Q: Since birds are so fragile, if my bird has an accident or gets sick, what is the best way to get her to the vet without making things worse? – Bethany F., Jacksonville, FL
A: This is a GREAT question!
Birds are fragile, but they are also remarkably resilient. They tend to heal quickly from injuries when they are promptly and properly treated. With illness it is a bit more complex because they have often been sick for a while without intervention.
It is in a bird’s nature to hide illnesses (wild birds that are ill are targeted by predators) and unless we have been diligent in weighing them and monitoring their droppings, we may not recognize illness until it has progressed into something severe.
You will want to get this bird directly to the vet so medications can be prescribed.
How To Prepare An Injured Bird for Travel
In the case of an injury, a bird might require some preparation for transportation if there is a severe wing injury or a broken leg.
The leg can be splinted to prevent further injury and to support the bird’s weight during the trip to the vet. Get your avian first aid kit, place folded gauze pads on either side of the leg and secure by winding rolled gauze around them. Break a popsicle stick down to the size of your bird’s leg (be sure to remove any shards or wrap the pieces in gauze if necessary) and secure this popsicle sticks with vet wrap (which is probably available at your vet’s office and should always be on hand).
Vet wrap works well with birds because it adheres to itself, eliminating the need for tape. Otherwise, you can secure the popsicle sticks with rolled gauze and MASKING tape (regular medical tapes can tear a bird’s skin when removed).
With a wing injury, carefully fold the wing into its natural position against the body and wrap with gauze or vet wrap in a figure 8 fashion. Start at the top of the shoulder point of the wing, run the tape down along to the opposite point, underneath the tip of the wing and back across the wing again in the other direction. Use the photo below for demonstration. The injured wing can be held into position against the body by winding gauze or vet tape around the body and the bad wing. (Be careful not to wrap anything around the body too tightly. It will interfere with your bird’s ability to breathe. You should be able to slide two fingers between the tape and your bird.)
If you are unable to accomplish either the splint or the wing wrap without a struggle, don’t risk further injury by continuing to try. Fold a hand or bath towel (depending on the size of your bird) and place it in the carrier on the side where your bird is injured to lend support during the motion of the trip.
Heat Sources for Travel
Sick and inured birds have a hard time maintaining their body heat. In the cool and cold weather, it will help your bird to have a heat source for the ride. Make a “helping hand” or a “rice sock”.
A “helping hand” can be made from a latex glove filled with water and tied off at the wrist, when heated in the microwave, it acts as a makeshift hot water bottle.
A “rice sock” is a sock that is filled with rice and heated in the microwave. The time will vary according to your microwave, start with 15 or 20 seconds and heat more as necessary – rice heats up quickly and stays hot for some time.
A Few More Tips
- Take the time to warm or cool the air in your car before bringing your bird inside. When sick or injured, a bird doesn’t need the added stress of an uncomfortable temperature.
- While en route to the vet, drive carefully and make turns slowly to avoid the bird being tossed around in the carrier – especially if there is an injury.
- No matter how dire the circumstances are, remain calm and comforting so as not to add to your bird’s stress.
- Birds sometimes are more at ease with travel when the carrier is covered. This is especially true of birds that are sick or injured.
When something has gone wrong with your bird, they can spiral downhill at an alarming rate – you don’t want to waste any time in getting help. If you have concerns about your bird’s ability to travel, call your vet for advice or for a reference for a closer qualified vet.
Patty Jourgensen specializes in avian health, behavior and nutrition and has been working with and caring for rescue birds since 1987.