New Mexico's Pet Resource WINTER 2005



by Daniel Abram, Executive Director, Talking Talons Youth Leadership

A downy owl chick. Although chicks like this have insulation feathers, they cannot fly and need their parents for survival. It is a myth that the parents will reject the chicks once they are touched by people. The best thing you can do is put the chick back in the nest.

Dread and anxiety are the usual emotions people experience when they see one of our avian friends injured or in danger. If you happen to come across one, you may be able to help. Here’s what to do…

If you find a baby bird with soft downy feathers or no feathers at all (this will take place in the spring or early summer as North American birds have a spring nesting and breeding season): Chicks often fall out of the nest – and sometimes they are pushed out. But this won’t change the fact that you feel sorry for the little feller! If you find a featherless chick, go ahead and put it back in the nest, if you are able. It is a common myth that if you touch a baby bird, the mother will smell you on it and reject the chick. In reality, birds don’t have much of a sense of smell. If the mother persistently pushes the chick out, or you are unable to find the nest, you can try making a substitute nest out of small cardboard box or plastic butter tub. Line the box with some tissue paper or a soft cloth and attach it to a tree limb close by. The substitute nest must be in the shade. Place the chick in the nest and observe. Watch the nest for about two hours to see if one of the parents returns to care for the chick. This observation period applies if the chick is placed in a substitute nest or the real nest. In either case, if the parents don’t come back, call a wildlife rehabilitator (some sources will be listed at the end of this article). If the parents do return, leave the area.

If you find a baby bird with feathers then it is probably a fledgling. If it is active and hopping around, then it’s probably doing what it’s supposed to be doing. When birds leave the nest, they will explore within the proximity of that nest. They can’t fly perfectly yet, so they may hop around on the ground. The parents, in normal circumstances, will come down to the ground to feed their young. However, there are many dangers present to non-flighted baby birds. Determine whether the bird will be safe from cars, dogs, cats, other people, etc. If the chick is close to this kind of activity, it is best to place it in a tree branch nearby and, again, watch for about 2 hours. The chick will most likely call for its parents. If they do not return, call a wildlife rehabilitator.

If you find a sick or injured bird you will want to get it to a wildlife rehabilitator as soon as possible. Remember, this is the BEST way you can help the bird. You may feel inclined to want to help yourself, but trust us, LESS IS MORE! First of all, although you may legally transport an injured bird to a licensed wildlife rehabilitator, you are not allowed to care for birds protected under the Migratory Bird Species Act. This is a Federal Act, enforced by the United States Fish and Wildlife Service. Even Crows and Ravens are protected species. Birds are injured by a variety of human actions, some intentional, some not. Gunshot wounds and automobile impacts are the most common, but electrocution on power poles, impact with pole support cables and impact with windows are other unfortunate occurrences. If you encounter a bird that is unable to fly, your goal is to place it inside a dark container – a cardboard box of the appropriate size for the bird works best. Place a soft cloth or towel on the bottom of the box. Cover the bird with a towel and gently gather up the bird in the towel, covering the wings. Be extremely careful with birds of prey (hawks, falcons, owls). Raptors talons are remarkably powerful. If you are footed, you will have a difficult time getting the bird to release its hold on you. If this happens, try to straighten the leg and pull the talons open. Place the bird gently in the box and close the lid. You may have to tape the lid shut, but don’t seal the box – just tape it enough so the lid stays closed. The box is not airtight so you shouldn’t have to poke holes in it. DO NOT offer the bird food or water. Especially not food. Emaciated birds that eat may die for they do not have enough fluids to digest properly. DO NOT open the box again to check on the bird. You may be worried about the bird so would like to check on it, but that much more stress on the bird may be enough to cause death. Place the box in a dark, warm, quiet place and call a wildlife rehabilitator.

Talking Talons (Physical address)
11804 A State Highway 337 South
Tijeras, NM 87059
(505) 281-1133, ext. 1#
(505) 307-1236 (Daniel Abram, cellular) (505) 604-0098 (Laurie Wearne, cellular)

Birds may be brought to Talking Talons Monday through Friday,
9:00 AM to 5:30 PM.
Other sources of wildlife rehabilitation:
NM Wildlife Rescue: (505) 344-2500
US Fish and Wildlife Service: (505) 248-6911

Talking Talons Youth Leadership is a non-profit agency serving Bernalillo, Sandoval, Torrance, and Valencia Counties. For more information about TTYL’s work with youth and wildlife, go to

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