6 FAQs on “What to do upon Encountering Sick Birds”

Encountering a sick bird can be emotional. Whether it’s a visitor at your feeder or a park resident, it’s crucial to understand the situation before intervening. In this guide, we address common questions about sick birds, enabling you to navigate such encounters with knowledge and compassion. Gain insights to ensure their well-being and minimize risks to both you and other birds.

Sick Red knot found on a beach. Photo: Under de Moon.

This guide covers topics like:

  • Recognizing signs of illness in birds: From lethargy and ruffled feathers to unusual vocalizations, we outline what to look for.
  • Deciding whether to remove a sick bird from a feeder: Weighing the potential benefits and drawbacks for both the sick bird and the broader bird community.
  • Safely handling and providing aid to a sick bird: Understanding the risks and best practices for offering a quiet space and basic support.
  • Knowing when to seek professional help: Identifying situations where contacting a wildlife rehabilitator or veterinarian is crucial.
  • Understanding the risks of disease transmission: Exploring how humans and other birds can play a role in bird health, both positively and negatively.

Should I remove a sick bird from my bird feeder?

Understanding the situation surrounding the sick bird is crucial before deciding whether to remove it from your feeder. The goal is to prioritize the well-being of all birds involved. By observing the situation and considering the potential risks and benefits, you can make an informed decision about the best course of action.

Here are some key factors to consider

Observe the bird’s behavior:

  • Activity level: Does the bird seem lethargic or weak? Can it perch and fly normally?
  • Eating and drinking: Is the bird able to feed and drink properly, or does it struggle or seem uninterested?
  • Appearance: Does the bird have any obvious injuries, ruffled feathers, or unusual posture?

Consider the potential risks:

  • Disease transmission: Sick birds can shed pathogens through droppings and contact with the feeder. However, the risk of transmission to other birds depends on the specific disease and overall bird population density.
  • Stress on the sick bird: Feeders can be busy and competitive environments, potentially adding stress to an already ailing bird.

Weighing the options:

  • Leave the bird be: If the bird seems relatively active and able to fend for itself, leaving it be might be the best option. It can access food and potentially rejoin its flock for support.
  • Provide a quiet space: If the bird seems stressed or struggling, consider offering a quieter area with food and water, away from the busy feeder, to facilitate its recovery.
  • Seek professional advice: If you’re concerned about the bird’s condition or the potential for disease spread, consider contacting a wildlife rehabilitation center or a veterinarian for guidance.

Can I treat or feed a sick bird myself?

It’s crucial to understand that attempting to treat a sick bird yourself is generally not recommended and can potentially cause more harm than good. Wild birds have delicate needs and are best addressed by trained professionals. Here’s why:

1. Accurate diagnosis: Identifying the specific illness plaguing a bird requires specialized knowledge and expertise. Even seemingly minor symptoms can point to complex underlying conditions. Misdiagnosis can lead to inappropriate treatment and worsen the bird’s health.

2. Proper care: Sick birds require specific care based on their species, age, and illness. This might involve specialized diets, temperature control, and even medication, all of which are best administered by trained wildlife rehabilitators.

3. Legal considerations: In many regions, attempting to treat wild animals yourself, including birds, can be illegal or require specific permits. It’s essential to follow local regulations to avoid legal repercussions.

Instead of self-treatment, here’s what you can do to help a sick bird:

1. Observe the bird: Watch its behavior, activity level, and any visible signs of injury or illness. Note down any unusual symptoms or behaviors.

2.  Minimize stress: Create a quiet, safe space for the bird away from any predators or loud noises. Providing a shallow dish of water and some natural food sources like seeds or berries can be helpful.

3.  Contact professionals: Reach out to a wildlife rehabilitation center or a veterinarian experienced in wildlife care. They can provide proper diagnosis, treatment, and increase the bird’s chances of recovery and release back into the wild.

4. Maintain hygiene: Always wash your hands thoroughly after handling the bird or its surroundings to prevent the spread of any potential diseases.

Learn more about Protecting you Backyard Birds.

I have a sick bird, when should I contact a veterinarian or wildlife rehabilitator?

Female House Finch with eye disease.

It’s important to act quickly and responsibly when encountering a sick bird. Here are some guidelines on when to contact a veterinarian or wildlife rehabilitator:

Immediate Contact:

  • Obvious injuries: If the bird has visible wounds, broken bones, or is bleeding, consider it an emergency. Contact a wildlife rehabilitator or veterinarian immediately.
  • Inability to fly or stand: If the bird cannot fly, perch, or stand upright, it likely needs immediate medical attention.
  • Seizures or tremors: These symptoms indicate a potentially serious neurological condition requiring prompt veterinary care.
  • Extreme lethargy or unresponsiveness: A bird that appears lifeless or shows no reaction to stimuli needs urgent help.
  • Severe dehydration: If the bird has sunken eyes, dry beak, and ruffled feathers, it’s likely dehydrated and requires professional care.

Within 24 Hours:

  • Difficulty eating or drinking: If the bird struggles to eat or drink, or shows no interest in food or water, contact a wildlife rehabilitator for guidance.
  • Unusual discharge from eyes, beak, or vent: Any abnormal discharge could indicate an infection requiring veterinary attention.
  • Fluffed feathers and closed eyes: These signs often indicate illness or discomfort and warrant professional evaluation.
  • Abnormal vocalizations: If the bird is chirping excessively, making unusual sounds, or remains silent, it could be a sign of distress.
  • Presence of parasites: Visible parasites like lice or mites can indicate underlying health issues requiring treatment.


  • Baby birds: If you find a young bird alone on the ground, it’s likely a fledgling learning to fly. Observe for a few hours to see if parents are nearby before intervening. If the bird appears injured or abandoned, contact a wildlife rehabilitator.
  • Species identification: Knowing the type of bird can help determine the urgency of the situation and find the appropriate professional to contact.
  • Local resources: Search online or call your local wildlife rescue center or animal control department for assistance. They can offer advice and direct you to the nearest qualified professional.

It is always better to err on the side of caution and seek professional help sooner than later. Early intervention can significantly improve the bird’s chances of recovery and release back into the wild.

Can backyard chickens and other domestic birds contract diseases from sick wild birds?

Yes, backyard chickens and other domestic birds can contract diseases from sick wild birds. This is because several diseases can be transmitted between wild and domestic birds through various means, including:

  • Direct contact: This can occur when infected wild birds share feeders, water sources, or even come into physical contact with domestic birds.
  • Indirect contact: Viruses and bacteria can be transmitted through contaminated droppings, feathers, or even dust particles.
  • Mosquitoes and other insects: These vectors can carry diseases from one bird to another, regardless of species.

Some of the most common diseases that can be transmitted from wild birds to domestic poultry include:

  • Avian influenza (bird flu): This highly contagious viral disease can cause severe illness and death in poultry. Wild waterfowl, such as ducks and geese, are natural reservoirs of bird flu and can easily spread it to chickens, turkeys, and other domestic birds.
  • Newcastle disease: This viral disease can cause respiratory problems, neurological disorders, and death in poultry. Wild pigeons and sparrows can be asymptomatic carriers of Newcastle disease, posing a potential risk to poultry through contact or droppings.
  • Salmonellosis: This bacterial disease can cause diarrhea, vomiting, and fever in both humans and poultry. Wild birds, such as gulls and crows, can contaminate food and water sources with Salmonella bacteria.

Here are some steps you can take to protect your backyard chickens and other domestic birds from diseases:

  • Provide separate feeders and waterers for wild and domestic birds.
  • Keep your chicken coop and run clean and dry to reduce the risk of bacteria and viruses.
  • Vaccinate your chickens against common diseases as recommended by your veterinarian.
  • Limit your chickens’ contact with wild birds as much as possible.
  • Monitor your chickens for any signs of illness and contact your veterinarian immediately if you have any concerns.

Can bird droppings or bird poop cause diseases or sickness in humans?

Bird dropping happens!

Yes, bird droppings or bird poop can indeed cause diseases or sickness in humans. While not all bird droppings are harmful, several potential risks associated with contact with them should be considered.

Here’s how bird droppings can transmit diseases:

  • Direct contact: Coming into direct contact with contaminated droppings through bare skin or eyes can introduce harmful bacteria, viruses, or parasites.
  • Inhalation: Dried droppings can become airborne as dust, potentially carrying pathogens that can be inhaled.
  • Contamination: Droppings can contaminate water sources or food, leading to ingestion of disease-causing agents.

Some of the diseases associated with bird droppings include:

  • Histoplasmosis: A fungal infection caused by inhaling spores found in bat and bird droppings, particularly in warm, humid environments. Symptoms can range from mild flu-like symptoms to severe lung infections.
  • Psittacosis (Chlamydiosis): A bacterial infection spread through inhalation of dried droppings or contact with feathers of infected birds like parrots, parakeets, and cockatiels. Symptoms include fever, chills, headache, and pneumonia.
  • Cryptococcosis: A fungal infection that can affect the lungs, brain, and skin. It’s primarily acquired through inhaling contaminated dust from soil or bird droppings.
  • Salmonellosis: A bacterial infection causing diarrhea, vomiting, and fever. It can be transmitted through contaminated food or water sources exposed to bird droppings.
  • E. coli: Certain strains of E. coli bacteria can be present in bird droppings and cause illness if ingested.

To minimize the risk of illness from bird droppings:

  • Wear gloves and a mask when cleaning up droppings.
  • Thoroughly wash your hands with soap and water after any contact with droppings.
  • Disinfect contaminated areas with a bleach solution.
  • Avoid disturbing bird nests or roosting areas.
  • Keep bird feeders and baths clean and well-maintained.

Can humans transmit diseases to birds?

The good news is that humans are unlikely to transmit most diseases directly to birds. Our immune systems are too different, and the pathogens that cause our illnesses often don’t affect birds or vice versa.

However, there are a few indirect ways in which humans can contribute to the spread of disease among birds:

  • Habitat destruction and encroachment: Human activities like deforestation and urbanization can disrupt bird habitats and force them into closer contact with each other, increasing the risk of disease transmission.
  • Introduction of invasive species: Humans can accidentally or intentionally introduce new species of birds or other animals into an area, some of which may carry diseases that are harmful to native birds.
  • Contaminated food and water sources: Pollution from human activities can contaminate food and water sources that birds rely on, potentially exposing them to harmful pathogens.
  • Feeder hygiene: If not properly cleaned and maintained, bird feeders can become breeding grounds for bacteria and parasites that can be transmitted to birds that visit them.

It’s important to remember that healthy birds with strong immune systems are generally resistant to most diseases. However, the factors mentioned above can weaken bird populations and make them more susceptible to illness.


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