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Native Songbird Care & Conservation - Keeping Wild Families Together


Keeping Wild Families Together

By Veronica Bowers, Director of Native Songbird Care & Conservation

NOMO HatchlingEvery spring, Native Songbird Care & Conservation experiences a significant increase in our patient load. Most of the increased admissions to our hospital are baby birds. Some are legitimately in need of our care due to injuries and illness, however, many others are victims of accidental kidnapping. People working in their gardens or taking a walk on a sunny day often encounter healthy fledgling songbirds and mistake these youngsters for injured or orphaned. 

Baby songbirds have three distinct phases of development before they become fully independent and able to survive on their own. When songbirds hatch from their egg, they are featherless and their eyes are closed. This is known as the Hatchling stage. As they grow, their eyes gradually open and feathers begin to emerge and cover their body. They are now Nestlings. After approximately two weeks in the nest, most species of songbirds leave the nest mostly feathered, but unable to fly.  These birds are called Fledglings and leaving the nest before they’re able to fly is a perfectly normal part of their development. Swallows, swifts and several cavity-nesting species are an exception as they’re flight capable when they leave the nest.  

The fledgling stage is a critical period for a young bird to explore its environment, learn to forage and hunt for food and develop its strength for flight. The parent birds are secretive when delivering food to their young and can be difficult spot, but they’re always nearby. They will visit their young and feed them every half hour or so, depending on the fledgling’s age.

NOMO NestlingSeeing a fledgling on its own is not necessarily cause for concern. 

Here are some easy questions you can ask yourself if you come across a fledgling songbird and are unsure about whether or not to take action:

  • Does the bird look healthy and unharmed?
  • Is it alert?  Check if the bird’s eyes are open, if it’s looking for food and vocalizing.
  • Is it sitting upright or hopping around?
  • Is the bird clean and mostly feathered?

If you answered “yes” to these questions, then the bird should most likely be left alone. To confirm that the baby is not orphaned, watch from a safe distance for approximately 60 minutes to determine if parent birds are tending to the baby. If you observe a parent delivering food, then all is well and the baby can be left alone.

NOMO FledglingIf you come across a nestling that has fallen from its nest and it is uninjured, there are techniques to safely re-nest and reunite it with its parents. Because nestlings are not fully feathered and are unable to move around, it is important that they remain in the warmth and safety of their nest and not left on the ground. You can safely pick up the nestling and place it back into the nest. The parents will not abandon their baby if you touched it. (We’re very happy to dispel that myth!) If placing the baby back in the nest is not possible, please call Native Songbird Care so that we can help you assess the situation and work on a solution together.


Native Songbird Care & Conservation is a state and federally licensed wildlife rehabilitation center located in Sebastopol, Sonoma County, CA. We are open 7 days a week from 9 am to 6 pm during the spring and summer. We can be reached at 707-484-6502. More information about what to do if you find a baby bird can be found at



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Dear Editor,
I would like to thank Veronica Bowers, Director of Native Songbird Care and Conservation, and the Sonoma County Gazette for the wonderfully informative article about growth phases of wild baby songbirds and their care ( Keeping Wild Families Together 5/15). Articles like this help make the Sonoma County Gazette our best and most informative local paper, indeed a treasure trove of useful information. 
Michelle Broe  Santa Rosa