Top End birds breed all year round in Darwin but the peak time is October to January. Fledgling and baby birds are often found on the ground, especially after storms and high winds or after taking their first flight.
Over 75% of young birds that are rescued by people with good intentions, are in fact not orphans at all, are being well cared for, and don’t actually need anyone’s help. Most of the time, the best thing you can do for a baby bird is simply to leave it alone. If you spot a baby bird that appears to be all alone, watch it for a while, make sure it is unhurt and do not intervene unless you are sure it is orphaned.
Altricial and Precocial
Altricial young at hatching are completely helpless, usually naked, have their eyes closed and are totally dependent on the parents for food and care. They are hatched in nests in trees & shrubs, and are called nestlings.
Altricial birds include doves, lorikeets, honeyeaters, pee wees & owls. Nestlings grow very quickly, become feathered and leave the nest in 2 to 4 weeks. When they leave the nest they are called fledglings.
Most fledglings are still tended and fed by their parents (even on the ground) for a short time until they become completely independent.
Precocial birds are much more developed at hatching. They are covered with down feathers, have their eyes open, are able to run or swim soon after hatching & can feed themselves at an early stage.
They grow slower than altricial birds – which makes them look cute & helpless. Precocial chicks are usually hatched in nests on the ground and may remain with their parents until self-sufficient. Precocial birds include ducks, plovers, curlews, waders. Orange footed scrub fowls chicks are fully independent from hatching.
Many precocial chicks are mistakenly picked up by well meaning people thinking they are helpless & abandoned, which is not the case.
Hatchlings and Nestlings
Hatchlings have mostly exposed skin, and either no feathers, or a light downy coat, particularly on their heads, and may have small developing pin feathers on their wings and tail. They are unable to perch.
Hatchlings fall from the nest because of damage by wind, or storms or removal by predators & humans. Re-nesting these babies is extremely difficult.
They cannot survive very long without warmth and food from their parents.
Partially feathered young have still got some exposed skin, particularly on the belly.
They may have a mix of down and pin feathers, but will also have a good covering of true feathers, particularly on their backs, wings, & tail. Either return to original nest (if safe), or make an artificial one using an old ice cream container with some drainage holes, hangingplanter or basket, lined with dry grass.
Hang on a tree branch closest to where baby was found, 2-3m off the ground if possible and well away from the trunk, with overhead branches for protection from the sun. Keep all activity, children and pets away, or the parents will be too nervous to return to feed the baby. Observe from a distance for 2 hours. Once left alone, the parents should return and begin feeding the baby.
Are fully feathered all over, and have no exposed skin. They are able to perch, and will be experimenting with flight. If the baby bird is fully feathered and hopping around, it will usually be no more than 2 – 5 days away from flying.
At this age, birds often jump or tumble out of the nest. The mother will continue to protect and feed it on the ground while it learns to use its wings. This is completely normal.
If the parents are still feeding or calling to it, DO NOTHING, or for protection perch the bird in a heavy shrub or low tree. You may want to make a small, secure twig pile that the baby can hop into for protection. ALL pets and children should be kept clear until the baby is flying. Observe from a distance for 2 hours. If the mother doesn’t appear within this time, phone for advice.
Click on the images below to download Facts Sheets about Orphaned Birds.