Wildlife Rehabilitation - Care for Orphaned or Injured Wild Raptors

What to do with a baby hawk, eagle or owl?

I just found a bird of prey (a raptor)! How cool is that? Well, not cool, really. Not for you or for the terrified bird that has the potential to slice off one of your misguided fingers. Birds of prey, or birds that rely on a meat source for nutrition, are graceful and awe-inspiring, but are just as difficult as any other bird to rehabilitate. In fact, even wildlife rehabilitators often need special licensing to house and handle birds of prey and other predators. Owls, hawks, falcons, and eagles are all considered raptors. If you find an injured, adult raptor and are unable to easily contain it, call your local wildlife rehabilitator. There will be very little you can do in this situation other than try to steer the injured bird away from obstacles. Even once contained, do not handle the bird of prey. Keep the container in a dark, quiet place and wait for assistance.

Baby raptors are charming little beasts, all fluff, with huge eyes and enormous feet. They are disarmingly cute when they sleep, spread out on their stomachs with their heads to the side. This is drastically different than an adult raptor, which will sleep in an upright position, ready to spring into the air at the slightest sound.

To find a raptor rehabber in your area, click on my nationwide directory of wildlife rehabbers or do an online search for one in your area. In the meantime, you can still care for the eagle or hawk as advised below.

Birds of prey are more prone to imprinting than songbirds, so it is very important that you handle the baby raptor as little as possible. A raptor that has imprinted on a human will not even mate with another raptor, but will look to humans for companionship. So, with this dilemma in mind, what do you do with an abandoned baby bird of prey?

A general rule of thumb with any bird: If you find a fully-feathered baby raptor hopping around on the ground, it is safe to assume that baby is trying to learn how to fly. Birds at this age will fall out of their nests frequently, and the adult birds overhead will retrieve them in due time. Trial and error is the only way for a bird to learn the ins and outs of flight. If you find a featherless baby raptor or songbird with unopened eyes, place them back into the nest immediately or take them inside for care. You must call a wildlife rehabilitator as soon as possible to ensure a raptor’s survival. Baby birds of prey typically eat only protein (mouse, rodent, etc) and the average homeowner will not have a stash of chopped mouse meat in the refrigerator.

How does a wildlife rehabilitator care for a baby raptor? Because the imprinting process is so vital in birds of prey, most orphans must be fed by way of a species-specific puppet. This means that a hand puppet, designed to look like that particular species of raptor, is used to administer feedings until the baby can tear into its own food. Even though the feeding puppet prevents human imprinting, injuries can sometimes occur to the wildlife expert’s hands. Baby raptors become food aggressive as they mature, a characteristic that ensures survival of the fittest in the wild. Because of this, the rehabilitator’s puppet and hand usually take quite a beating. Warm mouse meat is the typical fare during this time.

In some rare situations, a foster bird of the same species may take on the care of an orphaned hatchling. The most common dilemma with this is that foster birds are often birds that have been in captivity for so long, they have lost any inclination toward their own species. In even rarer circumstances, a male bird of prey may take on the care of his own hatchlings, though this has not been seen in captivity.

When the raptor is old enough to fly and can hunt live food released into its enclosure, the rehabilitators will consider release. Depending on how much human contact the bird has had—adult birds with injuries experience more hands on work with people than orphaned chicks—various methods of release are implemented. For birds with almost no contact with humans, the release can take place as soon as they are able to fly and hunt, and has little to do with staging. And adult bird recovered from an injury will have a human handler, and though not imprinted on that handler, a bond will be present that allows gradual release.

Injured birds often must recover their strength before release back into the wild is considered. Experts accomplish this by placing the bird in an enormous aviary, one that is large enough to walk back and forth in. Like a human physical therapist, the rehabilitator will put the bird through a series of flight sessions by walking back and forth, the bird always flying away from the handler. In time, this exercise will allow a complete recovery of strength, and ultimately allow for release back into nature.

Raptor rehabilitation is a specialty among wildlife rehabilitators. This niche often requires special training and approval from local and state governments. Even so, most rehabilitators are operating on personal funds. In light of this, if you utilize the services of a rehabilitator, we strongly recommend that you offer a donation toward their endeavor.

Here are some other advice articles for wildlife rehabilitation:
What to do with a baby bat I found?
What to do with a baby deer I found?
What to do with a baby fox I found?
What to do with a baby opossum I found?
What to do with a baby raccoon I found?
What to do with a baby hawk or eagle I found?
What to do with a baby reptile I found?
What to do with a baby mouse or rat I found?
What to do with a baby songbird I found?
What to do with a baby squirrel I found?

North Carolina - Raleigh - American Wildlife Refuge

Please be kind to wildlife! Our wild animals are intelligent, and believe it or not, they definitely have emotions!
If you have any questions about this wildlife rehabilitation website, just email me at dseeveld@gmail.com