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How to help injured and sick birds - Learn what to do when you find a sick or injured bird

Give it to a rescue. Period. Period. Done. End of post. (I wish it were always that easy.)

Zach, the owner of Flocking Around, is holding a Great Horned Owl.
Zach rescued an injured Great Horned Owl after it was hit by a vehicle.

If you are looking for information on how to help baby birds, we have an article just for that! To help prevent window collisions or learn about avian flu, check the linked pages provided. If you are dealing with an injured or sick bird, this is the correct place for you!

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What NOT to do with an injured bird

While helping an injured bird is an excellent samaritan act, there are several actions a rescuer can take that could actually cause more harm than good. Here is a quick list of actions to AVOID when helping an injured or sick bird:

DO NOT touch the bird

Touching the bird can add more undue stress. Additionally, if you are not familiar with catching wild birds, you can further injure the bird. If the bird is sick, you also risk exposure to a zoonotic disease.

DO NOT feed the bird

Birds have very specific diets. Feeding the wrong food can choke or further harm the bird.

DO NOT provide water

Small birds that are injured can drown in even the smallest amount of water.

DO NOT play music

Music is not calming to an injured bird. It can further stress the bird.

DO NOT check on it too often

If you are instructed to capture and house the bird until it can be transported, place it in a dark, quiet location and do not check on the bird too often. Every time you disturb the bird, it only further stresses it.

DO NOT hold the bird

See number 1. This seems repetitive, I know, but many people want to hold and cuddle the bird.

DO NOT pet the bird

See number 1. This really is becoming repetitive. Call us a Gray Catbird.

DO NOT hug the bird

See number 1. We are clearly just Brown Thrasher-ing now.

DO NOT talk to the bird

See number 4. Fine. We are Northern Mockingbirds.

Some of these actions seem like common sense NOT to do. However, many kindhearted bird lovers want to immediately put a bird into a box and provide it with food and water. This can be disastrous and should not be done without guidance from local or state officials or a rehabilitator directing the rescue. If you saw the title photo, you might think I am being a hypocrite. However, I am a trained and licensed trapper and rescuer. And immediately upon contacting my state wildlife agency, then capturing the Great Horned Owl (hit by a car), I transported it to the nearest bird rescue.

Rescuing a bird FAQ

Now that you know what NOT to do to help a bird, you are halfway to being a real rescuer for a downed bird. There is one central theme to retain from this entire article. Get PROFESSIONAL help. Call a rescue. Call a wildlife agent. Call your local bird club or group. Just get help from those who do this regularly.

However, unique situations might arise. For those cases where intervention seems necessary, here is what to do to help an injured or sick bird if:

I found an injured songbird (or other small bird), and there is an immediate danger to the bird?

Gather the small bird into a box with no means of escape, but air holes are present. Keep the bird and box warm, quiet, and dark. Use a proper grip, pictured below. Wear gloves. Wash hands after.

Banders grip for holding birds.
A grip used by bird banders to hold birds.

Make scissors with a small opening with your index and middle finger. This goes around the neck of the bird. Do not squeeze, but let your fingertips touch. Wrap the rest of your fingers around the body of the bird and support its wings and weight. This will help reduce struggling of the bird.

I found a potentially sick songbird or raptor?

DO NOT TOUCH THE BIRD! The risk of spreading the disease to other birds, pets, or humans could exist. Call a wildlife agent, as they are experienced with diseases such as a zoonotic.

I found a bird that has been attacked by a cat?

Do NOT simply rescue and release it. The bacteria in a cat's mouth is a death sentence for birds. Get the bird in a safe space, and then call a rehabilitation clinic.

I found a bird that has collided with a window?

This is one of the rare times I suggest gathering the bird. Sometimes they fly away, even when their bodies are not okay. Internal bleeding is common among birds that have struck windows. Almost all window collisions require expert help from a rescuer.

I found a bird with a broken wing?

You cannot fix the broken wing, and simply caring for the bird will do nothing. High breaks are not repairable by the bird or the vets. If you find a bird with a broken wing, it will need rehabilitative help.

What to do when you find an injured or sick bird

This is an easy question to answer. Get help. Call your state or regional wildlife agency or find a local rehabilitation center. It is illegal to take in, hold, or host native wildlife without prior authorization from your governing wildlife agency. Always contact them first.

Where are wild bird rescues located near me?

There is no way to create a comprehensive list for all of North America. However, AnimalHelpNow created a site for wildlife emergencies and conflicts that lists most licensed rehabilitation clinics in the United States. The international site for injured animals in Canada, Mexico, or other countries outside of the US can be found here!


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