What to do (or not) when you find a bird that possibly needs human intervention.
What to do with an injured bird in my yard? Or any other critter?
In your wanderings, from time to time you may come across an injured bird, or a baby bird, or a fledgling that you can't help but wonder if you intervene will help them survive. A lot of times the answer to this question is yes.
Sometimes the answer is no though.
The first thing I want to make clear is that due to laws in place to protect animals it is good to note that only professional wildlife rehabbers are legally allowed to care for sick or injured wildlife. Often, as lay people, although our hearts are in the right place, our skills and knowledge do not match up and we can only pose further risk to the bird or animal. Always try to get the animal in question to a rehabber within 24 hours to avoid the legal risks in keeping them longer.
Sandy Pines Wildlife at 8749 County Rd 2 in Napanee Ontario - 613-354-0264 Their website has a huge amount of helpful info. Including tips on how to rescue the wildlife in question. Always err on the side of caution for your own safety. Injured animals are also often panicked and may pose more of a threat than they appear to.
Foster Forest Wildlife Orphanage between Smithfield and Quinte West (613)394-6667 - Dee is lovely and has a wealth of knowledge and if she can't help she likely knows who can. She tends to specialize in small animals and refers birds to Sandy Pines.
Ontario Turtle in Peterborough specializes in injured turtles. 705-741-500 Dee at Foster Forest above sometimes works with them and can triage a turtle prior to getting it to Ontario Turtles. Even if you have discovered a freshly deceased turtle it can still be valuable. Females may have eggs internally that Ontario Turtle will harvest to incubate to further the species populations which are low.
Hobbitsee Wildlife Refuge are in Jarvis Ontario and can take on animals and birds as needed as well. 519-587-2980
There are other wildlife rehab specialists around the province - if you know of one, and its not listed here please connect with me at [email protected] and I'll be happy to add it.
Please keep in mind that the people who run these facilities are volunteers, are passionate about what they do, and they are incredibly busy. If you can't get through the phone, leave only one message with your contact info. They will get back to you when they are able to. Leaving multiple messages and getting snarky for lack of call backs is a sign of them being overwhelmed, and certain times of the year are worse than others and are entirely unuseful to everyones stress levels. Please be patient and also be aware that while they try to save every animal that they can, logistically it is impossible to rescue and or save them all. It's a heartbreaking scenario for everyone involved.
Now onto some info:
During April and May, a lot of people panic when they see a bedraggled baby bird on the ground.
Most times this is a completely normal phenomenon - it's Fledgling time. These babies are no longer suitable to be in the nest and they end up on the ground as the next steps to flying. Momma and Poppa are close by and will continue to care for babies. So many times babies at this stage are kidnapped by well intentioned humans and land at rehabbers when they should have been left well alone.
It's also good to note here that the percentage of babies lost at this time to predators is very high. Does this give humans the right to intervene? Not if it's a natural predator. This is the circle of life folks. However, if it the local cat is out and about threatening the fledgling, then yes, intervene, put the fledgling in a box up high where the cat cannot get it, and let Momma continue her work.
Also an excellent point is that if you see a younger than fledgling baby bird on the ground, and you can see the nest and see its siblings still in the nest, if you are able, put the baby back into its nest. Touching the baby will NOT cause the momma to reject it. This is a long held myth that needs to go. Some babies, momma will sense and deem them not viable and boots them from the nest. So if it happens again, it's likely best to let nature take its course. Only the strongest healthiest birds go on to survive all they need to to make it in their lives. Migrations, food searches, finding a mate, nesting, all take the best of the best to continue each of their species. Applying human sentiment isn't always the best course. It feels better for us in the moment but can prolong their suffering.
According to Audubon and Rita McMahon in their article found HERE a good rule of thumb to follow to determine nestling or fledgling is this:
"...there’s one obvious sign: feathers. While fledglings are larger and covered almost completely in down and feathers, nestlings are small and typically naked—or with just a few fluffs. In other words, one looks like an awkward young bird, and the other kind of looks like a pink little alien. You can also distinguish age by movement: fledglings can hop, whereas nestlings might simply drag themselves on the ground by their bare wings."
Is the bird/fledgling injured? Are there apparent wounds? Blood? Broken limbs? A wing held out funny? Does the bird just roll onto its side? These are definite signs of injury and they need to be transported in a dark closed box (with holes for breathing) to the local rehabber.
In 2020, locally, fledglings were being injured at an alarming rate by a local who was trying to kill mice in mousetraps. The food was intriguing to the baby robins and their legs were trapped in the traps, and ultimately shock killed them and left the momma's distressed. So many simple things we can do to not injure wild life with a little common sense. Please don't set traps out for mice or rats during nesting season. It's an unending game for you and puts so many other critters at risk.
Do not attempt to feed or water an injured bird. Injured birds are often in shock and its likely they'll aspirate and choke on the food you attempt to give them. They can go the time needed to get them to a rehabber. The only time it's acceptable to feed an injured/fledgling bird is on the advice and instruction of a rehabber. There is a lot of errant info on the web on what to feed whom, so just hold off until you hear back from the wildlife specialist.
Window strikes are a common issue with birds, and you'll often find them stunned below the window or a little further into the yard. I'll address fixes for window strikes HERE, but for now, if it lets you, place the bird in a closed box for quiet dark rest (air holes a must). Again, no food or water. If there is any bleeding or discharge from the eyes or elsewhere connect with a wildlife rescue immediately. Often birds that strike, fly off relatively quickly, but they fly off to die elsewhere. Impacts are just too great for their little bodies and brains to take.
Any questions please don't hesitate to ask - what I don't know, I will find out for you or direct you to someone who will. Connect at [email protected]