Birds Unable to Fly

Some reasons a bird may be unable to fly are:

  • Injured or sick
  • Fledgling (see fledgling icon for more information on this)
  • Window strikes
  • Electrocution
  • Hunting “misses”
  • Species of bird – some species are unable to take flight from land

Loon with fishhook embedded in throat.

Signs a bird may be injured or sick:

  • Blood, broken wing/limb, flies and maggots present
  • Shivering, fluffed up
  • Stumbling or unable to stand
  • Gasping or gaped mouth
  • Foreign body embedded or wrapped around bird
  • Injured birds should be caught and brought to a vet or rehabilitator.

Window Strikes
Window strikes are estimated to kill around 25 million birds per year in Canada alone. If a bird hits your window it may just be stunned and simply need time to recuperate.

  • Watch from a distance to see if it recovers or place the stunned bird in a cardboard box where it is protected from predators.
  • If you are uncomfortable picking it up you can simply place a box over top of it and leave it there.
  • Leave the bird in a quiet, stress free area for approximately 2 hours- do not play music for it.
    After 1 – 2 hours has passed, open the box allowing it to fly off – make sure you are outdoors! If it is still unable to fly, the bird has more extensive injuries and should be brought to a vet or rehabilitator.
  • For information on preventing window strikes, please see our living with wild neighbours section.

Electrocutions
Unfortunately, electrocutions are common among large raptors such as owls, hawks, eagles, and falcons. Electrocution does much internal damage to a bird and it can take them many weeks to die. If you see a raptor on the ground in the same location and near a power line several times this could be an indication it has been electrocuted. If you are able to approach the bird and it does not take off contact the WRSOS Hotline for directions and see the Safe Capture and Transport section.

Hunting “Misses”
In Saskatchewan we are lucky to be a major part of the “Duck Factory” of North America. It is estimated that 70% of the ducks born in North America are born right here in Saskatchewan. Unfortunately, this also means we are one of the best hunting destinations for many people. “Hunting “misses” are quite common in the fall both during and for approximately 4 to 6 weeks after waterfowl hunting season. These are birds that were shot but, were not initially injured badly enough to be caught. After a period of time they become weaker and often get infections in the wounds. They are often too weak to migrate and can be found:

  • Alone in ponds that are nearly frozen over.
  • Walking instead of flying.
  • In peoples yards.
  • And occasionally falling out of the sky when they become so weak they are unable to go on.

These wounds can be very hard to find even for a trained professional and are often only found after x-rays give an idea of where to look. These birds must have medical attention. Contact WRSOS for further instructions.

Species of Bird

Eared Grebe

There are a number of species of water birds in Saskatchewan that are unable to take flight from land. These birds occasionally mistake roadways or frozen water for open water and land. Once they are on the ground, they are trapped. Some examples of these are Pelicans, Grebes, and Loons. Pelicans are so large they need a fairly big pond to take flight from. Grebes and Loons are classified as diving birds. Diving birds dive for their food. Their legs are placed so far back on their bodies that they are unable to walk on land either. These birds must be helped to water where they will be able to take flight. Caution – diving birds often spear their prey and will go for your eyes. Contact WRSOS and see the Safe Capture and Transport icon.

Birds is Molting
Many species of ducks molt once a year. Molting is when the flight feathers fall out and are replaced by new ones. During this period, females molt slowly and symmetrically so they are still able to fly. Males of some species often gather together and molt quickly which can leave them flightless for several weeks in the summer.

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