Got this email from Dawn Keller at Flint Creek to share in an attempt to educate all on how to best respond to an injured, sick or wounded bird or animal:
Sent: Thursday, October 07, 2010 7:14 PM
Subject: IBET Guidelines for Injured and Sick Wildlife - NO SIGHTING
Several people have asked us to post information regarding why licensed wildlife rehabilitation centers tell rescuers of injured and orphaned wildlife not to feed or give water to the animal. Below is some general information as well as some specific to the recent Jaeger on Montrose Beach. We hope that this information will help save lives by peventing rescuers from making fatal mistakes.
Flint Creek Wildlife actually never recommends feeding injured or orphaned wildlife without first consulting a licensed wildlife rehabilitator due to potentially negative – and even sometimes fatal – consequences. The general instruction that we give members of the public (including on our outgoing phone message) is “under no circumstances should you feed or give the animal water unless instructed to do so by a licensed wildlife rehabilitator”. Once we can phone triage and evaluate the animal’s condition, we do sometimes give instructions to feed the animal. There are two major categories where we give feeding instructions. The first category is where we feel that we can safely provide a very specific set of instructions. As an example, we instruct the public to provide food and water for orphaned ducklings and goslings until they are brought to our center (which should be done quickly). Our instructions are specific right down to the size of the water dish to avoid drowning and hypothermia risks. The second category is in the case of live trapping a sick fox or coyote (with requisite IDNR permits/approval, of course!). In this case, the animal would never go into the trap and would never receive much-needed medical care unless the trap is baited with the appropriate food.
Beyond the two major categories explained above and without advice from a licensed wildlife rehabilitator, we don’t recommend that the public feed or give water. Feeding or giving water to injured/sick wildlife has some really major risks and many animals admitted to our center die because people fed them before bringing them to us.
The major cause of fatality is aspiration pneumonia. Feeding baby mammals, baby songbirds, baby raptors and/or injured or compromised adult mammals and birds often leads to aspiration pneumonia. We have admitted as many as 12 songbirds in a day that were dying because their well-intentioned caregiver aspirated them (got food or water in the lungs). We’ve even had a baby Great Horned Owl die because they rescuer heard our instructions but decided to ignore them. Instead, he put a straw full of water in the bird’s mouth and the bird died of aspiration pneumonia. Even prompt and appropriate medical care often cannot save these victims.
Even if food is offered free-choice (not placed in the animal’s mouth), serious complications can result. Animals are often offered inappropriate food (processed food, alcohol – we’ve seen it all) that can damage or kill the animal. Rescuers often aren’t knowledgeable about an animal’s natural diet. We’ve had seafood salad and hot dogs fed to birds of prey, bread soaked in honey and milk given to songbirds, and bread given to waterfowl as examples. Finally, even if the right food is provided problems and even death can result. Feeding an emaciated animal can actually kill it. When an animal is starving, its gastrointestinal tract is no longer functioning properly and, therefore, it cannot process food. The animal can use its last stores of energy trying to process the food which actually pushes it over the edge or the food can sit undigested in the crop of a bird and start rotting. We had a lady feed ground beef to an emaciated Cooper’s Hawk and it died as a result. Sometimes an animal has other physical problems where feeding has the potential to kill it - examples include crop stasis and impaction of the cloaca.
So, in terms of the Jaeger, let me start by saying that I don’t think feeding it harmed it in this case; however, this situation was dangerously close to harming it for two reasons. First, the Jaeger is borderline emaciated. It is really close to a state of emaciation whereby its GI tract would not be functioning properly. (The tough thing with birds is you generally cannot tell if they are emaciated by looking at them as the feathers hide too much so you should always assume the worst). Second, because of the impaction to the cloaca, it had no way to eliminate waste. This situation can quickly result in a toxic situation and it can also lead to the entire GI system shutting down.
The best thing for any rescuer to do is to call a licensed wildlife rehabilitator who can assess and treat the animal's condition.
Hope this information helps. Feel free to contact me off-line with questions.
Thanks for caring about the birds and for doing the right thing.
Flint Creek Wildlife Rehabilitation
Chicago, Barrington, and Itasca
Cook, Lake and DuPage countieswww.flintcreekwildlife.org