Info for carers
Information for Wildlife Carers and Veterinarians
Basic Points on Care and First Aid
- Wire cages cause feather damage. Large cardboard boxes are ideal temporary accommodation.
- Sick or injured raptors should be placed in a warm, dark, quiet place.
- Don’t be tempted to feed them until a vet or specialist has made an examination. If found to be starving and dehydrated, then fluid therapy should take place for at least 24hrs by an experience raptor carer before food is introduced. A thin, starved bird is always dehydrated.
- Do not tube feed or syringe any water into a raptor’s mouth: they may inhale and drown or suffer pneumonia. Raptors acquire almost all of their fluid requirements from the food they eat and only drink water in extreme situations.
- As raptors have specialised requirements, it is important that they are housed and maintained correctly to provide the best chance for release. Appropriate facilities also prevents feather and cere damage. THEY ARE NOT A BEGINNER’S BIRD
- A Specialist Permit is required to rehabilitate raptors.
Examination and Diagnosis
If a raptor is able to be caught then there is something wrong with it. The initial examination may take some time to locate the injury, and is always followed through to the end as often there is more than one problem. Concussion alone is rarely seen.
Birds found on roads generally have extensive injuries. Joint dislocations and subluxations are tricky to diagnose and time is taken gently manipulating all joints to rule out these conditions. They are also the most commonly undiagnosed conditions.
To recognise the abnormal, the examiner must be familiar with the normal. The specialist raptor centre is often utilised – as an avian veterinarian is not always within reach. Visual observation is never enough as many injuries and diseases cannot be identified by simply watching the bird in an enclosure.
To conduct an initial examination and decide the fate and/or treatment regime, the following skills and knowledge are necessary;
- Good sound knowledge of their natural history
- Experienced with birds of prey
- Avian anatomy and physiology
- Ability to recognise the abnormal from the normal
- Flight requirements
- Hunting behaviour of the species
- Familiarity with captive behaviour
- Knowledge of proven methods
- Tolerance level of treatments between species
- Medication: success rates, side effects, suitability with raptors
The process of examination, findings and diagnosis goes beyond the scope of this website, however it is strongly recommended that contact be made with an experienced raptor carer or veterinarian for assistance. We offer our advice in this area – accurate diagnosis is crucial.
Once the examination has taken place, a treatment and rehabilitation plan can then commence. This is urgent and cannot be left more than 12hrs. Preferably, immediate transfer to a raptor specialist should occur.
Housing and Feather Care
One of the most common mistakes made is putting raptors in the wrong enclosures. They require purpose built enclosures for all stages of care to prevent feather breakage and cere damage. This renders it unreleaseable. Damage can occur within hours of being placed in a wire mesh cage or aviary. If the correct facilities are not available then a cardboard box can be used until transport can be arranged to the centre. Be mindful of the long tail and wingspan – a large box is necessary for larger raptors.
Intensive Care and Fluid Therapy
Patients suffering from dehydration/starvation, poisoning and other trauma require intensive care at the centre during the first few days. Often a bird that is suffering injury or disease has been ‘down’ for some time without food. As raptors gain almost all of their fluid requirements from their food, dehydration will always accompany an emaciated patient.
A patient that arrives in this condition is rehydrated for at least 48hrs via subcutaneous or intravenous fluid therapy, before feeding even begins. Having the experienced avian veterinary nurse on our team proves invaluable in this area. Rehydration therapy by mouth is not an option. Owls do not have a crop, which makes feeding or rehydrating more difficult. Do not feed a bird until the hydration status has been checked.
Digital scales are used to weigh hospitalised patients daily to ensure their condition is improving.
There are many proven methods for surgical repair. Modern techniques in external and internal fracture repair has virtually eliminated the option to strap a broken limb. This keeps the limb joints mobile during fracture healing, therefore reducing any chances of joints ceasing up or becoming stiff during the 2-4wk period of immobilisation. Strapping is rarely recommended, and it can also damage the propatagium (wing membrane) if placed too tight or incorrectly. It is recommended that an experienced avian veterinarian carry out surgical fracture repair.
Undiagnosed injuries and disease result in;
- Pain, suffering and stress
- Missed chance of release
- Guilt (felt by the carer due to neglect)
Euthanasia is a necessary option in many cases and is accepted as part of the responsibility to relieve pain and suffering.
Perching requirements are met at the centre (all perches covered with Astroturf) to prevent bumble foot and whole bodies are fed at all times to keep the birds at optimum health. Captive raptors obtain stimulation from plucking their prey, which fulfils not only nutritional but also behavioural needs. Meat, dog biscuits and other commercial diets are messy, unnatural and contain no fibre therefore a cast (pellet) cannot be regurgitated by the raptor each day. This is a necessary daily process to maintain gut health. A commercial diet is considered inappropriate by wildlife centres around the world.
Low Stress Environment
All indoor and outdoor enclosures are constructed from raptor friendly materials such as wooden slats or shade cloth. No wire or protruding objects are exposed and trees surround the hacking boxes and aviaries.