Patient of the Week: American Robin Fledgling Flies Free After Surviving Cat Attack

By Ashley Lema, Wildlife Rehabilitator

It’s June and baby season is in full swing here at our Wildlife Care Center! We are receiving more than 40 new patients every day (and over 100 daily this past weekend) and have already received about 3,000 patients so far this year. Our baby bird nursery is the busiest room in our whole hospital — with dozens of groups of baby birds on feeding schedules as often as every 30 minutes, and all requiring specialized food depending on their species to survive and thrive.

Back in May, we received this American Robin fledgling from a good Samaritan who found the poor bird in some bushes outside, being attacked by their domestic cat. Although they didn’t see any obvious injuries, they did the right thing by bringing the injured animal to our hospital right away. Our staff examined the young robin and found many bruises & puncture wounds under the feathers, but luckily not harming any major organs or breaking any bones. We also found subcutaneous emphysema, which is an accumulation of air under the skin caused by trauma to a bird’s air sacs (part of their respiratory system.) If an air sac is ruptured, air leaks into surrounding tissue. The bird’s skin can inflate like a balloon, cause difficulty walking or standing, and also impacts their breathing. We were able to clean their wounds, treat the emphysema, and get the fledgling on medication right away, to provide relief from the pain and discomfort of their cat-inflicted injuries. We also immediately started a course of antibiotics, to prevent the infections which are so prevalent and deadly in small animals caught by cats.

Three Fledging American Robins on branch in enclosure
A trio of American Robin fledglings perching on a natural branch in their small indoor enclosure. All three birds were healing from wounds received by domestic cats.

But besides healing from the injuries inflicted by the cat, the bird also had a lot of growing up left to do! They were raised in our baby bird nursery by dedicated volunteers and staff members, with the goal to be seen as little as possible. Wild animals, especially babies, are at risk of becoming too comfortable with humans. Our wild patients only see us when they need to be fed, cleaned, medicated or examined, to give them the space they require to remain wild. Once a bit older, the robin and their fellow cage mates were able to move to one of our larger outdoor enclosures, so they could begin flying, and searching for food with less and less assistance from their faux parents – us. After a little over a month in care, the American Robin was fully grown, had built up flight muscles, learned to forage for food, and was able to evade predators with ease — ready to return to the wild. They were released back to their home by one of our amazing volunteers!

By far, the most common cause for injured wildlife admitted to our center are cat attacks. Cats do a lot of damage to our native wildlife, even if you don’t catch them in the act. Cats kill billions of wild birds (as well as mammals, reptiles, amphibians, etc.) in the U.S. every year, making it the most prevalent human-influenced cause of avian deaths aside from habitat loss and degradation. And while domestic cats are incredible hunters that can take down adult birds year-round, the spring and summer months bring fledglings that are most at risk because they are unable to fly away, or outrun the cat, especially right after leaving the nest. Here at the Wildlife Care Center, we do everything we can for cat-injured animals, but the injuries are often extreme, and many of these animals ultimately don’t survive the attack. Any time a cat comes into contact with a wild animal, please bring them to a wildlife rehabilitation center, even if you think they looks fine. Any patient that has been in contact with a domestic cat needs a treatment of antibiotics at the very least, but they usually do have wounds that experienced wildlife professionals can find and tend to.

American Robins are one of the most common wildlife sightings across North America. Abundant and widespread, many people are familiar with these birds. They are year round residents here in Portland, and can be seen tugging at worms in our yards almost every day. American Robins are fairly large songbirds, with yellow beaks, round “bellies” and long legs. They are mostly gray, with warm orange underparts, and white undertail. Males have darker heads, females (and juveniles of either sex) have paler heads that contrast less with their gray back. As ground foragers, this is the main way they “hunt.” The robin will run a few steps, stop abruptly in an upright stance, and stare motionless at the ground with the head cocked to one side as they search for yummy earthworms. They do mainly eat worms and insects, but also enjoy fruit as well, like wild berries. Robins can produce up to three broods (or “batches”) of young in one year! Their nests are typically in the lower half of a tree, although they can be built as high as the treetop, and many American Robins have resorted to nesting in gutters, eaves, on outdoor light fixtures, and other human structures to work around our human lives. Because robins can be found around places where we live, their populations sometimes serve as an early warning sign of environmental problems, such as overuse of pesticides.

A Field Guide to Fledglings, by Wild Bird Fund. 9 examples of fledgling birds shown. Text: Don’t birdnap us: grumpy face, a lil scruffy, standing or hopping and fully feathered? Yup, that’s a fledgling. Unless we’re injured or in danger, please let us be. Our parents are nearby and feeding us.

How You Can Help Our Native Wildlife

    • Keeping your cat inside or in an outdoor enclosure is the best thing you can do for wildlife, especially during baby bird season. Free roaming domestic cats kill and/or severely injure so much of Oregon’s wildlife every year, and collectively have hugely detrimental impacts on our local environment and biodiversity on a larger scale as well. Even if you don’t see your well-fed outside cat injuring animals, due to their natural predatory instincts, they almost always still hunt.
    • It’s not just good for wildlife to keep cats inside; it’s good for your favorite feline. A cat that is allowed outdoors is at much greater risk of injury and illness – in fact, an outdoor cat’s life span is only 2-5 years versus the indoor cat’s lifespan of 10-15 years. Cats and birds are incredible creatures in their own ways, they both deserve to be protected by those who have the power to do so. 
    • Cats can live very happy lives indoors, but there are also responsible ways to give them time outdoors. Leashed walks and catios are two good solutions. Consider checking out our upcoming Catio Tour or learn more through our partnership with the Feral Cat Coalition: Cats Safe at Home.

What to Do If You Find An Ill, Injured or Orphaned Animal 

    • If an animal is visibly ill or injured, has been in contact with a cat, or is definitely orphaned, the best thing you can do is contain the animal in a securely closed (but ventilated) box and keep the animal quiet and undisturbed until you can transport it to your closest wildlife rehabilitation facility. Do not offer food or water, and do not try to provide any medical treatment.

Bird Alliance of Oregon’s Wildlife Care Center accepts new patients from 9 a.m. – 5 p.m. every day. You can also leave a message on our Wildlife Hotline at (503) 292-0304 or email and one of our wildlife solutions counselors will get back to you and provide advice for your specific situation.


We’re building a new Wildlife Care Center and need your help! If you would like to help injured and orphaned wildlife, please consider joining our crowdfunding campaign and making a gift to make this new facility a reality. We’re doubling the square footage, adding a surgical suite, and making many more important changes to provide the best care for our patients. Learn more at ForPortlandBird Alliance of