If you find an ill or injured bird (or other critter), it is crucial to the animal's survival that it be given to a licensed wildlife rehabilitator. It is not legal to keep and care for the animal unless you are a licensed rehabilitator. Under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, it is illegal to posses a wild native bird (or their nests, eggs or young) without a permit.
To find a rehabber nearest you, see link below. Most states have a Department of Natural Resources/Wildlife website which lists licensed Rehabilitators or phone numbers. Local Audubon chapters, some bird clubs, Wild Bird Centers, Humane Societies, and local animal control officers may have names. Or you can call your local nature center, or a bird specialty store.
Websites to Locate:The Wildlife Rehabilitation Information Center - find a wildlife rehabber
To capture a sick or injured songbird, use a barrier, or try to lure it onto a porch or into a garage with food scattered on the ground, and then throw a T-shirt or pillowcase over it and gently but firmly pick it up through the cloth. (If you use a towel, broken feathers or toenails could get caught in the loops.)
For transportation, put the bird in a small bowl or ventilated shoe box lined with tissue, a paper towel, or a coffee filter, covered with a towel, and keep it warm, away from people and pets. Keep the radio and A/C off, and do not smoke in the vehicle while transporting the bird.
If you have nestboxes in your yard or are a bluebird trail monitor, being prepared for an emergency is important. Some rehabbers have had to close down due to lack of funding, so checking things out before the panic is crucial. Find your closest rehabber now who handles songbirds - before the emergency occurs. See story of Mr. Troyer. If you cannot locate a rehabber who will take the bird, it may be best to just let nature take its course. Not every bird can be saved. See more information about preventing future problems.
By the way, rehabbers that work with songbirds are not funded by the government. Almost all work independently (i.e., are not associated with a large nature center or organization) and must use their own money, time and resources to feed, house and treat the creatures they try to rescue. Some animals cannot be released into the wild, and require long term care. So if you do bring a animal to a rehabber, please consider donating something to them, to help them continue to operate. Money is great. They can also probably use in-kind donations like food - just ask them what they could use and drop it off. It's a great way to make a difference.
Emergency Baby Bluebird Care- 911!
Tips for interim baby bird care information are provided only as a temporary resource for care until the bird can be delivered to - or picked up by - a trained, licensed wildlife rehabilitator. Read everything below before taking action! Note that these instructions apply to small cavity nesting songbirds (primarily bluebirds) - other types of birds (like hummingbirds, pigeons and doves, or raptors) require different care or handling.
A lot of times what we think is an emergency is not really (e.g., the last bluebird takes a day or two longer to fledge than its' nest mates, but the parents are still caring for it and there is nothing wrong with it.)
Birds of Prey/Birds with Long Pointed Beaks: The instructions below apply to songbirds. Injured raptors (e.g., hawks, owls) and birds with long pointed beaks (e.g., herons) could seriously injure you, so do NOT handle them - call a wildlife rehabber or your State wildlife agency.
If you find nestlings on the ground with little or no feathering, it is best to try to return them to the nest. No human can care for nestlings, and help prepare them for the real world as well as their natural bird parents. Baby animals that become habituated to humans often do not do well when released in the wild - rehabbers know how to avoid this. Their parents are unlikely to reject the babies just because you have touched them. If the nest is in a tall tree, make sure you can return it safely (e.g., use a sturdy ladder that is held by someone else.)
NOTE: An alternative is to put the premature fledgling in a small wire bird cage, like the kind you can buy at any pet store. If it doesn't have a plastic roof, attach a piece of cardboard with zip ties. Hang it up next to the nestbox/tree where the nest was. The parents will typically feed their baby through the bars, and then it can be released as soon as it is ready. (Do not put food/water in the cage, as nestling birds cannot feed themselves, and get moisture from their food/parents.) Bird parents can take care of their young much better than you can.
NOTE: COLD nestlings must be warmed before they are returned to a nest. Make a temporary nest with a small bowl lined with lots of paper towels or coffee filters so the baby is well supported. Place the nestling inside, cover it lightly with a soft cloth, and place it on a heating pad set on low and put it under half of the artificial nest (so the baby can move away if it gets too warm). Or you can fill a smooth sock with rice and microwave it - it should be warm to the touch but not hot - and put it under a T-shirt of paper towel, and place it under or with the baby. When babies feel warm and are opening their mouths for food, return them to the nest.
A feathered bird with short wings and a short tail found on the ground is probably a fledgling. Parents will continue to care for them, so unless there are obvious injuries, leave the bird alone. If it clearly cannot fly and you are able to drop a T-shirt or pillowcase over it, you can place it in a tree to prevent it from being attacked by cats or dogs. If the bird is calling loudly with no parent responding, observe it for 2 hours before rescuing.
If the young have prematurely fledged from a nestbox (before they are able to fly), stuff a sock in the entrance hole for about 10 minutes after returning them to the nest, so they calm down. Despite that, they may jump out again. More on premature fledging.
Before attempting to rescue a baby bird, you must make sure it is truly orphaned. Observe a nest you THINK might be abandoned for 2 hours before rescuing. Parents may fly in and out of nest within seconds while feeding. Nestlings can live 24 hours without food. See more on widows/widowers and what to do if one or both parents are gone.
If the bird is clearly orphaned, and does need to be rescued bring it to a licensed wildlife rehabilitator as soon as possible. Some rehabbers are very busy (many mouths to feed, other jobs, etc.) and may not return calls right away.
In the interim:
Window Strike: If the bird does not recover in a few moments and is motionless, put an upside down box or colander over it, or place it in a small box with a lid, or a grocery bag that has been folded closed. Put the container in a warm, quiet location. Do not attempt to force the bird to eat or drink. Avoid handling the bird. Release it outside as soon as it is alert and active (usually within an hour.) If the bird is seriously injured or does not recover in a few hours, contact a local wildlife rehabilitator.
Cat Attack: Any bird handled by a cat (the bird may have missing or matted feathers) or dog should be immediately taken to a licensed wildlife rehabber so it can receive antibiotics, even if the skin is not broken. Unfortunately, many do not survive, because cats and dog's mouths are teaming with bacteria. Read more about preventing future cat attacks.
Other Injury: If it is a songbird, put the injured bird in a small box or bowl lined with a paper towel or coffee filter that can be changed out underneath (loops in a cloth towel can catch the birds' feet), cover it lightly with a cloth (this will help it conserve heat and prevent it from becoming even more stressed- darkness calms them down), and keep it warm (e.g., sit the container on a heating pad set on LOW. Immediately contact a wildlife rehabber who handles songbirds so they can attempt to save the bird.
If you don't hear back from the rehabber within two hours, and the bird can stand, you can put a small, stable, shallow container like a baby food jar lid with plain water in it with an adult bird. Songbirds don't need much water. Check periodically to make sure the bird has not dumped the water and gotten its feathers wet. Remove liquids at night - a night with wet feathers could kill an already weakened bird.
If you find an egg on the ground, it is unbroken and you know where the nest is and can safely reach it, you can try to gently place it back in the nest (eggs are very fragile.) Broken eggs will not hatched. If eggs are abandoned in a nest, it is not feasible to attempt to incubate them on your own. They must be maintained at an exact temperature, turned constantly, and even if the young did hatch (which is unlikely) they would have to be fed every 15-60 minutes with a specialized diet. See more info. (It is also illegal, see above.) If possible, the parents will re-start a nest elsewhere.
Nature is not cruel, pitiless, indifferent. This is one of the hardest lessons for humans to learn. We cannot admit that things might be neither good nor evil, neither cruel nor kind, but simply callous -- indifferent to all suffering, lacking all purpose.
- Richard Dawkins British ethologist, geneticist, & popularizer of genetics (1941 - )
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