Tall Tails: Debunking Animal Myths

“If you see a baby bird that has fallen from the nest, don’t pick it up! If it smells like humans, the mother won’t come back for it!” Who has heard this before? How many of us have stopped a worried child from helping a baby bird back into a nest? Guess what? It is all just a fallacy.

Let me pose a question to you: You are out at the grocery store and some sweet, little old lady approaches you and your three-month-old baby. As she is telling you how adorable your new daughter is, the sweet old woman squishes your little girl’s chubby cheeks. Now your kid smells slightly of the old woman’s perfume. Well, there is no use taking your baby daughter home now that she smells like someone else. So you leave your three-month-old daughter in the middle of the aisle in the grocery store because you are suddenly repulsed by your own child and afraid of the old woman.

Yeah…seems legit.

Here’s the obvious scoop: It takes a great deal of time, energy, and resources to make, grow, birth, and raise a human baby. The same is true for birds, rabbits, dogs, cats, and pretty much every other creature that produces offspring. It just isn’t very economical to leave something that precious behind just because someone else touched it.

Birds actually have a very poor sense of smell and won’t really be able to smell a human on their eggs or offspring. An observant mother bird might be able to notice if her eggs have been disturbed, but even then it is very rare for her to abandon a nest completely. More often than not, a bird just won’t notice any difference at all (they are called “bird brains” for a reason).

So where did this tall tale come from? According to, the warning probably originated to protect the bird from those well-intentioned folks who would be doing more harm than good. In many cases, it is just easier to scare people out of helping a baby bird than divulge the truth of the matter. I will, however, tell you the facts: helping a baby bird is like taking care of a newborn human ““ only on a much tinier/needier scale.

You’ve just discovered a baby bird on the ground. What now? If the nest is obviously visible and safe to reach, just place the bird back in the nest. No harm, no foul.

If the bird has no feathers, you are in for a rough ride. This little chick MUST be kept warm and should be fed every 15-20 minutes. This is so much easier said than done. It involves a very tiny dropper full of minute amounts of liquid. Sadly, it probably will not help the little one. When carrying or holding the bird, it is imperative that you do not hold the bird too tightly. Birds do not have lungs, but rather air sacs. Restricting the expansion of the chest WILL BE FATAL. The best bet (and saddest) is to place the bird in a plastic butter tub with drainage holes in the bottom. Place warmed grass in the tub and tie the tub to a tree where you believe the nest to be. Unfortunately, this little one probably won’t make it.

For baby birds with feathers, the care is a bit easier. If the bird is not in immediate danger from traffic or predators, watch the bird for a couple of hours. This bird might be learning to fly. In many cases, he will work out his issue on his own. However, if two hours pass and the little guy is still there, place him on some warm (not hot) towels in a shoe box and elevate the box (in a tree or on a rock). The bird does not need to be fed quite as often at this point, the main concern for him is warmth and safety from predators. As I stated before, most of these birds work out the flight issue on their own. They just need a little guidance and safety first. Mom and Dad are watching and will intervene if needed.

Above all, do not try to “adopt” the bird. Let’s face it: humans are not cut out to be bird parents. Mom and Dad birds will be better parents than a human ever could be. In reality, if a baby bird is found on the ground, Mom is probably close by, even if you can’t see her. Chances are, if you approach a bird that has fallen from a nest, Mom will be happy to let you know she is near by, which she will usually do by diving beak first at your head. It is also illegal to remove many birds from their natural habitats. With few exceptions, there are high fines to be paid for taking a little lost birdie home. Just don’t do it. Seriously.

When in doubt, call your local wildlife rehabilitation clinic or bird sanctuary. These folks are usually highly trained and will help you identify whether a bird is in serious need of rescue or if he just needs a little help on his journey. Most of these services are free of charge or require only a small donation should you decide to bring the little fella in for a check-up.

So, there you have it. The necessity to leave a baby bird where it falls is just an old wives tale, but the reasoning behind the warning is sound. You can attempt to help a fallen baby bird by placing it back in the nest, Mom won’t care. Any further attempts to help the little guy should be left to the professionals ““ Mama bird knows best.

So, readers, do you have any pressing questions about your pets? Anything you are dying to know about that weird squirrel in your attic? I would love to make this a weekly column where I answer your animal questions and debunk that silly myth you heard about as a kid. Ask your questions in the comments below or email them directly to innatelykait [at]

Kait is a certified veterinary technician with small and large animal clinical experience. She also worked as a squirrel wrangler and a raccoon herder during a stint in wildlife rehabilitation. Kait has a passion for teaching others about proper animal care and preventative medicine. She currently resides in the frozen tundra known as Minnesota.

The information provided herein should not be construed as a veterinary diagnosis, treatment regimen or any other prescribed veterinary medical advice or instruction. The information is provided with the understanding that the author is not engaged in the practice of veterinary medicine or any other health-care profession and does not enter into a health-care practitioner/patient relationship with her readers. The author does not advise or recommend to her readers treatment or action with regard to matters relating to the health or well-being of their pet(s) other than to suggest that readers consult appropriate veterinary medical professionals in such matters. No action should be taken based solely on the content of this publication. The information and opinions provided herein are believed to be accurate and sound at the time of publication, based on the best judgment available to the author. However, readers who rely on information in this publication to replace the advice of veterinarians, or who fail to consult with veterinarians, assume all risks of such conduct. The author is not responsible for errors or omissions.

By InnatelyKait

I am an art history student extraordinaire doing research on Hellenistic Sculpture in Ancient Greece. I also moonlight as a multitasking office assistant. Yes, I am really that awesome. In a past life (or career really) I was a photographer.

Chocolate and ugly baby animals keep me from being as awesome as I could be. I know all the names of the cats in my building (but not the names of their humans) so I guess I am the crazy cat neighbor.

8 replies on “Tall Tails: Debunking Animal Myths”

Walk softly and carry a big stick.

Actually, I found it was best done with a straw broom and a shiny set of jingly keys. Also, raccoons are really fond of smart phones (especially those they steal out of back pockets).

Raccoons are very sneaky (and ridiculously strong). Luckily they are VERY easily distracted by shiny things.

Glad you enjoyed the article!

I understand your feelings about the baby bird. I usually pick a male or female pronoun to go with during the entire article rather than using plural pronouns and switching back and forth can be confusing. I was always taught to choose one and stick to it as plurals are improper. I will try to switch it up more next time around!

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