Here's what you should do if you find a baby raptor
Sometimes young raptors get into trouble: a nest tree has blown down, a hatchling has fallen from a nest, a predator has snatched a chick and dropped it. Bearing in mind that, by law, you have only 48 hours to keep a wild bird while finding help for it, your first task is to determine if it really needs help. Many young birds that appear abandoned are really in a perfectly normal phase of development and should be left alone. Some, of course, are injured or orphaned. But if the bird you find is not injured, don't become a Raptor-napper!
Is It a Fledgling or Nestling?
If the little raptor is hopping around on the ground and has feathers, it's a fledgling. Leave it alone unless it is in immediate danger from traffic or predators, or you see wounds. Fledglings are a common sight during the spring and early summer months when they are learning to fly and are still being cared for by their parents. Because this is their first flight, their muscles have not been conditioned to fly, and it takes them a day or so to be able to sustain flight. In the meantime, they may be on the ground while they get through this final period of conditioning. Keep an eye on the bird for a few hours if you can, to be sure the parents are tending to it.
If the baby has few feathers or is covered with down, it's a nestling. If you can, put this chick back in the nest. This is often difficult, because raptors' nests are commonly high. You can put the baby in a sturdy basket with drainage – a plastic milk crate is a good option – and place it lower in the nest tree or in a nearby tree, making sure it will be partly shaded. Secure the makeshift nest in place before you add the baby! When you handle the chick, wear gloves and cover it with a towel gently so it will not get too frightened. The parent birds will not reject the baby because you have touched it. Uncover the chick once it's in the box and watch to see if the parents return. If they have not appeared, or you determine that the baby has not been fed after several hours, follow the instructions below.
Is the Fledgling Abandoned or Injured?
If you have watched the chick and determined that the parents are not around, or if the chick is injured, call us at 530.752.6091 and leave a message. Someone will call you back and give you instructions on how to get the chick to us. You may also take it directly to the UC Davis Veterinary Medical Teaching Hospital. The more quickly this chick receives care, the better chance it will have of surviving. If you live far from Davis, check the California Department of Fish and Wildlife website list of licensed rehabilitators to find one near you.
While You Wait, Put the Baby in a Dark, Quiet Place
Young raptors are usually not aggressive, but even the youngest have sharp talons. Wearing gloves, put the chick in a cardboard box lined with paper towels. Keep the box in a dark, quiet place away from people and pets. Be sure the top of the box is secured so an active youngster can't get out. You can transport the chick to us in this box.
Do Not Feed the Chick or Try To Give It Water
Raptors need a special diet to ensure that their bones and muscles will develop properly. Even a day or two of eating the wrong foods can seriously affect a chick's chances of survival. A frightened bird can breathe in or aspirate liquids, so do not try to give it water. If you have made arrangements to bring the bird to the Center within a few hours of rescue, someone will have given you instructions on the care of the baby until you get it to us.
We will give you an intake number for the raptor you have brought to us, so you may check on its status. During chick season, we get very busy, so forgive us if we do not call you back immediately in answer to your request for an update. We will return your call as soon as we can.
All the care we provide for these chicks is funded by private donations from generous supporters. Please help us raise and release these young birds back to the wild by making a donation today. For a glimpse into how orphaned raptors are raised in our nursery, read the story of Mikey here.