For the Birds Radio Program: Finding injured birds

Original Air Date: Oct. 19, 1988

Getting professional help from a licensed rehabber is not only the best way to care for an injured bird; it’s usually the only legal way.

Duration: 3′16″


(Recording of a Saw-whet Owl)

Fall is the most dangerous time of year for birds—probably at least half of all bird mortality occurs during this season, when young birds are first tested in their migration skills and in their ability to find food and avoid predators without their parents’ guidance. Even adult birds face dangers as they migrate through strange country. That’s why so many more birds migrate in fall than in spring—between now and then most of this year’s birds will be dead.

Because of the large number of birds first discovering urban hazards like picture windows and cars as they move through Duluth, a lot of people are suddenly calling me about injured birds. Last week I received a Saw-whet Owl with a broken wing from a boy who found it on his front porch. Now Saw-whet Owls are probably the cutest birds in the entire universe, but the boy resisted the temptation to try to keep it for a pet. And I would never have considered taking care of it myself, either—I sent it down to the Raptor Rehabilitation Center where it could be treated by experts in the excellent new facility they just built on the University of Minnesota St. Paul campus.

If you find an injured bird, remember that it’s against state and federal law to keep it. Wild birds simply do not make good pets, and injured birds are extremely difficult to care for without a great deal of experience. Owls absolutely need to eat whole birds or mice daily—the bones and feathers or fur are essential for keeping their digestive tract functioning—and because of their unique needs, few people who find them are capable of sustaining them for long. It’s sad but true that well-meaning but uninformed people who take in injured birds often bring far greater suffering to them than people who coldly let nature take its course. I have state and federal permits to care for injured birds, but even after years of caring for them I don’t know how to handle some cases and need a veterinarian to guide me. And no way would I try to take care of a hawk or owl when the raptor center is just three hours away.

One of the most difficult issues is what to do when children find a hurt bird. This summer, a little girl captured a baby robin from the wild for a pet. Her kind-hearted mother called me for advice, and the first thing I told her was that it is illegal to keep protected songbirds in captivity, and with good reason. I advised her to get the bird back to its parents immediately. Nonetheless, she tried to raise it. I had explained how to prepare a balanced diet, and how critical it was to keep the bird outdoors after it reached fledgling age, but she either didn’t understand what I said or simply followed her own human instincts, and the bird ended up dying a slow, lingering death. Fortunately, most kids, like the boy who found the Saw-whet Owl, resist the powerful temptation to make a pet of a wild bird, and make sure hurt birds go where they can get proper care.

(Recording of a Saw-whet Owl)

This is Laura Erickson, and this program has been “For the Birds..”