Just because a baby bird is on its own, on the ground, does not mean it needs help. In many cases these chicks on the ground are simply doing what all children do – explore and play.
Use the flowchart below to work out whether or not you should help, then scroll down to learn more about the difference between nestlings and fledglings, and what their needs are.
If a baby bird has no feathers, or very few feathers, it is called a nestling, and it needs its parents to feed it and keep it warm in the nest.
If you find a healthy and uninjured nestling on the ground, it is important to make every effort to re-nest it so that it can be re-united with its parents.
If you cannot find the original nest you can place it in a makeshift nest. Despite the popular belief that the parents will reject the baby because it has been handled by humans, they WILL continue to care for the chick.
What to do after re-nesting a baby bird
Please take the time to observe the nest and make sure that the parents do return to care for the nestling.
The parents should arrive at the nest with food and leave without food. One of the parents should also spend some time sitting on the nest to keep the little one warm if it did not have very many feathers.
If the parents do not return within an hour or at dusk, retrieve the baby. The baby bird should then be placed on a soft towel or cloth in a box or other suitable container with holes in the sides and lid.
Keep the baby bird warm with a hot water bottle or something similar. Use only hot water from the tap, NOT boiling water from the kettle. Then depending on the species (you need a permit to look after native birds) either bring the bird to us or ring us for advice.
Abandoned ducklings, pukekos, plovers, pied stilts, dotterels, pheasants or quails will not survive by themselves and will need immediate warmth and regular feeding. The type of food and regularity depends on the species of bird. Ring us for advice.
If the baby bird has a significant number of adult-looking feathers, but no tail, it's a fledgling, and will be fed by the parents from above.
It can usually hop, jump and flutter, but does not usually fly at this stage. It is still getting used to operating its wings, becoming coordinated and strengthening its muscles.
Please do not 'kidnap' healthy fledglings.
These babies do not need ‘rescuing’ unless they appear to be in danger, at which point they should be picked up and placed in a nearby bush. If you can remove the ‘danger’ such as your cat or dog, this will give the fledgling and its parents time to move away.