What Happens After Injured Raptors Are Rescued?

Analysis by Dr. Karen Shaw Becker

injured bird rescue

Story at-a-glance -

  • Modern life, such as lost habitats due to increased traffic, encroaching natural disasters and natural occurrences, such as fights with other powerful raptors, can render birds in need of human assistance
  • When raptors, which have ruled their own worlds for millennia, are injured and, in the best cases, rescued, there are centers across the U.S. in place to rehabilitate the birds with the eventual goal of releasing them back into the wild
  • The Raptor Center, based at the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis, rehabilitates around 1,000 injured raptors annually, while SOAR (Saving Our Avian Resources), in Iowa, helps around 500 raptors per year
  • With their eight powerful talons, hooked beaks and keen eyesight, there are definite “do’s and don’ts” when you’re in close proximity to a raptor in the wild you think may be injured
  • If you must handle an injured raptor bird, wear protective gloves — wrist-length leather for smaller birds and mid arm-length for medium birds — and eyewear; handling large birds is not recommended if you are not trained

With the spread of “civilization” through areas once completely natural and untouched, from desert areas to lush forests to rocky crevices, some of the most majestic birds in the U.S. — birds of prey, also known as raptors — are found dead or injured. Threats of modern life, such as lost habitats due to increased traffic, encroaching natural disasters and natural occurrences, such as fights with other powerful raptors, can render such birds in need of human assistance, according to Mpls.St.Paul Magazine.1

An example includes the bald eagle that was “dehydrated, emaciated, cold, weak and covered in old puncture wounds,” Fox News2 reported, rescued from floodwaters in Portage Des Sioux, Missouri. The eagle, unable to fly, was rescued by boat from a low-hanging limb.

The Raptor Center College of Veterinary Medicine, based at the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis, cares for around 1,000 injured raptors every year. The organization’s team includes a wide array of experts, including veterinarians, interns, interpretive naturalists, researchers, educators, wildlife partners, rehab experts and numerous volunteers.

Workshops, programs, summer camps, the Raptor Lab and other educational venues are geared for all ages and seek to offer opportunities for scientific investigation and environmental education. According to the group’s website:

“Raptors, also called birds of prey, have existed in some form for 50 to 75 million years. There are approximately 482 species of raptor worldwide, 304 diurnal (day-active) species and 178 nocturnal (night-active) species. This does not include the seven species of New World vultures.”3

When the authorities at rehabilitation centers are alerted to an injured raptor in their area, Dr. Michelle Willette, director of veterinary medicine at the Raptor Center, says the people who call them, if they can remain on the scene, are “walked through” what to do until a team can arrive.

After being transported to a rehab facility such as the Rehab Center, the birds’ vital signs are checked, blood work and X-rays are taken, if needed, and wounds are treated. Sometimes, tough decisions need to be made if a bird’s injuries are so severe they can’t be re-released.

The birds’ mental status is also evaluated. One concerning sign is when young raptors don’t retain a healthy sense of fear of humans, which could be dangerous to them in the wild. Experts say the goal of reputable centers should always be to return the birds to the wild as soon as possible. Occasionally, acclimating too well to humans means a life of safe captivity if a rehabilitated raptor is deemed unfit for the great outdoors.

How to Behave Around Raptors for Mutual Protection

SOAR, the acronym for Saving Our Avian Resources, is another example of an organization dedicated to rehabilitating raptors, as well as the research and education that helps drive its goals. Based in Iowa, its aim is to bring attention to conserving natural resources, principally wildlife, as well as conserving natural habitats.

Every year, hands-on care is provided through the group for more than 350 birds injured by vehicles and other causes, even including lead exposure. Data collection and ongoing research is conducted to prevent their injury and death. As a reminder, the group emphasizes:

“It is illegal to hunt, harm, harass, or (possess) any hawk, eagle, owl, falcon, or vulture. If you know of illegal activity that is or has taken place, you can anonymously report the activity.”4

One of the most important aspects of raptor education is how to behave around these birds. With or without injuries, they can do a lot of physical damage to humans, even if you’re just trying to help. Be aware that with their eight powerful talons, hooked beaks and keen eyesight, there are definite “do’s and don’ts” when you’re in close proximity to them:

  • View them from a distance
  • Especially in public places, respect the fact that to the birds, the impact is cumulative; for instance, they may be so distracted by your presence that they forget to take care of their young adequately
  • Always stay quiet and avoid making loud noises that would startle (harass) the birds
  • Never offer food to their young, as adult birds feeding their young is an important way young birds learn survival skills in the wild
  • Do everything possible to avoid disturbing the habitat of the birds

You Found an Injured Owl, Eagle or Falcon, What Should You Do?

So what are you advised to do if you find an owl, hawk, eagle, falcon or vulture that appears injured? SOAR Raptors says there are several simple but important steps that should be taken to protect both the bird and yourself:

If you’re able to get close enough without being injured by the bird, see if you can tell what’s wrong, such as a wound or blood, a droopy wing, they’re sitting or lying without moving when you approach, or there are maggots present.

Note the area to make sure no predators or potential agents of injury are around, such as domestic cats, bikes or cars, or wild coyotes. Additionally:

“Do not feed it. First, people cannot easily provide the crucial nutrient-rich items for quickly-developing raptor youngsters and some foods, such as hamburger, are actually detrimental.

Second, the major bond between youngsters and their parents is food. Breaking this bond will prevent a parent from teaching its youngster survival skills. Lastly, if a youngster needs medical attention, it is best that it has an empty stomach when it arrives to the veterinary clinic.”5

Call the proper authorities. The American Eagle Foundation6 offers help for injured raptors, with a frequently updated state by state list of entities you can contact in your area, including U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services, state departments of natural resources, and local and regional raptor centers.

If you must handle the bird, wear protective gloves — wrist-length leather for smaller birds and mid arm-length for medium birds — and eyewear; handling large birds is not recommended if you are not trained.

Approach the bird with a blanket held up to hide your face, and if moving toward them, approach so if they move, it will be away from bodies of water or potentially dangerous roadways.

Gently cover the bird with the blanket, pin its wings to its body and place it in a prepared bin for transport to a rehab center, if possible, such as a cat carrier. Avoid wire cages, as they can injure birds’ wings and feathers. Provide a quiet, calm environment and don’t make any stops before reaching the rehab center, as they can overheat or go into shock if injured and exposed to extreme temperatures.

Examples of Raptors and Contributors to Injuries

According to The Raptor Center at the University of Minnesota, birds of prey — there are many different types — can migrate hundreds of miles and take up residence in nearly every area of the U.S. Several examples include:

  • Great horned owl7 The adaptability of these raptors may place them in greater danger; although they’re federally protected, they’re still considered “game” in some circles. Their range is wide and their habitat includes countrysides, city parks, residential areas and farms.
  • Red-tailed hawk8 Commonly seen throughout the U.S., these are an example of raptors that generally prefer open fields, but often nest where there are both farms and cities. In the winter, many fly south to warmer climates. They often fall victim to collisions with vehicles, shooting and steel-jawed traps.
  • Osprey9 — Ranging in the U.S from Alaska to Florida, these water birds once preferred tall trees and cliffs, but are now commonly seen nesting on power poles. Nesting platforms are often built to help protect them, especially since the pesticide DDT decimated the number of nests between the 1940s and the 1970s until it was finally banned.10
  • Peregrine falcon — Found on bluffs overlooking coastal areas and rivers as well as the ledges of tall buildings, these birds have been removed from the endangered list, but they’re one of the most frequently injured raptors. They tend to fly long distances, increasing the chance of danger.
  • California condor11 — While condors prefer isolated areas such as rock crevices and holes in giant sequoia trees, their range, once mainly along the Pacific coast, has been reduced to the mountain areas of southern California. As carrion eaters, they can fly as far as 150 miles in search of food. Poisoning and hunting are two common threats.

Click Here and be the first to comment on this article
Post your comment