Apr 28, 2021 | Featured in: Watching Backyard Birds, June 2017

Helping Injured Birds

An injured bird in the caring hands of a wildlife rehabilitator.

Here's what to do when you hear that sound of a bird hitting glass, and you look outside to see a stunned bird lying on the ground below one of your windows.

Technically it's illegal to touch a migratory bird without a permit, but if you don't mind being outside the law for a few minutes, carefully pick up the bird and put it in a brown paper bag with the top folded over or a cardboard box with flaps for a lid. Make sure that the bird is upright—prop it up with a supporting circle of paper towels or tissues if necessary. If the weather is very cold, bring the bag or box inside to warm up the stunned bird. If the weather is warm, you can leave the bag/box outside, but place it out of reach of pets and other predators.

Do not try to give the bird food or water. Leave it alone in a warm, quiet, dark place for a couple of hours—it may take this long for the bird to recover.

Once the bird recovers, you'll hear it scratching around inside the enclosure. Take the bag/box outside before peeking in, just in case the bird gets out—you don't want it fluttering around in your rafters. To release the bird, simply open the enclosure and let it find its way out. Resist the urge to handle the animal any more than necessary, and don't toss it into the air when releasing it. If you must hold the bird before releasing it, simply open your hand and it will fly away when it's ready.

If the bird seems not to be recovering, contact your state or provincial fish and game or wildlife agency, or a local veterinarian for the name of a licensed wildlife rehabilitator near you who might take the bird. Get the bird to a rehab expert as soon as possible, because it will need food, water, and perhaps medical attention.

About Bill Thompson, III

Bill Thompson, III, was the team captain for Watching Backyard Birds from its inception 23 years ago through his death on March 25, 2019. So much of what he wrote is timeless and remains informative, helpful, and inspiring.

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  • Goldfinches will continue as long as Swiss chard is available. I'm watching one eating chard right now (mid-November in Vermont).
    by Brian Tremback, Sun, 14 Nov 2021
  • Birds are on the decline though sunflowers are rarely touched and for weeks hardly .eaten. I'll try a few sparing nuts on the table and a fat ball broken for jackdaws and tits but mealworms were a summer favourite being my go to choice
    by Paul Harabaras, Thu, 04 Nov 2021
  • I’ve been enjoying goldfinches eating coneflower/ echinacea seeds in my new pollinator garden! I will leave the plants out all winter for them if the seeds keep that long? Or should I deadhead and put them in a dry area? Im in CT and thought they migrated, but didn’t know they put in winter coats! What do they eat in winter without bird feeders?
    by Anne Sheffield, Sat, 04 Sep 2021
  • Hi Gary, I will pass your question along to Birdsquatch next time I see him. He knows infinitely more about nocturnal wildlife than I do. Where do you live? That's pretty important in figuring out the answer. But the thief could be raccoons, deer, or flying squirrels. Do you live in the woods? Are there trees near your feeder, or must the culprit climb a shepherd's hook or pole? Dawn Hewitt, Watching Backyard Birds
    by Dawn Hewitt, Mon, 30 Aug 2021
  • This breaks my heart. God strengthen your spirit and comfort your heart.I am fortunate to be taking a vacation next month, hopefully before sky high inflation hits and I can no longer afford it.
    by Ironweeds, Fri, 27 Aug 2021