Help! I Found A Raptor!


Courtesy of Louise Shimmel, Cascades Raptor Center*

If you encounter a raptor that appears to be injured or ill, call us at our contact numbers or call your local animal control office, the CA Dept of Fish and Game, or your local sheriff’s office. It may be possible for someone to pick up the bird. You may, however find times when you will have to act in an emergency.

You never know when you might have the need to help a wild animal in distress: you may find a bird that has flown into a window, hit by a car, been caught by a cat, or a baby raptor too young to fend for itself.

The first thing to realize is that the animal will not understand that you are trying to help it. It is conditioned by instinct, training, and usually experience to look on humans as enemies, as much to be feared as whatever you have rescued it from. Possibly, on a subconscious level, an animal is aware of the difference between the hands of a friend or foe. Whether or not that is true, however, what IS true is that an injured wild animal operates from the instinctual level and, on that level, it reacts out of fear and pain.

PLEASE REMEMBER the Number One rule of handling wildlife: keep YOUR SAFETY foremost in your mind. No matter how noble you might be in risking life or limb in the cause of injured wildlife, you won’t do much good if talons or beak injures you first! Even though a small hawk may not be able to hurt you much, gently wrapping it in a cloth as you pick it up gives you a better grip, helps keep the wings or legs from being further damaged as it struggles, and covers its eyes: if it can’t see you, it has one less reason to be scared.

a large bird of prey, any heron, egret, or other large bird.
Eagles can be especially dangerous when injured.

Call a wildlife rehabilitation center first and they’ll do their best to send a trained person with appropriate equipment. If you must handle such an animal for its safety even before you contact a rehabilitator (e.g., it’s in the middle of the road), do so with great caution. A heron will go straight for the eyes and can blind or kill you with its sharp, powerful beak; the talons of a large bird of prey can go through your hand or arm and you might not be able to get it to let go. (Please know that these warnings are not meant to imply that these animals are mean or vicious; they are simply scared, in pain, and cannot get away. Because of this, they will try to defend themselves in any way they can.) The best suggestion in these circumstances is to get a box or blanket over the animal and leave someone with it while you call for experienced help.

If it is absolutely necessary to handle a raptor, use heavy gloves (like welding gloves) to avoid injury from its sharp talons and beak. A towel or blanket temporarily placed over the bird may allow easier handling. The bird will usually grab the towel or blanket with the feet. Once that happens, secure the legs as soon as possible. The feet of a raptor are its most formidable weapon.

Grasp the bird on the sides over properly folded wings. For transporting, the raptor should then be placed in a heavy cardboard box only slightly larger than the bird itself.

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.


Before picking up any wild animal, BE SURE IT REALLY NEEDS RESCUING! Young animals are often picked up by someone who mistakenly thinks they are orphaned, injured, or abandoned, when they are simply exploring, having left the nest on schedule and are still being cared for by their parents. Though to an untrained observer they may look too young to be on their own, usually the best thing you can do is to leave them alone! (Exceptions: if the baby is injured, very cold to the touch, in an area of danger, or a parent is found dead. Remember, however, that most baby birds are raised by both parents and the loss of one is not an automatic death sentence for the young.) Young birds may be placed back in the nest or in a tree if found on the ground. It is UNTRUE that parents will abandon young touched by humans, although they may abandon a nest in an area where there is continuous disturbance.

If you see a raptor that seems orphaned or abandoned, stay back and watch from a considerable distance, or leave and come back later to see if the parent or parents return.

Be certain that it is truly orphaned before removing it from the area. Young birds are often out of their nests a few days before they can fly, being cared for by parents that are nearby but possibly not visible. No matter how hard even the most experienced rehabilitator might try to match the care these animals would receive in the wild, the adult birds can do a much better job of raising their young than humans. You can help the parents by keeping dogs and cats out of the area as well as curious youngsters.


SHOCK – The Number One Killer

Another thing to assume is that the animal will be in shock, both from the original cause of its injury or trauma, and from being handled by you. And, like with any human accident victim, shock can kill. Eliminating extra stressors and alleviating shock, therefore, are the first priorities. A bird like an owl, small falcon or hawk, or even a sparrow, that seems content to sit on your finger is in shock. As nice as it is to assume it knows you are trying to help, it is far more likely to be simply hiding the fact that it is paralyzed with fear.

Very simplistically, on a physiological level, shock involves loss of body heat and fluids. Shock and stress are related and can compound each other. Therefore…

Any animal (which can be safely handled by you) should be placed in a covered box, with a hot water bottle wrapped in a towel, or with the box itself placed half on a heating pad set on low, unless it is a very warm day.

Place something absorbent in the bottom of the box – newspapers, paper towels, or clean cloths with no holes or raveled edges. This helps keep the animal clean and dry, and gives it more secure footing.

Keep the animal in a quiet place, away from family or pet traffic, and at a

Temperature between 80° and 90°, and you have made the biggest contribution you can towards stabilizing its condition until you can get it to a licensed rehabilitator or care center.

Resist the temptation to check on it: you are adding stress each time you open the box or subject it to unfamiliar noises (e.g., human voices, radio) or smells, in the case of mammals. Of course, if the animal is bleeding, stopping the bleeding is critical. Gentle pressure at the wound site, or styptic powder or even corn starch combined with gentle pressure should be sufficient. Tourniquets are NOT a good idea unless you are trained: you can cause irreparable damage by not knowing when to let up on the pressure.

Do not try to immobilize fractures except by wrapping the whole animal securely in a towel.

Be aware of the danger of overheating the animal, particularly birds, during warm weather.

Now, contact us and arrange to get the bird to us.

Do not give the bird food or water unless we instruct you to do so. If the bird is in shock or starving, feeding can kill it. It takes a lot of energy to process food, and if the bird is too weak, they will be unable to do so. Water, if ingested into the trachea and lungs instead of the esophagus, can also be fatal.


Often, people finding wild animals, particularly orphaned animals, want to care for them themselves. We strongly suggest against this for several reasons.

First, state and federal laws prohibit you from having in your possession any protected wildlife (most native animals), even temporarily while caring for it with the intention of releasing it. Wildlife rehabilitators or care centers are licensed to hold wildlife while it is being rehabilitated. In California and many other states, licensed rehabilitators have to meet stringent requirements and are trained to recognize and deal with the injuries, illnesses, parasites, or other conditions that may be present.

In many cases, the difference between getting the bird today and getting it in 3 days is the difference between life and death for the bird. Many injuries can be repaired if the bird is found and treated quickly. If a broken wing bone, for example, starts to heal in the wrong position, the bird may never be able to fly again.

Veterinarians who work with rehabilitators have many years’ experience with wildlife, which can be very different from dogs and cats, even parrots and canaries.

Rehabilitators know the special formulas developed for different species, and their dietary needs and caloric requirements; can administer medications safely; and are trained to observe carefully and know the difference between normal behavior, appearance, or even droppings, and something indicating a problem.

There are also diseases that you, or your pets, might catch from wildlife. The field of wildlife rehabilitation is no longer a backyard hobby but a science, with its own body of literature, journals, national trainings and certification. Rehabilitators work closely together to provide the top care available for our wild neighbors, who surely deserve the very best – both in their own right and because so often their problem is human-related. In the best interests of the wildlife about which you so obviously care, we urge you to place their well-being above your personal attachment and turn them over to a trained, experienced, licensed rehabilitator.

CFBP would like to express our appreciation to Louise Shimmel and the Cascades Raptor Center
for graciously allowing us to use this copyrighted document.
Some modifications and changes were made to the original, but it’s mostly their work!