There are many ways that birds may end up in desperate need of help. Cats, dogs, cars, and windows are just some of the ways that young birds are injured, and there are also natural hazards such as ferocious storms that knock youngsters out of nests.
When you find a young bird in need of help, what you do within the first few minutes can make a massive difference to its odds of survival.
Tip #1: Warmth If a baby bird's too cold, it will quickly die.
Place the bird in a well-ventilated cardboard box or similar, with a towel placed underneath them for added comfort.
If you have a hot water bottle or container that will hold warm water – NOT boiling, but the hottest you can get from a hot water tap – wrap this is a towel (just one layer of the towel around it) and place it under the bird. Instant warmers are ideal for emergencies.
Baby birds need to be kept warm 24/7, so for convenience, their box/container can be placed in a hot water cupboard. You can also use an electric heat pad or a 25 - 40watt globe fitted to a small lamp.
Check regularly to make sure the bird isn't too hot. Wings held out from the body and panting would indicate they are too hot.
If a bird needs to be warmed up urgently and you're nowhere near hot water etc., then cupping it inside your hands, or holding it against your body or if larger, wrapping it in jacket or blanket and cradling it in your arms and holding it against your body, may save its life.
WARNING…WATCH OUT FOR SHARP BEAKS AND CLAWS!
Tip #2: Shelter and Quiet Injured or sick birds will recover more quickly in a calm environment
In step 1, we've outlined how to create a warm, sheltered area for birds to rest. If possible, place the box/container well away from the noise, e.g. TV, people, dogs barking etc.
The birds will be terrified and maybe in shock. Shock can kill, and any loud noises may increase their shock and fear.
If travelling in a car turn the radio off and keep talking to the minimum.
Tip #3: Fluids and Food This may be needed if you can't get a bird to a rescue centre quickly
We often hear about people trying to feed a bird before doing anything else. Warmth is the top priority (see step #1), but sometimes, if you can't get a baby bird to a rescue centre quickly, you may need to try giving it fluids and food. But please before doing this contact an experienced person and get advice. We cannot stress this enough!
Birds need to be warm and hydrated before any attempts are made to feed them.
Where possible, the fluids should be warmed to body temperature.
Only small amounts of liquid should be given at a time.
If tubing ensure the tube is placed correctly, alternatively gently brush fluids around the bird's beak, allowing the chick to ‘lick’ the fluids OR very gently dip their beak into a bowl and let them ‘drink’ on their own.
Again, birds must be warm as they won't be able to digest food.
It's important to identify your bird before feeding correctly.
Food for birds should be warm and ready to digest. Cold food can cause digestive problems.
The food given should be appropriate to the species
Don't feed birds milk or yoghurt; they are lactose intolerant!
Bear in mind, the younger the bird, the more often they need to be fed, e.g. a nestling out the egg needs to be fed every 10-15mins.
Please note – if given fluids or food incorrectly the bird might die, NEVER just squirt or drop liquids or food into their mouth, it could go down the trachea and into the lungs.
The bird's best chance of survival is in the care of those who know and understand their needs.
Warmth, dark and quiet is the most important things to remember in the primary care of a baby bird.
Contact your nearest support office or rescue centre as soon as possible. Potential options include:
Local dedicated bird or wildlife rescue centre
Local vet clinic
Local conservation or wildlife government office (if a threatened or protected species)
Local RSPCA/ rescue centre that takes birds
Local rehabilitators network or group, e.g. WReNNZ, WIRES
Become a wild bird rehabilitator yourself!
We hope these three essential tips will help you save baby birds in need of care.
Want to know more? Sign up now for our new specialised course on Baby Bird Rescue and Care.
This article was originally written for the Wild Bird Care Charitable Trust. All photographs are the copyright of Wild Bird Care - NZ.
Learn Bird Care was co-founded by Dr Janelle Ward and Mandy Robertson.
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