How to Rescue a Trapped Bird

Birds typically fly indoors while searching for food. (They don’t know that human snacks might not be so good for birds.) Once inside a structure, birds can easily become trapped. They often fly upwards to attempt a quick escape—but are foiled by the ceiling and dizzying lights.

Here’s how you can best help any small bird that might stumble into your home:

  • DO count to 10 and calm yourself down. It is not an emergency. The bird is safe and so are you. “There is not a high likelihood of the bird scratching you or biting you,” says Goldberg. (But if it’s a large bird, such as an owl or a hawk, you’ll need professional help: see below.)
  • DON’T yell or chase the bird. It doesn’t need more stress.
  • DO remove immediate dangers from the room. Turn off the ceiling fan. Escort pets elsewhere. Quench open flames and, if you’re in the kitchen, cover hot pots. Birds don’t know that water in the pot you’re boiling for pasta is an issue.
  • DO give the bird an opportunity to see itself out. Turn out the lights, open the windows, close the door, and leave it alone. Be patient. If it’s dark outside, you may need to wait overnight for it to see the light. Birds will follow light if it’s light outside.
  • DO remove all food and water sources from the room. Give it no reason to stay.

If the trapped bird can’t find the exit, a more hands-on approach may be necessary:

  • DO wash your hands, even if you don’t plan on handling the bird. Even a small amount of oil from your skin can damage a bird’s feathers, and a bird is not releasable if its feathers are damaged.
  • DO hold up a towel or sheet to block the bird from flying farther indoors.
  • DO calmly chase the bird to tire it out if it has not already exhausted itself. If you must use a broom, wave it; don’t swat at the bird. When tired, it will stop flying around and rest on a comfortable perch.
  • DO turn a box on its side, hold it next to the bird, and push it inside with a small towel. Use the towel (or another object) to cover the opening as you quickly and steadily carry the box outside.
  • DON’T accidentally drop the box on the bird if attempting to capture it from above (this could hurt the bird).
  • If the bird readily flies away, pat yourself on the back — you are a hero!
  • If it doesn’t leave, call your local wildlife rehabilitation center. The Ohio Wildlife Center (614-793-9453) is a good place to start.
  • And finally, DON’T attempt to capture and release a trapped hawk or other large bird. Call animal control or your local wildlife rehabilitation center.
Cat(bird) in the window
Cardinal in window