Watch Out for Baby Birds Falling From Nests

The Tampa Tribune
Published: March 29, 2011

TAMPA – Birds are falling from the sky.

But this time, at least, there is a logical explanation.

It’s baby bird season in the Tampa Bay area.

And that means baby birds are trying to set out from their nests and not always having a successful debut. Or they are getting blown out of nests by gusty winds.

Then they end up on the ground, seemingly stranded, and people who think they are doing the right thing take them somewhere to get help.

Sometimes that’s the right decision; other times they’d be better off left where they are.

“We see all sorts of birds,” said Jonathan Rubinstein of BluePearl Veterinary Partners in north Tampa. “I don’t think there is one particular kind we see.

“We always have a lot brought in,” he added, explaining that the facility usually takes in about 1,500 baby birds a year. “We haven’t hit full steam yet, but we know it’s coming.”

Early one morning at BluePearl, someone brought in a tiny screech owl that apparently had been blown from its nest by overnight storms. A couple of hours later, another one was brought in.

“Your brother’s here,” one worker said as the two fluffy owls were reunited in a small cardboard box. “I know you’re hungry.”

The owls were about two weeks old and had just begun to open their eyes. They fit in the palm of Rubinstein’s hand quite easily.

Kelly Foreman, who lives in Seminole Heights, was checking the damage from a downed tree when he found first one, then the other hours later.

“I saw a little puff ball there. It was on the ground right under the tree,” he said of the first one. “When I first saw it, I thought it was a little toy, like a cat toy, a little ball of fur. Then I saw it shivering, so I crawled under and grabbed him.”

He took the first one to BluePearl in a box; the second one rode in his hand.

“I kept him in my hand to keep him warm,” Foreman said. “I wanted to get him there really quick. It was wet and he was there for hours.”

While those owls appeared to have been blown out of their perch high in a tree, that’s not always the case with many babies found on the ground, experts say.

“If it’s a healthy looking bird at the base of a tree, chances are mom and dad are still taking care of it,” Rubinstein said.

Unless there’s an imminent threat from a cat or dog who might try to make a meal out of the bird, let it be for a while.

“People sometimes make a well-meaning mistake thinking they need to intervene,” the veterinarian said. “They are just trying to do the right thing. Most of those birds would probably be fine.”

The two baby owls hopefully will be healthy enough soon to leave BluePearl and be transferred to another rehabilitation facility, such as Suncoast Seabird Sanctuary in Indian Shores in Pinellas County.

Pam Dobyns, spokeswoman for the sanctuary, said that the facility takes in about 3,000 baby birds annually.

Like Rubinstein, she echoed that people need to be sure the birds are in peril before they try to rescue them.

“Birds learn to fly from the ground up,” Dobyns said. “The parents are usually nearby.”

This article originally appeared in the Tampa Bay Online on March 29, 2011.