Birds come in four stages. The adult. The egg. The pre-feathered ugly dinosaur in the nest, and the incredibly cute, fluffy baby bird stage; otherwise known as a chick.
Like all kids, they have no fear of the big bad world and will often launch themselves from the nest before they’re quite ready. Anyone coming across one of these adventurous waifs, flopping around in a flightless and noisy way, will inevitably be concerned. It’s like we’re pre-programmed to go “ahhh” as our hearts melt and our hands reach out to help the poor little things. Next comes the realisation that we don’t know what to do with this hungry, demanding, seemingly weightless ball of down. This is the moment phones in RSPB offices and reserves around the country go into meltdown, ringing-in the start of the spring breeding season.
The following four photos, by wildlife photographer Justin Hoffman, chart the progress of a lucky little blue tit chick; from the moment it first peers from its nest box, its first foray into the wild, receiving help and food from Mum, and then survival, having learned how to fly and what to eat.
Before we go any further, I’d like to thank you for caring and helping if you’ve ever been in this situation with a baby bird. You know it's tough.
Next, I’m going to sound harsh and cruel. Leave them alone!
Baby birds are naturally curious and can be completely self-sufficient within days of hatching. Their parents don’t abandon them. They keep a wary eye on their offspring from a distance and are there when things go wrong. Do feel free to lookout for the chick in case any hungry cats, foxes or birds of prey are nearby. But be strong and resist the urge to scoop it up and take it away somewhere warm.
Having said all that, there’s a fine line between life and death in the wild. Steel yourself for the brutality of it! If you come across a baby bird out of a nest with no or few feathers, its future is already bleak, and even with intense assistance, survival may not be possible.
Baby birds found in urban spaces prove unique problems too. We’ve had callers reporting baby ducks on balconies five or more storeys high, or baby birds on pavements with no shelter or natural space nearby. In the first case, the parents will escort them to safety on the ground (remember birds don’t worry about heights). In the second case, the parents are around somewhere, so removing the chick will reduce its chances of survival. Just try to usher it to the nearest point of safety where the parents will still be able to hear it call.
The RSPB is a conservation charity, working to give nature a home and to engage people with nature. We do not run an emergency rescue service, that’s where the RSPCA comes in. If you are worried that a bird is genuinely injured, visibly sick or in danger, visit their website or call 0300 1234 999.
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The RSPB is a member of BirdLife International. Find out more about the partnership
© The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) is a registered charity: England and Wales no. 207076, Scotland no. SC037654