British Wildlife Helpline


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Common Problems - Birds

Topics:

Fallen from nest
Cat victims
Flown into window (concussed)
Pecking at windows
Oiled

 
Bird groups:

Finches: sparrow, chaffinch, greenfinch
Robin, dunnock,  wren, wagtail
Bluetit, Great tit
Blackbird, Thrush, Starling
Migrants: Swift, Martin, Swallow
Jay, Jackdaw, Magpie
Crow
Owls
Raptors: Kestrel, Sparrow Hawk, Buzzard etc.
Water Birds: Duck, Goose, Swan, Heron, Coot, Moorhen, Rail
Sea birds: Gull, Guillemot, Skua etc.

Young, not fully feathered, fallen from nest

Can you get it back to the nest? The parents will usually accept it if you pick it up in a clean cloth or paper hankie so it doesn't smell of humans.
Check there is room in the nest if you can. Large chicks often push out young siblings and may push this chick out again.
If it is not possible to replace it in or right next to the nest, it must be kept warm and quiet and taken to a Rescue Centre as soon as possible for feeding. 
Don’t try feeding chopped worms or large chunks of food to young birds as it can suffocate them.
NEVER put drops of water into a bird's beak; it will kill them if it enters the air sacs. 

Always touch drops of liquid to the side of the beak, one by one

and PLEASE!  NEVER FEED THEM MILK OR BREAD.  

Fledged youngster on ground, too young to fly and feed itself. 

Find out what sort of bird it is:  behaviour and feeding habits are very different between species

Finches    
Small birds with a strong, wide beak  Sparrow, Chaffinch, Greenfinch etc.

Lift onto a bush or branch then leave alone and observe from a distance.  The parents should visit them at least every hour or so. 
Rescue them if there is no parental contact for 3-4 hours, if they look unwell or are in danger from a cat.

Insectivores

Small birds with a pointed beak - robin, wren, dunnock

Robins separate their specked young when fledged, park them under bushes and come back to feed them regularly.
Wren and Dunnock chicks also hide in cover near the nest until they can fly.
If there is no danger from cats, leave it alone and observe from a distance to make sure the parents are still around. 
It may take some time to see if all is well, but be patient;  it's better for the chicks to stay with their family if possible.

Blue tits/great tits 

These are sometimes seen alone in bushes. 
Parents separate broods for safety once fledged and make the rounds, feeding them in turn until strong enough to fly with the flock. 
If found on the ground, put in a dense bush or hedge nearby and observe from a distance to see if the parents come with food.
Be patient and wait at least 2 hours it the chick is active and able to stay in the branches.
If it looks fluffed up or keeps falling to the ground, put in a box lined with kitchen roll, keep warm and take to a rescue centre.


Migrant Birds         -          Hirondelles

Swifts
These are dark sooty brown birds with very short, strong legs. Can you see why it fell from the nest? Usually these are in crevices high up in or near the roofs of buildings
and the chicks sometimes fall out by accident.

Before you try to return the chick to the nest, offer it some water, a drop at a time, touched to the side of the beak.  (it may need up to teaspoon in hot weather)  and have the correct food - wax moth larvae are ideal in an emergency.
Is it lively and active or quiet and subdued? If subdued, it may be ill or injured so handle very carefully and gently.   Put the bird in a dark, well ventilated box lined with kitchen roll after it has had some water and contact your nearest rescue centre.

     Medication
If you have any homoeopathic remedies, crush a tablet of Arnica and Aconite together and dissolve in a teaspoon of tepid boiled water.
Give this to the bird on a cotton wool bud or tiny artists' paintbrush on the edge of the beak.
The liquid will help with rehydration and the medication will help with the shock and bruising from the fall.

    Re-hydration

If nothing else is available, give plain, cool water very carefully, drop by drop on the edge of the beak with the tip of a finger or small artist's brush. Check to see if the bird is licking it up or if it is just running down into the feathers under the chin.  If the bird isn't drinking, put it in the  dark, ventilated box until you can find help.
If possible, give it some re-hydration liquid such as Lectade, Critical Care or in an emergency: mix 1 tablespoon tepid boiled water mixed with a tiny pinch of glucose and 4-5 grains of salt to make a basic rehydration fluid.
Dip the tip of your finger, a cotton wool bud or tiny artists' paintbrush in the liquid and put a drop on the edge of the beak.
The bird should accept this by licking it up; you need to give it as many drops as it will willingly take - about 10-15 would be a good start. Let it rest a while and offer more drops later. 

NEVER squirt water into a bird's beak. It will die if liquid gets into the air sacs.

    Feeding
Do not attempt to feed the bird until it has been rehydrated.  It will need regular feeds of insect based foor by tweezers or via a syringe and tube, but in an emergency,
if the bird is opening its beak, you can give it small, freshly killed wax moth larvae, one at a time, in tweezers.
The first feeds need to be fairly moist so dip the larvae into a few drops of water first .
Put this at the back of the tongue and the chick will swallow it down.
Keep the bird quiet and warm in a dark, ventilated box and take to a Wildlife Rescue Centre as soon as possible.

For more details and photographs showing the rearing of swifts see:  feeding swifts   and Case Histories 


Martins, Swallows

These can be found underneath their nests, especially in very hot weather, as they stand on the edge to try and get cool and fall out.
Often they are bruised and dehydrated, so handle them very gently. 
An illustrated account of rearing a martin and a swallow can be found in:  Case Histories
   
 
Medication
If you have any homoeopathic remedies, crush a tablet of Arnica and Aconite together and dissolve in a few drops of tepid boiled water.
Give this to the bird on a cotton wool bud or tiny artists' paintbrush on the edge of the beak.
The sugar in the tablets will help boost the chick's energy and the medication will help with the shock and bruising from the fall.
     Rehydration
If not, do give some re-hydration liquid such as Lectade, Critical Care or plain water - bottled if possible.
In an emergency: 1 tablespoon tepid boiled water mixed with a tiny pinch of glucose and 4-5 grains of salt will help.
Dip a cotton wool bud or tiny artists' paintbrush in the liquid and put a drop on the edge of the beak, near the hinge.
The bird should accept this and take several drops.
    Feeding

If the bird is opening its beak and begging for food, in an emergency only you can give it tiny amounts of mashed up meaty cat/kitten food in tweezers.
Mash about a teaspoon of food and add a drop of two if water if it seems rather dry. If you can possibly get hold of wax moth larvae or maggots, these would be far better for the chicks.
Pick up a small amount that will easily fit into the bird's beak in tweezers or on a plastic coffee stirrer.
Offer it from above the bird and when the beak opens, place the food well inside the mouth.
Allow at least 30 seconds for swallowing and offer another small portion.
It should take between 3 and 8 small portions and then will sit with eyes closed, to digest the meal.
Let it rest quietly on soft paper tissue (soft loo roll is good) in a warm, dark, ventilated box and take to a rescue centre as soon as possible.
If you can't take it to a centre straight away, give feeds every half- hour (depending on demand) until about 8pm.  These birds do not feed through the night so it can be left in the box, until the morning, provided it is in a warm place. Young chicks get cold very easily so do check tho see if it is able to keep warm.

Blackbird / Thrush  / Starling

May have left the nest too soon and not be strong enough to fly up to a safe perch.
These birds spend a lot of time on the ground as they feed on worms, snails and bugs; try and see if it is feeding itself by offering a small pot of water and some chopped up cat food or soaked cat biscuits, sultanas or currants on a saucer.
Make sure it can escape a predator by trying to catch it. If it can flutter up a few feet, try leaning a thin branch up against a tree or shrub to make a temporary ladder for it to climb to safety.
If it looks unwell or is in danger from cats, catch it and take to a rescue centre in a darkened box.
If you can catch a bird without too much trouble it is usually in need of help.

Crow family
Crows leave the nest when fledged but unable to fly and are looked after on the ground by attentive parents for several days,
until able to fly properly.  A lot of their time is spent on the ground learning to find food and they can usually hop up into bushes
and dense trees to get away from predators.
Crow chicks should not be “rescued” if the parents are still around, unless they have been injured.
If injured or unwell, it will be subdued and listless or may have one wing lower than the other and feathers sticking out or missing.

Magpies, Jackdaws and Jays are able to fly but inexperienced, so are often caught by cats.
If one wing is drooping, try and catch the bird and take it for treatment.
The birds have strong legs so it is not always easy to rescue them as they can jump over fences even with only one working wing.

Birds pecking at windows

This is quite a common occurrence. They have even been known to peck at the windows of a Wendy House or shed.

Bird (goldfinch, robin, blue tit and even blackbird) pecking at window glass

Birds often peck at spiders and insects in the corners of windows and along the sills.
In spring or early summer they may be attacking the glass, thinking their reflection is a rival bird trying to take their territory. 
Try putting a newspaper or piece of card in the window to break up the reflection and put a pot of food somewhere nearby to distract them. 
Robins do not give up easily and can exhaust themselves fighting imaginary rivals so please try to remove the reflection!

Blue tit/Great tit pecking at the window surround

They could be hunting small insects and spiders in the area.
In hot weather they could be after the putty, attracted by the smell of linseed oil that seeps out as it heats up.
If it is new putty, cover it with a temporary shield of newspaper strips held on with sticky tape, until it hardens.
Mask the smell with a light spray of diluted Citronella oil or rub oranges or lemon peel on the edge of the sill.
Try putting out fat balls and peanut feeders for the birds well away from the building to distract them if you are re-glazing a number of windows.

Homoeopathic Emergency help

If you can't get to a rescue centre for a few hours but have homoeopathic remedies at home, crush one tablet of Aconite, Ignatia and Ledum
(if you have any of them) between teaspoons and dissolve in a teaspoon of spring or cool, boiled water.
Bach Rescue Remedy is also good in cases of shock; dilute 2 drops in 2 drops of boiled water and dab it on the side of the beak
with a tiny artist’s paintbrush or cotton wool bud.
The bird should be eager to take a few drops and it will help it recover from the trauma.

For more information see:  Homoeopathic remedies

 

Young / adult cat victim

Birds with puncture wounds and scratches will need treatment so if you can, take it to a Rescue Centre as soon as possible.

If you need to give it some First Aid; click on the Homoeopathic Remedies link just above for help.

Obvious injuries

Keep the bird quiet and dark and take to a rescue centre or vet as soon as possible.

If there is any skin damage and/or a visible puncture wound it will need a special homoeopathic remedy or antibiotics,
as infection is very quick to spread.

No obvious injuries

If the only damage is shock and the bird seems to be mainly intact without many lost feathers, put it in a dark, ventilated box for
at least a couple of hours to recover. It is important to get it into a dark place, so that it can rest properly and have a chance of recovery. 
After 2-3 hours, if there are sounds of strong activity, open the box in the garden and see if it will fly off. 
If it doesn’t fly but is a lot better, try another hour of rest and offer it water in a small pot. 
If it still doesn’t fly, it will have to go to a rescue centre for a check-up and feeding.

Magpie or blackbird with injured wing
Unable to fly but running around the garden and able to hide in bushes; usually difficult to catch because they have strong legs and  can
jump onto a hedge or fence and disappear into the next garden or run very fast and low to the ground and just vanish into shrubs.
All you can do is put food and water out and keep trying to catch them.

Emergency First Aid

If you have any homoeopathic remedies, crush one tablet of Aconite, Ignatia and Ledum (if you have any of them)
between teaspoons and dissolve in a few drops of spring or boiled water. 
Dab it on the side of the beak with a tiny artist’s paintbrush or cotton wool bud.
The bird should be eager to take a few drops and it will help it recover from shock.

Bird on the ground near a window or patio doors

It has probably flown into the glass and may be concussed.
Give Rescue Remedy or homoeopathic Aconite and Arnica in solution on the side of the beak with a cotton wool bud if possible.
Place it in a dark, ventilated box and keep it quiet for at least 2 hours.
Check on its progress and if it is moving about vigorously, try opening the box in the garden. 
If the bird is not quite ready to fly, try keeping it dark for another two hours but do not try to release it if it is almost dusk. 
It should go to a rescue centre for feeding and can be released when it has recovered and is ready to fly.

Owls

Young, on ground

If lively and uninjured, it may have fallen from a nest or branch. Check nearby trees for signs of occupancy; streaky white droppings, pellets, etc.
Lift the bird up to as high a branch as you can reach and observe it from a distance.
Little Owl - these sometimes nest near the ground in tree stumps so it may have wandered away from home.
If it is very wobbly and unwell, keep it warm and quiet and take it to a rescue centre as soon as possible. 
If it lively and undamaged, check on it near dusk, when the parents should arrive to feed it. 
If the parents do not visit it with food, it must go to a rescue centre as soon as possible for feeding.

Standing/lying at roadside

It may have flown into a car or been knocked down by the side wind from a passing lorry.
Pick it up carefully and avoid the talons. 
Wrapping a small towel around the lower body is the easiest and safest way, then the bird and towel can be placed in a box or cat carrier. 
Keep dark and quiet and take to a rescue centre as soon as possible as it will need fluids, treatment for shock and raw food with fur or feathers.

Birds of Prey

On the ground near a large window, overhead wires, shrubs
It has probably flown into the glass or an obstruction and may be concussed. 
Place it in a dark, ventilated box or cat carrier and keep it quiet and warm while you take it to a rescue centre.
Sometimes the bird will recover on the journey so after a check up it may be fit for you to take home and release.
Place the carrier on the ground in an open area, prop the door open and move away.
It may take a few minutes before the bird emerges and flies into the nearest big tree.

Ill or injured

Gently wrap the bird in a small towel or cloth and take it to a rescue centre or vet in a cat basket or secure box. 
Keep clear of the talons - there is comparatively little danger from the beak. 
Keep the bird dark, warm and quiet, they are very nervous.

Young, on ground under tree

Nests are occasionally blown down in bad weather and it is usually  impossible to get them back to the nest. 
They will have to go to a rescue centre or specialist to he hand reared.

Water birds

Ducks
In spring, many householders will be surprised to find a female duck with a flock of tiny chicks in their garden. The mother will
attempt to lead her chicks to water and if there is a suitable large pond or lake nearby, all that needs to be done is to walk along
ahead of her and stop the traffic if she needs to cross a road. This is easier with 2-3 people as someone can walk behind and
make sure the chicks stay together.

If this is not possible, gather up all the chicks into a roomy cardboard box or cat carrier. Ducklings can jump quite high, so put
some chicken wire or a piece of net curtain over the top. The mother will probably fly up out of reach but as long as she can hear
the ducklings she will follow you as you walk to the nearest safe pond. Once there, put the box down and wait for the female to
land and approach you. Then you can let the ducklings out to join her on the bank and she will lead them off to the water.

Ducklings on road, mother dead or injured
Many ducks and ducklings are killed when crossing busy roads. Collect all the ducklings and the mother if alive and take to the
nearest rescue centre. If you suspect some ducklings have vanished into shrubs, go back later and look for them, they will not
survive alone.

Duckling/s without a mother
If it is listless and limp, keep it warm and take it to the nearest rescue centre. If this will take some time, try and find some pond or rainwater and offer
it to the duckling in a shallow saucer. If the water is green, this is ideal as it will have algae and other nutrients. Dip just the tip of the
beak into the water and the duckling should be able to suck some up.

Emergency feed for ducklings (short term only)
Finely crumbled bread, shredded wheat or weetabix in pond/rain water in a small shallow dish.

Geese, Swans

Broken leg

Swans and geese often float or swim with a foot lying along their backs.
It looks extremely odd but is quite normal. 
They can even sleep with the head tucked under the wing while standing on one leg.
If they really do have a broken leg they will be using their wings to help them balance as they hop about on land.
They need to be hand fed until they come close enough to be caught but this takes time and patience.
They can be difficult to catch as they will tend to fly away when approached.

Adult, injured wing

Geese, especially Canada Geese, are often hatched with a condition called 'Aeroplane wing' or 'Angel wing'.
This means the 'wrist' joint can't bring the wing feathers around to lie flat against the body and a few stick out at an angle.
The condition mainly affects one wing but a few cases have been seen where both wings were affected.
'Aeroplane wing' means that the bird can't fly but will otherwise lead a normal life.
Only call for help if the bird has blood on the feathers or has a wing dragging on the ground.

Young, alone

Have you seen the rest of the family? 
Sometimes one or two get separated from the flock but will be accepted back if the main group can be found.
If you can catch it, put it in a box lined with newspaper with a small bowl of river or pond water to drink
until the rest of the family reappears or is found.
If the bird is an orphan, or the family cannot be located, it will have to go to a rescue centre for rearing.
Emergency feeding:  pond or river water in a shallow bowl and crumbled, wet brown bread.

Young, injured

Can you get near enough to catch it? 
By the time a rescue centre helper gets to the area it could well have swum away out of sight, so try and lure it close
enough to catch if possible, then wait for help or find a box and take it to a rescue centre yourself.

Hooked / tangled in fishing line / plastic

These birds are very wary and difficult to catch, unless the line catches in branches or weeds. 
Often, unless someone is watching the bird, it has disappeared by the time help arrives. 
If there is nothing wrong with the wings, they will often fly away rather than be rescued.

Heron

Always protect your eyes when helping herons - wear glasses at all times.

Young - fallen from nest

This is a rare occurrence and it is usually impossible to return the youngster to the nest.
If the parents are still feeding it, try leaning a wooden ladder against one of the heronry trees,
or making a sloping grid out of branches to help it climb higher up, away from predators.
Move away and see what happens.  If it seems safe and the parents are with it, check daily to make sure all is still well.
If you can't get it to safety in the tree, it needs to be taken to a rescue centre for rearing.


Caught in pond netting

Keep away to avoid causing undue stress and struggling.
Contact a rescue centre; they can usually send someone to cut the bird free. 
It may not have to go in for treatment unless the netting has caused damage. 
Protective goggles or glasses are needed as Herons stab with their beaks when frightened and could damage your eyes.


Thin, weak, collapsed

Try and find an experienced Rescue Centre helper to collect it. 
If nobody can come, if you are willing to help, get a friend to grasp the beak and neck securely while you put the bird into a box or pet carrier. 
It can be carefully wrapped in a piece of old sheet or large towel but care must be taken to gently fold the legs and the wings. 
The heron must be wrapped securely to prevent it wriggling free during the journey.
If no box is available, the wrapped up body and legs will fit into a large carrier bag and the beak can be held closed with an elastic band for a short journey.

Sea Birds

Weak, unable to fly
Gulls can suffer from enteritis and botulism after foraging on waste sites. They will be weak and have green faeces and need medication.
However weak they are, they can still peck quite strongly so take care to hold the beak or neck as you pick them up.
You will need a sturdy carrier or box thickly lined with newspaper to absorb the droppings.
Offer a bowl of clean water and a dish of fishy cat food if you can't get them to a rescue centre straight away.
If the gull is very weak, you will have to try to get it to take some liquid as it will probably be dehydrated.
    Re-hydration
Give it some re-hydration liquid such as Lectade, Critical Care or even Dioralyte.
In an emergency: 1 tablespoon tepid boiled water mixed with a tiny pinch of glucose and 4-5 grains of salt will help.
Dip a cotton wool bud or tiny artists' paintbrush in the liquid and put a drop on the edge of the beak, near the hinge.
The bird should accept this and needs to take at least a teaspoon of liquid.

Oiled
Catch the bird and prevent it from ingesting any more oil from preening the feathers by holding the beak closed with your hand. 

Do not obstruct the breathing tubes on the bills of sea birds or they will die. If in doubt, leave the beak alone but take extra care to avoid a peck. Wear glasses if you have any to hand.
Wrap in a towel or cloth if possible and take to a rescue centre as soon as you can. It will need to be thoroughly washed in detergent to remove the oil
and given time to recover, feed and replace the natural oil in the feathers.

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