For the Birds Radio Program: Taking Care of Injured Birds

Original Air Date: July 11, 1989

Laura explains why it’s better for birds to raise their own young than for people to try. 3:42

Audio missing


Taking Care of Injured Birds

(Recording of an American Robin)

Summer is the time I get most of the injured and orphaned birds that I care for, and this year is running true to form. I still have the sweet nighthawk that broke his wing on a power line early last month. The bone itself appears healed now, but the muscles were so torn in the compound fracture that they’re taking much longer to heal. He’s able to stretch the wing and preen now, and new feathers have grown back over the wound, so I’m hopeful that he’ll be returning to the night sky by the end of the month. ‘

He’s the nicest bird I’ve ever worked with—calm and sweet-tempered. He waddles up like Charlie Chaplin whenever he sees me—I feed him a mixture of ground-up Purina High Pro dog meal, gelatin powder, bone meal, applesauce, raisins, and vitamin and mineral supplements, and he seems to be thriving. I know he’s an adult male because of the markings on his tail and his white throat patch. He used to hiss whenever I approached, but he’s used to me now, and the only sound I hear him make is an occasional little peep when he swallows. ‘

He takes an interest in all my backyard bird activity as he sits on my writing room window sill. He looks like a miniature sundial, facing toward the east in the morning, and slowly turning until he’s pointed west at sundown. Then, as evening coolness invades the window, he hops down and waddles to a corner to spend the night. It surprises me that he doesn’t stay in the window at night time, since nighthawks are creatures of the evening. Sometimes he sits on my desk as I work, seeming to enjoy the companionship. He’s still wary of my husband and children, and so probably won’t lose his fear of humans enough to endanger him when he’s released.

In addition to the nighthawk, I was also brought a baby robin last week. He looked in fine shape when I got him, except that on closer examination his lower beak had been punctured and his tongue protruded out the bottom. He also had internal injuries, as if he had been squeezed in the chest, and there was blood in his droppings. He lived just one day.

It’s always sad when birds I’m taking care of die. In many cases the cause of death is directly or indirectly related to humans. The worst problem is when people take healthy baby birds, mistakenly believing that they have been abandoned or orphaned. Baby birds are always better off with their parents, and can be returned to them even after handling. If you can’t return a young nestling to its own nest, it often works to place it in the nest of another bird with young at about the same stage of development—believe it or not, there are many records of birds successfully raising young that are not their own, including the young of other species.

Once a baby bird is feathered out, it usually doesn’t return to the nest at all. It spends its days following its parents around, improving its flying skills, strengthening its wings, and learning how to find food. When you find a bird at this stage, the parents are usually near by, feeding one of their other babies or hiding, their normal response to the approach of a human. Every species of native American bird is protected by law, and no one should ever pick up a baby bird without a darned good reason— it’s just too easy to kill it with kindness.

(Recording of a American Robin)

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