Baby Birds and Injured Wildlife - What to Do

Great Horned Owl on Nest by Rick Lewis

The California Department of Fish & Wildlife maintains a list of Wildlife Rehabilitation Facilities by county on its website at: wildlife.ca.gov/Conservation/Laboratories/Wildlife-Investigations/Rehab/Facilities.


In nature, spring and summer are seasons of rejuvenation and growth. It’s the time for baby animals to be born, cared for, and raised to maturity by their parents as has been happening successfully for millions of years. Spring and summer are also seasons when people visiting national wildlife refuges, walking on trails, visiting parks and other outdoor spaces, or working in their yards find baby birds that cannot yet fly. When finding a young bird like that, one often assumes the young bird needs help. So they scoop it up, put it in a cardboard box and then call the National Wildlife Refuge asking for help. While people have the best of intentions, these efforts to save the young bird probably do more harm than good.

It is important to know that if you find a young bird, or any wildlife, in a natural area like a national wildlife refuge or a park, you must leave it alone. In most cases, it is illegal to disturb wildlife or to remove it from its home. However, if you find a young bird in your yard, it is best to know what you are actually dealing with.

Most young birds found on the ground are fledglings. That means they have grown and developed to the point that it is time to leave the nest and disperse into the surrounding vegetation. The best thing to do when finding a fledgling is to leave it alone. It is most likely being watched over and cared for by its parents. The parent birds use calls from their youngster to locate it and continue bringing it food. They also protect their young by driving away potential predators until the youngster, driven by its instincts to stay safe, eventually makes its way to a nearby bush or shrub and off the ground.

A small number of birds found on the ground are truly nestlings. They are mostly featherless and sometimes their eyes are not yet open. Birds like this could have been blown from their nest during a storm, or the nest was destroyed. Without help, these nestlings will probably die.

If you find a nestling in your yard, the best thing to do for these young birds is to place them back in their nest, if it can be found. Look for the nest within a few yards of where you found the bird. If you can safely place the bird back in the nest, do so as quickly as possible. If you can’t locate the nest, or it was destroyed or blown out of the tree, carefully place the nestling in a safe place such as in the shade of a nearby shrub.

If a nestling cannot be returned to its nest or put in a safe place, or if you find an injured bird, or other injured wildlife, please DO NOT bring it to the national wildlife refuge. The wildlife refuge is not equipped to deal with orphaned or injured wildlife.

Instead, locate a wildlife rehabilitator near you. The California Department of Fish & Wildlife maintains a list of Wildlife Rehabilitation Facilities by county on its website at: https://wildlife.ca.gov/Conservation/Laboratories/Wildlife-Investigations/Rehab/Facilities.

It is important to remember that in natural places like national wildlife refuges, it is best to let nature be natural. Most birds are not 100 percent successful in raising their young to maturity every year. Predators often raid nests to feed on eggs or young birds. Nests can also fail if they aren’t properly built or they’re placed in an unprotected location – that’s just nature by natural.