Emergency Help for Birds
Remember — wild birds are not pets. They are naturally frightened of humans and it is also against the law to keep them in your home without a permit.
As a rescuer of an injured or orphaned wild bird you play a very important role. It is essential that the bird receives professional care as soon as possible. With fractures and breaks, the longer the injury remains untreated, the more difficult it is to fix. Particularly with young birds, dehydration and starvation are quick to set in.
Here are some basic guidelines to help with rescuing a bird and making it comfortable until it can be delivered to The Bird Rescue Center or other rehabilitation center in your area.
We cover more special rescue scenarios here.
Due to limited staff and time we ask that, whenever possible, you bring birds directly to The Bird Rescue Center. If you are unable to rescue or deliver the bird yourself, try asking a friend or neighbor. If you have exhausted all possibilities, then call the Center at 707 523-2473 to ask for assistance with field rescue and transport to our facility.
Please note: All of our Field Rescuers are volunteers, with jobs and other responsibilities. While every effort is made to contact and dispatch Rescuers into the field in a timely manner, we cannot guarantee their availability.
What to do first—Stop and assess before you act
If you spot a bird, particularly a young one that appears to be abandoned or in difficulty, do not try to catch it right away. Take a few minutes to observe its behavior, as it may simply be waiting for a parent to return. Adult birds will often briefly leave their young to hunt for food and then return to care for them.
If you believe the bird is injured, in danger or has been abandoned by its parents, call The Bird Rescue Center before you attempt to pick it up. Injured wild birds can be dangerous and need special handling. Keep an eye on its whereabouts and describe its condition to the volunteer you reach on the Bird Rescue phone. They will advise you on the proper course of action for that particular bird.
What to do before picking up the bird
Before attempting to capture the bird, prepare a suitable container for it. A cardboard box with small air holes, just big enough for the bird to stand and turn in, is preferable to a large container, where the bird may injure itself if it becomes agitated inside the box. Place an old towel in the bottom of the box.
How to pick up and box a bird
For injured or young songbirds, gently cradle the bird’s body with both hands, holding the wings against its body as you lift it from the ground and transfer immediately into your prepared box.
Young or injured raptors (birds of prey), or large waterbirds such as herons and egrets, can cause serious injury with their talons and/or beaks, so be sure to wear protective clothing such as a long-sleeved jacket, eye protection, and heavy gloves. These birds will be most easily caught by quickly and gently covering them with a sheet or towel, and then restraining the feet (raptors) or neck (herons and egrets). With your arms, try to gently keep the bird’s wings down at its side when transferring it to the box. Even large birds can “fold up” to a fairly compact size.
After placing the bird in the box, be sure to close the container securely, particularly with birds of prey, to prevent its escape. Remember, the sooner you place the bird into a suitable container, the calmer it will be. It is important to reduce stress whenever possible.
The bird needs quiet and calm
Do not attempt to give the bird food or water, or open the box constantly to look at it. The bird needs to be kept warm, dark and quiet. Prompt transport to a rehabilitation center is essential to its survival. When transporting in your car, refrain from playing the radio or talking loudly. Covering the box minimizes the amount of light entering, which helps calm the bird.