Birds are one of the most common admissions at our wildlife rescue centre – from orphaned nestlings to swans injured by power lines or fishing tackle. But while it’s easy with other creatures to tell if they need help, birds are a little trickier.
This page explains when you should intervene, and when injured or baby birds should be left alone. If in any doubt, contact your local wildlife rescue centre for expert advice.
Injured and Sick Birds
While most birds with obvious signs of injury or illness would benefit from treatment, catching them is easier said than done. If the bird can still fly, it is often better to leave it alone, or call a rescue centre before taking action. Trying to catch it and failing will only stress the bird and make things worse.
If the bird isn’t flying, carefully pick it up and put it into a box. This should have a towel at the bottom and punched holes in the top to let air in. The darkness of the box will help keep the bird calm.
Use two hands with large birds – one covering each wing. Or if they are very large or birds of prey, contact a rescue centre and ask them to collect it. Don’t risk being injured yourself by talons or beaks.
Once you have the bird in its box, phone your local wildlife rescue for advice – you may need to take it in to be looked after. Injured birds often need prompt treatment to prevent infection.
Please note – it is legal to look after most wild birds in the UK, but some birds of prey are protected and require a special licence to keep in captivity. Also, Remember not to put yourself in danger trying to rescue a bird. If there’s any climbing or water involved, call the experts.
While it’s tempting to rescue every baby bird you see on the floor, this isn’t always the best thing to do. It’s completely normal for fledglings to leave the nest before they can fly and spend up to five days on the ground. The parents will usually be nearby.
In most cases the bird will have a much higher chance of survival if left where it is. In others, you can simply place the bird into some nearby bushes to get it out of harm’s way, or in in the case of nestlings, its nest. Very rarely is it necessary to remove the bird from the wild.
Generally, you should only intervene if the baby bird is obviously injured, has been attacked by a cat or is in immediate danger from traffic or predators. Otherwise, leave it alone.
If the bird is in danger, move it to a nearby tree or bush for safety.
We’ve put together this handy flow chart to help you know what to do.
If you’re at all unsure whether to intervene, contact your local wildlife rescue centre.