May 23 2008

Robin Rescue

Published by at 7:00 am under Nesting & Courtship,Songbirds

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.)

15 responses so far

15 Responses to “Robin Rescue”

  1. Amy Fon 23 May 2008 at 11:18 am

    Wow, I had no idea baby robins had to be fed that often! Glad the little one stayed safe in the nest after you put him back.

  2. Lindaon 23 May 2008 at 2:34 pm

    I was so glad to see the info on robins. I have been watching a nest outside my office door for several weeks. This week the mother has not been at the nest and now I think something has happened to her.
    She was nesting in an existing nest from previous years. Is this common?
    My foster daughter raised and released a cardinal many years ago but it had been hurt and had all the feathers.
    I enjoy your blog. Thanks so much.

  3. Kate StJon 23 May 2008 at 3:15 pm

    The mother robin is not at the nest?  You bet! The parent robins are out frantically gathering food. They have 10 minutes between feedings so they’re away more than they’re present.
    The older the chicks get, the more the parents are away. When the chicks leave the nest, the parents take food to the chicks wherever they are. A parent robin with 4 babies is very busy indeed, delivering food to 4 locations that change all the time. It’s a whirlwind.

    Something might have happened to the parents but be very cautious about making that assumption.  Birds are secretive when they come and go to their nests because they don’t want their nests and chicks to be discovered.

  4. Jamie Sehreron 28 May 2008 at 10:34 am

    Also if you find a baby bird and you are completely clueless and need some advice you can call the Animal Rescue League Wildlife Center. This is what I’ve done in the past and they are very helpful. The Wildlife Center is my local wildlife rehabilitator.

    They take in many many baby birds a year. I believe their phone number is 412-793-6900. Their website has information on what you can do if you find any wild animal in need of help.

  5. Samon 03 Nov 2008 at 8:15 pm

    Hi- I need some bird advice!
    You seem like quite the expert on birds. Recently I was told that birds have made a little nest within the confines of my garden- in one of the trees. These trees are about 5 metres high I’d say (though I’m pretty terrible at measuring) and the nest is in the middle section. I was told about this nest a few weeks ago- and looked at it outside our window just today. Previously (around 4 or 5 weeks ago) it seemed unoccupied. It’s not a particularly neat construction but definitely a nest shape- very cute really.
    I went outside about 5 minutes ago, having remembered its presence in our garden- and there are two sweet little grey birds (unrecognisable variety but definitely grey in colour) of a size smaller than pigeons but similar colour with smoother feathers. As you can imagine this is so exciting. They are nesting there, protecting their eggs- and are obviously the parents- and they look very conscientious!
    One problem- the nest is quite dilapidated due to recent bad weather I’m guessing. It’s pretty sunny lately however we occasionally have wind/rain and I’m concerned that the nest might break with the swaying branches and fall off before the eggs have hatched. I can’t really do anything about it- i can’t move it or reassemble it- it’s their home! but i’m just worried because it sort of looks like it’s leaning and may fall with the weight of the parents/with the weather conditions 🙁
    Have you any suggestions being a keen bird enthusiast?
    Or should I not worry and just leave them? I would never touch it because that would probably induce even more damage- but it at the moment looks unsteady/unstable which frightens me because they are so so sweet and it is such a treat that they have chosen my garden to build a family !


  6. Kate St. Johnon 04 Nov 2008 at 8:17 pm

    Since it is nearly winter here (Pittsburgh, PA, USA) and you write that you have a nest in your garden, I imagine you are writing from a place where it’s spring. Perhaps Australia?

    I am unfamiliar with Australian birds so I can’t identify the bird you describe. However the condition of the nest may be a characteristic of how the bird builds its nest.

    Here in the States we have a bird called a Mourning Dove who is grey-beige and resembles a pigeon. (See Mourning Doves build nests so flimsy that you can see the eggs through the bottom. There are pictures of their nests at the link above. Maybe there is a similar bird where you live & that’s who is nesting in your garden.

    Regarding the nest almost falling: As you say, the nest is so flimsy that touching it may harm it. I think there’s really not much you can do except keep an eye out if a nestling falls to the ground. If so, you can put the baby bird back up in the nest (if still there) or in the tree near where it came from to keep it safe from predators and close to its parents.

    This blog entry gives some general tips on how to help baby birds (focusing on American Robins). Our local rescue league phone numbers won’t be helpful but there is probably an animal rehabilitation place near you. You may need to keep their number handy.

    And a followup to the “Robin Rescue” blog (above). Some mother birds are just not meant to be parents. The robin whose baby I rescued kept picking terrible places to build her nest, the nests kept falling apart, the eggs got too cold, the babies died in attempt after attempt. I helped once – and then realized the mother bird didn’t have the skills necessary to raise a family. My help was pointless in the face of her incompetence. Alas.

    Good luck to you!

  7. Shaylaon 17 Jul 2012 at 2:18 pm


    So I have a quick question… I live in Canada, the weather is pretty warm here, but the last two days we’ve had stormy weather. I noticed the other day that there was a little bird n our backyard on our deck and thought he was learning to fly. I did some research and it is in fact a baby robin.

    He has feathers and is trying to fly, but he doesn’t quite make it. His parents come and feed him as I video taped it because I thought it was too cute lol. But I am a bit concerned because it is still here in the backyard and is stuck out in the storms all alone.

    I was going to try to catch it and put it back in his nest (as I know where it is), but at the same time I don’t want to scare it… I just don’t want it out in the storms 🙁

    Should I just leave him? I checked on the comp and know he’s a baby robin and is learning to fly, I just feel bad for it.

    Hope to hear soon, thx

  8. Kate St. Johnon 17 Jul 2012 at 2:33 pm

    If his parents are feeding him and he is up high — out of reach of predators — then he is as safe where he is. My hunch is that he’s pretty safe because he’s survived more than a day at this location. He will take shelter from the storms under furniture or a potted plant on your deck (if you have them). If your deck is NOT safe from predators (cats, for instance) then he would be safer in the nest. However, he may be on your deck because (a) a predator scared him out of the nest -or- (b) a storm blew him out of the nest.
    Here’s more info on baby robins:

  9. Shaylaon 17 Jul 2012 at 2:49 pm

    Perfect, thanks Kate!

  10. Les Morrison 26 Jul 2013 at 8:14 pm

    My baby robin died, and I want to know why. On June 30, 2013, I found him and a dead sibling in their nest, blown out of the tree by the wind. A nestling, I brought him in and read about food. In a drawer in a box in the nest, with a heating pad on low. Read about food. As he got older and stronger into a bird cash with paper towel on bottom and fresh water. Feeding hard-boiled egg yolks, dog food, blackberry, raspberry, and piece of apple (once). Doing great, growing, chirping all day long. As he got bigger, fed him every 2-3 hours. Weight holding steady at 2.0 oz. Couldn’t get it higher. Then on Wed., 7/24/2013, weighed him and it was 1.3 oz. Fed him enough to get back up to 2.0. Thursday, chirping as usual at sunrise. Weighed him about 2 pm Only 1.0 oz. Tried to feed him, but wouldn’t eat more than a bit or two from my fingers. Weakening as the day went on. Not able to get to the distant rehab center. I knew the end was near. Found him dead in his cage this morning, Friday, at 2:22 a.m. What happened? Respiratory infection? Why the weight loss? Stomach disorder so diarrrhea? Stress? Diet was good. Not feeding him frequently enough? Obviously, next time, I’ll go to the rehab center first thing. Here in Chicago we have nothing really. Have to drive miles and miles. After reading about the high mortality of them, and having had a bird, I figured I could give him a good long life. I feel horrible, miss so horribly.

  11. Kate St. Johnon 26 Jul 2013 at 8:18 pm

    Les, you did the best you could.

  12. Les Morrison 26 Jul 2013 at 8:20 pm

    Additional. information He had full wing feathers, tail feathers about 1.5 inches long. Let him fly around my room. Would jump onto his cage door when I came in and fly to my head. He had this kind of exercise maybe 8-10 times a day. Juvenile coloring, the mottled chest. Covered his cage at night, as I learned from having a budgie, to dispel fear of predators. He’d chirp at sunrise. Then I’d whistle to let him know that mommy was nearby. Why did he die? Why do robins in homes die so frequently? My vet’s son, who works for him, tells me that he has only had two successes over many years with robins or sparrows brought to the vet hospital. And that it happens as suddenly as it did with me.

  13. Kate St. Johnon 26 Jul 2013 at 8:25 pm

    I’m afraid I can’t begin to guess what went wrong for your baby robin. Maybe a rehabber can give you some info on what they have experienced. Sorry it turned out so sad. I think you’re right about taking it to a rehabber quickly.

  14. Les Morrison 27 Jul 2013 at 9:09 am

    Kate, he was a nestling when I got him. MAybe 10 to 20 days. I had him for 25 days. Total of 35 to 45 days old. How often should I have been feeding him? Babies they say every 15 min or so. But he was 6 weeks or so. Univ. of Illinois small animal bird expert I think said 2 hours for fledgling. Remember, he had his wings well deveoped, 1 1/2 inch long tail feathers. Strong beak. They told me stick him outside all day. At his age he could go 12 hours without food. I fed him every 2 hours. On Wed. I had a damn workman here and I had to watch him and maybe from 2:30 till 6:30 didn’t feed him. Weight was down to 1.0 oz when I weighed him around 2:00 or so. Did he die of starvation? Some bacteria? The two rehabbers in Illinois just berate me for not bringing him in and make things worse (for me). When I read the stats that only 75% to 80% of robins don’t live until November (one source) or 6 months (another) and then 1/2 die every year, I figured I could do better than that and have him alive for years.

  15. Kate St. Johnon 27 Jul 2013 at 3:45 pm

    I know that feeding times and quantities and type of food are really important but I am not a rehabber so I don’t know the particulars & have no advice on this. Please check with a rehabber for the answers.

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