Rescuing Birds FAQs

photo of Baby Cooper’s Hawks being renested

First of all: DO NOT FEED a bird, as this can cause actual harm, including breathing or digestive problems, and even death. Even if no immediate harm is done, feeding a bird can make it harder for us to diagnose what is wrong with it. Also, birds can possibly carry diseases or parasites, so be sure to wash hands and clothing after handling a bird.

General Rescue FAQs

What kind of birds will you take?

We see more than 130 different species of birds each year. We treat all NATIVE species of wild birds. In the case of non-natives, you can still call us for suggestions or referrals.

How do you pick up an injured bird?

Catching an injured bird is not usually a problem since the bird is often incapable of moving and is too weak or shocked to put up much resistance to handling.

Pick the bird up by grasping it gently around the shoulders so that the wings are held against the body and cannot flap. At this point the bird can be placed in a cardboard box with a soft towel on the bottom and a cover on the top. Be sure to have a box prepared in advance so that you minimize the time spent holding the bird.

If you are having trouble catching the bird, or you are afraid to touch it, a towel or sheet can be used. Simply drop the towel lightly over the bird. The darkness will help calm and slow the bird down so that it is easier to pick up.

If attempting to pick up a raptor (such as a hawk or owl) or large waterbird (heron or egret), always wear protective gloves and eye protection. Hold on to a raptor’s feet, or a waterbird’s head or neck when picking them up, as these are what can hurt you.

What can you feed a bird until you are able to get it to BRC?

It is best to give the bird NO FOOD OR WATER, but to immediately bring the bird to the Center. Never try to force water into a bird. If you do not know how to properly administer the liquid, you can send it down the trachea (tube leading to the air system) rather than the esophagus (tube leading to the digestive tract) and choke or kill the bird.

If a bird has been deprived of food for a long period of time, fluids and food must be reintroduced carefully so as not to cause further damage to the bird’s organs. This not something for untrained people to attempt.

DO NOT GIVE MILK OR BREAD TO BIRDS! 
They are not mammals and therefore milk is not part of their natural diet. Milk may also cause diarrhea leading to dehydration, and bread does not provide the protein and vitamins needed by small babies. The Web is full of misinformation on what to feed birds. Bring them to us rather than trying to feed them yourself.

At the Center, baby birds are hand-fed a special diet tailored to the particular species. These diets have been developed over many years and are continuously adjusted and improved as we learn more about the nutritional requirements of various species.

How do you transport a bird?

Whenever possible, preparing your transport box before you attempt to pick up a bird minimizes handling time, which is less traumatic for both bird and rescuer.


The container:
  Never use a wire cage to transport a bird, as cages can cause severe damage to feathers and wings. To carry and protect the bird during the trip to the Center, use a cardboard box lined with a soft towel. Cardboard causes less feather damage than a bag or similar container when transporting an excited bird that might be jumping around inside the container. Punch small holes in the box to allow for sufficient air but minimal light.

The padding:
  Do not use shredded paper or cotton to line the box, as these can easily get caught in the bird’s toes or get wrapped around its neck. Do not use green grass cuttings, as the dampness could give the bird a chill. Finally, do not use an old bird’s nest.  These may harbor mites and vermin harmful to the bird. For younger or injured birds, a towel or facial tissue can be bunched around the bird to provide support and prevent it from resting in an uncomfortable, splayed position.

Now you can quickly pick up and box the bird. (See How do you pick up an injured bird? above.)

Once the bird is tucked safely in its box, a lid with holes punched in it or a towel can be placed over the box to prevent the bird from jumping out and to also give it some darkness. Frightened birds find darkness calming.

When transporting a raptor (bird of prey) or large waterbird, take care to ensure that the bird is securely contained in a box. It can be very dangerous if such a bird were to escape into the car as you were driving down the road.

Typical Rescue Situations

Found a baby bird

If the young bird is hopping and running away from you, and it is in a “safe” location (i.e., no cats or dogs in the area and not near a road), leave it alone. If its parents are in the area they will probably find it, but continue monitoring the situation to be sure the adults return.

  • If the bird is in immediate danger from outdoor pets, gently scoop it up and place in a nearby bush or shrub, out of harm’s way. Confine the pet.
  • If you find a baby with few or no feathers and you know where the nest is, then simply return the bird to its nest.
  • If the baby/fledgling is cold to the touch, take it inside to warm before placing back in the nest. Nestle the bird in a warm towel or use a hot water bottle with a towel between the bird and the bottle. Place the bird in a warm dark, quiet place away from children and pets.
  • Do not attempt to feed baby birds or fledglings!
  • If you cannot find the nest or if the bird appears to be sick, injured, or your pet brought the bird home still alive, contact BRC for directions on how and when to bring the bird to us.

(See more in Baby Bird FAQs)

Found a fallen or destroyed nest

If the nest has fallen or has been destroyed, and you are sure that the parents are still in the immediate area, you can construct a makeshift nest using a small basket or plastic container.

  • Put holes in the bottom of container for drainage.
  • Line the container with material from the old nest, or dry grass or leaves.
  • Wire your nest to a branch, or place it securely in a branch fork close to or in the same spot as the old nest. If you are not sure where the bird was nesting, then call BRC for more information.
  • Place bird(s) into the new nest.
  • Do not attempt to feed baby birds or fledglings. The parents will do this.
  • Continue to monitor the situation to confirm that the parents have resumed caring for the babies.

Contact BRC for directions on how and when to bring the bird to us.
(See more in Baby Bird FAQs)

Found an egg

If the wind or other factor has knocked an egg out of its nest and you can locate the nest, gently place the egg back.

  • Do not attempt to incubate an egg at home! If they are no longer viable they are likely to explode when warmed.
  • If you cannot locate the nest, or think that the parents have abandoned the nest, contact BRC for additional directions.

Please note that BRC is not licensed by Fish & Wildlife to incubate and hatch eggs, and that it is illegal to do so on your own.

Bird entangled

If the bird is caught in something simple such as twine, string, or fishing line, have someone assist you by:

  • Gently holding the bird, preferably in a clean towel.
  • Using blunt-tipped scissors, gently cut knots out of the string/twine, being very careful to not cut the feathers.
  • If there are no signs of other injuries; return bird back to a nearby bush or shrub.
  • Be particularly attentive if the individual was caught-up in fishing line, as this material can easily cut through skin and do serious damage.
  • If you have any doubts about the bird’s condition you can bring it in to the Center for a thorough exam.
  • If there are any signs of injury, contact BRC for additional instructions or how to locate us.

Bird caught in building, skylight or chimney

If a bird is caught in a house or other building:

  • Lock all pets away from the bird.
  • Darken room by closing window blinds and doors.
  • Leave only one exit (preferably a large bright sunny opening) for the bird to fly out.
  • If possible, leave appropriate food just outside the exit (seed or worms for small birds, flowers for hummingbirds, etc.)
  • Remove all people and cease activitiy in the vicinity of the opening, and allow the bird ample time to find its way out. Remember, it will be confused and disoriented and may take a while to find the opening.
  • If the bird is an owl, wait until dark and then follow the same steps, with low light in the room, illuminating the exit.

If bird is caught in skylight:

  • If possible, climb up on the roof and cover the skylight completely with a dark, opaque cloth to completely block out the light.
  • Lock all pets away.
  • Leave only one exit (large bright sunny) opening for the bird to fly out.
  • If possible, leave appropriate food just outside the exit (seed or worms for small birds, flowers for hummingbirds, etc.)
  • Remove all people and activities from the vicinity of the opening and allow the bird ample time to find its way out.  Remember, it will be confused and disoriented and may take a while to find the opening.
  • If the bird is an owl, wait until dark and follow the same steps, with low light in the room, illuminating the exit.

If a bird is caught in a chimney, contact BRC for additional instructions.

Oiled or coated bird

Oiled birds are rapidly debilitated either by the toxic effects of ingesting oil or other substances, or by resulting starvation and exhaustion when they are unable to fly and secure food. For the best hope of success, the bird must be stabilized before the substance is removed. Do not try to do this yourself.

  • Prepare a box or other suitable container (see the section What to do before picking up the bird).
  • Pick up the bird and place in the container. Keep the container warm, dark and quiet.
  • Transport immediately to The Bird Rescue Center.

Contact BRC for additional instructions, or how to locate us.

Injured bird (wing injury, flew into a window, hit by a car, etc.)

  • Prepare a box or other suitable container (see the section What to do before picking up the bird).
  • Gently and carefully pick up the bird and place in container. If a wing or leg is injured, keep the limb aligned in its normal position as much as possible while capturing and moving the bird.
  • If you suspect a head injury, support the head as you move the bird to the container.
  • Transport to the Center as soon as possible. Contact BRC for additional instructions or how to locate us.

Bird caught by cat or dog

If you even suspect a bird has had contact with a cat, you need to bring it in! Puncture wounds may be hard to see, and the saliva of cats contains bacteria that can be lethal to birds. Time is of the essence here!

  • Prepare a box or other suitable container (see the section What to do Before Picking up the Bird).
  • Gently and carefully pick up the bird and place in container. If a wing or leg is injured, keep the limb aligned in its normal position as much as possible while capturing and moving the bird.
  • If you suspect a head or neck injury, support the head as you move the bird to the container.
  • Transport to the Center as soon as possible. Contact BRC for additional instructions or how to locate us.

Handling raptors

Always use extreme caution when handling birds of prey such as hawks and owls.

  • First, prepare a box or other suitable container (see the section What to do before picking up the bird).
  • Be especially careful of the talons and the beak which are extremely sharp and strong.
  • If available, thick leather gloves should be worn, but do not depend on them for total protection.
  • The bird will be most easily caught by covering it with a sheet or towel and quickly restraining the feet with gloved hands.
  • Place the bird into a suitable box and secure the lid for your safety during transport.

If you are at all unsure of how to approach these birds, contact BRC for additional instructions or to arrange for a Field Rescue volunteer to come.

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.

Handling large waterbirds (herons, egrets, etc.)

Like raptors, much caution should be used when approaching these birds. They have very long, spear-like beaks on the end of a powerful neck that is equivalent to a coiled spring! These birds are attracted to shiny, reflective objects. Protect your eyes!

  • First, prepare a box or other suitable container (see the section What to do before picking up the bird).
  • The beaks or necks of these birds should be held when picking them up. Gloves are recommended.
  • A pillowcase can be loosely placed over the head to prevent injury from the beak.
  • Place the bird into a suitable box and secure the lid for your safety during transport.

If you are at all unsure of how to approach these birds, contact BRC for additional instructions or to arrange for a Field Rescue volunteer to come.

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.

Didn’t find an answer here?

Check out our other FAQs in this section. Still have questions?

Give us a call — 707 523-2473 [BIRD]