Found a bird in distress?
The three main reasons birds are brought to wildlife rehabilitations for care are vehicle impacts, cat attacks and window impacts. Though you may not have witnessed any incidents, you can be sure a bird needs care if it:
- Is slow to respond or unresponsive
- Has poor balance
- Is collapsed or unable to stand properly
- Has a wing hanging or raised
- Is bleeding
- Was in contact with a cat or dog
- Is covered in parasites or insects
- Is otherwise obviously injured or in distress
A general rule of thumb is that if you can catch an adult bird, it needs help.
- It is important for a bird to de-stress after a window impact.
- If easily approached and picked up (using a tea towel or other appropriately sized covering), place it in a towel-lined box or pet carrier and leave in a warm, quiet dark place. If the bird is not easily picked up (able to run and hop), leave it where it is or usher it to the closest safe spot where it can remain hidden from overhead predators and out of the elements. A tree or bush may suffice.
- Check on the bird in intervals of thirty minutes to an hour. If the bird has fully recovered from shock after two hours, release it close to where it was found but away from windows and other dangers.
- If the bird has not recovered within two hours or is unable to fly, contact a licensed wildlife rehabilitator for further instructions.
- Keep the bird away from pets, children, loud noises and other stresses while it is recovering. Do not handle it excessively. Do not drive the bird anywhere until it has had a chance to de-stress. Stress alone can lead to death in a bird.
- Safely contain the bird and contact a licensed wildlife rehabilitator to arrange for care as soon as possible.
Any bird that has been in contact with a cat, dog or other animal should be brought to a licensed rehabilitator for care, even if there are no visible injuries.
Bacteria in saliva can lead to infections and death very quickly in birds.
Safely contain the bird and contact a licensed wildlife rehabilitator to arrange for care as soon as possible.
If you have experienced or witnessed a vehicle impact, AND IT IS SAFE FOR YOU TO DO SO, check that the bird is not alive before driving away. Often birds that have experienced impact injuries succumb from secondary issues: predators, infections, starvation, etc.
Safely contain the bird and contact a licensed wildlife rehabilitator to arrange for care as soon as possible.
- Never put yourself or others in danger when attempting to rescue a wild bird.
- If a bird is trapped or entangled in a dangerous area (e.g., telephone wires, electrical box) find out who is responsible for the property and contact them regarding rescue. Never put yourself in danger.
- When approaching, use slow but determined movements. Place yourself between the bird and any potential hazards (like traffic) or escape routes (like water). It may often help to have more than one person when dealing with large or active birds.
- Use a towel or other appropriately sized cloth to cover the bird completely. A bird is much calmer when its head is covered.
- Be aware of danger points: talons, beaks and wings. If you are unsure of what type of bird you are dealing with, assume that all three danger points need to be avoided.
- Wear thick leather gloves and protective eyewear when dealing with birds of prey or other aggressive birds such as herons and loons.
- Place the covered bird in a secure, ventilated, towel-lined box or pet carrier for transport. An appropriate-sized water dish can be provided IF SAFE FOR YOU TO DO SO. Never force water or fluids into a bird’s mouth. Allow it to drink on its own only. Make sure water dishes are not large enough for the bird to drown in or soak itself. A rolled towel wrapped around the dish can help it from tipping.
- Do not offer the bird food. Often introducing food to an injured or ill bird can cause more harm than good and can even lead to death. If a bird is in a desperate enough condition to require calories immediately, it is in NO CONDITION to be fed solid food.
Contact a licensed wildlife rehabilitator to arrange for care as soon as possible.
Always practice common sense precautions and hygiene when dealing with any wild bird.
Nestling and Fledgling Birds
Young “fledgling” birds leave the nest before they can fly and spend a period of time on the ground, flightless, as they develop their muscles and plumage.
While often of similar size to adults, fledglings can have different colouring and feather markings than their parents. Their tail feathers are still developing and will be shorter than an adult’s.
In the case of crows, crow fledglings are often mistaken for adults but can be differentiated by the colour of their eyes, which are initially blue and gradually darken to black as they age.
If you are unsure if a bird on the ground is a fledgling or an injured adult, watch from a distance for at least two hours and see if any other birds come down to it.
- If collapsed and unresponsive
- If a wing is hanged or raised
- If Bleeding
- If in contact with a cat or dog
- Is covered in parasites or insects
- Is otherwise obviously injured or in distress
- If trapped or entangled
- If in direct danger from animals, vehicles or humans
If a fledgling is found injured or in obvious distress, contact a licensed wildlife rehabilitator for further instructions and/or to arrange for care.
If a fledgling is in a hazardous location (e.g., out in the open, sitting in a window well) or in immediate danger it can be moved nearby to the closest tree or bush. Birds WILL NOT abandon their young if touched by humans. The parents should be able to locate the fledgling by their call but try to stay within thirty feet of the original location. After relocating the fledgling, watch from a distance for at least two hours to ensure that the parents and fledgling are reunited. Watching from inside a house or car is best. The parents will not come down to the fledgling if you are too close.
As they are often found low to the ground, flightless and alone, fledglings are often unnecessarily removed from their environment by well-meaning individuals.
If a young bird is fully feathered, alert, able to walk or hop, and can perch on low branches, PLEASE LEAVE IT ALONE.
It is normal for parents to leave their young alone for periods of time as they search for food and care for other fledglings.
Fledglings often leave the nest at different times than their siblings and remain separate from them while grounded. This allows the family to avoid predators as a whole.
If you are unsure if a fledgling is being cared for by its parents, watch from a distance for at least two hours and see if an adult bird comes down to it. If you are too close the parents will not return. Watch from inside a house or car if able.
If a fledgling has had no parent come down to it for more than two hours or if you are confident that it has been truly orphaned, contact a licensed wildlife rehabilitator for further instructions.
Please keep cats and dogs indoors if fledglings are present.
The fledgling stage is certainly one of the most dangerous times in a bird’s life but is completely natural and necessary. Cats in the neighborhood is not a sufficient reason to interfere and take fledglings away from their parents. The best chance any wild bird has for ultimate survival is to be raised by its parents.
- If found out of the nest
- If bleeding or bruised
- If cold to the touch
- If covered in parasites or other insects
- If in contact with a cat or dog
- If trapped or entangled
- If otherwise obviously injured or in distress
- If a nestling is found injured or in obvious distress, contact a licensed wildlife rehabilitator for further instructions.
- If a nestling is found out of the nest but warm to the touch and uninjured it can be placed back in the nest. Birds WILL NOT abandon their eggs or young if touched by humans.
- Uninjured nestlings that are warm to the touch can be placed back into their nest.
- Fallen or damaged nests can be secured back to or within 30 feet of their original locations.
- A margarine tub, basket or planter with added drainage holes on the bottom can be used to help secure or replace a fallen nest. Line a replacement nest with DRY, soft, dead grasses or the original nesting material. Do not use wet or green grasses, as the nestlings will quickly be chilled.
- Observe the nest from a distance for at least two hours. If you are too close, the parents will not return. Watch from within a house or car if you are able.
- If you keep placing the baby bird back in the nest but it keeps hopping back out, it is likely a fledgling and no longer needs to be in the nest.
- Baby birds have the best possible chance of survival with their parents. PLEASE ensure you have done everything possible to reunite them before removing them from their environment.
- If your attempts to re-nest are unsuccessful prepare to bring the nestlings to a licensed wild life rehabilitator for care.
- Babies need to be kept warm while re-nesting preparations are made or while they are waiting for transport to a licensed rehabilitator. For nestlings, make a temporary nest out of a rolled-up towel or line a margarine tub with paper towel or tissue. For fledglings, line an appropriate-sized box with a towel.
- Use an external heat source (e.g., heating pad on low, warm water bottle) to warm the air and area around the babies. Never place a bird directly on top of or directly under a heat source, including light bulbs. This can cause dehydration, burns and other trauma. Babies should feel warm to the touch but never hot. If the babies are breathing open-mouthed or lying with their necks stretched outside the makeshift nest, they are too hot. Ensure that active fledglings can move away from the heat source if they are uncomfortable.
- Keep all nestlings and fledglings away from drafts, pets, children, loud noises and other stresses and dangers at all times.
- Do not give fluids (i.e., do not give water with an eye dropper!). Baby birds do not drink water and the entrance to a bird’s airway is located in the mouth at the base of the tongue, making it very easy for fluids to enter the lungs. This can lead to pneumonia and death.
- Do not give any food. Improper diet and feeding techniques can have negative consequences. For example, milk and bread can cause diarrhea and lead to severe dehydration and malnourishment. Introducing food to a bird in poor condition with a low body temperature can shock its digestive system, leading to severe consequences, including death. If you cannot transport the bird(s) to a licensed wildlife rehabilitator immediately, contact them by phone for further instructions.
- Do not excessively handle. Handling can lead to injuries, stress, shock and death. No matter how friendly a nestling or fledgling appears, it is NEVER in a wild animal’s best interest to be handled by humans. Please limit all contact to that which is strictly necessary.
- Baby birds require a full sleep cycle or they can succumb from exhaustion. If you are unable to bring them to a licensed wildlife rehabilitator until the morning, let them sleep throughout the night without interruption.
Ducklings and Goslings
After hatching is completed, Mallard duck females lead their ducklings away from the nest site to a pre-chosen location. This “brooding ground” is usually near water.
As Mallards are more and more becoming urban birds, this journey can often take them across yards, roads and other manmade obstacles.
PLEASE NEVER PUT YOURSELF OR ANYONE ELSE IN DANGER WHEN ATTEMPTING TO RESCUE ANY WILD BIRD.
If it is safe to do so, duck families can be calmly and quietly accompanied on their way to safety.
Slow but determined movements are required. Avoid crowds, loud noises and other stressful situations. Too often, well-meaning people cause the adult duck to flee in panic and the ducklings to scatter. If this occurs near traffic it can create a dangerous situation not only for the birds, but also for you, drivers and other pedestrians. A duck family trying to cross a busy road may have to be left alone to wait for a safe opportunity on its own.
If the adult duck flees, herd the ducklings to a safe spot, if it is safe to do so, then retreat a fair distance and allow her to return. She should be able to hear them peeping.
If you feel that ducks or any other wild bird or animal is creating a traffic situation that is dangerous to drivers and pedestrians, contact your municipality or local police. Please do not put yourself in danger by attempting to direct traffic yourself.
If ducklings fall into sewer grates or catch basins, contact your city or municipality to come and remove them. Do not attempt to remove them yourself.
If ducklings are unable to make it off, out of or over an obstacle (e.g., roof, wall, window well), they can be placed in a large open-topped box. Be careful that they are not able to get out as they can jump rather high. Place the box on the ground near the obstacle and let the adult duck return if she has fled. The ducklings can be carried a fair distance within the box to the nearest safe spot and the adult should follow. If she flees at any time, put the box down, step back and allow her time to return.
Please do not take it upon yourselves to transport duck families over great distances to spots that you think are best to raise a family. The female duck knew where she was going and may just pick up and try to continue her journey from wherever you have brought her. It is best to let ducks proceed with their journey the moment it is safe to do so.
If ducklings are found in a pool, create a ramp that they can use to walk out. A towel thrown over a sturdy floating device in the water and then secured to the deck works well. Herd them towards the ramp. Leave a gate open in the yard to allow the adult and ducklings to leave.
If the adult does not return after fleeing or any duckling or gosling is found without a parent, prepare to bring them to a licensed wildlife rehabilitator for care.
Do not overly handle ducklings or goslings. This can lead to injury, stress and even death.
It is important to get ducklings and goslings (especially lone ones) to a licensed wildlife rehabilitator within hours of finding them. They can become easily imprinted on humans and other animals. An imprinted bird has little chance of survival. Contact a licensed wildlife rehabilitator if you are unable to transport them immediately.
While waiting for transport, place ducklings or goslings in a towel-lined, appropriately sized box or animal carrier. Provide a heat source that they can easily move away from if uncomfortable (e.g., warm water bottle wrapped in a towel). A small, shallow dish of water can be provided but do not allow ducklings or goslings to become soaked, as they are not waterproofed and can become chilled very easily.
Under no circumstances place ducklings or goslings in deep water (i.e., do not let them swim in the bathtub or transport them in a container of water). They easily become waterlogged and drown.
Common Wild Bird Situations and Conflicts
If you find an egg on the ground, usually the best thing to do is leave it alone or put it back exactly where you found it. (It is a myth that eggs will be rejected if touched by humans.)
Many birds actually nest on the ground (without making much of a nest at all) and don't start sitting on eggs and actively incubating them until they are all laid, which happens over many days.
If an egg has been ejected from a nest it is usually for a good reason.
An egg that has been out of an active nest for a period of time that is cold, soaked or cracked is no longer viable.
If you find (or someone has removed) an egg from an active nest that is warm to the touch or hatching, put it back into the nest. If this is not possible, contact a licensed wildlife rehabilitator for further instructions.
It is NEVER a good idea to attempt to incubate eggs at home. Besides likely being illegal in your city, state or province, it is very hard to incubate an egg properly. Different species need different temperatures, humidity levels and rotations. It is very unlikely that you possess the proper knowledge and equipment in your home, and placing an egg underneath a light bulb can severely harm the embryo within.
ABSOLUTELY NEVER “assist” a baby bird with hatching by removing it from its egg. You will cause irreparable harm and it will likely die as a result.
In Canada and the USA most wild birds are protected by law. In Canada, different species of wild birds are protected by either the provincial or federal governments.
If a nest MUST be interfered with, research what type of bird you are dealing with and what law or level of government protects it in your area. Contact the appropriate department to discuss your legal options before taking any action.
Unlawful interference with a bird, its nest or eggs can result in severe legal repercussions.
If a pair of Mallard ducks has been visiting your yard periodically there is likely a nest beginning nearby. If you do not want a nest in your yard, discourage visiting ducks BEFORE they begin to lay eggs, as once a Mallard duck has built and laid eggs in a nest it is illegal to disturb it.
A female will lay approximately one egg a day. An average nest has eight to twelve eggs.
Once all of the eggs are laid she will sit on the nest for about a month. Male Mallards leave the female once she begins to incubate the eggs.
Ducks do not raise the ducklings in the same area in which they have nested. Once all of the eggs have hatched (usually within twenty-four hours) the mother will lead them away from the nest site to the location in which she plans to raise them.
If a duck has nested in a gated yard, it can sometimes be trapped when the ducklings are not able to make it under or over the fence. Once everyone has hatched and the mother duck begins leading the ducklings away from the nest, open the gate and watch from a distance until they leave. You may have to escort them to the gate.
If you have a pool, please keep an eye out for swimming ducklings. Ducklings are unable to jump out of backyard pools and often exhaust themselves trying. Please provide them with a towel-covered ramp so they may climb out of the pool.
Please keep your cat and dog indoors if you have a duck nesting in your backyard.
Pigeons nest on flat, protected surfaces and cluttered balconies are ideal.
Prevention is key.
Clear balconies of unnecessary items (e.g., boxes, planters)
Check for nesting activity and clear nesting materials as soon as it appears. Continue to remove any nesting material until they realize that it is not a suitable location to start a nest.
Visual and audible deterrents can be helpful in some cases (e.g., streamers, wind chimes, artificial owls) but have to be moved around and replaced regularly as pigeons can become used to their presence.
Pigeons generally lay two eggs.
If eggs or babies are present, place the entire nest in a large open-topped box to contain the mess but allow parent birds full access. Do not remove the nest or box and place on a different balcony or down to the ground.
Parent pigeons leave their young for long periods of time. Do not assume that the young have been abandoned. If they are alert, warm to the touch and have food in their crops, they are fine (a fed pigeon’s crop feels like a small bean bag at the base of the neck).
Young pigeons often suffer from ‘splayed legs’ and other deformities. If you believe that a young pigeon is in distress, contact a licensed wildlife rehabilitator.
After hatching, which can take around twenty days, the young pigeons will remain on or near the nest for another month or so.
Pigeons will have more than one nest a season. Once one nest has finished keep an eye out for more nesting activity.
Always practice common sense precautions and hygiene when dealing with any wild bird, its nesting material or droppings. Thoroughly clean and disinfect any area on your balcony where a pigeon has nested.
European starlings and other cavity nesters will gladly nest in any open vents or accessible soffit on your house.
Prevention is key.
Low cost ‘pest-proof’ vent covers can be found at most hardware stores (be sure to purchase covers specifically designed to keep birds and other animals out, as standard vent covers are easily opened).
Install vent covers and other barriers BEFORE the birds begin actively nesting. You do not want to trap live birds inside your walls.
If it sounds as if a bird is ‘trapped’ in your vent, go outside and observe the vent opening from a distance. Chances are the noises are due to a bird coming back and forth with nesting material or food for young.
If you are unable to stay and observe the vent opening, place a tissue or light piece of paper over the entrance and see if it has been disturbed or removed when you return.
If nothing is coming in or out and you can still hear scratching noises you may indeed have a bird or other animal trapped in the vent. Contact a local, humane wildlife control or property management company for further assistance.
It averages about a month for young birds to fledge and leave the nest. By the time you can hear the nestlings chirping, they are likely close to fledging. Wait for all of the fledglings to leave and then clean and cover the vent.
If you are unsure if everyone has left, watch from a distance and see if any parent bird comes to the nest entrance. Place a tissue at the nest entrance and see if it is disturbed.
Once the young have fledged, take action to prevent a new nest quickly. Some birds will reuse a nest two to three times a breeding season.
Only unprotected birds can be re-nested without permission. Always research what types of birds you are dealing with before taking any actions. Contact the governmental department appropriate in your area regarding nests of protected birds.
- Use a large empty and thoroughly washed plastic container (e.g., large vinegar).
- Cut a flap on one side of the container large enough that you can place the nesting material inside.
- Cut a two-inch diameter hole on the opposite side of the container.
- Make four to six small pen sized holes near the top of the container for air circulation and at the bottom of the container for water drainage.
- Fill the bottom of the container with original nesting material or use soft, dry dead grasses.
- Carefully place baby birds inside and tape the flap shut.
- Mount the container as close to the original nest entrance as possible, ideally on the house directly beside the vent opening and absolutely no more than thirty feet away.
- Observe from a distance for at least two hours to ensure that a parent bird returns.
If you are unable to undertake any of the above yourself, contact a humane wildlife control or property management company to re-nest the birds for you.
Please do not bring any healthy young birds to a wild life rehabilitator for care until every attempt has been made to keep them with or reunite them with their parents. Not only is raising young birds to independence extremely labor intensive and costly, but also a bird’s best chance of survival is always with its parents.
During breeding season it is common for some birds to begin ‘attacking’ windows and other reflective surfaces believing that their image is an intruder in their territory.
To discourage this behavior, block the reflection from the outside of the window.
The more of the window that is covered, the better it will work. Fortunately the behavior should be temporary… Until next breeding season that is.
Window impacts are a major cause of wild bird mortality across the world.
The Fatal Light Awareness Program is an organization dedicated to this and other important wild bird impact issues.
To research ways that you can prevent birds from impacting your home’s or business’s windows visit www.flap.org/residential.php.
Sometimes birds will take advantage of open chimney stacks to nest or roost and can occasionally become trapped if they fall or descend too far within the chimney. Prevention is key and is best accomplished through maintaining your chimney and installing animal proof chimney caps.
If a bird is trapped within the chimney, place a lit flashlight in a large box, and place the box open side up, inside the fireplace. Allow just enough room between the box and the top of the fireplace entrance to slide an additional piece of cardboard over the opening. Open the flue and wait in silence for the bird to drop into the box and slide the cardboard over the opening. Gently remove the box and release the bird out of doors if it is in good condition.
If the bird is injured or in poor condition (i.e., heavily soiled, lethargic, obviously distressed) contact a licensed wildlife rehabilitator to arrange for care.
As every fireplace is unique, it can be difficult to retrieve a bird that has fallen down through the chimney and into the fireplace without it getting loose in the house. A sheet secured or held over the fireplace entrance by a second person can act as a barrier between the bird and the room but steps should be taken to limit where in the house the bird can fly if it manages to evade capture.
An escape route out of the house should also be prepared (see FAQ below).
While under the sheet, open the fireplace carefully and if possible pick up the bird with a towel. Release it out of doors away from windows if it is in good condition. If the bird is injured or in poor condition (i.e., heavily soiled, lethargic, obviously distressed) contact a licensed wildlife rehabilitator to arrange for care.
If it is not possible to capture the bird in the fireplace you may have to open the fireplace doors and wait for the bird to escape into the room.
To prepare for or deal with a bird flying loose in a room: after first limiting where else in the house the bird has access to, dim the lights and make the only source of light the door or window you want it to leave from. If necessary turn on an exterior light or leave a lit flashlight at the exit.
If you need to capture a bird in your house, try and corner it and throw a towel or blanket over it. Pick the bird up through the towel and release it outdoors away from windows if it is in good condition. If the bird is injured or in poor condition (i.e., heavily soiled, lethargic, obviously distressed) contact a licensed wildlife rehabilitator to arrange for care.
If the bird has flown into walls, windows or mirrors while in the house see the FAQ ‘What should I do if a bird has flown into my window?’
Bird feeder maintenance is essential in keeping your backyard birds healthy and happy. An unclean feeder can be a source of bacteria and spread diseases among the birds that visit it
Clean bird feeders regularly with a dilute bleach solution (ten parts water to one part bleach) and thoroughly dry before filling with new seed.
Do not wash bird feeders in your kitchen sink or anywhere else bacteria from the feeder could potentially contaminate household surfaces.
Hummingbird feeders should be rinsed and refilled every few days. Do not place your hummingbird feeder in direct sunlight. The high sugar solution can ferment very quickly on a hot summer day.
Besides likely being illegal in your city, province, state or country, it is never in the best interest of an injured, ill or orphaned wild bird to be kept in captivity by an unlicensed individual.
If you have in your possession any wild animal that you are considering raising or treating on your own, please think carefully and place the animals needs first. You cannot properly take care of a wild animal without the necessary, skills, knowledge, resources, or time commitments.
Proper medical attention would be denied the animal, as no veterinarian can treat a wild animal illegally; and as wild animals express pain differently than people or domestics, it could be suffering without you being aware of it.
For both ethical and legal reasons, no licensed wildlife rehabilitator can provide you with information concerning long -term care for and/or the nutritional requirements of wild animals. As such, you would be unable to feed, house, or rehabilitate the animal properly and it would be the animal that unfortunately suffered for it in the end.
Please contact a licensed wildlife rehabilitator to arrange for care of any injured, ill or orphaned wild animal that you currently have as soon as possible.