Bird parents are much more proactive than we might think. I have been told by wildlife rehabilitators that fledglings that fall from their nests a tad prematurely stand a far better chance being left where they are, than being scooped up by humans thinking to rescue them; the reason being that bird parents are proactive and continue to raise fledglings that have left the nest.

Of course, when we see a fledgling (a young bird that has most of its feathers but is still learning to fly) apparently helpless and abandoned, our instinct is to catch it and take it to a place of safety, but although well meaning, we might be depriving the youngster of its best chance. The best caretakers and raisers of young birds are in fact their parents.

For years a pair Southern Grey-headed Sparrows have nested under the eaves of the gable of our house, raising their babies each season. However, last week we found a fledgling in our dining room, hiding in a corner, sheltered between a cupboard and a wall from an interested cat, namely, Nougat who was patiently waiting to see what might happen next. It seems that the fledgling’s maiden flight from the nest went wrong, resulting in it accidentally flying in through an open window instead of into a nearby tree.

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The sparrow’s nest is in a crevice in damaged rafters beneath the eaves at the gable of our house, high above the dining room window

After shutting Nougat out of the dining room, we moved the cupboard so as to be able to catch the baby sparrow and we took it outside to release onto the ground below the window where we hoped it would be seen by its parents. Amazingly, as we put it on the ground, one of the parent sparrows flew down and made brief contact with the fledgling and then seemingly disappeared. The fledgling tried unsuccessfully to fly, and flapped and hopped a few metres across the lawn. We interfered again to check to make certain it was uninjured. It seemed to be fine, so we backed off, hoping the parent would make contact once more. The fledgling managed to flutter towards the base of tree and then into some longer grass where it took cover.


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We had left this patch of grass uncut so that it could go to seed to provide food for birds and other creatures. It was in this patch of longer grass where the baby sparrow took cover

We watched through the dining room window for a bit and the parents did not return and the baby sparrow remained hidden, but when we checked again about half an hour later, the chick had emerged from the grass and was being fed by both parents. We were very relieved, and I decided to get my camera to try to record what might happen next. All the following photos were taken through the dining room window.

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After receiving a good feed from both parents the baby sparrow fluttered further out onto the lawn. The parents meanwhile continued to fly up to feed the other fledglings that remained in the nest under the eaves

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The fledgling appeared to be really tired and kept taking momentary naps

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It then seemed to gain strength and hopped and fluttered towards the base of a nearby tree from where one of the parents was chirruping incessantly

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At first we thought the fledgling had taken cover in a shrub, but then it emerged climbing up the trunk of the tree, fluttering its wings now and again to help it ascend, seemingly encouraged  by the chirruping parent higher up in the tree

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It would rest now and again but made good progress up the trunk of the tree

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When it had climbed about 3 metres up the tree trunk one of its parents flew in to feed it and to offer reassurance

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Once it was high enough to draw level with a horizontal branch the fledgling managed to totter along it with great determination even if a bit wobbly on its legs after a long climb

From what we had seen so far, the advice that bird parents are well equipped to manage fledglings that have left the nest, even fledglings that are not yet able to fly with confidence, was shown to be the case. The Grey-headed Sparrows communicated with the fledgling, protected it and fed it. In fact fledglings of many species of birds leave their nests before they are fully capable of flying, and their parents continue to raise them and guide them. The best thing that well-meaning humans can do is leave them to do this, but offer protection by keeping away so as not to disturb them, and also by keeping away dogs and cats that might endanger the birds at this vulnerable time.

Misguidedly attempting to “rescue” such fledglings interrupts normal bird parenting and developmental processes, and introducing such uninjured fledglings to captivity might reduce their prospects for survival.  

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Once high up in the tree, the fledgling settled down, and reverted to looking rather sleepy

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Despite seeming sleepy, the fledgling was quick to solicit feeding when a parent approached to feed it

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Both parents took turns feeding this fledgling and visiting the nest to feed the other babies that remained in the nest. (Because of intervening vegetation, unfortunately I had to overdo the zooming in to get these shots)

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Well-fed and relatively safe high up in the tree, the fledgling seemed to regain its confidence and its prospects for survival seemed good

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With the youngster safe and the drama of the rescue over, one of the parents took the time to chirrup enthusiastically for several minutes from a nearby branch

We learned a lot from witnessing this well-coordinated rescue by the sparrow parents. There is so much going on in nature that we completely overlook or misunderstand, and watching the tiny sparrows cope successfully with this adversity was really humbling. For more information on what to do if you find a baby bird, see this post from the Audubon Society of Portland,

Posted by Carol