By Julie Doherty
Many an animal lover has crossed paths with an injured bird that appears to be in pain and is suffering. Despite the very best intentions, rescuers are often at a loss for the best way to handle the situation and can even end up doing more harm than good. Here are some action steps for getting the bird the care it needs.
How to Help an Injured Bird
Buz Marthaler, co-founder of the Wild Life Rehabilitation Center of North Utah, suggests treating the situation with the same urgency you would if a child had fractured an arm or leg, suffered head trauma or was bitten by an animal. Since broken bird bones can begin healing incorrectly very quickly, hours count.
“In all cases, it is always best to contact a local licensed wildlife rehabber so you can relay the pertinent information to them and they can figure out what is best,” Marthaler said. Depending on the bird, you or it can become seriously injured if you don’t know what you’re doing, Marthaler said, adding that some birds that appear injured turn out not to be. When handling birds with large, sharp beaks (such as herons or loons), a caregiver may suffer serious eye injury if the bird feels threatened or hurt. If caution is ignored, birds of prey with sharp talons can easily puncture and hold on to human flesh.
And then there is the issue of age. While it’s fine to carefully place a baby bird that’s been pushed out of its nest back in its nest, some birds (like fledglings, young birds that have just become able to fly) need to be left alone so their parents can care for them. In such a situation, pet owners should keep unattended dogs and cats indoors for 24 to 72 hours. “By then the youngster should be off the ground and fine,” Marthaler said.
The Best Way to Transport a Bird
While it’s illegal to care for any wild native bird unless you’re licensed to do so, you are permitted to transport sick, injured and orphaned wildlife, Marthaler said. If you are instructed by an expert to transport an injured bird, there are a few dos and don’ts to getting it safely to its destination, according to Marthaler:
- Never place food or water in the mouth of an injured animal, bird or otherwise.
- Place the bird in a box or tote bag that’s been lined with paper towels to prevent them from slipping.
- Use a secure cover to block out light, sound and the prying eyes of other animals and kids, as stress-producing disturbances can be deadly. “Once it’s in the box, it’s best not to open it again,” Marthaler said. “It is still best to see if it ‘made it’ once in the hands of a qualified rehabber.”
- Be mindful of temperature, particularly when dealing with a baby bird, which will likely need to be kept warm. “Do not let it get too hot or too cold,” he says. “Placing the box near a car’s A/C vent in the summer on the trip to the rehabber is not a good idea, but near the heat vent in the winter may be helpful.”
Preventing Bird Injuries
Unfortunately, many birds receive injuries as a result of people themselves, and these injuries are often preventable.
“We receive hundreds of healthy baby birds every year [that have been injured] due to human impact such as pruning trees and shrubs during the breeding season,” Marthaler said. He suggests pruning during the fall, and if that’s not possible, to carefully inspect the area that’s to be pruned for things like hummingbird nests, which are small. He also recommends repairing damaged house soffits and siding and filling or covering holes and cracks that will allow access to house and replacing or repairing damaged dryer vents that allow birds access for nesting.
If a nest is in the way and appears to be home to young birds, Marthaler recommends waiting a couple of weeks before removing it.
“Robins, sparrows and finches are all gone from the nest within 14 days of hatching,” he says. “The trick is to destroy the nest as soon as the babies have left. They won’t be coming back, but the parents may lay more eggs for another go-round. Destroying the nest will force them to nest elsewhere and you can get that project done without harming them.”
Marthaler also suggests keeping cats, who are also a cause of wild bird injuries, indoors at all times.