What to Do About An Injured Bird?

Pine Siskin & Goldfinches Eating Sunflower Hearts
Pine Siskin & Goldfinches Eating Sunflower Hearts

Yesterday I saw my first Pine Siskin at the feeder and today I was excited to see these tiny little birds return. But then one of the squirrels did one of their aggressive running at the birds moves that seem designed to deliberately scare the birds away from the food. The birds scattered and one of the beautiful little Pine Siskins hit the dining room window just around the corner from the feeder. I’m not sure if this one was actually on the feeder or waiting his turn on a nearby tree branch. But being new to the yard, he flew the wrong way, hit the window and fell onto the cement basement steps below.

I felt sick. Birds do get injured in nature but it’s hard to witness it, especially around your feeders where you are trying to help birds and not hurt them. It’s unfortunately a problem that comes with bird feeding (although they can hit windows even if you don’t have a feeder in the yard.) I sometimes have mixed feelings about the good of feeding a bird vs. the unintended consequences of drawing birds in near buildings. (There are guidelines for feeder placement that reduce the chance of window collisions. I’ll talk about those in a separate post.)

When a bird has a collision with a window, sometimes it immediately flies off. Sometimes the bird is stunned for a few minutes and then flies off. Sometimes the bird dies immediately. But in this case, the poor little guy was laying on a step half way down and quivering. Ok, so what should I do that might help without causing more harm?

There weren’t any cats or raptors immediately in the area, so I left him there for a few minutes, hoping he would revive on his own. Meanwhile, I went inside and Googled “Licensed Wildlife Rehabilitators”. I found someone in my area and read the suggestions on her website. I went outside and very gently picked up the bird using a paper towel and put him in a small cardboard box. At first I left the box open on the back step, still hoping the bird would recover on his own and fly away. At this point, the bird was now sitting up but still seemed stunned.

Then I called the rehabilitator. She wasn’t immediately available, but listening to her recorded message and looking at the website again, I realized that leaving him in an open box on the back step wasn’t going to cut it. You are supposed to put the bird in a well-ventilated box, seal it tightly and put it in a warm dark place away from pets and people. So I went back outside. At first I was going to try and move the bird to a smaller box I’d poked a bunch of holes in, but my reaching into the box was freaking the little guy out, so I stopped right away and just folded the original’s box flaps under each other, closing up the top of the box, leaving a narrow gap the length of the box top for ventilation. Then I took him inside and put the box in my husband’s home office, the only room in the main floor of my home other than the bathroom that I could close off from our four cats.

The rehabilitator called back quickly and listened to my story. She told me that most of the time when birds hit something, they are stunned and will revive in an hour or two. She said that if he didn’t or showed signs of injury, that she had room to take the little guy. So the plan was to let him be in the box and see how he did. She said that sometimes after an accident a bird will be able to fly horizontally but not be able to get lift. She suggested bringing him into a small room like a bathroom (with toilet and sink, potential hiding places, etc. covered) to do a test flight to see how he flew. That way if he had a problem, he would be easier to catch and bring to rehab than if the test flight was outside.

So while the little guy rested, I set up my bathroom for the flight. I covered the mirror, sink and spaces under and around the cabinets with big pieces of cardboard and took out the outer storm window. After almost two hours, I brought the box into the bathroom and opened the bathroom window, covering the unopened portion with the curtains so he wouldn’t fly toward the closed upper part of the window. Then I opened the box.

The little bird was now quite energetic and seemed very eager to get out. He immediately flew up out of the box and across the little room to the window, paused by hanging on the curtains over the window and then readjusted to fly out the window. I watched him fly strongly across the yard so I’m hopeful that they little guy will do okay.

So did I help? I honestly don’t know. Maybe he would have been fine without my intervention. The concrete step he was lying on was wet and cold though and if nothing else, I did keep him from being potentially eaten by one of the neighborhood cats when he was feeling woozy.

There are laws about being in possession of a songbird. If you find a wild bird (or other wild creature), it is best for you and that creature if you contact someone who is a licensed rehabilitator and not try any do-it-yourself doctoring. The rehabilitator can give you instructions on what to do to help in your specific case. The National Wildlife Rehabilitators Association (NWRA) has a page of resources to help you find a rehabilitator in your area.


UPDATE: I’ve been seeing three little Pine Siskins at the feeders for the past few days. While I can’t be sure these are the same three, it’s the first time I’ve had Pine Siskins at the feeders so I think it’s them. So I think the little guy is ok!

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