Sick and injured birds

The Birder's Market | Resource | Garden Birds |  Sick and injured birds

Injured birds

Advice from the RSPB

Being handled and treated is a very stressful experience for an injured bird, and before you attempt to catch it, you should consider the benefits of treatment weighed against this.

For instance, a bird with an injured leg is probably best left, but a wing injury is serious enough to merit capture and treatment.
It is usually difficult to catch an injured bird and careless handling may cause further injury. Handling must be firm but gentle. Small birds up to blackbird size can be held in one hand. Place your hand over the bird so that its head fits between your forefinger and middle finger. The rest of your fingers will naturally wrap around each wing, holding the bird firmly.
Medium-sized birds are best held with two hands, one over each wing. Handling large birds requires great care because of risk of injury to the handler. Unless you are used to handling large birds, it is best to call an expert rescuer to the bird rather than try to capture it yourself.
Once the bird is caught, examine it quickly and place it in a well ventilated covered box to wait for treatment. Darkness reduces stress, and is likely to be the best first aid you can give the bird. It is also the best treatment for shock.
An injured bird should always be passed onto a local vet, RSPCA in England and Wales, SSPCA in Scotland, USPCA in Northern Ireland or an independent rescue centre, so it can receive appropriate treatment without undue delay.
Birds that have been caught by a cat should almost always be taken to a vet as a matter of urgency because of the high risk of septicaemia.

Sick Birds

Just like us and our pets, wild birds can suffer from disease. Garden bird feeding can attract unusually high numbers of birds to a confined area, which enables disease to spread easily.

From time to time, sick or dead birds may appear in a garden. Unfortunately there is nothing that can be done to help them, because once birds are visibly sick, it is rarely possible to treat them successfully.
The best thing people can do is to prevent healthy birds from catching the infection, thereby helping to stop the spread of the disease outbreak.
Exercise good hygiene around the feeders and water containers, and if necessary, withdraw food to encourage birds to disperse to feed over a wider area. It is better to do this than to expose them to a serious disease risk.

Personal protection
If you must handle sick or dead birds, it is important to exercise great care and hygiene, since there is a small but real risk of transmissible infections from sick birds. Some of the diseases of wild birds, most notably salmonella and E coli, can be passed onto people and pets.

Use protective gloves, and wash hands and forearms thoroughly as soon as you have finished with the bird. Avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth until you have been able to wash properly. Do not allow your pets to play with or eat birds, especially if they are sick or dead.

Can sick birds be treated?
No treatment can be administered to birds in the wild, because it is impossible to ensure adequate dose for the infected individuals and prevent healthy birds picking up the medicine. Some drugs that will cure one species can be lethal to others.

Once a bird is so ill that it can easily be caught, it is usually beyond recovery, and the kindest thing may be to put it to sleep. If in doubt, contact a local vet or RSPCA inspector.
While many vets are happy to treat wild birds without a charge, it is worth checking this before taking the bird to a vet. The RSPB is a conservation charity and is unable to treat sick birds.

Baby birds

It's common in spring and summer to find young birds sitting on the ground or hopping about without any sign of their parents.
This is perfectly normal, so there's no need to be worried. The parents are probably just away collecting food - or are hidden from view nearby, keeping a watchful eye.
The young of most familiar garden birds fledge once they are fully feathered, but before they're able to fly, they spend a day or two on the ground while their feathers finish developing.
Tawny owl chicks are mobile at a very early age, and can be seen climbing in and around their nest tree before they are even half grown.If you find a fledgling or young owl, the best thing to do is to leave it where it is.

What if the bird is in danger?
Fledglings should be left where they are, in the care of their parents. Removal of a fledgling from the wild will cut its chances of long-term survival to a small fraction, and should only be done as a very last resort.
If the bird is on a busy path or road or other potentially dangerous, exposed location, it makes sense to pick it up and move it a short distance to a safer place. Make sure you put it down within hearing reach of where it was found so its parents can find it.
Handling a young bird does not cause its parents to abandon it. Birds have a poor sense of smell and do not respond to human smell in the same way as mammals.

Can I put it back in its nest?
If the young bird is unfeathered or covered in fluffy down (a nestling) and has obviously fallen out of a nest by accident, it may be possible to put it back.
If this can't be done, the chick is dependent on humans for survival, and it should be passed on to an expert rehabilitator, such as a local vet.

Oiled birds

If you find an oiled bird alive, do not attempt to clean it yourself. It is a very specialised job and you may well do more harm than good.
Carefully place the bird in a well-ventilated cardboard box, keep it warm and consult the RSPCA/SSPCA , or a veterinary surgeon.
Oil is particularly toxic to the bird if it ingests any of it, which easily happens when it is trying to preen off the oil. Because of this, oiled birds should be taken to an appropriate cleaning station as a matter of urgency.

When large numbers of birds, dead or alive, are coming ashore, the Coastguard, RSPCA/SSPCA/USPCA or the RSPB should be informed as soon as possible.

Humane destruction

It is natural to feel that a bird, however seriously injured, must be given a chance of life.
A bird with a badly broken wing will seldom be able to fly again and a lame bird is severely handicapped in the struggle for existence. In such cases it is better for the bird to be humanely destroyed.
Please contact a vet, the RSPCA/SSPCA/USPCA or a wildlife rehabilitation centre for guidance, especially when the bird is large.Although it is legal to keep a permanently disabled bird, this is not recommended. Wild birds rarely take well to captivity, and the stress this causes to the bird is often such that it is far kinder for the bird to put it down.

The Birder's Market | Resource | Garden Birds |  Sick and injured birds

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