How to Help a Sick or Injured Bird

Always be quiet and gentle around a sick or injured bird, as it may be in shock, dehydrated, exhausted, and/or suffering from trauma.

While the bird may appear very calm, this is often a survival response and the bird is probably very stressed (some species can die simply from stress alone).

A stressed bird will have its mouth open and be panting. It is not happy and doesn't know it is being rescued.

A bird with an open mouth, thus showing that it is stressed
An open mouth is a sign of stress.

What to Do Next

Try to catch the bird without risking your own safety (i.e. avoid sharp beaks and claws, and be mindful of traffic, dangerous terrain, waves, etc). 

Hold the wings to the body to prevent any further injury.

Take the bird to the nearest vet or Wildlife Rehabilitator (see Who to Call). To transport the bird, ideally place it in a cardboard box with a towel. Keep it warm and don't put any water in with it, as it might spill and make the bird cold.

Do NOT attempt to give the bird food or water. The anatomy of birds is different from that of mammals, and even small drips of water into a bird's mouth can result in its death, as there is a high risk that the water will get into its lungs.



Catching a bird

A person attempting to catch a sick or injured bird
Holding the wings to the body gently

A bird whose wings are being gently held to its body
Preparing a cardboard box

A cardboard box being prepared for the transport of a sick or injured bird

Found a Banded Bird?

Contact the Banding Office if you have found a bird with a band on its leg.
Band information is important for research in threatened species.

A Baby Bird - Does it Need Help?

Just because a baby bird is on its own, on the ground, does not mean it needs help. 

In many cases these chicks on the ground are simply doing what all children do – explore and play.

If the baby bird has a significant number of adult-looking feathers, but no tail, it's a fledgling, and will be fed by the parents from above.

It can usually hop, jump and flutter, but does not usually fly at this stage. It is still getting used to operating its wings, becoming coordinated and strengthening its muscles. 

A healthy fledgling

An example of a healthy fledgling

Please do not ‘birdnap’ healthy fledglings.

These babies do not need ‘rescuing’ unless they appear to be in danger, at which point they should be picked up and placed in a nearby bush.

If you can remove the ‘danger’ such as your cat or dog, this will give the fledgling and its parents time to move away.

Abandoned Nestlings

If a baby bird has no feathers, or very few feathers, it is called an nestling, and it needs its parents to feed it and keep it warm in the nest. 

If you find a healthy and uninjured nestling on the ground, it is important to make every effort to re-nest it so that it can be re-united with its parents.

If you cannot find the original nest you can place it in a makeshift nest. Despite the popular belief that the parents will reject the baby because it has been handled by humans, they WILL continue to care for the chick.



A nestling in a bowl
A makeshift nest

An example of a makeshift nest for a bird (using a towel)

Feeding a baby bird

A baby bird eating food from a dish

After Re-Nesting a Baby Bird

Please take the time to observe the nest and make sure that the parents do return to care for the nestling.

The parents should arrive at the nest with food and leave without food. One of the parents should also spend some time sitting on the nest to keep the little one warm if it did not have very many feathers.

If the parents do not return within an hour or at dusk, retrieve the baby. The baby bird should then be placed on a soft towel or cloth in a box or other suitable container with holes in the sides and lid.

Keep the baby bird warm with a hot water bottle or something similar. Use only hot water from the tap, NOT boiling water from the kettle. Then depending on the species (you need a permit to look after native birds) either bring the bird to us or ring us for advice. 

Abandoned ducklings, pukekos, plovers, pied stilts, dotterels, pheasants or quails will not survive by themselves and will need immediate warmth and regular feeding. The type of food and regularity depends on the species of bird. Ring us for advice.


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