Friday, January 06, 2006

Help! I found an injured bird.

Our friend Rexroth's Daughter at Dharma Bums asked an excellent question. What do I do if I come across a bird in need? You can't dial 911. There are no bird ambulances. I respond to a lot of bird in need calls, but by the time I get to Michigan from Alaska, it might be a little too late. Also, if you capture the bird yourself and take it to a vet, you might be responsible for a hefty vet bill. So, what should you do?

First, become aware of wild bird rehabilitation centers in your state. A good link to help find one is Wildlife Rehabilitators. Another is The Wildlife Rehabilitation Information Directory. Both list rehabbers (rehabilitators) all over the world. There are other sites that do the same. Pick whatever you like as long as it list ones in your state. Find the ones listed in your state and then determine which one is closest to you. This will be one contact for you to call if you find a bird in need.

Also, look up the phone number for your local U.S. Fish and Wildlife office. Depending on their budget, sometimes they have the staff to respond to an injured bird report. Also, check out your states Department of Fish & Game. That agency might be called by another name in your state, like game warden.

Let's take it for granted that no one can respond to help you out. More than likely that will be the case. For this post lets say you found an injured or sick great horned owl. You don't know what's wrong. It won't fly and pretty much stays in one area.


  • Find a friend or neighbor to help you. If the bird can run or partially fly, you'll need help to trap it. It would be best if you could find someone with experience.
  • Find something to put the bird in once you capture it. Dog kennels work great. If you don't have one, use a large strong box. The box should be well ventilated (cut plenty of air holes) and just large enough to allow the bird some movement, but not so large as to allow the bird to thrash around inside.
  • You will need a thick bath towel, blanket, heavy jacket or any other lightweight material that is large enough to cover the entire bird. Thick gloves would be nice if available.
  • Approach the bird from the rear. If the bird is alert and can follow your movements, anticipate that it will struggle when first covered. The bird will be stressed. It's unaware that you are trying to help. Try to keep the recovery time to a minimum.

  • Carefully place the jacket, towel or blanket over the bird. Make sure it is covered completely. Take a mental note as to were the beak is and where the talons are.
  • Quickly restrain the bird under the covering. Again, be careful of the beak and talons.
  • As the bird calms down, gather the covering together, being careful to get the bird's wings gently folded against the body, and place it into the cardboard box and close the lid fast.
  • Transport to clinic ASAP! Do not feed. Do not give water. Let the clinic diagnose what's wrong first.
  • Do not try to caretake the bird yourself. More damage can be done by the bird not recieving proper care immediately.

  • Please be aware of the following:

    • Under Federal and State law it is ILLEGAL for anyone to injure or possess a bird of prey.
    • Only a person fully licensed by both the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and their states Department of Fish & Game may rehabilitate injured raptors.
    • A raptor's feet and talons are its means of defense so BE CAREFUL! !
    • An injured raptor requires immediate specialized care. Any delay very much reduces the bird's chance for recovery.
    • Most veterinarians have neither special facilities nor the practical experience to properly handle an injured raptor.
    • Feeding an injured raptor severely decreases its chance for survival, so please DO NOT FEED !
    • It is possible to aspirate a bird by forcing it to drink. You may offer it water, but do NOT force it to drink.
Sounds easy, don't it? Don't count on it to be as easy as it sounds. There's always different gliches that make it a challenge. Take someone with you if you can. Be carefull. Do not let your guard down. They will bite or talon you without warning. They are birds of prey that injure and kill with their beaks and talons. If your injured, cut or scratched, get medical attention right away.

Not everyone can do this, but a lot of people can. My wife Ruth can do it. She'll scream at the sight of a spider or bee, but she'll tackel an eagle without hesitation. That's one I can't figure out.

NOTE: Extreme care must be used when the bird is transported in this manner. If the day is warm or the covering is made of a tightly woven material, the bird can rapidly overheat. The bird should be transferred to a more suitable enclosure at the first opportunity.

More information can be found at The Birds of Prey Foundation.

To be continued...........



7 comments:

Rexroth's Daughter said...

This is excellent information. I appreciate it so much. This post reminded me of this story:

We had a friend in Santa Cruz who picked up an injured red-tailed hawk on the side of the highway. She put in the back of her van and drove home with it. When she opened the van doors, the hawk grabbed on to her and sunk its talons deeply into her wrist. She ended up running down the street with this hawk attached to her. I think they were both in shock. She definitely needed medical attention afterwards. The hawk had been hit by a car, and even though she was able to get it to the local Wildlife Rehab, it did not survive.

I do think the most important lesson I learned watching our friend, is that if you are going to intervene to do so thoughtfully, and in way that does not cause more damage.

Dave said...

Another Kodak monment. That's one of the items I'm trying to get accross. It's not like picking up a stray puppy. They will be on the defense until they are exhausted.

Unfortunately not every rescue has a good ending. Our release rate is about 40 - 45%.

Clare said...

Very instructive post Dave. I have an excellent resource on wildlife rehabilitation, written by a woman who had made it her life's work. Unfortunately I can't recall the title or authors name (and it is in storage) but when I find it I'll pass it on.

Cindy said...

excellent post Dave! The nearest rehabber to me is over 1 hour away... both birds expired before I could get them over to her. She's asked for me to help as an apprentice, but I've just been too ill this year to start. Maybe next year.. we need all the rehabbers we can get!

(my rehabber was in a horrible car accident, broke every single bone in her face and practically her entire body, yet she is still out there doing what she can for injured birds. Rehabbers are the unsung heroes of the bird-world imho)

Dave said...

Ouch. I feel sorry for you rehabber. One hour is not bad but like any injury, time is important.

There's a lot of information out there about rehabbers. There are many around the world. With the internet many are finally linking up and sharing information. At least it's a lot easier now.

Mike said...

This is awesome advice, Dave. I think I'd still rather call you, though Bird TLC is pretty far from the Bronx.

Dave said...

You supply the ticket Mike and I'll be there.