Patient of the Week: Dark-eyed Junco Fledgling No Longer Suffering

By Ashley Lema, Wildlife Rehabilitator

We received this poor Dark-eyed Junco fledgling after a good Samaritan saw their puppy catch them and decided to bring them in. They told us the young bird was unable to fly after the attack, and that they were just missing some feathers. Many people that bring us animals their cat or dog has caught tell us something along those lines; “it’s fine, it just won’t fly away…” or “it looks ok to me, but…” The truth is, when wildlife are caught by pets, the injuries they face are often severe and internal, making them invisible to the naked eye. That’s why it’s so important to always get that animal professional help as soon as possible.

The fledgling Dark-eyed Junco lying on a towel in a small box. The bird’s wing is not being held properly, a leg is completely rotated backwards, and there is blood on the towel.
The fledgling Dark-eyed Junco lying on a towel in a small box. The bird’s wing is not being held properly and a leg is completely rotated backwards.

Unfortunately missing fur or feathers is rarely the extent of the animals injuries after encountering a cat or dog. Upon examination, the young Dark-eyed Junco had multiple fractures including a broken leg and broken wing, and severe wounds beneath the feathers. Sadly, we came to the conclusion that the damage done to their little body was irreparable, and that the fledgling junco would never fly again, leaving them unable to survive in the wild. I humanely euthanized the fledgling so they were no longer suffering, no longer afraid or in pain. Regardless of the outcome, I was so grateful to the good Samaritans who didn’t just leave the bird outside to die slowly.

Although these decisions can be difficult to make, we must do what’s right for the animal. We always put the animal first when we evaluate it’s injuries, and that is a complex process that requires us to consider a lot of different factors. Not only do we need to know when an animal won’t survive it’s injuries from a medical standpoint, it also means understanding the animal’s natural history so we can recognize how those injuries will impact animals long-term; they may cause chronic pain or lead to secondary medical issues, prevent the animal from being able to find and capture food, lay eggs, or successfully engage in other natural behaviors like migration. Euthanasia is the kindest and most humane option we can offer to wildlife that cannot survive a return to their natural wild lives. To live full, high quality lives, wild animals need to be able to escape predators, find food and shelter, breed, and successfully interact with others of their species. Sometimes, the gut response to this concept is to want to take the wildlife out of the wild, where they won’t have to face those challenges. But those aspects are exactly the environment wildlife is built to thrive in, and captivity imposes limitations and puts wildlife near people, which is extremely damaging to their quality of life. In the rare instances where circumstances align and a wild-born animal does have the temperament to tolerate captivity, it takes a huge investment of money, space, and skilled care to meet its needs. This is why it is unethical and illegal to force a wild animal to be a pet, and permitted individuals and organizations (like Bird Alliance of Oregon’s Ambassador Animal Program) need to follow extensive processes and meet certain standards to keep wildlife in captivity.

Dark-eyed Juncos are a familiar face around the Bird Alliance of Oregon campus. They are medium-sized sparrows, with round heads, short beaks, and long *flashy* tails. Juncos vary in color across North America, but in general they are gray or brown, with white bellies, a pale pink beak, and white outer tail feathers. Adult males will have a crisp black head, and females will have a gray hood. Juveniles are brown and striped until they begin getting their adult colors in, which is also when we can find out whether they are male or female.

Dark-eyed Juncos are very common and abundant birds in North American forests. Residing in much of the west and wintering in the eastern states as well, folks from all over the country are familiar with these little sparrows. They mainly forage by hopping on the ground, scratching around for food. While they are mainly seed-eaters, they switch heavily to insects during the breeding season to nourish their young, a behavior both parents take part in. They typically build their nests to be hidden on the ground amongst tall grass, roots, and other natural cover like stumps and rocks. Occasionally juncos are spotted by gardeners nesting in potted plants and on other low level human structures.

Dark-eyed Junco, photo by Mick Thompson

Here’s How You Can Help!

    • Here at Bird Alliance of Oregon’s Wildlife Sanctuary, we do not allow dogs on our trails. Both for the sake of our animal ambassadors and our wild neighbors, because dogs are predators and their presence disturbs/frightens wildlife. The surrounding trails, as well as many parks in Portland, do allow dogs, but please follow leash laws. Be sure to check if your furry friend is allowed to come with you before you go on your outing!
    • If you know of young wild animals growing up in your yard–maybe you notice a family of robins every year–consider leashing your dog during the breeding season, even for quick potty breaks on your property. You just might save a life! While dogs do not do nearly as much as damage to wild animals as cats do, mostly because they aren’t left to wander freely outside the way cats often are, they can and will accidentally hurt jumpy wild babies.

What to Do If Your Dog Catches A Wild Animal

    • Even if the animal looks fine to you, please do not just let it go. Birds often appear uninjured to the untrained eye, due to their feathered bodies and unique anatomy. Without an examination from our experienced staff, we cannot be sure that the animal didn’t suffer from any fractures, punctures, soft tissue trauma, or crushing injuries.

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 pet, 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.

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

If you’d like to contribute to the Wildlife Care Center, please consider making a donation here. Your support helps us save lives.