Whenever a wild bird is rescued, you can be sure that it will be having some form of trauma and you will have to consider:
- what sort of bird is it ?
- what does it eat?
- has its food supply run out and it is starving?
- where does it normally live?
- is it injured? keep checking as it may have more than one injury or problem.
- is it sick?
- is it too young or can it just be placed back into the nest or onto a branch?
- is it dying of old age?
- has it just had a hard time following a storm or suffering heat exhaustion ?
- is it diseased?
Some birds become lost in migration and get into trouble when they land in locations where they can’t get going again. (e.g. shearwaters and grebes landing on wet roads because they look like waterways).
The birds can react in many different ways. Some will behave friendly as if it were a pet, some will lie doggo, while others panic and go crazy. Speak quietly and operate in a steady manner. Do not have loud music or noise that will distress the birds.
Wrapping the bird in a towel or the like will stop it beating its wings and keep the feet under control so it can be further examined.
Safety first....make sure of your own safety, and don't become a victim too. See other safety tips.
Some birds can lash out with beaks and claws. Make sure you’ve had your tetanus shots.
Start your paperwork now - record the date and where it was found, by whom, its weight and any other information which you might need later on.
Basic Initial Care
The bird needs to be FULLY assessed, quite often there is more than one thing wrong. It is important to record your observations, including the weight, so that if the bird is passed on to other persons a written report ensures nothing gets missed.
Make sure the bird is able to breathe OK, if it can’t do so, then it will be pointless doing further checks. Make sure the airway is not blocked and listen for any rattling noises coming from the chest.
Restrain the bird carefully and control any bleeding by applying pressure to the wound as you would with a human. Another excellent way to stop bleeding is to sprinkle the wound with cornflour. Birds don't have much blood, so this loss should be stemmed quickly. Blood loss can be caused by broken bones sticking out of the flesh, injuries resulting from cat and dog attacks or cuts to the body caused when they fly into things.
Usually birds with broken bones are easily noticed with dragging wings, unable to stand or walk properly. These injuries need to be handled very carefully so that no further injury is caused. If unsure that the wing is broken, check against the other wing for uniformity in posture, size and shape.
If the broken bone has not protruded from the flesh, there is a fair chance that with careful strapping the wound may heal OK. If the wing joint (shoulder or elbow) is badly damaged the chances of the bird flying again are very remote.
For birds with bones sticking out of the flesh you will have to make a decision. Can it be saved and if so, what quality of life will it have after this ordeal?
This is also the time where a decision should be made whether to euthanase or not. This will require a trip to the vet or subject to your experience, you may be competent to handle the whole situation yourself.
For a wing injury, strap the wing carefully so that movement is kept to a minimum and in the normal position as much as possible. Check with someone who knows how to do this.
If there appears to be a good chance for the rehabilitation of the bird with the broken bones then it should be taken to a vet for proper attention. Continue checking for other injuries or conditions before moving at this stage.
The condition of the bird can be assessed by the appearance of feathers and by the amount of flesh on each side of the chest keel bone.
When the chest area is felt, if the keel bone is quite sharp and there doesn’t appear to be much flesh on the chest, then the bird is probably in a fairly run down state. We can assume that the bird hasn’t eaten for some time and /or it may be unable to eat for some reason, have parasites or worms, an injury, or have some other illness.
Feathers should be inspected for lice and other parasites and general condition. Quite often waterbirds in poor condition are heavily infested with unwanted wildlife.
The condition of the feathers also can tell us if it is moulting, a juvenile, or have some other problem.
Weigh the bird with suitable scales and record the results so that you are able to observe just how well your patient is progressing.
Treating for stress and shock
Shock is often the number one cause of death in injured wild birds. You need to immediately minimise that bird’s shock and stress.
Shock is essentially the loss of heat and fluids from the body, which is a natural response to injury. Interaction with humans causes additional stress to an injured animal and this can kill an already shocked animal.
So keep in mind that fear, noise, and cold temperatures all contribute to the animal’s stress. It is essential to get the animal to an experienced carer as soon as possible to minimise stress and to reduce the risk of the animal going into shock.
Having made the initial diagnosis, care for the bird by placing it in a suitable container in a quiet, warm and dimly lit location. This will prevent escape and allow the bird a chance to settle down and recover from shock and reduce the stress. (note: penguins require cool conditions).
Cardboard boxes with a "window" cut in them and some soft netting covering the hole, make good temporary cages. See how to make a temporary cage.
The box needs to have appropriate flooring dependent on the type of bird.
For a magpie, parrot, etc. there should be a log or perch which the bird can cling to.
For ducks and birds with flat feet, the floor of the box can be lined with some sheets of newspaper or paper towel to make it easier to clean out.
Don’t use cotton wool, tissues or wool because the strands of fibre can get badly tangled in their feet and cause even more problems.
Warmth will usually be needed so use an electric heat pad, 240v 25-40 watt coloured globe fitted to a bedside lamp, hot water bottle or plastic cool drink bottle filled with hot water. If you use a plastic bottle, wrap the bottle in newspaper or an old towel and place it so that it won’t roll around and squash the bird in the box.
Also put some water in the box in a container that won't tip over.
An alternative is to make a heat box.
Locate the box in a warm quiet place, preferably inside where it is usually warmer, away from draughts and noisy things like TVs, kids, washing machines, radios and so on.
It is a good idea to see how it is getting along every hour or so. Shock can effect the bird for up to 24 hours or more. Just quietly have a peek at your patient without causing further stress.