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Raptors – getting through the first winter; it ain’t easy.

December 24, 2022

Red Tailed Hawk on Route 190 in south-central Kansas, trying to wait out the end of a long drought. October, 2022. (R. Prince photo).


(Thank you Paula Daily )


This is a tough time of year for raptors.
The birds that hatched during the summer are out on their own and still learning to hunt. Some are better hunters than others. Some, like humans, will do stupid things that may get them injured or killed. That’s why well over half of each years raptor fledglings will die their first winter.
Keep an eye out for ones who may be in trouble. Any raptor just standing on the ground by the road may need help. If you see them eating or chasing something and then fly up or away, they are probably fine.
Hawks and owls get hit by cars every day. They may have broken bones, head trauma, eye injuries, internal damage or something else. Aside from being injured, they are susceptible to being prey themselves while on the ground.
Usually, a raptor that you see just standing on the roadside has been hit by a car. They will certainly be stunned. Owls, with their large eyes are susceptible to ocular damage. Owls standing by the road typically can’t see. They may not have any broken bones, but can’t tell where to go, so they just stand there in fear…
Hawks are a little less susceptible to ocular damage but probably have wing, leg or head trauma. If they can see and their legs work, they will often move into the scrub by the road for cover. They are trying to hide from predators. This is one reason why when you see a hawk injured by the road, someone needs to act fast and get the bird. Otherwise they will crawl off in the bushes and disappear.
We also see raptors that are just not strong standing on the ground. A few examples are hawks, eagles and vultures that are suffering from lead poisoning. Owls are commonly down from rodenticide or insecticide poisoning. You may also see weak raptors during cold or rainy weather. Owls don’t hunt well in heavy rain. All birds burn more calories when it’s cold just to stay warm. This means they need to eat more. They need to be good hunters and have acceptable habitat with prey. If they get too under weight, they don’t have the energy to hunt, and will simply stand on the ground and die.
If you see a raptor in need, please stop, observe and call a wildlife rehabilitator or raptor center. If you feel comfortable and safe capturing the bird, even better. Remember though, they are stressed, afraid and armed with sharp talons. I always keep a collapsed cardboard box in the truck along with gloves and towels just in case.
If you capture a raptor in need, don’t feed it or water it. Find and call the closest rehabilitator and help transport the bird. They need medical attention ASAP. If we are to have a chance of helping them, we have to get right to work on the bird.
Remember, rehabilitators are almost never paid or reimbursed for their expenses, so any help in transporting a bird is huge! Located on lower Hatteras Island, I get calls often from the mainland to go get a bird. This is usually a 4 to 6 hour round trip drive. If the bird isn’t contained, there is no reason to even go because they usually won’t be where the caller reported. Driving is time consuming and very expensive. Even if contained, we can’t always drop what we’re doing and go get a bird.
Help if you can.
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