By garden birds we mean passerines, the birds most commonly found in your garden such as Sparrows, Blackbirds, Starlings, Tits, Robins etc, including corvids such as Crows, Magpies and Jays. These species leave the nest before they can fly so rescues receive hundreds of calls about them every year. Most don’t need rescuing but any baby which is injured or caught by a cat will need to go to a rescue. Babies which aren’t yet at fledgling age will need some assistance if they’re out of their nest.
NB: All wild birds are protected under the Wildlife and Countryside Act which means it is an offence to harm them or interfere with their nests, or to take them from the wild unless they are sick or injured. Once contained, they are also protected by the Animal Welfare Act which protects them from unnecessary suffering.
Whether and how you should intervene will depend a lot on the age of the baby. The three main stages are
Mostly bald and its eyes may be closed or just opening
Partially feathered with a short tail. Squatting posture.
Fully feathered and the tail is approaching adult length
When to rescue
Bird has been caught by a cat or dog
Any bird caught by a predator will need to be checked for injuries and given antibiotics. Bacteria on the cat’s teeth can cause fatal septicaemia if they get into the bloodstream.
Any bird with an obvious injury
Such as a dropped wing, leg injury or obvious wound. The bird will need specialist treatment and rehabilitation.
Both parents have been killed
If you know for sure that both parents are dead, the babies will need to be rescued. Some species will survive with one parent – contact a rescue for advice in this situation.
You can find a wildlife rescue in your area by putting your location into the search facility on our map page.
When to take other action
A hatchling out of its nest
A baby this young will not survive long out of the nest. It will either be taken by a predator or die of cold as it needs to be brooded by a parent to keep warm. If at all possible, the baby should be returned to the nest. If this is not possible, making a makeshift nest and placing it in the same tree/bush might also work but do keep a close eye on the situation to check if the parents return to the baby. If the baby feels cold to the touch, it would be best to warm it in your hands or on a warm hot water bottle before putting it back outside. If the parents do not return to the baby within about an hour, contact a rescue for further advice. NB: This advice does NOT apply to baby pigeons who will only care for their young if they are in the original nest. See this post for advice on pigeon and dove babies.
A nestling out of the nest
These babies should be returned to the best if at all possible. If not, making a makeshift nest and placing it in the same tree/bush might also work but do keep a close eye on the situation to check if the parents return to the baby. If the parents do not return to the baby within about an hour, contact a rescue for further advice. NB: This advice does NOT apply to baby pigeons who will only care for their young if they are in the original nest. See this post for advice on pigeon and dove babies.
The nest has been destroyed
If the nest of some fledgling birds is destroyed the babies can likely be left alone, just keep an eye on them and move them up into a bush or tree if needed. If the babies are at hatchling or nestling stage making a makeshift nest and placing it in the same tree/bush might work but do keep a close eye on the situation to check if the parents return to the new nest. If the parents do not return to the baby within about an hour, contact a rescue for further advice. NB: This advice does NOT apply to baby pigeons who will only care for their young if they are in the original nest. See this post for advice on pigeon and dove babies.
A bird in danger from a cat, cars or any other threat
Hatchlings and nestlings should be returned to the nest as detailed above. Rescues get many calls each year about fledglings who the caller is worried may be caught by a cat. It isn’t practical, legal or morally right to take in young birds just in case they get harmed. In this situation, keep cats indoors (and ask your neighbours to do the same) and place the baby somewhere safe such as a bush or low tree branch. Leaving the nest before they can fly is normal and they should have mastered flying within a few days. There's more on this here.
When to leave alone
A fledgling bird which is not injured and not in immediate danger
As mentioned above, leaving the nest before they can fly is normal for these species and they should have mastered flying within a few days. Just keep pets indoors as much as possible and let the baby get used to using their wings. There's more on this here.
You’re unlikely to be bitten or otherwise harmed by a baby bird but you can pick the bird up with gloves or a light towel if you prefer. Any small bird needs to be handled with care. Their bones are very delicate, and it would be easy to injure them by handling them roughly. They will usually feel more secure if you hold their wings against their body and support their feet.
If the bird needs to be rescued, place it in something like a shoebox or ice cream tub lined with tissues. If you need a lid to keep the bird contained, don’t forget to provide plenty of air holes. Place the box somewhere warm and quiet and keep children and pets away.
Any baby bird which needs rescuing should be taken to a wildlife rescue as soon as possible, ideally within an hour. A hatchling or nestling is likely to need supplementary heat as will a fledgling if it is sick or injured. An airing cupboard may suffice for nestlings and fledglings but, for hatchlings, put a hot water bottle wrapped in a towel at one end of the box, either inside, underneath or next to the box, ensuring the bird can get away from the heat if it wants to. As a rule, the baby should feel warm to the touch. If it feels cold it needs more heat, and if it is panting or feels very hot, it may need less.
Baby birds need feeding very regularly and can quickly die through lack of food. Do not attempt to feed a baby bird without first seeking expert advice based on the age and species of your casualty. Never attempt to force feed water to a bird as it is very easy to drown them and never offer cow’s milk, worms or alcohol.
NB: this advice is designed to cover the first couple of hours or overnight. If you are not able to get the animal to a wildlife rescue promptly, please at least speak to someone by phone for further advice about care beyond this period. If you want to care for the casualty yourself rather than taking it to a rescue, please read the information here.