What Should You Do If You Find a Raptor Nestling?

Every summer, Bird Alliance of Oregon takes in hundreds of baby birds who should have been left in the wild. Well-meaning people find them on the ground and think the babies are in trouble, but they are usually healthy fledglings – who spend time on the ground as they learn to fly – or healthy nestlings that fell or were knocked out of their nests prematurely.

A Cooper's Hawk nestling gets weighed during an exam - Tinsley Hunsdorfer

This young Cooper’s Hawk is in the nestling category: The healthy bird was found on the ground a few weeks ago but is too young to have fledged. While care center staff and volunteers will do their best to raise and release the hawk, we can’t do as good a job as the bird’s parents.

If you find a nestling raptor on the ground, try to place it on a branch in the same tree as its nest. If that isn’t possible, it’s still best to leave the bird in the wild. Its parents are well-equipped to care for a baby that hops out of its nest too early.

How can you tell if a young raptor is a nestling or fledgling? Fledglings are typically the same size as adults and fully feathered, with a short tail and wings. They are able to walk, hop and flap, and they may attempt short flights. Nestlings are smaller than adults and have fuzzy down feathers like this Cooper’s Hawk and the Red-tailed Hawk pictured below. Owls deviate from this pattern, so refer to our baby bird guide if you need to distinguish an owl fledgling from a nestling.

To sum up, young birds should be left in the wild unless they show obvious signs of injury. You can help fallen nestlings of all species by placing them near their nest or by building them a new makeshift nest – learn more.

Red-tailed Hawk Nestling