Emergency Treatment Guide for Wild Birds - [19 April 2005 12:08]


Stress alone can kill a bird. Keep voices down and don't make sudden movements. Do not hold the bird tightly around the breast: It restricts breathing and the bird may suffocate. Rather close the thumb and index finger of one hand lightly around the neck and use the other hand as a platform for the feet, while holding the bird to your body. Be careful: cheeky birds like thrushes and long-necked birds like egrets might go for your eyes!  Large birds like ibises and storks can be captured with a blanket and rolled up (see bird is not too hot). Always keep a roomy shoebox with tight-fitting lid or Xerox paper box with ventilation holes handy; never transport a nervous bird in a cage. Put a dishcloth or old T-shirt (no loose threads, since bird may become entangled ) inside the box. If you have to use a cage, wrap a smooth-textured (nails may hook) cloth around most of the cage so that the bird will feel protected. 

Many birds die of the cold because many people think a piece of cloth or tissue will keep it warm. If the bird feels colder than the warm sensitive skin of your neck, the bird needs a heat source*. Put the box (See avoid stress) on a hot water bottle (not too hot, watch the bird) or electric blanket. A reading lamp at a safe distance and not shining into the eyes will also do. The heat can also pass through holes in one corner of the box. Always make sure that the bird can move away from the heat source if neccessary (eg hot water bottle only underneath half of the box). The "warmth needs" of the birds will vary: check and feel and THINK. Remember that the blood temperature of a bird is slightly warmer than yours.

If you have nothing to keep the bird warm with, close your warm hands around it (by the way, a little girl in Faerie Glen kept a bird warm by filling two milk bottles with warm water and placing them in two corners of a box). If the bird is very wet and you are far from home, put it underneath your clothing against your skin and let your body heat warm it up so long. Your heart beat will also have a calming effect. (Remember to keep checking that the bird can breathe easily!)

Place a moistened ball of cotton wool somewhere near the bird to keep up the humidity, but never use cotton wool to keep birds warm - it can, amongst other things, affect the lungs.

* See "Reduce swelling on the brain".


Shock alone can dehydrate a bird and most birds -- by the time they are found -- are weak and dehydrated anyway. Signs of dehydration include: Loss of skin elasticity, "tented" skin stays in place, sunken eyes, dry membranes. Fluids must be lukewarm, never cold (except when dealing with heat stress). Use a 5% solution (5ml in 100 ml water) of glucose, honey, molasses or, best of all, a commercially prepared electrolyte solution containing glucose (obtain some today so that you are prepared!). Emergency recipe: mix 1 teaspooon salt and 3 teaspoons sugar with 950 ml warm water. A guideline of the amounts to be given will be: at least 2,5 cc per 100g weight at least 4 times a day for the first day. Fluids cannot harm a bird, but do watch for signs that indicate "enough for now"! A tiny bit of food, egg yolk,  best of all, Avi-Plus-Handrearing may be added to electrolyte fluids to make a sloppy mixture *Avi-Plus (available at Pet shops, Veterinary clinics or other suppliers, in an emergency, Pronutro can be used as a substitute for no longer than 1 day). (Obtain advice on dove types before feeding). If a bird is poisoned (weakness, convulsions, twitching, incoordination, vomiting, smell of poison in droppings or vomit, no reaction to light in pupils) the bird should literally be "flushed out", giving fluids every half hour and keeping it in a quiet, dark place. If possible, phone and discuss an antidote with an avian vet. Kaolin or activated charcoal dissolved in lukewarm water and can be used in emergencies.

It is often advised not to attempt to give any fluids to a wild bird for fear of suffocation. WE DO NOT FULLY AGREE. THE REASON FOR THIS IS THAT THE BIRD MAY GO INTO KIDNEY FAILURE IF NOT REHYDRATED IN TIME - AND ONE DOES NOT KNOW WHEN THAT WILL BE.

How to give fluids orally: Spend a precious minute to prove to the bird that you will not harm it: just hold it, partly covering it with your warm hands and slightly stroking the area (barely moving) behind the eyes (no onlookers!). Most birds will take fluids if a dropper is moved slowly along the line of the closed but water permeable beak, while releasing the fluid drop by drop. Or release drops from your clean fingertips onto the closed and tilted beak. Tickle the corner of the beak if the bird resists.


If the bird has flown into an object and there is a head wound there may be swelling on the brain. Put an ice-cube or anything from the freezer in a little plastic bag and hold against the head for the first hour after the accident. If the bird feels cold to the touch, keep the bird's body warm from underneath.


Place a few "Staaldruppels" (obtainable cheaply at the pharmacies), or flour or sugar, on a small bleeding wound such as a toenail, beak or feather point. Apply pressure (eg some gauze presed down by a larger bandage) on larger wounds.


Fold something like masking tape (which does not stick to the feathers) over the broken wing while it is held in the natural position against the body. The tape should pass over the broken wing, against the body, and not too tight!        Be careful, a broken wing which is twisted against the body can pinch an important artery and obstruct the flow of blood, causing the bird to lose the use of it's wing.


Back injuries are very common among wild birds, and often mistaken for poisonings or calcium deficiencies. The legs seem to be paralyzed and the bird seem to try to move forward on its wings. Check for and rule out the other possibilities: a calcium deficiency for example, most often also shows as a beak that is too soft. THE BIRD SHOULD MOVE ABOUT AS LITTLE AS POSSIBLE AND RECEIVE MEDICAL ATTENTION AS SOON AS POSSIBLE. A vet will administer cortisone, a broad spectrum antibiotic and vitamin B complex. Through the years most back injuries have had a full recovery at Wings in Need.


Get advice for the sake of the bird. A good rehabilitation centre will answer the phone and assist with advice.

+27 12 804 7202

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