This is a difficult and emotive subject and often the topic of much debate. Some believe a broken wing can never be fixed and that a bird which cannot fly will automatically be miserable. Others that any disabled bird should be given the chance of life in a sanctuary. It’s a tricky situation and we aim to present an objective view of this debate here. What we won’t do is attempt to tell you how to ‘fix’ the bird’s wing – this is an injury which must involve an experienced wildlife rescuer or vet otherwise the bird risks permanent, painful disability.
Is the wing actually broken? #
First of all, it is worth mentioning that many calls about birds start with the finder expressing their belief that the bird has a broken wing. Often the only evidence that this is the case is that the bird cannot (or will not) fly. In fact, birds fail to fly for many reasons and any general illness can make flight difficult, just as having the flu might stop you going for a jog! A broken wing will usually be hanging down in an unusual position and the bird may have little ability to move it at all. If the wings are held in a normal position, there may well be another reason for the lack of flight.
Regardless, any adult bird which cannot or does not fly is usually in need of help from a rescue.
If the wing is broken #
Depending on the type of break, the actual bone involved, the species of bird, and the quality of treatment they receive, it is sometimes possible to fix a broken wing well enough for the bird to be released into the wild. We suggest you have a discussion with any rescues you call about their policy on birds with broken wings. Whilst there are certainly times when ending the suffering of a bird with a broken wing is the kindest option, we would suggest caution with any organisation which has a blanket policy that all birds with this injury should be euthanased. The proper standard of care for a bird with a broken wing would be for them to receive an x-ray and assessment by a vet experienced with caring for birds in order to make an informed decision about their future.
Should non-flying birds be kept in a sanctuary? #
Whether wild birds which will not fly well enough to be released should be euthanased or given sanctuary is a very contentious topic. There is not one right answer here.
Some believe that wild animals belong entirely in the wild and keeping any wild animal in captivity is cruel. In our experience, this may be the case for the majority of bird species. A territorial bird such as a blackbird or robin, for example, would be unlikely to tolerate others of their species in their aviary, leading to a solitary and unfulfilling existence. It would also be incredibly difficult to meet the feeding and enrichment needs of a specialist and sensitive bird like a Kingfisher, who relies on being able to dive to feed.
However, some species are laid back, comfortable around people, and content to walk rather than fly. Feral pigeons, waterfowl and gulls, for example, many believe adapt well to captivity in the right circumstances. However, all birds should be assessed as an individual in our view as they each have their own personality and preferences.
Another element to consider is that most rescues simply won’t have the space and resources to offer sanctuary to every non-releasable bird, especially when you consider that many species can live 15 years or more. If it is important to you that ‘your’ casualty receives sanctuary, you may need to travel a considerable distance to find an organisation able to offer this. We urge you not to criticise rescues who land on a different side of this debate to you. Whatever their decision, it is inevitably one made with what they feel are the best interests of the animal at heart. No rescuer wants to euthanase.