When we come upon a bird that is showing signs of injury or illness, of course we want to help. But, human help should only be extended after we watch and observe what is taking place and take steps to prevent further damage to a bird. The following are signs that a bird may be sick or injured:
- The bird is quiet, listless, the eyes may be closed or unfocused, and it has fluffed feathers (it looks “puffed up”).
- It may have an obvious wound, breathing problems, a drooping wind, or show lameness or an inability to stand.
- It does not fly away when approached. Young birds (fledglings) may not fly away because they are just learning to fly. See this information to learn what to do if you find a baby bird.
If you think a bird is sick or injured, and can be helped, please take the steps outlined below.
1. Assessing the situation and the overall condition of the bird.
If the bird is on the ground and is visibly injured (bleeding or has obvious injuries or breaks) it should be taken to a veterinarian as soon as possible.
If it has struck a window, wait a few minutes to see if the bird recovers. If it is in danger from a cat or dog or if within 5 to 10 minutes it still appears stunned, it can be carefully moved into a cardboard box or other well-ventilated container and left to rest in a warm, dark and quiet place with NO disturbances.
Do not give it food or water. If the bird fails to recover within two hours, contact us for a consultation or take it to a veterinarian.
2. Preparing a cardboard box or other suitable container.
Poke holes in a cardboard box (or other suitable container with a lid) to ensure good ventilation, place cloth or paper towels on the bottom for warmth. If the weather is cold, you can place a hot water bottle inside.
Darkness reduces stress and is likely to be the best first aid you can give the bird. It is also the best treatment for shock. Birds go into shock very easily when injured, and often die from the shock.
Do not try to force feed or give water to the bird.
3. Catching a Bird
Gently, but firmly, trap the bird in your hands. For small birds, place your hand over the bird so that its head fits between your forefinger and middle finger. Wrap the rest of your fingers around it’s body, making sure the wings are covered.
Medium-sized birds are best held with two hands, one over each wing. Handling large birds requires great care because of risk of injury to the handler.
If you need help call Audubon at 154-4685 or 415-119-4671.
4. Veterinarian medical diagnosis and possible treatment.
Although the first inclination is to help an injured or sick animal, human intervention often results in prolonged suffering and distress. A prompt veterinarian’s diagnosis will help to determine whether a bird can be treated and its chances of recovering and being able to re-enter the wild.
If you have a bird that has not recovered from a window collision within two hours, taking it to a veterinarian could save its life, but you need to see a veterinarian that has experience with birds.
See our veterinarian recommendation.
5. Follow-up Care.
If the bird has been treated and will require follow up care, our wildlife care specialist, Ellen Schultz, is available to care for an injured or sick bird or animal while it is recovering. She also can care for orphaned baby birds.
Audubon Wildlife Care Specialist
Ellen Schultz has been caring for wildlife since 1998, working at wildlife sanctuaries and nature centers in the United States, and while living in Australia, earning a degree in veterinary nursing and working for the foremost bird veterinarian in Australia.
She has dedicated much of her life to helping prevent the pain and suffering of wildlife and helping youth develop connections with wildlife and nature to build their respect and appreciation for all of life.
Recommended veterinary services
Dr. Ritchie Merrill
Hospital Animal Pet Care Center
Manuel Rocha Lasaux # 1
Colonia La Lejona 2Da Sección, La Lejona
San Miguel de Allende
Call Audubon if you would like the following support:
- Assistance with capturing a bird or animal
- Assistance taking a bird or animal to a clinic
- Someone to meet you at the clinic to make arrangements for follow up care.
- Financial assistance, if needed, for veterinary care