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Handling Injured Birds

Bird injuries are a common occurrence. Birds often hit buildings or cars at speeds that would kill a human. Learn what you can do to help an injured bird survive an accident.

Please note: It is not legal to keep a wild bird, and you should consider the following suggestions as transitional only, until you can get the injured bird to an emergency care or rehabilitation provider.

Steps in Dealing with an Injured Bird

  1. To capture an injured bird, it is best to use a towel, blanket or coat — something that won't overwhelm the bird by its weight. Simply drop the towel over the whole bird and gather up the bundle. Some birds are very strong — raptors and owls have strong talons and beaks — so do not attempt to grab a bird with your bare hands. Many birds will attempt to bite you or strike at your eyes; thus the need to cover their head.
  2. If a bird has hit your window and appears injured or stunned, place it in a box or container with a lid, and be sure there are air holes. You may line the box with intact towels or cloth, but never with stringy rags or shredded paper. Birds may become entangled in loose ends and damage their feathers or strangle.
  3. If a bird has been attacked by a cat or dog, take it to a treatment center as soon as possible. Otherwise, place the container in a dark, quiet and warm area and monitor the bird for a few hours. In many cases, if the bird is stunned, it will be ready to fly away in an hour or two.
  4. Please use common sense if you need to contain the bird. A raptor or owl is a large, strong bird, and its first priority is to protect itself. This is a natural reaction; it doesn't know you're trying to help. Don't consider the bird to be vicious. It's very very scared.

Transporting Birds

If you're going to transport the bird for rehabilitation, take the following steps:

  1. Prepare a container. Put a soft cloth in a cardboard box or pet carrier. If a box, make sure there are air holes.
  2. Protect yourself. Wear heavy leather gloves if possible. Some birds may bite or scratch to protect themselves, even if sick or injured. Remember the bird is terrified of you.
  3. Cover the container with a light sheet or towel. You want to keep the bird warm and calm. Keeping the container dark also will help keep the animal calm.
  4. Gently pick up the bird and put it in the prepared container. With a larger bird, it's important to pick up the bird from the back and secure its wings in one motion. A towel will help in this process.
  5. Do not give the animal food or water. Keep it away from children and pets.
  6. Keep the bird warm and calm.
  7. Note exactly where you found the bird. The rehabilitator will want to know this information.
All migratory birds are protected by federal and state laws and there are stiff penalties for violations. It is illegal to shoot, trap, or otherwise harm any wild bird. It is illegal to have possession of a wild bird, even if it's one that was injured or orphaned. It is even illegal to possess an egg, feather or nest of one of these birds without a special federal permit. These laws are intended to protect all birds so that they will continue to play their vital role in maintaining the health of natural ecosystems.

Injured Baby Birds

  • Do not overhandle the baby. Its body is like a small water bag and it can be internally injured by too much handling. Also, extreme fright can kill. Do not move your hands around while holding the baby, or turn it upside down, as rapid changes in posture can also kill.
  • Identifying the age of the baby: Hatchlings are tiny baby birds with no feathers, unable to stand, eyes closed; age newly hatched to one week.  Nestlings have feathers, eyes open and can hop, but are not standing up; age 2 to 3 weeks. Fledglings are feathered, standing, hopping, and flying, but not self-feeding; age 25 to 28 days.
  • If the baby is still being fed by its parents it will gape when you move your finger over its head or if you gently tap the container or the side of the mouth. If the baby does not gape, but still appears very young, the beak may need to be gently pried open to feed it. Baby birds that are fully feathered and trying to fly and do not gape may be fed adult food for that species, along with a small shallow container of water. (Too much water may result in drowning.) At this age, it is essential to know the species of the bird in order to provide the correct food.

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The mission of Eastside Audubon is to protect, preserve and enhance natural ecosystems and our communities for the benefit of birds, other wildlife and people.