An Injured Bird: What to Do?

Last Updated on October 9, 2020 by Nancie

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

Yesterday I saw my first Pine Siskin at the feeder. Today I was excited to see these tiny little birds return. But then a squirrel did one of their aggressive running at birds moves designed to scare them off 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.

When Birds Hit a Window

I felt sick. Birds do get injured in nature but it’s hard to witness it, especially when you are trying to feed birds and not hurt them. To reduce the chance of window collisions, feeders should be either within three feet of a window or over thirty feet out. But sometimes it still happens. (Update: Since this post was written, we put up Birdsavers Wind Curtains on these windows. This makes bird strikes less likely.)

When a bird has a collision with a window, sometimes it immediately flies off. And sometimes it 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 to 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.

Keeping the Bird Safe

I went outside and very gently picked up the bird using a paper towel. I 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 the box 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 holes in, but reaching into the box freaked the little guy out.  So I stopped right away and just folded the original’s box flaps under each other, closing up the top. This left 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. This is the only room on the main floor other than the bathroom that I could close off from our four cats.

Guidance From the Rehabilitator

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. To check that, 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.

A Test Flight & Then Out The Window!

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. I 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 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.

Call a Licensed Rehabilitator

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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2 thoughts on “An Injured Bird: What to Do?

  1. It’s pitiful to see birds who have had window-crash accidents, so I installed blinds in all indoor glass areas and planted more trees near my home to limit this.

    1. Hi Odell,
      It’s definitely a good thing to take steps to try and limit birds flying into windows. What usually seems to cause birds trouble is the reflection of sky and trees on the outside of the glass. I think blinds on the inside could possibly help some (maybe if the birds can see a narrow pattern of stripes) but if the birds still see a reflection of what looks like a good fly through on the outside of the window, you might still get a crash. My guess is that it may vary by the specific window situation.

      What we’ve done on some of our windows that has worked well for us is something called Birdsavers Zen Window Curtains. Here is a post I did about it in case you are interested:

      Good wishes,

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