1) What kind of bird is it? Songbird? Duck or other water bird? Shorebird?
Did you find it near the water, under a tree, on the street, in a field, on the beach, in a parking lot? The general type of bird can often be determined by its found location: pavement - any songbird or a grounded waterbird; field - game birds like quail or songbirds; beach - shorebirds or sea ducks; tree - songbirds (or raptor or crows).
2. Is it naked, have pin feathers (feathers wrapped in tubes, which are developing feathers, or does it simply look like a regular but small bird (fledgling). See link above.
3. Is it hurt? Does it have blood on it, look in poor health, is it likely to be hurt - did a cat get it or did it hit a window.
4. Is it tame? All birds are stressed when injured or scared. Stress, like in humans, causes them to be inactive and seemingly "tame" - however, this is a survival mechanism that tells them to be as quiet and inconspicuous as they can (like you would be wise to do if a grizzly bear got you). Handling a bird and causing more stress can kill them.
Go to the link above for the best choice of how to handle all of the above situations for baby songbirds, crow like birds, or ducks.
Grebes and other water birds:
In the fall, winter, and spring it is common to find these birds on the pavement, it likely just landed on the pavement thinking it was water. During migration these birds can run out of energy and need to land, especially in a bad storm.
Most often these birds are just fine and just need to go to a large or medium sized lake. Depending on the type of grebe, a river could suffice. The pied-billeds, eared, or horned grebes (little round jobbies, with short bills), need a lake not a river.
All water birds risk losing their waterproofing and having their feathers harmed by being handled by humans. Please do not handle the bird or pet it. Any bird like this kept in captivity - especially these little ones - lose their waterproofing FAST (1 or 2 days)...and then you have an unreleasable bird that will HAVE to go to a professional rehabber.
The care of these birds is hard work to keep them in a condition they can be released.
Here are some general rules about these birds;
1) First, they are HARD to rehab.
2) DO NOT FEED: Never immediately feed any bird without knowing it can process food (stress, migration, other reasons can slow the organs down). With a migrating grebe -whose organs reduce in size for migration - you can kill them by feeding them as their bodies are not ramped up to handle food.
3) Warmth is the first thing any rescued bird needs: For a grebe (who can overheat due to their down) just being in a house is warm enough.
4) Find a rehabber: call your local state or federal fish and wildlife; call a local veterinarian; go here; or contact the NWRA Central Office at 320-230-9920 to try to locate an NWRA member in your area.
5) Please do not put the bird in a bathtub, since the soap scum that exists on the sides of most tubs even after scrubbing is usually how these birds lose their waterproofing. (You can clean the bath with new sponges (the green and yellow ones) with white vinegar), but if you have any remaining residue it will harm the bird.
And once they poop their fishy poop into the water, it gets on their feathers and then that makes them lose their waterproofing (kinda like a mini fish oil spill).
Non waterproof Horned Grebe.
6) If you have put the bird on water already:
Is the bird waterproof?
The water will bead up on its feathers (all feathers except for the outer most downy stuff on its sides) and roll off.
If the water sinks into the feathers or if the bird after 10 mintues looks like a wet rag....all feathers wet and stuck together....then you have a bird that has no waterproofing.
7) getting waterproofing back - take it to a rehabber...she will have to be professionally cared for. ONLY experienced rehabbers can do this....it takes EXPERIENCE to return the waterproofing to a bird's feathers. The bird will NOT get its waterproofing back in the wild....it will get hypothermia and die.
Th horned grebe above is almost waterproof but not quite. Can you locate the spot that is not waterproof? (It is the dark spot on the front of her neck in the white feathers).
Finally, the best thing is to take the bird to someone who knows something about them, a rehabilitator.
Please do not let children or pets near these birds.
If you need further help than this, or if your rehabber would like some suggestions, you may contact me at 541-728-8208 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.