Avian Haven Wild Bird Rehabilitation Center
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Wood Thrush nestling
Wood Thrush nestling

I found a bird.  Now what do I do?

Wild birds often get into trouble, either directly or indirectly, because of human activity. People are likely to find injured birds that have struck windows, been hit by cars, tangled in fencing or trellis, trapped in buildings, or captured by free-roaming cats. It is important to remember that, from the point of view of an injured bird, its human rescuer is yet another source of stress. A bird that sits quietly on your finger or in your lap is more likely paralyzed with fear than appreciating your intent to help it. Wild animals do not find human touch soothing. Injured birds should be placed in a box that has been lined with an old towel or piece of clothing; the box should be covered and placed in a warm, quiet place away from children and pets. Do not put food or water in the box.

American Robin hatchlings
American Robin hatchlings

During the summer months, it is not uncommon to notice immature birds in seemingly inopportune places. Birds often fledge (leave the nest) before they are fully competent fliers; their parents are most likely nearby and watching, though they may not approach their fledgling if people are close to it. Unless the fledgling is injured or in danger, it is most likely not in need of rescue. This flow diagram (26KB PDF) may be helpful in a decision about whether to intervene. If you are unsure whether a bird you have observed is in need of rescue, feel free to telephone us to discuss the situation. We also appreciate calls prior to bringing a bird to our facility, so that we can be sure to have everything at hand that will be needed when the bird arrives.

Baby birds that are not able to perch or fly even clumsily should not be out of the nest. It is sometimes possible to return uninjured babies to their nests, but nestlings whose parents are known dead, or that are cold, wounded, surrounded by flies, that have been exposed to sun or rain or left untended for an extended period of time, usually need help.

Pileated Woodpecker nestling with leg fracture
Pileated Woodpecker nestling with leg fracture
Photo by Amy Campbell

If you have retrieved an unfeathered nestling, the first priority is warmth. Follow the same procedures as above, but place the box on a heating pad set on low or medium, and create a make-shift nest for inside the box by lining a berry or food-storage container with a washcloth. If the baby begs for food, do not feed it hand-rearing formulas for pet birds, bread, milk, seed, cereal, hamburger or any other meat. As a stop-gap only, most wild nestlings can safely be fed kitten, cat, puppy or dog (listed in order of preference) kibble that has been broken into small pieces and soaked in water until soft. These foods are not nutritionally complete diets, but will do no harm for the short time it takes to locate a rehabilitator.

It is a violation of state and federal law for members of the public to hold most species of wild birds in captivity. Improper diet and/or medical care can do permanent damage in a very short period of time. "Good Samaritans" may rescue birds in distress, but must transfer them immediately to a rehabilitator who has the proper state and federal permits. Rehabilitation permits are not "just a legal formality" - they are issued to people who have demonstrated knowledge regarding wildlife nutrition, husbandry, injury, parasites, disease, etc. and who have appropriate housing facilities for wild animals.

Follow these links for more information about injuries from cat bites or window strikes.

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