Baby Waterfowl

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Waterfowl refers to birds which live on ponds and lakes such as Swans, Geese, Ducks and their smaller cousins such as Coots and Moorhens.

 
 

When to Help

Tick If the bird has been caught by a cat or dog
Any bird which has been bitten by a cat will need rescue and treatment. There are bacteria on cat’s teeth which will pass into the bird’s bloodstream when it is bitten. Without antibiotics within a few hours of the attack the bird may develop fatal septicaemia. Dog attack victims should always be assessed for injuries or shock. Urgent action is required here.
Tick If the bird is obviously injured
If you can see a wound, or a wing or leg is obviously damaged then the bird needs help. Survival in the wild is unlikely with an injury.
Tick No sign of parents
Baby waterfowl usually spend all their time with one or both parents. A single chick on its own or a group of babies with no adult around is not normal. Observe from a distance to make sure there isn’t an adult nearby and call a wildlife rescue for advice if none appears. Also seek help if you know the mother has been killed.
Tick A duck nesting in an unsuitable location
For example, a garden, hanging basket, on a swimming pool etc. They’ll be vulnerable to predators & may need to be relocated. Call a wildlife rescue for detailed advice.

Capture

If the baby is out of the water, you may just be able to scoop it up gently in your hands or with a towel. Baby waterfowl are very unlikely to bite. If they are still on the water, contact a wildlife rescue for help with capture unless you can reach them from the bank.

Containment

Place baby in a cardboard box or pet carrier with a towel to sit on. If you need a lid to keep the bird contained, don’t forget to provide plenty of air holes. Place the box somewhere warm and quiet and keep children and pets away. Please minimise your contact with the baby as much as possible as they imprint very easily.

Care

Any baby bird which needs rescuing should be taken to a wildlife rescue as soon as possible, ideally within an hour. The baby may need supplementary heat, especially if it is still fluffy rather than feathered. Putting the box in an airing cupboard or near a radiator may suffice for partially feathered babies but, for fluffy ones, put a hot water bottle wrapped in a towel at one end of the box, either inside, underneath or next to the box, ensuring the bird can get away from the heat if it wants to. If it feels cold it needs more heat and if it is panting or feels very hot, it may need less. Do NOT allow the baby to swim/paddle in water. Until they are fully feathered they are not waterproof and rely on Mum to dry them off. Getting them wet could lead to them getting a chill and dying. If you pick up a baby who is wet, especially if it appears weak, it may be beneficial to gently dry them with a warm (not hot) hair dryer.

Do not attempt to feed the baby without first seeking expert advice based on the age and species of your casualty. Never attempt to force feed water to a bird as it is very easy to drown them and never offer cow’s milk, worms or alcohol.

NB – this advice is designed to cover the first hour or so. If you are not able to get the bird to a wildlife rescue within this time, please at least speak to someone by phone for further advice about care beyond this period. If you want to care for the casualty yourself rather than taking it to a rescue, please read the information here.

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