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San Diego Humane Society

Songbirds and Small Birds: Coexisting with Wildlife

Birds need to be rescued if they are:

  • Injured
  • Caught by a cat or dog
  • Cold to the touch
  • Naked (no feathers)
  • Orphaned (see below)

Symptoms of a bird injury or illness:

  • Seen attacked by cat or dog
  • Bleeding or injured
  • Falling over on one side
  • Wing tweaked upward or drooping
  • Weak or shivering

Do:

  • Keep the bird CLEAN (no food on face or feathers)
  • QUIET (no children or pets in sight of the bird)
  • CONTAINED (a box with screen top or box top with a few air-holes)

Don't:

  • DO NOT put any liquid in the bird’s mouth. The airway opening is on the back of the tongue, and the bird may drown if fed or hydrated incorrectly.
  • DO NOT feed baby bird’s bread, rice, milk, pasta, or oatmeal. They cannot digest these foods and may become very sick from them.

Orphaned Baby Songbirds

If a young bird is uninjured and has some feathers, put it up in a nearby tree in a makeshift nest, such as a berry basket, plastic margarine cup or shoe box lined with shredded tissue. The parents have no sense of smell and will not know a person has touched it. Stand back some distance and watch to make sure the parents return. The parents will come feed the baby if they are not frightened by the presence of people. However, the parents only stop by to feed the baby, so the nest should be watched closely for up to one hour.

If shortly after putting the young bird back in a nest, it jumps back out, then it has likely fledged and will be fed by its parents on the ground. Fledgling birds are learning to fly, and will flutter around and hide under bushes, while the parents watch and gather food. If you see any parent bird nearby, please leave fledgling birds where they are.

If the bird runs around and is chick-like (covered with short fuzzy down) it may be a baby quail or killdeer. These birds nest on the ground, and the parents fly off when people come near. Leave the immediate area and watch to see if a parent will come back. (You may have to wait up to one hour).

The bird needs help and should be brought to the Bahde Wildlife Center if:

  • The parents are known to be dead.
  • The bird is newly hatched and the nest and nest mates are out of reach.
  • The bird has fallen from a very high nest.
  • Attaching a substitute nest high on a tree trunk failed to attract the parents. (Note: a shoe box or small margarine cup can be duct-taped or nailed to the tree trunk).
  • It has an injury.
  • A pet or a child has brought it in from places unknown.

If the bird is injured, or has no feathers, it is very important to keep it warm. Use a heating pad set on low or a low wattage light source.

If the bird is uninjured, parents will come feed it after people leave.

  • If someone has picked up a healthy baby bird or a nest-full of babies and has kept it for a day or two, they can still try returning it to the nest site.
  • Parent birds have home territories and, even if the nest and babies are gone, the parents remain there searching for their babies and will sometimes resume feeding them after an absence of one or two days.

Food & Water

All young birds need special diets, formulas, and/or feeding techniques. It is in the bird’s best interest to get it to us as soon as possible. Immediately feeding a dehydrated or sick bird can cause even greater health problems. Please only feed baby birds if it is impossible to get them to a rehabber within a few hours of finding them.

Coexisting with Songbirds:

Most people enjoy watching songbirds. They are frequent visitors to bird feeders throughout the year, particularly if stocked with sunflower or nyjer seed and will congregate at hanging nyjer sock feeders.

How to help them

  • Do not place finch feeders near a window. Although beautiful to watch, finches may fly to the feeder reflected in the window and injure themselves on the glass.
  • Keep your pet cat indoors if you have finches in your yard. Due to their tiny size, finches are easy prey to an agile cat.
  • Babies that fall from nests can be put back in, parent house finches will take care of their healthy babies, even if put into the wrong nest!

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