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North Hills Monthly

Rescuing Birds Best Left to Professional Rehabilitators

Mar 31, 2015 09:54AM ● By Jill Cueni Cohen
Finding an injured bird or a fallen nest of babies often tempts people to take care of the helpless creatures, but that is often not the best thing to do. According to Jill Argall, director of the Animal Rescue League (ARL) Wildlife Center, it is best just to observe the animal and call a wildlife rehabilitator right away. “Young birds out of the nest may not be injured,” she explained. “Relay over the phone what you’re seeing, and they will be able to tell you what to do.”

She also advises that potential rescuers resist all urge to feed, hold or interact with the birds. “This can be frightening and detrimental, and you can make things worse,” Argall warned, adding that besides harming the bird, caring for it is illegal. If you must move the bird to a safer area, pick it up with a towel and put it a box. Then put the box in a dark, cool, quiet place until it can be taken to a rescue center.

The Animal Rescue League Wildlife Center is a fully licensed wildlife rehabilitation clinic that specializes in the care and treatment of injured, orphaned, and ill native Pennsylvanian wildlife. The clinic admits more than 2,000 animals every year and maintains a release rate near 65 percent, which is nearly twice the national average.

Despite the fact that it’s illegal to possess wildlife without a permit, people are constantly trying to raise baby birds. “Unfortunately, baby birds that are hand-fed don’t usually survive,” according to Beth McMaster of Wildbird Recovery, located off of Route 8 in Valencia. McMaster has more than 15 years of training and experience in the care and treatment of injured and orphaned wild birds.

“If they do survive, the bird is usually not releasable; the poor diet has ruined the flight feathers growing in,” she explained “If the feathers look bad, you can imagine what their organs look like. People who try to raise baby birds reduce the chance of them being able to go back to where they belong.” 

According to McMaster, the youngest babies coming into the center measure about an inch long and weigh about four grams. ”People think it will be cool to raise them, but baby birds eat every 15 minutes, and when that doesn’t work out, they reach a point and say someone else has to do this,” she said. “I can better help baby birds if I get them right away.”

Also known as “That Guy with the Birds,” John Lege has spent the past 35 years rescuing and educating the public about parrots. “Parrots are wild birds that were never meant to be pets,” he said. “This is a pet industry myth; people began keeping birds in captivity only 160 years ago.”

Lege does his best to make sure that people understand what they’re getting into before they purchase a bird. “I never tell someone not to buy a bird; I say, do your homework and learn everything about the specific species you want, and once you know everything about how the bird lives in its natural habitat, you’ll understand it better in captivity,” he explained.

“Once someone sees what’s involved, they don’t want a bird anymore,” he said, noting that expensive, exotic tropical birds will often exhibit a variety of disruptive behaviors.

“You have to know what you’re getting into,” said Lege, adding that when they’re cared for properly, parrots can live for a very long time. “My oldest bird is 66 years old and belonged to a friend of my dad’s, who hatched her himself in 1949.”

Lege said that when young birds mature, their natural instincts come out, causing them to scream and bite. “Their beaks are capable of removing fingers,” he warned, adding that the act of cutting their wings and keeping them confined in cages puts a lot of stress on them. “They will often pull out their own feathers in frustration.”

Breeding season is an especially raucous time for bird owners. “When their hormones act up, they call out to their own kind, and in the wild, they can be heard for miles,” he said, adding that the squawking can be constant.

Another aspect of owning a bird is being able to feed it properly. “They don’t just eat bird seed; it’s very important for them to eat the same food they’d find in their natural surroundings, and not all parrots eat the same thing,” he said. “A parrot from Africa would never eat the same food as a parrot from South America, because they live in different trees and are adapted to their particular environments.”  

To learn more about how to help wild birds, visit or To read more about John Lege’s rescue work and educational presentations, visit