Orphaned and Injured Birds - The Center for Rehabilitation Of Wildlife - The CROW

Orphaned and Injured Birds

Found a Bird??
What to do if you find a Baby Bird or injured Adult Bird
Pages to help identify nestling or fledgling birds by sight | sound
Find a rehabilitator.


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Emergency care info:
What to do if you find a Baby Bird or an
injured  Adult Bird

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Orphaned Baby Birds - Does it need help?

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Your first action is to assess the condition and health of the bird. Is it fully feathered and healthy looking, like this? Robin If so, it probably does not need any human assistance, other than keeping cats / dogs / children away. Just guide it up into the safety of a tree or dense shrub. If it is fully feathered as above, but is not perching or hopping about, is wet or obviously injured, then some assistance might be needed {Note of caution here: Some species will be fully feathered but are naturally not yet active, or may "seize up" and become inactive from the extreme stress of being handled}. Also, if you are certain the parents have been killed {typically from a cat or dog attack}, the bird will need some assistance. Keep reading for more information about how you can help.

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Or Maybe it's a fuzzy looking little job, like this: Duck This young wood duck is only a few days old. They are born covered with downy feathers and are able to run around and eat on their own. It sure seems like a hopeless case, and their cute and cuddly look makes it tempting to want to take them home and 'help' them, but most likely the adult is lingering just out of sight waiting for you to go away! If the baby is peeping loudly and running about energetically, it should probably be left alone. Its peeping will most likely attract the adult as soon as any disturbances {you} are removed. Just guide the bird out of the way of any immediate danger, making sure no cats or dogs are lurking about waiting for an opportunity to kill it. Return to the area in 1 1/2 to 2 hours to see if the bird is still there. If it is still wandering about when you go back, it has probably become separated from its parent. Before deciding to 'rescue' the bird, make every attempt to reunite it with its parent. If the baby is wet, listless {not running and peeping}, or if you are certain some ill has befallen the adult {hit by car, killed by dog, etc}, then some help is required. Make every effort to contact a person experienced with duck / goose rehabilitation before deciding to what to do with any babies you might find. See the section below relating to ducks and 'precocial' birds.

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Or is it a "pinky" like this?Robin This bird, while completely helpless and in need of a source of warmth, is otherwise healthy. How can you tell? Well, first of all, the skin is visible so you can easily check for cuts and punctures. Also note that the bird is holding its head up away from the finger. It feels warm to the touch and wriggles around until it finds a comfortable spot. Often a bird at this stage will lift its head up and open its mouth, begging vigorously {gaping}. If your bird is like this, try and locate its nest. Look up, it certainly didn't fly to where you found it! Unless, of course, it was dragged into your house by a cat or dog. In that case, see below about cat / dog attacks. Once you've found the nest, check to see that the bird matches the other babies in the nest. Once you find the right nest, just pop the nestling in and it will settle in. Do not spend too much time near the nest, as the parents will stay away while you are nearby and these babies need frequent feeding and nearly constant brooding. Do not be worried about leaving a scent on the bird. In North America, the only bird with a good sense of smell is the Turkey Vulture. Again, if you are sure the parents have been killed, or if the bird feels cold, hangs its head listlessly, never begs or has gotten wet, please read on for more information.

"Emergency" Care if the Bird Does Need Help.

WARM IT UP! While this is most important for birds in the "pinky" stage, any sick or injured bird {adults too} will benefit from some supplemental heat. For "pinkies", a good way to keep them warm until getting the baby to a rehabilitator is a small cooler like the ones commonly called "six pack" coolers. Place 2 or 3 bottles filled with hot tap water {about 110º F} into the bottom of the cooler. Wedge in some T-shirts or other material around the bottles so they can't roll around, potentially squashing the baby. Cover the bottles with an old T-shirt or sheet type material. Do NOT use bath towels or any material of a similar type - terry cloth, face cloth, dish towels etc - The birds toes will get tangled in the loops. Make a close fitting "nest" of tissues on top of the T-shirt and place the bird in it. Check that the "nest" feels warm to the touch, but not hot. An over-heated nestling will stretch out its neck and open its beak in an attempt to reduce its body temperature. The bird should have its head supported and pointing up a bit. The bird should not be left lying on a flat surface. Change the tissue lining often, as it will quickly become soiled and wet. Handle the bird as little as possible as they are very delicate at this stage and leg or wing bones can be easily broken.

Do not use "dry-heat" sources such as heat lamps. Baby birds in the "pinky" stage need to be kept humidified {not damp}.

Older, healthy feathered orphans don't need as much supplemental heat. Put it in a 10 gallon fish tank or similar sized cardboard box (not a pet-bird type wire cage) that is lined with T-shirts or sheet type material {again, no towels}. The tank or box should have a secure cover so that the bird can't hop out, and nothing can get in. Place the tank / box in a warm, draft-free area indoors away from pets / children and loud noises. Keep the lining clean to prevent the birds feet from getting caked up with droppings. Get the bird to a rehabilitator as soon as possible.

How to Find a Rehabilitator Near You.

1) Since you're reading this, you obviously have internet access. Do some searches on the topics "wildlife rehabilitation", "wildlife rescue", "baby birds" etc.

2) Call your State Fish and Wildlife Service (may go by different names, i.e: "Mass Wildlife" in Massachusetts). Ask for the *permit office*! The regular staffers won't know anything about wildlife rehabilitation. Once you have the permit office, ask for a list of licensed rehabilitators in your area.
In Massachusetts, check the state web site listing:

3) Try calling a nearby Audubon Society office. While they don't do rehabilitation so much any more, they usually have lists of people who do. If you get some sort of advice that you don't like, be insistent and continue to request a list of phone numbers! Remember that most offices are staffed by volunteers and that their views / opinions do not necessarily reflect those of The Audubon Society management.

4) Call around to local veterinarians, pet stores, animal control officers, even - ack! - "pest control" companies. One of them is bound to know of somebody. You could even try calling various "birding" or "nature" stores. They often get calls about injured/orphaned animals, so they sometimes keep a list of rehabilitators on hand.

Extended Temporary Care if You Can't Get to a Rehabilitator Quickly

First of all, it must be noted that if you are not licensed by your state and possibly federal governments {depending on species}, you are not legally allowed to care for or posses wild birds {alive, dead, parts of, nests, eggs, etc, blah-blah, on and on - you know how laws are!}. Well, with that in mind, the following is for use by "qualified" persons only! It's really best to get the bird to a rehabilitator as quickly as possible. Raising a bird is time consuming and often ends up with dismal results if attempted by an inexperienced person. Malnutrition {an all too common and disturbing result of an improperly fed bird} , broken / soiled feathers, and human imprinting are often the results. Many times the birds are "confiscated" by state/federal authorities and are euthanized.

Keep it Warm! - See above.

So - A Birds Gotta Eat! This is a tough one, because several "types" of birds might be found, and knowing the species or at least the "type" of bird is important. The general categories are: Insectivores {insects}, Carnivores {meat}, Granivores {seed - maybe fruit too}, Frugivores {fruit and/or nectar}, and Piscivores {fish / aquatic thingys}. And we're not through yet - It gets more confusing! A granivorous adult might feed its young bugs and fruit. The confirmed nectar eating hummingbird feeds its young lots of tiny insects {not just sugar water here!}. The 'insectivorous' Bluebird will readily gobble up wild fruits and berries.

As a *VERY GENERAL* suggestion, relatively safe foods for most of the commonly found yard/garden/city birds are insects and fruit. Mourning doves, Pigeons, Finches and precocial birds being some notable exceptions. Mealworms, cut up earthworms {for Robins only!}, and crickets etc. are available from pet stores and anywhere that sells fishing bait. For insects, make sure to kill them first before feeding them to the bird. An insect can cause serious internal damage to the bird with its heavy chewing mouth parts. An adult, or a juvenile bird that has started self-feeding, will give the insect a few hard 'bites', or a couple solid whacks against a branch before eating it. Insects are fed to the young 'head-first' by the parents, and you should follow their methods. Fruits {grapes, blueberries, cherries, etc} should be cut up into bite size pieces. An acceptable temporary food is high quality canned dog or cat food {not the dry stuff!!}. Read the ingredients, some sort of meat product should be first after water. Many birds will have a hard time digesting cat/dog food that has a grain product as a primary ingredient listed after water.

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A healthy baby bird will generally "open wide" {gape} Cardinalswhen begging for food. The quantity of food to put in per mouthful can be judged by looking at the size of the 'opening' presented when the beak is opened. For a bird the size of this nestling robin, a piece of food the size of a large pea would be good. This bird can handle much larger pieces, but we are being safe. Continue giving the bird pieces of food at each feeding until the bird stops begging vigorously. Feed a bird at this stage every 15 to 25 minutes, sunrise to sunset. Place the food as far back into the mouth as possible without actually jamming the food down its throat. For older birds like this fledgling robin, feed at intervals of 45 to 90 minutes, sunrise to sunset. The food does not need to be placed as far back at this age, as the bird will greedily gobble it up. Use a pair of blunt tweezers or an item like a blunt chopstick to feed the bird. Sometimes a bird is so weak {or if they are older they may be very distrustful of humans} that they can not lift their head to beg. If so, they will need to be forced to eat. This can be difficult, and the bird can be easily injured. If you must force the bird to eat, gently pry open the beak with your fingernail and push the food in. Use smaller pieces of food as they are easier to swallow. When feeding any baby bird, always allow the food to reach 'room temperature' before feeding time. Cold foods can cause serious drops in body temperature. Never feed hot foods to any bird.

With a few rare exceptions, DO NOT EVER attempt to force feed a young bird water or other liquids!! Liquids are very easily aspirated {inhaled into the lungs} by young birds. This leads to all sorts of unpleasant, potentially fatal results. Baby birds get the moisture they need directly from their food. For older, fully feathered fledglings, a shallow dish of water can be offered and they will drink if it suits them.

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Doves, Pigeons and FinchesDove

Of the commonly found birds, Pigeons {Rock Doves}, Mourning Doves, and to a lesser extent, House/Purple/Gold Finches are the major exceptions to the guidelines above. Baby Pigeons and Mourning Doves in the wild are fed a substance called "Pigeon milk" which is the regurgitated, sloughed off lining of the birds crop - Gross! Young Finches are fed regurgitated, partially digested whatever it might be that the parent bird recently ate, including seeds, insects, plant material etc. Finches can temporarily be fed with the same food as the other birds above.

If you are certain you have a Dove/Pigeon, and can not get it to a rehabilitator right away, it can be fed the baby bird mixes that are available at pet stores. Follow the directions on the can. NOTE!! Some manufacturers claim their mixes are for "all baby birds". This is NOT TRUE!! DO NOT use these mixes for any other wild North American bird except for Doves/Pigeons. Most other bird species will have a difficult time digesting these mixes. Be warned that feeding of Pigeons / Doves can be quite difficult and messy. Be certain to clean the birds face and head thoroughly after feeding, before any food has a chance to dry. Feeding Doves/Pigeons is an activity that has to be seen to learn how to do it. Some day we'll get some video clips of Doves being fed, that should help.

Precocial Birds - Ducks, Geese, and Others

Precocial birds are born with fuzzy down. They can generally walk and feed shortly after hatching. Several species of precocial birds can not feed on their own, but you're most likely to have found a Mallard or Wood duck or Canada goose, so we'll stay with them as our subject. Even though the birds look like they can stay warm with all that fuzz, they do need to be warmed with supplemental heat! Try using a heat lamp and a feather duster, which provides cover and maybe a bit of a feeling of security. If the bird is wet {many are found stuck in swimming pools} the first thing to do is dry it off. Use paper towels or a light cloth and pat the bird down to soak up most of the water, then place it under a heat lamp to finish drying. DO NOT give the baby any water deep enough to get itself wet in! These birds in the wild tend to go into the water in emergencies only {some ducks are 'born to float' and spend much of their time in the water - but again - we're trying to be safe here!}. In the wild, when the parent 'broods' the young, a waterproofing oil is transferred from the parents feathers to the down of the young. The young will not be able to produce this oil themselves for several weeks. Allowing them to get wet at this early stage can lead to all kinds of complications and may eventually cause them to die. A shallow dish with pebbles and stones in it, filled about half way with water, will let the birds get some water to drink and the rocks will keep them out of the water and dry. These guys can be picky about food, so do try to get them to a rehabilitator quickly. For temporary feeding, try giving them a some of each of the following: Assorted finely shredded vegetables {kale, lettuce, carrots, etc}, turkey / chick starter from a farmers supply company - THE NON-MEDICATED KIND!!, mealworms - Lots of mealworms! {do not use the huge, red-colored trout worms as they are treated with growth hormones}. Try other things, you never know what might interest them. Mix the food with some water to make a moist 'slurry' of food. Ducks and geese will splash their food all over the place, so keep the birds container clean, and their bedding dry.

As cute and cuddly as they look, resist any temptation to handle these birds. Do not let children pet them or carry them around. The huge stress of being handle will often cause them to stop eating all-together. It's best if they are left in a quiet area where they can not see humans or hear loud noises. And of course all pets should be kept away.


Injured Adult Birds

WINDOW HITS often cause a bird to become momentarily "stunned". If the area is safe from predators and other dangers, and you can observe the bird, leave it alone for about 15 minutes. Often it will get up and fly away. Sometimes the bird needs a longer recovery time. If so, put it in a smallish box lined with T-shirts with a secure cover.{see above} After 3 - 4 hours {or wait until the next morning if near dusk} "test fly" the bird by letting it out in a room with any windows covered so the bird does not fly into them. If the bird flies strongly up to the ceiling and around in circles, it should be good to go. Open doors or windows and gently chase the bird outside. If the bird can fly only weakly and does not gain altitude, it will probably need an extended recovery period, or might have internal injuries. Get it to a rehabilitator as soon as possible.

CAR HITS sometimes just "stun" a bird as with window hits, but usually some major damage has been done. Follow the directions outlined above in "window hits", except do not chase the bird outside if it looks ready to go!. The bird should be taken back to where it came from. It has a territory and possibly a nest with young. If the 'test-flight' is not successful, it is best to get the bird to a rehabilitator as soon as possible for assessment. Make a note of the location found {mile markers / landmarks etc} and give this information to the rehabilitator so they can get the bird back where it came from when it is time for release.

CAT / DOG ATTACKS are all too common. Any animal that has been attacked by a cat or dog should be brought to a rehabilitator as quickly as possible, regardless of how healthy and uninjured it may look. An exception to this general rule would be if the animal seems completely healthy and you are fairly certain it has a nest or young. If the adult is removed, the young will surely die. It's better to take the risk of the animal getting an infection, then to cause the certain death of its young.

People often believe they have 'rescued' an animal from their cat or dog, and then proceed to let the animal go. These 'rescued' animals often die within a week or so from infections caused by even the smallest scratches from the cats/dogs claws or teeth {particularly cats}. It is very difficult to locate puncture wounds or scratches on a fully feathered/furred adult animal. Do not try to help these animals on your own. They may require antibiotic treatment.

DISEASES of birds are, for the most part, not easily transmitted to humans. But there are some notable exceptions, one of the most common being conjunctivitis {a general term for several different eye infections}. If you find a bird that is listless, weak, lacks co-ordination, or shows discharge from its eyes, you can pick it up using an old T-shirt etc. and put it in a box lined with T-shirts. Burn the T-shirt {or wrap it in a plastic bag and dispose of it}, wash your hands, Do Not handle the bird, and get it to a rehabilitator as soon as possible.

POISONED birds often exhibit symptoms similar to diseased birds. Common causes are yard / garden / agricultural pesticides, herbicides and fungicides. If you suspect poisoning due to known recent chemical applications {Chemical-Lawn, various lawn / garden products}, try to get information regarding the type of chemical used. For your own safety, treat these birds as you would a diseased bird.

Capturing an Injured Bird

AN INJURED bird will often run, hop, or even fly weakly when you approach it. A good capture technique involves using an old sheet {a very light-weight material} as a net. If alone , try to back the bird up against an object so it can not retreat directly away from you. Aim your sheet and throw it over the bird while holding one corner so the sheet does not go too far. Once covered, the bird becomes disoriented and is easy to catch. This process is much easier with two or more people. Be warned of the dangers of handling birds! Herons and other 'fishing' birds will try to jab you in the eyes or any other delicate looking bit. Keep the beak of these 'fishing' birds under control at all times!Heron Most any bird will try to attack you in some way when handled. Some birds just can't do much; say a Chickadee or Hummingbird. Some 'biters and pokers' to be careful with include Cardinals, Woodpeckers, Crows, and Grosbeaks. The vise-like grip of any bird-of-prey needs to be avoided. Have you ever seen a photo of someone handling a bird-of-prey? Those thick leather gloves aren't just 'for show'. Once they latch on to a sensitive chunk of exposed flesh, they do not let go. Vultures have a particularly charming defense technique. They projectile vomit a partially digested brew of liquefied carrion at whoever offends them. Fish-eating birds use a similar defense where they will excrete a fishy broth at fairly high pressure and with good aim.

Temporary Care of Injured Adult Birds

If for some reason you are not able to get the bird to a rehabilitator immediately, you will need to feed and house the bird. A 10 gallon fish tank with a secure lid works well to house most birds temporarily. If you suspect that the bird has broken bones, do not wait more than about 36 hours to get it to a rehabilitator. The broken bones begin to set very quickly and are nearly impossible to fix if allowed to set improperly. Do not use pet-bird type wire cages to house any wild bird of any age. The extended wing feathers can get caught in the bars, causing feather damage and potentially breaking wrists. Line the tank with old T-shirts {not towels}. Cover the tank with a light material, such as an old sheet, so that light can get through but the bird will not see out. Unless you are a birder and can identify the bird positively, you'll need to offer it an assortment of food and let it pick out what it likes. Put in some quality mixed bird seed and gravel, some chopped fruits {grapes, blueberries, cherries etc}, some diced up, high quality, canned dog or cat food, some insects {see above}, and some meat {ground chicken etc). Birds eat a lot! Judging by the size of the birds body {minus head and tail}, give it at least half that volume.

HUMMINGBIRDS are sometimes found that appear healthy, but do not respond when approached or even when picked up. This can happen due to a difficult migration, lack of food, or a stretch of unseasonably cool weather. Hummingbirds need to eat huge quantities of food to sustain their active lifestyle. When no food is available, or feeding is impossible, hummingbirds will go into a state called 'torpor', where body temperature drops and the bird appears lifeless. On cool nights, they will enter into torpor to conserve energy because they can not otherwise store enough food in their crops to survive the cold night. Due to the reasons mentioned above, a hummingbird will sometimes go into torpor without eating enough food to come back out. If you find a hummingbird in this condition, it can sometimes be revived with a bit of feeding. Mix up some sugar-water: 4 parts water to 1 part white sugar {no honey, molasses etc}. Boil the mixture for a minute. Let the mix cool to room temperature. Use an eye-dropper. Fill the eye-dropper with the mixture. Gently insert the birds beak into the hole of the full eye-dropper - do not squeeze the bulb of the eye-dropper, as the sugar-water will just squirt out and ruin the birds feathers. Usually the bird will start sipping the sugar-water once it gets a taste of it. Repeat feedings every 5 minutes. The bird will stop sipping at the mix when it has had enough at each feeding. If successful, the hummingbird will start to get very alarmed looking each time you go near it {until it sees the food!}. Usually within an hour it will wake up fully and fly off.

If this quick-fix does not work, the hummingbird might need extended care. The feeding of a hummingbird for any time period greater than a day or two requires very special food preparation. Please get any hummingbird, be it an adult or baby, that needs extended care to a rehabilitator very quickly.

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