Monday, 7 November 2011

Birdy first aid

I had to work this weekend.  Given that I had to work, it meant getting up early.  I absolutely do not have time in my morning routine to rescue wildlife - I often forgo brushing my hair and have been known to double-check that I'm wearing pants.  Imagine my horror when Hector brought in a baby bird.

If you keep animals which are natural predators, dealing with dead prey has to be a fact of life.  I do try to minimise H's impact on the local bird population.  He has a bell on his collar and I don't feed my garden birds any more.  But H wanders far and wide and so my neighbour's gardens are all his hunting grounds too.  Usually, his kills are brought in dead.  Somehow, this baby bird was alive.

I didn't realise it until I was standing poised with the carrier bag ready to scoop it up, apologise to it (irrational I know, but I always do) and shed a small tear for it.  It was only as I got closer that I noticed its wing twitch.  And then it twitched again.  It was with some dread that I picked it up off the kitchen floor (carefully, index and forefinger on either side of its head, so that your hand gently clasps its wings together and you don't squash any legs.  You know, like they do on Springwatch...).  It was so light and small, it was barely a wisp of feather and fluff. As I turned it round, it looked me in the eye.  Now what?  I take the view that part of being a responsible pet-owner is being responsible for your pet's impact on your locale.  This bird was my problem, and I had the same responsibility for it as I would have done if H had come home injured.

I know very little about rescuing injured birds.  As I'd picked it up with my right hand, it meant frantically Googling with some erratic left-handed typing.  Not easy.  All the time, I was convinced that birdy-wirdy was about to expire.  It's fair to say that my hand was a bit hot and sweaty.  With hindsight, I think this may have saved him.  He certainly seemed to rally somewhat in my grasp.  In case you ever find yourself holding a mauled baby bird at 7:30 am on a morning when you really need to be elsewhere, here are a few tips:

1. Bird first aid = somewhere dark and warm.  I used a tub I keep occasional sewing projects in and a towel from the laundry basket.  The towel both lined the box and served as a makeshift lid.  It was also warm and soft - essential as birdy was a bit wobbly.  You can cobble anything together so long as it's dark and well-ventilated.  Quiet is also important.

2. If a bird has been in a cat's mouth, you absolutely must take it to a vet asap.  Cats' mouths are full of all sorts of grim bacteria and any puncture wound can quickly result in septicaemia.  Indeed, if your cat has been bitten by another cat, you need to get to a vet for an antibiotic shot.  For a wee little bird, you don't have much time.

3. The vet will be able to check for broken legs or wings, not something you should have a crack at yourself unless you know what you're doing - you could cause more damage. The vet will also advise whether there's anything they can do to rehabilitate the bird.  If they can't, they can provide a swift, humane end for an animal that will otherwise suffer great pain and anxiety.

I confess, as I left the local 24hr vet, I wasn't very hopeful.  Even to my untrained eye, I could see that H had had a good go at the bird's right side.  Its right eye was closed, when it did flutter its wings, one looked very crumpled, as did its right leg.  He also had a bare bum, being totally devoid of tail feathers.  I certainly did not expect to get a call later that day asking me to collect it to release it into my garden.  Which brings me on to my last tip:

4.  Contrary to popular belief, most garden birds have a poor sense of smell so a handled bird won't automatically be rejectedby its parents.  It's very important to put the bird back near where you think the nest site might be.  It doesn't have to be exact as the parents will hear its call, but there'd have been no point in me releasing it near the vets.

Happily, by the time I collected him, he seemed to have made quite a recovery.  He was upright, both eyes were open and carrying him home, I could feel him hopping round inside the box.  When I risked a quick peep under the towel, he looked really quite indignant.  By the time we got home, it was just starting to get dark.  Being bonfire night, I reasoned that most, if not all neighbourhood cats were indoors, so popping him down under a hedge would be ok.  I needn't have worried.  As soon as I folded back the towel, he hopped out onto the rim of the box, gave me that slightly cross/indignant look once more and flew off into the trees.  My last glimpse of him was of a pale white dot of birdy-bum disappearing into the dusk.

He was fine, but it'll be a while before he comes over to let us see him shake a tail feather.


  1. It is lovely when you manage to rescue one. Well done you, what a tale he'll have to tel when he gets back to his kin!

  2. It was an amzing feeling seeing him fly off - definitely worth the panic/stress/anxious day's wait!

  3. Well done. You were a real samaritan when you were already in such a rush! I'm sure his mama would be very grateful, tail feathers or not.