What To Do If You Have Found An Injured Or Orphaned Wild Bird

What To Do If You Have Found An Injured Bird:

Our infirmary staff is available, by appointment from 9 am to 4:30 pm,  seven days a week to admit injured birds, but we must rely on the people who find them to bring them to us for care.  Please call the infirmary at 908-647-2353 to make an appointment if you’ve found an injured bird. If you find a bird that needs help, please read the section below titled Capturing, Handling and Transporting for complete instructions and safety precautions, and then follow the steps below:

  1. Please use a cardboard box to transport the bird.  Prepare the box by punching holes in the sides and lining it with a soft towel or t-shirt.  DO NOT USE A WIRE BIRD CAGE!
  2. Approach the bird with caution.  Again, please see the section called Capturing, Handling and Transporting for special precautions to use with larger birds and raptors.
  3. Secure the bird by throwing a large towel or blanket over it.  Gently but firmly lift the covered bird and lower it into the box.  Close the box securely!
  4. Keep the bird WARM, DARK AND QUIET!  Bring it to us or another licensed rehabilitator for help as soon as possible.  Disturb as little as possible-DO NOT ATTEMPT TO GIVE IT WATER OR FOOD unless instructed to do so by a licensed rehabilitator.  Please do not attempt to care for the bird yourself.

What To Do If You Have Found An Orphaned Bird:

Please click the link below for more information about orphaned baby birds.

I Found A Baby Bird Now What?

Encontré un pájaro bebé!


I found a fledgling bird, now what?

Injured Screech Owl

All wild birds are protected by state and federal law. It is illegal to harm them in any way, keep them in captivity, disturb them or their nests, or sell them or their parts, including feathers. If you find a wild bird that may be injured or orphaned, you can still help!

  • Generally there are no state or federal wildlife agencies that provide care for injured or orphaned wild birds.
  • Veterinary hospitals are usually not licensed to rehabilitate wildlife.
  • Care for injured or orphaned wild birds is provided by licensed wildlife rehabilitators who provide their services free of charge and aim to return healthy, self-sufficient birds back into the wild.
  • Anyone who rescues a wild bird should get it to a licensed wildlife rehabilitator as quickly as possible. This will give the bird the best possible chance of surviving and ultimately being free again.
  • There are lists of licensed wildlife rehabilitators provided by most state wildlife agencies. Information is provided locally by New Jersey Fish and Wildlife here and by the New Jersey Association of Wildlife Rehabilitators here

Any healthy, wild bird should fly away when approached by a person. If it doesn’t, it’s often for one of the following reasons:

  • It’s too young to fly away.
  • It’s sick and too weak to fly away.

Before addressing the subject of what to do if you find a baby bird, understanding a bit of avian breeding biology might be helpful.

Depending on their development at the time of hatching, birds are said to be either altricial or precocial.

Altricial young:

  • At hatching are helpless & usually naked
  • Their eyes are closed
  • They are totally dependent on their parents for food and care
  • They are hatched in well-constructed nests built by their parents, usually in trees, bushes or shrubs, and are called nestlings.

Robins, crows, cardinals, doves and other songbirds, plus many other species, are altricial birds. Nestlings grow quickly, become feathered and, depending on their species, leave the nest in two to four weeks. When they leave the nest, or in bird terminology, fledge, the young are called fledglings. Most fledglings are still tended and fed by their parents (even on the ground) for a short period of time until they become completely independent.

Precocial young:

  • Are much more developed at hatching
  • They are covered with down feathers
  • Their eyes are open
  • They are able to run about (or swim) soon after hatching
  • They can feed themselves at an early stage.

Precocial chicks are usually hatched in nests on the ground and remain with their parents until self-sufficient. Quail, pheasants, gulls, ducks, geese and shorebirds are a few examples of precocial birds.

  • A young nestling cannot walk, hop or fly and may not have all of its feathers yet. If you find a nestling on the ground and it is warm to the touch and uninjured return it to the nest if you can. The parents will not reject it because you touched it.
  • The nest may be very close by, even directly above where you found the bird.
  • Some bird nests may fall on the ground after heavy rain or wind. If the nestlings are warm, uninjured and the parent birds are still nearby (parent birds are very reluctant to abandon their young), place the nest back up in the tree or bush. If this is not an option call a licensed wildlife rehabilitator.
  • Some birds, such as woodpeckers, bluebirds, chickadees and screech owls nest in cavities and holes. Their nestlings can also be returned to the nest, but it may be more difficult to locate or reach the nest site.
  • If you find a nestling that is injured, cannot be returned to the nest or is really orphaned with no parents in attendance, then you may have no choice but to rescue it. Gently pick it up with your hands. If it is cold to the touch, warming the chick is very important.
  • If you can’t get it to a licensed wildlife rehabilitator immediately, you can make a temporary nest by using a small container (box or bowl) lined with facial tissues. Keep the bird warm by placing a heating pad on low under the container. If you don’t have a heating pad, a bottle of warm water wrapped in a paper towel may be used.
  • Do not give it water or milk! Nestling birds get all their moisture from their food. Water put in a baby bird’s mouth can go directly into the lungs.
  • Do not feed without first speaking with a licensed wildlife rehabilitator. Every bird species has a different diet. The wrong food can harm the bird.
  • Although fully feathered, young birds often leave their nests before they can fly. Fledglings are able to perch (grasp with their feet), flutter, hop out of the nest and spend time in the nearby trees, bushes and sometimes on the ground. This is perfectly natural. Fledglings are fed and tended by their parents until they become self-sufficient.
  • Different species leave the nest at different stages of development and many are perfectly fine out of the nest before they are self-sufficient. In fact, their parents may be watching them from a distance. If the bird is in a safe place, keep watch to see if the parents are tending to it.
  • If the bird is injured, or if after watching for a while you are positive no parent birds are caring for it, then rescue may be the best choice.

It is especially important that you take any rescued nestlings or fledglings to a licensed wildlife rehabilitator as soon as possible. A young bird’s greatest need is to grow up with others of its own kind. A licensed avian rehabilitation center can provide the right environment, diet and medical care to properly raise an orphaned wild bird and is licensed to do so.

  • Canada Geese and Mallard Ducks often choose poor nesting locations, such as under residential shrubbery, near backyard swimming pools, in office building atriums and courtyards, and even on rooftops. Try to discourage ducks and geese from nesting in such inappropriate locations.
  • Unattended ducklings and goslings may seem well developed, but parental care is still needed during this period and they are not able to survive on their own. If they are separated from their parents, don’t just take them to the nearest body of water and leave them there.
  • Single ducklings and goslings are often in need of rescue. If you find a family nearby, try to place the young near the mother and allow her to lead the young to the nearest body of water. If you accidentally scare the mother away, she may return.
  • If you are in need of further help, call a licensed wildlife rehabilitator.

Many injuries to birds are caused by human activities and may be difficult to prevent. If you should find an injured bird in a situation you cannot resolve yourself, don’t risk getting injured. Call a licensed wildlife rehabilitator or animal control officer for help.

  • Birds commonly collide with motor vehicles, tall buildings & windows. In some cases they may only be temporarily stunned or in shock and need some time to recover. Place them in a small box with air holes and place the box in a dark, warm place. A heating pad on low may be helpful in the recovery processes. After an hour of quiet, if the bird is alert and ready to fly, you may release it. If the bird does not leave the box or hops out but doesn’t fly, bring it to a licensed wildlife rehabilitator for care.
  • Birds can also be poisoned by chemicals, tangled in fishing line, fly into wires, get stuck in glue traps, be shot illegally, or encounter countless other problems. Any bird that has sustained a serious injury has little chance of surviving. Try to capture it and get it to a licensed wildlife rehabilitator ASAP.
  • Wild birds can and do get sick. Most bird diseases are specific to birds and cannot be transmitted to humans. The chance of anyone becoming ill from handling a wild bird is remote.
  • Birds do not get rabies! It is still a good idea to wear thick gloves when handling raptors. Their beaks and talons are very powerful.
  • After handling any wild bird you should wash your hands thoroughly. If your skin has been punctured by a bird’s beak or talons, check with your doctor about preventing infection.

The degree of difficulty and the risk involved in attempting to rescue an injured wild bird depends greatly on the following:

  • what kind of bird it is
  • how big it is
  • what’s happened to it

Small birds

  • In general, small birds are easier and much less risky to handle than larger ones.
  • Most of the injured birds people find, primarily songbirds, are easily handled without gloves. A small towel can be used to pick them up and they pose little threat to their rescuers.

Large birds

  • For larger birds, wearing gloves and eye protection is recommended. If it is a large bird with a sharp beak & talons, call a licensed wildlife rehabilitator or local animal control to help capture the bird.
  • Large birds like geese and swans are difficult to capture and handle because of their size and strength. They can use their wings as weapons to deliver serious blows.
  • A raptor (hawk or owl) that has been hit by a car and knocked unconscious is no problem to pick up, but the same bird can inflict serious damage with its sharp talons when alert.
  • Loons, herons and egrets can be dangerous to handle. When rescuing these birds, rescuers must take precautions to avoid being stabbed, bitten or clawed. Your local animal control or law enforcement department may be able to help.

Transporting Wild Birds

  • Every bird rescue is unique depending on the bird’s size and injury type. You may be able to toss a t-shirt, towel or sheet over the bird and scoop it up gently. A fishing net or butterfly net may be used as well.
  • The safest way to contain and transport most injured birds is in a cardboard box large enough that the bird is not tightly confined. Punch air holes in the sides of the box and place a towel or old carpet on the bottom so the bird doesn’t slip around while traveling.
  • Small birds may be safely transported in a securely closed paper bag. Place a paper towel or small washcloth on the bottom so the bird doesn’t slip around while traveling.
  • Pet carriers can also be use. Drape a towel over the entire carrier to create a visual barrier for the bird.
  • Placing the bird in a quiet, warm, dark environment is very important. It will help keep the bird calm, reduce stress and prevent it from causing further injury to itself.
  • Do not transport wild birds in wire cages or glass aquariums. These can cause them harm.
  • Do not offer food or water! For the short period of time the bird will be traveling it is not necessary.
  • Be aware that an injured bird will not know you’re trying to help it and will resist your efforts in whatever way it can. If it is not resisting you, it’s because it is stressed or injured badly enough that it needs help, not because it likes you.

By rescuing an injured or orphaned wild bird, you’ve taken the very important first step in saving its life. Please do not try to raise a baby bird or care for an injured bird yourself. It is illegal and not in the best interest of the bird. You’ve taken it out of harm’s way and ideally you have it safe and secure in a box. Take it to a licensed avian wildlife rehabilitator as quickly as possible so they can offer the bird its best chance at survival, self-sufficiency and freedom.

After Hours Bird Drop-Off:

There is currently no after hours drop off.

Directions are available on the home page.