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Found a baby bird on the ground? Here's what to do

Three featherless baby birds in a nest
Fas Khan

As Utahns celebrate the return of warmth and sunshine with more outdoor activities, they may also discover more baby birds in nests—and, sometimes, out of them. But what, if anything, should you do when you find a baby bird on the ground?

According to Faith Heaton Jolly, the public information officer for Utah’s Division of Wildlife Resources (DWR), it mainly depends on how the bird looks.

“If it doesn’t have feathers, and it’s still flightless, we recommend just picking it up and trying to locate its nest and put it back in its nest,” Jolly said. “If you can’t find its nest, maybe just putting it on a tree branch where it’s kind of not going to be disturbed by dogs or cats, for instance.”

If the bird has feathers and is hopping around on the ground, however, Jolly says it’s not really a baby anymore, but a fledgling, which means it’s close to being able to fly on its own and should thus be left alone.

Ducklings should also generally be left alone, according to a news post by the DWR, unless they’re stuck somewhere dangerous like a storm drain or swimming pool. In that case, contact a local DWR office or city officials.

When you do need to move a baby bird, Jolly recommends using gloves when possible, both for your own protection against disease and to disturb the animal as little as possible. Gloves are especially recommended right now with the avian flu going around.

What Jolly says people don’t have to worry about, however, is a baby bird being abandoned by its parents because you touched it, gloves or no.

“There is kind of a misconception with at least birds that if you touch it, its parents will abandon it,” Jolly said. “But actually, birds don’t really have a good sense of smell, so if you pick it up, typically its parents won’t even know you’ve handled it.”

If the bird appears injured, Jolly recommends contacting a local DWR office or a wildlife rehabilitation facility. She noted there are restrictions right now on what birds those facilities can accept because of avian flu.

No matter what, though, Jolly says to never take a bird home — not just because it disturbs the animal, but because it's often illegal.

“Birds actually are protected by state and typically federal laws. The Migratory Bird Act protects a lot of species,” Jolly said. “So it is illegal to basically take one home and keep it in captivity or possess it.”

It’s also illegal in Utah to possess a wild animal without a special permit, and certain animals aren’t eligible for permits at all.

In general, Jolly said to avoid disturbing or feeding any wildlife whenever possible, as it generally causes more harm than good.

For more information on baby bird encounters, visit the Wild Aware Utah website.

Duck is a general reporter and weekend announcer at UPR, and is studying broadcast journalism and disability studies at USU. They grew up in northern Colorado before moving to Logan in 2018, so the Rocky Mountain life is all they know. Free time is generally spent with their dog, Monty, listening to podcasts, reading or wishing they could be outside more.