What is raptor rehabilitation?
Raptor rehabilitation is the care and medical treatment of injured, sick, or orphaned birds of prey. CFBP is dedicated to the health and well being of raptors. A qualified veterinary medical team is always available to evaluate ill or injured raptors presented to the Foundation. Experienced raptor rehabilitators provide the necessary care and management of these birds during their recovery phase. Spacious flight chambers enhance the speed and conditioning phase of the raptorsí rehabilitation process. CFBP has a special working relationship with falconers, who help to train and condition raptors requiring specialized care and handling. The advancements CFBP has made toward the medical care, husbandry management, and rehabilitation conditioning of raptors have established CFBP as a leader in raptor rehabilitation.
Medical care and treatment for raptors is a specialized skill; some call it an art as well as a science. A raptor being at the top of its food chain must be a supreme athlete in order to survive in the wild. Medical techniques that would work well on other animals will not provide a raptor with a reasonable chance of survival after release. Veterinarians should be board-certified avian vets, or work under the guidance of one.
Raptor illnesses and injuries are often difficult to diagnose, since the birds usually show no signs of illness or injury until they are almost at deathís door. This is because in the wild, showing any signs of weakness will result in another predator taking advantage of the birdís injury or illness. This stoic behavior, while a survival skill in the wild, means that a veterinarian must use advanced tools such as blood work, X-rays, and sometimes even exploratory surgery to diagnose the actual problem. Once diagnosed the problem must be corrected in a way that will not result in a physical handicap. For example, a broken wing bone must be reset and pinned without damaging critical nerves and soft tissue in the area, or the bird will have less-than-perfect flight abilities after recovery.
Initial medical care for raptors often consists of stopping any bleeding, treating for shock, performing physical examinations, starting blood and fecal workups, X-rays, immobilizing fractures, and starting medications as necessary.
Our lead veterinarian, Dr Vickie Joseph, has over 20 years experience in avian medicine and surgery. She is also an avian consultant for a veterinary lab. She is at the forefront of raptor medicine; constantly working with and developing advanced techniques to help heal these birds. Dr Josephís work using procedures such as endoscopy to treat Aspergillosis is pioneering work in the field.
Once an injured or sick raptor has been medically treated, it must recover from the injuries. This is not as easy as it sounds; since most raptors consider humans as a large dangerous predator, recovery for them is the equivalent of us trying to recover from a car wreck in a hospital full of grizzly bears where no one speaks our language! Healing is difficult at best under such conditions; the body does not repair itself well when stressed. Secondary disease and infection can set in.
Raptor rehabilitators, therefore, must have specialized skills and knowledge to get these birds back into the wild. Volunteers and caregivers must undergo training and mentoring by seasoned personnel. Aside from the physical act of caring for the bird, a rehabber must know how to care for the bird without excessively increasing its stress levels.
So, what does a rehabber do to care for a raptor?
We change bandages, clean wounds, give shots or other medications.
We provide appropriate nourishment, determining the caloric requirements of each bird and presenting the correct amount and type of food for each raptor.
We perform physical therapy to ensure that joints donít get too stiff and that muscles maintain strength.
We observe; watching the bird and using our knowledge of healthy and injured individuals to evaluate the birdís progress as it heals.
We develop new methods of raptor husbandry; constantly finding new and improved ways to house and handle raptors.
We leave it alone or interact with it as appropriate.
We undertake annual training to keep our skills current.
We maintain frequent communication with CA Department of Fish and Game and US Fish and Wildlife Service, advising them of the condition of our birds, keeping our permits up-to-date, and dealing with other regulatory paperwork.
If all goes well, after a while the bird is moved to a flight chamber where it can begin the reconditioning process. All raptors require pre-release conditioning. Releasing a raptor after an extended period of confinement without adequate conditioning is a death sentence. We have various outdoor flight chambers that are used to allow birds to regain their strength and conditioning after treatment. This type of conditioning is adequate for some birds, but not enough for others.
An adult red-tailed hawk, recovering from a wing or leg fracture, can regain adequate conditioning in a large flight pen; an orphaned eagle or a bird like a peregrine falcon cannot acquire or regain the skills or abilities it needs to survive in a pen. A young eagle must learn how to hunt. While the desire to hunt is instinctual, the ability to hunt is learned by trial and error, as well as training from a parent bird. A falcon that flies at over 200 miles per hour cannot practice full flight ability in a cage, no matter how large it is.
For such cases, placing the bird temporarily with one of our Falconers is the ideal solution. That young hawk or eagle is taught to hunt and given experience while still maintaining a safety net. The peregrine falcon is flown to a lure and wild prey, gradually regaining its aerial abilities. The birds are evaluated by the falconer and then released when deemed fully recovered.
CFBP has developed many techniques over the years that allow us to confidently care for, condition, and release back to the wild many raptors each year. Our partnership of medical professionals, rehabilitators, and falconers has proven to be highly successful, and is a model for effective raptor rehabilitation.
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