Nature Knows Best – Ornithology

Nature Knows Best – Ornithology

In the northern hemisphere spring and summer are the times of the year birds are breeding – singing, courting, nesting, egg-laying, incubating, and feeding young. For most songbirds, incubation will last about 7-10 days and the young remain in the nest after hatching while the parents feed them. As the young grow, the nest eventually gets crowded, and the nestlings ultimately have no room to exercise their wings, so they jump out. Yes, they jump out. Then they spend another week to ten days on the ground while their parents continue to feed them. When the young birds’ flight feathers grow and their wing muscles have developed sufficiently, they fly off to leave lives of their own.

Nature Knows Best – Ornithology

Unfortunately, too many well-meaning people are not aware that these baby birds on the ground are being well taken care of by their parents. The human assumes that the young have fallen out of the nest, actually a rare occurrence, and either want to put the baby back in the nest or take care of it themselves. Neither is an appropriate choice.

The baby bird left the nest because it was crowded; if it is placed back in the nest it will jump out again. Jumping out of a nest is a risk for the young bird and sometimes causes injury. Jumping out twice just doubles the chances of harm. Taking the bird home to take care of it is even a worse solution to a non-existent problem. It is very difficult to raise a baby bird unless you are experienced. It most likely will die in your hands. If you do successfully raise it and then let it go, it may or may not survive; the longer it is caged, the less its chances of making it in the wild.

Bottom line: leave baby birds be.

There are a few exceptions. If a storm blows a nest full of young birds to the ground, it is ok to replace the nest and/or the young. Some birds like swallows (non-songbirds) have young that fly right from the nest and do not spend any time on the ground. It is appropriate in that case to put a baby bird back in the nest.

I get regular emails regarding handling birds, adult and juvenile, or their nests. A common misperception is that the scent of humans will somehow repel the birds. A volunteer at a nature center even told a visitor that touching a bird’s nest will cause the mother to kill her babies and throw them from the nest. This is a myth and just does not make any sense. Generally, it is best not to disturb or even approach the nest, but scent has nothing to do with it.

Finally, realize that birds got along just fine without us so the best course of action is to let nature take its course. Sure, that sounds cruel, but nature is cruel at times –but almost always nature knows best.

Leave a Comment