Insights into baby bird behavior in Northeast Ohio

The brown speckled breast on this American Robin fledgling provides a visual clue that it is an immature bird that has just left the nest. -Photo by Tim Jasinski

Lake Erie Nature & Science Center explains common misunderstanding and counsels hands-off approach

As we head into the second half of summer, keep an eye out for small bundles of twigs and grassroots forming in tree branches. Lake Erie Nature & Science Center Wildlife Rehabilitation Coordinator Amy LeMonds says these are signs of birds that are still nesting in northeastern Ohio. Several native species, such as the American Goldfinch and Cedar Waxwing, construct “cup nests,” named for their distinctive cup-like shape, in preparation for hatching another round of eggs in midsummer. 

New nests in the area mean the appearance of fledglings. LeMonds receives hundreds of calls at the Center during nesting season about human contact with fledgling birds. Many people assume that baby birds have full flight capabilities upon leaving the nest; however, as Amy reports, this is rarely the case.

“Like most songbirds, goldfinches and waxwings spend the first few days after leaving the nest trying to learn how to fly,” she told me recently. “These early stage birds are called fledglings. People mistakenly believe fledglings are hurt or abandoned when they are seen hopping around clumsily on the ground. This is a particularly vulnerable, yet important, time in a bird’s development when they learn everything they need to know to be successful adults.”

Amy explains that the birds’ behavior is natural. Although more vulnerable to predators, fledglings need this time to strengthen their wings. In most cases, allowing the bird its space gives it the best chance of survival. The parents are usually nearby but may not tend to the babies when humans approach.

So, what should you do when you see a fledgling bird?

“Leave it alone,” says LeMonds. “These birds have a much better chance of survival if you let them learn the skills they need for survival. In most cases, caring for wildlife at home is unlawful and it’s usually harmful. For example, I often hear of people giving birds water. Many species, however, get their water from berries and insects. Putting water into their mouths risks getting fluid into their airways, causing pneumonia and possibly death.”

Even the best of intentions can lead to bad outcomes, she says. “If you see a fledgling bird, make certain it is truly hurt before handling it. If the bird is injured, call our Center. Keep it in a quiet area, and remember where you found the bird so that it can be returned, if possible. These are the simple steps people can take to give these birds the best chance of survival.”

For more information about how to coexist with the wild creatures in your backyard visit Lake Erie Nature & Science Center’s website at and navigate to the Wildlife pages.

Katie Ferman is a Communications Intern at Lake Erie Nature & Science Center, honors student at the Ohio State University and a Bay Village resident.

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Volume 2, Issue 16, Posted 2:22 PM, 07.30.2010