An injured or broken wing is a serious injury for a bird, and can be extremely traumatic for them. It is essential to treat the bird in the appropriate way depending on the situation at hand.
If you have found an injured wild bird there is a different set of rules to if you have a domesticated or pet bird. As a general rule, if you find an injured wild bird you should carefully consider whether trying to capture it is beneficial or not – handling and disturbance is very stressful for birds. If it has a broken wing it can only be helped through capture.
A pet bird with a broken wing needs immediate medical treatment by a vet. A wild bird which has obtained a broken wing through being injured by a cat also needs immediate medical attention.
In this guide we will discuss the ways in which you can tell if a bird has a broken wing, and what to do if you come across a bird with a broken wing.
- Only attempt to handle an injured wild bird if strictly necessary
- Seek veterinary advice and care for pet birds with broken wings
- In the first instance it is advisable to contact your local wildlife rescue centre/organisation/expert – they will give you situation specific advice or rescue the bird and give it the best care
- If the bird has been attacked by a cat seek wildlife rescue (wild birds) or a vet (domesticated birds) immediately.
- There are some things you can do to help a bird with a broken wing (after ascertaining whether or not it has a broken wing) including wrapping it in a cloth and placing it in a covered and well-ventilated box, offering water and food (NOT force-feeding) depending on the species.
- Wear gloves when handling a wild bird, and wash your hands afterwards
Injured Bird Basics
Human contact, even when well-intended, is highly stressful for a wild bird and may cause more harm than good. You should consider this before attempting to handle an injured wild bird.
If you think the bird may have a broken wing, it needs to be captured so it can be assessed and aided.
Unless you have experience in capturing, handling and caring for birds, you should contact an expert in wildlife care and rehabilitation. In most areas there will be local wildlife rescue centres, or experts in bird care. Search for your local wildlife care experts and contact them as soon as possible. Provide key information including:
- The species of bird (if you can identify it)
- The age of the bird (if possible)
- The symptoms it is exhibiting (see below for “how to tell if a bird has a broken wing”)
- Where you found it, and in what situation
- Your name and the location of the bird
Bear in mind that you may have to call around several organisations, agencies, or centres until you can find somebody who is able to help you. Often wildlife rescue services are public-funded organisations or charities. They may not have adequate funding, space, or resources at the time you are calling. Some vets may offer wildlife aid which you may have to pay for, although these services can be free depending on the help the bird needs.
Wildife care experts will be able to give you situation specific advice, or come and rescue the bird and give it the best possible care. This is often preferable to caring for an injured bird yourself, and raises the survival and subsequent release chances of the bird. Make sure you wear gloves before attempting to capture a bird yourself. Birds carry diseases and, as such, should not be held near your face.
Birds up to the size of a common blackbird are considered small.
It can be very difficult to catch an injured wild bird, plus the smaller the bird the more fragile it is. Thus, handling a small wild bird without knowledge and experience can cause further injury to the bird – do not attempt unless you know what you are doing.
It is important to handle the bird firmly but also gently to avoid injuring it. You will be able to hold it in one hand by placing one hand on top of the bird with its head poking out between your forefinger and middle finger. Do not squeeze too hard but make sure the bird cannot struggle and escape, or injure itself in its attempts to get away. Your other fingers will wrap around the rest of the birds, holding the wings against the body.
Medium-sized birds, around the size of a pigeon, can be held with two hands, placing one hand on either wing. While there is less risk of injuring a larger bird, you still need to be careful and should only attempt this if you have knowledge and experience.
The larger the bird, the more risk there is of injury to you. Large birds like owls or birds of prey require specialist knowledge and careful handling to minimise injury to the handler. It is advised to call an expert in bird rescue rather than attempt this dangerous activity yourself.
How To Tell If A Bird Has A Broken Wing
1. Is It A Fledgling?
If the bird looks young with ruffled feathers, and is having problems flying you may have come across a recent fledgling. This is commong during nesting season (which will vary depending on the part of the world you live in). If the bird looks small and confused, but is hopping around and looks otherwise alert and active, it may have left the nest recently. Keep an eye on it to check whether the parents are returning to feed it.
2. Approach The Bird
Once you have determined it is not a young bird which has been abandoned by its parents, but are still worried about it having an injured wing, you can try to approach it slowly. If it does not fly away when you are within 3 meters of it, it is likely it has been injured or is diseased.
Before attempting to capture the bird, you can look for some tell-tale signs of a broken wing. If the bird is sitting, and looks drowsy these are signs it is weak. If it appears confused it may be in shock. This could be caused by a broken wing or other traumatic event.
Try to look for obvious injuries such as bleeding. If you think the bird has been attacked by a cat call wildlife rescue straight away. There is a high risk of septicaemia which can kill a bird within approximately 48 hours. If the bird is domesticated a vet should be contacted urgently.
3. Observe The Posture
Birds’ wings should hang evenly either side of the body. A drooping or misshapen wing could indicate a wing fracture. If you see this, move onto the next step.
4. Check The Wing
Once you have captured the bird, you can examine the wing for a fracture. Hold the tip of the wing and pull it very gently away from the body. This will help to stretch the wing and feel the bones and joints for potential fractures or dislocations. If you are not confident doing this, contact your local bird care expert. If the wing is very badly injured, or the bird has other serious injuries, it may need to be euthanized.
How To Help A Bird With A Broken Wing
If you have to catch the bird yourself rather than calling a vet or wildlife rescue centre, there are some steps you can take to help it.
1. Wrap The Bird In A Cloth And Place It In A Box
Once you have caught the bird, wrap it carefully in a clean cloth or towel. Try to gently pin the wing against the bird’s side in a natural folded position. Place it in a well-ventilated (with holes or slits), covered box. The darkness and isolation from loud noises and external stimulation can help with shock.
Place the box in a warm (but not too warm) safe place where it will not be disturbed by pets, children, or draughts. Move the bird as little as possible.
2. Immobilise The Wing
Once the bird is calm, you can try to immobilise the wing which will help the bird with pain and stop it from further injuring the wing. Tape the wing into a natural folded position (the position in which a bird would hold the wing if it is sitting on a branch) using micropore tape or vet rap tape – this is important as these tapes will not stick to the wing feathers and cause problems when removed. See here for more information on how to wrap a birds broken wing.
Only attempt this if you know what you are doing.
3. Provide The Bird With Food And Water
DO NOT attempt to force-feed the bird. Giving the bird food and water is not something you are likely to need to do if you are waiting for wildlife rescue to arrive. The experts can take care of this when the bird is in their care.
However, if you are looking after the bird yourself, you can offer it drops of water from a dropper. Do not squirt water down a birds throat as it may run into the lungs and cause serious problems. The birds should be free to swallow the water from the dropper if it needs to or has the strength.
If you need to hand feed the bird, the food you offer will depend on both the bird species and the age of the bird. See here for more detailed advice on what to feed an injured bird.
Injured Wild Birds – Legal Considerations
Finally, there may be legal considerations when undertaking a wild bird rescue yourself. In most places it is legal to rescue and care for injured birds with the intention of rehabilitating them and releasing them.
However, there are some species which have special protection if they are rare or endangered. Potentially dangerous birds such as raptors or eagles should not be rehabilitated by a non-expert. Some birds may need to be registered with the correct authorities if they are going to be legally kept in captivity whilst you are looking after them.
Ensure you check the laws which apply to your country or region where rare, endangered or potentially dangerous birds are concerned. See here for rules which apply to the UK.
Should I help a bird with a broken wing?
If you think the bird has broken its wing, you should help it. The way you do this is situation dependent. If it is a wild bird then it is recommended to call your local wildlife rehabilitation or care centre. If it is a domesticated bird you should contact your local vet. If you are confident in handling and care of an injured bird, or if you are unable to contact your local wildlife experts, then there are ways you can help it yourself.
Can a birds broken wing heal by itself?
A bad fracture or dislocation cannot heal by itself and requires specialist care by wildlife rehabilitators or a vet. The wing stands a better chance of healing if it is not touched or moved regularly, and if the fracture is small and simple.
How long does it take for a bird with a broken wing to heal?
The healing process is not simple and depends on the type or size of injury. If the bird has other injuries this will make the healing take longer. Larger birds take a longer time to heal. As a rough guide it can take up to three weeks for recovery. Ideally, an expert needs to monitor the wing, so the bird should be taken to a wildlife rescue centre or receive regular visits to the vet.