What would you do if you come across a helpless chick on the ground, crying softly to its parents? Would you simply walk away? Would you pick it up and look after it, or seek out someone to do so?
Many people believe that the chick will die as it has been displaced from its nest. And they will pick it up and take it away. But what exactly is the situation?
Most chicks when they first leave their nest, or what birders call fledge, are just learning to fly. The may end up on the ground but the adults will always be around to feed and encourage them on. You may not see the aduls but they are there somewhere. But once you pick it up and take it away, the parents will not be able to look after it.
Chicks may also accidentally fall out of the nest. These will be younger chicks that are a long way to fledgling. Sometimes they may be pushed out by their siblings. Invariably, these younger chicks will not survive if left on the ground. This will be a slightly different situation from the fledging chicks discussed above.
So what should you do? If the chick is fully feathered and can run away and flap its wings, the best thing to do is leave it alone. If necessary, pick it up carefully and replace it back to the nest if you can locate it or if it is within your means to do so. If not, place it somewhere above ground – on a twig, on the roof of a nearby shed, in an open box above ground or anywhere that it cannot be easily trampled or snatched by a passing cat. The parents will easily locate it and take over.
Taking the chick home to look after it may not be the best thing to do. For one, it is a full time job. It needs to be fed a few times an hour throughout the day. Only at night will you get any peace. And even if you succeed in raising the chick to eventually release it, are you sure that it can adapt to a free adult life?
Calvin Simonds, in his 2000 book, Private Lives of Garden Birds (Storey Books), in his aside entitled “A bird in the bush is worth two in the hands” has this to say:
“The fledgling period is an important period of training for the young birds, one in which they learn from their parents what they should eat and what dangers they should look out for. Male fledglings even learn something about how to sing. Even with all their natural training, young birds have a terrible time making it through their first year. Do you really, honesty, think your ignorant, hand-raised baby could survive?”
I have been foster parent to three chicks now, a Little Heron (Butorides striatus) (top) and recently, two Javan Mynas. These were given to me well after they were picked up. The heron was eventually released; one of the mynas was subsequently predated by a cat (above left) while the other successfully fledged (above right). What happens after release is anybody’s guess.
The pair of Malayan Whistling Thrush chicks that was nesting in Cameron Highlands, Malaysia fledged naturally. Their first flight out of the nest landed them on the ground of the warehouse where the nest was built. They were hopping about and the adults were around them all the time. To ensure that the fledged birds were safe from wandering dogs, they were put in a box and left outside the warehouse. Within two days they were flying around and the adults were busily feeding them. Now what woul happen if a concerned person took them away to look after them?
Now, would you still pick up a seemingly helpless chick should you come across it?