It’s a stressful moment that all outdoor cat owners dread. Their kitty has brought in an injured bird, or is chasing and guarding one in the yard. For most people, the instinct is to jump straight in and help the bird. And, whilst it’s a great idea to separate your cat from its prey in order to save them, over handling an injured or captured bird can cause extreme stress, which can also lead to shock or death. What a conundrum! Today I’ll share my tried and tested methods for catching, assessing and hopefully releasing wild birds.
Cats are amazing predators, and having access to the outdoors has all sorts of benefits as long as you live in an area with low traffic volumes and no larger carnivores on the prowl. But the downside of an adventurous, enriching life is the opportunities it gives them to upset the other gorgeous creatures that live there.
How to Handle a Bird
Make sure to act quickly and gently to avoid adding to the stress of the situation. And to avoid any further injury to the bird. It’s best to wear gloves when handling wild animals or birds, this will give you an added layer of protection against any bacteria they may be carrying. Plus, it’s normal for an injured bird to lash out if it isn’t in shock. So, gloves may help to protect you from any scratches or cuts.
Birds are very delicate. So, be firm but gentle when carrying a bird. Use only enough pressure to stop them from flapping and escaping. If possible, keep their wings close to their body. This is usually the most comfortable position for them, but may not be possible if they have broken wings.
Is The Bird Okay?
Once you have separated the bird from your cat, take them somewhere away from your kitty. It’s likely that your cat will keep pestering you to get their prey back if you don’t, and this will cause the bird extra stress.
Whilst you’re holding the bird, carefully check them over to see what condition they are in. This will determine your next step, and the urgency of the situation. The most common issues when your cat gets a bird are:
- Open wounds
- Puncture wounds
- Internal organ damage
- Fractured bones
- Broken wings
If the bird has an open wound, you will need to act quickly. Ideally, you need to get the bird to a professional within the hour. Even if there is no visible wound, nearly all captured birds need antibiotic treatment to avoid later infection from very small wounds, or from Pasteurella bacteria.
If the Bird Has an Open Wound
After you’ve checked over the bird, you can determine your next steps. If the bird has an open wound, they’ll need help as soon as possible. However, some veterinarians cannot or will not be able to help wild birds. So, avoid wasting time by calling before taking the bird there.
You may need to seek out a specialized organisation. Once you have found somewhere that can treat your injured bird, take them there as soon as possible.
How to Transport an Injured Bird
The best way to transport an injured bird is in a small cardboard box, ideally one large enough for your bird to move around in, and for you to create a warm nest in. Use a clean t-shirt or towel, or even paper towels to line to box and make a donut-shaped nest.
Punch plenty of small air holes in the top of the box to avoid suffocating your bird. Taping the lid of the box down will also help to keep the bird secure, but make sure they have enough airflow.
It’s better to transport the bird in a dark, warm box like this, than in your hands. It will be a less stressful experience for your bird than if they are held in your hands the entire way there. And, extra stress at this point could only speed up the process of death.
If the Bird is Not Visibly Injured
When my cat brings in a bird that is not visibly hurt at all, I practice the wait and see approach. Leave the bird in their box for half an hour, then go outside and slowly open the lid and step back. If they are okay, then they will fly straight out at that point.
Baby Bird Attacked by Cat
If they have no feathers, or are very tiny, there’s a chance your cat has taken them from their nest. If they have some feathers, they may be a fledgling that your cat found on the ground.
The issue with simply returning a baby bird to a nest is that it may not be the correct nest. But also, your cat may just go back to the nest when you are gone and attack the baby bird again.
The best thing you can do is get the baby bird somewhere safe and warm, then contact a professional rehabilitator straight away.
Uhm you do know that it’s natural for cats to hunt right?
Don’t waste your money caring for a wild bird, like come on.
I had this problem but I wrapped the bird lightly in towels and the bird survived. Unfortunately now my cat knows where a nest is and hunts there.
Kimberly Smith says
My cat just got a bird and it’s the first time this has happened I got it and have put it into a small bird cage inside for right now but there is no one around me who rehabs them si what else can I do.
I think just pop it back where you found it – the parents will look after it
Anita Thomas says
A tiny White Wing dove fell out of my tree. I couldn’t reach its nest so I bought baby formula for birds ( AMAZON) & used a medicine dropper to feed “LILBIT)! I had him for 5 YEARS & he was loose in the house & my 3 cats never bothered him! One day on my shoulder he decided it was time for him to find. Mate & he flew away! What a wonderful bird- he would eat out of my hand & Evan give me “ kisses”- I always look for him when I’m outside hoping he’s good & comes “by to say hi”! Loved that bird! Just keep your baby warm a covered if he’s scared but the baby formula is what saved Lilbit. Good Luck.