What Do You Do if You Find a Sick Bird? (Explained)

If you find a sick bird, you’ll likely want to jump into action to help it! But if you don’t have a wildlife rehabilitation license or training, what’s the best thing you can do?

If you find a sick bird, use disposable gloves to transfer the bird to a cardboard box with air holes, then allow it to rest. Offer the bird the chance to try flying away every fifteen minutes or so and contact a wildlife rehabilitator if the bird doesn’t get better on its own.

This article will discuss everything you can do to help when you find a sick, injured, or orphaned bird. Learn the best ways for a non-professional to offer assistance.

What To Do When You See a Sick Bird

When you find a bird that appears to be in need, treat it as if it has a disease, guarding yourself by wearing disposable gloves.

The best thing that you can do is keep the bird out of harm’s way as it heals, and contact an avian veterinarian or rescue facility if necessary.

Now, let’s talk about identifying a sick or injured bird and what to do about it.

How To Tell if a Bird Is Sick or Injured

If you’re unsure whether or not a bird needs your help, check if it seems stuck on the ground. A sick or injured bird will stay put instead of flying away or will try to fly away but fail.

Most wild birds will fly away when approached under normal conditions. 

Fluffed up feathers and squinted, crusty, closed eyes are also signs of illness, as well as any wounds or blood. Take note of any injured limbs that appear asymmetrical or dangling. 

What To Do When You Find a Sick Bird

If you want to help a sick bird in need, you can pick it up with disposable gloves and place it in a cardboard box with air holes in it.

Ensure that you keep the bird in a safe place, keeping the bird warm with a hot water bottle or heating pad if necessary.

Be careful to be gentle with a bird in need, as the whole experience can be fatally shocking for a bird. 

A sick bird may simply need time to rest before it can fly away again. Keep the bird in the box in a safe, quiet place. Then, try opening the box outdoors every fifteen minutes to allow the bird to return to the wild.

If hours pass and the bird still can’t fly away, it’s time to reach out to a wildlife rehabilitator or veterinarian. 

While you’re waiting for the bird to get better, don’t give it any food or water. Feeding a bird the wrong food can be deadly, and offering water to a bird can get the bird wet and cause hypothermia.

Ensure that you also reduce disturbances and keep noise to a minimum around a wild bird, as these can be very stressful for a bird already going through shock and trauma. 

What To Do if You Find a Dead Bird

If you find a bird that’s already dead, the best thing that you can do is determine the cause of death and prevent other birds from dying the same way.

There are many ways that you can prevent a disease from spreading between birds if you notice a dead bird.

But never pick up or dispose of the bird unless instructed to do so by a wildlife authority.

Preventing the Spread of Disease Between Birds

If you’re concerned that a bird has died of a potentially contagious disease, it’s a good idea to contact your local health department.

They may ask you to collect the bird for analysis, often requiring that you double-bag and freeze the bird or bring it in right away.

Take note of the location and species of the bird, which could be relevant to the analysis. 

If a dead bird is near your bird feeders, clean the area thoroughly by taking the feeder apart and washing it with either dish soap or bleach and water. Rinse the feeder thoroughly and refill it with fresh food.

Remember to take these steps regularly, whether or not you find dead or diseased birds nearby.

Also, clean your birdbaths regularly, as standing water can be a breeding ground for mosquitoes. Mosquitoes can spread the West Nile Virus to birds and humans.

What To Do if You Find an Orphaned Chick

If you find a young bird that appears to be orphaned, make sure that the bird is truly an orphan before taking action.

Taking a chick away from its parents does a great deal of harm, as humans aren’t able to raise wild birds as well as their parents can. 

Below, we’ll tell you how to identify an orphaned bird and how to help it.

How To Know if a Bird Is Orphaned

You can tell that a bird is orphaned or will be orphaned if it’s removed from the nest at an early age.

Nestlings sometimes fall out of the nest when they’re learning to move and beginning to perch, but they still need to remain in the nest if they’re going to survive.

If you see a bird on the ground that’s too young to stand or walk, it likely needs help.

You can help an orphaned chick by creating a makeshift nest out of a plastic container or dish and lining it with toilet paper. However, it’s best to contact a licensed wildlife rehabilitator before you make contact with the bird.

On the other hand, an older fledgling who can walk doesn’t need a person’s help if found on the ground. Even if these birds can’t feed themselves yet, they don’t need to be in the nest 24/7 to survive.

Instead, these birds can sit and wait in the grass or brush while the parent is away. The parent will usually come back every one or two hours for a feeding session. 

Take note of the bird’s mobility and age before you intervene, and if you do take action, make sure that you do so under the guidance of a licensed wildlife rehabilitator.

Separating a small bird from its parents unnecessarily can be traumatic and harmful.

How To Find a Wildlife Rehabilitator

There are associations of licensed wildlife rehabilitators and wildlife offices in all 50 states.

You can find the appropriate resource for you by referencing the Humane Society of the United States’ list of wildlife rehabilitators, featuring informational resources for every state.

What Wildlife Rehabilitators Do

Wildlife rehabilitators are licensed professionals trained to assess and treat illnesses and injuries in wild animals. They typically work under the guidance of a veterinarian and give first aid and physical therapy to release an animal safely back into the wild. 

Rehabilitators need to be able to handle birds and other wildlife safely, both for the sake of the birds and for the people who are working with them.

They learn to do this through hands-on training combined with academic studies, usually in wildlife biology, ecology, zoology, or veterinary medicine.


Sick and injured birds often need some time to rest and recuperate to get better, but they also sometimes need the help of licensed wildlife rehabilitators.

If you find a sick, injured, or orphaned bird, the best thing that you can do is contact a rehabilitator and keep it safe from outside threats while you’re waiting for guidance.