Myths and Misconceptions
Myths and Misconceptions
- If I return a baby bird to its nest, the mother will know I've touched it and will reject it.
- Parent birds can pick up their babies and bring them back to the nest.
- Mother birds will push their young out of the nest if they are defective, or when it is time for them to leave.
- All baby animals can be fed bread and milk.
- Wild animals, including baby birds, know exactly what they should and should not eat and will never swallow anything that is bad for them.
- To "eat like a bird" means to eat very little food.
- Wild birds make good pets.
- In the spring, birds that are repeatedly banging into windows want to come into the house.
- Birds can protect themselves from our pet cats.
- Wild birds that are hurt like to be held and petted by people. It calms them down.
- Injured birds will act very debilitated and make a lot of noise when in pain.
- Hurt wild birds will bleed a lot, so any injuries will be very visible.
- If I find a wild bird in trouble, a good place to take it might be a veterinarian, zoo, or pet store. Or I can always ask someone who owns a pet bird what to do.
- If left alone, hurt birds will heal on their own.
- Birds are not smart (hence the expression "birdbrained").
- Wild birds that look big and fat are pregnant.
- A bird cage is a good place to put wild birds.
Most birds will look for a missing baby bird for at least 4 days. An uninjured baby bird that has simply fallen from the nest can be returned to its nest, and the parent birds will continue to care for it. However, you must make sure before returning a baby to the nest that it has no injuries, and you must make sure you return it to the correct nest. If a baby has injuries, it must be treated for the injuries or it will not survive. Also, baby birds depend on the warmth of their nestmates. So if you do find an uninjured baby and can locate its nest, you will be doing the parents and the siblings a huge favor by returning the baby to its home.
(Please note: children should not handle wildlife. If you are a child who has found a bird who needs help, please get a grown-up to help you.)
Unlike mammals, birds cannot digest milk at all. They lack the enzymes needed to digest lactose in any form. And there is no nutrition in bread that a young bird can use for growing during its critical first fourteen days of life.
Do not believe anyone who tells you to feed any form of dairy product or bread to baby birds! Baby birds get very sick and often die when fed incorrectly. Always get the facts directly from a licensed Wildife Specialist before you offer any food to a wild bird -- or any other wild animal.
Baby birds are not the only ones who don't always know what's good for them. Many household chemicals are confusing and hazardous to wildlife and pets. Cats, for example, have been known to lap at pools of antifreeze. It tastes sweet, but it is deadly poison. Also, no animal can tell in advance whether the food it is about to ingest has been contaminated with a pesticide which is likely to harm it.
So don't assume that just because an animal accepts what you give it that you are giving it the right thing. If you are trying to rescue an animal, make sure you have confirmed with a Wildlife Specialist exactly what you should offer the animal before you start feeding it. If you must use pesticides, choose them carefully and use them very sparingly. And never leave household chemicals lying around or allow automotive chemicals to pool under your vehicle.
While parent birds will try to warn their young that a cat is nearby, many fledgling wild birds are bitten each spring and summer and will die from a bacterial infection in about 48 hours. While these birds can be treated with antibiotics if found in time, the best solution is to keep cats indoors during the day in spring and summer months.
Baby birds, even when injured or sick, are programmed to to beg for food, for survival reasons.
This is why birds can be very deceptive about the state of their health; they have to be. To the untrained eye they may appear normal, but in reality may be very hurt or weakened, conditions which may only become apparent upon examination by an experienced Wildlife Specialist.
Feathers hide a multitude of sins. Generally in order to see bird wounds, each feather has to be moved aside to expose the skin underneath. Because it is easy to injure a bird, this kind of examination should only be undertaken by or under the supervision of a trained Wildlife Specialist.
Likewise, although zoos are all about animals, most do not have the resources to care for and rehabilitate local native wildlife. Zoos are like living museums, and they are usually only set up to care for their specimen guests. Some zoos, aviaries and marine parks do have hospital and rehabilitation facilities for animals they do not intend to keep, but these tend to be very specialized and not geared toward the care of all the wild animals indigenous to the zoo's community.
Pet stores are in the business of selling pets and things which help people take care of their pets. They are not allowed to deal in wild animals, especially those which are federally protected (like birds), and so finding a pet store with an owner or staffmember who is qualified to help you rehabilitate wildlife is like finding someone who owns or works in the produce department of a grocery store to help you farm your orchard. Even though many pet stores are owned and staffed by very knowledgeable and caring people, this is not the same thing as being staffed by licensed Wildlife Specialists.
Finally, beyond certain obvious physical traits (such as feathers), pet birds are nothing like wild birds. A friend or neighbor of yours might have a very healthy parrot or cockatiel and might know exactly how to care for it very well. However, this person will probably not know anything about the special needs of wild birds, especially traumatically injured or sick wild birds, and without knowing better, and certainly without meaning to do harm, this person could give you some very wrong advice -- advice which could injure or kill a wild bird, especially with regard to diet.
Any wildlife you find in trouble and wish to help should be taken immediately to your nearest Wildlife Specialist.
- If not set within 72 hours, broken bones mend as "non union heals," meaning they never knit together properly. This renders the bones involved permanently useless as support structures.
- Untreated, most cat bites will develop infections within 48 hours. These infections are almost always fatal.
- Most small birds that are hurt will succumb to a predator, hypothermia, or starvation before their wounds even have a chance to repair themselves.
Now, many people hold a fervent philosophical belief that we should always let nature take its course and not intervene no matter what. As you might have gathered, we here at The Place for Wild Birds do not quite hold with that belief.
We have come to believe differently in large part due to the kinds of injuries and other types of distress most frequently sustained by the birds we are given to care for, including but not limited to things like cat attacks and pesticide poisoning. These events are always the result of humans entering the natural landscape and permanently changing the exact same delicate and complex balance of nature which non-interventionists seek to protect. Although we respect this desire to protect nature, and although we recognize that humans are part of nature, we also know that wherever humans live we bring tools, pets, chemicals, machinery, and architecture which are not part of nature -- and which often cause harm to native wildlife populations.
We cannot save all the avian casualties of human influence upon nature. However, by caring for sick, injured and orphaned wild birds, and by educating the public about wild bird protection, rescue and rehabilitation, we at The Place for Wild Birds attempt to undo some of the damage our species has already done to the balance of nature. We also seek to prevent further damage and to help keep the global population of birds from shrinking any more rapidly than it already is. Since most birds cannot heal themselves of the injuries our presence inflicts on them, we feel it is not just acceptable for us to be making this attempt, but that it is part of our responsibility as humans.
More likely, birds that appear big and fat are puffing out their feathers in order to trap air and keep warm. Healthy birds will normally fluff out their feathers in the cold weather, and sick or hurt birds will puff up even in warm weather because they are not feeling well. This behavior can make a very thin bird appear to be very fat!
It is best to put a wild bird that needs help in a dark box, on a towel. Being in a box actually calms a wild bird, because it feels safe and less vulnerable to predators. Placing a wild bird in a box helps it to feel like it is hiding.
A box with a lid is best so that the bird is in the dark, and a few small air holes will help with air circulation. The size of the box should not be too large. A box that allows the bird to turn around comfortably without hitting the walls or lid is best, as this will limit activity and the possibility of further injury to the bird.
For more information on what to do with a wild bird in trouble, please see our Emergency section.