Options for Nestlings

Option #1 for Nestlings

Whenever you can, always return nestlings to the original nest. If the parents are alive, this is almost always the best option. For young nestlings that are not able to keep themselves warm (thermoregulate) or feed themselves, this is the only option if there are other nestlings still in the nest. 

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Young nestling Red-Shouldered Hawk

Because younger nestlings require so much maternal attention, the use of the recorded call is especially helpful in attracting the parents to the nest before the nestlings can become chilled.  Do not leave young nestlings without food and warmth for more than an hour or two.  You may have to provide supportive care while waiting for the adults to find the nestling.

Older nestling Barred Owls


Option #2 for Nestlings

If the original nest is destroyed, it is a relatively simple matter to set up a substitute nest basket near the original nest location. You can use plastic laundry baskets or wicker laundry baskets, as long as they are sturdy. The baskets are packed with limber branches and pine straw to provide a safe and comfortable structure to support and protect the growing juveniles. Nest boxes of various sizes provide an equivalent substitute for cavity nesters such as screech owls, and barn owls.

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Laundry basket used as a substitute nest


If a nest containing siblings is inaccessible because of the height of the tree or some other problem, and it is impossible to return the juvenile to the original nest, you can sometimes reunite older nestlings by placing a nest basket in a nearby tree. It is normal for most raptors to feed their grounded juveniles, and they will usually supply food at both nest sites. Of course this is not an option for young nestlings!  The juvenile has to be old enough to keep itself warm and to eat on its own.

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Warning: Be alert for siblicide!

Most raptors (except Barn Owls) are only able to raise one or two juveniles a year.  The eggs are laid several days apart, and incubation begins immediately, so the first hatched is quite a bit larger than the next.  Quite often, if there are three juveniles, the youngest is noticeably smaller, and in case of a food shortage, the older juveniles will take most of the food, and may even attack and kill the youngest.  “Reuniting” a juvenile that has been driven from the nest by its older siblings is inhumane, as the bird will almost certainly not survive.  Click here for a case history.  So always check to see how many juveniles are still in the nest before you reunite to an active nest.  Siblicide is most common among hawks such as Red-shouldered Hawks and Broad-winged Hawks.

Exception:  Barn Owls customarily have larger broods, depending on the food supply.  It is usually safe to reunite juvenile Barn Owls even if there are two or more juveniles still in the nest.



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