“Chirp chirp!” It’s the notorious soundtrack of summer! As we venture outdoors to enjoy these endless tunes, there’s an inevitable increase in both healthy and unhealthy human-bird interactions. For animal lovers, it’s our instinct to help out any creature that appears in need, especially when that creature is a tiny sparrow or vulnerable robin chick.

While this act is well intentioned, it’s important to realize that not every animal rescue is the same, and human interference is not always necessary. So, how do you know whether or not a bird is in need of assistance? These five tips will give you the bird’s-eye view on the whens and hows of avian rescue!

1. Patience is Key

The bird may be cute, but AVOID picking it up right away. Take a few minutes to observe the animal’s behavior from a safe distance. Maybe the bird has an injured wing that needs professional care. Or perhaps the bird is a fledgling waiting for mom and dad to arrive with dinner. Unless the bird is in immediate danger, any handling may cause unnecessary stress. If you notice that the animal is young, take an extra 20 to 30 minutes to see if a parent is present. (Avian parents will temporarily leave their young for food.) Just remember: keep a safe distance so that the parents don’t feel threatened.

2. The Animal May Not Require Help

According to Dr. Karen Becker’s tips for bird rescues, spring is the most common season for “rescues.” During this time, fledglings (juveniles who have outgrown the nest) are often mistaken for orphaned nestlings (featherless and reliant on the nest). Relocating a fledgling is comparable to kidnapping.

You see, after instinctively leaving a nest, fledglings will spend several days — even weeks — hopping on the ground. Avian parents will still care for the fledgling while it develops the muscles and feathers needed for flight. If the fledgling is relocated, avian parents may never find their offspring, leaving the bird to die. In this case, it is better for worried persons to leave the animal be, keep a safe distance at all times, and remove children or pets from the area. Also, the Bi-State Wildlife Hotline has provided these images to help bird-watchers differentiate between nestlings and fledglings.

3. Before Rescuing ANY Wildlife, Call a Professional

Professionals include veterinary clinics, humane societies, or wildlife rehabilitation centers, each of which will be able to provide the necessary assistance to safely rescue an injured, sick, or otherwise helpless animal. These animal pros will also be able to provide a caller with further guidance on how to handle any animal related situation. A good tip is to keep an animal professional’s number on hand at all times — preferably in a cell-phone contact list. To find the location and number of a wildlife rehabilitator in your area, visit the Wildlife Rehabilitation Information Directory.

4. Avian Parents WILL Return to a Human-Scented Nest

Contrary to popular belief, birds do not recognize chicks by scent, and they will return to the nest — so long as an intruder is not nearby. If you notice a nestling on the ground, locate the nest and replace the chick as quickly as possible. Once the chick is safe, walk away immediately and survey for parents from afar. As mentioned before, you may have to wait a while before a parent feels safe enough to return.

5. In Case of Emergency

Though rare, emergencies do happen, and safety is important during a rescue. Emergencies range from parents not returning to a nest for one day to finding a bird that appears unusually weak or immobile. In case of these situations, it’s important that the rescuer wear gloves. Birds may bite, scratch, or carry bacteria and parasites that can be risky for humans to handle. Next, a shoebox or some other containment should be prepared in advance for safe transport. It should be padded with washcloths or even grass and nest-building materials. After gently relocating the animal, place the box in a quiet area free from the children and pets that can startle birds.

Furthermore, NEVER give a rescued bird food or water. Birds have varying diets, and some sources of food (i.e. earthworms) can actually be toxic to certain species. Also, a weak animal can choke or drown if force-fed. After the rescue, call an animal care clinic for further assistance.

Please visit The Bird Rescue Center for information involving raptors, water birds, entanglements, or other unique situations.

Image source: Brigitte Werner/Pixabay