Breeding season: What to do if you discover a baby bird

A white-wing dove on its nest with a chick.

While the Cayman Turtle Farm’s resident reptiles are its star attractions, the West Bay facility’s exhibits also include a popular aviary and other animal displays.

“What may not be as well known to the public is that the terrestrial exhibits division also houses a small-scale animal rescue rehabilitation facility,” said Terrestrial Exhibits and Education Programmes curator Geddes Hislop.

Mr. Hislop notes that April through June is nesting season for Cayman’s resident birds, and it is not unusual for the farm’s terrestrial staff to receive juvenile birds “rescued” by concerned public. A little foreknowledge when it comes to baby birds can go a long way in ensuring their survival.

“The rescue birds we receive at the aviary usually comprise the most common species that nest in urban areas: Antillean grackle (ching-ching), northern mockingbird (nightingale), white-wing dove (big dove), common ground dove, and bananaquit,” said Mr. Hislop.

“We instinctively feel a sense of pity or concern to care for babies in apparent distress, but immediately picking up a ‘fallen’ chick to cuddle and try to care for it is not always the best move,” he said.

He said baby birds are very demanding and need to be fed almost constantly from sunup to sundown, right up until they leave the nest, and even for some time afterward.

“It takes a lot of time, effort and attention to care for them, a job much better suited to their bird parents than an adopted human caretaker,” he said.

Here are a few tips Mr. Hislop’s team suggest following when an apparently misplaced baby bird is encountered:

A mockingbird nest holding eggs.
A mockingbird nest holding eggs.

Identify the developmental stage of the chick: hatchlings or nestlings may be bald (pinkish or greyish) or partially covered with feathers, usually wobbly and not very mobile. Fledglings are completely feathered and mobile. They may or may not be able to fly, but can at least hop or scramble away.

If the bird found on the ground is indeed a hatchling or nestling, then it may have genuinely fallen from its nest, which should not be far away.

Look up and around. Search the vegetation, poles or edges of roofs in the immediate area for the nest. If you find it, then gently scoop up the chick and return it to the nest. Do not worry about the myth that your scent on the chick will cause the parents to reject it, birds recognize their offspring by sight and sound, not by smell.

If you cannot reach or find the nest, then poke some drainage holes in a plastic cup or small container, line it with dry grass, leaves or paper towel and fix it in a sheltered spot off the ground close to the original nest and then leave. The parents should be nearby and will care for the chick.

If the bird is a fledgling, then it is best to leave it alone. Falling from the nest is a natural part of the development of a fledgling. Even if you are able to return it to the nest, it will most likely fall out again at some point as it tries to learn to fly. Back away and observe the bird for a while. If it appears to be in a dangerous spot such as on the edge of a road or near a dog or cat, then you can move it or chase it to somewhere safer, but not too far away. You may or may not see or hear them, but the parents will likely be somewhere nearby watching the chick. The parents will continue to care for the fledgling until it can fly and follow them around, which will most likely happen in a few days or less.

If the bird is obviously injured or hurt then it may need intervention: put it in a box where it can be in a quiet, less stressful environment. Offer water but do not try to feed it. Contact a veterinarian or the Turtle Farm’s Animal Programmes for advice.

“Enjoy our local birds, and remember that most of our native species are protected under the National Conservation Law,” said Mr. Hislop.

For more information on Cayman wildlife, contact the Department of Environment or Cayman Turtle Farm Animal Programmes at 949-3894 x 4301, or email [email protected]