The present document is not a first aid guide for birds, but a number of recommendations in case you ever find an injured bird.
1. Prevent further injuries.
The first thing we should do is try not to cause new injuries to the animal when catching it and prevent it from hurting us when defending itself. In the case of big birds of prey, we must be especially careful with beaks and claws, for they won’t hesitate to use them. When we manipulate apparently non aggressive seabirds like seagulls or gannets, we must be extremely cautious, since they can cause deep wounds. In case of doubt, it is advisable not to touch the bird and to call some recovery centre or a near veterinarian (at the end of this post you will find a PDF file with the main telephone numbers you can call).
2. Do not worsen injuries.
In order to prevent the animal from getting more injuries, we advise to cover the bird with a piece of clothing or a blanket, calculating the weight we are throwing over it since the only thing we want is to deprive it of sight. When the bird stops seeing light, it will automatically calm down. Then we can take the bird rolled up in the clothing, avoiding struggle and trying to move it as less as possible. If it is hurt, this will prevent further injuries or avoid making them worse.
A special case are the chicks of nocturnal birds of prey that are found on the ground or in low branches yelling incessantly. These birds leave the nest before they are able to fly safely, which can be confusing for us, as we can see an injured orphan instead of a chick demanding food from adults. Therefore, when we find these species, we must make sure they really need our help. We will hide in order to check whether they are fed by their parents and we will just take care of them if they are really injured or if we find them near a ditch.
3. Prepare a safe place.
The third step is leaving our patient in a covered cardboard box in a quiet environment. We should make little holes on the box so the bird can breathe. It is easy and cheap getting a cardboard box. Moreover, it has the advantage of being a good insulator for both cold and heat, and it can soften the hits it may suffer during transportation. It is also easy to destroy, avoiding possible infections of zoonosis.
One of the few disadvantages of using cardboard boxes is that they can get deteriorated after a while due to the bird’s liquid excretions. We should also bear in mind that this isn’t be the best place to host Great Spotted Woodpeckers or woodpeckers, because they won’t hesitate to drill the box and try to escape.
4. Ask for help.
The fourth step, if we haven’t already done it, is to contact the nearest recovery centre or, failing that, the staff from the park nurseries, or attending a veterinary clinic nearby.
5. Do not feed.
On the fifth step we recommend not to feed or water the bird. Only if it is a chick during the summer period it is advisable to give it some water, because chicks dehydrate very quickly.
6. Do not try to treat the injuries.
The sixth and last piece of advice is not to try to treat the bird injuries. Some people cut the feathers around the wound or soak the plumage with disinfectant products. The first shouldn’t be done because we can make the mistake of cutting the flight feathers, which are longer than the wings and tail feathers. We should also avoid the use of disinfectant products, because applying cold or damp favours hypothermia. Moreover, the bird will try to get rid of the disinfectant product by cleaning the feathers with the beak: this will produce the dangerous intake of the product, which aggravates the situation.
It is important to avoid the rotation of broken wings or spinning and twisting the injured legs, because an extremity that is in that position for a long time will end up being cut off. For this reason, it is of vital importance to make sure that the wings or legs aren’t rotated more than 45º from their normal position. In order to know whether this is the case, we just have to compare it to the healthy leg. If we happen to find a bird in these conditions, the box should be narrower to avoid freedom of movement inside. We can fill it with paper stripes, like the ones we find in a document shredder. We should avoid straws and sawdust which can hurt the eyes and infect the wounds. We should also avoid plastics which can suffocate the bird and affect its respiratory system.
We hope you never find an injured bird, but we strongly recommend to remember these steps in case you can ever save one of our birds. You can download the steps in the following link:
Bird recovery centres’ telephone numbers