how to give a bird cpr

Doing CPR on a bird may seem absurd—even impossible. But animal doctors will tell you it sometimes comes with the job. “Birds are the group of animals we see the most,” says Noha Abou-Madi, a wildlife veterinarian with the Janet L. Swanson Wildlife Center at the Cornell University Hospital for Animals. “They encompass about 70 to 80 percent of cases every year.” Her avian patients range from Bald Eagles to hummingbirds, and about 5 percent of those she takes in need CPR.

Severe infection, poisoning, and hemorrhages can all trigger cardiac arrest in a bird. Or, it could be a simpler problem—inadvertently inhaling a seed could stop them from breathing. Many birds bearing these symptoms come through the center’s doors. “We’ll first look at the entire bird, open the mouth, clear any obstruction, try to find a pulse, then proceed,” says Abou-Madi.

Specific guidelines are still being developed for birds, so right now they are rescued in the same way a human would be—with a few adjustments. One adjustment is when to start chest compressions, since they can hurt birds, Abou-Madi says. Most birds have a massive keel bone that shields the heart, which can make stimulating the organ difficult. There’s also the risk of damaging the attached ribs if the keel is pumped too vigorously, so bird medics try to avoid pumping if possible.

If a bird isn’t breathing but still has a pulse, resuscitation alone is usually a sure fix—though this isn’t a case of mouth-to-mouth. Birds can pass diseases onto humans, so instead of breathing directly into a bird’s beak, medics use ‘intubation’. “Placing a tube inside the trachea so that we can assist and breathe for [the bird],” Abou-Madi explains. The air inflates the lungs until the animal starts inhaling again on its own.

In worst-case scenarios—when both heartbeat and breathing are absent—the situation turns into a full-on avian rescue. A bird gets laid on its back, the breathing tube is inserted, and intubation is paired with small, rapid compressions on the chest that push the keel downward towards the spine. Two people working on a bird can simultaneously do 10 breaths and 100 compressions per minute. Working alone, a medic switches between 20 compressions and two breaths.

Of course, CPR differs depending on the size of the bird. An average compression on a hummingbird would be like giving it a punch in the gut—so scale becomes important. On an eagle, you might use four fingers, and on a hummingbird, you’d use just one. The breathing tube is similarly sized to fit. Smaller birds are intubated using only the plastic casing on a catheter, which is just a few millimeters wide.

If the measures work, the patient starts getting twitchy. “The first thing we look for is some movement of the chest. We feel for a pulse and listen to the heart,” Abou-Madi says. “If we are really successful the bird will start to regain consciousness. The eyes will start to move, and the muscles will start to tremble.” It’s miraculous, Abou-Madi says. “We have revived several birds, from eagles to finches, and seeing them being released is the best memory I have.”

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Naturally, CPR varies based on the bird’s size. Scale becomes crucial because an average compression would be equivalent to punching a hummingbird in the gut. You might use four fingers on an eagle, but you would only use one on a hummingbird. The breathing tube is similarly sized to fit. Only the plastic sheath of a catheter, which is only a few millimeters wide, is used for intubating smaller birds.

Resuscitation on its own is typically a surefire solution if a bird isn’t breathing but is still pulsed; however, this isn’t a mouth-to-mouth situation. Because birds can transmit diseases to humans, medical professionals employ “intubation” rather than breathing directly into a bird’s beak. According to Abou-Madi, “putting a tube inside the trachea so that we can assist and breathe for [the bird].” The animal’s lungs expand with the air until it can breathe again on its own.

In the worst-case scenario, an all-out avian rescue is required when both breathing and a heartbeat are absent. The bird is placed on its back, the breathing tube is inserted, and small, quick chest compressions are combined with intubation to force the bird’s keel toward the spine. Ten breaths and one hundred compressions can be performed simultaneously by two people working on a bird per minute. A medic works alone, alternating between two breaths and twenty compressions.

While specific regulations are still being developed, birds are currently rescued with some modifications, much like humans. Abou-Madi notes that one modification is when to begin chest compressions because birds may be harmed by them. Since the heart is protected by the large keel bone in most birds, stimulating the organ can be challenging. Bird medics try to avoid pumping if at all possible because doing so increases the risk of breaking the attached ribs.

Doing CPR on a bird may seem absurd—even impossible. But animal doctors will tell you it sometimes comes with the job. “Birds are the group of animals we see the most,” says Noha Abou-Madi, a wildlife veterinarian with the Janet L. Swanson Wildlife Center at the Cornell University Hospital for Animals. “They encompass about 70 to 80 percent of cases every year.” Her avian patients range from Bald Eagles to hummingbirds, and about 5 percent of those she takes in need CPR.

Since 1987, Patty Jourgensen, a specialist in avian health, behavior, and nutrition, has been assisting and tending to rescue birds.

Although I sincerely hope you never need it, you should read this post in its entirety so you will know what to do in the unlikely event that you come across a situation requiring this specific skill. You won’t have the time to find and read this set of instructions or any other once your bird has stopped breathing.

The fact that animals can receive cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) always surprises people. When you consider it, it should not be shocking. Similar to people, animals can have mishaps that could result in the cessation of their heartbeat or breathing. The methods used to revive them are based on the same principles.

FAQ

How do you save an unconscious bird?

With your head turned a quarter turn to the right or left, begin respirations. For small birds, seal your lips around the beak and nares. With large birds, seal your lips around the beak only while placing the index finger over the nares. Take a breath, and blow five quick breaths into the bird’s beak.

Where is the pulse on a bird?

Check for a heartbeat by listening on either side of the keel bone – a stethoscope will make this task easier. If the bird has stopped breathing, but you can still hear its heartbeat, begin rescue breathing. Supporting the bird’s head in your one hand, and its body in the other, tilt it slightly away from you.

How do you give CPR to a sparrow?

2 breaths, 10 compression and so on. Stop after each minute of CPR to check for heartbeat and respiration. Be sure to re-evaluate your bird’s condition frequently throughout this process. Continue with rescue breathing or CPR until your bird is resuscitated or until you can get to the vet.