Each fall, hundreds of thousands of birds of prey leave their breeding grounds across North America and fly to their wintering grounds, some as far away as southern South America! Various hawks, eagles, osprey and falcons all make this long journey south.
As you might imagine, a bird must be in excellent physical shape to complete a migratory flight. Just as all people are different, so are raptors. Young of the year may not have honed in their hunting skills. Decreased food means increased weakness. Hungry birds make an easy meal out of roadkill carcasses. Scavenging on roads is risky business, especially for the larger, heavier species. Most of the raptors we receive for rehabilitation are injured due to being hit by a car.
Fall time is “Raptor Season” for those of us in wildlife rehab. With the increased autumn activity of these birds, there is also a rise in traumatic incidents. Not only are birds getting hit by cars, they are also critically injured from power line collisions/electrocutions, lead poisoning, gunshot wounds and general starvation.
What can you do if you find an injured raptor?
1. Please do not attempt to “heal” the raptor on your own. Always contact a licensed professional. If you are unsure of who to notify, you can contact High Desert Wildlife on our 24 Hour Hotline, or other appropriate agencies in your area:
• Deschutes County Sheriff’s Office (La Pine, Sunriver, Bend, Sisters, Redmond)
• The United States Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS)
• Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife
2. If you must handle or move a bird, first cover the bird with a blanket or towel to reduce its visual stimulation, and protect yourself by wearing heavy gloves. Gently but firmly lift the bird (within the towel) into a transport container. Remember: Even a seriously injured raptor is potentially dangerous. Wild birds do not understand that we are trying to help and will defend themselves. They are quite unpredictable, and you should be especially aware of their sharp talons and beak.
3. The best way to transport a raptor is in a sturdy cardboard box with the top closed. A plastic dog or cat carrier may also be used. Avoid bird or wire cages, as these can cause feather and soft tissue damage. The carrier should only be slightly larger than the size of the bird. The less room an injured bird has to move around, the less likely it is to cause more injury to itself.
4. Never attempt to give food or water to an injured raptor, unless you are instructed to do so by a licensed rehabilitator. The dietary needs of raptors are more delicately balanced than people realize. Even the juiciest steak imaginable will not provide a raptor with what it needs. Also, most injured birds are suffering from dehydration, and attempting to feed them or give them water by mouth can easily worsen their condition. If a bird has not eaten for a while, its digestive system shuts down and it cannot handle any solid food. At High Desert Wildlife, these patients are given an easily digested fluid therapy for a day or two to jump-start their systems before any type of food is provided.
5. Do not continue to peek in on the bird, or attempt to pet it or talk to it. These are wild animals, with a healthy fear of people. Stress resulting from human contact can reduce a bird’s chance of recovery.
6. Until the bird can be transferred, provide it with a dark, quiet, calm, warm environment. Darkness has a calming effect on birds. Extra care should be taken to keep the bird away from children and pets.
7. Do not keep a raptor any longer than is necessary to get it to a veterinary professional, raptor rehabilitator, or state/federal wildlife representative.
We monitor our phone line 24/7 and are able to admit emergencies at any time. Our veterinarian or veterinary technician can help you determine what action to take, if necessary. Our phone number is 541-241-8680.
We are deeply grateful to those of you who have taken the time to transport or rescue a raptor patient. If you request an update of the patient at the time of admission, we will provide one at the time of resolution of the case. While we do not have the resources to respond to multiple requests for updates, we want to ensure that, if interested, you know the outcome of your efforts and we are happy to provide this information via email.