The number one rule about rescuing baby birds

When tragedy happens how often do we say, “If only… If only.”  Looking back on this story about two rescued baby Acorn Woodpeckers, “If only” applied not once, but three times in the decision-making process.  The outcome might have been more positive and less costly had those involved been better informed.  These circumstances included a construction crew (which likely removed a dead tree in which the birds were nesting), and a retail bird supply store to whom they delivered the nestlings.

Let’s begin with how this could have been prevented. “If only”…the construction company had known that before removing a dead or living tree during the nesting season (for most birds this is February through September) it is important to determine if birds are nesting in the tree.  Destroying an active nest and killing native birds without a permit is against the law.

Second.  “If only”…the crew knew the number one ruleCall a bird rehabilitation center for guidance before rescuing a bird.  Having contact information for the nearest wildlife rehab center at every outdoor work site can save time and save birds.  Open this link to find one near you.

Third. “If only”…the retail store had know that it is critical to ask where precisely the birds were found when they accepted the birds and before they contacted the Songbird Care and Education Center.   Owner, Vicki Anderson says, “Under the terms of licensing, a bird rehab center’s first responsibility is to learn where the birds are found and try to return them to their original location. Doing so increases their chances of survival.”  She points out that unfortunately, veterinary clinics, pet and bird supply stores are locations used by the public to drop off rescued birds.  These places are not licensed to rehabilitate wildlife and are poorly equipped to handle such situations.  Delaying proper care and providing insufficient information can reduce a bird’s chance of survival.

The rescued Acorn Woodpeckers are now being cared for at Vicki’s facility in Orange County. This is a non-profit, volunteer-run, licensed rehab center that takes on the exhausting and costly care of hundreds of birds annually.  Most of their ‘patients’ are casualties of construction, demolition, tree care and tenting houses during the nesting season, and of people who rescue baby birds without knowing the number one rule.

Volunteer, Star Howard, uses tweezers to feed baby woodpeckers mealworms and other prey.

Volunteer, Star Howard, explained that because this woodpecker species lives in large family colonies, the birds will eventually have to be transferred to another rehab facility in another region where an outdoor aviary is available in an oak-filled habitat suitable for them.  Fingers crossed; a couple of months spent in the aviary  will improve the chances that when the rescued birds are released, they will be tolerated by those already in the location.  The time spent in the protected cage with allow the local Acorn Woodpeckers to become acquainted with these “intruders,” but there is no guarantee.

A little information can make a big difference.  Please share it widely.

To learn best practices to prevent harm to nesting birds during tree care please go to this page on our website






One Comment on “The number one rule about rescuing baby birds”

  1. If the bird is indeed seriously wounded and if a vet is willing to treat it, that might be a good first step. After treatment, the vet may then transfer the bird to the nearest appropriate wildlife rehab center. If the first call is to the wildlife rehab center they can tell you whether they can handle such an injury or they might refer you to a vet that can. What is often the case when calling a rehab facility is that you have to leave a phone message. Not all have people available to answer the phone immediately. So based on the urgency of the situation, one has to use your best judgment. You may get a faster response from a vet than a rehab center.

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