January 2017

Are you my Mother?

We have found a young bird. What is it and what should we do?

How should I look after it? There are no adult birds around and I cannot see a nest. Anyway I have heard that once a person handles a young bird the parents will abandon it. It is a baby so I cannot leave it alone by itself, something may attack it.

Answer

Australian Magpie (Cracticus tibicen) fledgling. Image by Kris Guerin Spotted Turtle-Dove (Streptopelia chinensis) fledgling. Image by Rebecca Bennett  Australian Owlet-nightjar (Aegotheles cristatus) fledgling. Image by Susan England Silvereye (Zosterops lateralis) fledgling. Image by Ailie Henson

This time of year is known as “Baby Bird Season”. It’s quite common to find a young bird on the ground during the Spring-Summer months, especially in areas where there are large trees surrounded by houses (such as suburban areas). Your baby bird is a particularly common find and is an Australian Magpie. Young Magpies often leave the nest before they can fly strongly.

Identification of young birds can be difficult and can rely on many factors. When a bird is in the early stages of development the appearance can vary greatly from that of an adult. We have included photos of a young Spotted Turtle-Dove, Silvereye and Owlet Nightjar to demonstrate this.

Firstly, determine if the bird is sick or injured. If it is, you should contact your nearest Veterinary Practice or Wildlife Hospital. Veterinarians and Wildlife carers have the necessary skills and are authorised under wildlife protection laws. A common misconception is that the parents abandon babies after handling by a human. In most cases, the parents and nest are nearby. If the chick is left in a secure spot (under a dense shrub or make-shift nest) the parents will usually locate the chick and continue to provide care. A make-shift nest can be made for re-homing nestlings or fledglings that have fallen. This can be done using an ice-cream container or shallow bucket. Pierce several holes in the bottom of the container so that any rain can drain. Provide some leaf litter in the bottom and something to function as perch. Secure the container as close to the original nest location as possible.

This is good opportunity to mention baby bird development, which typically occurs in one of two different ways: precocial or altricial. A precocial chick will open its eyes very soon after hatching, and is able to move about and in some cases fly within hours of hatching (e.g. Brush Turkey). The majority of these species hatch in nests that are already on the ground. In contrast, altricial nestlings are extremely dependent on parental care. They will often hatch with closed eyes and possess little to no feathers or down on their body. They develop to the fledgling stage at which point they are more likely to be found outside the nest as they begin to test their flying capabilities.

Returning to our issue of a found baby bird (returned to the place where it was found and placed in a shaded, secure spot), we suggest that it be monitored from a considerable distance. A young altricial chick will be more vulnerable than a fledgling, and if there has been no sign of parental care after an hour or so, then the bird will need to be placed with a wildlife carer. An older (and feathered) fledgling can be left for a longer period of time.

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