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Spotted a floppy little bird bumbling about in your yard? Please do not be alarmed, it's just fledgling season in SA

Picture: MabelAmber/Pixabay

Picture: MabelAmber/Pixabay

Published Nov 15, 2021


Summer is well under way in South Africa. Gardens are awash with a rainbow of blossoms and fifty shades of green. Treetops bursting with a chorus of birdsong, chatter and tweets of the next generation of feathered pilots.

August to November marks the annual fledgling season in South Africa. Most species of birds begin breeding just before spring and will continue up until the end of November toward the beginning of December.

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This means that you may see a floppy little bird bumbling about in your yard or on the verges, please do not be alarmed, it is a fledgling just finding its way and is still being looked after by doting parents.

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According to Wild Birds Unlimited, a US-based nature store, “By mid-spring and throughout much of the summer, fledglings leave the nest and continue to be fed by their parents.”

“A fledgling is a bird in its first coat of feathers that is capable of moving about on its own. Its feet can grip a branch and it has developed feathers. At this stage, a bird will venture out of the nest and start to learn how to survive without its parents. It has not reached full adult plumage, and the feathers are likely to be loose and soft. A bird in this stage often looks notably different from an adult.”

Fledglings are about the same size as adults, but often their plumage colour is muted and similar to adult females. In some species, fledglings’ tails are shorter than the adults’, because the tail feathers are still growing.

Melanie Furr, education director at the Atlanta Audubon Society and a licensed volunteer at Atlanta Wild Animal Rescue Effort said that if you see a fledgling bird that isn’t visibly hurt or in danger, leave them be.

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“Wandering from the nest is exactly what fledglings are supposed to do. It's a normal part of a bird's development, and though these chicks might appear abandoned, they’re likely under surveillance by their parents nearby. Of course, there is a chance that they could be injured, sick, or in danger, so there are some cases where a fledgling might require assistance.”

Other than that, please do not “rescue” these birds. Fledglings have a higher chance of survival left alone with their parents. If you do see a bird that looks young and abandoned, there are ways to determine if the little bird is indeed in danger. According to advice from a member of Birdlife South Africa, “one can check if the birds' crop feels full.

The crop is a muscular pouch located in a bird's neck above the top of the chest or sternum. It is simply an enlargement of the oesophagus in this location. The crop functions as a storage place for food. If the crop feels full, then the young bird is being fed by parents and should be left alone.”

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Parents are usually nearby and you should be able to spot one or both within a few minutes of spotting the fledgling bird. Take pets indoors and watch from a distance. If the night rolls in before the parents show up, take the bird indoors and place it in a box with a warm water bottle of bean bag but make sure to leave space for the bird to cool off if needed.

Avoid handling the bird too much. The following morning, return the bird to where you found it and wait for the parents. It is a myth that parents will reject a fledgling if it smells like a human, they will also not reject their chick if you are seen handling it. If the parents have still not shown up, the fledgling should be taken to a wildlife rescue or rehabilitation centre.

Most importantly, do not attempt to feed the birds anything. Keeping it warm until dropping off at a rescue is the best way to ensure the fledgling has a fighting chance.

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