Finding Injured Raptors

If you or someone you know has found an injured or otherwise distressed raptor, it is of utmost importance to get in touch with and transfer the animal to a licensed wildlife rehabiliator as soon as possible. This is in the very best interests of any wildlife you find and can mean the difference between life and death.

Please do not attempt rehabilitation of wildlife on your own. Communication with experienced, licensed rehabilitators is key to providing the best care for sick, injured or orphaned wildlife. Licensed rehabilitators have been specially trained for triage, convalescence and paliative care of wild animals.

Most provinces of Canada allow their citizens to hold onto wildlife for a maximum of 24 hours at which time the wildlife must be released or transferred to an authorized wildlife rehabilitator. It is illegal to maintain wildlife beyond this 24 hour limit without special permitting from the Ministry of Natural Resources. These regulations have been set in place to protect our native wildlife from typically well-meaning, but inexperienced people. Animals, especially those injured, sick or orphaned, require special care and medical needs that most people are unable, unwilling or too niave to provide properly.

If you have found a raptor in distress, please visit the Wildlife International page for listings of rehabilitators in your area. You may also contact your local Humane Society or Ministry of Natural Resource office for information.

You can be doing more harm than good. Raptor throat anatomy is very different from yours.
You can drown a raptor by putting fluids and food into the wrong area.

Initial Assessment of Found Raptors:

Young Birds

Young owls fledge from their nests before they are capable of sustained flight. They follow their parents by hopping from branch to branch and flying short distances. Sometimes these youngsters find their way to the ground. Here their parents usually will not feed them, though they always have a watchful eye on their chicks. Being grounded can lead to any number of problems including animal attacks (cats, dogs, crows, raccoons etc...), emaciation, maggot infectations and collisions (cars). As a first resort, attempt to place the bird onto a branch, or onto a ledge where it can safely sit off the ground. Sometimes youngsters simply cannot find a method of getting up off the ground themselves. This procedure is only useful for fledglings. Alternatively, a man-made nest can be erected on a tree and the chick placed on/in it. This is especially useful when the nest tree has been cut down. If the chick(s) cries, the adult will return. Adult owls will not necessarily return until dusk.

Nestlings need to be returned to their nests or transferred to a rehabilitator. For nest return, you must be capable of distinguishing between owl nests and those of other birds. This requires a knowledge of species breeding methods and tends to be difficult to do successfully (some are cavity nesters). For instance, Great Horned Owl nests are usually easily found (old Red-tailed Hawk nest made of sticks) but can be tough to access and dangerous to approach (Great Horned Owls will protect their nests by force). Sometimes climbing up to a nest will promote the "early fledging" of a second chick that results in you being back to square one. Provision of a man-made nest nearby will often work for older nestlings and branchers. Young nestlings cannot thermoregulate on their own and must be constantly tended to and warmed by their mother. As a result, providing a second nest site for a young nestling(s) will only work if the female has abandoned her original nest (e.g. nest tree was cut down). Otherwise, she cannot tend to two sets of nestlings. Due to these scenarios and "what ifs", it is usually in a nestling's best interest that it be taken to a rehabilitator who can work to return the chick to its parents safely or raise the bird in an appropriate environment with appropriate stimulae for future release.

Young Nestling Screech Owl
Fledgling Screech Owl

Most raptors, including owls, hawks and falcons, require surrogate parents of their own species to be raised successfully for release back to the wild. They also must learn to hunt live, natural-type prey. It is very important to get an orphaned chick to an experienced rehabber ASAP. Waiting even a few days will lead to nutritional deficiencies and irreversible psychological damage (human imprinting). Improper housing can lead to feather damage which can take several years to remedy. 

Baby owls are very cute balls of fluff and can be very accomodating and fun to have around.
Don't get sucked in!

These little guys need their parents, not humans. They should never be coddled, petted or passed around. This is stressful and inappropriate. They are wild animals who need to stay wild for successful release back to nature.

Owls are not pets.

Sick and Injured Birds

If the bird you have found is showing signs of sickness or injury such as difficulty breathing, bleeding, stumbling, fractures or other trauma, the animal will require immediate medical attention. If you have trouble finding a local rehabilitator, consider contacting your local veterinarian. Many veterinarians can do simple, cheap procedures such as wing wrapping, pain relief and fluid therapy until a rehabilitator can be contacted.

Temporary Housing for Transport to a Rehabilitator:

You Will Need

Cardboard box with lid
Pen or Boxcutter
Towel or other soft cloth
Work gloves

Find a cardboard box approximately half again as long as the bird and twice as wide. The bird should be able to sit upright in the box without bumping its head against the top. The box should not be so large as to allow the bird to walk around. The idea is to keep the bird contained in one spot, but as comfortable as possible. If the box is too big the bird can hurt itself as it fights to escape. Broken wings can be rotated improperly and blood circulation can be cut off.

Prepare the box by punching holes from the inside out along all walls approximately 2/3 of the way up. This will allow ventilation for the bird to breathe while it remains in the box. You don't have to go overboard. Five - ten holes per side, depending on the size of the box, is enough. If you have access to a boxcutter, you can cut one inch holes 2/3 of the way up from the inside out (two - three per side).

Place a towel or blanket in the bottom of the box. This provides cushioning, warmth and gripping substrate for the animal.


Catching the Bird

In most cases an orphaned, sick or injured raptor will be fairly easy to contain by simply picking it up. It is helpful to throw a towel or blanket over the bird as you approach. Scoop the animal and towel up together. The bird should grab the towel, not you. It is suggested that you have a pair of work gloves with you as well since raptors will often use their last bit of strength to protect themselves. Do not leave the towel over the bird once it is contained in the box.

If the bird is capable of walking just a touch too fast to capture single-handedly, ask a friend to help corral the animal into a corner or directly into the box (put the box on its side on the ground).

If the bird cannot sit up in the box, use a second towel to encircle its body and prop its head onto the higher surface like a pillow. This will also keep the bird from falling over during transport.

Keep the box covered (either with a lid or blanket) as raptors have a tendancy to escape.

Maintain the box/bird in a dark area at room temperature (~22ºC/70ºF). Keep the bird from stressful stimulae such as noise, children, pets and television. A stressed hawk will freeze and stare with mouth gaping and wings out, if capable. Owls can display stress in many ways including playing dead, snapping their beaks, hissing and fluffing up. Raptors can pant if stressed. Many scared raptors will show defense tactics such as lunging with their beaks or grabbing with their feet. Be careful.

During transport, do not play music and keep talking to a minimum. Keep an ambient temperature in the vehicle and try to place the box in an area that will not receive direct sunlight.

The rehabilitator you contact will give you further instructions geared toward the species and injury you are dealing with.

The instructions above are for short-term care only. Emaciated birds and those with injuries require immediate medical attention. You will not find information on long-term housing of raptors on this website, including proper dietary requirements. This is best left to licensed rehabilitators.

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