Theres nothing quite like the promise of new life: and this time of year is bursting with it!
From fox kits poking their noses out from the safety of their dens, tadpoles making a splash in our waterways or the emergence of chicks throwing off their shells, spring is full of activity in the animal kingdom.
While foxes and tadpoles are not as common; every gardener, at some point, will find themselves nose to beak with a chick that has fallen from the nest.
Nature has survived perfectly well without human intervention since the dawn of time, and it will continue to do so long after we are gone.
It does not always need us to swoop in to save the day, so it is useful to know exactly when to help and when to hold back.
The sad reality is that most chicks taken in by humans will die, the ones that don’t will need round the clock care which is incredibly difficult.
Only a qualified rehabber should even attempt this if it has to be done; the birds parents will always be the best option.
If you see a chick on the floor, the first thing to observe is its age.
A hatchling is a chick that has only recently emerged from its egg, its eyes will be closed and it will be bald or just a few wispy little feathers.
Slightly older is a nestling, it will have some feathers or be covered in feather shafts, these are the hard casing of a developing feather, and make it look almost part hedgehog.
Its eyes will be open and it will be more lively. Fledgelings are covered in feathers and look almost like their adult counterparts but with shorter wings and tails, they will hop, flap and attempt to fly.
This whole process from egg to flight typically only lasts a few weeks.
If you find a bird at either hatchling or nestling stage, it’s safe to know it should not be out of the nest yet.
The best thing to do is simply look up! If you can see the nest, you should try to return it only if it is safe to do so.
Contrary to popular belief, the parents will not abandon it for you having touched it.
Simply pop it back and leave quickly so that its parents can return to caring for it, you don’t want to attract attention as it could alert predators to an easy snack! If you cannot reach the nest, a small box lined with paper towels is the next best thing.
Add a small hole for the parents to enter and attach it to the tree as close to the original nest as you can. The parents will hear their chick calling out and will still care for it.
Fledgelings are the rebellious teenagers of the bird world and are getting ready to fly and leave the nest for good. It is possible that they have come down of their own volition to explore the world, practice flight and learn to hunt for insects.
If you tried putting it back to the nest, it could just jump out again as it needs to prepare for adult life and this can’t be done sat at home letting mum and dad feed you.
Often the best thing to do is nothing, the parents will still care for it while it obtains the life skills necessary for survival. If the bird is in immediate danger such as lurking cats, you can place it higher up and shoo off the cat.
Now you know how to give your (not quite) feathered friend a little help for the best chance of survival.
It might seem counterintuitive to do nothing when you see an animal that looks like its struggling; unless you plan on following it its whole life, they need to learn how to look after themselves.
The old adage of sink or swim applies very strongly to young birds, for when it comes time to fledge, they must fly or fall. We cannot fly for them, but we can help by making the fall a little softer.
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