Zoo keeper: Baby birds in trouble best left alone

By Sharna Johnson: Freedom Newspapers

The nests are built, the eggs are hatched and baby birds are chirping, tweeting and screeching from nooks, crannies and branches. Inevitably an infant bird will take an untimely plunge to the ground and be picked up by a well-intending Samaritan, according to Laura Shepler, a clerk at Hillcrest Zoo in Clovis.

Shepler said during spring months zoo workers arrive in the morning to baby birds in boxes at the front gate.

“We don’t appreciate it,” she said, explaining that when people anonymously leave birds at the gate, the opportunity to return them to their nests is lost and the birds’ chance of survival diminishes.

“I know everyone wants to help but leaving them at our gate is not a good idea,” she said.

The zoo is the only government entity in Clovis dealing with birds, according to Larry Rogers of Animal Control. His office refers any calls about wayward birds to the zoo, he said.

The calls fly in every spring from people reporting baby birds out of their nests. “Most of the time there’s nothing we can do for them,” she said, explaining baby birds need frequent feeding and are often fragile.

The first thing she tells callers is to try to put them back in the nest or to leave them alone and observe from a distance if there is no immediate danger to them, such as from a dog or cat. Often the birds’ parents will find and care for them, she said.

It is an old-wives’ tale that a mother will reject a bird that’s been touched, she said, although it is best to handle birds cautiously because they can carry diseases.

Stan Jones of the Curry County Extension Office agreed that caution is advised but stressed avian bird flu, known to exist only in water fowl, is not a concern with common yard birds. “The whole point is use caution with anything you handle (in the wild),” he said.

Shepler said the zoo typically only takes in baby birds that are protected species under state and federal law. Occasionally, she said, a zoo keeper will personally take in a baby bird that has a good chance of surviving — raising it until it can be released.

Letting nature take its course is the best solution for the baby bird, she stressed.

“It needs to live the life of a bird. It might not make it and it might struggle, but that’s the life it needs to lead,” Shepler said.