FAQ    { Orphans }
Why do the birds (usually swallows) dive bomb (attack me) when I am mowing the grass?

You are stirring up bugs as you mow and the birds are feasting on them.

How long does it take bird eggs to hatch?

It depends on the species of birds. Some songbirds sit on (incubate) their eggs for a mere 11-14 day for finches, swans and eagles up to 36 days. Ducks and geese incubate for 28 -30 days. These are the eggs that are most often presented to rehab centers because a hen has been killed or injured while brooding her eggs OR someone doesn’t want the nest in their yard or near their business. Federal laws protect these nests and it is illegal to move the nests or remove the eggs.

How long do the babies stay in the nest?

It varies by species but for most of your garden variety songbirds – robins, sparrows, starlings, blue jays – they fledge (hop from their nest) at about 14 days old. They can usually fly, at least short distances, by 3-4 weeks old. Owls and hawks don’t fledge until about a month old and may start flying short distances by 6 weeks old. Fledglings are at the age when people see them flying short distances, just above the ground and assume they need to be rescued. Fledglings cannot fly that well the first few days out of the nest but their parents will feed them on the ground and hide them from predators while they’re learning to fly. Unless they are injured, leave them with their parents.

Does the Mother bird start sitting on the eggs with the first egg or the last one?

Almost all birds, except waterfowl and wading birds, start incubating as soon as the first egg is laid. They will normally only lay one egg each day or so. The eggs will hatch in the progression they were laid. So you can have 5 nestlings in one nest as many as 10 days apart in age. These are altricial (born with their eyes closed, little or no down, dependent on the parent bird for food) birds. The other type of bird is precocial. Precocial birds (eyes open, covered in down and less dependent on parent bird), like ducks and geese, do not start incubating (brooding) their eggs until they’ve laid their final egg. This means that ALL the eggs will hatch within a 24-hour period and these ducklings or goslings are all able to leave the nest with their parents within a day or so of hatching.

If a baby bird falls out of its nest and you put it back or will the parent bird kill it?

This is a myth – that the parent birds will kill or not feed one of their babies if a human has touched it. Birds, except for the vulture family, have no sense of smell so they wouldn’t know that you have handled the bird. Even if they see you do it, if the baby bird is uninjured and will gape (opens its mouth very wide for the parent bird to drop food into) for food, the parents will feed it. See also rescue tips under the Wildlife tab.

Why is a male cardinal banging at my picture window?

This usually happens during breeding and nesting season. The male is defending his territory because his nest is close by. He sees his own reflection in the glass and thinks it’s another male cardinal invading his territory. Closing your drapes, putting decals on the window or other distractions, may stop this behavior. Or, in the case of a really stubborn male bird, you may just have to wait it out. Cardinals exhibiting this territorial behavior are the most common birds we calls about but other species may engage in window banging too.

What birds of prey do we commonly have in DeKalb County?

Most of the large hawks we see locally are Red-Tailed Hawks. The smaller, colorful hawk seen perching on utility wires is the Sparrow Hawk or American Kestrel. As for the owls, Great-Horned Owls are the largest common owl in our area and the smaller Screech Owl is fairly common throughout the county.

Where do the migratory birds go in winter?

They instinctively follow migratory pathways south in the winter and north in the spring. Some, like hummingbirds, may leave as early as late August. Others, like kingfishers and herons, remain until the waterways freeze over. They may go several hundred miles south or several thousand. Sooty shearwaters migrate nearly 40,000 miles (64,000 kilometers) a year, flying from New Zealand to the North Pacific Ocean every summer in search of food, according to a new study. Only the Arctic tern, which migrates between the Arctic and Antarctica (almost 20,000 miles), rivals the sooty shearwater in distance traveled in a single migration. Our smallest migratory bird, the Ruby-throated Hummingbird, flies the 20-hour, 450-mile distance across the Gulf of Mexico without stopping.

I found an injured baby bird. It eats everything I feed it, including my favorite cereal! Can I keep it?

Sorry, but you can't keep that adorable bird. Almost all birds are federally protected and it is illegal to keep them as a pet even for a few days. By feeding it unnatural foods, you can kill them. They must be taken to a wildlife rehabilitator as soon as you find them and have gotten advice. But call your local wildlife center FIRST so they can tell you if that baby bird really needs to be rescued.

Why don’t birds fall off the branch when they sleep?

For a human, the natural position of the hand is open. For birds, their natural position is closed so that, even relaxed, their feet stay gripped onto the perch. Two thin tendons, called flexor tendons, extend from the leg muscles down the back of the tarsus bone (like between our knee and ankle) and attach to the toes. When a bird lands on a perch, these tendons tighten and so the toes lock around the perch. This involuntary reflex keeps a sleeping bird from falling off a perch. The tendons stay tight until the legs straighten.

What’s the difference between altricial and precocial birds?

An altricial bird is one that stays in a nest for a period of time after it hatches and is fed by the parents for several weeks. Robins are altricial birds as are most songbirds and birds of prey. A precocial bird (think precocial child) is less dependent and leaves its nest very quickly, following parent bird(s) but eating on their own, sometimes within 24 hours. Waterfowl are precocial birds. (See question above about how long a mother birds sits on her eggs.)

A hawk keeps killing birds at my bird feeder - what can I do?

The hawk you are seeing is probably one of these three – American Kestrel (Sparrow Hawk), Sharp-shinned Hawk or Coopers Hawk. They are part of the Accipiter Family of hawks because of the way their wings are shaped, allowing them to fly fast and make hard turns quickly. Hence, they are able to track smaller birds while in flight. Try withholding bird seed for a few days, and see if the hawk finds a new sweet spot elsewhere. This doesn't always work, but it's a good first step. You may also want to place your feeders with a bush or brushpile nearby so they have close cover when the hawk appears. But not too close so that cats can hide in them! You may hear Blue Jays scolding when a hawk arrives on scene. Crows will also mob hawks when they spot them. This is how these birds of prey survive – by (mostly) eating other birds. We may not like that this is happening but they need to eat and feed their young and they are predators, preying on smaller birds which are their prey.

There's a bunch of baby ducks (or goslings) running around in the street with no mother. Can I release them on a pond in the forest preserve?

No. Those babies are probably only a day or two old and they need to be with their mothers. Most times they get separated on their first trip out of the nest on their way to a pond or some waterway. The mother duck may very well be around. You may even hear her quacking nearby or see her flying overhead. You can gather the ducklings up and put them a box that can be tipped over when you see the mother return. She will quickly gather them up and be on her way. If the mother cannot be located, gather the babies, put them in a box and call a rehabber. DO NOT PUT THEM IN WATER. They are not necessarily waterproof yet and they may drown.
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rachel and trashman