Q: Do you have any advice about Easter chicks or ducklings?
A: Each year many area children get Easter chicks or ducklings as gifts. Many of these little birds live only a few short weeks or months due to improper care and neglect. My primary advice is to buy only chocolate bunnies, marshmallow chicks, and lollipop ducklings this Easter.
Because they are so cute and fluffy, many people do not realize the potential risk in handling these baby animals. Young birds often carry the harmful bacteria Salmonella. Each spring children are infected by Easter chicks or ducklings.
It’s important to note that birds that carry Salmonella frequently show no signs of illness. The harmful bacteria populate the bird’s intestines and eventually coat their entire bodies. Children are exposed by kissing, cuddling, or simply holding the birds.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends the following safety steps:
- Do NOT purchase live animals as Easter gifts. Give toy stuffed animals instead.
- Do not let children under 5 years of age handle baby chicks or other young birds. Keep them from coming into contact with packages in which chicks or ducklings arrive.
- If anyone touches the chicks or ducklings or their environment, make sure that they wash their hands immediately afterwards. Pacifiers, toys, bottles or other objects should not touch the baby birds or their enclosures. If these objects do become contaminated, wash them with warm soapy water.
- Do not allow anyone to eat or drink while interacting with birds or their environment. Keep the bird area separate from areas where food and drink are prepared or consumed. Do not allow chicks or ducklings on table surfaces or places where food will be prepared or eaten.
- Talk to your veterinarian, nurse or doctor about other possible risk factors.
Q: There has been a baby bird fluttering outside near our bushes. It seems like she has fallen out of the nest. What should I do to care for her?
A: In late spring and early summer, many wild birds experience a fledgling stage of development. These birds are old enough to leave the nest, but still need the attention of a parent. Typically these fledglings jump around and practice flying, but usually cannot completely master the skill yet. Think of these fledglings as “bird teenagers.”
The mother will usually be keeping a pretty close watch over fledglings. They help them find food and avoid predators. Sometimes you may see a panicked mother bird trying to distract you if you walk to close to her offspring. It is important to leave the fledgling alone, so the mother continues to care for it. Keep your cats and dogs indoors or closely supervised if you have a fledgling in your yard. Many of these birds die from interactions with pets or because well meaning “rescuers” take them away from their mothers.
In Virginia, all wildlife legally belongs to the Commonwealth. Individuals are not allowed to care for wildlife other than to bring them to a veterinarian or licensed wildlife rehabilitator. These laws are for the protection of the animals and public health. If you suspect any wild animal is sick or injured, leave them in place and contact a veterinarian or animal control for advice.