First Aid For Birds – How To Help Your Local Wildlife Rescue


Rescuing, rehabilitating and subsequently releasing wild animals is thought to be very much rewarding. And the truth is that it is. But as always, there are two sides to every story. Helping animals in distress does also mean to care for terminal ill animals, to make tough decisions in the interest of the animal concerned, to take responsibility and to constantly review and adapt working practice. However, being involved in wildlife rescue and rehabilitation also means, amongst other things, to interact with people who have found animals in need of help, to collaborate with volunteers or to liaise with members of the public during fundraising and educational events. Interestingly, in the view of many rehabbers, these interpersonal interactions are often regarded as the most difficult part of wildlife rescue and rehabilitation.

Feral pigeon

People who are involved in wildlife rescue are usually very idealistic and extremely committed to the course. They are commonly people who have dedicated their lives to help animals in need. Although the workload may vary throughout the year, most rescues are busy all year round. Vacation can quickly become a distant dream, and in particular during breeding season sleep deprivation becomes easily the normal state of affairs. Breeding season often means that hatchlings and nestlings have to be hand fed nonstop from dawn to dusk. As some hatchlings have to be fed every 20 minutes, this can easily mean that one person alone is being fully occupied throughout the day with feeding two or possibly three nests of tits, swallows or swifts. This degree of commitment leaves barely any room for spare time or other essential work like animal rescue, transport or collection, shopping, cleaning, food preparation, wound care, fundraising, maintenance or administrative work.

Great tits

Many of the rescues in the country are small scale and self-funded and are being run voluntarily by only a few people and a handful of volunteers. Many of them are non-profit organisations, others have made the effort to become a registered charity. All rescues usually require some degree of veterinary support, at least for prescriptions, interventions and certain treatments. And this is where large amounts of money often go. Official rescues and registered charities have to pay for veterinary services, which includes euthanasia and pain relief, whereas members of the public may go free. Veterinary bills are issued at the discretion of the veterinary surgeon. However, it has to be noted that many veterinarians do kindly waive at least part of their labour fees. Discounted rates are negotiable, but fees for consumables and medication are usually not and can easily add up considerably. According to an agreement between RSPCA and BVA, there is a chance that for ‘small animals’ part of the fees are taken over by the RSPCA, but this can only happen under certain circumstances and conditions, and only if agreed prior to a veterinary visit, which is usually very difficult to achieve and not always practical in emergency cases.

Education and prevention are other essential parts of wildlife rescue and rehabilitation. This kind of time and resource hungry work often involves maintaining an efficient media presence and the participation in educational or local public events, which are often combined with fundraising activities.

Mute swans

10 Tips About How to Help your Local Wildlife Rescue or Rehabber

1. Volunteering

Some wildlife rescues are looking for volunteer foster carers to look after orphaned baby wild mammals or birds in their own homes. Full training and support is usually given and equipment is also often provided. However, to take on foster animals one needs to be available most of the time. This kind of commitment is usually seasonal, but longterm carer are also often required.

Mallard ducklings

2. Transport and Delivery

Many small rescues are unable to collect injured or poorly birds, as they do not have the time or resources to travel several hours a day to collect animals in need of help. If it is safe for you to do so, then please bring the injured animal you have found directly to an adequate and experienced rescue. If you cannot do it by yourself, then please try to find a willing family member, friend or animal loving neighbour to help out. Exceptions are potentially dangerous animals like gannets, herons or birds of prey, who require an experienced rescuer to capture and transport the animal concerned. Please try to understand, although time is often of an essence, that small rescues will ask you for your assistance in this matter. If you are unable to transport the animal, then please be patient, as it may take some time to find volunteers who are available to collect the animal. Please do not threaten or blackmail the rehabber! Hold on to the animal when being asked to. Do not just let the injured or poorly animal go!

Short-eared owl

3. Supervision and Monitoring

If you find an injured animal in the wild or on the road, and you are unable to catch or transport the animal to the rescue, then please make sure that you are safe and stay with the animal until a rescuer or volunteer arrives. There is often only one chance to catch an injured animal, as injured animals are very likely to go into hiding. It will also save valuable resources and avoid hours of searching for an animal being in pain and distress.

4. Cat Caught Animals

If your cat has caught a bird, then please free the bird immediately and bring him or her to a veterinary surgery or wildlife rescue. All cat caught birds, even if seemingly uninjured, need to be treated with antibiotics as soon as possible. Do not wait until the next day, unless otherwise advised, as any delay can be fatal. Please provide all details about the incident, which will help to administer adequate treatment and ensure that expensive antibiotics will only be used when indicated. Do not be surprised or offended when the issue of free roaming cats and their impact on wildlife might get raised. In fact, you might find the information provided useful, as preventative measures may save the life of both, wildlife and your cat. Please bear in mind that during breeding season up to 80% of admitted birds have been caught or injured by cats. Reducing this number can potentially save many lives, but also time and money!

Wood pigeon

5. Obvious Fatal Injuries

If you find a badly injured animal, then please get immediate advice from an experienced wildlife rescue. To avoid unnecessary suffering, it might be advisable to bring the animal directly to the next veterinary surger, and not to a wildlife rescue. Bringing an animal with obvious fatal injuries to a small scale rescue can potentially prolong suffering, as the rescuer is unlikely to be able to help and has to bring the animal to a veterinary surgery to be euthanised. The rescue will get charged for calling out a veterinary surgeon and for the cost of euthanasia, whilst a member of the public will usually not get billed. Large rescue centres may work differently, as they might be able to employ their own veterinary surgeons and nurses.

6. Wildlife Rescue and the Law

Do not expect or demand from a rescue to undertake illegal activities like removal of nests or unwanted birds. Rescues are legally allowed to take care of birds, who are genuinely trapped, poorly or injured. They will not be able to remove a starling or sparrow nest just because the birds are noisy or mistakenly perceived to pose a health hazard, which they are not. Rescues will also refuse to remove a nest from a tree, just because the property owner intends to remove the tree. This applies to all bird species, as all bird species are protected during nesting.

Goldcrest nest

7. Admission Number Limitations

Responsible rehabber and rescues will only take in a certain number of animals, and only as many as they are able to care for safely. Please accept ’No’ for an answer and do not blackmail or even dump animals on the doorstep of rescues just because you find it inconvenient that you might have to find another rescue or veterinary surgery for the animal to go to.

8. Specialisation

Many rescues do specialise in certain animal or bird species. This is done for good reasons, as it is very difficult and expensive to provide and maintain the required expertise considering the variety of setups required to rehabilitate bird species with very different requirements. Also, most rescues will not be able to take care of domestic animals or pets. Please accept that for example a gull rescue might not take corvids, and that you have to find an appropriate place for your rescue bird to go to. It is very likely that the wildlife rescue or rehabber is able to give you advice in this matter. Again, please do not dump animals on the doorstep of a rescue!


9. Funding

Most rescues and rehabbers are self-funded. They have to pay for the accommodation of animals, aviaries, hospital cages, incubators, food, medication, travel costs, electricity, water, veterinary bills and much more. Please consider to give a donation to support the care and rehabilitation of the animal you have just brought in. If you do not wish to give a monetary donation, then you might want to check whether the rescue needs other consumables like newspapers, towels, knitted nests, tissues, food or other items such as used cages or aviaries. You could also offer your time, help or expertise as a volunteer, educator or fundraiser.

10. Patient History

Please provide all the information you have got regarding the animal you have found and brought to a wildlife rescue. The exact location where the animal has been found and the precise circumstances related to the problem or injury are essential pieces of information for the rehabber, which will influence treatment approach and choice of potential release sites. Please do not lie or invent a fairytale, when you bring a rescue bird to your local veterinarian or wildlife rescue. Please tell the truth, even if you believe that you have made a mistake or you do feel guilty. The correct clinical history is crucial and can save the life of the rescue animal. Please do not leave the rehabber or rescuer in the dark!


Other Things You Might Want to Know About

Handover of the Animal

If you bring a poorly animal to a veterinary surgery, rescue or rehabber, you obviously will have to hand over the animal from your into their care. This does mean that you transfer the legal responsibility for the animal over as well. Some centres and veterinary surgeries will provide you with a handover document you are being asked to sign. With your signature you will hand over all legal responsibilities for the animal concerned, which includes all decisions to be made regarding treatment, release or euthanasia.

Herring gulls

Expertise and Local Policies

Although all rescues and rehabbers strive to provide the best care for the animals in their care, there are differences and local variations to expect. It is always worth to check the reputation and expertise of the rescue or rehabber concerned, in particular when it comes to certain bird species like seabirds, waterfowl, birds of prey, pigeons, corvids, swifts, swallows and martins. There is also a considerable variation of local protocols and euthanasia policies to find, which are worth reviewing prior to the handover of the animal, bearing in mind that not all rescues are sanctuaries and might therefore not be able to take care of long term patients or potentially unreleasable animals.

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