This page covers babies of species such as kestrels, sparrowhawks and owls. When dealing with baby owls in particular, it’s important to be sure of the species. If you’re unsure what species you’ve found this information from the Barn Owl Trust is very helpful. If in doubt as to whether to intervene, retreat to a safe distance and call a rescue for advice. You should also be aware that even baby owls and birds of prey have dangerous talons so always use gloves or a towel to handle them.
When to rescue
If the bird has been caught by a cat or dog
Any bird which has been bitten by a cat, regardless of its age or species, will need rescue and treatment. There are bacteria on cat’s teeth which will pass into the bird’s bloodstream when it is bitten. Without antibiotics within a few hours of the attack the bird may develop fatal septicaemia. Any bird caught by a dog should be properly assessed for injuries.
If the bird is obviously injured
If you can see a wound, or a wing or leg is obviously damaged then the bird needs help. Survival in the wild is unlikely with an injury.
A bird has been hit by a car
This is common as they learn to fly. The baby may just be stunned but make sure it’s safe and contact a wildlife rescue for advice.
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 barn owl chick out of the nest
Baby barn owls need to be returned to the nest or the parents won’t feed it. Place the baby back in the nest if you can but contact a rescue if you cannot find the nest or you need help.
A Little Owl chick out of the nest
Ideally, they should be returned to the nest which should contain other babies. But their nests can be hard to spot so contact a rescue for help if in doubt.
When to leave alone
A fledgling bird out of the nest
If the chick is largely feathered it is probably just taking its first few practice flights. Only intervene if in immediate danger and then try to simply place it in a safe place. As above, it’s fine to handle the baby to move it to safety.
A tawny owl chick at the bottom of a tree.
It is normal for tawny babies to leave the nest before they can fly. If the baby is in danger, you can place it on a tree branch so it’s out of harm’s way. It is not necessary to return them to the nest. If the baby is unresponsive or laying on its side, it may be hurt or unwell – seek advice from a rescue.
Birds of Prey are unlikely to peck you but can do damage with their powerful feet and sharp talons, even when young. Cover the bird with a thick towel or similar to protect yourself and minimise stress to the bird. Have something ready to put the bird straight into before you catch it if possible.
Place the bird in a large, sturdy cardboard box or cat carrier. If using a cardboard box, ensure the lid is secured to prevent escape and make sure to provide air holes. Place the box somewhere warm and quiet and keep children and pets away. Please minimise your contact with the baby as much as possible as they imprint very easily.
If the bird has been caught by a cat, then you must seek urgent help. The bird will need to be given antibiotics within a few hours of being bitten or it may develop fatal septicaemia. Some wildlife rescues are available 24/7 for this sort of emergency and we try to give some indication of availability on our listings. You could also contact local vets – although they will not have facilities for the long-term care of the bird, they may be willing to provide a one-off dose of antibiotics. Some may even do so free or at a much-reduced price.
Do NOT attempt to feed the bird without first seeking expert advice. 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. Baby waterfowl should NOT be allowed to swim – they may not yet be waterproof and, in the wild, would be dependent on their Mum drying them off. Babies can quickly become waterlogged and hypothermic which can be fatal. If the bird is wet, shocked or weakened supplementary heat can be very helpful. You can 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. If the bird begins to pant, remove the heat source immediately.
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.