Baby Bird Emergency

Songbirds or altricial baby birds go through three distinct phases of development.

A newborn bird is called a hatchling. It is mostly or entirely naked, and is totally helpless. Hatchlings stay in the nest and cannot walk or perch.

Hatchling House Sparrow

Hatchling House Sparrow



Nestlings are older than hatchlings, but are still in the nest and can’t walk well or perch. They are starting to get feathers and their eyes are open.

Nestling American Robin

Young nestling American Robin

Nestling American Robin

Older nestling American Robin









If you find a hatchling/nestling on the ground, the best help you can give them is to return them to their parents. If the location of the nest is known, immediately return them to their nest. Most often the bird has fallen from a nearby tree or bush due to wind, overcrowding, or other natural disturbances. Scan nearby branches and try and locate the nest. Be sure to also check tree cavities as many of our woodpeckers nest in cavities. If you locate a nest be sure and check that your hatchling/nestling matches the others in the nest. Remember, touching or handling a baby bird will NOT discourage the parents from feeding or taking care it. A birds sense of smell is no better than our own. It is actually helpful if you warm the nestling (in your hands) first before trying to return it to the nest. If the nestling is returned to the nest cold, the mother may think something is wrong with it.

If the whole nest is on the ground:

  • If the nest is intact gather the babies and place them back in the nest. Try and locate the tree where it might have fallen from and place it or wire it securely in the tree.
  • From a distance observe the nest for at least two hours to be sure the parents are returning to the nest. If the parents return the babies will be fine.

If the nest is not intact or can’t be found:

  • Gather the remains of the nest and place it in an appropriately sized plastic container or wicker basket. Be sure that the container has several holes for water drainage. If the nest cannot be located fill a plastic container with dry plant material. Wicker baskets do not need additional bedding material.
  • Secure the makeshift nest into a tree near where the babies were found.
  • From a distance observe the nest for at least two hours to be sure the parents are returning to the nest. If the parents return the babies will be fine.

If the parents do not return after at least two hours or if the hatchling/nestling is cold please contact the Wildlife In Need Center at (262) 965-3090.

Fledglings have feathers and are hopping, perching, and trying to fly. They are beginning to eat on their own. These birds no longer need to stay in their nest. Often they are out and about beginning to practice their flying skills and beginning to feed on their own. Please do not assume that these birds are orphaned! Stop and take a few moments to observe the situation. Watch for the parents, they will continue to feed their baby on the ground.

Fledgling American Robin - DO NOT kidnap - A Fledgling is learning how to fly!

Fledgling American Robin – DO NOT kidnap, a Fledgling is learning how to fly!

Most fledglings resemble their parents except for a few remaining downy feathers and often shorter tails. Most are able to fly only short distances or make hops to low branches in nearby shrubs or trees. Because they are just learning to fly, their coordination and maneuverability is often impaired. Crash landings are a common occurrence. However, this does leave them vulnerable to attack by domestic cats and dogs and thus, they must be protected. If the fledgling has come in contact with either a cat or dog please bring it to the Wildlife In Need Center for a medical examination. Domestic dog and particularly cat saliva contains bacteria that can be lethal to baby birds.

If you suspect that a fledgling is orphaned please monitor the bird consistently for two hours from a distance. Every year the Wildlife In Need Center receives many “kidnapped” fledglings. The best place for a fledgling is with its parents despite the other dangers they may face.


Please contact the Wildlife in Need Center at (262) 965-3090 if the bird has been attacked by a wild or domestic animal.

[Click here to learn about transporting baby birds]