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Case Study - Lucky Sparrow!

Updated: Dec 3, 2019

I hit the brakes but couldn’t stop in time... her little body hit the front of my car and I looked out the rear-view mirror only to see her feathery body tumble over and over down the road behind me. I pulled over as quickly and safely as I could, grabbed a small towel from my car and rushed to see if she was still alive. Poor wee sparrow. Gasping for breath she sat upright on the asphalt. Blood pooled on the ground in front of her and I could see blood coming from her nostrils. Her wings were splayed out and she looked on death’s door.


I gently picked her up with the towel and took her to my car. It was a very warm day and no need for additional heat, but I snuggled her up in the little towel, made sure it was dark and quiet and safe in the footwell. It was rubbish day and four houses down I spotted a perfect little cardboard box - I placed her and the towel in that and took her back home.


Open mouth breathing in a bird can indicate stress, respiratory problems or overheating

Initially I didn’t hold much hope for this wee birdy. Quite a lot of blood lost, difficulty breathing and very stressed out. But I applied the same techniques we teach everyone: Warmth, quiet, darkness. I checked on her after half an hour and she was doing much better. A physical exam revealed no broken wings or legs – amazing! Next step – fluids. She had lost a lot of blood and also it had been over an hour since it happened. I got my avian first aid kit and made her up a small amount of fluids that I fed with a tube to ensure she didn’t choke.


Being a vet in this case was an advantage in having pain medications immediately available – I dosed her up with pain relief and let her be for another couple of hours. Later that afternoon her first feed – a small amount of warm avian recovery formula. Then I left out a good sparrow mix of whatever I could find in the house – some soaked cat biscuits, seeds, a small amount of grain bread and a shallow bowl of water.


A short-term home-made diet for a sparrow can be made from common household food items

I continued this treatment for the next couple of days – fluids, pain relief and quiet, plus good food. By Day 3 this wee bird had surprised me by bouncing right back – she was running, hopping, flying and eating like a normal sparrow, only in a homemade ‘hospital’ bird cage. She was ready for release!! How is that possible – have I witnessed a miracle?


This pet bird cage is fine for temporary housing for small passerines such as sparrows and finches

When I think about it, I hadn’t been driving fast, just one of those things where the bird flew straight into my car headfirst: she must have been distracted by the sun or a juicy insect! I believe that she knocked her head and had a significant “nose bleed” and shock – there were no fractures and with rest she was able to recover well. Once again, I was surprised by how much a small bird can take, yet still recover.


Freedom for a lucky sparrow. Photo by Jacques LE HENAFF.

I released her near the site it had occurred. As I opened the front door to let her out of the cage, she looked at the door, looked at me and looked at the door again. I wondered what she was waiting for. Then she stuffed her wee beak with a few more mouthfuls of home-made food and took off! Cheeky little lucky sparrow.


Written by

Dr Janelle Ward

Wildlife veterinarian

(Photos are the copyright of Wild Bird Care – NZ unless otherwise stated)


Learn Bird Care was co-founded by Dr Janelle Ward and Mandy Robertson and we offer specialist online courses on wild bird rescue, first aid and rehabilitation.


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