Ask a Naturalist: Do mother birds really reject their babies if a human touches them?

November 12, 2020

Written by Kristen Angelini


Thankfully, NO!

This is a myth! For many years, the rumor has gone around that if you hold or touch a baby bird that fell out of the nest the mother will reject it because of the scent you leave on the chick. People come across baby birds all the time that have fell out, but feel hesitant to put it back into the nest because of this myth. If the baby bird does not have many feathers and looks young enough to be unable to fly, you can search for the nest (usually they are well hidden) and return the baby as quickly as possible. Mother bird will not reject her baby because they do not detect their babies through scent. Birds are generally devoted to their young and are not easily deterred from taking care of them. 

However, this does not mean you should go and pick up every baby bird you see on the ground. It is actually quite common for baby birds to leave the nest before being fully ready to hit the skies. Flying takes a lot of energy out of birds in general, so learning to fly can quickly get tiring for a baby. Chicks will rest in a safe place and may look stranded, but their parent is in fact hiding close by. When the parent feels it is safe to do so (which means no humans or predators around) it will still bring food to its baby and care for it until the baby is ready to continue flying lessons. That is why if you see a fledgling on the ground, it is important that you keep your distance so mama bird can continue to safely provide food and care for her baby!



Challenge yourself and make your own nest at home using items from nature around your neighborhood! Click here or the image below!




On your next hike, put on your Deer Ears and listen carefully for juvenile birds begging. This will also help you find nests in nature. Remember to stay away from nests there might be a parent bird waiting for you to step away and safely bring food to the babies! 

If you do see an injured baby bird, please refer to our blog post on injured animals here !