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What is a “small” bird?

This page will tell you how to help very small birds such as warblers and hummingbirds, as well as larger small birds such as robins and sparrows, and other birds up to the size of a pigeon or crow.

Note: Very small injured birds are often mistaken for babies. Learn how to tell the difference here.

If the bird you’ve found is larger than a crow or a pigeon, click here. If it is a bird of prey, like a hawk or an owl, click here.

Signs that a small bird is sick or injured

If you think the bird might be a baby, click here to learn how to help baby birds. If the bird is an adult, the following signs indicate that it needs medical attention:

  • There are obvious wounds or blood on its body
  • It cannot fly (but make sure it’s not a baby!)
  • It looks fluffy or sleepy and lets you walk right up to it
  • One or more of its wings, legs, or head look like they’re pointing in the wrong direction
  • There is string, oil, glue, or some other substance on its body
  • It has had contact with a cat – even with no obvious injuries, this is a medical emergency for small birds

If you’ve determined that the bird needs help, the next step is getting it safe and secure until you can find help for it.

If you already have it contained, click here for help finding a wildlife rehabilitator.

How to contain a sick or injured small bird

You will need:

  • a cardboard box (with a lid!) large enough for the bird to fit inside
  • a towel or a pillowcase (in a pinch, a jacket or a sweater will do!)

Approach the bird calmly and quietly. Once you’re close enough, toss the towel over its body, making sure to cover its head and eyes. If the bird is still able to walk or run, you may need to corral it into a corner by a fence or building before you can get close enough.

Scoop it up in the towel and place the whole bundle in the cardboard box. Close the lid of the box, and gently tug the towel out through the gap. Put the box in a dark, quiet place (a closet or bathroom is perfect!) and contact a wildlife rehabilitator.

If the bird is still able to fly but you’re sure it needs help, contact a wildlife rehabilitator for advice.  They may have tips and tricks depending on the species and the situation to help you rescue a flighted bird.

Temporary care

While you are waiting to hear back from a wildlife rehabilitator, keep the animal contained in a dark, quiet place. Don’t give it any food or water until you have spoken to a rehabilitator. Further temporary care instructions can be found here.