Pip is my pigeon, so it might sound hypocritical when I start this article off by stating that birds should not be bred, sold, and kept as pets. So, how did someone who’s staunchly against keeping birds end up with one? Well, the answer is “by accident”. I never intended to have a pigeon, but a combination of chance, circumstance, and choice on the pigeon’s part mean that I now have a permanent pigeon companion. When I found Pip, he was around one month old, but had clearly left the nest a little too soon and had been attacked by a dog. He was in shock, in a vulnerable location and unable to fly or feed for himself, so I took him for a quick check up where I was told that he was not injured or in pain, but was underweight and (being unable to fly) wouldn’t last long alone in the wild. Before Pip came along, I had a disabled baby crow named Poe who was successfully rehabilitated into the wild with other crows, so considered myself capable of rehabilitating a relatively healthy pigeon too. I took him home with me and gave him some special care in the form of comfortable shelter in my shed, soft petit pois and night time hot water bottles to replace the warmth of a flock. When he started eating standard pigeon corn, foraging for grit, moulted his baby feathers and eventually learnt to fly, I thought that would be the last I saw of him. But that wasn’t the case. When evening came around he returned back to his shed to sleep and has done every evening since. He spends his days where he pleases, flying where he wants and he has even befriended a wood pigeon who visits our garden relatively regularly. I have inadvertently made myself a free-flying feathered friend who seemingly prefers his bachelor pad and regular clean supply of food and water to the lifestyle of your standard city pigeon.
I’m going to follow this up with a few bits of information that I wish I had known when I first came across a bird that needed rescuing. I am by no means an ornithologist, so am only speaking from my personal experience. However, if any of this information lends a helping hand to just one person with an injured animal, it will definitely be worth the effort of writing.
If you see a vulnerable young bird out of the nest, it’s generally best to observe for a little while before doing anything.
There will generally be two reasons for the chick being on the ground. The first is that the parents have thrown the bird out; this generally happens when the bird is disabled, sick, or not developing as quickly as expected. While this may seem harsh, the parents will prioritise the wellbeing of stronger chicks. After all, why provide food to a chick who is unlikely to survive alone in the wild when it could be used to strengthen the others? Alternatively, the young bird has fallen. In this situation, parents are unable to transport the bird back to the nest, but if it isn’t injured, they may continue to provide food in hopes that their young will survive. However, it tends to be the case that predators will reach the young birds before they are capable of flying away.
If a young bird on the floor doesn’t flee when approached, has visible injuries, or visible deformities, now is the time when you should remove it from its current location.
If the bird isn’t fleeing from you, it isn’t going to flee from a predator. The easiest way to remove the bird is to place a jumper or blanket over it and scoop it up as gently as possible. Birds will generally stay pretty still once they’re in the dark. Take it to a secure location where you can monitor it while you carry out the following plan of action.
Do not bother calling the RSPB (or the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds). They are not a wildlife rescue charity and will not be able to help you. While you could in theory call the RSPCA (or the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals), they also won’t be much help. Their focus lies more in the rescue of pets that are being abused and if they do turn up for the found bird, it’s highly likely that they will simply put the animal to sleep.
You can take the bird to your local vet, as wildlife treatment is free. However, again, the majority of the time the animal will be put to sleep. As the treatment is free, it doesn’t make financial sense for private clinics to care for wildlife and the cost of euthanasia is almost definitely going to be lower than providing the bird with accommodation, food, monitoring, medical treatment, rehabilitation and release. It’s tragic, but that’s the capitalist society we live in. As the bird is not your pet, the vet also doesn’t have to ask permission before euthanising.
Your best bet is to take the bird to a specialist rescue sanctuary.
Rescue sanctuaries that provide facilities for birds will be able to give them a complete check-up, identify whether the animal is in pain and decide on the most appropriate course of action. This is generally the best option for the bird, as they will have guaranteed care, comfortable living space, the right nutrition, and will be released back into the wild if possible.
If you do intend to rehabilitate the bird yourself, make sure that you have the time, money and right environment to do this properly.
You may be reluctant to hand the bird over to someone else. This is understandable, but you will need to check the animal up with a vet to determine any health conditions, medication, and treatment that the animal may need. Find an avian specialist where possible. You will also need a suitable place for the bird to rest. A shed with a window will generally do, but make sure that it is secure and no predators or rodents can get in. You will have to spend a lot of time researching the species’ needs, as they vary drastically from one type of bird to another. You will need the right type of food to sustain the animal during its recovery, as a general seed will not cater to all. If the bird is particularly young, you may even have to drop the food into their mouth directly as a parent bird would. You will have to allow your bird out first thing in the morning and monitor it while it learns to forage in the garden and fly. One moment away and a cat could take it. You will also spend a lot of time cleaning up bird poo. For species with liquid faeces, this is particularly messy. As you can see, this will be a lot of effort. It’s practically impossible if you do not work from home. You will have to sacrifice your social life for an undetermined period of time. Your life will begin to revolve around the bird and chances are that you’re going to have to say goodbye to it once its learnt to fly.
There are plenty of animal rescue groups on social media full of individuals who will be able to give you advice or offer a helping hand.
Make use of them. They are generally welcoming spaces full of people who are willing to help. Specialist pages exist for different species, so find the page most relevant to you and request to join.
Don’t start out with intentions to make the bird a pet.
While saying goodbye isn’t easy when you’ve invested so much time, effort and care into rehabilitating the bird, you really shouldn’t intend to make any rescued bird a pet. Wherever possible, the animal should be nurtured back to health and then released to live as wild and free a life as they can manage. I know better than anyone else how difficult this can be, as you bond with the animal. But it’s generally for the best that they take to the wild and live as natural a life as possible. While I am usually completely against keeping birds as pets (they most definitely shouldn’t be bred, sold and kept in cages or aviaries), there are occasional cases where the animal is not in pain and can live a full life, but will not be able to survive in the wild and these are the only cases where they should be taken on as domesticated creatures.
If you have any questions regarding a rescue of your own, feel free to comment below and I’ll do my best to help or point you in the right direction.