how to feed a hurt bird

As a child, I remember rescuing a bird from the mouth of my cat and trying to do my best for the wee thing.

I recall making up a box for a bird with some paper in the bottom, diligently going to the garden to find worms and chop them up to feed a sparrow and checking on it every ten minutes or so to see if it was OK. Some hours later if it was still alive I would convince my parents to drive us our local wildlife rehabilitator where I would gratefully hand over the sparrow and wonder how it would fare.

Many years later and I now know much better on what to do (and what not to do!) when helping a sick or injured bird. There are many well-intentioned people trying to do their best to help, but sometimes what we think is best is actually harmful to a wild bird.

First of all, a bird that is sick or injured will be in some kind of shock – they may have lost blood or have significant injuries. It’s important to pick them up gently and avoid any further injuries by using a towel or soft cloth if you have one handy and place them in a suitable sized carboard box lined with a non-ripped towel or paper towels.

When I was a kid everyone had hot water cupboards, but they are less common these days. To give warmth, you could place the box in a hot water cupboard, or you could warm up a small room with a heater. If you have a hot water bottle you can use this on the bottom of the box under the towel – just ensure the bird cannot get scalded. The pocket hand warmers found in hiking stores are also good emergency sources of heat.

A bird that is injured does not need food – the only exception is nectar eaters or very small birds such as waxeyes that have high energy requirements. For these birds you can place half a cut orange in the box with them.

Sick or injured birds will often quickly become dehydrated, so they can benefit from fluids. However, it is not advised to try dribbling water in their beaks as they can choke. Giving oral fluids (by tubing) is not something to be attempted unless you are confident and is something that your WReNNZ rehabilitator or vet can provide. Do not leave a dish of water in the box with them as some birds may drown or get wet and cold.

Restrain yourself from checking on the bird too often. In a wildlife hospital, we normally assess the bird 2-3 times a day only, to reduce stress. Remember that to a wild bird you are a predator: Think how you would feel if a wild tiger was repeatedly “checking” on you or gently nuzzling your shoulder when you were too ill to move!

Once you have them warm, safe and quiet, contact your local WReNNZ member for advice, or take to your local wildlife-friendly vet if the injuries are significant. It is best to try and identify the species – you can check NZ Birds Online for some great tools for identification.

If you think you have found a protected native species, and especially threatened or rare species, ensure you call the Department of Conservation hotline 0800 DOC HOT.

providing support to hawaii’s wild birds

A naked baby bird must be kept on heat. If the bird feels cool, the bird is too cold. If a heating pad is placed beneath half of the container on low, even a naked baby bird can move toward or away from the heat, depending on its preference.

Weak or injured birds usually need rehydrating. Gatorade or a sugar water mixture can be given to them gradually by dipping your finger in the liquid and rubbing it along its beak to allow the liquid to slowly seep inside. Five parts water to one part sugar or honey make up a sugar water mixture.

Place the bird carefully in a covered container, making sure there are air holes. The container should be soft, warm and padded. Give the bird access to heat and keep it in a calm area.

Make sure to call the Department of Conservation hotline at 0800 DOC HOT if you believe you have discovered a protected native species, especially if it is rare or threatened.

I remember building a bird box with some paper in the bottom, fervently searching the garden for worms to chop up and feed the sparrow, and checking on it roughly every ten minutes to make sure it was okay. If it was still alive a few hours later, I would persuade my parents to take us to our nearby wildlife rehabilitator, where I would gladly give the sparrow over and wonder how it would fare.

Hot water cabinets were a common sight in homes when I was a child, but not as much these days. You could use a heater in a small room or put the box in a cupboard holding hot water to provide warmth. Use a hot water bottle underneath the towel on the bottom of the box if you have one; just make sure the bird won’t get burned. Another excellent source of heat in an emergency is the pocket hand warmers that are sold in hiking stores.

A wounded bird doesn’t require food; the only exceptions are nectar-eating species and small birds with high energy needs, like waxeyes. You can put a half-cut orange in the box with these birds.

After they’re warm, secure, and quiet, ask a local WReNNZ member for advice or, if the injuries are severe, take them to your neighborhood wildlife-friendly veterinarian. It is best to attempt to identify the species; NZ Birds Online has some excellent identification tools.

Feeding

Microwaving most formulas is not recommended as it destroys the probiotics present in the mixture. Prepared formula can be refrigerated for up to four hours (MAKE SURE TO WARM BEFORE GIVING TO A BABY) or for up to two hours if the house has air conditioning or the day isn’t too hot. Doves should receive fresh formula each time they are fed.

All of the birds on this list have a “belly” area that can be felt to determine if they need more food. This area is directly in front of the vent. Although the region will jut out somewhat like a circular paunch, it shouldn’t feel tense or stretched. Mejiros in particular occasionally ask for more when they are satisfied, and if fed, they may bring up food and aspirate. When these birds gape, you can clearly see their tracheal (breathing) holes, which are located on the lower mandible (lower beak), behind the tongue. Place the syringe behind the hole instead of trying to push it down this one.

Never give birds chocolate, tomatoes, potatoes, avocados, or dairy products (well, cottage cheese for softbills). In small amounts, mynahs can also be fed hard cheeses like Romano and Parmesan.

To access comprehensive guidelines on what to feed a bird, select its species name or image from the list below.

FAQ

What do I feed an injured bird?

Weak or injured birds usually need rehydrating. They can slowly be given sips of Gatorade or a sugar water mixture which can then be given by dipping your finger in the liquid and running your finger along its beak so the liquid can slowly seep inside. Sugar water mixture is five parts water to one part sugar or honey.

How do you keep an injured bird alive?

Place the wild bird in a cardboard box and cover it with a lid or towel. Then place the box in a cool, safe place to give the wild bird time to recover from the shock of the injury. Be careful when handling the injured bird; use gloves to protect yourself from any disease or germ.

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 nurse a hurt bird back to health?

Keep the bird WARM, DARK AND QUIET! Bring it to us or another licensed rehabilitator for help as soon as possible. Disturb as little as possible-DO NOT ATTEMPT TO GIVE IT WATER OR FOOD unless instructed to do so by a licensed rehabilitator. Please do not attempt to care for the bird yourself.