If there’s one thing that’s certain in the field of wildlife rehabilitation, it’s that there’s a time and a season for everything. As unpredictable as wildlife rehab can be, it’s accurate to say that we can expect to see certain types of patients arrive at roughly the same time each year.
Spring and summer mark the “busy season” for most wildlife rehabilitation centers. Enclosures are at capacity, there are hungry orphaned mouths to feed from sun-up to sun-down. Autumn is when we look forward to our raccoon releases, our migratory bird releases, and the start of winding down the chaos. And then, like clouds parting after a storm, winter arrives. Suddenly the patient load is at a glorious minimum, there’s time to take a real lunch break, and the big projects that are put off during busy season get crossed off the to-do list.
Winter is also a time where we tend to see an influx of two common types of patients: the emaciated raptor, and the collision with vehicle raptor. We see a lot of trauma in patients this time of year, due to the nature of winter itself. Food is scarce, visibility is oftentimes low for drivers, and people are generally not “out and about” as much (and are less likely to come across an animal in need).
This is the time of year when many first-year raptors (for example, a young Red-tailed Hawk) haven’t honed in on their hunting skills and, combined with colder weather and less prey availability, end up starving. Some will feed on roadside carrion, thus increasing the risk of being struck by a vehicle.
Some emaciated or severely injured raptors come to us too critical to survive or are beyond surgical repair and are humanely euthanized. While we are saddened, we are also grateful to aid in the relief of their suffering. Others come to us just in time, and with fluid therapy, followed by a specialized tube-fed diet, they slowly mend and recover. These success stories are truly remarkable!
How can you help?
- If you see a bird of prey on the ground, and something seems “off,” it probably is. If you begin to approach it and it doesn’t fly away, it likely needs to be examined by a wildlife rehabilitator.
- If you pass a hawk or eagle on the side of the road, don’t assume it is injured. Sometimes these birds are picking at roadkill and are simply finishing up a meal. If it’s safe and you are able, you can always turn around to get a better look at the situation to determine if the bird is indeed injured.
- If you are unable to check things out, please make a mental note of the location (cross streets, mile post markers, which side of the road, etc.) and call a licensed wildlife rehabilitator to report the bird when you are able to park your vehicle – there may be other calls in about the same bird, and your report will help rehab staff know what to do!
- Any raptor with obvious injuries needs to be brought to a wildlife center for examination. Please call your nearest licensed rehabilitator for instructions on how to proceed.
- Drive with care – just as you are aware of other drivers, bicyclists, and pedestrians, please keep an eye out for birds on the road who might be looking for their next meal. While not every accident can be avoided, we can all do our part by being more alert and aware to the wildlife learning to navigate the world alongside us.
Erika Seirup, Animal Care Assistant