Breeding season: What to do when you spot baby birds on the ground

- Spring has sprung, birds are hatching, and now's the time of year when local bird rescues are constantly on the move. They're getting calls from people finding baby birds and fledglings on the ground and in their yards, possibly in need of help.

While most would expect to see baby birds up high on a branch, safe in a nest, sometimes, they find themselves down here on the ground. Experts say that doesn't always mean they're hurt or in trouble.

It's breeding season for birds. The little ones are learning to fly from the ground up. People seeing them out of the nest worry might something's wrong. And, that's when Tampa Bay Raptor Rescue's phones ring.

"We get a lot of calls for babies and juveniles, and this month and next month are our busiest times of the year," said Nancy Murrah of Tampa Bay Raptor Rescue.

There are ways to tell the difference between a flying lesson and actual danger.

"If there's a baby bird on the ground that's not being tended to by the parent at all, if the bird has its eyes closed, if the wings are drooping at all for a baby bird, you should call immediately," Murrah said.

"If they are being tended to by their parents, then they should be left alone," Murrah said. "If you are concerned that maybe the neighborhood cat will get them or something, you can always pick them up and put them on the lower branch of a tree."

We've all heard the wives tale, "don't ever touch a baby bird or the mother will reject it." Murrah says that's not the case. If it's safe, you can help place the bird back where it belongs.

The Rescue's members are going the distance to re-nest fallen birds and reunite them with their families, no matter how high. The non-profit has even enlisted the help of an expert tree climber.

"Last year, we rescued 565 birds. We've rescued about 100 this year," Murrah said.

In just one day last week, the group got calls for twelve baby screech owls. FOX 13 reporter Kellie Cowan recently spotted one in her yard. Owl's Nest Sanctuary for Wildlife came by to help place him back up high.

"Everybody has this dream that the baby birds fly from the nest and soar into the sky," said Kris Porter of Owl's Nest Sanctuary. "They actually don't. They drop to the ground and the parents feed them maybe 3 to 4 times a day."

So, for the next few months, keep your eyes to the sky as well as the ground, and know when it's time to make a bird call.

"My rule of thumb is, if you see the bird sitting there for longer than an hour to an hour and a half, approach the bird. If the bird does not fly away, the bird needs help," Murrah said.

When in doubt, give the experts a call. You can reach the Tampa Bay Raptor Rescue's hotline at 813-205-1851 in Hillsborough County, or 1-727-798-2385 in Pinellas County

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