I Found an Injured Bird: What to Do
What to Do If You Find an Injured Bird
The Basics of Stabilizing Injured Wild Birds
Chances are good that, sooner or later, everyone will come across a hurt or sick wild bird*. Many of us are kind-hearted, caring individuals who want to help, but don't necessarily know what to do. Well actually, you can help and here is how. The three most important and immediate provisions for stabilizing injured wildlife are as follows: quiet, darkness and warmth.
Stress and shock are both preventable but common causes of death in the first 24-48 hours. Total darkness will help the bird stay calm. Put the bird into a small cardboard box lined with paper towels or fabric (do not use fabric with loops like terry-cloth, as little toes can become hopelessly tangled.) You want the bird to remain fairly still, so the size of the box should be somewhat cozy. Cover the box with a towel or an old sweatshirt...something a little bit heavy. If the box has a lid, like a shoebox, it is fine to use it, as long as there are a few small holes for air.
How (and When) to Catch an Injured Wild Bird*
If a bird is not flying, there is a reason for it. This reason could be because it is a fledgling, especially if it is mid-summer and the bird in question has a short tail and/or looks downy or fluffy. It is normal for a baby bird to leave the nest before it can fly. The parents are probably nearby and will continue to care for their young for some time yet. The best place for baby wild birds is with their parents. Please do NOT "kidnap" baby birds from their parents. Do keep dogs and cats indoors: then, watch from a distance for up to 2 hours. If the parents don't show themselves in that amount of time, you may legitimately have an orphan.
If the bird is not a fledgling and is on the ground, unable to fly, it is likely injured or sick. The easiest way to catch a bird that is running away is to use a blanket, sheet or even a sweatshirt. Throw the blanket over the bird to calm them, then pick them up, through the blanket, and put them in a box. A bird that is shivering or being hounded by flies, is unquestionably in need of rescuing.
*Note: I am NOT talking about raptors. Raptors have particularly dangerous beaks and talons; I recommend calling the nearest wild bird center or bird rehabilitater if you find a raptor.
Now place the box in a quiet location. Again, you want the bird to be able to remain as calm as possible; any chance of healing will depend on it. A dark closet, storage room or extra bathroom will work well.
An injured bird will be in shock and, as with humans, will be unable to regulate its body temperature. Keeping it warm is essential. If you have a heating pad, set it on low and place it under half of the bird's box. The idea is that the bird could move on or off the heat source as needed. Do not put the heating pad into the box; it could be too warm for the bird. If you have no heating pad, fill a plastic bottle with hot water (not boiling, just hot), wrap the bottle in a towel and place it next to the bird, inside the box. If the box is too small to accommodate both bottle and bird, setting the bottle against one side of the box is the next best thing.
Now, get on the phone or on-line and find a licensed wild bird rehabilitator.
*Note: I do NOT recommend handling raptors. Raptors have dangerous talons and beaks: if you find an injured raptor, call a wild bird center or bird rehabilitator right away. Also, be warned that large water birds are very strong and might aim for your eyes...wear sunglasses. Lastly, know that male turkeys have spurs on the back of their legs, and they aren't afraid to use them. So, enough with the warnings. I hope I haven't scared you off altogether, just use your common sense here!
More Help if You've Found a Baby Bird...
The Do's and Do Not's of Helping an Injured Bird
Do keep the bird as calm as possible in a quiet, dark place.
Do not handle the bird any more than the bare minimum.
Do keep the bird warm (but not hot.) An exception here would be a bird that is suffering from hyperthermia (i.e., it has overheated.)
Do not play with the bird, even if it seems "friendly." Shock can make a bird act unafraid.
Do resist the temptation to show the bird to others, this is just traumatizing an already injured bird.
Do not feed a bird that is in shock, wait 24-48 hours unless the rehabber tells you otherwise.
Do handle the bird as gently as possible and only when necessary. Birds have no diaphragm and, therefore, use their chest muscles to breath. A tight hold around their body can suffocate them.
Do not put a wild bird in a bird cage. They can damage feathers and injure themselves further on wire bars. Use a cardboard box.
Do provide water, but in an extremely shallow dish, (like an upside-down jar lid.) An injured bird can be completely out of kilter. They can drown in even a small amount of water.
Never force any liquids in the bird's mouth, they can aspirate liquids and drown or develop pneumonia.
Do wash your hands with soap after handling the bird.
Do NOT try to keep the bird. It is extremely difficult, not to mention illegal, (in the U.S.) to keep wild birds.
Do call a wildlife rehabilitator as soon as possible!
A Simple Solution for Saving Birds...
How to Find a Wild Bird Center or Bird Rehabilitator
Many licensed rehabilitators do not list themselves in the phone book, so finding the closest one to you might take a few calls or a little research. Keep in mind that most wildlife rehabilitators are volunteers that are doing this out of the kindness of their hearts. In most cases, being a wildlife rehabilitator is not a paid position. In fact, the rehabilitator is often footing all of the costs him or herself. So, please be kind and know that a willingness to transport the bird to the rehabber is usually much appreciated. Also, keep in mind that the license probably does not allow them to display birds, so please don't ask to see the other birds at the facility.
To find a wildlife rehabber in the U.S. or Canada, try the links below:
- The Wildlife Rehabilitation Information Dictionary
- Wildcare: U.S. WIldlife Rehabilitators Listed by State
- Wildlife Rehabilitators Directory
Or, call your local veterinarian, Audubon Society or humane society for a list of referrals.
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