Injured or Sick Birds

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Injured or Sick Birds

Signs of Injury:

  • Obvious wound, blood on the body
  • Cannot fly
  • Allows you to walk right up to it
  • Surrounded by flies / fly eggs on body or in body cavity
  • Fishing line or hook attached to body
  • One or more of the wings, legs, or head seem to be pointed in the wrong direction

Seabirds like loons, gannets, and boobies will often get washed ashore in rough surf conditions and sit on the beach to recuperate their energy for prolonged periods of time. If you see a large seabird sitting on the beach and it doesn’t seem to have any obvious injuries, leave it alone for a couple hours then check back. Loons’ legs stretch behind their bodies so they cannot walk on land, this is normal for their species. If the animal is still in the same spot, please call Alaqua.

Large Birds

Large waterfowl like pelicans and herons use their beaks as their primary defense and often are attracted to eyes. When capturing, always be aware of the beak and wear proper protective gear if possible (sunglasses work well).

  • Pelicans cannot breathe when you hold their beak closed so make sure you keep a finger in between their beak when handling.
  • Large seabirds have a very powerful bite and often defecate when picked up so make sure to stand clear of the animal’s vent while handling.

To Capture:
We recommend using a towel, blanket, or even a jacket to capture large birds. Gently throw it over the bird, aiming for the head and eyes. Once the head is covered, contain the beak and then fold the wings in. When moving any bird, keep the wings safely folded into the body, like carrying a football tucked in between your arm and armpit. This ensures further injury does not occur. Place the bird inside a container with a secure lid. Cardboard boxes, large plastic bins with holes in them, or cat kennels are sufficient containers. Avoid using a bird cage, or anything with openings more than 1”, as they can cause more injury.

DO NOT FEED or offer water to the bird. Remember this is just a temporary hold until the animal can be taken to a rehabilitation center. Keep the contained bird in a dark and quiet place to minimize stress until transport.


Birds of Prey use their feet as the main source of defense. When capturing, always be aware of the talons. The exception are vultures, whose primary defense is biting. When handling any of these species please use appropriate protection gear, specifically work gloves.

To Capture:
Sturdy containers like a cardboard box, recycle bin, or plastic tote with air holes work well. Additionally, a sturdy piece of plastic or wood is helpful to use to slide under the container. Place the box over the bird and then slide the piece of sturdy material underneath. Once trapped, tape or fasten the container and whatever material you slide underneath together. If you cannot capture the animal using this method, throw a thick towel or blanket over the animal, making sure to contain the feet, and then swiftly move to a holding container. DO NOT FEED or offer water to the animal and keep the container in a dark and quiet location until it can be taken to a rehabilitator.

Songbirds and Doves

Songbirds can pack a painful bite so it is best to handle them with a dishtowel or similar towel. Handle carefully, as there is a better chance of injury to them versus them biting you. 

Doves have a soft pliable beak and cannot bite you. They do get highly stressed when being handled and sometimes will “stress molt” where a large portion of feathers are released to evade the attacker. Handle them as swiftly as possible, when necessary.

Songbirds and Doves often fly into mobile and immobile objects leaving them temporarily stunned. If you notice one on the ground that seems unable to fly (but don’t see any blood), it may be that they are just recovering from the impact. A good indicator of this is one wing drooping lower than the other and/or open mouth breathing.

It is best to put them in a shoebox or containment device for about an hour or two, and then take them back to where they were found and see if they fly away. If they are not in any immediate danger where they were found, you may leave them there and check back in about an hour. If they don’t fly away the second time, please contact Alaqua for further guidance.

Orphaned Bird

If you have found an orphaned animal, do not immediately retrieve it. In most cases the parents will be back. If you witness a fully feathered chick fall from a nest, do not pick it up unless it is in immediate danger (surrounded by a cat or being attacked by other wildlife). If it is hopping around, and appears healthy, the parents are most likely in close proximity. Observe its surroundings to see if it appears it’s being cared for. If you notice the chick has been alone for an extended period, with no parents in sight, call Alaqua.

If you find a nestling bird that is out of the nest but looks healthy, you can put it back in the original nest. If you can’t see or reach the original nest, you can gently put the bird in a basket and hang near where it was found. Keep in mind these birds do not have many feathers and can’t stand yet. Observe to see if the parents return. If they do not return within an hour, call Alaqua.

If renesting is not a possibility or the animal is sick or injured, place the bird inside a small box with a heating pad on LOW. If you do not have a heating pad, use a sock with rice microwaved for 20 seconds. Make sure to check the temperature before placing the animal on heat. DO NOT FEED or give water to the orphaned animal. Place the container with the animal into a dark and quiet location until transport can be arranged. 

Direct Line:   (850) 880-6697
After Hours:  (850) 332-4837
*We are on call 24/7.

Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission
Wildlife Hotline:  1-888-404-3922

7 days/week from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.

914 Whitfield Road
Freeport, FL 32439
*Please call upon your arrival.