Date Published: 21 March 2014

Nesting and fledgling birds are best left undisturbed

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Now that spring has arrived in the UK, birds have started nesting and young birds may soon emerge. UK animal charity the RSPCA has urged people not to disturb birds' nests or baby birds emerging from nests in parks, gardens, woods and other outdoor spaces.

The RSPCA said that when fledgling birds spread their wings and leave the nest human interference can be harmful - particularly to fledgling rather than (younger) nestlings. However, even fledglings discovered by members of the public are often mistakenly thought to be injured or abandoned, and unwisely moved from their natural habitat.

Young garden birds, or fledglings, usually leave the nest two weeks after hatching and during this vulnerable period of their lives they are fed on the ground by their parents. Tawny owl fledglings are even able to climb back up to their nests on their own. No matter how well-meaning, human interference can reduce a young bird's chances of survival. Handling can cause extreme stress and being fed an inappropriate diet can cause development problems.

The RSPCA hopes to prevent thousands of baby birds such as blackbirds, housemartins, blue tits and wood pigeons from being handled unnecessarily by concerned members of the public. Senior scientific officer at the RSPCA Adam Grogan said:

" Unless a baby bird is clearly a nestling, or is a fledgling that is injured or in immediate danger it is best to leave them alone.
_ Our wildlife centres care for more than a thousand 'orphaned' fledglings each year, picked up by well-meaning people. Most of these birds are not orphans and would have had a better life in the wild.
_ Our advice would be to leave a fledgling alone and watch from a distance. It's likely that the parents are still around to take care of the bird.
_ As well meaning as it is no one should try to return a bird to the nest. You may have the wrong nest, it may disturb the other young birds and may be illegal. If a fledgling is in immediate danger, place it in a sheltered spot a short distance away

Although this advice isn't new and is givenout every year by many animal and wildlife organizations, the reminder is valuable. Watching birds, including young birds, is a great joy for many people and it is natural to be concerned about animals in difficulty. It is hoped that, for the sake of the birds, people will avoid disturbing youngsters. To enjoy the presence of small feathered friends, find out what is good for them and offer appropriate feeders and/or nesting boxes.

As part of it's recent advice, the RSPCA, issued "Top Tips"about fledgling birds (20 Mar '14):

  • Keep an eye on it. Just observe. A bird will usually move of its own accord, or a parent will return to provide it with food.
  • If it's a fledgling leave it alone. Fledglings are young birds that have grown most of their feathers but have not yet developed the ability to fly. The parents are usually nearby and will still be feeding the bird.
  • Nestlings are a different case. They need help. Nestlings are baby birds that only have a limited number of feathers. They are totally dependent on the security of the nest and will not fare well if left. Unless you have specialist knowledge and skills, don't try to care for young birds yourself - they need expert care in order to survive.
  • Leave nests alone. Especially, never return a fledgling to a nest. Doing so could lead to unsettled siblings leaving the nest too early. It could also disturb the nest's camouflage, potentially exposing it to predators.
  • Don't touch a baby bird unless you are certain that it really needs help.
  • Birds like warm and quiet. If a bird is orphaned or obviously sick, it should be put in a dark, warm box with a minimum of handling. If it is safe to catch and handle a bird in need of help then, wearing suitable gloves, place it into a secure ventilated cardboard box, lined with towel or newspaper (do not offer food or water). Keep the bird somewhere warm and quiet and take it to your nearest wildlife rehabilitator, e.g. wildlife hospital or rescue centre, as soon as possible.

Source: RSPCA (UK Animal Charity) -

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