When to help garden birds
Modified on: Thu, 2 Dec, 2021 at 7:18 PM
By garden birds, we mean the sort of birds you might find visiting your garden e.g. sparrows, starlings, blackbirds, tits, finches etc. This article provides advice on when to help adults of these species - for advice on when to help a baby garden bird, please see here.
Garden birds often need help after cat attacks or flying into windows.
When to rescue
Birds caught by a cat or dog
Any bird caught by a predator will need to be checked for injuries and given antibiotics. Bacteria on the cat’s teeth can cause fatal septicaemia if they get into the bloodstream.
Birds hit by a car
They may be lucky and escape major injury but it's best they go to rescue for treatment for shock at the very least.
Any bird with an obvious injury
Such as a dropped wing, leg injury or obvious wound. The bird will need specialist treatment and rehabilitation.
An adult bird which can be easily approached
All garden birds should naturally be fearful of people. If an adult allows you to get close and does not try to escape, there is a serious issue and the birds needs help.
A grounded swift
These red-listed birds cannot easily take off from the ground. Sometimes they just need help getting air borne again but it’s best that a rescue checks them over first in case there is a medical reason why they ended up grounded.
A bird with visible growths around its face or legs
The bird may be suffering from trichomoniasis or pox, both of which are fatal without treatment.
When to take other action
A bird which has flown into a window
Make sure the bird is safe from cats and other predators and observe. If the bird doesn’t fly away within a few minutes they should be picked up and put into a secure box in a warm, quiet place. Often they just need to rest for a few hours or overnight and can then be released. If there are any obvious injuries or the bird doesn’t recover quickly then do contact a wildlife rescue.
When to leave alone
A bird which looks ‘scruffy’ around the head and neck area
Many species moult at the end of the breeding season (late Summer/early Autumn) which can leave them looking pretty tatty. This is normal, though, and nothing to worry about.
Capture, Containment and Care
Any small bird needs to be handled with care to prevent stress and injury. It may help to pick the bird up in a light towel to ease both the physical and mental stress on the bird. Although a small bird is unlikely to injure you with its beak or talons you’d be surprised quite how hard a bird such as a sparrow can bite so the towel also hides your fingers.
If you need to pick up a large bird such as a crow or gull, it is advisable to do so using gardening gloves or a thick towel. Larger birds have powerful beaks and can peck really quite hard. Be sure to keep the beak well away from your face to avoid eye injuries.
Hold the wings against the body to avoid the bird flapping and to help them feel more secure. Many birds feel more comfortable if their feet are supported when possible.
If the bird is mobile or can still fly you can try to tempt it into a shed, garage or other roofed area to make capture easier. A trail of food may work for confident species such as pigeons or gulls. You could also try setting a simple trap – see our infographic on the right.
Most small birds can be successfully contained in a cardboard or shoe box. For large birds a carry box designed for cats might be better if the bird is still lively and determined. If using a cardboard box make sure the lid is secured to prevent escape and there are sufficient air holes. A towel on the bottom will make the bird more comfortable. Place the box somewhere warm and quiet and keep children and pets away.
It is likely that the bird will be shocked or weakened so supplementary heat can be very helpful here. You can put a hot water bottle wrapped in a towel at one end of the box, either inside, underneath or next to the box, ensuring the bird can get away from the heat if it wants to. If the bird begins to pant, remove the heat source immediately.
It is not generally necessary or advisable to provide food and water. Feeding a shocked, ill, or weakened animal can cause lethal complications. Never attempt to force feed water to a bird as it is very easy to drown them and never offer cow’s milk or alcohol to any wildlife.
NB: this advice is designed to cover the first couple of hours or overnight. If you are not able to get the animal to a wildlife rescue promptly, please at least speak to someone by phone for further advice about care beyond this period. If you want to care for the casualty yourself rather than taking it to a rescue, please read the information here.
You can find rescues in your area by putting your location into the search facility at directory.helpwildlife.co.uk. If you are unsure whether to intervene or you have difficulty finding a rescue who can help, you can contact us via helpwildlife.co.uk/helpdesk and our volunteers will give you advice and support.
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