What to Do If You Find an Injured Wild Bird
There's a good chance that you will run into a hurt or sick wild bird sooner or later. Many of us are kind-hearted, caring individuals who want to help but don't necessarily know what to do. I once came across an injured wild bird and was able to help it, so I am sharing my advice.
How to Care for an Injured Bird
Place the bird in a small cardboard box lined with paper towels or cloth.
Cover the box with a towel or sweatshirt.
Place the box in a dark, quiet area.
Place a heat source under the box or inside the box. (Do not do this if the bird has hyperthermia.)
Call a wild bird center or rehabilitator. You can also call the vet.
What an Injured Wild Bird Needs
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 they are common causes of death in the first 24-48 hours.
How to Provide a Dark and Quiet Place for the Bird
- 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 animal 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.
- 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.
- Total darkness will help the bird stay calm, so keep it in a dark closet, storage room, or extra bathroom.
How to Provide Warmth
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 box. This way the bird could move on or off the heat source as needed. Do not put the heating pad into the box as this could be too warm.
- 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 a bottle and a bird, setting the bottle against one side of the box is the next best thing.
What to Do Next
- Get on the phone or go online and find a licensed wild bird rehabilitator.
How to Find a Wild Bird Center or 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, it is not a paid position. In fact, the rehabilitator is often footing all of the costs him or herself, so please be kind and appreciative. Also, keep in mind that their 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
- Wildlife Rehabilitators Directory
You can also call your local veterinarian, Audubon Society, or Humane Society for a list of referrals.
The Dos and Don'ts 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 animal warm (but not hot). If the bird is suffering from hyperthermia (overheating), this step is not needed.
Do not play with the bird, even if it seems "friendly." Shock can make it act unafraid.
Do resist the temptation of showing the animal to others. This can be traumatizing.
Do not feed a bird that is in shock. Wait 24-48 hours, unless the rehabber tells you otherwise.
Do handle it 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 it in a cage. The wire bars can cause damage to the feathers and injure the animal. Use a cardboard box instead.
Do provide water, but in an extremely shallow dish, such as an upside-down jar lid. An injured bird can be completely out of kilter. It can drown in even a small amount of water.
Never force any liquids into its mouth. It can aspirate liquids and drown or develop pneumonia.
Do wash your hands with soap after handling it.
Do not try to keep the bird. It is extremely difficult to care for, not to mention, it is illegal in the U.S.
Do call a wildlife rehabilitator as soon as possible!
How and When to Catch an Injured Wild Bird
Should You Try to Help the Injured Bird or Leave It Alone?
- When you see a bird that is shivering or being hounded by flies
- When you know for certain that a fledgling that has been abandoned by its parents
- When you see an injured or sick bird
How to Determine Whether a Fledgling Has Parents
If a bird is not flying, there is a reason for it. This reason could be because it is a fledgling. This will likely be the case 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, so the parents are probably nearby and will continue to care for their young for some time. They belong with their parents, so please do not "kidnap" them.
If you see a bird on the ground, keep your dogs and cats indoors. Then, watch from a distance for up to two hours. If the parents don't show themselves in that amount of time, you may legitimately have an orphan.
How to Catch a Wild Bird
- 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 animal to calm it. Then, pick it up with the blanket and put it in a box.
Warnings About Rehabilitating Certain Species of Birds
- I do not recommend handling raptors because they have dangerous talons and beaks. If you find an injured raptor, call a wild bird center or rehabilitator right away.
- Be warned that large water birds are very strong and might aim for your eyes, so wear sunglasses.
- Also, be careful with male turkeys. They have spurs on the back of their legs, and they aren't afraid to use them.
An Additional Source
- How to Feed a Wild Baby Bird
Learn what types of food to give and how often you should feed it.
This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. It is not meant to substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, or formal and individualized advice from a veterinary medical professional. Animals exhibiting signs and symptoms of distress should be seen by a veterinarian immediately.