Home Environment and health Why you should leave fledglings alone – RSPB

Why you should leave fledglings alone – RSPB

Song thrush fledgling
Song thrush fledgling

Young birds are tougher than they look

As many more people are taking an interest in birds during the coronavirus pandemic, lockdown has seen a surge in the number of people desperate to help ‘abandoned’ fledglings.

The RSPB is urging bird lovers to not intervene during this vital stage in their development. The plaintive cries of tiny fledglings leaving the nest for the first time can feel impossible to resist.

However, it is crucial fledglings are left alone and it is normal for them to be flightless at first.

RSPB Wildlife advisor Mey Duek said: “Every year we get inundated with calls from people worried about an abandoned chick in their garden, desperately calling for its mum.

Parent nearby

“It’s extremely unlikely they have been deserted and in many cases, there is a parent nearby keeping a beady eye on their chick’s progress or collecting food.

“Fledglings may appear dainty but they are tougher than they look and typically spend a day or two on the ground before they are ready to spread their wings and take flight for the first time.

Fledgling robin
Fledgling robin

“Mum and dad know tough love is the only way her young will learn to fend for themselves. It is vital the chicks are left alone.”

Removing a young bird from the wild significantly reduces its chances of long-term survival.

Better off in the wild

An RSPCA spokesperson said: “Each year, the RSPCA’s wildlife centres care for around 1,000 fledgling birds, picked up by well-meaning people. Unfortunately, many of these birds are not orphans and in most cases would have been better off if they had been left in the wild.

“Fledglings have all or most of their feathers and leave the nest just before they can fly. The parents are usually nearby and feeding the baby bird.

“In comparison, nestlings are baby birds that have little or no feathers, and will not survive long outside the nest. Over the last four years (2016-2019) the RSPCA wildlife centres have cared for around 1,400 nestlings each year. If you find a nestling out of the nest you should ask for advice from your nearest wildlife rehabilitator.”

A visual guide on what to do if you’ve found a baby bird out of the nest is available on the RSPB website. The only times when the public should lend a friendly helping hand:

Blue tit fledglings
Blue tit fledglings

Immediate danger

If the baby bird is found on a busy road or path, pick the bird up and move it a short distance to a safer place (dense shrubbery) – this must be within hearing distance of where the fledgling was found.

UK birds have a poor sense of smell and will not abandon their young because of human contact.

If you discover your cat or dog eyeing up a fledgling, try to keep it indoors for a couple of days – or at least around dawn and dusk.


If an injured fledgling is discovered, report it immediately to the RSPCA on 0300 1234 999.


If a baby bird is discovered on the ground that is either unfeathered or covered only in its fluffy nestling down, it has likely fallen out ahead of schedule. Very occasionally it is possible to put these babies back, but only if you are sure of the nest it has fallen from and it’s safe to do so.

Wren fledgling
Wren fledgling

Sometimes a parent bird will intentionally eject a chick from the nest if they sense it has an underlying health problem or is dying.

Grounded young swifts

If you find a fallen swift gently put it a safe and calm environment such as a shoebox and keep it away from any disturbance.

You can give it water by running a wet cotton bud around the edge of the beak, avoiding the nostrils. The RSPB recommends you contact a swift carer from the list on this website.

Barn owl chicks

It is not normal for young barn owls to be out of the nest before they can fly. In this case, the baby bird does need a helping hand as owlets on the ground will usually be ignored by their parents.

Owlets should be gently placed back in their nest. For more information, visit the Barn Owl Trust website.

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Mandy Watson is a freelance journalist and an incurable plantaholic. MandyCanUDigIt grew from the tiny seed of a Twitter account into the rainforest of information you see before you. Gardening columnist for the Sunderland Echo, Shields Gazette and Hartlepool Mail and editor of the Teesdale Mercury Magazine. Attracted by anything rebellious, exotic and nerdy, even after all these years. Passionate about northern England and gardens everywhere. Falls over a lot.

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