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Injured birds

Man holding bittern

Handling must be firm but gentle

Image: Andy Hay

Being handled and treated is a very stressful experience for an injured bird, and before you attempt to catch it, you should consider the benefits of treatment weighed against this.

An injured bird can only be helped if it can be caught. Since a bird with a leg injury or many kinds of minor injury will often be able to fly to get away, it is rarely possible to catch such a bird whether it would benefit from treatment or not.

Catching an injured bird can be difficult, and careless handling may cause further injury. Handling must be firm but gentle. Small birds up to blackbird size can be held in one hand. Place your hand over the bird so that its head fits between your forefinger and middle finger. The rest of your fingers will naturally wrap around each wing, holding the bird firmly.

Medium-sized birds are best held with two hands, one over each wing. Handling large birds requires great care because of risk of injury to the handler. Unless you are used to handling large birds, it is best to call an expert rescuer to the bird rather than try to capture it yourself.

Once the bird is caught, examine it quickly and place it in a well ventilated covered box to wait for treatment. Darkness reduces stress, and is likely to be the best first aid you can give the bird. It is also the best treatment for shock.

An injured bird should always be passed onto a local vet, RSPCA in England and Wales, SSPCA in Scotland, USPCA in Northern Ireland or an independent rescue centre, so it can receive appropriate treatment without undue delay. 

Birds that have been caught by a cat should always be taken to a vet as a matter of urgency because of the high risk of septicaemia, which is fatal within around 48 hrs.

Please remember that the RSPB is a wildlife conservation charity, and as such we do not have the facilities or expertise for treating injured birds.

The RSPB does not run bird hospitals or a rescue service, so please do not contact us about an injured bird, as we are unable to help. The RSPCA (England and Wales), SSPCA (Scotland) and USPCA (Northern Ireland) are the national charities that help and advise on injured wildlife. You can also find an independent local rescue centre on

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Injured wild birds and the law