Bird Care in The Spring
We are now officially in the height of spring. The nights are getting longer, the weather's getting warmer, and birds have started to breed!
The bird care breeding season is now well under way and we will or very soon be seeing results from nesting boxes put up or built in the winter. You may even discover a nest you never knew was in your garden built by birds themselves in the hedges and other hiding places.
It is essential during bird nesting season (February-September) that birds nest are not disturbed, it is an offence under Section 1 of the Wildlife and Countryside Act of 1981 to intentionally take, damage or destroy the nest of any wild bird while it is in use or being built. It will be an intentional act, for example, if you or your neighbour know there is an active nest in the hedge and still cut the hedge, damaging or destroying the nest in the process.
How to Care for Baby Birds
There are three stages in a baby bird’s growth: hatchling, nestling and fledgling and it’s easy to spot the differences. Hatchling birds are bald, nestlings are partially feathered and fledglings are fully feathered and hopping around although not quite ready to fly. It takes on average 9/10 days for the development from hatchling to a fledgling.
It is common and expected to see fledgling birds on the ground; they have left the nest to hop around for a few days and build up the muscles necessary for flight.
If you find a fledgling baby bird out of its nest, it is crucial that don’t pick it up or bring it indoors. Although people mean well by “rescuing” the baby birds they find, in almost all cases, the parents are nearby and know best how to care for their young. Taking them away from their parents at this point in their lives will do more harm than good, if you intervene it may cause the mother to reject the baby, causing risk and pain to both.
Removal of a fledgling from the wild reduces its chances of long-term survival to a small fraction, the only exception is when you can see they are injured, definitely been abandoned or in a location with exposed danger such as being on a busy road.
A Robin Fledging
If the young bird is un-feathered or covered in fluffy down (a nestling) and has obviously fallen out of a nest by accident, it may be possible to put it back. Only do this if you are sure which nest the chick came from, and if it appears strong and healthy. Sometimes parent birds sense that there is something wrong with one of their chicks, or that it is dying, and they will eject it out of the nest so they can concentrate on looking after the healthy ones.
If a healthy chick cannot be returned to its nest, it will be dependent on humans for survival, and should be passed on to an expert rehabilitator as soon as possible.
How to Help Feed in the Spring
Although it is a lot easier than the winter for birds to find food, in warmer months birds will still be grateful for extra treats, as many are busy raising their young. The RSPB recommends little and often softer foods would be more ideal. Additionally, if you generally feed birds by leaving food on the ground make sure you moisten the earth, as eating off the hard ground may damage their beaks.
If you are in the situation that you are helping to care for a fledgling, don't ever force water down their throats, most who do this actually drown the bird.
Baby birds do not actually drink water, the adults do not bring water to the nest. It comes from the insects or fruit they eat.
For adult birds water is particularly important in dry, hot weather during the summer when water can be hard to find.