As a general rule, it is best to leave baby birds alone. Despite the risks, a baby bird has a greater chance of survival in the wild than it has being hand-reared by humans. If the bird is injured, please refer to our FAQ on injured birds.
Young garden birds usually leave the nest about two weeks after hatching - just before they can fly. If you find a young bird out of its nest, it is probably a fledgling. Fledglings are almost fully feathered, able to walk, run and hop on to low branches, and will try to hide in undergrowth where they are fed by their parents. Parent birds are not usually far away and are probably collecting food but will not return until you have gone. Within a day of leaving the nest, fledglings can usually fly enough to keep up with their parents and escape predators.
Only move them, or encourage them to move, a short distance to safety if they are in immediate danger. If you have picked up a fledgling, put it back as near as possible to the place you found it. Don't try to return a fledgling to its nest as you may disturb other young birds. If you are concerned about its safety try to put it nearby on a ledge, or somewhere it will be out of the reach of cats. Monitor the situation from afar (otherwise your presence may continue to discourage the return of the parents) for at least two hours. You will almost certainly find that the parents have taken care of their youngster.
If, after monitoring, you think a fledgling is genuinely orphaned or sick put it in a warm, dark, well-ventilated cardboard box (do not offer water, milk or food) and seek assistance. Sick birds should be taken to your nearest veterinary surgeon (or, if outside normal surgery opening hours, call the number below). For orphaned fledglings, contact a reputable wildlife rehabilitation centre. Please do not try and care for these birds yourself. If you need further help and advice, please call the RSPCA's 24-hour cruelty and advice line 0300 1234 999.
These are baby birds that only have a limited number of feathers. They are different from fledglings in that they are totally dependent on the security of the nest and will not fare at all well if left. If a nestling is found, contain it as soon as possible in a warm, dark, well-ventilated cardboard box (do not offer water, milk or food). If the bird is sick, take it to your nearest veterinary surgeon (call the number below if out of hours). Otherwise, take the bird directly to a reputable wildlife rehabilitation centre or contact the RSPCA’s 24-hour cruelty and advice line 0300 1234 999. Never try to return nestlings to their nests as this may disturb the other babies and may also be illegal. Never try to rear nestlings yourself, as they need specialist care if they are to survive.
See Living with nesting birds (PDF 142KB) for further information on nesting birds.
Caution:- Handling of any animal either domestic, wild, dead or alive may be potentially hazardous. Obvious dangers include bites, scratches and general hygiene issues. Common sense should be applied in all instances and if unsure seek additional advice or assistance. Personal hygiene should be taken into consideration after handling any animal whether it is domestic, wild, dead or alive.
Other useful information:
What to do with orphaned wild animals