Help! There’s a Bird in My House! What To Do?

Last month, I was standing on my porch at dusk when a little Carolina wren buzzed by and then perched in the yard watching me. I had a feeling if I came back after dark and checked an old robin’s nest near where I was standing that I would find an adorable ball of fluff in there. Sure enough, a brown ball with white spots was nestled in, barely recognizable as a bird if not for that distinguishable wren tail. (The white spots are usually visible only when they are roosting like this—naturalist Julie Zickefoose aptly calls them the “wren’s pajamas.”)

After discovering I was hosting a bed and breakfast (and lunch and dinner) for the little wren, I started seeing social media posts from other birders who were surprised—and delighted—to find a wren roosting near their home: in the wreath on their front door, in a boot, in a hat hanging on a nail. What a privilege to share sleeping space with such a beloved backyard bird!

“The wren’s pajamas.” Photo by J. Melfi.

I’ve also been seeing this Carolina wren skulking near its roosting spot during the daylight hours. I’m not sure what it’s doing up there in the nest, but it pops up there regularly (often followed by a mischievous-looking house sparrow), sometimes producing an insect meal. And even if I don’t see it on the porch, I frequently hear it—you can’t miss the very vocal, very loud call of a Carolina wren right outside your door!

Soon after seeing other birders share about their roosting wrens, I started seeing another genre of posts, those of the “Help! I’ve got a bird in my house!” variety. In most cases, these birds were, not surprisingly, Carolina wrens. It only makes sense that a bird, startled by a human opening a nearby door, would flee in a panic and accidentally slip inside the house.

So, what should you do if you have an unexpected avian houseguest? I asked Julie, who is also a bird rehabilitator and has probably had more wild birds in her home (intentionally or otherwise) than anyone I know. She knows a thing or two about their indoor behavior.

First, if the bird is within reach, throw a towel over it and bundle it up to carry it back outside. But “birds will always go up when frightened,” she says. So you’ll want to turn off any ceiling fans, and if you have high ceilings, “put up a ladder and capture it by hand when it flutters against a high window.” Contrary to popular thought, it is okay to touch a bird, and it is actually preferred to use your hands rather than gloves to pick one up. “That’s how you injure a bird—trying to glom onto it with heavy gloves,” Julie says.

If you are unable to get your hands on the bird, don’t chase it around to tire it out. “In most cases, people chasing birds around and trying to capture them is just adding stress on stress,” Julie advises. If you leave it alone, it will find the exit. Birds are attracted to light, so dimming indoor lights is helpful—and turn on outdoor lights if it is after sunset. Obviously opening windows and doors to create more exits is helpful. “They will also come down to feed,” Julie adds, “so putting species-appropriate food and water out near the exit is a good tool.”

She points out that Carolina wrens are a special case in that they know where the exit is. “They KNOW where they came in, and they know how to get back out. They do NOT need rescue in almost all cases, unless they are babies who have fledged inside a garage or building. Then they may need help out.”

Now that I’m more in tune to “my” Carolina wren’s daily behavior, I am more mindful about my comings and goings through my sliding glass door onto the porch. I take a peek outside first to see if any birds are there, and if so, they are usually startled off by my movement. Then I open the door slowly but with some noise so that if they didn’t see me at the door, they will hear me and have time to take flight without enough open door to squeeze inside if they head in the wrong direction.

A Carolina wren in its proper habitat. Photo by B. Goddard.

The wrens—and all my backyard visitors—are an important part of my daily life. They bring so much joy, especially in these socially distant times and during strings of sub-freezing days. It’s a pleasure to share my outdoor home with them, and I am grateful to Julie for educating me on what to do if I should suddenly find a bird on the wrong side of the porch door.