It can be hard to tell if a wild animal needs help. We want to make sure the animals that truly need rescue are admitted to our centre and ones that do not are left alone. Have a look at the following scenarios as a general guide, and don’t hesitate to contact us with questions or concerns. If possible, e-mailing a photo may help us advise you in a specific case.
Most birds caught by cats sustain injuries and/or get serious infections. They need special care if they are to survive and should be taken to a wildlife rehabilitator, even if the bird doesn’t look hurt. Dogs don’t often catch birds, but if they do the bird should be brought to a rehabilitator.
Did you know that outdoor cats kill hundreds of millions of wild birds in North America every year?
Sick birds often have a “puffed-up” appearance with ruffled feathers, lie down rather than stand and/or seem unusually sleepy. Signs of injury include limping, drooping wing, bleeding or holding the head at an awkward angle. An injured or sick bird is unlikely to survive on its own. If you want to help these birds you should take them to a wildlife rehabilitation centre.
IMPORTANT! Many young birds normally cannot fly for the first few days after leaving the nest, so a bird which is “not flying” does not necessarily have an injury. An injured wing will normally droop noticeably. See the section below on fledgling songbirds.
There are three major categories of baby birds that we get calls about:
- Nestling songbirds
- Fledgling songbirds
- Young waterbird/gamebirds
A nestling songbird is bare or has large bare patches with some partially grown feathers. It cannot stand or walk. It is normally found in a nest and regularly visited by its parents. If you find a nestling outside of a nest it is in trouble and should go to a rehabilitator. If you fear a nest of young birds may be orphaned, watch from a distance for the parents (through binoculars or from a building if possible), which won’t return if you’re too close. If the parents do not appear within 30-60 minutes the young are likely orphaned.
A fledgling songbird is covered in partially or fully grown feathers except for a short tail. It can hop and walk. It is normally found on the ground until it learns to fly a few days after leaving the nest. The parents visit briefly to feed the baby every 20-60 minutes, but the visits are very short since they must keep track of and feed many youngsters at once. Because the visits are so short, it is easy for inexperienced observers miss them and mistake these birds for orphans. The key is that fledglings that are being cared for are bright and active. Orphans look sick and weak. Do not rescue a fledgling unless it is cat-caught or obviously injured or sick (see characteristics of sick and injured birds above).
Young Waterbirds or Gamebirds
A young waterbird or gamebird is completely covered in a thick coat of fuzz with a ducklike or pointed beak. It can walk and run. These birds do not stay in nest after hatching, but travel with their family until they are fully feathered. If you see one of these birds, step back and look around for a parent, which won’t approach if you’re too close. If no parent appears to claim fuzzy young birds within an hour, they are probably orphaned and should go to a wildlife rehabilitation centre.