Rescue and rehab for raptors and large birds

Feather Factor by Sherry L. Lidstone column

Submitted by Sherry L. Lidstone

I received a call last week from a person who had come across an injured hawk. She asked where she could take it and I was almost embarrassed to admit that I did not know. Since then I have done a bit of searching for more information on bird rehabbers.

For the particular hawk in question, I had suggested the bird be taken to the Kamloops Wildlife Park,  which lo and behold was indeed the right move.  Unfortunately though, by no fault of the rescuer, it was too late for the bird. The Northern Goshawk, which turned out to be a rare visitor to our parts, died within an hour of arriving at the rehab centre.

I had a long talk with Paul Williams, (senior rehabber at the Wildlife Park) and came away with a wealth of information on this subject.

Before I go any further, and I can’t stress this enough, first and foremost is always your own personal safety. The bigger the bird, the more serious the risk involved. There was a report recently of a concerned birder that had rescued a Northern Gannet, his reward, blinded in one eye by the Gannet’s sharp fishing beak!

Birds of prey, loons, egrets and bitterns, any bird with sharp beaks will almost always go for the eyes of a predator; and yes, in their eyes you are a predator. They will resist all efforts of help on your part; they do not know you are trying to rescue them.

Geese and swans too can cause considerable pain by using their strong wings as weapons, fighting every attempt to be captured.

Then there are the talons, sharp as razors, much more formidable than the beak. Not only could unprotected skin be ripped to shreds, they can grip your hand or fingers in a vise-like fashion and getting them to let go may be painfully impossible. Loons may be fairly easy to capture as once they become stranded on land they are not able to take flight but they can still put up at good fight and you can be severely injured with their sharp, stabbing beak.

When you rescue an injured or orphaned wild bird you’ve taken the very important first step in saving its life. Below are a few tips on how to handle an injured bird.

Approach the bird calmly, talking in a low voice only when needed, try not to excite the bird any more than necessary. Quickly cover the bird with the blanket, towel or coat holding down the edges to prevent escape from beneath. With gloved hands, and without removing the blanket, locate the bird and hold it gently but firmly to keep it still. Once the bird is under control, quickly slide one hand under the blanket and firmly grab the bird by both legs above the feet. Do not allow the bird to grab you as it may be hard to get it to let go. Remove the cover while holding the bird’s legs firmly, gently fold the bird’s wings across its back and put it into a box.

The box shouldn’t be much larger than the bird so the bird can not thrash around and hurt itself further. A box with several air holes, especially near the bottom edge or pet kennel is preferred over a wire cage as the bird can get caught up in the wires and damage its wings. Place something in the bottom of the box such as newspapers, paper towels or carpet, this will help keep the bird clean and dry, and gives it secure footing. Try not to expose the bird to drastic temperature changes or loud noises while transporting. Do not attempt to peek into the box; you will only stress the bird further by doing so. Most likely the bird will be in shock, both from the original cause of its injury or trauma, and from being handled by you. Keep the bird in a warm, dark, quiet place, away from people or pet traffic until you can get it to a rehabber. Darkness has a calming effect on birds and quiet is important because of the bird’s extremely sensitive hearing.

Never feed an injured bird, most will probably be suffering from dehydration, and attempting to feed or water the bird may kill it, as it is probably not yet able to digest solid food or even plain water. Once at the rehab centre, fluids will be given until it is strong enough to eat.

If you should find an injured bird in a situation you cannot resolve yourself, don’t risk getting injured — get help.  Always contact a professional. DO NOT attempt to rehabilitate the bird on your own. Realistically, even experienced rehabilitators can’t save them all, but they can offer the bird its best second chance at survival, self-sufficiency and freedom.

If you find an injured birds of prey, upland game birds or water fowl, (they do not accept song birds) your best bet is to call Paul Williams at B.C. Wildlife Park in Kamloops 250-573-3242, ext 232, you may have to leave a message as he is out and about all day. If it is an emergency or after hours, please call the main desk for further advice. His email address is:

Did you know that the British Columbia Wildlife Park boasts the largest burrowing owl breeding facility in the world? It’s definitely worth a look!  They also have Birds of Prey Free Flight Demonstration daily (except Wednesdays) 11 am and 2 p.m.

Also…Please note: Most rehabilitators bear the cost of rescuing birds out of their pocket. While they will not ask for a donation, any contribution you make will gratefully be accepted. They are always in need of fruit, vegetables and pet food. If you are cleaning out your freezer, give them a call first, they may take it off your hands.

Until next time – happy birding!