How To Tell If A Bird Is Dead Or Just Stunned - Birdwatching Buzz (2023)

How To Tell If A Bird Is Dead Or Just Stunned - Birdwatching Buzz (1)

At some time during your bird watching life, you may come across a bird that is lying on the ground and unable to fly away. Or, you have had a bird fly directly into a window at home. But, how do you tell if a bird is just stunned or actually dead?

One of the best ways to tell if a bird is dead or just stunned is to check whether it’s actually breathing. For this, you should look at the chest and stomach of the bird to see whether it’s breathing. You may also listen very closely to see if you can hear a heartbeat or gently touch the bird to try and feel the heartbeat.

If the bird is still breathing or you can feel a heartbeat, it’s best just to leave the bird alone for around ten minutes to see whether it will recover on its own. To check if the bird is breathing, watch for the rise and fall of the bird’s chest and stomach area.

Ultimately, if you happen to have a stethoscope handy, you can easily listen for the bird’s heartbeat. Even if the heartbeat appears quite weak and faint, the bird is still alive and will most likely recover. If you don’t have a stethoscope, put your ear to the bird’s chest and listen.


  • 1 Other Ways To Tell If The Bird Is Still Alive
  • 2 What Should You Do If A Bird Flies Into Your Window?
  • 3 How To Tell If A Bird Is Actually Dead
  • 4 Things That You Should Avoid Doing When You Find A Stunned Bird
  • 5 Frequently Asked Questions
  • 6 Final Thoughts

Other Ways To Tell If The Bird Is Still Alive

Apart for checking whether the bird is still breathing or whether it has a heartbeat, there are other telltale signs that the bird is stunned but still very much alive. Here are a few signs to look out for:

  • Check for twitching in the bird’s legs and feet. This could indicate that the bird is recovering from the shock of being stunned.
  • Watch for eye blinking. Even a stunned bird will blink its eyes. Also, the eyes should be open.
  • Check the bird’s body temperature if you can. The normal body temperature for most birds is around 102 and 109 degrees Fahrenheit. However, be aware that the bird may have a lower temperature if it’s in shock.
  • The bird’s head may tilt to one side. Plus, the feathers will be lying flat or even sideways.
  • If the bird is in shock, it may be fluffed up and quite weak and it may exhibit slow breathing. You may also notice that the bird has its beak open and is breathing out of its mouth.

How To Tell If A Bird Is Dead Or Just Stunned - Birdwatching Buzz (2)

What Should You Do If A Bird Flies Into Your Window?

If you’re sitting inside and you feel the thud of a bird flying into your window, here are some things you should do:

  • Find the bird. It may have landed just under the window or it may be several feet away.
  • Observe the bird without touching it. When you do find the bird, just observe it for a few minutes. It may just be a little stunned and may fly away once it recovers.
  • Study the bird closely. If the little bird does not recover on its own, you can gently pick it up to check for any injuries. Try to wear gloves, if you can. This will protect you from being pecked or scratched if the bird suddenly recovers. If the bird has obvious injuries that you can see, it might be wise to contact a wildlife rescue organization that can look after the bird and treat the injuries. If you can’t see any obvious injuries, you can help it to recover safely.
  • Create a safe shelter for the bird to aid recovery. Find a box, making sure that it’s large enough so that the bird can spread its wings once it recovers. Place some newspapers or perhaps an old towel into the box to make it more comfortable.
  • Place the bird inside the box. Do this very gently so that you don’t harm the bird. Place the box in a warm spot that’s relatively quiet. If this means taking the box inside, make sure that you close the lid but ensure that there are plenty of ventilation holes so that the bird can breathe. Keeping the bird in the dark while it’s recovering helps to reduce stress.
  • Add a shallow dish with a very small amount of water. This will help the bird to hydrate itself when it recovers. However, make sure that there’s only a small amount of water so that it’s not possible for the bird to drown if the dish gets knocked over.
  • Leave the bird to rest inside the box for up to 4 hours. Some birds will recover within 10 minutes while others may take around three to four hours. Try to resist the temptation to open the box every few minutes as it’s better to leave the bird to recover on its own without further added stress.
  • Re-release the bird once it has recovered. If you can hear movement from within the box, it’s likely that the bird has recovered and is ready to fly away. Gently take the box outside and open up the lid. The bird should fly out of the box as soon as you open the lid. However, if it doesn’t, allow the bird to climb onto your hand and then lift it out of the box. It should then fly away.

How To Tell If A Bird Is Dead Or Just Stunned - Birdwatching Buzz (3)

How To Tell If A Bird Is Actually Dead

Apart from the lack of breathing or heartbeat, there are other telltale signs that the bird may be dead. Here’s what to look out for:

  • Check the legs and feet for stiffness. The muscles in the legs and feet of dead birds will be stiff while birds that are just stunned will still have relaxed muscles in their feet and legs.
  • Check the eyes. If you can see no blinking or movement in the bird’s eyes, then it is probably dead. Dead birds will also have their eyes closed.
  • Are the feathers clinging together?
  • The bird will feel quite stiff and be in a frozen pose, often with a raised neck.

Things That You Should Avoid Doing When You Find A Stunned Bird

If you do find a stunned bird and you want to help it recover, there are some things that you should avoid.

  • Do not give the bird any food as this is not necessary and may actually harm the bird.
  • Don’t try do a physically examination of the bird unless you’re very experienced in this area.
  • Never give the bird any type of medication.
  • Make sure that you keep your pets and small children away from the bird.
  • Don’t be tempted to keep the bird as a pet once it recovers. Wild birds belong in the wild. Plus, you need a special permit to keep certain species as pets.
  • Never release the bird indoors as this will cause further stress and may even harm the bird.
  • Never handle birds of prey as these birds can be quite dangerous if they suddenly recover from their shocked state. If you do happen to find a bird of prey that is stunned, call a wildlife rescue or rehabilitator immediately, as they are trained in handling these birds.

How To Tell If A Bird Is Dead Or Just Stunned - Birdwatching Buzz (4)

Frequently Asked Questions

Can birds die from being stunned?

A stunned bird can die because it may be injured or is a prime target for predators.

How long will a bird stay stunned?

It can take around two to three hours for a stunned bird to fully recover and be able to fly off.

Can you do CPR on a bird?

Yes, it is actually possible to do CPR on a bird to revive it but you have to be gentle and only use your fingertips for the chest compression. Unless you’re very experienced in handling birds, it’s not recommended that you do this on a wild bird though. Wild birds can carry different diseases that can be passed onto humans.

Why do birds get stunned?

The most common way that a bird can get stunned is when it accidentally flies into a window. Birds do not know that a window is solid and can only see the reflection that is shown in the glass.

Final Thoughts

Hopefully, you can now determine whether a bird that you find on the ground is either stunned or dead. The most common signs to look out for are whether the bird is breathing and whether it has a heartbeat. Plus, there are other telltale signs to look for.

If a bird is just stunned, there are things that you can do to help the bird recover. Placing it in a secure cardboard box and keeping it in a warm environment will help the bird to recover much quicker than leaving it outside and risking a predator finding it.

Just be sure that you release the bird back out into the wild once it has recovered. Most importantly, if a bird has injuries that you can see or you find a stunned bird of prey, call a professional wildlife carer who will know how to handle the bird safely and get it back out into its native environment.

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