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Image by Ray Hennessy

Rescue Advice
Baby Bird/Scalltán

Rehabilitation of wildlife casualties requires a licence and a large investment of time and resources.


It is mainly in the animal’s best interest to transfer it to an appropriately trained and equipped individual/organisation as soon as possible.


It’s essential that a wild animal in need of assistance is helped but it’s also very important that wild animals are not plucked from the wild unnecessarily.

Help is needed if...

  • Lying on its side and floppy 

  • Caught by cat

  • Oiled

  • Hit by car

  • Concussed e.g. crashed into the window

  • Dangerous locations e.g. on-road

  • Can’t fly e.g. injured wing,

  • Obviously injured e.g. leg dangling, broken beak

  • Trapped or caught e.g. in fishing gear – do NOT cut free and release until fully assessed

Help is not required if...

  • They only have one eye – unless it's a bird of prey

  • A swan is not on the water

  • A Bird is standing on one leg


First, try to call the relevant contact number from the Rehabilitators page for further advice


It does need rescuing, what next?

I DON'T want to attempt a capture

  • If you can approach the bird lay a blanket/coat over the casualty for warmth

  • If the bird is on the road, protect it from traffic if possible

  • Consider personal safety on roads e.g. Reflective jackets, warning signs

  • Do not drag the animal off the road, if safe to do so, lift it to a safe place on a coat/towel 

  • Note the exact location and call a relevant person from the contact page

  • Ideally, stay with the casualty until someone comes to help

I DO want to attempt to capture

  • Capture only if you have adequate equipment and container

  • Consider personal safety on roads e.g. Reflective jackets, warning signs

  • Bring to a vet if possible, if not bring home temporarily

  • Follow husbandry advice for feeding and housing

  • Call the relevant contact number from the rehabilitator page for further advice

  • Follow the detailed capture instructions below


Catching an injured bird can be difficult and careless handling may cause further injury. Handling must be firm but gentle. It is often difficult or sometimes even impossible to catch a poorly or injured bird in need of help. Please follow the guidelines below to help you make a successful capture.

Capturing a bird in need of help

Capturing a bird in need of help


  • A blanket or towel

  • Gloves

  • Long-handled net

  • Protective glasses

  • A cat carrier or a strong cardboard box

Before picking up the bird
Look for any obvious injuries and be careful not to further injure the bird when handling it



  • Use a cat carrier or strong cardboard box with a secure lid. Wire cages are not ideal – of stress and the risk of feather damage. The container needs to be large to hold the bird but small enough to prevent it from flapping around.

  • Line the container with a clean towel or newspaper. Provide ventilation if using a cardboard box, make tiny air holes low down on the sides of the box.

  • Secure the container – prevent severely debilitated/unconscious bird from making a sudden recovery and escaping.

  • Protect the bird from excessive noise, vibration, extremes of temperature, wind, rain and direct sunlight


Many water birds e.g. grebes and herons have sharp beaks. Use protective glasses of any sort if available or keep the bird well away from your face. Birds of prey have strong feet and sharp talons. Welding gloves are ideal for birds of prey. Birds may also have parasites or may carry diseases so wear gloves if available.

Bird capture

  • Have your container for transport pre-prepared; ready and open

  • Attempt capture from the direction that a bird would naturally fly to

  • If the bird is flapping away quickly, use the net to GENTLY pin the bird to the ground

  • Lay a towel over the bird

  • Wrap the entire bird in a towel and place it carefully in the transport container

  • If possible retrieve the towel to give the bird space and ventilation


  • Use gloves/towel

  • Do not handle unnecessarily

  • Do not try to calm the bird by talking to it

  • Keep other domestic animals away

Rehabilitation of wildlife casualties requires a licence and a large investment of time and resources. It is mainly in the animal’s best interest to transfer it to an appropriately trained and equipped individual/organisation as soon as possible. If you have to provide short-term care please follow the advice outlined below.

Providing Short-term care

Short-term Care


  • The container must be large enough for the bird to stand up and turn around in

  • House indoors in a warm quiet area, out of direct sun or drafts

  • Keep away from domestic animals and children

  • Darken the container to reduce stress

  • Line with newspaper with a towel on top for grip and warmth

  • Put a branch in the container if the bird is a perching bird

  • Do not put water birds e.g. ducks, in the water


  • Sturdy cardboard box

  • Cat/dog carrier

  • Shower cubicles, without water, can be ideal for large, messy, waterbirds


  • The bird should feel warm to the touch

  • Small and/or injured birds will need an ambient temperature of 25-30˚C

  • If it is a large bird and looks bright and alert, room temperature should suffice

  • If the bird is cold it will be unwilling to feed 


If you're unsure of the species, consult Birdwatch Ireland's website. The sooner you identify the bird, the sooner you can provide the right diet if you're not sure of the species, use the links page to find an identification website species.


Inappropriate food could kill. See the SUPPLIES page for the food and equipment mentioned below.

Birds have very high energy/food requirements, which are increased further by disease or injury
Do not try and force-feed any food or water to adult birds, leave both in the container with them


**IMPORTANT** The exception to this is swifts, swallows and house martins. If you rescue one of these birds and it can’t be passed on to an experienced rehabilitator within 24 hours and it is not injured and is alert, it will need to be given some rehydration fluid and will need hand or force-feeding. It is imperative to follow the instructions and photos in the ‘swift–swallow’ section below.

In general birds’ diets can be split into four groups and the diet can be guessed at by the shape of the beak, see below:

Here are a list of the different species you may encounter and short term feeding suggestions:

– garden bird seed, porridge oats, marrowfat peas, budgie or canary seed mix/millet

– garden bird seed, porridge oats, marrowfat peas, poultry corn


– raw minced beef

– dog food


BlackbirdThrushRobin- StarlingWarbler 
– maggots, mealworms, dog food


- garden birdseed or poultry corn or porridge oats, bread crumbs

– sprat, whitebait or herring in a shallow bowl of water


Guillemot - Razorbill - Fulmar - Gannet - Cormorant 
– sprat, whitebait, herring or mackerel (not tinned) in a shallow bowl of water


– sprat, whitebait in a shallow bowl of water or tinned cat/dog food

Swans - GeeseDucks
- bread pieces and grass in a bowl of water, shredded cabbage or other greens in water


– whitebait in a shallow bowl of water


  • A faecal sac is a white jelly-like ‘envelope’ containing the bird’s faeces (not all species produce this).

  • Keep the bird’s container as clean as possible to prevent damage to the feathers

  • Normal droppings contain brown or dark green faeces and white urates

  • If the droppings are loose and runny, the bird has possibly received too much food

All alert and standing adult birds must have access to freshwater or rehydration fluid at all times.

DIY Rehydration fluid – 1 pinch sugar and 1 pinch salt in 1 cup of warm water

  • Leave fluids in a shallow, heavy bowl in the box with the bird, clean and fill regularly.

  • At this stage, even waterbirds should not be allowed to bathe in the water. Therefore, a wide shallow dish of water with an upturned bowl in the centre of it is a practical solution for birds such as ducks.

  • Only leave fluids in with the bird if the bird is alert and standing

Swift - SwallowHouse Martin

If you rescue one of these birds and it can’t be passed on to an experienced rehabilitator within 24 hours and it is not injured and is alert, it will need to be given some rehydration fluid and will need hand or force-feeding.


Before attempting to feed, offer rehydration fluid (tepid water with a tiny pinch of sugar and salt added) by dipping a cotton bud into the water and then wiping it gently along the side of the beak. If the bird has closed or sunken eyes it is probably dehydrated and should only be given fluids until it can be seen by a vet or rehabilitator.

Emergency feeding

Species-specific food which can be readily bought at most pet shops: applies to Swifts, Swallows & House Martins in order of preference:

  • Crickets – freeze them and then remove the head & legs. Defrost as required and feed to birds when they are at room temperature.

  • Waxworms – these can be given a whole

  • Mealworms - small mealworms are preferred over large ones. Heads must be removed before feeding because they contain a substance that the birds find difficult to digest.

  • Honey Bee drone larva – an ideal food, if available.

  • Houseflies and Hoverflies – can be caught in the house/garden and given alive or dead.

It is advisable to use a mineral supplement such as Nutrobal. You dip an insect in water and then into some Nutrobal powder and then feed it to the bird. This can be done once every couple of days.

**IMPORTANT** DO NOT feed maggots used for fishing or tinned dog or cat food. DO NOT give canary egg food mix to house martins, swallows or swifts because this food causes poor development in most chicks and can lead to them dying. This is. This is because it is meant for seed-eaters, not insect-eaters.

Swallow & House Martin

Technique -Adult House Martins may pick up food from the ground/bowl. Swallows and House Martins, depending on their age, may gape. However, if not it may be because they are stressed and after a couple of hours left to settle in a quiet place, they may gape. If not they will need to be hand-fed by gently opening the beak from the side and placing an insect into the back of the mouth.  Do not try to open the beak from the front as it is fragile. Do not force it down the throat, these birds will swallow if they want the food. 

Frequency - 2-4 items every 30 minutes.


It is important to offer liquid as described and try to assess age and weight for guidance. A fully healthy swift should weigh around 38g-45g if it is below that then it is undernourished. The bird must be adequately hydrated and bright and alert before solid food is offered.


Before attempting to feed a swift, PLEASE READ this Hand rearing a swift document and watch this video for feeding techniques.

Quantity – 2-4 wax worms per feeding and this should increase as the bird gains strength. Too little is better than too much at first until you know how healthy the bird is.

Technique - use your fingernail to gently open the bird’s beak from the side, do not try to open the beak at the front as it is VERY soft and fragile. Then hold the beak open by putting your index finger slightly into the bird’s beak. Using a blunt-ended pair of tweezers, place the food at the back of the bird's mouth. Young swifts do not gape but may try to swallow your finger; this is quite normal and makes the feeding easier.

Frequency - initially give small amounts every 30 minutes and then progress to giving larger amounts every two hours during the day.

Detailed information on caring for rescued swifts can be found on the website Swift Conservation Ireland

Swifts, Swallows, House Martins
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