What do I do if I find an injured, orphaned or sick raptor?
When spring arrives, an increase in the number of raptors, or birds of prey, “rescued” by well-meaning Good Samaritans also arrives. But do most of them really need rescuing, or are they better off being left where they are?
The Auburn University Raptor Center’s rehabilitation unit admits all native, wild raptors that are injured, orphaned, or ill. Since the center is designed specifically to care for birds of prey, it is unable to accept any other type of bird. Current list of non-raptor bird rehabilitators.
Please do not remove a young raptor from its habitat unless it is obviously ill or injured. Baby birds will spend time on the ground with their parents watching over them. If you find an injured raptor, the best thing to do is throw a blanket or towel over it and carefully secure the feet. If possible, wear welding gloves or some other kind of thick gloves to protect your hands. Raptors will use their sharp talons to grab as their primary defense. Birds such as owls, vultures and Osprey will also use their beak in defense.
Once secure, place the raptor in a box or container, and bring it to the College of Veterinary Medicine Emergency Room located at 1010 Wire Road, Auburn, AL 36849. There is no need to call in advance and they can be dropped off 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
If you are closer to Birmingham, the Alabama Wildlife Center accepts ALL birds (including raptors). Please call us at (334) 844-6347 if you have any questions about what to do if you find an injured raptor.
Watch the video below to hear Stephanie Kadletz, a raptor rehabilitation specialist at the Auburn College of Veterinary Medicine’s Auburn University Raptor Center, weigh in with some advice.
Frequently Asked Questions
- How many raptors are rescued by the public and admitted each year?
The Auburn University Raptor Center sees a larger influx of rescued birds in the spring, particularly nestlings and fledglings. The center admits around 50 orphaned or injured nestling or fledglings raptors each year.
- How do you distinguish between a nestling bird, one that is not yet ready to leave the nest, and a fledgling, one that is already learning to fly?
A nestling will not have fully developed feathers and will have downy feathers on its body and head. Fledglings will have more developed feathering on the wings and tail, but still will have some downy feathers present. Currently, the raptor center is gearing up for raptor nesting season and an influx of nestling and fledgling raptors, such as barred owls and red-tailed hawks.
- What if I find a young raptor on the ground? Should I assume it needs help?
Do not assume that a nestling or fledgling raptor is injured just because it is on the ground. Many times, birds can be found on the ground and be perfectly healthy. Some raptor species, such as black or turkey vultures, do not build nests in trees but rather on or near the ground. We do not want to remove these healthy birds from their environment, even if an adult is not around. If it is a nestling hawk or owl on the ground, it will likely need assistance; however, a fledgling may not.
- In the case of nestlings, is it fine to just put them back in the nest if possible?
If most raptor nestlings, such as hawks, owls, and falcons, are found on the ground, they will need some assistance. First, make sure the raptor is not injured. Next, try to locate the nest. Often, the nests are high and not easily reached, but getting these nestlings back up into the tree for the parents to continue their care is crucial.
If returning them to the nest is not possible, assist nestlings by creating a new nest. You can use a small plastic laundry basket with holes drilled in the bottom or a wicker basket. Add nesting materials such as pine straw and sticks. Then, secure the new nest as high as possible in the tree where the nestling was found. Place the nestling into the new nest and watch from a distance for 24 hours to ensure the parents continue to care for it. If you touch the bird when moving it into this new nesting box, rest assured that the parents won’t reject it just because a human handled it.
- Is the procedure the same for fledglings?
When a bird is a fledgling and ready to leave the nest anyway, the recommendation is different. If the raptor does not appear injured, it should be safe to leave it where it is found. Only if the fledgling is in an unsafe location or immediate danger should it be moved. In such a case, using thick gloves, a towel, and a box, a fledgling can be gently picked up and relocated out of harm’s way.
When young raptors are learning to fly and navigate their habitats, the parents are likely still around, watching over these young birds and caring for them, even if it’s not immediately obvious. A fledgling raptor might not be able to fly for a few days and may stay on the ground as it practices and builds its muscles. However, if the bird is not in danger, it’s best not to intervene in the natural process.
- What is the best way to tell if an adult raptor needs rescuing or if it would be better off left alone?
There are actually many factors to consider before deciding whether to rescue a bird of any age, especially if it is a raptor. In the case of adult birds, before taking any action at all it is critical to determine whether the bird is truly injured. Observe the bird from a distance to see its natural behavior. Raptors that are having a meal, or just finished a meal, may be found on the ground. If a bird is eating, it may not leave, and will often aggressively protect its food. But if a bird is not standing, has an obvious injury, wing droop, visible bleeding, or flies swarming around, it needs immediate assistance. Most adult raptors should also fly away when approached by a human. If an adult bird is approached and does not fly or move away quickly, that could be an indication of injury or illness.
- What is the procedure to follow if a raptor has obvious injuries or unusual behaviors and needs help?
If it’s obvious a raptor is injured, there are a series of steps that need to be taken. If possible, the first call should be to a rehabilitation specialist, who has the proper skills and permits to handle such birds. Raptors, with their sharp beaks and talons, can be difficult and dangerous to handle, so the safety of the would-be rescuer is the top priority. If there is no rehabilitator available and you are not comfortable with capturing the raptor yourself, there may be other options, such as calling animal control or your local game warden.
If the situation is critical and you decide to transport the raptor yourself, there are precautions to take to ensure the bird can be moved safely. It is best to use thick gloves and get some type of container that can be safely secured. Place the container over the top of the bird, then slide something underneath and secure the lid tightly. Always avoid touching the raptor’s feet or head due to the potential for injury. You can also throw a blanket or towel over the bird and gently place it into the container. Transporting it to the nearest raptor rehabilitation center as quickly as possible will provide it with the best chance of survival.
- Are there any rules and regulations to be aware of when rescuing raptors?
Migratory birds are protected through the United States Fish and Wildlife Service, or USFWS, and the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources. All injured, orphaned and ill wildlife must be transported to a licensed wildlife rehabilitator within 24 hours of rescue. When it comes to bald and golden eagles, it is always advisable to contact the USFWS or the Department of Natural Resources or Fish and Wildlife in your state, as those raptors are protected under the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act. Great caution should be taken when attempting to rescue and transport injured, orphaned, or ill birds to a rehabilitation center, and they should always be transported as soon as possible.