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Home > Birds > Can You Keep a Wild Bird as a Pet? What to Do if You Find an Injured Bird

Can You Keep a Wild Bird as a Pet? What to Do if You Find an Injured Bird

We all love to watch birds flutter around the feeder in the yard or listen to them sing on sunny days. Many species — like parrots or budgies — also make great pets for bird lovers. Not all birds should be kept as pets, though, and wild birds should be left where they are. In fact, in the U.S.A., owning a wild bird as a pet is illegal , even if you’re only keeping them to help them heal from an injury.

It can be devastating to find an injured or sick bird in your yard, and many of us just want to help. Rather than try to nurse a wild bird back to health yourself, though, read this guide to learn why you should call your local wildlife conservation instead.


Is It Illegal to Keep Wild Birds as Pets?

In many places, including the U.S.A., the legality of keeping a wild bird as a pet depends on the bird’s species. Birds that are native to the U.S.A. are illegal for anyone to own,1 and this law sometimes includes the feathers, eggs, or pieces of the eggshell of the birds in question.

Only three species aren’t protected by U.S. law — European Starlings, pigeons, and sparrows — but this doesn’t mean owning these species is ethical.2

With the number of birds that are native to the U.S.A., it’s a much better idea to contact your local wildlife conservation agency and inform it of the problem. It will have the permits and knowledge required to properly care for wild animals.

chipping sparrow perching on a metal bar
Image Credit: magaliiee13, Pixabay

Is It Cruel to Keep Wild Birds as Pets?

If you’ve taken in an injured bird, it can be easy to believe that you’re helping them by keeping them contained in a cage. After all, they can’t get hurt by the outside world while safe inside with you, and they’ll never have to forage for food again. However, the practice is never as positive as the theory.

Imagine that you get injured on your way home from work or while you’re on the hunt for a restaurant to eat dinner. A well-meaning stranger offers assistance, takes you into their home, and helps you tend to your injury or just lets you rest somewhere comfortable to wait for a friend or an ambulance. Initially, you would be grateful that someone cares enough to help you. Now imagine that this person never lets you leave. Instead of calling an ambulance or letting you call a friend to help, they keep you locked in a room. They tell you that it’s for your own good and that you need to rest and recover. The door stays locked, even after you’re better. You’re kept well-fed and given everything that you could possibly want, but you’re never allowed to go home.

Blue Bird Macaw in the cage_ Grisha Bruev_Shutterstock
Image By: Gisha Bruev, Shutterstock

You might be thinking that this imagination exercise is far-fetched. After all, if you go missing, your friends or family would call the police, or a neighbor would witness a stranger taking you into their home. However, consider for a moment if you don’t have anyone who could call for help for you.

Wild birds don’t have anyone that can come to their rescue. If you remove them from their home to keep them in a cage, they will likely die there. After living free their whole lives, being trapped in a cage would be devastating. The space would be too tiny compared to the wide world they lived in before, and they would feel immense loneliness due to missing their flock. They won’t understand — any more than you would in a stranger’s house — why they can’t go home.

What to Do If You Find a Sick or Injured Bird

If you’re an animal lover, seeing any creature in pain can make your heart ache. Birds can be injured by flying into windows, getting caught by a cat, falling out of the nest, etc. But if you stumble across an injured, orphaned, or sick bird, your instinct to scoop them up and nurse them back to health isn’t the best option.

While you might have the bird’s best interests at heart, it’s unlikely that you have the supplies or knowledge necessary to help them. Also, it’s illegal in the U.S.A. to keep native birds for any reason, even if you’re trying to nurse them back to health. If they’re a young, orphaned bird, you can unintentionally interfere with their ability to live in the wild after you let them go.

Instead, you should leave the bird where they are and contact your local wildlife conservation agency. It will have the permits and skills necessary to help and legally care for the bird. The bird is also more likely to be able to be released back to their home once fully recovered.

In some cases, an injury or illness means the bird can never be released back into the wild. Rather than keep them in a cage, though, shelters and rescues will give wild birds plenty of safety while letting them fend for themselves. While they won’t be as free as they would be in the wild, they’re also not trapped in a tiny cage for the rest of their lives.

dark-eyed junco bird on a wooden platform
Image By: austintude, Pixabay

Can You Purchase a Wild Bird From a Breeder?

Although owning wild birds is illegal, you can still find people who capture, breed, and sell them to make a profit. Visiting these breeders is ill-advised. Not only are you breaking the law by owning a wild bird, but you’ll also be supporting the breeder’s methods. The more people who purchase from them, the more likely the breeder will capture more wild birds to meet the increasing demand.

Also, if your wild bird — even if they were born in captivity by a breeder — gets sick or injured for any reason, you’ll likely find it difficult to find a veterinarian willing to treat them.

You might be wondering how anyone can keep birds at all. The birds that are commonly kept as pets, such as canaries and parrots, aren’t native to the U.S.A. and are bred in captivity, which is why they typically have a metal band around their leg. They’ve never experienced life outside of someone’s home, and it’s unsafe for them to be released into the wild because they don’t have the knowledge or skills to take care of themselves.

That said, pet birds require a significant amount of care. Before purchasing any pet, you need to research reputable breeders and make sure you understand how to care for the animal in question. You should also make sure your local veterinarian has the experience and skills necessary to treat them if they get sick.

blue parrot bird perched on a rock
Image By: klickblick, Pixabay



Wild birds can easily get hurt while they’re fending for themselves, and taking them in to nurse them back to health or keep them safe as a pet is something that many bird lovers have considered. However, trapping any wild animal in a cage — even with good intentions — is never a good idea. Moreover, many native wild birds are protected by laws in the U.S.A. and require permits to keep for any amount of time.

If you find an injured or orphaned wild bird, contact your local bird rescue or wildlife agency. It will be able to legally care for the bird and release them back into the wild once they’re healthy or ensure that they will live a long, happy life in a bird sanctuary.

Featured Image Credit: SommerRayn, Pixabay

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