As a wildlife conservation charity, we don’t have the facilities or expertise to treat injured birds. An injured bird should always be passed onto a local vet or an independent wildlife rehabilitator so it can receive appropriate treatment as quickly as possible. Scroll to the end of this blog for our full list of wildlife contacts who can help.
Every year, we are asked all sorts of questions about how to help birds and wildlife. We’ve put together this helpful list of answers to the most common questions asked during breeding bird season. This blog will cover what to do if you find a baby bird, nesting bird advice, how to stop territorial birds from pecking windows and other breeding season FAQs.
*Note that most of the below advice is universal, but much of the contact info and wildlife crime guidance and references are specific to Northern Ireland.
1) Baby birds 2) Nesting 3) Bird behaviour
1) Baby Birds In most cases, finding a feathered young bird out of a nest is perfectly normal and there’s no need to intervene. If you are unsure the diagram below will help
1 (a) Q - I have found a baby bird with no feathers on the ground, what should I do? A - If the young bird is unfeathered or covered in fluffy down (a nestling) and has obviously fallen out of a nest by accident, it may be possible to put it back. Only do this if you are sure which nest the chick came from and if it appears strong and healthy. Sometimes parent birds sense there is something wrong with one of their chicks, or that it is dying. In cases like this they will eject it out of the nest so they can concentrate on looking after the healthy ones.
If a healthy chick cannot be returned to its nest, it will be dependent on humans for survival and should be passed on to an expert rehabilitator as soon as possible.
If the young bird has a full covering of feathers, it will have left the nest deliberately and is no longer meant to be in a nest. Such a bird should be left where it is, in the care of its own parents.
1 (b) Q - There is a young bird in my garden and it can’t fly – how do I help? A – In most cases you do not need to take any action at all. The young of most familiar garden birds fledge once they are fully feathered, but before they are able to fly. Fledglings will often leave the nest a little early and spend a few days on the ground. This is a normal part of their development, and during this time they will finish growing the last of their adult feathers, get to grips with how to use their wings, and be fed and looked after by parents who are rarely far away. If you are concerned about predators, you can tuck the young bird under a nearby shrub or hedge, but do not move it far from the place where you found it – otherwise the parents may not be able to find it to care for it. However, if the chick you have found is bald or covered in downy fluff, it is too early for it to be out of the nest. If possible and safe to do so, you can try and return it to the nest. If this is not an option, contact an independent wildlife rehabilitator. 1 (c) Q - I’ve found an injured fledgling - what should I do? A - As a wildlife conservation charity, we don’t have the facilities or expertise to treat injured birds. An injured bird should always be passed onto a local vet or an independent wildlife rehabilitator so it can receive appropriate treatment as quickly as possible. Scroll to the end of this blog for our full list of wildlife contacts who can help. If you think the bird has been attacked by a cat read the next question below.
1 (d) Q – I have found a fledgling and I think it has been attacked by a cat
A – Even if the bird looks relatively uninjured, cat saliva is poisonous to birds - so unless the victim receives a shot of antibiotics, he/she will most likely die within a couple of days. It is best if you get in touch with a local vet or independent willdife rehabilitator. If you have a cat, make sure it wears a bell on its collar to alert birds of its presence. And if you think there is a vulnerable bird nearby, please keep your cat indoors (or if it is your neighbour’s cat, encourage them to do so).
1 (e) Q - I’ve found a mother duck and her ducklings – what should I do?
A - It is always best to leave the family undisturbed whenever possible. The mother duck knows where the nearest water is to take her young to, although it may be a couple of miles away. In most instances it is best to leave her alone, because interference can cause extra stress and risk the mother panicking and abandoning her young.
In many cases keeping an eye from the distance and shepherding the family across a danger point, such as a busy road, is all that is needed.
If the family is in a dangerous or an unsuitable place such as an enclosed courtyard with no way out without flying, it may be advisable to relocate them – but only as a last resort. This must be well planned and prepared.
It is important you catch the mother duck first, then the ducklings into a separate box. Be careful to ensure that the first effort to catch the mother is successful, because if she flies away in a panic, she may abandon her young. Handle the duck and ducklings as little as possible. However gentle you are, the whole experience will be very stressful for them. Once safely caught, take the family to a safe place, preferably near a pond, reservoir or lake with gently sloping banks and good cover. Release the ducklings first onto an open bank where they can stand and be seen by the mother. When you release the mother, make sure she has seen the ducklings before letting her go. Place the box she is in carefully on its side so that the opening faces the ducklings. Stand behind the box so that when it is opened, she can walk straight out to her family.1 (f) Q – I’ve found a young gull that can’t fly, what should I do?
A - It is very common to find a young gull on the ground. Young gulls leave the nest when they are only a few days old, well before they can fly and begin to wander about in search of cover. Parent gulls know to look for their wandering young and it is very rare that they become separated, they will usually be close by keeping a watchful eye. There is no need to intervene unless the young gull is injured. If it does have a visible injury such as a wing trailing the ground, seek advice from a local vet or wildlife rehabilitator
2. Birds’ Nests
2 (a) Q - There are birds nesting in/on my house – what should I do? A - It is an offence to disturb, remove or destroy a nest that is in use. It is quite common for birds to nest in/on houses at this time of year. If they are entering the eaves, then they are most likely starlings or house sparrows (from late April to May, possibly even swifts, as this is when they migrate from Africa to Europe). Unless you believe the birds to be trapped, you should leave well alone, and let them come and go as they build their nest and subsequently incubate eggs and raise their young. They will not be staying year-round; they will just be there for up to a few months (depending on the species and the weather, they can have between one and three broods) and then they will leave again. In the spring months up until the end of May, house martins will begin migrating to Europe from Africa; unlike those mentioned above, this species builds mud nests on the outside of houses (normally at the roof’s apex). Similarly, the migratory swallows build mud nests in places such as outhouses/garages – anywhere suitably sheltered with a beam or similar to support it from the underside.
All birds’ nests are protected by law and it is an illegal offence to destroy or disturb a nest. Active nests are protected under the Wildlife (Northern Ireland) Order. A nest is deemed active from the moment a bird starts to build it until it has finished using the nest. It is illegal to take damage or destroy an active nest and/or its contents, regardless of the time of the year or the location of the nest. 2 (b) Q – A nest with eggs/chicks has fallen – what should I do? A – If there are viable eggs or living young in the nest, you can follow the guidance here for house martins and here for swallows. For a nest that has fallen from a tree, you can try to secure the nest on a low branch or secure a container to the trunk (e.g. using a nail) and place the nest inside it. In most cases, parent birds will return to fallen nests, provided this guidance is followed. It is a myth that birds can smell if a human has interfered with a nest and will abandon it. 2 (c) Q – There is a duck’s nest in my garden, what should I do? A - During spring and summer single female ducks or mated pairs can be found well away from water, in gardens and other unlikely places such as window boxes or rooftops. This normally means that they are either planning to nest in the area, or have already started a nest. Ducks are very secretive about a nest, so if you see a pair of ducks hanging around the chances are they're already nesting. Be aware that ducks and their nests receive legal protection under the Wildlife (NI) Order 1985, so you must allow a duck access to her nest - you should not intervene by removing the ducks from your garden.2 (d) Q – My neighbour is cutting their hedge and I’m worried there are nesting birds – isn’t this illegal?
A – The Wildlife (Northern Ireland) Order 1985 protects all wild birds, their (active) nests, eggs and dependent young. We advise against cutting hedges or trees from the start of March until the end of August, as doing so runs the risk of disturbing or destroying nests, which is a criminal offence. If you believe an active nest is being destroyed or disturbed, you can call the PSNI on 101 or report it anonymously through the Crimestoppers website (www.crimestoppers-uk.org/) or by phone on 0800 555 111.
3. Bird behaviour
3 (a) Q – How to do I deter a swooping bird?
A - Birds will sometimes swoop if they perceive you to be threat, they are usually nesting nearby and have eggs or chicks to protect. The best solution is simply to avoid the area for a week or two while the young develop, however this isn’t always possible, particularly if the nest is located on a city rooftop.
The next best option is to raise a hat, umbrella or similar item above your head when you are passing by. The bird will always swoop for the highest point, so it will aim for the item rather than you.
3 (b) Q – How do I stop birds from pecking the window?
A - Some highly territorial birds will attack windows, car wing mirrors and other reflective surfaces, as they can see their own reflection on the surface, and, thinking it is an intruding male, will try to attack it to defend its territory. This behaviour can be prominent during the breeding season, but can also happen at other times of the year, particularly by birds such as the robin and grey wagtail, who hold winter territories. The only way to stop the behaviour is to remove the trigger. This means putting something non-reflective on the outside of the window such as carboard or newspaper. Once the reflection is removed, the attacks should stop.
Northern Ireland Wildlife Welfare Contact Information
· Contacts for injured birds (and other wildlife): helpwildlife.co.uk
· Debbie Doolittle’s WildLife operates a rescue and rehabilitation service to all wild animals. Debbie is contactable via her Facebook page: Debbie Doolittle’s Wildlife
· Vets Now (24hr): 028 9065 1729
· For seal rescues, contact Exploris via Facebook or email email@example.com
· USPCA: 028 3025 1000 / firstname.lastname@example.org
· For injured bats, contact the NI Bat Group
If you have a question between 9.30 am – 4.30 pm Monday – Friday, we have a dedicated wildlife enquires telephone line which you can call on 01767 693 690 outside of these hours you can contact the RSPB HQ wildlife enquiries team via email@example.com.
Northern Ireland Wildlife Crime Information
· Wildlife Law and You
· Partnership for Action Against Wildlife Crime (PAW NI)
· Nesting Birds Leaflet (PAW NI)
Image credits: Mistle thrush fledgling Ben Andrew (rspb-images.com), ducklings: Ben Andrew (rspb-images.com), great black-backed gull: Paul Chesterfield (rspb-images.com), Starling: Ben Andrew, Robin: Ben Andrew (rspb-images.com)
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