Pet birds have an innate desire to try to hide any illness or injury. In the wild, showing signs of illness increases the chance they will be attacked by other animals. Thus, any behavior that is out of the ordinary is a sign that your bird may be ill. In particular, if you notice limping, the inability to move the wings properly, any unusual discharge, any changes in droppings, or a general lack of physical activity, you should seek veterinary advice or care promptly. If your bird is huddled, lethargic, unresponsive, or lying on the bottom of the cage, you have an emergency. Alert your veterinarian and transport the bird immediately.
When a bird has a “bleeding” emergency, it is important to distinguish between obvious active bleeding (such as from the wing, beak, or foot) and blood on the cage or on the bird with no active bleeding. Continued bleeding requires immediate veterinary intervention, whereas bleeding that has stopped is best left undisturbed. However, even if bleeding has ceased, it is wise to take your bird in for an examination.
If your bird is in respiratory distress, your veterinarian will place the bird in an incubator with oxygen. Shock and infection are of concern in birds that have penetrating or extensive wounds.
Injuries should be treated with the goal of the bird’s survival first and treatment of the traumatized area second. For example, a bird that has been struggling for hours with its leg band caught—and that may possibly have a fractured bone—is in more danger of dying from stress related to the prolonged struggling than from the fracture.
When your bird is in need of special care (before and after an emergency veterinary visit), set up an area in your house where there is less activity and where you can easily increase the temperature, such as a spare bathroom. The carrying case used to take the bird to the veterinarian may be a good place for the ill bird before returning to its regular cage. Cover the case with a towel or blanket on all but one side to eliminate drafts. Remote probe digital thermometers (sold in electronics stores) and photographic thermometers measure from 60°F to 120°F (16°C to 49°C) and can be safely used to monitor the room temperature. An ill bird should be kept at a room temperature of 80°F to 90°F (27°C to 32°C) until it is taken to your avian veterinarian.
If a room cannot be maintained at a warm temperature, use of a heating pad (set only on low, producing a temperature safe for skin contact) insulated with 2 towels above and 1 towel between the pad and cage can be used to keep the temperature of most small cages between 75°F and 85°F (24°C and 29°C). Alternatively, a shaded incandescent light bulb (60 to 100 watts) can be placed outside the cage (far enough away that the bird cannot reach the shade or bulb). Cover both the cage and the shaded light bulb with a towel or sheet, being sure the towel or sheet does not come in direct contact with the hot bulb. The heat from the lighted bulb will gently warm the cage area.
Having a well-stocked first aid kit for your bird is important. Know where it is kept, and replace items that have expired annually. Ask your veterinarian for recommendations about what to include in your kit.
Transport your bird to the veterinarian in a carrier that is secure and allows some air to get in. Keep the bird warm by transporting the carrier on a heating pad, hot water bottle, or other container filled with hot water. Cover the carrier with a towel on at least 3 sides to minimize visual stimuli. To safely transport your bird, remember three key things: warmth, darkness, carrier.
Also see professional content regarding traumatic injuries of pet birds.