Rescue Situation or Not? How to Tell

What you may see What  to do
Signs of injuries such as bleeding, eye injuries or broken wings  → CONTACT A LICENSED REHAB CENTER
For more information see Signs of Injuries, under Adult Birds below.
Hatchlings (few or no feathers, pink bodies and eyes closed) on the ground

Photo courtesy of KathysKritters.

Photo courtesy of Texas Wildlife
Rehabilitation Coalition


Take Them Back to the Nest!

Return them to their nest, then place the nest in a tree. Their best chance of survival is with their parents who will teach them the skills necessary to thrive as wild birds.

If the nest is damaged you can make an artificial nest.

  • Punch holes in the bottom of a clean butter tub.
  • Punch a hole on each side of the tub.
  • Add grass for bedding.
  • Place the babies in the nest.
  • Hang the “nest” from a branch close to the trunk of the tree.

The parents will respond to the babies’ calls and return to their families.

If one parent seems to be missing, do not assume the babies are orphans. The remaining parent can successfully raise them. 

Nestling (feathers and eyes open) songbirds on the ground.

Photo courtesy of KathysKritters.


Take Them Back to the Nest!

The best chance of survival  for these babies is to return them to their nest and the nest to a tree. Their parents will find them and continue raising them until they are able to survive on their own.

If the nest is damaged, you can make an artificial nest by following the instructions above.

If these babies are injured or you cannot restore the nest, CONTACT A LICENSED REHAB CENTER.

Fledgling songbirds (feathered) out of the nest

  • On the ground hopping, walking, or calling
  • Perched and capable of short flights
  • No obvious injuries or danger

Robin Fledgling



These  young birds are not abandoned. Just like toddlers, they are off exploring their world. Their parents are close by but often out of sight.

Unless these birds are obviously injured, LEAVE THEM ALONE!!!!! They are still dependent on their parents to teach them survival skills such as danger awareness, foraging for food and migration routes.

If the fledglings are injured, CONTACT A LICENSED REHAB CENTER.

Nestling hawks, owls and other raptors on the ground

Hawk Nestlings

Photo courtesy of Pam Winegar.


Take Them Back to the Nest!

Nestling hawks and owls can be blown to the ground if their nests are dislodged during spring storms. Even if the nestlings avoid injuries from the fall, their chances of survival are poor unless they can be returned to their nests and parents.

Since raptors generally nest 20 feet or more from the ground returning the nestlings to intact nests can be daunting. Constructing  a nest alternative and replacing it in a tree is also a challenge. Most owls nest in holes so nestlings can be replaced if it is accessible.

If you cannot restore the nestlings to their nest or if they are injured, CONTACT A LICENSED REHAB CENTER.

Fledgling hawks, owls and other raptors.

Photo courtesy of Mike Yip.

Great Horned Owl Fledgling

When to Intervene
Due to their small size raptor fledglings such as kestrels and screech owls are at risk when on the ground. If they have no injuries they should be placed on the branch of a tree such as a pine. The parents will respond to their calls and resume care. CONTACT A LICENSED REHAB CENTER if they are injured.

When Not to Intervene

Larger fledglings, such as Great Horned Owls, are often seen on the ground because they are too big to fit into their nests. Like toddlers, fledglings are very curious about their environment and are off exploring their world. Their parents remain close but out of sight. Unless you see obvious injuries LEAVE THEM ALONE!!!

European Starlings & English Sparrows


Do Not Intervene!
These species are aggressive invaders that are displacing many of our native song birds.  Most rehabilitation centers, including the MRC, will not accept them.

Adult Birds
Signs of Injuries.

Wing Injury
Photo courtesy of Carl Palazzolo, DVM
Long Beach Animal Hospital


Common injuries include:

  • Bleeding
  • Swelling
  • Eyes closed (except for hatchlings)
  • No sustained flight – hopping only
  • Unable to stand, falling over
  • Drooping or dragging a wing or leg

Common causes of injuries

Fake Injuries

Some birds pretend to be injured to lure predators away from their young. It is important to watch the adult bird to determine if the injury is real or a fake. See Fake (deception) Injuries below for more information.

Trapped birds

For more information on the effect of traps on birds as well as other wildlife please visit Wyoming Untrapped.

CONTACT A LICENSED REHAB CENTER IMMEDIATELY! This is an emergency situation that requires help from an experienced facility.

Do not attempt to remove the bird from the trap without assistance. If the bird escapes during the rescue, its chances of surviving its injuries are very poor. Trap injuries are almost always severe enough to prevent a bird from hunting or eating any prey they may find. The result is a slow, painful death from starvation.

Fake (deception) Injuries

Photo courtesy of DA Perrucci.

Some birds protect their nests and young from predators by faking an injury like a broken wing. This behavior distracts the predator from the babies, and allows the parent to lure the predator away from the nest. These displays are only seen during breeding season, and can be distinguished from actual injuries by watching the bird. It will move farther and farther from the nest or young, and once it feels the danger is past, will fly away normally.

Photo courtesy of The Modern Apprentice

At first glance mantling may appear to be an injury. It is not. It is a feeding behavior displayed by many raptors after a successful hunt. The characteristics of mantling that distinguish it from an injury include:

  • Wings outstretched
  • Ducking down to pick at its food
  • Quick peaks over shoulder
  • Staying on ground
  • Dragging food on ground with one foot

Watching a raptor (from afar) enjoy its hard won meal is a very special sight.

Swans  → Trumpeter and Tundra Swans
Trumpeter swans are native to Ohio. Tundra swans are seen in Ohio during spring and fall migrations.
CONTACT A LICENSED REHAB CENTER if you find an injured Trumpeter or Tundra swan.

Mute Swans
All sightings of mute swans, healthy or injured, need to be reported to the Ohio DNR at 1-800-945-3543.
Mute swans are an aggressive invasive species that are displacing our native wildlife and destroying our wetlands.