When to Help 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. This page covers adult birds. If you need advice on baby water fowl, please see here.

Living on water affords them some protection from natural predators but unfortunately they are commonly affected by fishing line, pollution and dog attacks.

When to Rescue #

Birds hit by a car or attacked by a dog
The bird should be treated for shock and properly assessed for injuries.

Any bird with an obvious injury
If you can see a wound, or a wing or leg is visibly damaged, the bird will need help.

Birds with fishing line wrapped round them or in their mouth
There’s some more information on this here.

A domestic duck or goose abandoned in the wild
This is unfortunately common. These can often be distinguished from wild birds by their colouring (wild ducks aren’t usually white) or shape (heavy in the body with small wings meaning they can’t fly). They won’t survive in the wild and need to be rescued.


When to take other action #

A bird with a deformed 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.

Birds on an oiled body of water
See here for more details of when to help

A duck nesting in a garden or other unsuitable location
See the advice here

A bird showing symptoms of avian flu
Signs might include swollen head, lethargy, lack of coordination, trembling or a twisted neck. Do not touch any birds showing these symptoms. Wildlife rescues will not usually be able to attend (due to the risk to other birds in their care) but the RSPCA may be able to send someone to end the bird’s suffering (0300 123 4999). There’s more information here.


When to leave alone #

A bird standing on one leg or tucking its leg up on to its body

These are normal postures for waterfowl. Unless you see the bird limping, or the leg has a visible wound, this isn’t a cause for concern.

A swan showing the classic tucked up leg pose which is often mistaken for a sign of injury
A swan showing the classic tucked up leg pose which is often mistaken for a sign of injury

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.

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Updated on May 6, 2024