When a member of the public comes across a baby bird on the ground, sometimes, they worry that it has been abandoned and collect the baby bird. Many times, this well intended act is actually kidnapping!
Seeing baby birds on the ground can be alarming to us; they look helpless and not where they "should be". Most of the time however, this is perfectly normal as they are fully feathered fledglings, and after leaving the nest can spend several days or even weeks on the ground. They are not abandoned! During this time, they are still watched over by mom and dad, fed, and protected. This is the time where they are learning the essential survival skills of hiding, stealth, and ground foraging; necessary skills for their future success.
If you see a baby bird on the ground, always watch from a distance (preferably from indoors if possible) and you will probably see parents feeding and caring for their young.
Occasionally though, baby birds fall out of the nest in a storm or accident or are scared out of the nest too early in something called a "force fledge", where the baby is able to flutter enough just to get out of the nest in its fear, but is too young to be on the ground. Birds that are too young to leave the nest can be identified by the lack of full feathering - they are still in the nestling stage of development.
Please do not touch or collect these birds unless it is in distress, injured, or unfeathered (nestling that should not have fledged). It always recommended that you contact and Authorized Wildlife Custodian for guidance.
There are still some unfortunate cases where a member of the public will collect an “abandoned” baby bird and attempt to raise it into an adult for release. While usually done with good intentions, it is not a substitute for natural bird parenting and is also against the law.
It is illegal in Ontario to keep any wild animal in your possession longer than 24 hours without approval from the Ministry and Natural Resources and Forestry. Birds raised or cared for by untrained members of the public very often have poor outcomes, very rarely make it to release, and find very little success in the wild after release.
Finders often turn to the internet for advice on what to do when they’ve found a bird. Unfortunately, there’s a lot of bad and misinformation available out there.
Feeding a baby bird inappropriate food just once can be enough to cause severe complications and even death. Each species has very specific dietary requirements, and when a bird is ill or compromised, feeding anything that is not appropriate can be fatal.
Even if they are in good physical health, baby birds need to grow up with conspecifics, (members of the same species), in order to self identify and know who they are, and more importantly learn their song - it's a language just like ours.
If you have found a baby bird in distress, the best thing you can do to help it is contact an Authorized Wildlife Custodian and get it into experienced hands as soon as possible.