how to catch a hurt bird

It is often difficult or sometimes even impossible to catch a poorly or injured bird in need of help. Trying to capture a wild bird is a delicate endeavour. One must be certain not to harm the bird or damage its feathers, as the plumage is the most valuable asset of a bird. Feathers have many different functions apart from helping the bird to fly or swim. They are used for protection, insulation, waterproofing, camouflage, communication and display. Even minor feather damage can render birds unreleasable, or will at least delay their release by months if not a year. Swifts are a prime example, as these birds spend almost all of their life on the wing. Some animals in need of help are often still able to fly or to outrun a human. They might quickly disappear by going into hiding or by keeping themselves out of reach. Injured or poorly birds are also very likely to become distrustful and alert towards humans and their own kind, which makes rescue attempts even more difficult.

Sadly, when a bird can be easily caught, then it is often too late for any curative treatment. However, this does not mean one should give up, as in any case suffering can be avoided or at least reduced. The first assessment of the health situation of a bird patient, performed by an unexperienced rescuer, could also be flawed or misleading. In particular hypothermic birds will almost always appear lethargic and sometimes even lifeless. However, there is a good chance that this initial appearance may quickly change, when these animals are gradually warmed up. Please note that any rescue attempt should be carefully planned. The rescuer should only proceed when it is safe for both, the rescuer and the patient, bearing in mind that there is often only one chance to catch an injured animal. Further attempts are likely to be in vain!

Assuming that the animal concerned needs rescuing in the first instance, the first and most important step is to assess the local situation. At this point in time, if possible and feasible, it might be a good idea to contact an experienced wildlife rescue or rehabber to have a conversation about the specifics of the rescue situation and to get extra advice or physical help. This is in particular important for decision making, as there may be other factors to consider than the rescue of a single poorly animal. This can easily become the case, when for example a parent bird is injured during breeding season. A typical example would be the intended capture of an injured female mallard without rescuing her ducklings, which might save the duck but would condemn all ducklings to death. Species specific, behavioural and local knowledge are crucial when it comes to making the right decision. Occasionally it can make more sense not to capture a poorly animal despite its ailments, but to provide food and medication like pain relief in aid to assist the animal in the wild. However, there are only a few medical problems, injuries or diseases, which can be dealt with like that. The majority of cases require the capture of the animal. A second thorough assessment by an experienced rescuer, rehabber or avian vet with wildlife experience is often needed too.

Before going ahead with a rescue, a suitable padded and well ventilated container needs to be organised and at hand, where the rescued animal can be placed after being captured. Metal bird cages are not suitable as carriers, as the animal is likely to injure itself or could damage his or her plumage. Towels or blankets may come in useful, firstly to cover the carrier and to calm the animal down, and secondly as a helpful tool to catch and restrain the animal. The first option to consider is whether reciprocal trust can be used or created, which would allow the capture of the animal. The provision of food or treats can be a convincing argument for the animal to come close enough and in reach to be caught by hand, with the help of a towel or by using a pole net. Special consideration should be given to the kind of injury or ailment, in particular in view of avoiding further damage. If the bird shows signs of an impaired vision, then he or she will usually approach by having the healthy eye turned towards the person providing the food. This could mean that a helper might have a better chance to approach from the opposite side, or that a single rescuer has to wait for the animal to turn away to improve the chances of a successful capture.

Carrier, nets and towels are better kept hidden or inconspicuous, which is in particular important when dealing with corvids, as they are neophobic and may become easily suspicious before the rescue has even started. If possible at all, it would be of advantage to direct the bird, with the help of food or by using other means of distraction, into a position or location, where flying off becomes difficult or impossible. Besides focusing on the animal to be caught, one needs to also keep a close eye on other birds, meaning members of the same kind, but also other bird species. It needs only one bird to raise an alarm call and to bring the rescue to a premature end. Corvids are very unhelpful in this respect, as they are very likely to raise an alarm call – a call which most certainly will be recognised by other bird species as well. It is also important to remember that a bird, who is unable to fly, is still very likely to outrun a human rescuer. In this case a towel or blanket could be used to herd the bird into a carrier or into a corner, where it cannot escape and where it might be easier to capture the animal.

Other Ways to Help

Together, we can successfully assist shorebirds in nesting and raising their young.

Draw in and safeguard your favorite birds while enhancing the aesthetics, maintenance-friendliness, and environmental benefits of your area.

Assist in protecting birds’ futures from threats such as habitat loss and climate change. Your contribution will fuel our research, instruction, advocacy, and field-based conservation initiatives.

To receive our monthly e-newsletter and critical action alerts, sign up now.

Find the closest Audubon Center or Chapter in your area.

The Use of Traps

Using a trap is another option that can be taken into consideration. The success rate depends on the bird species. It’s crucial to realize that, regardless of the design of the trap, it’s typically necessary to set it up where the animal cannot see it in order to rescue it. Traps must be continuously observed to prevent capturing and harming non-target animals.

Pigeons and other small birds can be captured with an easy-to-use cardboard box trap. However, it is unlikely to work for corvids. Using box cutters or scissors, one must cut a small flap in the bottom of a cardboard box, which must be temporarily taped shut. Once the bird is trapped, this flap will be used as a door to release it later. Next, one side of the box’s bottom needs to have a block weight or other heavy object attached to it. The weight will cause the box’s end to fall rapidly when the stick holding it up is removed. Next, the box will be turned over, and a stick with a length of string attached that is between 25 and 30 centimeters long will be used to prop up the weighted end of the box. After food is positioned beneath the box, one can wait until the target bird has reached the bait area and the stick is removed.

Another option is a net trap. A large soft woven elasticated fabric net (e. g. heavy-duty woven bird netting) is a flexible trap suitable for a variety of bird species, such as corvids. A substantial net measuring roughly 10 by 4 meters is necessary. The basic concept is to make a trap that resembles an igloo or tent with a wide opening that allows the bird to enter. The front portion will be pulled down and the bird will become trapped as soon as it has entered and gone far enough inside. In order to prevent the bird from escaping, the net must be weighted down at the bottom all the way around with materials like stones or gravel. When the bird is finally captured, someone has to enter the trap and hold the bird in place. This kind of trap is also beneficial for birds that are concealed by bushes. In these situations, the net is pulled over the bush and then fastened completely. In this case, the hiding bird must be roused so that it can be captured when it tries to flee. This type of trap works well for rescue operations where it is possible to corner a bird without preventing it from trying to take off. It is necessary to set up the trap beforehand and drive the bird into it. This method is effective for rescuing mallards, as there is always a chance that the mother duck will take off.

It is important to minimize handling of a captured or trapped bird because handling typically causes great stress for the bird. Certain bird species, such as wood pigeons and starlings, may not be tolerant of any kind of handling. Typically highly anxious birds, wood pigeons are prone to deadly heart attacks. One must cease immediately and leave the bird alone if it opens its mouth and begins to pant. Stress levels will decrease if the bird’s head is covered while being handled. When handled, pigeons, blackbirds, and other bird species may also lose a lot of feathers; this is believed to be a defense mechanism to ward off predators.

A wounded bird must be handled gently but firmly, and great caution must be exercised to prevent the animal from becoming more hurt. The procedure may become more difficult if the animal is acting aggressively. This could be dangerous for the rescuer in the event that the bird is large, especially if it is a prey bird. Obtaining professional assistance is highly advised when capturing potentially dangerous animals, such as raptors. Generally speaking, depending on the size of the bird, it may be simpler and safer to use a light sheet, blanket, or towel and gently place it over the creature. This keeps the animal confined and subdued. Depending on the size of the bird, it might be best to use both hands to hold it in check by pressing its wings against the body in their natural folded position.

Predatory birds will undoubtedly use their talons as their first line of defense, which means they will charge the rescuer with their feet first. Talons are going to lock, and it might not be able to be unlocked. Care must also be taken when handling egrets, gannets, and herons because they may aim for the rescuer’s eyes with their long beaks when defending themselves. A gannet’s double-serrated beak can inflict serious wounds. When handling these kinds of birds, gloves and goggles are a need. Furthermore, since their legs are so delicate, long-legged birds like egrets and herons should never be transported for extended periods of time with their legs folded in. Never fasten or tape a bird’s beak because some species, like gannets, can suffocate.


Should I catch an injured bird?

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.

How do you capture an injured wild bird?

Take the bird to a wildlife rescue organization immediately, if possible. Using a towel or washcloth, grasp the bird around the shoulders so its wings are against its body and cannot flap. Transport it to the rescue organization in a shoebox lined with a cloth or paper towel.

What should I do with an injured bird?

If you find an injured bird, carefully put it in a cardboard box with a lid or a towel over the top, and place in a cool, safe place. Birds go into shock very easily when injured, and often die from the shock.

How do you help a hurt bird that can’t fly?

If the bird is a fledgling or adult, check for blood or other signs of serious injury. Put an injured bird in a cardboard box with a lid, lined with paper towels. Call a licensed wildlife rehabilitator who can better assist. They will tell you what you need to do to bring the bird to them.