Please note, it is illegal to possess, own, or keep a wild raptor or native bird without the proper state and federal permits. If you ever have questions about handling or owning a wild bird, contact your state's department of wildlife resources.
If the bird is hopping around on the ground and has feathers, it's a fledgling and you should leave it alone. This is a common sight during the spring months when fledglings are learning to fly and are still being cared for by their parents. Likely, the parents are close by watching and helping teach them to fly and get back into the nest. If the bird does not have any feathers, or just a few, it's a nestling. In this case, carefully help the nestling back into the nest. It's a misconception that the parent will reject the baby from your smell by touching it.
Raptors are powerful and sensitive creatures. You should always contact a rehabilitator before attempting to help injured wildlife to prevent from injuring yourself or the animal. Wild animals need specific diets, and if they are dehydrated they will need to be rehydrated by a rehabilitator before eating solid foods. Follow the steps below if you find an injured raptor in the wild.
- Is the raptor injured? Determine that, in fact, the raptor is injured. If the raptor does not fly away when it is approached by humans and it does not have food (raptors may not fly away from people if they are protecting their food or babies), look for any obvious broken bones, bleeding, or external parasites such as maggots or flies. You should NOT touch the raptor unless absolutely necessary. Ensure that it is safe from cars, cats, dogs, and other people. If it is in the road, you may have to move it to the side before it can be rescued (see below for how to handle a raptor).
- Who do I contact? You should contact the U.S. Department of Fish and Wildlife, your state's department of wildlife resources, or a wildlife rehabilitator in your area for assistance. Visit the International Wildlife Rehabilitation Council website for a full list of rehabilitators in your area.
- Should I care for the raptor? You want to contact the appropriate authorities as quickly as possible and protect the raptor from cats, dogs, and other animals until assistance has arrived (see below for how to handle a raptor if you have to transport it to a rehabilitator). You should NOT try to rehabilitate any animal on your own, as you may cause further damage or imprint upon the raptor.
How to Handle a Raptor to Transport to a Rehabilitator
Before you attempt to move a raptor, be sure to have the following things ready: an old towel, thick work gloves, safety glasses, something to transport the bird in (cat or dog kennels work best, but a sturdy box will do).
- Put the towel over the bird, the darkness will calm the bird more.
- Wearing your gloves and safety glasses to protect you from their sharp beak and talons, gently take hold of the raptor by keeping the birds wings close to its body (unless the raptor has clearly suffered an injury to the wing), and keeping your hands out of reach of the raptors talons.
- Place the raptor inside the kennel or box. Ensure that the box has plenty of air holes for ventilation. It is best to have a box that is slightly bigger than the raptor, if it is too small the raptor can do serious damage to its feathers and wings and if it is too large it is possible for the raptor to hurt itself by thrashing around.
- Keep the box in a dark safe place away from animals and children until it is time for it to be transported.
Contact a Wildlife Rehabilitator
Contact your state's department of wildlife resources, a local vet, or visit the International Wildlife Rehabilitation Council website for a full list of rehabilitators in your area.
(Image: Rosemary Mosco)