When to Help Baby Waterfowl

Waterfowl refers to birds which live on ponds and lakes such as Swans, Geese, Ducks and their smaller cousins such as Coots and Moorhens. Common issues with these babies are injuries from fishing line or other litter, being seen on their own or failing to thrive. Be aware that older babies of larger species such as swans and geese can be quite strong so should not be handled by the public. Waterfowl parents can also be very protective so do be cautious when interacting with their young.


When to rescue #

If the bird has been caught by a cat or dog
Any bird which has been bitten by a cat will need rescue and treatment. There are bacteria on cat’s teeth which will pass into the bird’s bloodstream when it is bitten. Without antibiotics within a few hours of the attack the bird may develop fatal septicaemia. Any bird caught by a dog should be properly assessed for injuries.

If the bird is obviously injured
If you can see a wound, or a wing or leg is obviously damaged then the bird needs help. Survival in the wild is unlikely with an injury.

A baby is unwell
If a baby is tending to be separate from the rest of the brood, is struggling to swim, looks weak etc then it is likely to be unwell and in need of help.

A bird has been hit by a car
This is common as they learn to fly. The baby may just be stunned but make sure it’s safe and contact a wildlife rescue for advice.

A bird with fishing line or other litter on it
Litter can cause injuries and restrict growth so please contact a rescue immediately if you see waterfowl affected by it.

Birds affected by oil or other pollution

See this article for more information.


When to take other action #

No sign of parents
Baby waterfowl usually spend all their time with one or both parents. A single chick on its own or a group of babies with no adult around is not normal. Observe from a distance to make sure there isn’t an adult nearby and call a wildlife rescue for advice if none appears.

A duck nesting in an unsuitable location
For example, a garden, hanging basket, on a swimming pool etc. See the advice here.

A bird with ‘airplane’ or ‘angel’ wing
This is a relatively common condition where the part of the wing or wings grow at right angles to the body rendering the bird flightless. Whether they should be rescued depends a lot on their age and the environment they live in. There’s more information here.

An older cygnet being attacked by their parents
Young swans leave home during Autumn and Winter and this usually happens without too much drama. Occasionally, the cygnet will fail to leave because it doesn’t have enough space to take off or it’s weak or unwell. When this happens, the parents can become very aggressive and even kill the youngster. Contact your local wildlife rescue for advice in this situation.


When to leave alone #

Apparently ’One legged’ birds
Many species of waterfowl commonly tuck one leg up while swimming or standing. This is usually to either warm up a cold foot or to help with cooling on a hot day. It’s nothing to be concerned about as long as the leg has no visible damage.

Finding Help #

You can find details of rescues in your area by searching our directory. If you're unsure whether to intervene or you have difficulty finding a rescue who can help, we have information about sources of bespoke help. We also have articles with detailed, practical advice about capturing an animal, providing short term care, contacting a wildlife rescue, and getting the animal to them.

Updated on May 28, 2024