What Can I Do to Help a Bird That Has Collided With a Window?

Follow this National Audubon Society expert's steps to help an injured animal for its and your health and safety.

Reader Contribution by Geoff Lebaron
article image
by Flickr/Gavin Edmondston

Here are some pointers for the times when birds have non-fatal window collisions:

  1. It is important to remember that if a bird is stunned enough to end up on the ground, it can easily go into shock and die of hypothermia or be eaten by a predator while the bird is incapacitated. Many birds are able to fly off after window collisions, but if they are knocked out or stunned and on the ground they should be gently picked up and placed in a warm, dark, sheltered place for at least two hours. If the bird is bleeding or has any obviously major injuries, it should be taken immediately to a licensed bird rehabilitator.
  2. Initially, it’s all right to pick up the bird with your bare hands. Cradle the bird to keep it warm, but don’t restrain it. Even if it begins to struggle, if it was stunned enough to be picked up it is unlikely to be alert enough to fend for itself, so it’s best to keep it sheltered for a while.
  3. To do this, it’s often best to put the bird in a small covered box, with a blanket or something soft in the bottom. If it’s cold outside, the box should be brought inside and put in an interior room, away from light, noise and pets. If it’s hot outside, the bird can actually overheat, so it’s still best to bring the box inside. The box should be loosely covered — perhaps with another towel or a piece of cardboard. In most instances, the bird will sleep for a while, and after two hours or so will likely fly off when released, unless severely injured.
  4. For this short period, no food is necessary. A small bit of water in a shallow container is optional — make sure it cannot spill, and that the water is not deep enough for the bird to drown if it wakes up and ends up in the dish.
  5. After at least two hours, take the covered container outside and carefully open it up, near a bush or other shelter (and away from windows!) if possible. It’s quite likely the bird will fly out of the box. If it is alert but continues to sit in the box, try picking it up or offering your hand or finger for it to perch on, then raise your hand out of the box. Then the bird may fly off.
  6. If the bird has not come to after two hours, or if it cannot fly away, then it’s time to get the bird to a licensed bird rehabilitator.

A couple words of caution! If the window collision involves a bird of prey, or some other larger birds, they can hurt you if picked up with bare hands. So in those instances it’s best to wrap them in a towel as they are picked up, staying away from feet/talons and the beak. Then they can be placed in the box and proceed as above.

Also please remember that by Federal law it is illegal to keep or possess any native non-game bird species, or any part thereof. It’s perfectly fine on a temporary basis to help one through a window- or vehicle-induced trauma, but only licensed rehabilitators are allowed to keep birds for long-term care.

—  Geoff LeBaron, Christmas Bird Count director, National Audubon Society