For the Birds Radio Program: Euthanizing

Original Air Date: Feb. 4, 1998

When is it right to decide to euthanize an injured bird? Laura’s children and a Sora taught her a lesson. (Date is certain)

Duration: 3′00″


The most terrible question a rehabber faces is when to euthanize a creature. Professionals caution against assigning animals human emotions, or allowing our human emotions to influence our decisions about wild creatures. But perhaps sometimes we romanticize the concepts of freedom and wildness. By refusing to anthropomorphize wild creatures, perhaps we blind ourselves to our own deep roots as wild creatures.

It seems obvious that a permanently crippled bird should be put out of its misery. But is it always so clear? Or does our discomfort at the sight of a struggling creature make us assign it misery when it’s simply trying to get by? When I received a Sora four years ago, I knew it was a case of euthanasia. She had two busted legs–one broken deep inside her body. Soras spend virtually their entire lives on their feet—this one would never walk again. I was preparing to take her to the vet to be put down when my Katie and Tommy, who were 10 and 8, came to her defense. Katie said it wasn’t fair to not at least give her a chance. I said she was suffering, but the bright curiosity in her eyes gave the lie to that. And she scarfed down mealworms with relish.

She had cat bites and two compound fractures—serious infections were imminent. But Tommy pointed out that medicines stop infections. I said I never took care of a bird that was hurt this badly and lived—she was sure to die in a day or two. Tommy gave me a serious look and said, “Well at least she has life right now.”

I would have prevailed if the bird was in pain, but she was too interested in her surroundings and too eager to eat to be miserable. Every morning for a month I was afraid she’d be dead, but every morning she was up and eating before I got up. Her legs were worthless, and watching her hobble about was a pitiful sight, unless you happened to notice the determination and eagerness in her eyes.

She got all around the house, making friends with Bunter and Chuckie the squirrel, figured out how to flutter into the mealworm bucket to pig out, and seemed content, perhaps even happy, for almost a full month before developing a massive infection and dying suddenly. She was sick only a couple of hours.

She deserved a life of wild freedom in a marsh whispering with cattails, but a cat, not us, stole that from her. As long as she was willing to settle for second best, the least we could do was to give her that chance.