Wildlife Rescue of Injured Bird - We Find While in Nature & Learn How to Care For an Injured Bird

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How to Care for an Injured Wild Bird That Cannot Fly

Three Parts:

If you see an injured bird, you of course want to help it out; however, generally, it is not legal for you to try to care for the bird on your own. The best course of action is to call for help, either before you try to pick up the bird or after you place the bird in a box in a safe location.


Establishing the Bird Needs Help

  1. Check the age.You might think a baby bird needs help, but it may just be the bird is learning how to fly. Watch the bird for a while from a distance to establish it really is injured and has been abandoned by the mother.
    • Look for feathers. If a baby bird has feathers, it is likely learning to fly.
    • You can put featherless baby birds back in the nest if they're not injured. If a bird feels cold, warm it in your hands before setting it back in the nest.The scent of your hands will not bother the parents, who will feed it as they do the other babies.
    • If you don't see a nest, put the bird somewhere where it is hidden from cats and dogs. For instance, you can set it in a bush or tree.
  2. Look for open wounds in adult birds.If you see a gaping wound, that is an indication an adult bird needs help, and you may need to rescue it.
  3. Sight-check for blood.Blood is another indication a bird is in trouble. If the bird is dripping blood or if you see dried blood, it may need help.
  4. Check for movement.If the bird is having trouble standing or flying, it is in serious trouble and needs help.
  5. Consider the options.It may be best to leave the bird where it is until you can get help from a professional. Big birds, such as hawks, can cause you serious harm if you don't know what you're doing.

Picking Up the Bird

  1. Have a box ready.Use a cardboard box, and cut holes in it for ventilation. Place something soft in the bottom, such as a towel.You can also use other types of pet carriers, such as cat carriers, if the bird is large. You should have something to cover the box or cage, such as a towel, as it is best to keep the animal in the dark and quiet.
    • However, you shouldn't use a wire carrier, as that can cause harm to the bird.
  2. Prepare a heating source.You can use either a heating pad (set on low) or hot water in a zip-top bag. If you use the heating pad, place it on the outside of the box at one end. If you use the zip-top bag, wrap it in cloth, and set it inside the box with the bird.
  3. Put on gloves.Even small birds can cause damage to your hands. Put on a thick pair of gloves before attempting to help the bird.
  4. Cover the bird with a towel or blanket.Before trying to move the bird, cover it with cloth to help calm it.
  5. Pick the bird up gently.Though the bird is injured, it can still cause you and itself harm if you startle it. It likely will fight back.
  6. Put the bird in the box.Close the lid, and cover it with the towel. Keep the bird in a warm, quiet place while you work on your next steps. Make sure your pets do not have access to the area where you place the bird.
  7. Wash your hands.Even with gloves on, it's important to wash your hands and arms after handling wildlife, as they can spread bacteria and disease.
  8. Avoid trying to feed the bird.You will likely get the diet of the bird wrong. You can provide water so that the bird can drink on their own, but don't try to drip-feed the bird water.This way, the bird will be able to drink water even if it's dehydrated.

Caring for the Bird

  1. Find a wildlife rehabilitator.This is important, as a wildlife rehabilitator will know how to care for a wild animal like the bird you found. You can usually find lists of local rehabilitators on local and statewide government wildlife websites.You can also call veterinarians for recommendations.
    • In fact, it's illegal for a person without a license to attempt to rehabilitate a wild animal or bird without help from a licensed professional.Birds are protected under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, making it illegal for you to keep one in your possession without a license.
  2. Ask how to care for the bird.The rehabilitator may tell you how to care for the bird, or they may tell you it's best to bring it to someone who is licensed to care for it. Either way, you'll know how to move forward.
  3. Deliver the bird to a licensed wildlife rehabilitation professional.Birds have diverse requirements for diet and care, and wild birds do not adapt well to captivity.
  4. Understand what will happen next.Animals that are rehabilitated face one of four fates. The best option is the bird will recover and be released back into the wild. If it is not possible to release the bird back into the wild, the bird will be placed at an appropriate facility and used to educate people. The other two options are not as pleasant. The bird may die from the condition, or it may need to be put to sleep if the injury is too severe.
  5. Obtain a license.If you insist on keeping the bird, you will need to be licensed, as it is illegal to keep wildlife without a permit or license. You can apply for the proper paperwork through your local government.
    • To obtain a license, you need to fill out the permit form from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for the federal government,as well as a form for your state government.
    • To be permitted to rehabilitate animals, you need to have the knowledge and expertise to care for wild animals. You will need to answer questions about your knowledge, as well as about how you were trained to care for animals.

Community Q&A

  • Question
    I have a robin with a bone sticking out of its wing. Without looking at it rescues say its a lost cause. What should I do?

    Veterinarian, Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons
    Dr. Elliott is a Veterinarian who specializes in Companion Animal Medicine in England. She registered with the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons in 1987.
    Veterinarian, Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons
    Expert Answer
    Unfortunately the stress of surgery is too much for a wild bird, plus should it survive the anesthetic then infection is highly likely because the bone end was exposed to air. This means it's not humane to put the bird through such distress and taking the robin to your nearest vet to be humanely destroyed is the kindest option for the bird in order to prevent further suffering.
  • Question
    What should I do if I can see a bone protruding from the bird's wing?
    wikiHow Contributor
    Community Answer
    Be as gentle as possible, and do not touch the bone; they are extremely delicate. Call the nearest animal shelter and describe the situation. Make the bird as comfortable as you can in a cardboard box, with a blanket or towel (and a pillow if possible).
  • Question
    What should I use to clean a bird's wound?
    wikiHow Contributor
    Community Answer
    A cotton ball or tissue dipped in warm water is an effective way to cleanse the wound. After cleaning the wound, put some disinfectant cream on it to prevent bacteria from getting into the cut.
  • Question
    How can I tell if an injured bird has a broken foot?
    wikiHow Contributor
    Community Answer
    The bird won't stand up a lot, or it won't get up like it normally does. It may wobble or limp instead.
  • Question
    Where do I take an injured bird?
    wikiHow Contributor
    Community Answer
    Poke air holes in the top of a box and put a blanket inside. Collect the bird gently and sit it in the box. Keep the bird warm inside your home and then call a wildlife rehabilitation clinic/shelter or your local veterinarian. The wildlife rehabilitation center or vet will give you instructions from there.
  • Question
    What does the bird eat?
    wikiHow Contributor
    Community Answer
    It really depends on the bird, but most common birds eat grains and bugs.
  • Question
    How do I determine if a bird has a broken wing?
    wikiHow Contributor
    Community Answer
    You will know if it is not flying, its wing is floppy, or you see a bone sticking out of its wing.
  • Question
    I found a pigeon with an injured wing in my garden. Should I bring it in overnight?
    wikiHow Contributor
    Community Answer
    Bringing it in depends on how bad the injury is. If it's small, and has stopped bleeding, then let it be. Otherwise, it might be for the best of you take it in.
  • Question
    Where can I find local wildlife centers?
    wikiHow Contributor
    Community Answer
    Your best bet is to search online for wildlife centers in your town or city. For example, if you lived in Austin, you might type "wildlife centers in Austin."
  • Question
    I found a female cardinal in the house today. I managed to catch her and opened the window, and she flew to a nearby tree. She is still just sitting there. She seems uninjured, but I can walk up to the tree and she still will not fly away. Is this normal? What should I do?
    wikiHow Contributor
    Community Answer
    She's probably suffering a great deal of stress from her ordeal, and is just taking time to compose herself and readjust.
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Quick Summary

If you find an injured wild bird that cannot fly, make sure it needs your help before you pick it up. Look for blood, broken bones, or open wounds on its wings. If the bird does not have a visible injury, it is best to leave it alone. If you do see an injury, put on gloves and grab a towel that you can use to wrap up the bird. Carefully pick it up with the towel and put it in a ventilated box or pet carrier. Then, call a wildlife rehabilitator or your Department of Wildlife for help because it is illegal to keep wild birds.

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  • As a general rule when dealing with most wild animals, avoid touching them. If you do touch them be sure to wash areas that came in contact with the animal with warm water and soap.

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Expert Review By:
Veterinarian, Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons

of How to Care for an Injured Wild Bird That Cannot Fly was reviewed by on July 28, 2019.

How helpful is this?
Views: 584,821

Sheena Boisvert

Sep 28

"This article helped me tremendously! I believe the heating pad and towel idea saved this woodpecker's life!"

Neeraj Suman

Jul 18

"Thanks wikiHow. I found an injured sparrow which was unconscious.."
Rated this article:

Yash Patel

Apr 15

"Thank you wikiHow because my pigeon is injured."

Rebecca Call

Mar 17, 2019

"Motivating (seeing someone else taking rescue action helped me stay committed to the wounded bird I have in mybathroom); good model of how to handle a bird, as well as how practical pet taxi is, instead of hanging cage. Very helpful. Thank you!"
Rated this article:

Joyce Guy

May 30, 2019

"Have had a dove hurt on our roof by storm, need a physician or bird doctor. This helped because we don't have ablood injury, a broken leg. Thanks."
Rated this article:

Ann Ayala

Oct 18, 2019

"Found a dove with an injured wing, through here I learned how to handle, how to clean the wound, and what to feedthe dove. Thanks for the info."

Ranju Rajeev

Feb 24, 2019

"Never give water to a injured bird. Especially young ones. It can cause sudden death of birds."

Cassandra Wagner

Nov 9, 2019

"We found a bird and it seems injured. We wanted to know how to help it, and if it needs help."

Beth Coon

Aug 25, 2019

"I didn't know to cover the box with a towel to help calm the little bird down. Thanks."

Josie Justimbaste

Aug 24, 2019

"This is a big help. My friend lives on an island and does not know what to do."

Roquayyaih Esmat

Apr 25, 2019

"Very helpful, I was having trouble with a pigeon who cant fly."
Rated this article:

Xochitl Gonzales

Jun 17, 2019

"I did not know about the special permit, thanks for the info."

Leah Thompson

Jul 18, 2019

"I was unsure how to feed a house wren and what they eat."

Savannah B.

Video: What to do if you find an injured baby squirrel

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Date: 07.12.2018, 19:38 / Views: 33541