In recent days, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has been the topic of significant national media attention concerning a youngster and her mom who picked up a baby woodpecker they felt was threatened by the family cat and took it home. The Service appreciates the family's efforts to do the right thing for the woodpecker and commends them for releasing the bird once contacted by law enforcement. The citation should never have been issued, and the Service has apologized to the family for the error.
You may be wondering what the best way to handle a situation like this if it ever happens to you. The following is a brief rundown of what you should keep in mind if you come across this situation.
The first thing to do is to determine if the bird really needs help. In most cases, a baby bird may be a fledged bird (one that has just left the nest and is learning to fly) and its parent may be close by watching. Fledglings are typically adorable, fluffy, and have a short tail. There is usually no need to ‘rescue’ a fledgling bird. It is merely learning from his parents how to survive and doesn’t really need human help. If you are concerned, you can watch the bird for a while to determine if the bird is truly orphaned or in danger.
If there is danger nearby (like a free roaming cat), you can remove the cat from the area and see if you can put the cat indoors. If you have determined that the bird is really orphaned (you can see that parents are dead) or if the bird is visibly injured, you should call a wildlife rehabilitator. Rehabilitators have the knowledge, training and required permits that enable them to legally and properly care for a bird. There are Federal laws that protect birds (most specifically the Migratory Bird Treaty Act) and in most cases it is not legal for an individual to possess a wild bird.
You can find a rehabilitator at http://wildliferehabinfo.org/ContactList_MnPg.htm. A rehabilitator will be able to instruct you about what to do to care for the bird until it can be placed in their care. You can also contact your state fish and wildlife agency or local U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service office to provide assistance. For a list of Fish and Wildlife Service offices, visit www.fws.gov.
While the above senario is spefic to birds, it can be applicable to any type of wildlife.