies if a human has touched it. Mark assured her that this was just a myth. Mark then told her to put it in a box with nesting material (but untreated tissue paper or torn up paper towels will do), and keep it warm until she could bring it in. Under no circumstances should she try to feed it since nestlings (and older baby birds, called fledglings) need a specialized diet that only a mother bird or expert rehabilitator can provide.


In the morning, my colleague looked at the bird and her heart sank as she saw it wasn’t moving. However, the moment she touched the nestling, it raised its beak and peeped to be fed, so she rushed to take it to Wild Instincts. Mark was optimistic since it wanted to be fed and had eliminated during the night (which meant that it had had food in its stomach). Baby birds generally don’t get fed at night anyway and go into a sort of hibernation mode to conserve energy. He quickly examined it and put it back into a warm area to care for it. It is doing well two days later.

It turns out that it was a good thing that my colleague had that experience, because I had my own, rather different encounter with a fledgling last night. I should, of course, write a separate post on this entitled, “Yet Another Reason Not to Let Your Cat Outside, “ but I’ll include it on this and try to be brief.



Late last night I heard a bird crying loudly and went to the patio door to see my cat and dog with a baby bird. I made them leave it alone, and it hopped away. After closing all doors with the culprits inside, I went out with a flashlight but couldn’t find it. I thought either the worst had happened or that it hopped away, so I vowed to look for it as soon as it was light. Of course, I saw it immediately and thought of my colleague’s recent experience. Indeed, the baby bird, a fledgling Chipping Sparrow, was alive and peeping to be fed. I fixed up a box for it and put it in my car with the heater on while I called Wild Instincts and rushed to get ready for work.

I dropped off the fledgling, and Mark was there again. He examined it and told me that it looked healthy except for a punctured air sac under its wing, which to me looked like a blown up balloon. He told me that generally air sacs heal fairly easily. However, cats have a lot of bacteria on their teeth which thrive in puncture wounds, so they worry about infection. He gave it an antibiotic and took it in feed it and care for it today.  I will call back in the next couple of days to see how it does.

For a list of licensed wildlife rehabilitators in your area call the state Department of Natural Resources office or your federal migratory birds permitting office. A great, quick resource on what to do if you find a baby bird (and a lot more about wild birds) is at All About Birds, The CornellLab of Ornithology’s website. Doctors Foster and Smith also have many articles on wild birds on our website.

I’ll keep you updated on what happens to these two creatures, but in the meantime, do you have any experiences with baby birds you would like to share?

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