May 23 2008
Wednesday morning at work Joan Guerin called to say a baby robin was hunched in the parking lot in front of a parked car.
Aha! Her call explained why two adult robins with worms in their mouths kept perching at various lookout spots outside my window and making a racket. I could tell they were upset about one of their offspring but I hadn’t figured out why.
I gathered up a towel and followed Joan to the baby bird, pictured above. It had feathers but they had not grown in enough for him to fly. When I picked him up with the towel, he opened his beak but made no noise. He had been out in the cold for a while and was hungry and weak.
The best thing to do for a baby robin is to give him back to his parents. His parents have the know-how and time to feed him the right food every 10-20 minutes from dawn to dusk. (Yes, that’s how often they have to be fed!) His parents teach him how to be a robin, forage for worms and watch for danger. His parents will not reject him if a person touches him.
Joan and I watched the adult robins to figure out where the nest was. Soon we saw them carry food to a flimsy nest on top of a lamp. Below it a featherless nestling had fallen out days ago and was dead on the ground.
We borrowed a ladder and I put the bird back in the nest with his two siblings. We stepped away and his parents immediately brought food. When I checked later in the day, all three chicks were sitting in a row with their heads peeping over the nest rim. Happy family.
What should you do if you find a baby robin? Do NOT take it home. Not only are you a poor substitute for the birds parents but federal law prohibits you from keeping a wild bird.
If the bird is too young to fly, it is not far from the nest and its parents know where it is. In fact, its parents are watching you. Put the bird back in the nest or, if the nest is unreachable, put him in a thick bush above ground (out of reach of cats) or up in a tree.
The robin’s parents are watching. When the the coast is clear they will bring food. If the baby bird starts shouting, this is a good thing. Robins recognize their young by sight and sound – not smell. The baby is saying “Hey, I’m over here. Feed me!”
And above all, don’t worry too much. You can’t save every robin. It is statisically impossible. Robins are incredibly prolific (4 eggs per brood, 3 broods per year). Their population is kept in balance by high mortality in their first year. 40% of them don’t make it to the flying stage and of those who learn to fly 75% don’t live more than 6 months. This doesn’t hurt their numbers. Robin populations are stable or growing throughout their range.
When in doubt: Call the Animal Rescue League Wildlife Center in Verona, 412-793-6900 or look at the National Aviary’s website for additional phone numbers. (Thank you to Jamie Sehrer who added this helpful information in the comments below.)