There are two common scenarios for housing the songbird patient. Adult companion birds may be hospitalized during critically illness. Wild songbirds of all ages—but particularly juvenile birds—may also be maintained in the veterinary hospital when injured or orphaned.
When hospitalizing any wildlife patient, the goal should always be to transfer the animal to an experienced, licensed wildlife rehabilitator as soon as possible (Fig 1). In the meantime, it is imperative that the passerine bird be housed appropriately to promote recovery and prevent injury.
Adult songbird housing
The primary goal when housing adult songbirds is to prevent escape while minimizing patient stress. If the songbird is only going to be hospitalized short-term, a small Plexiglas pet cage will facilitate easy capture because of the porthole in the snap-top lid (Fig 5).
Avoid placing a wild songbird in a pet bird cage as the bird will strip its feathers on the cage bars, which can delay release. Cut a tree branch or doweling to size for perching material. Place this enclosure within a room that will allow for easy capture if your patient does escape. Use a bird net (with care!) or darken the room to catch escapees.
Animal welfare needs and legalities dictate that wild birds should not be housed in most veterinary hospitals long-term. If you do not have a relationship with a local wildlife rehabilitator, develop one! And in the mean time, contact your state wildlife resource agency, the National Wildlife Rehabilitators Association, and/or the International Wildlife Rehabilitators Council for help in finding local wildlife caretakers in your area.
Heinemann J. Housing guidelines for songbirds. Wildlife Rehabilitation Volume 13. Pp. 45-66.
Orendorff B. Hand-rearing songbirds. In: Moore A, Joosten S (eds). NWRA Principles of Wildlife Rehabilitation, 2nd ed. National Wildlife Rehabilitators Association; 2002. Pp. 425-429.
Zagaya N. Care of orphaned wildlife. UTCVM Zoological Medicine course class notes. 1995.
Pollock CG. Songbird housing checklist. July 18, 2012. LafeberVet Web site. Available at https://lafeber.com/vet/songbird-housing-checklist/