As a kid in the rural Midwest, I was accustomed to seeing people around me “rescue” injured birds, bring them into their homes, and care for them. The local vet even facilitated this by calling up certain families when a hurt bird was brought into his practice. We considered these birds lucky, Little-Orphan-Annie-style critters who were blessed by the comforts of on-demand food and shelter, saved from the cruel outside world. In adulthood, I know a number of people who do this with the pigeons of New York City.
Is this the right thing to do, though? Even if a bird is hurt, is it OK to take them in and turn them into a house pet? Not really! Here’s why.
Wild birds just aren’t pets
Over at the Spruce Pets, avian expert Alyson Kalhagen and veterinarian Dr. Natasha Diehl advise that keeping a wild bird as a pet “is a questionable idea in the vast majority of cases.” They note that it’s “rather unethical” and not particularly humane to take a wild animal from its habitat and stick it in a cage. Not only is it unfair to cage a wild animal, it might be even more morally reprehensible in the event the bird needs some kind of care. The Spruce Pets experts note that an avian expert or veterinarian might take issue with you having the bird at all, so finding someone to treat the animal when needed could be pretty difficult. In that case, your bird would be sick or hurt with no care from someone who could provide aid.
Of course, you can argue that taking a wounded or sick bird in is humane, or at least better than letting it suffer or even die outside. Unfortunately, birds die outside all the time. The folks at Bird Watching Pro do say, however, if a bird is really unable to be rehabilitated, you can consider giving it a home — but you should never take in a bird that is totally fine just because you want one. Wild animals should be free.
If you find a baby bird and think you’ll just take it in until it’s ready to return to its natural habitat, reconsider that, too. According to the Cornell Lab’s All About Birds project, “even with expert care and feeding, people simply cannot provide baby birds with most of the skills they need to negotiate the natural world.” You’re essentially setting that bird up to die in an unfamiliar territory it hasn’t been prepared for.
If you do end up with a wild bird, here’s what to do
If you find a wild bird that is really hurt and you’re not just snatching up a healthy animal for selfish enjoyment, plus it’s one of the few species that is legal to keep, you still need to consider its well-being. Buying a cage and some seed is not enough. Birds are flock animals that do well in packs, so your new companion will be lonely and could even become depressed and resort to self-harm.
You’ll need to get the bird checked out by a vet, if you can find a willing one, to make sure it doesn’t pose any health risks to you and your family, or your other pets. Seek expert opinion on what to feed the bird and how to give it a healthy environment.
You’re better off setting up bird feeders in your yard and enjoying the company of wild birds outside, even if it’s fleeting. You can also contact a local rehabilitation or research centre to find out if there are any opportunities to volunteer there. Then, you can be among birds and really help the ones who need it — safely.