INJURED BIRDS: WHAT TO DO?Every winter after big storms hit, we often get calls from people wondering what to do about downed and injured birds. There is almost nothing worse than finding an injured bird and seeing it suffer. So what are we supposed to do: let nature take its course? Try to nurse it back to health? Or seek help from a trained wildlife rehabilitator? These situations pose practical, emotional, and philosophical questions that each of us must deal with. Here are some guidelines:
First, assess the nature of the injury. Some injuries may not be fixable, such as broken necks or severely deformed wings. In this case, the kindest solution may be euthanasia, awful as that may sound. However, other injuries may respond well to rest and the help of some extra shelter from predators.
Before you decide to handle a bird, assess potential safety hazards. Ask yourself: can this bird hurt me? For perspective, sharp-billed birds can poke out an eye, and raptors have sharp talons that can rip into flesh. According to wildlife rehabilitator MeriJane Deuel at Free Flight, long necked birds, herons, egrets, grebes, and others, often pull their heads close to their bodies making it hard to tell how far their necks can reach. Because such birds can move with the speed and accuracy of a nail gun, she says it's a good rule of thumb to point the bird's head away from you, keeping a firm but gentle hold on the neck. (See more below for how to handle injured birds.)
Also be aware that birds carry a variety of diseases, some of which may pose a threat to human health, so it is always important to wash your hands after handling wild birds.
Provide a Sheltering Box
According to wildlife rehabilitator Carol Cwiklinski of Rogue Valley Audubon, "Very little can be done, outside of capturing an animal, by inexperienced folks. However, the one thing you CAN do may be the most important thing to help save the animals life. Shock, the number one killer of injured wildlife, is experienced by ALL injured wildlife… Shock can be treated simply by providing the animal with a dark, quiet box, and by keeping it warm."
Cwiklinski advises using a cardboard box large enough for the animal to lie down and turn around, with a top you can close. Put a towel without holes or strings in the bottom of the box. Poke a few SMALL holes in the box for air circulation. Put the animal inside the box, close the lid, and tape it securely closed. Put a heating pad on LOW, below the box, only under half of the box, so the animal can self-adjust for needed heat. (A heating pad might not be needed in the hot summer months.) DO NOT feed, water or handle the animal further. Handling the animal, or peeking into the box, will increase the stress on the animal. Cwiklinski cautions that birds view you as a predator, not as a kind-hearted helper. Deuel suggests keeping your voice low and the atmosphere as quiet as possible. Finally, remember to wash your hands thoroughly after handling the animal.
How to Approach and Handle an Injured Bird
According to MeriJane Deuel, the number one rule of wildlife rehabilitation is "do no harm." To avoid stressing and further injuring a bird, It's best to approach it from the side whenever possible. If you try and sneak up on a bird from the rear it most often will run away from you and get more stressed. If you can get close enough drop a towel over the bird's head, generally it will not move right away, giving you time to pick it up. Keeping the towel over the bird's hear, put your hands firmly but gently on either side of its body--over its wings--with the head pointed away from you and the cloaca (bottom) away from your body. Prepare the box first so you can readily place the injured bird inside without additional stress.
Common Bird Injuries
Window strikes are particularly common injuries. If you find a bird under your window, and there is no obvious injury but the bird seems unconscious or dizzy, put the bird in a cardboard box as described above. Leave it alone, undisturbed for 2-4 hours in a dark, quiet place. After that time, take the box outside during daylight and open the lid. The bird will often fly away. If not, you'll need to contact a wildlife rehab professional.
Cat inflicted traumas are another common injury. Infections from cat bites and scratches spread very quickly in small animals and often lethal. These birds need attention from wildlife rehabbers.
Local Wildlife Rehabilitation Support
If you need the help of a wildlife rehab professional, we on the south coast are very lucky to have Free Flight Bird and Marine Mammal Rehabilitation Center located in nearby Bandon. If you encounter an injured bird, you can call them for advice and assistance. The number is 541-347-3882.
An Ounce of Prevention….
In light of this discussion, it's best to take actions that prevent bird injuries. Keep domestic cats indoors. Cats, cuddly pets through they may be, are notorious bird killers. They cannot be taught otherwise. They are intuitively drawn to pounce upon moving birds. Wildlife rehabilitators at Portland Audubon see thousands of birds fatally injured by cats each year-and these are only the birds that people bring in! Another way to minimize this threat is to avoid placing bird feeders or bird baths in places where cats can attack.
To avoid window strikes, decorate your windows with water-based paint, blemish stick or lipstick so birds can see the glass. Or hang ornaments to make the location of the glass evident to birds in flight.
For more information about making your windows safe for birds, check out this info sheet from Cornell.
Based on info from MeriJane Deuel at Bandon Free Flight and from the website of the Rogue Valley Audubon Society