Dead, Sick or Injured Birds?
One of the most useful tools for studying bird life histories and migration patterns, has been the bird-banding program (banding is often referred to as “ringing” in other parts of the world). This is where wild birds are netted and fitted with a small aluminum band on the leg (or young birds in the nest are banded). The pertinent information recorded at the time of banding is then kept in a central data bank known as the “Bird Banding Laboratory”. This lab is maintained by the U.S. Geological Survey’s Patuxent Wildlife Research Center. You are probably thinking: “What the heck does the U.S. Geological Survey have to do with birding?” Well ‘ nothing really ‘ it’s just that many U.S. federal government sponsored scientific projects are put under the U.S.G.S. umbrella for administrative and budgeting purposes. There is a rumour that the U.S. Geological Survey became involved after intense lobbying efforts by the Rock Wren, the Slaty-backed Gull and the Mountain Chickadee, but I can assure you that this is not true.
Recovery of bands from birds found dead or injured, or collected by hunters, sheds light on the movements of an individual of a particular species. Enough of these little tidbits of information collected reveal larger patterns and trends among North American wild bird populations. This type of information is crucial to conservation efforts for everything from waterfowl and raptors to songbirds.
The recovery rate for bands is very low, so it is helpful when one is returned. It is generally known that conservationists/naturalists and hunters don’t always get along, but, much as someone might find hunting distasteful, it also accounts for the fact that waterfowl and gamebirds have the highest band recovery rates (anywhere from 10% for ducks to 20% plus for geese and swans). This in turn means a lot more is known about the migration and distribution patterns of these families of birds, with the consequence that management/conservation programs have a better chance for success. By contrast, the recovery rate for songbirds is less than one-tenth of 1%. The overall average recovery rate for the 1.1 million birds of all types banded in North America every year, is one band recovered for every twenty birds banded (5%).
If you come across a dead or injured bird with an aluminum band on its leg, write down the species, location, date, and the number on the band, and mail the information along with your name and address to:
Bird Banding Laboratory
USGS Patuxent Wildlife Research Center
12100 Beech Forest Road, Suite 4037
Laurel, Maryland, U.S.A. 20708-4037.
Alternatively, you can file recovered band reports on their toll-free reporting line 1-800-327-2263 or via e-mail at [email protected] If the bird is dead, you can pry the band off with a penknife, but if the bird is sick or injured, make sure to leave the band on. In time, you should receive return correspondence outlining where and when your bird was first banded. Importantly though, your tidbit of information then becomes part of the matrix of knowledge about migration patterns of North American birds. If you would like to know more about this program, you can visit the Internet site at the Bird Banding Laboratory or the Canadian Wildlife Service’s Canadian Bird Banding Office.
With regard to sick or injured birds, most people’s first instinct is to phone the local S.P.C.A. This is fine, but the S.P.C.A.’s forte is domestic pets. There are two organizations in the Lower Mainland that deal specifically with wild creatures and it may be more appropriate to refer to them if you have a wild bird that needs attention.
For all Types of Birds
Wildlife Rescue Association
5216 Glencarin Ave.
Burnaby, BC V5B 3C1
Tel: (604) 526-7275
Fax: (604) 524-2890
E-Mail: [email protected]
Specifically for Raptors (Hawks, Owls, Eagles)
O.W.L. Rehab Society
3800 – 72nd Street
Delta, BC V4K 3N2
Tel: (604) 946-3171
Fax: (604) 946-3172
Email: [email protected]
In most cases you may have to deliver the patient, as pickup service is limited. It’s best to phone and check with the organization. As well, admissions are typically from 8:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m. ‘ not 24 hours a day. This may be inconvenient, but I believe it is worth it to save a life.
Incidentally, these two organizations, as well as the S.P.C.A., rely on tax-deductible donations to operate. The work they do is excellent, and worthwhile, and they are all definitely worthy of any financial support you may care to offer.
Other wildlife rehabilitation facilities in the Lower Mainland and Fraser Valley include:
Elizabeth’s Wildlife Shelter
3743 Nanaimo Crescent
Abbotsford, BC V2T 4Z7
Tel: (604) 852-9173
Pager: (604) 855-3194
Monika’s Wildlife Shelter
8137 – 192nd Street
Surrey, BC V4N 3G5
Tel: (604) 882-0908
Fax: (604) 882-0899
There are also commercial wildlife control companies that offer 24 hour a day rescue or removal services as well as the occasional pickup for organizations like the Wildlife Rescue Association. Keep in mind that these are business ventures. As such, there may be a cost for performing certain services, but in some circumstances it may be the most viable option. One of the more established of these firms in Canada is:
AAA Wildlife Control Ltd.
Suite 610 – 555 West Georgia Street
Vancouver, BC V6B 1Z5
Tel: (604) 685-6888
Fax: (604) 501-3068
E-Mail: [email protected]
Some Important Notes Regarding the Handling of Sick or Injured Birds
Wild birds are very high strung, and being handled by a human is extremely stressful for them. They can actually die from stress or a heart attack. This is why you never, ever transport a sick or injured bird where it can see what’s going on. Placing it in a box or paper bag (never plastic) with air holes poked in or in a covered cage greatly reduces its stress level and dramatically increases its odds for recovery. Also, you must be firm but gentle when handling ‘ remember ‘ birds have hollow bones that can be quite fragile.
During the late spring and through the summer, there are many young birds fresh out of the nest (called fledglings) that may appear to be sick or injured, when in fact they are not. At this stage of their life cycle, the young ones may lack the muscular strength and co-ordination of adults, and may become disoriented in unfamiliar surroundings, but it does not necessarily mean they are in distress. Moreover, mom or dad may be quietly waiting nearby for the big bad human to take off (figuratively speaking of course) so they can come and rescue junior. Keep this in mind when coming across a young bird. In many cases, it’s best to leave it alone, and other times, intervention may be appropriate. It’s really a judgement call.
Recently, I encountered a perfectly healthy fledgling Glaucous-winged Gull that had somehow managed to get two floors down in an underground parking garage (talk about unfamiliar surroundings!) and was using its new-found flying skills to fly into every cement wall that presented itself. I doubted if it could find its way out, and unless its parents learned how to drive a car pronto, it was unlikely they would find their baby, so rescue was the only option. And now some Glaucous-winged raconteur will be able to regale the guests at all the gull parties with the story about the time he/she got a ride in a Volvo.
Take special care when handling raptors! Those iron-grip talons (claws) are long, needle sharp and they will use them on you if you’re not careful. A beak can hurt but the damage is nothing compared to what talons can do. Even a small bird like a Saw-Whet Owl or Sharp-shinned Hawk can cause serious muscle, ligament or tendon damage if they sink their claws into you.
One of the best ways to control a panicked bird, and this goes for any species, not just raptors, is to throw a towel or blanket over the top of the bird (so it can’t see what’s going on) and then scoop it up in a bundle so it can’t use its wings or feet (make sure it can breathe). But watch those talons! The best way to hold a raptor is by the shins directly above the feet. You have to think of what natural defenses a bird has that they will use on you if they feel threatened. A heron, for example, has a very long, sharp beak and lightning speed and I don’t doubt it will take a stab at you if you approach too closely.
One of the more common hazards for backyard birds is the big picture window. Birds frequently cannot distinguish between a reflection of trees and bushes, and the real thing. The resulting crash is often fatal. A few preventative measures are one of the nicest things you can do for the avian residents of your neighbourhood. The most popular (and tasteful) measure, is a black plastic hawk silhouette that clings easily to the glass. This item is sold at many nature stores (or you could make something similar from paper or cardboard) and is supposed to create a natural aversion to the area by showing the outline of a predator.
You’re probably thinking ‘ “I want to attract birds to my yard ‘ not scare them off.” Well ‘ my experience has been that the silhouette works, but at the same time it doesn’t prevent birds from enjoying the nearby feeders (at least it hasn’t in our yard). I suspect it works more from breaking up the reflection, than by making the birds think there’s a hawk nearby. You would be surprised how birds can catch on to some ruse. A large grocery store in North Vancouver that had a problem with sparrows and pigeons hanging around, put one of those plastic owls (Bubo styreneus) up in the metal trusses supporting the entranceway. I’ll never forget the day I walked up to the store and saw a male House Sparrow perched on the owl’s head, merrily chirping away.
Another time I drove past a farm in Delta that kept animal feed stored in open-ended bins. They were obviously having trouble with birds raiding the feed because suspended over the end of one of the bins was a kite in the shape of a hawk. It was the exact size, shape and colouration of a Sharp-shinned Hawk and had a “windsock” design so that the air passing through it gave it a three-dimensional appearance. Suspended from its near-invisible wire, the kite fluttered and bobbed in the wind just like a real hawk. I could tell a lot of thought went into the design and deployment of the device. It was a magnificent piece of deception. I am sure the thirty Starlings directly underneath it, gorging themselves, were as impressed as I was.
Every now and then, you may come across a sick or injured bird in the wild. In many cases, it’s best to leave it alone, and let nature take its course. It’s such an integral part of nature that living things get old, sick or wounded, and then become food for predators and scavengers. In other cases it may be appropriate for you to take action.
Perhaps, a bird has gotten into the house, or it flew into the side of your car and is stunned. Once again, it is a judgement call whether you should intervene or not. In any case, never put yourself at risk, and if you feel intervention is appropriate, but don’t feel you can handle it (I think of the couple that rescued a Bald Eagle from a water-filled roadside ditch in Delta ‘ a very tall order!), then call one of the organizations listed earlier in this section. They do have a lot of experience in handling all types of animals and can either attend, or give some good advice as to what to do.