Naturally cliff nesting birds, gulls have adapted to nest on roofs inland to take advantage of available food. They begin nesting in May and aren’t great nest builders so it’s not at all uncommon for their babies to fall off roofs and end up on the ground. In most instances, it won’t be necessary to involve an already stretched wildlife rescue. Read on below to find out when you should intervene and how.
When to rescue
If the bird has been caught by a cat or dog
Any bird which has been bitten by a cat, regardless of its age, will need rescue and treatment. There are bacteria on cat’s teeth which will pass into the bird’s bloodstream when it is bitten. Without antibiotics within a few hours of the attack the bird may develop fatal septicaemia. Any bird caught by a dog should be properly assessed for injuries.
If the bird is obviously injured
If you can see a wound, or a wing or leg is obviously damaged then the bird needs help. Survival in the wild is unlikely with an injury.
A bird has flown into a window or been hit by a car
This is common as they learn to fly. The baby may just be stunned but make sure it’s safe and contact a wildlife rescue for advice.
You can find a wildlife rescue in your area by putting your location into the search facility on our map page.
When to take other action
A fluffy or partially feathered baby on the ground
These babies are at risk and should be placed back in the nest or as close to it as possible e.g. on a nearby house or garage roof. Take care to place them as close to their original nest site as possible and not near to neighbouring gulls’ nests or they may get attacked. Contact a rescue for advice if needed but please make every effort to get the baby back to the nest yourself if possible - most rescues don't have long ladders. Ask neighbours or on your local Facebook group to source a ladder or sometimes the fire brigade will be willing to help if they're not otherwise busy.
When to leave alone
A healthy fledgling on the ground
A fledgling is a baby with all the long flight feathers on their wings. At rest, the tips of their wings should overlap just above their tail. Like most birds, gulls leave the nest before they’re fully able to fly. It’s common for them to spend a couple of days building strength in their wings from the ground. Unless they are injured or in immediate danger, they are best left alone. If in danger, try first to just move them to a nearby safer location.
A baby gull is crying, and the parents don’t seem to be feeding it
It is normal for baby gulls to call to their parents. Gulls also feed their young much less often than many other species at only a handful of times a day. As long as the baby is uninjured and off the ground and the parents are in the area, this isn’t a cause for concern.
The gulls are a nuisance
Nesting gulls are protected by law and removing the eggs or babies or interfering with the nest just because they are unwanted is illegal.
Gulls do have strong beaks so it’s sensible to pick the bird up with a towel or gloves to protect yourself and minimise stress to the bird. Keep the beak away from your face and eyes. Have something ready to put the bird straight into before you catch it if possible. Be aware too that any parent birds may be protective and swoop at you to try and scare you off. It may be helpful to have someone else assisting you by holding an umbrella to keep the parents away.
If the bird needs to be rescued, place it in something like a large cardboard box or pet carrier lined with a towel. If using a box, make sure the lid is secure and don’t forget to provide plenty of air holes. Place the box somewhere warm and quiet and keep children and pets away.
If the bird has been caught by a cat, then you must seek urgent help. The bird will need to be given antibiotics within a few hours of being bitten or it may develop fatal septicaemia. Some wildlife rescues are available 24/7 for this sort of emergency and we try to give some indication of availability on our listings. You could also contact local vets – although they will not have facilities for the long-term care of the bird, they may be willing to provide a one-off dose of antibiotics. Some may even do so free or at a much-reduced price.
Do NOT attempt to feed the bird without first seeking expert advice. Never attempt to force feed water to a bird as it is very easy to drown them and never offer cow’s milk, worms or alcohol.
If the bird is shocked or weakened supplementary heat can be very helpful. 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.
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.