An injured bird often finds you before you spot them. The key is being observant and recognizing signs of injury. The steps you take next are the difference between life and death for an injured bird.
A week ago, our backyard Cooper’s Hawk made its 2:30 pm fly by over our feeders (it’s on daylight savings time now), sending the songbirds scurrying for safety.
When a bird of prey with massive talons has you in their sights and flying at you at speeds reaching 50 MPH, you don’t think. You take off.
In the chaos, a female American Goldfinch took flight and smacked into our house even though we use safety decals on our windows and position our feeders to help prevent window strikes.
This poor goldfinch immediately plummets to the ground.
A bird thwacking against your window or house gets your attention. Hearing the dreaded sound, we run outside immediately and find the bird stunned with its eyes open and moving.
Often the bird colliding into the window was chased by a predator. If you leave it helpless on the ground, it’s an easy target. We respect the circle of life but believe in fair fights too. A stunned songbird is no match for a hungry Cooper’s Hawk.
So after carefully picking up the goldfinch, we cut air slot holes in a small box and placed the bird in it for half an hour.
Every bird that flies into a window or other object needs our help. The bird needs time to recover from the shock of the injury. The goldfinch is most likely concussed, so providing it a safe place to rest and gather its wits gives it the best chance of flying off again.
Time passes quickly, and we hold our breath as we open the box. We’re thrilled to see the goldfinch moving around, both eyes are open, and it takes off and lands in the closet tree. We observe to ensure the bird isn’t flying around wonky.
Mission accomplished. Another bird returned to the wild.
If the goldfinch’s eyes are closed, it isn’t breathing normally, has a droopy wing, or not moving around, then we’d call our wildlife rehabilitator and get the bird in her care as quickly as possible.
Forward to this week when we notice another female American Goldfinch hunched on the perch of the nyjer feeder. It was tucked so tightly it looked like it didn’t have a head. So, being observant and knowing a Cooper’s Hawk is lurking about, we open our door to check on the bird.
We’ve seen Cooper’s Hawks land on feeders and grab birds, so leaving this goldfinch on the feeder, especially if it’s injured, can be dangerous. However, as we inch closer to examine the bird, it flies off. That’s a good sign, but we still question if the bird is okay.
A few hours later, after the sun goes down, Dan goes outside and finds the same goldfinch huddled next to the house in the direct path of the warm dryer vent.
The bird approaches Dan and tries to hop into the house. He says it was as if the bird was saying, “Help me.”
We grab our box with the air holes and place the bird inside the house to get warm. Then we text Ellen at Ravensbeard Wildlife Center in Saugerties, NY and tell her we have an injured goldfinch that needs care.
Ravensbeard is 25 miles away, so we keep the bird warm in the car for the next 45 minutes.
As soon as we arrive at Ravensbeard, Ellen promptly examines the injured bird, notices it has a slightly droopy wing, and suspects it’s suffering from head trauma. She puts a heating pad under the cage to keep the bird warm and administers fluids.
The prognosis doesn’t look good, but we leave hoping the goldfinch will live to see another summer of turning a brilliant yellow and dining on nyjer seeds.
No bird is just a bird to us. Each deserves attention and care to survive injuries (often caused by humanity) and enjoy life in the wild. Goldfinches and other songbirds that stay with us all year long hold a special place for us. They endure the seasons with us and brighten our backyard.
I woke up the next day and checked my phone to see if Ellen had texted me. Nope. Okay, that’s a good sign, right. So I texted her around 10:30 am, and she said the goldfinch was struggling to get through another day and passed around 9 am.
It wasn’t the news we were hoping to hear.
Unfortunately, we can’t save them all. But what matters is that we try. And we kept the goldfinch warm and safe for the night. We gave it a chance.
RIP, beautiful goldfinch.
So what should you do when you find an injured bird?
A great resource is the Wild Bird Fund in NYC. Each year they rehabilitate over 2000 sick, injured, and orphaned wildlife and release them back to the wilds of NYC. (Yes, there are wildlife areas in NYC.)
Wild Bird Fund also sees an incredible number of window strike victims. Rita McMahon, director of the Wild Bird Fund, says you should check out any bird lying sideways on the ground. Prod the unresponsive bird’s legs: If they move freely, there’s a chance of revival.
See Wild Bird Fund’s Tip: How to Help an Injured Bird here.
Another excellent resource is the NYC Audubon. If you find an injured bird, go to the “What to Do If You Found an Injured Bird” page on their site. It provides all the details you need to know to help an injured bird.
Remember, it’s not just birdwatchers that find injured birds. They can find you anywhere, and rendering care makes a difference between life and death for these beautiful creatures.
We can’t save them all, but let’s try!
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