You’ve found an injured bird. What to do?

injured bird on road

If you come across an injured bird on the street, you should make sure it is in a safe spot.

Admittedly, the survival chances of a severely injured bird are poor because birds have a high metabolism and relatively little blood in their body, so they cannot stay wounded for too long. As there is also the danger from cats, martens or foxes, it's important to observe the surrounding and be quick. But how exactly can you do this?

We have put together for you the most important tips when you find an injured bird. The three following first aid steps give you an overview of what is needed in an emergency:

First aid with an injured bird

  1. Observe: What are its injuries?
  2. Secure: Carefully capture it with a cloth and place it a cardboard box with air holes and line it with something soft.
  3. Get help: Take the bird to an ornithological vet or the RSPB (https://www.rspb.org.uk).

Observing the bird

Before you set off looking for a cardboard box, you should first be sure that the bird really needs help. In this case, you should go straight to step 2 “Securing an injured bird”.

However, the situation is different without visible injuries. Understandably, telling a sick bird apart from a healthy one can be tricky. If you aren't sure, you should initially leave the bird where it is and observe it for a time.

Can it walk? Does it sway or fall over? Birds are anxious animals and generally try to escape if humans come too close to them. If they continue to perch or lie weakened on the floor, they most likely need help.

The dangers of windows

Craniocerebral trauma due to crashing against a window pane are one of the most common bird injuries. Ideally the bird will only have suffered from a mild cerebral concussion and can fly again after a short rest.

If you discover a bird lying on its back, you shouldn't touch it straight away and should first just observe it. This is because birds are not used to being touched, and picking them up in your hand or stroking them causes them unnecessary stress.

However, you should take the bird to a vet for further examination (see points 2 and 3) if you notice injuries.

Young birds

It is common to discover young birds with very few feathers or none at all that have fallen out of their nest in spring. The best option is to return them to their nest, especially if the nestling is unharmed so the bird parents can care for it.

If you find the nest in a nearby tree, carefully pick up the baby bird with your hand put it back in the nest. Observe the nest for a while longer and wait to see if the parents come back for feeds.

If the nest isn't traceable, reachable or the parents don't come back after an extended period of time, you should take the bird to an RSPB foster home or a vet. Featherless or partially feathered birds get cold quickly and absolutely must be kept warm during the journey. You can use towels or the warmth of your hands.

Did you know? You don't need to worry that the parents will reject a young bird because you have touched it because birds don't have a sensitive sense of smell.

Finding a nestling

If the bird you find is already a fully feathered young bird, i.e. a nestling, it has presumably already left its nest. Returning it to the nest is not an option in this case.

If the bird appears healthy, observe it for at least an hour from a distance so that the parents can approach it for feeding. If the bird is in a dangerous area, you can place it in a safe, green spot near where you found it.

Young birds call for their parents so they can find them more easily. If the bird has still not been fed by its parents after more than an hour, you should take it to an ornithological vet or the nearest bird rescue centre. You can find a list of rescue centres for birds near you on the RSPB website.

Always place young birds in experienced hands and certainly don't try to care for and raise them yourself! Rearing and releasing young orphan birds is a complex matter and absolutely has to be left to experts.

injured wild bird in cardboard box
A cardboard box with air holes and lined with kitchen roll is perfect for keeping injured birds safe and transporting them to the vet or a foster home.

Securing an injured bird

If the bird needs medical treatment or to be taken to a foster home for wild birds, you should catch it gently and place it in a cardboard box lined with towels or kitchen roll.

Proceed as follows:

  • To catch the bird, throw a towel or blanket over it so it's easier to lift it from the floor and avoid injuries. Injured birds can scratch or pinch with their beak when they are scared. Particular caution is advised when catching a bird of prey.
  • You should make sure that you don't squeeze the bird too tightly as it can result in life-threatening respiratory problems. Hence, you should really only touch the bird to place it inside the carry case because these shy animals can be frightened by being held for too long or handled in any way (even well-intentioned stroking).
  • A cardboard box is suitable for transport and initial care of the injured bird. Line it with towels, kitchen roll or several layers of newspaper as this absorbs the bird's excretions and offers a warm, soft and secure environment. It's important that the cardboard box has air holes and an appropiate size.

Taking the bird to the vet or wild bird area

Being transported can be stressful for birds. Make sure that it is stable enough to be transported before you drive it to get help. Animal rescues or vets are always happy to give you advice on the phone.

There are special courier services that transport birds, but it can take a while for them to arrive. If you are transporting the bird in your car, secure the box with the seatbelt and drive carefully!

Feeding injured birds?

If the journey is long, it is necessary to provide the sick bird with food and water. Dextrose solution is a good option if the bird cannot consume grain feed. Hard-boiled egg is a good emergency food for all bird species (even young birds).

Attention: Open wounds or acute bleeding

Open wounds with severe bleeding should be immediately treated if possible. Gently dab with a soft, dry cloth and treat the area with an antiseptic if possible. Even a gently pressed cotton wool pad can help to staunch the wound.

Conclusion

Many birds can be helped if they are found and taken care of in good time. Bone fractures, injured wings, craniocerebral trauma, bites or even infectious diseases can be treated by ornithological vets.

If the injuries are too severe, the vet will put the bird to sleep and free it from its suffering. If the first veterinary treatment is successful, foster homes will ensure that the bird recovers and is prepared for a life in the wild.

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