At this time of year, it’s common to find young wild birds in trouble: this week’s podcast lets you know what to do if you are in this situation. Listen by clicking on the play button at the foot of this page.
What sort of scenario can happen?
It’s very common for members of the public to attempt to rescue young birds at this time of year. People often find young birds that seem to have been abandoned. The birds may be lying on the ground, they may be brought in by the family cat, or they may even be in a hedgerow, chirping as if distressed.
The small creatures often seem bright and strong, but there’s no immediate sign of their parents, and they are clearly not yet old enough to fend for themselves. Humans often feel the need to intervene, yet they aren’t sure what to do. They feel that they can’t just leave a small bird on its own, in what looks like a hopeless situation. Yet they also realise that it’s not so simple to “rescue” a wild bird.
The correct actions depend on the details of the individual case
The best course of action depends on the details of the situation. A website has been set up to help people make the correct decisions: www.irishwildlifematters.ie. The website includes easy-to-navigate menus that guide people through the whole process of dealing with wildlife casualties. Even the most basic questions are answered (e.g. “Basic equipment for wildlife rescue: strong cardboard box, pet carrier or cage, towels, thick gloves.”)
The whole range of Irish native wildlife is included, from birds, foxes and badgers to seals, bats and deer, with a different section for each. Basic advice is given, and an up-to-date contact list includes the names of experienced wildlife rescue volunteers around the country.
There’s an entire section on baby birds which is particularly useful at this time of year. The strong and essential point is made that all too often baby birds are “rescued” unnecessarily. Often nature does know best, and when humans intervene, they can accidentally make things worse. If any reader does find a young bird that seems to be in trouble, I’d strongly recommend that they visit this website.
The level of detail included on the website is impossible to match in a brief piece on the radio, although it’s worth making a few key points.
Early in the summer, most of the young birds that are spotted are not yet fully feathered, known as “nestlings”. It’s best to return these to the nest, if you can locate it. If not, you should try other means of reuniting the nestling with its parents. Pick up the young bird and put it into a box that’s safe from predators, but accessible to the parent birds. Make sure that pet cats are shut indoors, then stand well back. If you are lucky, the parents will move in to look after their young one, feeding it and nurturing it.
Unfortunately, people often report that the parents have completely vanished, and although this is only rarely the case, it can happen. In these cases, hand rearing the nestlings is often attempted, but it’s very difficult to do this successfully. All too often, it ends in tears with the young bird dying after 12 – 36 hours. The best answer in most cases is to seek expert help. Find a local wildlife rehabilitator, and discuss the situation one-to-one. Experience and knowledge often makes the difference between success and failure.
As the summer advances, many of the young birds that are spotted by members of the public are fully feathered: they are known as “fledglings”. They have now left the nest, and are just learning to fly, but they’re not old enough to cope completely on their own. People often think such birds are injured, when in fact they’re just clumsy and slow to get around. For these cases, it’s best not to intervene unless they are physically injured. The main problem is that fledglings are highly vulnerable to danger. In particular, they are easy prey for any cats in the area. It’s a good idea to keep cats indoors during the times when such young birds are most vulnerable, from an hour before sunset, till an hour after sunrise.
What about taking wildlife casualties to the vet?
People often feel that the easiest answer is just to take any wildlife to the vet, but this should only be done if the animal is injured. While vets are generally keen to help if they can, they are not the best people to do so if the animal is simply young and abandoned. It’s far better to work with wildlife rehabilitators on such cases.
There is a good guide to “all about taking wildlife to the vet” that’s worth reading.
Wild creatures deserve the best possible chance in life, and with knowledge and care, we humans should be able to give them that.
If you find any type of wildlife that seems to need assistance, visit www.irishwildlifematters.ie to find out the best way of dealing with the situation.
Questions about animals for Pete
Every week, listeners send in questions about animals that Pete answers: this week, the following topics were covered.
- I have rescued a dog who has a number of medical issues and I am not sure if I can continue to look after him. What can I do?
- Seagulls are making a noise outside my window. How can I make them go away?
- Should I continue to feed the garden birds over the summer?
- What should I do if I ever come across a case of animal cruelty? I was shocked after learning about the man who was convicted of killing a young puppy recently.
- I have a wild fox in my garden who looks hungry. Should I feed him?
To hear Pete’s answers, listen to the podcast