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Kendra Renner feeds a nestling, although not the fledgling discussed in this column. She had discovered a broken nest on the ground and decided to screw an old, woven basket into a tree in the hopes that a mother bird would return to the makeshift nest.

I am used to the infamous words:

“I’m sorry, Kendra, it’s nature,”  

I’ve heard all my life after I sit in defeat, catching my breath after trying to save a baby bird or bunny from the jaws of a cat. If you know me, you are not surprised by this.

I heard that phrase this past weekend after chasing one of our cats around the yard with a baby robin in his mouth, chirping in desperation. It had been a couple of minutes of tag between myself and one of our tabbys, and I figured at this point the bird would most likely be so gravely injured that it might be best to let it pass away soon rather than to prolong its suffering. Something inside of me said to keep trying, and I somehow managed to pry the baby robin from the incisors of our 1-year-old cat.

I expected to look down and see an injured, perhaps bloodied, little fluffy body laying in my hand. Instead, I glanced down to see a wide-eyed fledgling with a small puncture wound and fluttering chest, probably thanking the bird god he was alive. His wide eyes and little gray hair wisps almost instantly made my mind flash to that infamous, wacky photo taken of Albert Einstein you see in high school science rooms, with his hair and tongue sticking out. 

Right away, I knew my first step was to try and get him back to his original spot so his mom could continue to care for him. I set him on the ground near the tree where I had thought I heard his plea for help begin in the first place. I stood about 10 yards away, watching for any sign of a mother bird coming to the rescue. 

I had stood there for about five minutes with no activity, so I left him there in hopes she would return if she did not see me hovering around. Three hours later I went back to the tree, hoping to find the little guy had been reunited with his mom and had relocated far, far away from any vicinity our cats occupy. 

Instead, there he sat in the same spot where I had placed him. I walked over to him and he immediately tilted his head back and opened his mouth to receive food. “Oh no,” I thought.

As much as I have a heart for animals and trying to save them all, I tend to get anxious when finding what appears to be defenseless wildlife such as a bird or rabbit. I don’t want to be quick to assume the mother has abandoned it and is gone forever or that it doesn’t know how to survive on its own at this point. I confided in a licensed wildlife rehabilitator with Clinton County, and learned what we are supposed to do when coming across a baby bird plopped on the ground.

First, determine if it is a nestling or fledgling. I learned that nestlings are typically “bare” with fuzzy little bodies, and still belong in the nest. Fledglings tend to have their “flight” feathers developing and are usually found on the ground hopping, being observed by their mom, who drops by for feedings and flight lessons. 

So, if the bird is a nestling, try to locate the nest nearby, or contact a licensed wildlife rehabilitator if the bird is injured or you do not see a nest. 

If it is a fledgling and appears to be in immediate danger, place it in a sheltered spot nearby, such as a bush. If the fledgling is not in immediate danger, leave it be. If the fledgling is injured, call a licensed wildlife rehabilitator.  

Long story short, if you stumble upon a baby bird on the ground, leave it alone. If the bird appears injured or like it should belong in the nest (a.k.a., a nestling) try to locate the nest or contact a local licensed wildlife rehabilitator. Although it’s easy to have concern for a baby bird sitting alone on the ground, it does not always mean it is in need of our assistance. 

I ended up placing little “Albert Einstein” into tall grass under the tree I suspect he came from, instead of out in the open, and watched as a stressed momma robin came down to check him out. Compiled of several hops and small distances in flight, I watched as the little fledgling was relocated to safety. A happy ending for a baby bird once fearing for its life while being paraded around the yard by a playful feline is refreshing, isn’t it?