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Zoo-ology: Hands off baby birds

June 5, 2011 at 1:05 a.m.

Baby mockingbirds in the nest eagerly await their supper.

By Judie Farnsworth

It's that time of year again. Birds are singing up a storm and baby birds are beginning to appear. This means calls for help, "I found a baby bird on the ground."

It's commendable to be concerned, but in many cases, there isn't a problem - that is until the bird is removed from the wild.

Inexperienced humans, in general, make dreadful mother birds. It takes a great deal of energy, time, patience and knowledge to raise a bird that can be successful when released.

Even the shape of a nest and size of perches are important to its development.

Bird species eat different types of foods, in different ways, often every 15-30 minutes, sun-up to sunset. Being a mother bird can be the pits. But, here are a few facts that may help ease your mind.

Some birds, mockingbirds for one, leave the nest before they can fly. This is perfectly normal. If you return them to the nest, they'll jump out again. They are feathered, hopping around and will spend several days on the ground, following their parents from place to place.

They shelter in bushes and crawl up into low brush and trees. We've all heard their loud calls. They're not screaming for help. They're telling their parents where they are, to feed them and make it quick.

Mockingbird (and many other) parents both feed the young as they move them from place to place.

If you find one in your yard, chances are it will only be there for a short time. Try to contain pets briefly and it will usually soon be gone.

If you must intercede, carefully move the bird a short distance (like outside a fence).

Songbirds have no appreciable sense of smell, so touching the baby bird will not cause rejection. Problems with handling come from stress or injury to the bird or marking it with a human scent, which is detectable by predators.

A fallen nest can be secured in a tree near where it was found, or put in a container with drip holes punched. Place it out of direct sun.

A hanging plant can make a great shelter. Clear a little area on one side. Hang it near where you found the bird. You may have to forgo watering or do it sparingly.

Don't rush to feed a bird if you are inexperienced. The windpipe is in the front of the mouth. Dripping water in can drown it (also - birds don't drink milk). Baby birds get their liquids from the foods they are fed.

Federal law prohibits the possessing of most birds and bird parts. Texas Parks and Wildlife Department and National Wildlife Rehabilitator Association have websites with excellent information and locations of licensed rehabbers.

If a rehabber becomes necessary, please be aware that they usually do this on their own time, their own dime and with no compensation. A donation, while usually not required, would certainly be appropriate and very much appreciated.

Judie Farnsworth is a long time volunteer at the Texas Zoo specializing in educational programs.

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