Do Birds Abandon Their Offspring With The Occurrence of Human Contact?

Have you ever heard of the myth that birds will reject their eggs/offspring if human scent/intervention occurs? This belief is invalid simply because it conflicts with the avian animal behavior.

Many birds have poor sense of smell due to small olfactory nerves, and as a result, human scent becomes negligible (Boyd, 2007). Offspring investment is high among birds; Parental birds will not reject a chick that has been touched by a human, or any other creature.

Parental birds look for missing offspring for an average minimum of 4 days (Boyd, 2007). Chicks can be returned to a nest and the parents will still nurture them. Human intervention for returning an uninjured chick to its nest maybe beneficial, especially for nest-mates who need each other for warmth. Depending upon the severity of the injury, the chick may not survive whether you return them or not.

The myth regarding the abandonment of bird offspring due to human touch is false, however; Parental birds may abandon offspring in response to a disturbance (Boyd, 2007). In this scenario, the bird would make a cost-benefit decision which is dependent upon the time invested with behaviors like rearing (Boyd, 2007).

Sometimes birds move offspring to new locations instead of deserting them in the presence of a potential predator. Certain birds are more likely to abandon young as a result of disturbances. For example, birds with longer life spans (i.e. hawks) are less likely to abandon chicks than birds with shorter life spans (i.e. robins) (Boyd, 2007).

Although you could mediate the retrieval and return of a chick to its nest, bird literature recommends not doing anything at all, unless the chick is in immediate danger (i.e. laying on a street). Many Parental birds hide within a close vicinity until a strategy is devised to approach the situation; but, if you have to intervene by retrieving and returning the bird, the parents will accept them back. If human intervention is needed, a more suitable option would be to call a wildfire expert in order to properly identify the correct nest for a safe return.

by Sheream Reed


Boyd, R. (2007). Fact or Fiction? Birds (and Other Critters) Abandon Their Young at the Slightest Human Touch. Scientific American.



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