If your chimney is occupied by a nesting bird, you will need to know that nesting birds are protected by law. Removing or disturbing the nest would be illegal.
With regards to individual adult birds trapped in a chimney, this is a common and potentially frustrating problem for wildlife rescues. The difficulty is this scenario involves little hands on rescuing of the bird itself and often involves more DIY or even professional building work. Please bear in mind that wildlife rescues operate entirely on donations so have very limited resources. They may not be able to send a volunteer rescuer out unless specialist wildlife handling skills are required. There is little point them coming out if what is actually needed is someone to move a fitted fire for example.
Much depends on what is at the bottom of your chimney. If it is open at the bottom then you should start by trying to tempt the bird out under its own steam. Leave the room and open any windows, pulling back any curtains. Place a torch at the base of the chimney and hopefully the bird will head towards the light and out the window. Try this for a few hours, remembering to keep the room completely quiet.
If you have no luck with this, try to look up the chimney using your torch and get an idea of where in the chimney the bird is. Many chimneys have a ledge a short way up and birds often settle there. They can then usually be reached and removed quite easily. If the bird is further up and cannot be reached then call a wildlife rescue for further assistance.
If the chimney is blocked at the bottom by a fitted fire then the first step will be to get the fire removed. You will need to arrange for this to be done yourself. If it is a gas fire then it will need to be moved by a Gas Safe registered engineer. You should then follow the steps above as for an unblocked chimney.
If the chimney is sealed at the bottom then the only way to help the bird will be to make a hole in your wall! You need to decide if you are willing to have this done and you need to have someone there who will do this. A wildlife rescue will not be able to do this for you. Again once the hole is made follow the advice as for an open chimney.
If the bird is not able to just fly out of the window, you will need to capture it and check it for injuries. If in any doubt about whether it is well enough for immediate release, please contact a wildlife rescue.
Capture, Care and Containment
Any small bird needs to be handled with care. Their bones are very delicate and it would be easy to injure them by handling them roughly. It may help to pick the bird up in a towel – it will ease both the physical and mental stress on the bird. Although a small bird is unlikely to injure you with its beak or talons you’d be surprised quite how hard a bird such as a sparrow can bite!
If you need to pick up a large bird such as a crow or gull, it is advisable to do so using gardening gloves or a thick towel. Larger birds have powerful beaks and can peck really quite hard. Be sure to keep the beak well away from your face to avoid eye injuries.
Many birds shed feathers when stressed – if they lose their tail feathers they cannot fly and these can take months to regrow. They are also very susceptible to stress and some birds can even die from the stress of being handled by humans. Always hold the wings against the body to avoid the bird flapping and make it feel more secure. Many birds feel more comfortable if their feet are supported when possible.
Most small birds can be successfully contained in a cardboard or shoe box. For large birds a carry box designed for cats might be better if the bird is still lively and determined. If using a cardboard box make sure the lid is secured to prevent escape and there are sufficient air holes. A towel on the bottom will make the bird more comfortable. Place the box somewhere warm and quiet and keep children and pets away.
It is not generally necessary or advisable to provide food and water if you are getting the bird to a rescue quickly. Never attempt to force feed water to a bird as it is very easy to drown them and never offer cow’s milk or alcohol.
It is likely that the bird will be shocked or weakened so supplementary heat can be very helpful here. You can 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 the bird begins to pant, remove the heat source immediately.
NB – this advice is designed to cover the first couple of hours. 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.