North Yorkshire Wild Bird Rescue - Scarborough - Filey - Bridlington

First aid for birds

First Aid For Birds

This section of the website will help you should you happen to chance upon a sick, injured or abandoned wild bird. There are a number of reasons why birds become sick, injured or abandoned and thus need our help. Most are the result of accidents; cat attacks and birds striking windows being two of the more common ones.

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Capturing An Injured Bird

When you have decided to help a bird you should act quickly, even injured animals can move very fast and keep out of your reach. If the bird is small or very young catch it in one hand holding it firmly but gently, letting its head poke out from between your first two fingers.

For larger birds such as crows or magpies grasp them in two hands around the wings and hold the bird out in front of you. The best tactic is to throw a towel over the bird which will prevent it flapping, plus the darkness will calm it down.

Transfer the bird to a suitably sized box or cage where it can be fed and cared for properly. You may prefer to wear a pair of gloves when handling injured birds as some species can give a nasty nip. Gloves should definitely be worn when handling any bird of prey as the talons and beaks of these birds are very sharp.

Some bird diseases are transmittable to humans, however if you wash your hands once you have handled a bird the chances of catching anything are very small indeed.

First Aid

A rescued bird needs to be kept quiet and warm. As mentioned before place your injured bird in a well ventilated cardboard box with a secure lid on it. Line the box with newspaper or absorbent kitchen paper to begin with, later if the patient survives you can move it to a larger home.

The most common injuries to birds are bone fractures in the wings and legs, muscle wounds, loss of feathers and shock caused by an accident.

Caring for a bird with a wound

Some superficial injuries can be cleaned with mild antiseptic or saline solution, then cover the wound with a bandage, and give the bird some time to recover from its injuries, until you can get the bird seen by a rehabilitator of wild birds or Avian veterinarian. They should then be able to tell you if the bird has any diseases, or bone fractures and can advise on treatment.

If the bird has a injury cause by a cat bite. In this situation you need to take the bird to your veterinarian straight away for an antibiotics injection, within the the first 24 hours, to stop the bird from getting Septicaemia.

For many years people thought that cat caught birds died of shock within 48 hours. It is only recently that rehabbers discovered that what they actually died of was pasteurella septicaemia.

90% of cats carry the pasteurella multocida bacteria in their saliva, so the chances of infection are high and birds caught by cats will usually succumb to the septicaemia unless they are treated promptly with an antibiotics injection within this critical 24 hour period. Read more here...

Feeding Your Patient

Feeding orphaned and wounded birds is a messy, time consuming but ultimately rewarding business. A lot of patience is required as small birds need to be fed, from every 15 min to every two/three hours which depends on the age, or so from dawn to dusk and no fewer than 5 times per day. If the bird is very young it will not be able to feed itself and you will have to play the role of parent and push the food into the open mouth.

Most healthy young birds will instinctively gape at the sight of food and you will just need to push the food down the birds throat (if just dropped into the mouth the bird may have trouble swallowing).

If the bird is not gaping or if you are feeding an older bird that is not taking kindly to its new foster parent then you will need to prise the beak apart gently and feed it this way, it should then begin to accept you as its new feeder.

If prising open its beak isn't working. Another method that needs a little more patience, is to rub the food (Open end of a chopped in half mealworm/waxwork) over its nostrils and the side of its beak, this hopefully will get the bird to smell and lick the food and then eventually take it. Do not give up.

The best thing to feed a bird with is a clean pair of blunt forceps or tweezers. (When feeding mealworms) When the bird is full, it will stop gaping. Young birds after they are fed will produce a neat faecal sac (droppings encased in a membrane). These should be removed with tweezers and discarded.

Small birds can be classified into 2 basic groups - seed eaters and insect eaters.

Finches, buntings and sparrows are mainly seed eaters and can be fed a mixture of birdseed and canary rearing food. Robins, dunnocks, blackbirds, thrushes and tits are mostly insect eaters and a substitute food must be found. 'Milupa' baby food available from chemists is a good alternative, puppy food or meal worms from a pet shop can also be used. In all cases where hand feeding food should be offered moistened and NO additional water offered as it is too easy to drown the bird. For more information, please read Hand Rearing Birds.

Orphaned Birds

Many birds are thought to have been orphaned when they are spotted hopping across a lawn or sitting quietly under a bush. Most of these birds are in fact quite safe and well and in the majority of cases the parents will be nearby busily searching for food or sitting in a close tree waiting for you to go away.

It is common for many birds such as blackbirds, thrushes and starlings to leave the nest before they can fly. If you do spy a young bird on your lawn keep an eye on it to see if the parents are nearby, if they are leave the bird alone as it is in the most capable hands with the adult birds. Only if you feel that the bird is in real danger near to main roads or any unsafe area, situation, or genuinely has lost its parents should you attempt to pick it up.


The primary aim is to rehabilitate and release wild birds when they are fit and able to return to the wild. This should also be the aim of anyone caring for sick and injured birds. Ideally the individual should be returned to the spot where it was found. Preferably release birds into an area where you can keep a discreet eye on them to check on progress once they are released. Many smaller birds will not fly too far at first and will return to where they were set free if a regular supply of food is available for them.