Caring for Sick, Injured, or Orphaned Birds
Regular backyard birders may encounter down-on-their-luck birds. First make sure the bird is truly injured by observing it carefully from a distance. If it is completely inactive, approach it slowly from behind.
Return a nestling that has fledged too early to the nest so it can get food from its parents. Usually, when you place an orphaned bird in a nest with other young birds of the same age and species, foster parents will care for it. In both cases, keep a careful eye on the situation from a distance. If parents do not feed the bird after two hours, you may assume it has been abandoned.
Keep the baby bird in a cardboard box with wire mesh on the top. Put some wood shavings or shredded newspaper in a little bowl and install an infra-red lamp overhead to keep the temperature warm, about 92 degrees. Place the lamp so the bird can move out of the rays if it gets too warm.
Begin with a water formula. Dissolve a tablespoon of honey and half-teaspoon of salt in a quart of warm (100 degrees) water. You can use a feeding tube and syringe, eye dropper, grapefruit spoon, or teaspoon on which you have bent the edges in, but the implement should not be too cold. Feed about twenty drops of this mixture to the bird every fifteen minutes. If the baby bird is reluctant to open its bill, tapping lightly on the bill with the feeding utensil will encourage it. You may have to press gently on both sides of the bill with your thumb and index finger to coax it open.
As the bird matures, babies with more feathers need feeding about every hour. If this progresses smoothly start to add a special commercial bird food, canned dog food, or baby food to the formula. This mixture should be the consistency of creamy milk. If it is thicker it may congeal in the crop. When this happens, lukewarm water and gentle massaging will usually urge food along. Keep the mixture in a pan of warm water to maintain the 100 degree temperature. Support the bird with a warm hand while you feed it. The bird's crop should never be completely empty, nor should food flow back into the mouth.
If you have more than one bird, use separate formula and feeding instruments to avoid spreading bacteria. Take the bird to an avian veterinarian immediately should your feeding procedure go awry.
Cats have been domesticated for about 4,000 years, but that amount of time has not been enough to quell their natural hunting instincts. In the United States alone both pet and wild cats probably number more than 100 million. Extensive research indicates that cats allowed outdoors dine primarily on small mammals, and that birds make up about 20 percent of their diet. A recent study in Wisconsin suggests that cats kill approximately 39 million birds a year in that state alone! (Wisconsin Natural Resources, 20(b): 4–8, 1996.)
The cats are doing only what comes naturally, but conscientious pet owners could do birds and the world itself a favor by keeping their pets indoors and having them neutered. According to the Humane Society of the United States, indoor cats lead longer, healthier lives than cats that roam freely. Eliminate food sources for stray cats, and never release unwanted cats into the wild.
After each feeding rinse the bird's mouth with a bit of warm water. Clean its bill and anus area with warm water, then return it to its nest.
As the nestling matures, add a perch and a shallow water bowl. Thicken the formula. It should be the consistency of heavy cream for baby birds of three to four weeks. Next, introduce foods that birds can forage on their own such as seeds and grain. It is sad but necessary to let wild baby birds go. Wild birds rarely survive long in captivity.
For an injured wild bird, use lightweight cloth gloves to protect yourself from biting when you pick it up. For a bird of prey, use leather, but first cover the bird completely with a towel or blanket. Pick it up so the wings lie smoothly against its body. Wild birds are protected under law, and it may be illegal to keep one in possession. Transport it immediately to an avian veterinarian in a cardboard box in which you have punched some air holes. If there is no avian veterinarian in your area, contact the Department of Fish and Game, Audubon Society, a humane organization, natural history museum, or zoo.
Birds that have been stunned by hitting a window usually recover fairly quickly. When this happens, gently put the bird in a cardboard box with air holes and lined with a towel and cover with a lid. Bring this indoors to a warm, quiet place where it can recover undisturbed. If the bird resuscitates, you'll hear it moving around in the box within a few hours. If a wing, leg, or other bone seems broken, get to a veterinarian immediately.
It may be necessary to keep a wounded bird overnight. Like any other bird, it will need to eat. Follow the suggestions for feed below. They are based on the bird's bill shape.
Seed eaters with cone-shaped bills—wild bird seed
Insect eaters with pointed bills—canned dog or cat food, live mealworms, chicken or beef baby food
Meat eaters with hooked bills—raw beef hearts or liver, bone meal
Nectar eaters with very long curved beaks—sugar water with a vitamin-mineral supplement, soy milk
Release the bird near some brush where it can find fast cover.