Western Tanager (left) and
Hooded Oriole (right) fledglings.


The WR&R Songbird Team rehabilitates over 80 species of injured, ill, or orphaned birds. Most of these species are songbirds. Songbirds are members of the largest group of birds called “passerines” due to their ability to perch with strong feet. Songbirds are able to sing and make more complex sounds than other kinds of birds due to the anatomy of their syrinx. There are many kinds of passerines such as flycatchers, jays, robins, finches, swallows, warblers, blackbirds, and wrens. The largest and perhaps most intelligent songbirds are crows and ravens. In addition to passerines, the Songbird Team cares for other native birds such as doves, woodpeckers, and hummingbirds.

What To Do If You Find An Injured Bird

If you have found a bird that needs help, before taking any action, call the WR&R answering service (530) 432-5522. Until you receive a call back, if the bird is in any distress, you can capture it and place it in a box no larger than twice the size of the bird. If it’s a baby bird, see below. You will be asked several questions and will be given advice on what to do. During transport to a rehabilitator or to our center, please keep noise and conversation at a minimum to reduce the bird’s stress.

Cat-Caught Birds

Sadly, free-roaming cats are the cause of many birds requiring help. Any bird that was in the mouth or near a cat or dog must be brought in for examination. Cats and some dogs carry deadly bacteria in their saliva. Punctures from bites or claws introduce the bacteria into the bird. The skin of the bird closes quickly so you may mistakenly believe your cat/dog did not harm the bird. Many cat-caught or dog-caught birds suffer from crushing injuries that you also cannot see. Unfortunately, many do not survive and die a slow death from their attack. They must be placed on a 7-10 day course of antibiotics.

Collision With Windows or Cars

These victims must be brought in for examination and observation for at least 24 hours. Birds suffer concussions just like people and sometimes the brain continues to swell after the initial impact. Some birds that hit an object may be able to fly away, but later die from their injuries nowhere near where it happened. Place the bird in a box (no larger than twice the bird’s size), secure the lid and get it to a professional a.s.a.p.



Should it be out of the nest? See below “To Rescue or Not”

Warm the bird: if the baby feels cold it needs to be warmed immediately. You can wrap the baby in a small piece of fleece while getting a “nest” ready and the heating pad is warming on low. Conversely, if it is hot outside and the baby was exposed too long and feels too hot, it must cool down before placing on a heating pad. Once the bird’s temperature has been stabilized, monitor it by feeling the bird.

Make a nest: If the baby bird does not have feathers or still has bare areas, this is probably a nestling. First make a nest with soft tissue inside a container (so the bird is snug inside the tissue). Place container on a heating pad set on low. The bird should feel warm to the touch. Adjust heat by placing layers of cloth between the nest/container and the heating pad. Place in a small area like a bathroom away from children, pets, and excessive noise.

Hydration: If you cannot get the baby bird to a rehabilitator within an hour or two, it will need hydration. This is best done by an experienced rehabilitator. Baby birds are never given food before we are sure their guts are working. NEVER squirt water into a bird’s mouth! The opening to their lungs is at the base of the tongue and you will drown the bird. Fresh or thawed frozen blueberry pulp is safe. Mash and offer with a blunt stick (coffee stir or popsicle stick). Warm, plain Pedialyte or plain water can be applied to the tip of the beak with a moistened Q-tip. If the baby feels lethargic and has not pooped, it needs moisture to get the guts moving.

Temporary/Emergency Food: ALL BIRDS SHOULD BE CORRECTLY IDENTIFIED BEFORE FEEDING AND THE BIRD’S GUTS MUST BE WORKING FIRST (see hydration above). However, if you cannot get advice from a professional or the bird cannot be taken to a rehabilitator for several hours, the baby bird must eat something. The internet is loaded with deadly misinformation so do NOT google “WHAT TO FEED A BABY BIRD.” Most baby “song” birds must be fed at least every 30 minutes until they can get professional help.

The following diet is an EMERGENCY FOOD ONLY, not what we provide baby birds daily:

Most baby birds are fed insects by their parents. Small mealworms or cricket bodies (no legs/wings) can be offered. They can be dipped in water for extra moisture. Finches are fed tiny seeds by their parents but a few insects to get by will not harm them.

DO NOT FEED THE FOLLOWING: Do not feed Earthworms used for bait, they can cause sickness or death. Although many birds eat earthworms, many cannot digest them. A few earthworms or redworms from an organic garden can be fed to robins, bluebirds, and jays.

Do not feed pet food (with few exceptions). Some omnivorous (plant & meat eating) birds like jays and robins, can be fed soaked (soggy) kitten food. Other birds like wrens, swallows, and other truly insectivorous birds will die if fed pet foods!

Never give milk or any dairy product.

Never give raw hamburger or chicken.

Do not feed “Exact” by Kaytee: the ONLY baby birds that can tolerate a grain-based diet are finches, pigeons, and doves. Exact should NEVER be fed to other kinds of baby birds that require higher amounts of protein in the form of insects, rodents, etc.

Soiled Feathers: Do NOT get food on feathers. It can damage the feathers and cause a bird to be non-releasable. Gently clean beak & feathers with a moistened soft tissue or Q-tip. Be careful – they are very sensitive. Do NOT give the bird a bath!

To Rescue or Not – Should it be Out of the Nest?

If the baby bird is naked or mostly naked, bare areas still are observable, it should not be out of its nest. If it has some adult-like feathers, it still may be too young. If it cannot move, it is too young or may be injured. If there are no parents tending to it, it cannot feed or defend itself. If no parents have come to feed the baby after 60-90 minutes, it may need help.

Is the baby bird abandoned? Parent birds rarely “abandon” their young. Sometimes both parents are killed. If one parent is missing, this may be normal for the species (such as hummingbirds). In most cases, it will be difficult for one parent to brood, feed, and defend the young. Careful observation is needed to determine if the babies are truly orphaned. Older nestlings or near-fledglings are fed less often. Parents are sneaky as they come and go as they do not want to alert predators. If a baby bird is continuously making sounds, it is probably in trouble.

Fledglings: are baby birds that have left their nest because they are ready. But they are still dependent on their parents for food and protection for a few days to weeks after fledging. Some fledglings, such as cavity (tree or box) nesters usually fly fairly well at first. They should NOT be on the ground and need help. Others need more time to hone their flying skills, so they are often found on the ground or in bushes. If they are not in any danger (cats, dogs, children, parking lot, etc.) they should be left alone for parents to tend to them. If the bird is strong enough to perch on your finger, find the nearest vegetation for protection.

Renesting: it is ideal to speak with a professional before attempting to replace a baby bird back in its nest. There are many reasons young birds come out of their nest early. A naked baby bird that has accidentally come out of its nest is usually found below the nest. If you cannot find a nest, it may be a cavity-type nester. If it’s found nowhere near a nest it may have been dropped by a predator. Also, unhealthy baby birds may intentionally be removed by the parent. If you have located the nest, the bird may be able to be replaced if it is not injured or has not been exposed to the elements too long. Caution! Near-fledglings (fully feathered nestlings) have a strong fear response and putting a bird back, can cause remaining siblings in the nest to jump early. Also, if a cat or squirrel has discovered the nest, putting the baby back can result in its death.

Second nest or replacement nest: If the original nest is intact, DO NOT make a second (separate) nest for a baby bird. The mother bird cannot possibly keep the baby warm, and the parents will not feed it. If a nest is destroyed and the babies are unharmed, a replacement nest can be made. The replacement nest should be secured near the original nest location with adequate amount of cover for concealment. If you cannot spend time observing to see if the parents return, then it’s best not to leave the baby birds.

Replacement nest: a small basket or plastic cup (with holes drilled in the bottom to allow air and drainage). Line with tissue to keep babies snug inside. Baby bird must be able to back up and defecate over the edge.

Moving a nest: it is illegal to touch a nest with eggs or young. If you find a nest on a vehicle or boat that you need to use, please call a professional for advice before doing anything.

Symptoms of illness or injury:

Cannot stand; falls over; walks with limp
Cannot flap wings; wing droops or tilts upward
Tail cocked to one side (possible spinal injury)
Weak, shivering, puffed up, not moving
Bleeding (an emergency)
Fully feathered bird sits with eyes closed
Eyes crusted over

Nestling robin with a mirror buddy.