If you've ever found a baby bird on the ground and you
know it is too young to be flying but you are unable to locate the nest it
came from, you may be confused as to what you should do. I hope to
help by showing you how to make a new nest for the little one so its
parents can continue to care for it.
First make sure you've got a hatchling or nestling rather
than a fledgling who simply hasn't gotten the hang of flying yet.
Hatchlings are rather obvious by their pink skin and lack of
feathers. Nestlings are getting feathers but not nearly enough for
flight. A good gauge is the length of the tail feathers. If they are just
coming in you've got a nestling. Fledglings have enough feathers to fly
and if healthy and uninjured will generally hop just out of your
Some nestlings find themselves in the unfortunate position
of being on the ground instead of in the protective environment of a nest.
Even if their parents are around, there isn't any way they can put them
back into the nest without some help. If you know which nest they
came from you can return them and the parents will take over from there.
Contrary to popular belief, birds will take their babies back after being
handled. They do not have a sense of smell like we do, rather they locate
their babies by sound instead of smell. If the nest is too high or
you can't locate it you can make a simple replacement nest for the parents
to use. Naturally, babies without parents present another problem indeed
and you'll need to call to the
nearest wildlife rehabber.
You can find my contact info here.
There was a nestling dove in my front yard who found
itself in the unfortunate situation of living life in the grass. It didn't
bode well as the other nest-mate had already died. Luckily for both of us
the mother bird was still around and doing her best to distract my
attention with her "wounded bird" act. I made a simple
replacement nest for the baby and the mother was able to raise it in the
new nest until maturity. I've included pictures of the nest I made
Choosing and Building a Nest
For the dove I chose a small clean plastic margarine tub
and used a hole-punch to punch three holes around the sides of the tub and
several in the bottom for drainage. It
is important in choosing the size of your plastic tub that it be a good
fit around the baby. The natural nest is built small to help hold the legs
under the bird so the legs don't become splayed from pressing against the
sides for balance, as they grow. A lining the baby can grip well with its
feet is important so it can get into the proper "begging"
position for feeding. Newspaper is much too slick and the baby will use
more calories trying to get into position than it will receive from the
food, resulting in poor nutrition and possible death. It would be best to
use wood chips, though you could use a couple of washcloths if you didn't
have the wood chips available. Most baby birds will hang their butt over
the side of the nest for pooping. They do their best to keep their nest
clean, so rather low sides are necessary to prevent the nest from filling
up with poop.
Once the holes are punched, cut a section of wire slipping
one end through a hole, then bending it back up and around the remaining
wire to secure it. Do this for each hole in the tub, then fill with
wood chips or washcloths. Find a tree near the area you found the bird and
choosing a limb within reach (you may need a step ladder) wrap the ends of
the three strands of wire around the branch to securely hang the nest. Be
sure to hang the nest in the shade so the baby doesn't bake in the
wire will prevent the nest from twisting or swinging too much in the
Gently place the baby in the new nest then step back and
let the parents take over. You may need to watch carefully or possibly
check on the baby over the next day or two. Doves in particular are crop
feeders. They are fed much less often than other species, sometimes only
twice a day so it may be difficult to tell if mama is still caring for it.
A simple way is to gently feel the crop located in the front right side of
the bird's chest. If it feels mushy or jello-like it has been fed. If it
feels bony or empty you should call a rehabber. Other species of birds are
fed much more often, sometimes every fifteen minutes so it is much easier
to know if the parents are still caring for it.
These are pictures of the nest I made for the little dove.
I made sure there was room in the nest for the bird as it grew.