Will Handling A Baby Bird Cause Its Mother to Reject It?

One of the most common myths we are told as children is to not touch wild baby birds that we find while playing outside, even if they have fallen out of their nest and need medical attention. This “rule of thumb” also applied to coming across newly discovered bird nests and bird eggs, as touching any of these three would cause the mother bird to reject her young or abandon her own nest. This myth supposedly tells us that wild birds are so sensitive to the dangers that humans present to them, that they will fly off and abandon their young if they catch even the slightest smell of us. When it’s presented to us in this manner, we can see and understand how silly the myth truly is. Let’s take a look at how this myth came about and why it was perpetuated.

Why The Widespread Caution Around Baby Birds?

The advice against handling baby birds generally came from the desire to protect them. It is actually very rare for a mother bird to abandon her nest or her little ones and she will only do so if there are visual warnings that tell her to. Thus, children were mainly warned about leaving baby birds alone because it was easier to make a child think that a baby bird would slowly starve if taken away from her mother than it was to explain that being on the ground was part of a fledgling’s learning experience. The idea here was to prevent a harmful act by using a myth rather than a rational explanation that wouldn’t be as effective.

Here is What You Do If You Find a Baby Bird

Generally speaking, you do not want to separate a baby bird from its mother regardless of what stage the bird is at, as the mother will always be a superior teacher, feeder, and caregiver. If the baby bird has fallen from the nest, chances are the mother or father are close at hand and understand the situation. If you truly want to aid a baby bird, the first step would be to figure out if the bird is a nestling or a fledgling. If the bird is a nestling, it will be featherless, and fuzzy. If it is a fledgling, it will have feathers and will look like it is capable of moving around. If you have come across a nestling, find the nest and put the bird in it. If it is a fledgling, leave it where it is.

If you cannot find the nestling’s nest, whether it be because the nest has been destroyed or it is only partially available to you, create a new one using pine needles, shrubbery, grass, and paper towels with a berry basket or margarine tub. Make sure that it has holes in the bottom of it so that it can drain and place it as close to the original nest as possible with the baby inside it.

If you come across a fledgling, make sure to leave it where it is. Fledglings often need some time on the ground to hone their flying and survival skills. The parents will bring food to them and teach them during the time that they are on on the ground. If you find these fledglings in your backyard and you have a cat or dog, consider keeping your pet inside for a few days to allow the birds to get sky bound.

Finally, if you do come across a baby bird that has been greatly injured or clearly has been abandoned or has had its parents killed, get it to a wildlife rehabilitator as soon as possible and make sure to keep the baby in a warm, quiet, dark place. Do not give the baby any type of fluids as they derive all of their liquids from their food, and giving them liquids poses a danger as they can inhale it by accident.