This story occurred a couple of years ago, but the described scenario and underlying problem is as timeless as ever. During my evening shift as marine mammal surveyor on board of a ferry on route to Santander in Spain, I was forced to witness a small group of lost racing pigeons loosing their fight against the strong winds of the Bay of Biscay. I had to watch the drama unfolding, and there was nothing I could do to help. In this respect, spring and autumn surveys are known to be particularly emotionally demanding, as surveyors are regularly forced to helplessly watch the struggle of travelling and migrating birds. This situation is neither unexpected nor unique, but can be emotionally draining. At the very least, it feels very surreal when witnessing tragedies like this one on board of a luxurious ferry, where most people are busy enjoying their lives and holidays. Most of these tragic encounters go unnoticed and are missed even by keen birders and whale and dolphin enthusiasts armed with expensive gear.
The answer to this questions depends on ethical values and how these are applied by both, the finder of a bird in need of help and the rescue or rehabber taking over its care. The need for a suitable environment, a suitable diet, to be able to exhibit normal behaviour patterns, to be housed with or apart from other animals and to be protected from pain, suffering, injury and disease are just a few very basic animal welfare standards, which should always be taken in consideration. In addition to these animal welfare standards, there are further ethical values to consider, which have to be evaluated to be able to give a thorough answer to this question.