What to do if you find an injured Bird of Prey
This article is not designed to teach you how to look after or rehabilitate injured wild birds of prey, it is designed to help you if by chance you come across an injured bird and feel the need to help. Most of what is stated here is relevant to the first 24 hours only, after that point, unless you are experienced, or can legally keep injured birds, you should where possible hand the bird on to the right place. In the United States this is mandatory, you may not keep or treat any injured wildlife without a permit, in the United Kingdom there are legal ramifications if you keep an injured bird over a certain time, in some countries there are no laws pertaining to injured wild birds.

White-backed Vulture

Rescued White-backed Vulture

Hundreds of thousands of wild birds get injured, or emaciated, or just lost from their natal area every year. Some of this is what might be termed natural, a good many will be because of human impacts of one sort or another. Some believe that humans should not interfere, that injured animals should be left alone and let nature take its course. Others believe that as humans are a part of the environment and are very often the reason a bird is injured then it is acceptable to step in and take some responsibility. Many of the birds will not survive, but a few given a second chance may do so and without doubt, a huge part of what is known in terms of veterinary expertise on birds has come from treating injured wild ones.

For these reasons, the Raptor Research Foundation (RRF) feels it is important that the public has the option of being aware of what to do for an injured raptor. RRF takes no responsibility nor accepts any liability for injuries sustained by people attempting to rescue injured raptors.

Some injured birds are lucky enough to be found by someone and given assistance. Better still they are taken to vets or centres or groups who have the expertise to quickly assess the birds and get them on the road to recovery if possible.

Please remember that this document is to help you to know what to do in the immediate instance of finding an injured bird of prey. It is not designed to help you to keep that bird for any extended period of time, it is purely designed to help you to pick up the bird and contain it until you can get it the right and legal help.

Barn Owl

Rescued injured Barn Owl

Unless you know it is legal to hold an injured wild bird, check with your local wildlife authority (if you have one) once you have made any injured bird safe. In the US you may have in your area, people trained to assist you. In most cases the best course of action is to take the injured raptor directly to a rehabilitation center or a vet if possible. The bird and center will benefit from a prompt, informed action. In the United States, a rehabilitator near you may be listed on the “Wildlife Rehabber” website: http://www.wildliferehabber.com (check their “Need Help” link).

In the UK you can try http://www.bwrc.org.uk or http://www.raptorrescue.org.uk many of these places will have a 24 hour phone line, however you may find that over the weekends and bank holidays there is an answer phone. In other countries, you can try looking on the web, or you can phone a local vet who may be able to help, or know someone who can. Whatever you do, you need to move fairly quickly and you may have to take the bird to the location of the group or person who can assist.

The best thing for an injured bird is to take it to people who have the knowledge and facilities to treat it, care for it, and if possible release it. But remember this, they may take the decision to euthanise a badly injured bird and you have to understand and just bear in mind that even if this does happen, you probably saved the bird from a slow, lingering, unpleasant death.

What to do if you find an injured raptor

  1. You are most likely to find an injured bird by a road, perhaps in your garden, or if you have been out for a walk in the countryside or woods, which means you will probably not be prepared. If possible go home and get prepared, – gloves, and a decent cardboard box with a towel are about all you will need, but if not then you will have to improvise, but bear in mind a frightened injured animal can hurt you if you are not careful, and similarly you can hurt it.
  2. The first thing to remember is that if a bird is sitting looking very tame and allowing you to approach – it is almost undoubtedly sick or injured. Healthy wild birds don’t particularly like to be around humans, they should fly away. If a bird is not behaving normally, then you can check by approaching it, if it does not fly off, there is probably something wrong, unless it is a baby and unable to yet fly.
  3. If possible wear a pair of gloves to pick up a bird; however you may not have them to hand, so if you can use a towel or even your coat, walk up slowly and cover the bird from the back with the material, then pick up from the top and try to fold the wings up to the body. Avoid the feet, hold the legs, but not in a murderous grip – just firmly, try to keep it covered and remember its beak bites and its feet grip very powerfully and it has talons.
  4. If you can find one, put the bird, still in the towel/coat into a cardboard box, preferably one larger than length of the bird. Make some ventilation holes in the side before putting the bird inside. If you have no box, wrap the bird well so it can’t get out and put it in the foot well of the back the vehicle, or the boot (trunk) do not do this if you have children in the car. If by chance the bird is an eagle, then it is not possible to put it wrapped up without being in a box, it is not safe. You will need to get help for the really large birds. Then transfer as soon as you can to a box when possible. Most shops will have a box if you explain the situation.
  5. If you are near home put the box in a warm, dark, quiet place away from children and pets, and try to get help. Don’t leave the box is a hot car, or in a cold place, quiet and warm is the key for helping with shock. You should look for local wildlife authorities, local veterinary surgeons, local zoos or wildlife parks, or perhaps you know someone in rehabilitation. Do not disturb the bird once placed inside the box. Stress is the biggest killer of all so the less disturbance the better.
  6. Don’t feed the bird or give it water, this can kill them if given the wrong food, or the wrong amount, particularly if they are very emaciated. Now you need to get it to someone with expertise or a local rehabilitator as soon as possible, speed is of the essence. Or you can phone a local veterinary surgery and see if they are prepared to accept the bird.
  7. Picking up an injured bird and getting it to someone who is experienced can mean the difference between life and death, so it really is worthwhile doing if you can help, but remember once you pick up a bird you have accepted a certain amount of responsibility and so it is up to you to find somewhere fairly quickly and get the bird there. Also remember it may not survive, but you have probably saved it from at worst, a lingering death.
  8. A good rehabilitation centre will want details of where you found the bird, should keep in touch with you and may even ask you to help release the bird if you are interested and if it is releaseable in the future.

What to do if you find a young or baby raptor

During the breeding season most rehabilitators are inundated with fledging birds brought in as orphans. A very few of those might actually be orphans, but with the vast majority they are in fact bird-knapped.

What many people don’t realise is that baby birds very often leave the nest early, sometimes before they can fly. However most of them are blessed with very loud voices and the ability to scramble up trees and branches. So without doubt it is best to leave them alone, because although you may not see her, their mother is probably within sight. The domestic cat is a huge factor in the decline of garden birds, dogs will kill baby birds as well. Young birds of prey are usually in less danger because they are a little bigger when they leave the nest, but can still be injured or killed by cats, dogs, crows and cars.

So if you find a baby bird – what to do? If it is in cover, under a bush, or has somewhere to hide – leave it alone. If it is very exposed and you think might be in danger, gently pick it up and put it in a tree or bush, its mother will find it and care for it. As most birds do not have a sense of smell, you will not cause the mother to desert because you handled the bird.

On occasion baby birds will actually be injured as well, so if that is the case, then it is best to take them to a rehabilitator because they will have the time and facilities to rear the young bird without imprinting it on humans, making it too tame and thus unable to be released. In many countries if you get caught purposefully hand rearing an owl or other raptor so that it can’t go back to the wild, it is an offence and you can get into trouble, so its best to take it to someone who can get it back to the wild. Often you can help with the process and still be involved with the bird and getting it released again.

Once you have an injured bird safe in a box, use the internet, it can help if you can’t get hold of anyone else quickly. If you have found a bird at night, or on a Sunday when it is sometimes difficult to get hold of people, worst case, leave the bird quietly in a box in the dark and warm until the morning, and then get it to someone who will help.


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