do vets help wild birds

Australia’s wildlife is unique and endearing, with many species found nowhere else in the world. Unfortunately, it isn’t rare to encounter sick or injured wildlife around your home or by the side of the road. My research, recently published in the Australian Veterinary Journal, estimates between 177,580 and 355,160 injured wild animals are brought into NSW veterinary clinics alone every year.

But until now, very little was known about what happens to wildlife after they’re brought to a vet. My colleagues and I surveyed 132 veterinary clinics around Australia, examining the demands and expectations of treating wildlife. We also looked for risks to animal welfare as a result of these findings.

Most clinics only saw a handful of wildlife patients every week, with birds and marsupials such as possums the most common. Sadly, the majority (82%) of wildlife arrived in veterinary care due to trauma of some kind. The most common cause was animals being hit by cars, followed by undefined trauma and predation by another animal.

Most clinics examined and treated wildlife for free, with less than 10% receiving some kind of payment. These were usually made by wildlife rehabilitation groups or members of the public.

Due to the painful and serious nature of trauma, around a third of clinics reported euthanasia was the most common outcome for wildlife at their clinic. More positively, more than half indicated that wildlife were usually passed onto wildlife rehabilitators, suggesting this is the most common outcome.

Almost three quarters of veterinary clinics said they only saw wildlife when they had spare time. This is concerning, as delays to treatment raises serious animal welfare concerns.

Additionally, many veterinary clinics indicated they felt a lack of time, knowledge and skills interfered with their ability to treat wildlife.

As veterinary clinics are small businesses, wildlife present a conundrum. They are not owned (although technically they are owned by the Crown), expect treatment with no payment and don’t look like the usual pets seen by most vets. With clinics full of paying clients expecting prompt treatment, it can be hard to prioritise wildlife.

Ideally, either the state or federal government would take financial responsibility for wildlife. The federal government does pay for some wildlife treatment at private veterinary clinics, but this is part of a biosecurity monitoring scheme and isn’t open to most clinics.

Donations from the public to treat wildlife would also likely be welcomed. However, help can come in other ways. One large clinic in Sydney is trialling an in-house wildlife carer, who would triage wildlife and take responsibility for ensuring wildlife are prioritised. Appointing a “wildlife champion” in a clinic is another option, where an interested vet or nurse is designated the “go to” person for wildlife cases.

2. Keep yourself safe

Equipped with guidance from a wildlife caregiver, make sure that rescuing wildlife doesn’t put you in danger. Because wildlife are naturally afraid of humans, they may attack if they feel threatened. Use caution when near busy roads, put something between you and the injured animal (like a towel or welding gloves), and stay away from the bitey end!

Read more: On hot days, provide water for the wildlife in your garden.

What should you do if you find injured wildlife?

Some animals aren’t actually injured, such as fledgling birds which are learning to fly, and others (such as goannas) can be dangerous, so be sure to seek advice before approaching wildlife. If you don’t know who your local wildlife care group is, type into a search engine “wildlife carer” to locate one near you.

7. Any indication of a fracture, such as a bird supporting itself on one wing, dragging or dangling limbs, limbs at odd angles, inability to fly, etc. ).

6. The animal is not moving “right”; it is circling, trembling, dragging its back legs, or a bird pushing itself with its wings, among other non-right movements. ).

People are becoming more and more concerned about wildlife and want to find professional assistance. When calls come in regarding an “orphaned” rabbit, a raccoon in the chimney, a fledging bird brought in by the cat, a dead opossum with a pouch full of babies, or a hawk with a gunshot wound, the veterinary clinic can be better prepared. Veterinary clinics and wildlife can benefit from close collaboration with competent, licensed, and skilled local rehabilitators.

Sibley, David. Sibley Guide to Bird Life and Behavior. 2001. New York, NY: Alfred A. Knopf, Inc.

3. The animal is found in a dangerous situation (e. g. , in the hood of a car, in a pool).


Should I take a wild bird to the vet?

For the bird to have the best chance of recovery and release, contact a rehabilitator right away. Don’t try to care for the bird yourself. Only a licensed wildlife rehabilitator has the special equipment and skills to provide the injured bird with proper care.

Can a regular vet treat a bird?

Avian medicine has become a highly technical part of veterinary medicine and often requires extra training after graduation to become well versed in treating pet birds. Most general dog and cat practitioners are not comfortable or knowledgeable in avian (pet bird) medicine.

What to do with a wild bird that is injured?

If you find a young bird (or any species of wildlife that seems sick, injured, or in trouble), usually the best thing to do is to leave it alone. Why? For one thing, it’s the law. In North America, it is illegal to disturb most wildlife species.

Will a vet treat a wild animal?

Yes, then follow your clinic’s wildlife policy and update it as needed. Doing so will help ensure that while the animal receives veterinary care, key points are not missed, the proper authorities are contacted when needed, and public health and safety are not at risk.