20 March 2011

Rescuing baby birds - touch, or don't touch ?

The video shows one young man's experience raising a rescued baby hummingbird.  Found via The Conservation Report, which offers a link to 10,000 Birds for a discussion of the ethics involved:
One of the most persistent myths in the annals of avifauna has to be the prohibition on handling even the most imperiled chick or egg, lest its parent reject the tainted wretch out of hand. Why the human stain should prove so deleterious to bird sensibilities is lost to history but this old chestnut survives in the face of conflicting evidence... Thankfully, the compassionate folks at Scientific American have delivered a welcome reality check. Do birds (and other critters) abandon their young at the slightest human touch?

In a word, no...

Most birds are understandably averse to human disturbance and will go so far as to abandon a nest in response to excessive trespass. Still, helping a lost chick is, for all but the clumsiest caretakers, a modest infraction of nature’s zoning laws, one that offers more potential benefit than harm. This is why busting the pernicious myth about bird handling is so important; too many good Samaritans feel forced to inaction, paralyzed by the perceived catch-22 of either leaving a lost bird to its doom or sealing its fate with an errant touch. This month, Scientific American has done its part, so now it’s up to the rest of us to share the good news. Go ahead and help that baby bird… its mother might thank you!
The most logical explanation, to my mind, is the observation at the link that most birds (some carrion-eaters excepted) have small olfactory nerves because they are not creatures that rely on smell for survival.


  1. I've never understood why that myth stays around either.

    The only birds which very strong smelling abilities are the 'tube-noses' like albatrosses, petrels, etc, and the vultures mentioned in the article.

  2. I never believed that myth. I came across a baby native mynah struggling on the ground with its two complaining parents high up in the boughs and unable (or unwilling?) to help, so i picked it up and took it to a shelter. Poor little thing shivered the whole way, i tried to keep him warm with my hands!

  3. I'm sure it's always been us human mothers who propagate the myth in simple self defense.
    "Mama, look! a baby bird! Can we keep it?"
    Mom knows SHE will be doing the every-two-hours feeding and will be blamed when the tiny bird croaks.
    "Oh, no, we need to leave it there, Jimmy, or the mother won't want it back".
    Hey, it's worked for generations of moms, including me. Have you ever smelled a box with a baby bird in it?


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