how to nurse a bird

Few things are more heartbreaking than encountering an injured, sick, or orphaned bird (adult or chick) or other wild animal. It is in our human nature to want to help, but how do we make sure we do more good than harm? Follow these important guidelines.

Adult songbirds can become injured and sick for a multitude of reasons. The most common reasons include getting attacked by house cats, being hit by cars, window strikes, bacterial and viral illnesses contracted at bird feeders, and many more.

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. If a bird has hit a window and is still alive, it may just need a little time to regain its senses, then may be able to fly away.

Do not try to force feed or give water to the bird. Take the bird outside and open the box every fifteen minutues to see if it is able to fly away. If it is still staying put after a few hours, you can try to find a local wildlife rehabilitator. Click here to locate a Wildlife Rehabilitator by county.

The Wildlife International website also has a directory of rehabilitators worldwide that may have other facilities listed for your region.

Young songbirds are often “bird-napped” by well-intentioned people who have mistaken a normal situation for something being wrong. No one can raise a baby bird as well as the bird’s parents, so we do NOT want chicks to be taken away from their parents unless they are sick, injured, or truly orphaned. ​

If you have found an orphaned bird, the first step is to determine if it is really orphaned.

HATCHLINGS & NESTLINGS Hatchlings and nestlings are very young birds that need to remain in the nest to survive. Hatchlings are either featherless, have thin down, or have early stages of feather growth. Their eyes are closed for at least the first week or so after they hatch (varies with species). They are not able to make their own body heat and need to be kept warm by the mother bird.

Nestlings have the start of feathers over their bodies, often being fully feathered by 2 weeks of age (varies with species). They have the beginnings of flight feathers on their wings. They are more mobile in the nest but are not yet able to stand, hop, or walk. Sometimes older nestlings may fall out of the nest when they are wiggling around inside or beginning to perch.

If a hatchling or nestling is found on the ground, a licensed Wildlife Rehabilitator should be contacted. While you wait for further instruction, you can create a makeshift nest for the baby bird in a small Tupperware container or a similar round dish, completely lined with layers of toilet paper that prevent the baby from touching the container itself.

When many young birds first fledge and leave the nest, they may still have a little down with short tail and wing feathers. Fledglings, however, are often NOT in need of humans help when found on the ground.

Did you know that many songbird species learn how to fly from the ground? They have left the nest and are able to sit upright, perch, and can hop or even flutter in short bursts. The baby appears to be alone on the ground, but the parent birds remain nearby in the trees and come down regularly to feed the baby, anywhere from several times an hour to every 1 or 2 hours. The baby will often hide itself in the grass or by low bushes for protection. This situation is completely normal for many songbirds and there is likely no need to interfere.

You play an important role in our mission to protect birds & the habitats they need to survive.

Handling a wild bird

Hold onto the bird with a firm grip that is not too tight once you have it in your possession. Never pick up a bird by its legs, head, or wings; always grab it by its body.

With one hand, support the bird’s body and its feet. (The feet in the palm of your hand should be directly beneath the bird’s body, not dangling.) If the bird is small enough to fit comfortably in your palm, place your other hand over it and hold it firmly in both of your hands. Avoid creating gaps between your hands that the bird could squirm through.

Should the bird exceed the size of your hand’s palm, g. , a pigeon), grasp it with one hand as previously mentioned, and then place your other hand over the shoulders of both wings, holding the wings folded against the bird’s body in their typical, at-rest position.

When handling the bird, keep the following in mind:

  • The bird is very frightened. The bird is hurt, in a strange place, away from its flock or mate, and being held captive by a large predator (you). The bird is not aware of your good intentions.
  • Even though the bird appears to be very still, they are not at ease. When they sense that their lives are in danger, birds go into this motionless state as a way to avoid being noticed by predators.
  • Injured adult songbirds can very easily die of stress. Never hold the bird for longer than is necessary. Avoid staring at the bird, touching them, or attempting to determine how injured they are. You want to handle the bird as little as possible because “petting” it will frighten it rather than soothe it. ”.

Bring the bird inside to a room that is safe, has a closed door, and is empty of kids or animals. The room should have as little furniture as possible because if the bird escapes, it could hide behind a piece of furniture or into a container where it would be hard to get to them. A bathroom is usually a good place to take the bird; if needed, you can block off that area with a towel placed under the bathroom door.

Covering the windows until the bird is inside a box is the best course of action if it appears to be able to fly. If not, the bird may escape from you and sustain injuries from flying into the window.

Making a box to transport a bird

You’ll have to get the bird ready for transportation to a wildlife rehabilitator in a box. Heres how:

  • Find a sturdy cardboard box that has a top. For most songbirds, a shoebox is a good size.
  • Put a cloth (not terry cloth) inside on the bottom. It will work just fine with a tea towel, a T-shirt, or even a few paper towels. The majority of towels are made of terry cloth, which is not recommended because the loops can snag a bird’s beak or toes.
  • Make a “nest” that fits the bird. Place another small towel (it should be cloth, not terry cloth) on top of the paper or cloth towels and roll it into a doughnut shape. This will act as the bird’s “nest” and provide support. But if the bird doesn’t stay there, that’s OK.
  • Make a number of tiny air holes in the top of the cardboard box, about the size of a pencil. It is preferable to have more tiny air holes than a few large ones. Prior to putting the bird inside the box, make sure the air holes are made.
  • Place the bird in the box. Make sure the bird does not fly away when you place it inside the box. This can happen easily, and it can cause more injuries. Don’t assume that the bird is incapable of flying; they may suddenly regain the ability. Make sure there are no gaps for the bird to squeak through and quickly tape the box shut.
  • Add a source of heat. If you have a heating pad, turn it down to a low setting, cover it with a towel, and then place the box containing the bird on top of the towel. For a songbird that is injured, 85 degrees Fahrenheit is a good temperature.

Place the cardboard box indoors, away from children and pets, in a quiet, dark place. Verify that the box is not facing the sun or the HVAC vents directly. Unless specifically instructed to do so by the wildlife rehabilitator, do not provide the bird with food or water. It is very easy to drown a bird. While you wait for the rehabilitator to visit you, leave the bird by itself in the box.

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FAQ

How do you nurse a sick bird back to health?

House injured or ill birds away from other birds in the shelters. Provide heat and food in a quiet area and minimize handling until a veterinarian can see them. Place bird into a carrier or hospital cage: A hospital cage can be made from a smaller cage or a small glass fish tank.

What to do with a bird that can’t fly?

Do not try to force feed or give water to the bird. Take the bird outside and open the box every fifteen minutues to see if it is able to fly away. If it is still staying put after a few hours, you can try to find a local wildlife rehabilitator. Click here to locate a Wildlife Rehabilitator by county.

How do you treat an injured bird?

If you do find cuts or wounds on an injured bird, it’s important you know how to treat them. Cuts and wounds can be gently cleaned with a solution of warm salt water (1 teaspoon of salt to 1 cup of water) or sodium chloride/saline. Don’t remove any clots of blood as this can start the bleeding again.

What to do if you find a bird on the ground?

Leave it alone if it has feathers If the baby bird is hopping around, you’ve found a bird that almost isn’t a “baby” anymore. These young birds are called fledglings. They have most of their flight feathers and are very close to taking their first flight. If the bird isn’t in danger, leave it where you found it.