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Step 1: Assessing if Help is Needed

It’s essential that a wild animal in need of assistance is helped but it’s also very important that wild animals are not plucked from the wild unnecessarily. Finding the right balance can sometimes be difficult and that’s where we hope to help.

 

Search our Advice Articles

We have an extensive library of articles on our website which aim to cover some of the common reasons why a member of the public might think an animal needs help. You can search these articles below or browse them all at helpwidlife.co.uk/advice.

 

 

There are also some general principles you can use as well.

 

Always seek help from a rescue if an animal has

  • a visible wound or growth
  • fly eggs or live maggots on them
  • been or is caught in netting, a trap or snare, or tangled in fishing line/string etc (see this article for more information)
  • been covered with oil or similar substance (more information here)
  • been in the mouth of a cat or dog (more advice here)
  • been hit by a car

 

Rescue help is probably not needed for

  • a healthy looking fledgling (fully feathered) bird on the ground (more information here)
  • adult waterfowl with airplane/angel wing (see this article for more information)
  • baby deer or hares (leverets) without their mother (it’s normal for them to be left alone)
  • a nest of fox cubs, baby hedgehogs or rodents without their mother (Mum won’t spend all her time with the babies)

If you remain unsure or need bespoke advice you can email our helpdesk or there are details of some telephone advice lines at helpwildlife.co.uk/help.

 

Next Steps

If the animal does need help, the next step, if it’s safe to do so, is to capture it. There’s advice on that step here.
If it’s a large or potentially dangerous animal such as a deer, fox, badger, swan or goose, proceed directly to our advice on finding and contacting a wildlife rescue.

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When to Help Waterfowl

Waterfowl refers to birds which live on ponds and lakes such as Swans, Geese, Ducks and their smaller cousins such as Coots and Moorhens. This page covers adult birds. If you need advice on baby water fowl, please see here.

Living on water affords them some protection from natural predators but unfortunately they are commonly affected by fishing line, pollution and dog attacks.

When to Rescue

Birds hit by a car or attacked by a dog
The bird should be treated for shock and properly assessed for injuries.

Any bird with an obvious injury
If you can see a wound, or a wing or leg is visibly damaged, the bird will need help.

Birds with fishing line wrapped round them or in their mouth
There’s some more information on this here.

A domestic duck or goose abandoned in the wild
This is unfortunately common. These can often be distinguished from wild birds by their colouring (wild ducks aren’t usually white) or shape (heavy in the body with small wings meaning they can’t fly). They won’t survive in the wild and need to be rescued.

 

When to take other action

A bird with a deformed wing
This is a relatively common condition where the part of the wing or wings grow at right angles to the body rendering the bird flightless. Whether they should be rescued depends a lot on their age and the environment they live in. There’s more information here.

Birds on an oiled body of water
See here for more details of when to help

A duck nesting in a garden or other unsuitable location
See the advice here

 

When to leave alone

A bird standing on one leg or tucking its leg up on to its body
These are normal postures for waterfowl. Unless you see the bird limping, or the leg has a visible wound, this isn’t a cause for concern.

 

Next Steps

Once you’ve established that an animal needs help, small casualties can be contained and taken to a wildlife rescue. You’ll find detailed advice on catching them, keeping them safe, and getting help from a wildlife rescue at https://helpwildlife.co.uk/advice/practical-advice-for-finders/

However, you should not attempt to capture large birds such as swans and geese yourself. Whilst tales of swans breaking your arm are somewhat exaggerated, these are big, powerful birds who could certainly cause a few bruises and should only be handled by experts. In these cases you should telephone a wildlife rescue and, if possible, wait with the animal until they arrive so that you can provide them with an up to date location.

If you are unsure whether to intervene or you have difficulty finding a rescue who can help, you can contact us via helpwildlife.co.uk/helpdesk and our volunteers will give you advice and support.

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When to Help Owls and Birds of Prey

Birds of Prey refers to birds such as kestrels and hawks as well as owls.

Whilst these pages are primarily concerned with wild animals, it is not uncommon for captive bred birds to fly away from their handlers and become disorientated so we also touch on what to do in that situation.

This page covers adult birds. If you need help with a baby bird of prey or owl, please see here.

When to rescue

If the bird has been caught by a cat or dog
Any bird which has been bitten by a cat, regardless of species, 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. Any bird caught by a dog should be properly assessed for injuries.

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.

A bird has been hit by a car
This is common as they learn to fly. The baby may just be stunned but make sure it’s safe and contact a wildlife rescue for advice.

An adult bird which can be approached
An adult bird of prey should see a human as a threat and try to get away. If it makes no effort to fly off, or is unable to, then it’s in serious trouble.

 

When to take other action

A bird with straps rounds its legs
This is an escaped captive bird. It probably won’t survive in the wild and, if it does, it will have a negative impact on the local ecosystem. Report the sighting to your local falconry centre.

 

Next Steps

Once you’ve established that an animal needs help you’ll ideally get them contained and get them to a wildlife rescue. You’ll find detailed advice on catching them, keeping them safe, and getting help from a wildlife rescue at https://helpwildlife.co.uk/advice/practical-advice-for-finders/

If you are unsure whether to intervene or you have difficulty finding a rescue who can help, you can contact us via helpwildlife.co.uk/helpdesk and our volunteers will give you advice and support.

 

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When to Help Garden Birds

Garden birds refers to the sort of birds you might find visiting your garden e.g. sparrows, starlings, blackbirds, tits, finches, crows, magpies, woodpigeons etc. This article provides advice on when to help adults of these species – for advice on when to help a baby garden bird, please see here.

Garden birds often need help after cat attacks or flying into windows.

When to rescue

Birds caught by a cat or dog
Any bird caught by a predator will need to be checked for injuries and given antibiotics. Bacteria on the cat’s teeth can cause fatal septicaemia if they get into the bloodstream.

Birds hit by a car
They may be lucky and escape major injury but it’s best they go to rescue for treatment for shock at the very least.

Any bird with an obvious injury
Such as a dropped wing, leg injury or obvious wound. The bird will need specialist treatment and rehabilitation.

An adult bird which can be easily approached
All garden birds should naturally be fearful of people. If an adult allows you to get close and cannot or does not try to escape, there is a serious issue and the birds needs help.

A grounded swift
These red-listed birds cannot easily take off from the ground. Sometimes they just need help getting air borne again but it’s best that a rescue checks them over first in case there is a medical reason why they ended up grounded.

A bird with visible growths around its face or legs
The bird may be suffering from trichomoniasis or pox, both of which are fatal without treatment.

 

When to take other action

A bird which has flown into a window
Make sure the bird is safe from cats and other predators and observe. If the bird doesn’t fly away within a few minutes they should be picked up and put into a secure box in a warm, quiet place. Often they just need to rest for a few hours or overnight and can then be released. If there are any obvious injuries or the bird doesn’t recover quickly then do contact a wildlife rescue.

 

When to leave alone

A bird which looks ‘scruffy’ around the head and neck area
Many species moult at the end of the breeding season (late Summer/early Autumn) which can leave them looking pretty tatty. This is normal, though, and nothing to worry about.

 

Next Steps

Once you’ve established that an animal needs help you’ll ideally get them contained and get them to a wildlife rescue. You’ll find detailed advice on catching them, keeping them safe, and getting help from a wildlife rescue at https://helpwildlife.co.uk/advice/practical-advice-for-finders/

If you are unsure whether to intervene or you have difficulty finding a rescue who can help, you can contact us via helpwildlife.co.uk/helpdesk and our volunteers will give you advice and support.

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When to Help Baby Waterfowl

Waterfowl refers to birds which live on ponds and lakes such as Swans, Geese, Ducks and their smaller cousins such as Coots and Moorhens. Common issues with these babies are injuries from fishing line or other litter, being seen on their own or failing to thrive. Be aware that older babies of larger species such as swans and geese can be quite strong so should not be handled by the public. Waterfowl parents can also be very protective so do be cautious when interacting with their young.

 

When to rescue

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. Any bird caught by a dog should be properly assessed for injuries.

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.

A baby is unwell
If a baby is tending to be separate from the rest of the brood, is struggling to swim, looks weak etc then it is likely to be unwell and in need of help.

A bird has been hit by a car
This is common as they learn to fly. The baby may just be stunned but make sure it’s safe and contact a wildlife rescue for advice.

A bird with fishing line or other litter on it
Litter can cause injuries and restrict growth so please contact a rescue immediately if you see waterfowl affected by it.

Birds affected by oil or other pollution

See this article for more information.

 

When to take other action

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.

A duck nesting in an unsuitable location
For example, a garden, hanging basket, on a swimming pool etc. See the advice here.

A bird with ‘airplane’ or ‘angel’ wing
This is a relatively common condition where the part of the wing or wings grow at right angles to the body rendering the bird flightless. Whether they should be rescued depends a lot on their age and the environment they live in. There’s more information here.

An older cygnet being attacked by their parents
Young swans leave home during Autumn and Winter and this usually happens without too much drama. Occasionally, the cygnet will fail to leave because it doesn’t have enough space to take off or it’s weak or unwell. When this happens, the parents can become very aggressive and even kill the youngster. Contact your local wildlife rescue for advice in this situation.

 

When to leave alone

Apparently ’One legged’ birds
Many species of waterfowl commonly tuck one leg up while swimming or standing. This is usually to either warm up a cold foot or to help with cooling on a hot day. It’s nothing to be concerned about as long as they leg has no visible damage.

 

Next Steps

Once you’ve established that an animal needs help you’ll ideally get them contained and get them to a wildlife rescue. You’ll find detailed advice on catching them, keeping them safe, and getting help from a wildlife rescue at https://helpwildlife.co.uk/advice/practical-advice-for-finders

However, you should not attempt to capture older babies of large birds such as swans and geese yourself. Whilst tales of swans breaking your arm are somewhat exaggerated, these are big, powerful birds who could certainly cause a few bruises and should only be handled by experts. In these cases you should telephone a wildlife rescue and, if possible, wait with the animal until they arrive so that you can provide them with an up to date location.

If you are unsure whether to intervene or you have difficulty finding a rescue who can help, you can contact us via helpwildlife.co.uk/helpdesk and our volunteers will give you advice and support.

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When to Help Baby Gulls

Naturally cliff nesting birds, gulls have adapted to nest on roofs inland to take advantage of available food. They begin nesting in May and aren’t great nest builders so it’s not at all uncommon for their babies to fall off roofs and end up on the ground. Although they may need some assistance, in most instances it’s possible to help without calling on an already stretched wildlife rescue.

When to rescue

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. Any bird caught by a dog should be properly assessed for injuries.

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.

A bird has flown into a window or been hit by a car
This is common as they learn to fly. The baby may just be stunned but make sure it’s safe and contact a wildlife rescue for advice.

 

When to take other action

A fluffy or partially feathered baby on the ground
These babies are at risk and should be placed back in the nest or as close to it as possible e.g. on a nearby house or garage roof. Take care to place them as close to their original nest site as possible and not near to neighbouring gulls’ nests or they may get attacked. Contact a rescue for advice if needed but please make every effort to get the baby back to the nest yourself if possible – most rescues don’t have long ladders. Ask neighbours or on your local Facebook group to source a ladder or sometimes the fire brigade will be willing to help if they’re not otherwise busy.

 

When to leave alone

A healthy fledgling on the ground
A fledgling is a baby with all the long flight feathers on their wings. At rest, the tips of their wings should meet just above their tail. Like most birds, gulls leave the nest before they’re fully able to fly. It’s common for them to spend time building strength in their wings from the ground and this may take up to about a week. Unless they are injured or in immediate danger, they are best left alone. If in danger, try first to just move them to a nearby safer location.

A baby gull is crying, and the parents don’t seem to be feeding it
It is normal for baby gulls to call to their parents. Gulls also feed their young much less often than many other species at only a handful of times a day. As long as the baby is uninjured and off the ground (or a fledgling) and the parents are in the area, this isn’t a cause for concern.

The gulls are a nuisance
Nesting gulls can cause some issues as they become quite protective of their nest areas. However, gulls and their nests are protected by law and removing the eggs or babies or interfering with the nest just because they are unwanted is illegal. The issue should only last a few weeks and using an umbrella to protect yourself from swooping parents can help protect you.

 

Next Steps

Once you’ve established that an animal needs help you’ll ideally get them contained and get them to a wildlife rescue. You’ll find detailed advice on catching them, keeping them safe, and getting help from a wildlife rescue at https://helpwildlife.co.uk/advice/practical-advice-for-finders/

If you are unsure whether to intervene or you have difficulty finding a rescue who can help, you can contact us via helpwildlife.co.uk/helpdesk and our volunteers will give you advice and support.

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When to Help Baby Feral Pigeons

When considering whether to help a baby pigeon, the advice for young Stock Doves, Collared Doves and Woodpigeons is broadly the same for other garden birds (see here). However, feral pigeons are, by nature, cliff nesting birds so their habits and behaviours are quite different.

It’s also worth clarifying that, contrary to popular belief, pigeons are not ‘classed as vermin’ and there are no legal issues preventing you from helping them. They also have broadly similar legal protection to other birds meaning it’s an offence to disturb their nests or to cause or fail to prevent their suffering.

Baby pigeons can, broadly, be grouped into three different stages of development. Hatchlings are covered in yellow fluff with maybe a bit of ‘stubble’ where feathers are starting to grow. Nestlings will be partially or even mostly feathered but will have a short tail and may have some yellow fluff remaining around their head and neck. Fledgling pigeons will look largely the same as adults with the main difference being the lack of iridescent feathers on their neck.

Hatchling Nestling Fledgling

When to rescue

If the bird has been caught by a cat
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.

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.

A hatchling or nestling feral pigeon on the ground and you can’t find the nest
The parents will only feed the baby if it is in the original nest. Unlike most other species, they will not find and continue to care for it if you place it in a bush or tree. If you can’t return them to the original nest, the baby will need to be rescued.

A calcium deficient collared dove

A young collared dove with weak legs and/or sheathed feathers
Collared doves aren’t native to the UK. They naturally breed all year round but babies hatched in autumn and winter don’t get enough vitamin D to process calcium, leading to a calcium deficiency which manifests itself as a rickets-like problem with the legs and poorly developed feathers. These babies will not survive without help.

Both parents have been killed
Depending on the age of the babies, a single parent may cope with raising them alone. But if both parents are dead, they will certainly need to be rescued.

A woodpigeon with growths on its feet and round its beak
Young woodpigeons are particularly prone to suffering with a bird pox virus which causes round growths to appear on their face, legs and feet. Although there is no treatment, supportive care can help them through it.

 

When to take other action

A hatchling or nestling out of its nest which can be accessed
If you find a healthy, uninjured baby pigeon out of the nest and you can see and get to the nest, you can return it there for the parents to care for. Don’t worry, they won’t be upset by you handling the baby. Observe to make sure the parents return and continue caring for the baby.

 

When to leave alone

A well-looking fledgling out of the nest
As long as the baby is bright, active, runs away from you and attempts to fly when needed, they can be left alone.

An apparently abandoned nest of baby pigeons
Once the babies get to about a week old and start to grow feathers, they no longer need to be ‘brooded’ by the parents to stay warm. Pigeons only feed their babies 4-6 times a day so you won’t see them flitting back and forth frequently as you would many other species. Both parents are involved in raising the babies and both can feed them so it would be very unusual for them to be totally abandoned.

 

Next Steps

Once you’ve established that an animal needs help you’ll ideally get them contained and get them to a wildlife rescue. You’ll find detailed advice on catching them, keeping them safe, and getting help from a wildlife rescue at https://helpwildlife.co.uk/advice/practical-advice-for-finders

If you are unsure whether to intervene or you have difficulty finding a rescue who can help, you can contact us via helpwildlife.co.uk/helpdesk and our volunteers will give you advice and support.

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When to Help Baby Garden Birds

By garden birds we mean the birds most commonly found in your garden such as Sparrows, Blackbirds, Starlings, Tits, Robins etc, including corvids such as Crows, Magpies and Jays, as well as Woodpigeons and Collared Doves.

Although often seen in the garden, the nesting habits of feral pigeons are different as they were originally coast/cliff nesting birds. See this post for advice if the baby is a feral pigeon.

 

What are the issues?

Babies of the species discussed here leave the nest before they can fly so rescues receive very high numbers of calls about them every year. Most don’t need rescuing but there are important exceptions to this rule.

 

When to rescue

Bird has been caught by a cat or dog
Any bird caught by a predator will need to be checked for injuries and given antibiotics. Bacteria on the cat’s teeth can cause fatal septicaemia if they get into the bloodstream.

Any bird with an obvious injury
Such as a dropped wing, leg injury or obvious wound. The bird will need specialist treatment and rehabilitation.

Both parents have been killed
If you know for sure that both parents are dead, the babies will need to be rescued. Some species will survive with one parent – contact a rescue for advice in this situation.

 

When to take other action

A hatchling starling. Hatchlings are bald or have little feathering and will be unable to stand up.

A hatchling out of the nest
A baby this young will not survive long out of the nest. They will either be taken by a predator or die of cold as they need to be brooded by a parent to keep warm. If at all possible, the baby should be returned to the nest. If this is not possible, making a makeshift nest and placing it in the same tree/bush might also work but do keep a close eye on the situation to check if the parents return to the baby. If the baby feels cold to the touch, it would be best to warm them in your hands or on a warm hot water bottle before putting them back outside and watching from a safe distance (ideally indoors). If the parents do not return to the baby within about an hour, contact a rescue for further advice.

A nestling out of the nest

A nestling blackbird. Nestlings are mostly feathered but with very little tail and their posture is ‘squat’.

These babies should be returned to the nest if at all possible. If not, making a makeshift nest and placing it in the same tree/bush might also work but do keep a close eye on the situation to check if the parents return to the baby. If the parents do not return to the baby within about an hour, contact a rescue for further advice.

 

The nest has been destroyed
If the nest of some fledgling birds is destroyed the babies can likely be left alone, just keep an eye on them and move them up into a bush or tree if needed. If the babies are at hatchling or nestling stage making a makeshift nest and placing it in the same tree/bush might work but do keep a close eye on the situation to check if the parents return to the new nest. If the parents do not return to the baby within about an hour, contact a rescue for further advice.

A fledgling blackbird. Fledglings will be fully feathered and have some tail, though perhaps not full length. Their wing feathers will reach to their tail.

A fledgling in danger from a cat, cars or any other threat
Hatchlings and nestlings should be returned to the nest as detailed above. Rescues get many calls each year about fledglings who the caller is worried may be caught by a cat. It isn’t practical, legal or ethical to take in young birds just in case they get harmed. In this situation, keep cats indoors (and ask your neighbours to do the same) and place the baby somewhere safe such as a bush or low tree branch. Leaving the nest before they can fly is normal and they should have mastered flying within a few days. There’s more on this here.

 

When to leave alone

A fledgling bird which is not injured and not in immediate danger
As mentioned above, leaving the nest before they can fly is normal for these species and they should have mastered flying within a few days. Just keep pets indoors as much as possible and let the baby get used to using their wings. There’s more on this here.

 

Next Steps

Once you’ve established that an animal needs help you’ll ideally get them contained and get them to a wildlife rescue. You’ll find detailed advice on catching them, keeping them safe, and getting help from a wildlife rescue at https://helpwildlife.co.uk/advice/practical-advice-for-finders/

If you are unsure whether to intervene or you have difficulty finding a rescue who can help, you can contact us via helpwildlife.co.uk/helpdesk and our volunteers will give you advice and support.

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When to Help Baby Birds of Prey and Owls

This page covers babies of species such as kestrels, sparrowhawks and owls.

When dealing with baby owls in particular, it’s important to be sure of the species. If you’re unsure what species you’ve found this information from the Barn Owl Trust is very helpful. If in doubt as to whether to intervene, retreat to a safe distance and call a rescue for advice.

You should also be aware that even baby owls and birds of prey have dangerous talons so always use gloves or a towel to handle them.

When to rescue

If the bird has been caught by a cat or dog
Any bird which has been bitten by a cat, regardless of its age or species, 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. Any bird caught by a dog should be properly assessed for injuries.

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.

A bird has been hit by a car
This is common as they learn to fly. The baby may just be stunned but make sure it’s safe and contact a wildlife rescue for advice.

When to take other action

A barn owl chick out of the nest
Baby barn owls need to be returned to the nest or the parents won’t feed it. Place the baby back in the nest if you can but contact a rescue if you cannot find the nest or you need help.

A Little Owl chick out of the nest
Ideally, they should be returned to the nest which should contain other babies. But their nests can be hard to spot so contact a rescue for help if in doubt.

When to leave alone

A fledgling bird out of the nest
If the chick is largely feathered it is probably just taking its first few practice flights. Only intervene if in immediate danger and then try to simply place it in a safe place. It’s fine to handle the baby to move it to safety, this won’t cause the parents to reject them.

A tawny owl chick at the bottom of a tree
It is normal for tawny babies to leave the nest before they can fly. If the baby is in danger, you can place it on a tree branch so it’s out of harm’s way. It is not necessary to return them to the nest. If the baby is unresponsive or laying on its side, it may be hurt or unwell – seek advice from a rescue.

 

Next Steps

Once you’ve established that an animal needs help you’ll ideally get them contained and get them to a wildlife rescue. You’ll find detailed advice on catching them, keeping them safe, and getting help from a wildlife rescue at https://helpwildlife.co.uk/advice/practical-advice-for-finders/

If you are unsure whether to intervene or you have difficulty finding a rescue who can help, you can contact us via helpwildlife.co.uk/helpdesk and our volunteers will give you advice and support.

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Animals Hit by a Car

Hundreds of thousands of wild birds and animals are killed and injured on Britain’s roads every year. The really sad thing is that so many are left to die a slow death as they are repeatedly run over when many could be saved with proper help.

Our articles often talk about whether or not you should intervene – in the case of an animal hit by a car, you should always contact a rescue to at least get the victim checked over.

Small animals should be contained and taken to a rescue ASAP. Larger animals such as foxes, badgers, swans and deer are potentially dangerous when scared or injured and require expert handling. Please do not attempt to capture or contain them. If a large animal is in the road, you may wish to call the police, as they will sometimes attend in this scenario to ease disruption and the safety risk to traffic. If the animal leaves the scene, try to see where it goes so you can direct the rescue to them when they arrive.

The most important thing you can do here (apart from calling a rescuer urgently), is minimise the casualty’s stress. If the casualty is not moving and it is safe to do so you can approach carefully and put a coat or blanket over its head. This will help to stop the casualty becoming too stressed. Some animals, especially deer, in these situations will freeze and lay still, making no attempt to get away. This does not mean they are tame – please keep your distance and never try to ‘comfort’ them; you will only be making them more stressed.

 

Finding Help

You’ll find detailed advice on next steps at https://helpwildlife.co.uk/advice/practical-advice-for-finders/

If you are unsure whether to intervene or you have difficulty finding a rescue who can help, you can contact us via helpwildlife.co.uk/helpdesk and our volunteers will give you advice and support.

 

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Reuniting Baby Squirrels

It’s important to know that it is now illegal to release Grey Squirrels into the wild or to care for them without a license. For this reason, rescue places are extremely limited so every effort should be made to leave uninjured squirrels in the wild. Where help is needed, it’s vital to find a rescue still able to help squirrels. Unlicensed organisations such as vets, R/SSPCA, and any unlicensed wildlife rescues are legally obliged to put any Grey Squirrels brought to them to sleep.

Squirrels breed twice a year, once in March/April and again August/September. At these times it’s common for babies to be found out of the nest. This can happen for various reasons such as

• cat or other predator attack
• being dropped when Mum was moving them between nests
• high winds or poorly secured nest
• nest destroyed by tree work
• older babies may wander from the nest if they get hungry or fall while playing/exploring

 

If the baby is sick or injured

If the baby squirrel has been caught by a cat or has any visible wounds it will need help from a wildlife rescue. The same is true if the baby is noticeably thin, weak or dehydrated or has fly eggs (which look like yellow grains of rice) on its body. In these cases please contact us via helpwildlife.co.uk/helpdesk and our volunteers will help you to find a rescue able to care for squirrels.

 

If the baby is healthy and uninjured

It is always important not to take baby animals from the wild unless necessary but, with Grey Squirrels, this is extra important due to their legal status which means rescue spaces are very limited. Every effort must be made to reunite the baby with the mother. Squirrels are excellent parents and usually have a backup nest on standby. A Mum separated from her babies will usually return and move them to the other nest given time to do so.

Start by preparing a small cardboard box or basket. The box should be top (not front) opening and not too tall or the mother will be reluctant to fetch the baby from it. If needs be cut the sides down so it’s just tall enough to contain the baby.

Fill a hot water bottle, wrap it in a towel and place it in the box. Put the baby in on top of the wrapped hot water bottle. If you don’t have a hot water bottle you can also soak a washcloth in hot water and put this in a sealed ziploc bag. Add some natural materials to the box such as leaves, twigs, grass etc for baby to burrow in and to help counteract the human smell of the towel and bottle. Mum may be reluctant to come to the box or take the baby if there’s too much human scent around.

Place the box as close to where the nest is or you suspect it to be as possible. Ideally, suspending the box from a low tree branch or affixing it a little way up the trunk will help to keep baby safe from cats and other predators.

Leave the area so Mum feels safe to return but keep watch from a distance so you can intervene if there’s a problem such as the baby leaving the box or a predator threatening them. It can help to play baby squirrel distress noises to attract Mum back to the area. There are plenty of videos of this on Youtube – there’s a good one at https://youtu.be/rxr53i2lI8s. We suggest playing this every half an hour or so (more often may attract the attention of predators).

Wait until it’s dark to see if Mum returns. If it’s dark, nearly dark or raining heavily when you find the baby, take them indoors, keep them warm (refreshing the hot water bottle as needed), and try to reunite them in the morning/when the rain stops. Allow at least four hours of daylight for Mum to return and then, if there’s no sign of her, get in touch and we’ll help you to find a suitable rescue.

NB: Please do not try to feed the baby. They need a specialist formula and should never be given cow’s milk. Inexpert feeding can be fatal.

 

Finding Help

Should rescue help be needed, you’ll find detailed advice on keeping them safe and getting help from a wildlife rescue at https://helpwildlife.co.uk/advice/practical-advice-for-finders/

If you are unsure whether to intervene or you have difficulty finding a rescue who can help, you can contact us via helpwildlife.co.uk/helpdesk and our volunteers will give you advice and support.

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When to Help Squirrels

As you are likely aware, there are two species of squirrel living in the UK – the native Red Squirrel and the introduced Grey. The advice below primarily relates to Grey Squirrels as this is by far the more likely species you will encounter.

Grey Squirrels are sometimes considered vermin but we believe that every animal has the same right to help when needed. Unfortunately, there are legal complications surrounding Grey Squirrels which mean it is illegal to help them without a license. As a result many organisations are forced to euthanase any Grey Squirrel casualty. If you need help with a Grey Squirrel, please get in touch for assistance with finding a rescue which is able to help them.

You also need to be aware that squirrels can give a very bad bite when scared so need to be handled with extreme caution.

 

When to rescue

A squirrel caught by a cat
The squirrel must receive antibiotic treatment within a few hours or the bacteria on the cats teeth may cause them to develop fatal septicaemia.

A squirrel caught by a dog or hit by a car
The squirrel must be assessed for injuries and treated for shock.

A squirrel with a serious injury
Given the legal situation, a mild injury such as a skin wound or sprain may be best left to heal in the wild. But if the squirrel has a major injury such as a broken limb or damaged eye, they will are likely to need help.

 

When to take other action

A baby squirrel out of the nest
It is normal for squirrel mothers to spend the day away from the babies and sometimes the youngsters will get bored and hungry and go for a wander. Mum will usually round them up when she returns. You can read our guide to reuniting them with Mum here.

A squirrel with bald patches and/or minor skin wounds
Like foxes, squirrels can suffer with sarcoptic mange which causes itching, leading to loss of fur and, in advanced cases, skin damage. This can be treated with a remedy added to their food. This article contains sources of the treatment (listed as a fox mange remedy but it works for squirrels too).

 

When to leave alone

An adult or juvenile squirrel approaching people for food
This is quite common, especially in parks where they are used to being fed by people. The squirrel may even climb up your leg. This it is nothing to worry about as long as the squirrel appears healthy, although it shouldn’t be encouraged.

A squirrel which appears ‘frozen’ or is making a squawking noise
Often when spooked, squirrels will climb up high and stay there for many hours until they feel safe. Usually they will come down at dusk. Intervening here is likely to do more harm than good by scaring the squirrel into jumping from a height.

 

Next Steps

Once you’ve established that an animal needs help you’ll ideally get them contained and get them to a wildlife rescue. You’ll find detailed advice on catching them, keeping them safe, and getting help from a wildlife rescue at https://helpwildlife.co.uk/advice/practical-advice-for-finders/

If you are unsure whether to intervene or you have difficulty finding a rescue who can help, you can contact us via helpwildlife.co.uk/helpdesk and our volunteers will give you advice and support.

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When to Help Rodents

Rats and mice are often referred to as vermin but in our view all wild animals have an equal right to help when things go wrong. It’s important to note, there are no legal obstacles to rescuing and rehabilitating these animals, though not every rescue will be willing to treat them.

Rodents most often need help when attacked by cats or when their nests are disturbed, for example during gardening work.

 

When to rescue

Any animal caught by a cat
They must receive antibiotic treatment within a few hours or the bacteria on the cats teeth may cause fatal septicaemia.

An animal that can be easily approached
These are naturally very wary animals so if they cannot or do not try to run away they’re in trouble.

An animal with an obvious injury
An animal of any age with a visible wound or injury such as a damaged limb will need help.

 

When to take other action

A lone baby with their eyes closed outside of the nest
This is a dangerous situation for the baby but it may be that Mum has dropped them while moving nests. Observe from a distance (ideally indoors) for an hour and contact a rescue for help if Mum doesn’t return.

A lone juvenile caught in wet weather

We get many enquiries about young mice after heavy rain. They’re often found damp and huddled near to homes. Usually, just bringing them inside and getting them warm and dry until the rain passes is all they need. See here for more detailed care advice. Once fully alert you can offer some fruit for energy. If they’re not fully recovered and bouncing about after a few hours, they’ll need help from a rescue.

A nest of babies with no Mum
Mothers often spend time away from their young and will flee if the nest is disturbed. Cover the nest with natural materials such as leaves or grass and leave the area so Mum feels safe to return. Contact a wildlife rescue for advice if there is no sign of an adult after several hours or if you find a group of babies outside of a nest.

 

Next Steps

Once you’ve established that an animal needs help you’ll ideally get them contained and get them to a wildlife rescue. You’ll find detailed advice on catching them, keeping them safe, and getting help from a wildlife rescue at https://helpwildlife.co.uk/advice/practical-advice-for-finders/

If you are unsure whether to intervene or you have difficulty finding a rescue who can help, you can contact us via helpwildlife.co.uk/helpdesk and our volunteers will give you advice and support.

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When to Help Otters

Our thanks to the International Otter Survival Fund for contributing the advice below.

It is important when you first come across an otter that you believe to be in distress or injured that you do not immediately approach it. For otter cubs, you need to consider a number of factors before you intervene. However, if an otter cub is in obvious danger it should be removed e.g. by the side of a road.

 

When to rescue

If an otter is caught by a pet
The otter will be need to be assessed for injuries

If an otter is hit by a car
The otter will be need to be assessed for concussion, shock or other injuries

An otter with an obvious injury
Any animal with an obvious injury will need assistance

An otter in a snare
If you encounter an otter in a snare be very cautious. You will need professional assistance to release the otter and it will then need to be treated for any injuries. Take a full record of the date, time and place as this will need to be notified to the Police Wildlife Liaison Officer. If possible take a photo.

A mother of cubs has been killed
Call for assistance immediately

 

When to take other action

Otters approaching people/houses
If an adult otter appears in an area of human habitation, observe the animal until it settles in a safe area. Juveniles will sometimes appear in odd places, e.g. a garage. In both cases you need to call relevant authorities/organisations but do not touch the animal. Leave a bowl of water near to the animal and try to make sure it cannot escape.

 

When to leave alone

An otter cub on its own
Mother otters often leave cubs to go fishing for food or she may be moving them from the natal holt. So just because a cub is on its own doesn’t necessarily mean it needs help. If you see a cub, do not intervene unless it is in immediate danger. Instead observe for a period of time – it is important not to approach cubs as human scent will detract the mother from returning to her young. Before intervening contact relevant authorities/organisations for advice.

 

Next Steps

Never attempt to pick up an otter, especially an adult. Adult otters can be extremely aggressive and cause serious harm to an individual. If an adult otter appears to be injured approach to a safe distance before assessing any injuries. An otter which appears unconscious can suddenly come to, so be very careful. If the otter attempts to move away with serious injuries observe where it goes.

For otter cubs, interaction should be determined by other factors but if it is in obvious danger it should be removed carefully from potential harm e.g. by the side of a road. Approach cubs with care as even when small they can bite.

For both cubs and adults, we would advise contacting otter rescue centres before approaching the animal unless absolutely necessary.

You can call the International Otter Survival Fund (01471 822 487) for help and advice at any time. IOSF can also direct you to other centres around the country who can help.

You’ll also find detailed advice on getting help from a wildlife rescue at https://helpwildlife.co.uk/advice/practical-advice-for-finders/

If you are unsure whether to intervene or you have difficulty finding a rescue who can help, you can contact us via helpwildlife.co.uk/helpdesk and our volunteers will give you advice and support.

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The Ethics of Pigeon Racing

If you have found a lost racing pigeon please read our article here first.

Working in wildlife rescue has brought scores of lost, emaciated, dehydrated and injured racing pigeons to our care and led us to question the ethics of this “sport”. Pigeon fanciers have a public image as a gentle, cuddly granddad with a deep love for his birds. But wildlife rescuers often see a darker side. The majority of calls to fanciers about their lost birds result either with being told to just leave it to find its way home, or an admission that the bird is no longer useful and they would just “neck it” if returned. Many of the birds handed in to rescues are surprisingly tame with little of the survival instincts of their wild cousins leading us to question whether releasing them for races is really much different than releasing an unwanted pet budgie into the wild. One might assume that losses are fairly isolated incidents but research has consistently shown that the average loft will lose as much as 60% of its occupants each year! What’s worse is that rather than take responsibility for these losses, many pigeon racers blame indigenous predatory birds or even wild pigeons (for tempting their birds away!) and call for culls of raptors, corvids and feral pigeons. So pigeon racing affects not just the racing pigeons themselves, but many other birds too.

‘Daisy’ a young racer attacked by a predator. She was so traumatised, she wouldn’t eat and hardly moved for several days

The life of a racing pigeon

It’s likely that racing pigeons are quite well cared for whilst they are racing or breeding. A bird which is not healthy and well fed won’t perform well in a race. Our concern though is what happens to the birds once they are too old to race or breed or if they fail? It only takes a brief search of the internet to reveal many reports of people contacting pigeon owners only to be told that the bird will be culled as it’s no longer of use. Look at the pigeon racing forums themselves and you’ll find many references to birds being “binned” because of a failure to perform. It’s clear from reading these forums that culling unproductive birds is extremely common place and fanciers are encouraged not to talk about it in public. Logically, without culling, either directly or indirectly through birds lost in races, lofts would soon be filled with older, slower birds since pigeons can live into their teens. It’s hard to see how a fancier could remain competitive without disposing of older or less productive birds in some way.

‘Ariana’ was attacked and played with by two cats, suffering multiple puncture wounds and a shoulder injury

The races

Following pressure from pigeon racers to take action on alleged predation by raptors on racing pigeons, Scottish National Heritage conducted a review of research into this topic. You can read the full report here

They found that, on average in Scotland, 56% of the loft population is lost each year either at the loft, in training or during races. They looked at the results of a survey of members of the Scottish Homing Union (SHU) and found that, by their own admission, members lost 33,043 birds during training flights and 34,685 during races. The figures for losses amounted to an average of 40 birds per loft per year. According to the Royal Pigeon Racing Association (RPRA) there are 60,000 pigeon fanciers in the UK. If we apply the figures from the Scottish studies, this would suggest that UK fanciers lose around 2.4 million birds per year! The sheer volume of suffering caused by this sport is hard to even comprehend!

The outlook for these missing birds is grim. One of the studies reviewed by SNH indicated that a major contributory factor to losses during races was weakness due to the conditions imposed on pigeons during transport to liberation points. Lack of drinking water, or the opportunity to utilise it, and overcrowding in poorly ventilated transporters, caused birds to dehydrate and overheat. This then meant they were weakened and more likely to die on the race route.

‘Beau’ suffered an unknown trauma while racing which led to the loss of his eye

One study, which looked at the condition of lost racing pigeons handed into wildlife hospitals, found that the majority of these birds were very underweight, averaging 315g compared to an average weight amongst healthy birds of 425g. So that’s a potential loss of more than a quarter of their body weight!

Imagine the amount of physical trauma which would cause these birds to lose a quarter of their body weight. That’s like the average human losing three stone, something which would usually take months. Yet these stray birds lose that amount in a matter of days due to the extreme physical exertion and subsequent starvation.

Some lucky lost birds might get picked up by someone who contacts their owner using the contact details on the bird’s ring or wing stamp. Most of the pigeon fancier unions have a code of practice requiring their members to take responsibility for their lost birds. But this only really requires them to arrange for it to be collected from the finder and/or culled. Indeed the RPRA handbook states “If a finder is employed as, or carries out the business of, a pest controller, the owner shall have the right to request the finder to dispose of the bird or birds in the same manner as he deals with feral pigeons which come into his possession”. Our experience is that birds who have not found their own way home are rarely valued by their owners.

Raptor persecution

The wing of this bird, ‘Polly’, was partially missing on admission. It’s believed she was shot at by a landowner who objected to her hanging around.

The studies reviewed by SNH suggested sparrowhawks were implicated in the loss of about 0.7% of the Scottish racing pigeon population. Estimating the numbers taken by sparrowhawks was made simpler by the fact that sparrowhawks tend to take birds from around the lofts. As peregrine falcons tend to take birds during races, it was harder to reach an accurate estimate of their impact. The studies did find that around 60-70% of the racing pigeons predated by peregrines were birds that were already feral, or had strayed significantly from their flight routes. Around 36% were “race-feral” birds – those which had been absent for over a year – and, they concluded, do not represent a direct loss to the fancier.

The Raptor Working Group found that only around 7.5% of racing pigeon losses could be attributed to raptors and that straying and collisions accounted for substantially more losses each year.

‘Donnie’ was attacked by a predator and suffered extensive neck injuries

SNH concluded that sparrowhawks were a concern for individual loft-owners rather than a regional or national problem and that mitigation measures should be directed at the level of the loft rather than at a regional or national scale. They found no justification for a cull of sparrowhawks yet this is still sought by many pigeon fanciers.

Some fanciers are willing to break the law and take direction action against birds of prey. A quick google will show many cases of pigeon fanciers being prosecuted from illegal persecution of birds of prey.

Of course, the response will be that these are an isolated few. But a desire to see birds of prey culled is certainly not isolated in the pigeon fancy. Whether it’s their own birds or wild birds, there are plenty of pigeon fanciers who think it’s fine for birds to die for their hobby.

The fancier’s view below, sent to us by email, spelling and grammar is as received! The reference to police is because this charming chap threatened us with violence because he disagreed with our views on his sport –

Your just like the politicians that run our country, any excuse to keep your preditures, I will not be silenced by yourself and the threat of Police, so get stuffed, your a do gooder and thats whats spoiling our countryside, everything needs to be in perfect order to make things work. Im telling you and your so called do gooders there too many RAPTURES killing the song birds, not just racing pigeons, and one day they will be a reconing. I like wild life, but it need managing to make things balance, but youi people think you know everything, you dont. Still disgusted with your views.

‘Norman’, attacked possibly by crows and sustaining severe head injuries. Sadly, he had to be euthanised to prevent further suffering.

We do not deny that birds of prey will take and eat racing pigeons, of course they will. Rock Doves, the wild descendants of domestic pigeons, make up a fair part of the natural diet of some of our raptor species. But scientific study has shown that raptor predation accounts for far fewer losses than other factors. We believe that calling for native wildlife to be culled in order to protect a hobby practised by a very small minority of people is utterly unjustified and unreasonable. To be blunt, if pigeon fanciers wish to see lower numbers of birds of prey, they should consider not sending them so many easy meals!

Just to clarify – when we talk about the persecution of raptors by pigeon fanciers, we are sometimes accused of being falconers or RSPB members (the implication being, I assume, that we are concerned only with the conservation of “exciting” species and predators). Helpwildlife.co.uk is devoted to the care of ALL wildlife and values the life of all wild birds and animals from mice to eagles, regardless of their numbers, appearance, or any other factor. Indeed, if this author had to choose they’d say pigeons were their favourite species of bird. Our criticism of pigeon racing is not about politics or any other species, it is purely down to a concern for the welfare of the pigeons themselves.

Undoubtedly there are fanciers who care for their birds or believe that they do. But however well cared for, however “loved”, our view is that releasing a tame, dependent bird into the wild to face predators, shooters, power lines, cars, poor weather and just plain exhaustion in the full knowledge that the odds are against the bird returning home safely, is cruel!

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Helping Stray Racing Pigeons

Although not actually wildlife, lost racing pigeons are the cause of thousands of calls to wildlife rescues each year, so an issue which needs to be covered here. After years of picking up the pieces we are not a fans of the “sport” of racing pigeons. Essentially it involves releasing domesticated animals into the wild and taking a gamble on whether they can survive long enough to make it home.

If you wish to read more on our experiences and thoughts on pigeon racing you can do so here, but otherwise read on for advice on what to do if you find a lost one.

 

When to rescue

If the bird has been caught by a cat or dog
Any bird which has been bitten by a cat, regardless of its age or species, 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. Any bird caught by a dog should be properly assessed for injuries.

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 is unlikely with an injury unless the bird receives treatment.

A bird has been hit by a car
The bird may just be stunned but it should be checked by a vet or rescue for injuries.

A ringed bird is acting ‘tame’ and not avoiding people
If the bird is in danger or behaving tame, it will need immediate rescue. Often the birds are sufficiently exhausted and/or tame to be captured quite easily.

 

When to take other action

If the bird is on its own but still flying
If the bird is on its own but still loose and able to fly, it may be that the best you can do is provide food and water for a few days and hope that the bird recovers sufficient strength to continue its journey. If the bird doesn’t fly away, looks unwell or injured or is in danger, then it will need to be rescued.

 

When to leave alone

A ringed bird which is integrated into a wild flock
If you happen to see a ringed bird as part of a wild flock, and the bird appears fully integrated into the flock, looks in good condition and isn’t injured or unwell, you can leave well enough alone. Some racing pigeons are lucky and sensible enough to join a wild flock and, in this scenario, they learn wild behaviour from the flock and usually go on to have a normal wild life.

 

What next?

Your options are as follows

1) Provide the bird with a few days bed and board and then release it to find its way home

We would advise against this not least because there may be a good reason why the bird has failed to find its way home, such as a health issue or simply a lack of fitness which has not been rectified by a short rest. Releasing an unfit bird could be a breach of the Animal Welfare Act. The bird could have a long journey home and will have to evade predators, power lines, poor weather etc en route. Even under ideal circumstances many racing pigeons don’t make it home and these would be far from ideal circumstances, not least because the bird won’t have its flock of loft mates flying alongside as it would in a race.

2) Contact the birds “owner”

You may find that their details are stamped on the underside of the wing. If not, take note of the numbers on the ring on the bird’s leg and you will then be able to report the bird to the relevant pigeon racing group. They usually say they will contact you back within 48 hours, not including weekends, so you’ll need to be prepared to feed and house the bird in the meantime. However, we strongly advise that, on speaking to the owner, you check what will happen to the bird on its return. Our experience is that the usual response from the owner is that they do not want the bird and it will be culled as it has failed. You may be asked to let the bird go after a few days rest to find its own way home. We would advise against this for the reasons given above. We recommend that you insist the owner either pays for a courier or collects the bird in person, both to ensure the bird arrives safely and because this is a good way to ensure the owner really does want the bird back and won’t simply wring its neck.

3) Seek sanctuary for the bird

You may, like us, feel that pigeon racing is a cruel past time and feel reluctant to return the bird to a place where it will again be released to potentially become lost, exhausted or injured again, or perhaps worse. Our article on the ethics of pigeon racing here explains our objections to the sport. Perhaps after being advised that the bird will be culled, you may decide not to return the bird to its owner or gain permission from them to rehome it. You can then either seek permanent sanctuary for the bird with an animal rescue or seek a wildlife rescue that will rehabilitate the bird so that it can join the wild flocks. This takes time – it is not simply a case of releasing them so please do not just let the bird go. But some racing pigeons can regain their wild instincts with expert intervention. Not all wildlife rescues wish to get involved to this degree or have the facilities to do so, so you may need to ring round a bit. Sometimes domestic animal charities, especially those with facilities for pet birds, are the best bet for somewhere which can offer permanent sanctuary.

 

Finding Help

You’ll find detailed advice on catching them, keeping them safe, and getting help from a wildlife rescue at https://helpwildlife.co.uk/advice/practical-advice-for-finders/

If you are unsure whether to intervene or you have difficulty finding a rescue who can help, you can contact us via helpwildlife.co.uk/helpdesk and our volunteers will give you advice and support.

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Oiled Birds

We’ve all seen the images of sea birds covered in oil following shipping disasters. But this a potential hazard facing birds further in land as well.

From time to time rivers and lakes can also be affected by pollution. This isn’t always cause for concern. There is a phenomena known as “urban run off” which occurs after heavy rainfall. Essentially, the rain washes the oil from the roads down the drains and into rivers. The water then gets the tell tale light reflecting film on it and looks like it is severely polluted. In fact this level of contamination is unlikely to cause the birds any real harm.

 

When to Intervene

In the following circumstances please notify both a local wildlife rescue and the Environment Agency

  • There’s a strong smell of oil or other chemicals coming from the water
  • You can see oil on the birds’ plumage
  • The bird’s look waterlogged or are sitting low in the water
  • The bird’s look generally unwell

Next Steps

Do not attempt to capture large birds such as swans and geese yourself. Whilst tales of swans breaking your arm are somewhat exaggerated these are big, powerful birds who could certainly cause a few bruises and should only be handled by experts.

You’ll find detailed advice on getting help from a wildlife rescue at https://helpwildlife.co.uk/advice/practical-advice-for-finders/

If you are unsure whether to intervene or you have difficulty finding a rescue who can help, you can contact us via helpwildlife.co.uk/helpdesk and our volunteers will give you advice and support.

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Birds with Broken Wings

This is a difficult and emotive subject and often the topic of much debate. Some believe a broken wing can never be fixed and that a bird which cannot fly will automatically be miserable. Others that any disabled bird should be given the chance of life in a sanctuary. It’s a tricky situation and we aim to present an objective view of this debate here.

Is the wing actually broken?

First of all, it is worth mentioning that many calls about birds start with the finder expressing their belief that the bird has a broken wing. Often the only ‘evidence’ that this is the case is that the bird cannot (or will not) fly. In fact, birds fail to fly for many reasons and any general illness can make flight difficult, just as having the flu might stop you going for a jog! A broken wing will usually be hanging down in an unusual position and the bird may have little ability to move it at all. If the wings are held in a normal position, there may well be another reason for the lack of flight.

Regardless, any adult bird which cannot or does not fly is usually in need of help from a rescue.

If the wing is broken

Depending on the type of break, the actual bone involved, the species of bird and the quality of treatment they receive, it is often possible to fix a broken wing well enough for the bird to be released into the wild. We suggest you discuss with any rescues you call the details of their policy on birds with broken wings. Whilst there are certainly times when ending the suffering of a bird with a broken wing is the kindest option, we would suggest caution with any organisation which has a blanket policy that all birds with this injury should be euthanased. The proper standard of care for a bird with a broken wing would be for them to receive an x-ray and assessment by a vet experienced with caring for birds in order to make an informed decision about their future.

Should non-flying birds be kept in a sanctuary?

Whether wild birds which will not fly well enough to be released should be euthanased or given sanctuary is a very contentious topic. There is not one right answer here.

Some believe that wild animals belong entirely in the wild and keeping any wild animal in captivity is cruel. In our experience, this may be the case for the majority of bird species. A territorial bird such as a blackbird or robin, for example, would be unlikely to tolerate others of their species in their aviary, leading to a solitary and unfulfilling existence. It would also be incredibly difficult to meet the feeding and enrichment needs of a specialist and sensitive bird like a Kingfisher, who relies on being able to dive to feed.

However, some species are laid back, comfortable around people, and content to walk rather than fly. Feral pigeons, waterfowl and gulls, for example, many believe adapt well to captivity in the right circumstances. However, all birds should be assessed as an individual in our view as they each have their own personality and preferences.

Another element to consider is that most rescues simply won’t have the space and resources to offer sanctuary to every non-releasable bird, especially when you consider that many species can live 15 years plus. If it is important to you that ‘your’ casualty receives sanctuary, you may need to travel a considerable distance to find an organisation able to offer this. We urge you not to criticise rescues who land on a different side of this debate to you. Whatever their decision, it is inevitably one made with what they feel are the best interests of the animal at heart. No rescuer wants to euthanase.

 

Finding Help

You’ll find detailed advice on catching animals needing help, keeping them safe, and getting help from a wildlife rescue at https://helpwildlife.co.uk/advice/practical-advice-for-finders/

If you are unsure whether to intervene or you have difficulty finding a rescue who can help, you can contact us via helpwildlife.co.uk/helpdesk and our volunteers will give you advice and support.

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Birds in Chimneys

Chimneys are a popular nesting spot for some species such as jackdaws. It’s not uncommon for babies or adults to fall from the nest into the base of the chimney. You may then hear them moving around or cheeping. Action is normally needed to extract the bird otherwise they will die and the body will decompose causing a health hazard.

If you have an unwelcome nest in your chimney, there’s advice on this here.

When individual birds fall down a chimney, this is often a situation which can be resolved without assistance from a wildlife rescue. This scenario usually 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.

What action is needed depends really on what is at the bottom of your chimney.

Open fireplace

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.

Fitted fire

The first step here will be to get the fire removed. You will need to arrange for this to be done by a qualified person. 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 open fireplace.

Sealed 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 then employ a qualified person to do this. A wildlife rescue will not be able to do this for you as they’re unlikely to have the necessary tools, skills, and insurance. Again once the hole is made follow the advice as for an open chimney.

Once the bird is out of the 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.

If the animal needs help you’ll ideally get them contained and get them to a wildlife rescue. You’ll find detailed advice on catching them, keeping them safe, and getting help from a wildlife rescue at https://helpwildlife.co.uk/advice/practical-advice-for-finders/

If you are unsure whether to intervene or you have difficulty finding a rescue who can help, you can contact us via helpwildlife.co.uk/helpdesk and our volunteers will give you advice and support.

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Nesting Birds

Each Spring and Summer we get many enquiries about nesting birds. Mostly these are either concerns that birds are nesting in dangerous places, or enquiries from those who do not want birds nesting in or around their property.

 

Birds nesting in chimneys

Chimneys are a popular nesting spot for some species such as jackdaws. This can cause concerns about health and safety, especially as nesting material can catch light if the fire is lit come winter.

Like all nests, those in chimneys are covered by the Wildlife and Countryside Act making it illegal to move or disturb the nest. In extreme cases you may be able to get a license to remove the nest from the government but, in general, you will need to wait until the end of nesting season before taking action.

It’s not uncommon for babies to fall from the nest into the base of the chimney. You may then hear them moving around or cheeping. Action is normally needed to extract the bird otherwise they will die and the body will decompose causing a health hazard. There’s more advice on this scenario here.

Once nesting season is over and the nest is no longer in use, it’s sensible to employ a chimney sweep to remove any nesting material and then have cowls fitted to prevent birds accessing the chimney in future.

Birds nesting in a cavity wall

Birds will sometimes enter the home through gaps such as air bricks and vents in order to find somewhere safe and sheltered to nest. When the babies leave the nest, they may sometimes then fall down into the wall cavity. You may then hear the babies moving around and cheeping in the wall.

This is often a situation which can be resolved without assistance from a wildlife rescue. This scenario usually 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. It is likely going to be necessary to make a hole in the wall to extract the bird and this will need to be done by a suitable skilled professional.

Of course, this is messy, inconvenient and involves a cost, but the alternative is that the bird is left to die inside the wall. Not only does this breach the Animal Welfare Act but would also leave you with a dead body in your wall which will attract flies, then maggots, and cause a terrible smell and health hazard. While the contractor is releasing the bird, we would advise talking to them about identifying how the bird fell into the cavity and having them make some repairs so that the issue doesn’t recur. Once the bird has been extracted, put them into a box and contact a rescue for advice about next steps. Depending on the age and condition of the bird it may be possible to put them straight outside but if they’re very young or weakened by their experience, they may require care.

Birds nesting in the loft/eaves

Lofts and eaves areas are very popular nesting places with birds such as starlings and swifts. Most of the contacts we receive about this scenario are from folks worried that the birds are trapped in their loft. This is unlikely – usually if they can get in, they can get back out again. You can confirm this by checking the loft regularly for signs of activity over the next 24 hours and watching the outside to see if birds are flying back and forth. If the bird has been consistently visible in the loft for 24 hours, you don’t see any outside activity and/or the bird is looking unwell, then you’ll need to contact a wildlife rescue for help. If the bird comes and goes then it can and should be left alone.

Sometimes we are contacted by householders unhappy about birds nesting in lofts. The babies may be quite noisy or there may be health concerns. Like all birds’ nests, those in your loft are protected by the Wildlife and Countryside Act meaning it is illegal to disturb or destroy them. If there is a genuine health and safety issue (rather than just general concerns) then you may be able to get a license to remove the nests from the government, but this is unlikely and not a simple process. In general, the advice is to remember that babies are only in the nest for a few weeks so the issue will resolve itself before long. Once the nest is no longer in use you can employ a suitable skilled professional to remove the nesting material and seal the area up so that birds cannot nest there in future.

Birds nesting on a balcony

Every Spring we receive contacts from households who haven’t used their balcony all winter and are then surprised to find, when they come to use it again, that there are birds nesting there. Most often the culprits are feral pigeons. These were originally cliff nesting birds so your balcony provides an ideal cliff ledge alternative for these birds who can breed all year round.

Although pigeons have a reputation as ‘vermin’, their nests are also protected by the Wildlife and Countryside Act meaning it is illegal to destroy or disturb them. The only exception is when there is a genuine health and safety issue in which case action can be taken under the general licenses issued by the government. In these instances, we would urge you to contact a wildlife rescue to ask if they would take in any babies for raising and rehabilitation rather than having them killed by a pest control company. Once the nest is vacant, the nesting material can be removed. You may be tempted to ‘net’ the balcony to prevent birds from accessing it in future. However, this frequently results in birds of all species becoming tangled, injured, and even killed, for which you would then be legally liable. The better solution is to focus on making the balcony less attractive by tidying away anything they can nest under/behind and using the balcony regularly, so they don’t feel safe there.

Ducks nesting in garden

This is covered in a separate article here

Birds nesting in dangerous location

Birds don’t always nest in sensible places. Some common enquiries we receive are, for example, birds nesting in post boxes, birds nesting in wall-mounted ash trays, birds nesting in hanging baskets right by a door, or a bird’s nest being close to the ground and at risk from predation or vandalism.

The first thing to be aware of in these cases is that it is illegal, under the Wildlife and Countryside Act, to disturb the nest of a wild bird from the time it is being constructed. This is the case even if your intentions are to prevent future harm to the birds or their young.

We’re often asked whether it would be possible to move the nest to somewhere safer. Not only would this be illegal, but it’s also very unlikely that the birds would move with the nest.

So, any efforts to protect the birds need to be focused on preventing harm to that nest in that location. If you’re concerned about cats or dogs disturbing the nest then keep them inside/on a lead and/or try erecting a barrier around the nest to keep them away. Even just extra coverage in the form of some branches cut from trees or bushes can provide protection. Just make sure that the adult birds can still get access.

If you’re concerned about people disturbing the nest then putting a sign up can really help, especially if the nest isn’t immediately visible such as in a wall mounted ash tray. It’s worth including a reminder that disturbing the birds would be illegal on the sign.

Disturbed nests

Bird’s nests are often disturbed by tree or hedge cutting undertaken during nesting season. If the nest has been completely destroyed then it’s likely that the babies will need to be taken into rescue unless they’re at the fledgling stage. If in doubt, contact a rescue for advice.

If the nest is intact but the surrounding foliage has been cut back, you can usually drape the cut branches back over the gap to provide cover. Just keep a watch from a distance for a few hours to make sure that the parents return to care for the babies. If not, they’ll need to go to rescue.

Finding Help

You’ll find detailed advice on catching animals needing help, keeping them safe, and getting help from a wildlife rescue at https://helpwildlife.co.uk/advice/practical-advice-for-finders/

If you are unsure whether to intervene or you have difficulty finding a rescue who can help, you can contact us via helpwildlife.co.uk/helpdesk and our volunteers will give you advice and support.

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