Every year, we treat numerous injured and sick wild birds in our clinic for birds and reptiles, being brought in by animal friends from Leipzig and its surroundings. It also is of vast importance, that you inform yourself about handling wild animals (you can find some information below) or that you approach a suitable contact person at our clinic for advice, before getting active.

enlarge the image: Long-eared owl being treated for a skin injury
Long-eared owl being treated for a skin injury - photo: Klinik für Vögel und Reptilien Universität Leipzig

How to handle wild animals

What to take care of when finding an injured or left behind bird? Below we provide you with some expertly advice:

Fledglings are not helpless

Fledglings of most bird breeds leave their nest before their large plumage is fully grown. These so called sprouts are not yet able to fly so their parents keep on feeding them while on the ground. Sprouts often make an impression of being helpless and an easy prey for free roaming domesticated cats. Often, through their begging calls to their parents, they arouse the pity of walkers who pick up the "poor little bird" and take it away for care.

Taking them with you is a capital mistake, though!

Chances of survival for fledglings, when artificially reared, decrease drastically. Especially corvids have a high chance of false imprinting to humans, which makes reintroduction and survivability in the wild problematic.

Common swifts are an exception to the rule: Their fledglings are fully autonomous when leaving their nests, they are fully capable of flight and they are not cared any further by their parents. Adult common swifts - their parents - are permanently airborne and only land at the nest site. A common swift sitting on the ground is in dire danger of being killed so not being in flight is generally to be considered an emergency situation for them.

Taking care of abandoned fledglings

Presumably abandoned fledglings should first be observed from a distance - with you being somewhat hidden - for at least one hour. This will help to determine whether the parents are taking care of the offspring and whether the fledglings can cope with the environment. Please consider the birds natural circadian rhythm: Owls, for example,  feed their offspring only at night.

A healthy young bird that has been taken by mistake should be returned to the place where it was found as soon as possible and placed in an elevated position inside a bush or tree. The human scent clinging to the fledgling does not bother the bird parents, and if only a few hours have passed between taking the bird and bringing it back, the young bird will usually continue to be cared for without any problems. If you see an uninjured branchling without cover on the ground or in a dangerous place (e.g. roadside), it is best to place it within a few metres off the ground in an elevated safe place in the midst of branches. The parents will hear and care for it because of its begging calls.

We are not responsible for the rearing and care of healthy abandoned young birds. In such a case, please contact the following facilities:

Tierschutzverein Leipzig
(Animal Welfare Leipzig)
Song birds, Singvögel, e.g. blackbirds, house sparrows, tits, common swifts etc.
Phone: +49 175 3352049, Contact person: Mrs. Krups

NABU Regionalverband Leipzig e.V.
(Local branch of NABU, a large nature conservation non profit)
Corinthstr. 14, 04157 Leipzig, Phone: +49 341 6884477

Wildpark Leipzig
(Zoo in Leipzig-Connewitz)
Contact via "Amt für Stadtgrün und Gewässer, Abteilung Stadtforsten" (City bureau)
Teichstraße 20, 04277 Leipzig, Phone: +49 341 309410

What to do with sick wild birds?

How can one recognise a sick bird?

Please, first make sure that the wild bird is actually sick and in need of help before you take it from the wild.

Signs of an existing disease are

    fluffed plumage
    Lack of flight reflex
    closed eyes
    inability to fly
    visible injuries
    bleeding and/or abnormal limb position (drooping wing, lameness of one leg).

If the wild bird found is actually injured and in need of help, it should be caught and immediately presented to a skilled veterinarian. She can decide with the necessary expertise how best to help the animal.

Capturing the injured bird

Capturing an injured adult bird, in particular, is not always easy. However, it should be as stress-free as possible for the bird and must not degenerate into a hunt. Wild birds are not used to being grabbed by hand and are in mortal fear!

It is best to approach the animal slowly, quietly and without hectic movements and then grab it quickly. Often a blanket or a light jacket thrown over the bird, which is then used to grasp it completely and pick it up, is helpful when catching it. When holding the bird, be careful not to grip the thorax too tightly, as this pressure impairs breathing. To protect the plumage, the wings should rest against the body.

Birds of prey hiss and puff themselves up when people approach. When catching them, pay special attention to the feet and the powerful claws to protect yourself from injury. Again, always use a blanket or similar to avoid injury to yourself and the wild bird.

In the case of herons, great crested grebes, storks and others, a certain danger comes from the beak, as these animals thrust their sharp, powerful beaks towards the face and eyes.

Transport of the injured bird

Wild birds should be transported in appropriately sized darkened containers (e.g. cardboard box with air holes, cat transport box) in which they are not exposed to any other visual stimuli. This reduces the risk of stress and self-harm. Under no circumstances should wild birds be transported in commercial ornamental bird cages. There is a great risk of injury or damage to the plumage due to hectic flapping around, which can delay reintroduction or even make it impossible.

If you are unable to catch a sick or injured wild bird, please inform the fire brigade. The city of Leipzig maintains its own animal rescue service, which is equipped to capture injured animals and pass the birds on to appropriate competent veterinarians.

Procedure of the examination

The wild birds brought to our clinic are first subjected to a thorough examination. The nutritional state and the patient's plumage condition is assessed and it is examined for injuries. These are not always visible at first sight, but can sometimes only be detected by special examination techniques.

Often the cause of an inability to fly lies in the musculoskeletal system (bones and muscles). An X-ray examination can diagnose bone fractures, but also internal injuries. Bite injuries, for example by domestic cats, are problematic. Their saliva brings bacteria into the wound, which can lead to fatal infections within a few hours. These can be prevented by the timely administration of a suitable antibiotic. Wild birds suspected of having been in contact with cats should therefore always be presented to a veterinarian, even if they appear uninjured on the outside.

Wild birds

The first priority in the care of a wild bird is its fitness for the wild after treatment. Based on the results of the examination, the prognosis can be assessed and appropriate therapy can be initiated.

In many cases, however, treatment is futile and euthanasia in accordance with the Animal Welfare Act cannot be avoided. This difficult decision is difficult to understand for some animal friends, especially if they are willing to care for and house the bird.

However, the permanent keeping of protected wild birds (which includes most of the domestic wild birds) by private individuals is strictly prohibited by law. Taking a wild bird into care is only permitted for the purpose of nursing sick birds back to health. Afterwards, the birds must be released back into the wild.