Archive for the 'Frequently Asked Questions' Category

Caring for orphaned birds

At this time of year many Australian species of birds are either breeding or about to breed. In the natural order of these things baby birds sometimes fall out of the nest or are orphaned for a variety of reasons. I regularly get requests for help and advice in these situations. I am sorry to say – but I have no experience or qualifications in caring for wildlife. This is best left to the trained experts. So it has been timely that Tammy, one of my readers, has made this comment on one of my earlier posts.

My name is Tammy and I’m a wildlife carer, I have been raising baby birds for years and love doing it – saving our precious native birds and animals so they can go back to the wild is an amazing feat.
I’ve been reading your blog and I agree that yes, it is best to leave the raising of these guys to their parents ( they do a better job) or if the baby is orphaned phone a wildlife care group nearest you. They are regularly trained each year to do this, as well as licenced by National Parks and Wildlife.
Every spring/summer I spend sometimes up to 12 hours a day feeding tiny baby birds ( all different species but mostly tiny insectivorous ones) and I really enjoy it.
About hand feeding the birds in your backyard – we usually are against this, but in times of need for instance drought, I am known to support feed some birds around our place if i’ve released them. We do this in a way that they still will learn to hunt for themselves and gradually taper off feeding times and amounts slowly so the bird does not starve.
But to do this right, you need the balanced diet that they need to keep them healthy and if you are not trained to do this the proper way, the bird becomes tame ( or imprinted) to you ( or any human being that’s around). This is bad for the bird because it will lose it’s fear of humans/ pets which results in the bird being eventually killed by a predator. ( humans, dogs, cats)
Happy bird watching – Tammy

Thanks to Tammy for this advice.

Look in your phone directory for the nearest wildlife carer. There are also many groups listed on the internet, some of them with articles outlining how to care for the bird or animal until a trained carer can get to you.

Related article:

Caring for injured or orphaned birds

New Holland Honeyeater

New Holland Honeyeater

I frequently get asked questions about caring for injured or orphaned birds. Some people leave their questions on an appropriate page of this site, while others ask their questions privately using my contact from here.

I am no expert

I often explain to people with this questions that I am certainly no expert in this field. I have no experience and very little knowledge in looking after injured or orphaned native birds or animals. I usually try to direct them to relevant help from elsewhere.


Every state of Australia has its rules and regulations as to what members of the public can and cannot do where helping injured wildlife is concerned. As a general principle, never try to look after an injured animal or bird unless you are skilled to do so and have the necessary permission from the relevant authorities in your state.

Steps to take:

  1. The welfare of the animal or bird is most important: make sure that the bird is safe from further harm. Keep little children, cats and dogs away, handle it as little as possible and keep it in a strong, ventilated cardboard box.
  2. Contact or visit your local vet for advice. Some of my readers have been very disappointed with this course of action, stating that some vets are very dismissive and only recommend that the animal be destroyed. I find this response rather perplexing; I thought vets cared for animals.
  3. Use the Yellow Pages phone directory to find your nearest animal welfare and rescue organization. There are hundreds of skilled and trained carers across Australia and there is every likelihood there is one near you.
  4. Contact or visit your local pet shop: help coming from these people will also vary greatly. Some may be very willing to help, others only will help if there is a potential sale of goods involved.
  5. Visit your local library and ask for books on pet and animal care.
  6. Search on the internet: this is how I get so many requests for help. In some cases, people have said that this site was the ONLY place they found any information and help. That is not correct, but many people do not know how to effectively search the internet. Because of this I have prepared a list of useful Australian sites.

Useful web sites:

Overseas groups:

Always remember that the bird’s welfare is the most important thing to consider.

Updated November 2013.

Do birds have sense of smell?

One of my readers contacted me via email today to ask the question: “Do birds have a sense of smell?” It’s a really good question and one I’d never really given much thought to.

Thanks to Bev for this question. (You are the first to use my contact form – see the sidebar.)

Do birds have a sense of smell?

The short answer is yes, they do.

The long answer is more complicated.

The upper mandible (beak) is pierced by the nostrils. Usually the nostrils are near the base of the bill. Relatively few birds are known to use the sense of smell in their search for food; indeed in most species the sense of smell seems to be poorly developed. (Quoted from the book “Birds: their life, their ways, their world” published by the Reader’s Digest in 1979)

So they can smell but most species do not rely on this sense much at all.

Birds that have a good sense of smell

There are always exceptions to the rule!

Some birds do have a highly developed sense of smell. The New Zealand Kiwi, for example, has nostril placed near the tip of the bill and this enables it to smell its food as it probes the earth and leaf litter. The kiwi has a double whammy; not only does it have very poor eyesight, it is also mostly nocturnal in its habits. Having a fine sense of smell is a definite bonus if you are a Kiwi (the bird, not the people of New Zealand!).

I also remember a sequence on “The Life of Birds” videos featuring David Attenborough where he hides a piece of rotten meat under the leaf litter deep in a rainforest. Within minutes the local Turkey Vultures had found the hidden meat, even though they had been several kilometres away.

Likewise some seabirds are able to smell great distances:

For example, fulmars can smell fish oils from up to 25 kilometres (15 miles) downwind, so when these oils form a slick on the sea surface as a result predatory fish and mammals attacking shoals of fish and squid underwater, the fulmar are quickly at the scene to forage for food. Other sea birds can smell a pheromone that fish give off when stressed. (British Garden Birds website)


Birds do have a sense of smell, but most rarely use this sense. Some species, however, rely heavily on their sense of smell for their survival.


Thanks again to Bev for this very interesting question.

Why do baby birds disappear?

One of my regular readers recently asked the question: “Why do baby birds disappear?” We had been corresponding during the recent height of the Australian breeding season. Spring here is coming to a close, but many birds are still actively making nests, sitting on eggs or feeding young in the nest or just out of the nest. This reader observed that many baby birds go missing. What happens to them, she asked.

Here is my reply:

It is very distressing for bird lovers to see the little birds disappear or be killed in some way so soon after hatching or leaving the nest. If we knew the figures, I think we would be horrified by the enormous attrition rate in our fauna, not just birds.

Some possibilities include the following:

1. Removal from the nest by cuckoos. We have several species of cuckoos in Australia. The female lays one egg in a host nest. This could be a thornbill, honeyeater or a range of other species. The host bird hatches the eggs and the baby cuckoo hatches first and it removes all other eggs in the nest in the first hour or so after hatching. It then gets ALL the food from the host parents. Harsh yes – but this is normal, natural cuckoo behaviour.
2. Predation of eggs or chicks: this could be from ravens, crows, currawongs, butcherbirds, hawks and even magpies. Cats, foxes, snakes and lizards, especially goannas, will also raid nests.
3. Predation out of the nest: Once fledged and out of the nest the young birds run the gauntlet of so many hazards including all in number 2 above. Add to those hazards the problem of being hit by speeding cars, wild storms, flying into glass panes (very common), captured by well meaning people and not cared for properly, heavy rain, cold nights and so on.

It is a wonder that any survive at all, especially in urban areas. This is in part compensated for by the following strategies:
(a) Laying 3-5 eggs for each clutch as this increases the success rate
(b) cleverly camouflaging the nest – with all my experience I am still fooled by their cryptic nest sites.
(c) breeding two or three times in one season.

It would certainly help if all cat owners were responsible and made a run for their animals. This would eliminate some deaths in our fauna, but a far greater problem is the feral cats. There is no control of these and all are very big, strong and cunning. I think compulsory desexing of cats is the way to go, but it would only be a start. Catching all the feral cats is probably not feasible. Making sure no more are added to their ranks will be a good start though.

Related articles:

  • Common Blackbirds – the article that started it all. The many comments are very interesting reading.
  • A bit on the nose – an amusing incident involving a cyclist, a swooping Red Wattlebird and a nose.

What is a bird atlas?

This is #20 in a series of frequently asked questions about birding.

What is a Bird Atlas?

  • A bird atlas is usually in book form and consists of many maps of a given region, state or country, usually one map for every species found in the particular area covered by the atlas.
  • Each map has parts shaded in showing the distribution of that species in that region.
  • Many field guides have simplified maps showing the distribution of each species.
  • A bird atlas may also show other factors, things like areas where each bird is found breeding, how distribution has changed historically, population densities, vegetation distribution, rainfall and topography. All these factors can influence the presence of birds in particular zones.
  • In Australia there have been several atlases of bird distribution published.
  • I have personally contributed over a thousand reports in total to four of them, two in the Adelaide region of South Australia, and two nation-wide atlases of bird distribution.
  • I found this to be a very satisfying pursuit and my contribution towards conserving our wonderful birds.
  • The latest one, the New Atlas of Australian Birds is ongoing in its data collection.
  • More information, including how to be a contributor, can be found at the Birds Australia website. You can even submit your records electronically via the internet.

Relevant links: