Why Do Mother Birds Abandon Their Nest with Eggs or Babies?

Sometimes, nature can be a cruel place, especially for baby animals. On rare occasions, you may find a bird nest with babies in it but no mother in sight. This may be a nest abandoned by the mother. This article will discuss reasons mothers leave their nests, how to know if a nest is abandoned, and what to do if you find an abandoned nest.

Why Do Mother Birds Abandon Their Eggs?

The main role of a mother bird is to give her babies the best chance for survival in this world. That is also the main reason a mother bird will abandon her nest or a specific baby. However, there are many reasons why a mother bird would leave her babies such as if one happens to fall from the nest. The next section will discuss this topic more.

mother bird abandon her babies or eggs
The eggs of the Marsh Warbler in the nest.

Why Mother Birds Abandon Babies and Nests?

Just like any other type of mother, mother birds want their babies to survive and grow up strong and healthy. If she finds that one of the babies is struggling to strive or might be ill, this is one reason she may abandon the baby. This could look like not feeding it or even removing it from the nest. It keeps the rest of her babies safe and gives them the best chance at survival.

As happens many times in the animal world, sometimes food demand is too high to meet the needs of all the animals living in one ecosystem. If this happens when a mother bird has just hatched her eggs, the mother bird may leave the nest. If there is not enough food for the mother to survive on, it becomes too much for her to do.

Another reason mother birds abandon their babies is due to genetics. Some mother birds have a weaker sense of maternity and maternal duties, so they just give up on the nest. She may let bigger babies fight or push smaller birds. Some even end up falling out of the nest. Once a bird falls out of their nest, mothers then view them as already dead, so the mother will abandon that baby even if it survives the fall.

Though it is cruel and disturbing, there are some occasions when mother and father birds cannibalize or kill their young. Some have been seen to eat the ones that are not maturing fast enough. Others, like the house sparrow, will kill other mothers’ babies because the father left to have a fling with her. Baby bird life is unjust sometimes.

Humans can also drive mother birds away from nests. Survival is one of the top priorities on a mother bird’s list. If she feels a threat from humans or any other would-be predator, she may abandon the nest. It’s best to observe the bird’s nest from a distance if you want to be clued into the development of recently hatched baby birds.

How to Tell If a Nest is Abandoned?

Keeping babies well-fed is an important part of helping the birds survive to adulthood. To complete that task, mother and father birds will need to leave the area surrounding the nest periodically to find food for their infants who cannot do it themselves. This makes it difficult to know if the nest has truly been abandoned or if they are just out looking for food.

If there are only eggs in the nest, it is recommended to allow four weeks to pass before deciding the nest is abandoned and intervening. The only thing that happens to unincubated eggs is that they will develop slower.

Four weeks allows for plenty of time for the eggs to have hatched if a mother or father was incubating them while you didn’t notice. If you discover that the eggs remain untouched after four weeks, the nest is likely abandoned.

Once the eggs have hatched, it becomes a little more difficult. Younglings don’t need their parents to keep them warm after a few days of hatching. If you don’t see the mother on the nest, check in the surrounding shrubbery to make sure she isn’t hanging around nearby. Many times, the parents will only stop by quickly to drop off food for their babies.

If you can set up a motion sensor camera near the nest to catch the adult birds returning or look at the nest at night when most birds will be sleeping, that is the best way to track if a mother has abandoned her nest.

how to tell if baby birds are abandoned
Grey fantail is feeding her babies

What to Do If You Find an Abandoned Bird?

It is recommended that you do not try to care for the eggs or the young birds by yourself if you happen to find an abandoned nest or bird. While it may seem like the best option to take the bird immediately and care for them, you may not be giving it the care that it needs.

First, make sure that the egg or bird has actually been abandoned using the tips above.

Second, if you find the baby alone on the ground, find a shallow basket or small berry or butter container to shelter the baby bird in and make sure there are drainage holes in it.

Then put some dried pine needles to place in the container to support the bird. Place the bird in (making sure the legs don’t splay) and attach it to the tree near the nest. Watch to see if the mother attends to the bird and/or returns it to the nest.

If that does not work or you find a completely abandoned nest, it is best to let the proper people take care of the bird.

Put the bird or nest in a small box lined with paper towels and cover it with a soft cloth to retain heat. Once the makeshift nest is made place something underneath it to keep it warm like a heating pad set to low or a warmed sock filled with rice.

Contact local animal shelters or your Department of Natural Resources (DNR) to see if they can pick the bird up from you or find a place to drop it off. They may also give you additional care options for the bird until they can take over.

As a reminder, never put anything into a found bird’s mouth. Even if it is begging for food or you think it is dehydrated, food or water could kill the bird. Wait for directions from the appropriate officials to give you directions for the bird.

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