Helping A Wild Bird
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By Dr. Scott Ford

I applaud anyone who is willing to stop and show compassion for wildlife. Handling and treating wildlife can be dangerous, both to you and for the patient. In the United States, it also requires state and federal permits to be conducted legally. Here are some steps to follow when you find an injured or sick wild bird:

  1. Your welfare comes first. If you don’t feel comfortable getting close to an animal, don’t do anything. Contact one of the organizations below or your local animal control or police.
  2. If the bird is in immediate danger from weather, predators, vehicles, or other hazards, please move it out of danger, if there is minimal risk to yourself. With raptors it’s best to wear gloves or use a coat or blanket to put over the bird before attempting to pick it up. Birds of prey calm down when they cannot see so keeping the head covered is most important. Be aware of the talons and either hold the legs or just keep them wrapped up snugly so the feet don’t have room to strike.
  3. Contact a local rehabilitator using the links below.
  4. If you cannot get the bird to a rehabilitator in a timely manner, place it in a cardboard box or pet carrier in a warm, quiet, dimly lit space. Water can be offered but no food should be given. It’s important to keep voices low and viewing to a minimum.

Local Wild Bird Care Facilities (Greater Milwaukee, WI area)

Outside of Milwaukee Area

National Wildlife Rehabilitators Association- Helpful Tips and Lookup Tool

Wild Baby Birds

The most common baby birds people find are songbirds (passerines). They stick pretty tight to their nests until they have enough coordination to leap from branch to branch and enough feathers to regulate their own body temperature. This stage is called a “brancher” and is usually achieved when just a week or so old. The babies can’t even fly yet and are still dependent on their parents for food, and they are usually not far away. Baby birds are often fed every 10-15 minutes by their doting parents and they locate each other by calls and remembering where the babies were last perching. For these reasons, if you find a baby bird, don’t move them or hang around or you will make it difficult for their parents to find and feed them. There are exceptions such as if the bird is in immediate danger or you find it with a fallen nest. In those cases, move the baby and/or the nest to a safe place with some concealment. Usually a bush or low branch in a tree will suffice. Watch for a distance for a while to make sure the parents find them again. If a baby bird is injured or looks sick then you will need to deliver it to a licensed wildlife rehabilitator (see above).

Baby bird response flowchart
Art ©2018 by Rosemary Mosco, posted with permission. She has lots of adorable and instructive bird art. See more at birdandmoon.com

Veterinarians Receiving Injured Wild Birds

This video was made by a friend and veterinary colleague, Dr. Laura Johnson, to illustrate how small animal veterinary clinics should ideally receive and initially care for injured birds of prey.

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2 thoughts on “Helping A Wild Bird”

  1. Sharon Lloyd says:

    I live on a cold water fishery creek in Bucks County, PA, and every year enjoy mallards who breed successfully here. I’m curious about an oddity that I see almost once each summer … one brood will develop apace with the single exception of a sibling who, while seemingly perfect in conformation and behavior, fails to grow, remains ‘dwarf’ in size. While the others reach 2/3 the mother’s size and feathering, this ‘tiny one’ thrives in miniature. Could it be an orphan from another clutch? I’d love to make sense of what I see. The tiny one eats, drinks, is apparently in radiant good health … just very small and slow to transition from down to feathers.

    1. Scott Ford says:

      Hi Sharon: There are several potential reasons for stunted growth. On average, the last eggs in a clutch tend to have poorer quality and may affect growth. A fungal infection caught at hatch can also stunt growth severely, though this is probably much more common in artificial hatcher/brooders. Another possibility is, as you mentioned, recruiting orphans, sometimes even of other species, which could be smaller. Nice to hear of someone paying such close attention to their local ducks. Keep up the good work!

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