Sick or Injured Raptors

Photo: A Vet Checking on an Ill Owl

An injured bird requires IMMEDIATE specialized care. Any delay reduces the bird's chance for recovery. DO NOT attempt to rehabilitate the bird on your own, even giving food or water to an injured or emaciated bird can lead to its death.

A sick or emaciated bird may act lethargic and allow you to approach it or may be mired in mud or water. Some adult birds will have more obvious injuries such as broken wings that drag and cannot fold back onto the body or be used for flight. Other injuries may be less immediately obvious but will prevent the bird from flying away as you approach.

Even a seriously injured or seemingly incapacitated raptor can be potentially dangerous. Even if you are trying to help the bird, it will be frightened and may perceive you as a threat. Raptors can be quite unpredictable. Be particularly wary of their beak and talons that can SERIOUSLY INJURE you! The less contact the bird has with people, the more likely it is to survive since additional stress may be deadly to an already injured bird.

It is important that you make a record of the time, date and location of capture because, whenever possible, the bird will be released in its original range.

DO NOT attempt to care for the raptor yourself. It may result in injury to you and/or the bird. CRC is equipped to deal with the raptor's medical, housing, and nutritional needs. We are ready to do so immediately upon its arrival.

NEVER feed an injured raptor. Raptors, especially “baby” birds, have specific dietary needs and even the best meat available to you may be inappropriate or harmful to them. Most injured raptors are suffering from dehydration and/or emaciation and sudden food or water may kill them.

How to Handle an Injured Raptor

  • Wear thick leather gloves (such as welding gloves or heavy gardening gloves) at all times to avoid injury from the bird's sharp talons and beak.
  • Use a towel, blanket, or jacket to temporarily cover the bird. This will help calm the bird and allow you to more safely lift and carry it.
  • Calmly approach the bird holding the towel in front of you.
  • Carefully place the towel over the bird. Through the towel, gently fold the bird’s wings into its body with your gloved hands.
  • Slide your gloved hands underneath the bird and grab one leg in each hand. Your arms should bracket the wings, holding them into the bird’s body.
  • Once you are holding the legs, the bird can be safely lifted and carried to a container for transport.
  • Gently place the bird into a ventilated cardboard box or plastic dog or cat kennel that is slightly larger than the bird (less room for the bird to thrash around and injure itself). DO NOT transport a bird loose in a car or truck bed.
  • Keep the bird in a warm, dark, and quiet place out of the reach of children or pets and transport to a rehabilitation center as soon as possible.

Orphaned or not?

How can you tell if a raptor "baby" needs your help or should be left alone? Here are some general signs to look for:

  • Brought to you by a cat or a dog
  • Bleeding
  • Broken limb
  • Featherless or nearly featherless bird (nestling) on the ground
  • Shivering
  • Evidence of a dead parent nearby

If the found bird meets these conditions, safely capture and place the bird into a warm box as described above.

Click here for directions to California Raptor Center if you live near UC Davis.