There are many reasons why a bird might appear to be in distress: it may have suffered an injury; swallowed a fish hook or became tangled in filament; struck a window, or simply fallen out of its nest.
When possible, retrieve the bird and place it on a towel in a box. Keep the bird in a warm safe place, away from small children and pets.
If you find a baby bird it IS ok to gently pick the baby up and, if it’s warm, return it to the nest. However, it’s very important that it has a normally high body temperature. If it feels cold, call for help. A bird’s parents are always the most efficient teachers so re-nest a fallen baby whenever possible.
Place a towel or invert a container over the injured bird to help it stay calm and not escape until help arrives.
If a baby bird opens its mouth to beg, you can feed it wet cat or dog food or dry food soaked in water until spongy every time it begs. Stop when it stops begging or when you can see the food in the back of its throat.
WHAT NOT TO DO
Do not attempt to assist an injured bird if you’re not comfortable doing so. Wild birds – especially traumatized ones – can be dangerous.
Do not wrap the bird up too tightly or tape its bill shut. Birds have a high body temperature and can overheat quickly. Also, some birds actually breathe through the crack of their bill and might suffocate if it’s taped closed.
How to Know If a Bird Needs Help
has ingested lawn chemicals, fertilizers or other toxic substances
has hit a window or building
has been hit by a car
has been attacked by a wild or domestic animal
is having difficulty breathing
is showing neurological symptoms (including eyes ticking to the side repeatedly, severe head tilting, tremors, convulsions and paralysis)
is having difficulty flying or walking
is unable to get away from you
is having any issues with vision or inability to open eyes
is covered in oil, sticky substances or is stuck to a glue trap, fly tape or other sticky trap
is comfortable with humans (it may be a pet or may be otherwise unable to survive on its own)
WHAT TO DO NEXT
To find a wildlife rehabilitator near you outside of the Florida Keys, the quickest route may be to call a local veterinarian. They may be able to point you in the right direction…no matter where you are!
DON’T CUT THE LINE! Reel. Remove. Release.
Follow these steps to rescue a hooked bird: Reel in the bird. Remove the hook. Release the bird.
Enlist others for assistance if possible.
REEL the bird in slowly and evenly. Don’t try to shake the bird loose by jerking the line – it will inflict additional injury to the bird.
If fishing from a pier, make sure that the bird remains on the water until a net, such as a hoop net, can be used to lift it onto the pier. Birds reeled up onto piers can be seriously injured, or can potentially damage fishing equipment.
Wear sunglasses to protect your eyes. Take extra care to protect yourself when handling long-billed wading birds and hooked-billed cormorants.
Firmly grasp the bird’s head behind the eyes. Then fold the wings up gently but firmly against the bird’s body so that it can’t flap its wings, and hold the legs. Hold firmly but don’t strangle the bird. If it is a pelican, you can hold the beak but keep the beak slightly open so the bird can breathe.
Cover the bird’s head with a towel, hat, shirt, or other cloth. This will calm the bird and make it easier for you to remove the line and/or hook.
REMOVE the hook by cutting the barb and backing the hook out. If the barb is imbedded in the bird’s flesh, push the hook through until the barb emerges from the skin and then clip the barb.
If the bird is entangled in line, use scissors, clippers or a knife to gently cut the line. Place the cut line in a monofilament recycling bin, or cut the line into small (3- inch pieces) and place in a lidded trashcan.
Carefully check the bird over for other hooks or line and remove them too.
If the bird is feisty, it is likely healthy enough to RELEASE. Point its head towards the water and step back while you release the bird. Let the bird take off on its own. Sometimes birds shake their feathers out, assess the situation, and then are ready to fly. Other times, they just take off. Either way, this represents a successful release.
If the bird has swallowed the hook, or is severely injured, take it to a local rehabilitator.