Peggy visits a raptor center that specializes in treating wounded birds of prey.
Segment length: 7:19
- How can a raptor center or veterinary clinic rehabilitate a bird of prey so it can
return to its natural environment?
- What should you do if you find an injured raptor?
Raptors are majestic birds that can vary greatly in size
and habitat. But they have one thing in common--they
feed on carrion or meat taken by hunting.
Although a large raptor like a bald eagle can have a wingspan up to 8 feet long and
body length up to 31/2 feet, it and other raptors are nevertheless vulnerable animals.
Birds of prey may encounter many things in their environment that could harm them--often
because of their proximity to humans. The birds may be poisoned by eating prey that
has consumed poison. They may get hit by a car or caught in a leg hold trap. They
could become ill from disease or parasites.
When people find an injured bird of prey, they often contact a veterinarian, a raptor
center, or their local conservation department. Commonly, raptors that come to a
veterinary center have injuries to bone or flesh. Through expert care, many of them
can be nursed back to health and returned to the wild.
A veterinarian thoroughly examines the injured raptor to assess its illness or injury.
The examination might include blood tests and radiographs, pictures taken with X rays
that show the bird's bones and internal organs. Depending on what the doctor finds,
the raptor may need to be kept in captivity and treated with medication, surgery, and
bandages. To repair a broken bone, the veterinarian may fix the break surgically,
applying a pin, a plate and screws, or an external splint. A cast or bandage prevents
the broken bone from moving. The injured bird is confined and fed its natural diet.
Meanwhile, caretakers monitor its health and recovery.
While it is recovering, the bird loses some muscle strength due to its limited activity.
Once it is healthy again, its rehabilitation takes
a new course, shifting to a program that prepares it for reentry into its natural habitat. At the raptor center, the bird
receives physical therapy appropriate to its specific injury. For a broken wing, for
example, the program would help restore the bird's range of motion and coordination
and prepare its muscles, heart, and airways for the physical exertion critical to its
survival in the wild.
Controlled practice flights are an important part of rehabilitation. Outdoor flights
lengthen as the raptor's strength improves. Once the bird has gained endurance, the
center's staff releases it into its natural habitat. From there, it reestablishes
itself in its environment, hunting and soaring overhead. Hopefully, it will reproduce,
ensuring its species' place in the ecosystem.
- How does the anatomy of raptors compare to that of birds in your yard and at your bird
- How are the diets of yard birds such as robins, jays, and blackbirds similar to
those of raptors?
- How do they differ?
- What position do raptors occupy in the food chain?
Where do other wild creatures fit in?
carrion dead and decaying flesh
food chain a natural order that starts with a simple
organism being consumed by a higher-order organism which, in turn, is eaten by yet a
habitat environment in which a species thrives and is
hawk More than 200 species of birds are classified as hawks,including eagles.
Hawks are active during daylight and form three main categories: buteos, accipiters,
ornithology branch of zoology that studies birds
pellet a bolus of waste material that owls and hawks spit up or regurgitate
after consuming prey. It contains parts of the prey the bird can't digest.
raptor bird of prey, such as hawks, osprey, falcons,
owls, and vultures
rehabilitation a program to bring an injured or
weakened creature back to health so it can perform its natural activities in the wild
talons nails on a bird's foot that are sharp, curved, and long
- Baldwin, F.D. (1991, Jan/Feb) How to identify birds of prey. Country Journal, pp. 20-22.
- Clark, W.S. &Wheeler, B.K. (1987) A field guide to hawks of North America. Boston:
- Davenport, L. (1991/92, Dec/Jan) Sauk Prairie, Wisconsin: Where eagles soar. Mother
Earth News, pp. 78-79, 90-91.
- Johnsgaard, P.A. (1990) Hawks, eagles, & falcons of North America. Washington, DC:
- Rowell, G. (1991, Apr) Falcon rescue. National Geographic, pp. 106-114.
- Savage, C. (1992) Peregrine falcons. San Francisco: Sierra Club Books.
- Sutton, C. & Walton, R.K. (1994) North American birds of prey. National Audubon
Society Pocket Guide. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, Inc.
Additional sources of information
Hawk Mountain Sanctuary Assn.
RR 2, Box 191
Kempton, PA 19529-9449
National Audubon Society
New York, NY 10003
Raptor Education Foundation
21901 E. Hampden Ave.
Aurora, CO 80013
The Raptor Center
The World Wide Medical
and Educational Facility
Devoted to Birds of Prey
World Wide Web Access: http://www.raptor.cvm.umn.edu/
The Rap on Raptors
You can identify various raptors as they fly through the sky.
We often see raptors only as they are flying through the sky. By studying raptor
silhouettes, you can learn to identify different species from the ground. Although
raptors may have different outward appearances, they share many features that help
them catch their prey. Discuss which features various species of raptors share and
learn about the food chain leading up to a bird of prey.
- transparencies of various raptor silhouettes. (Downoad GIF file of raptor
silouhettes. Several are included as illustrations on the page. You can also find more
silhouettes from books listed in the resource section.)
- transparencies of drawings showing details of the anatomy of different raptors.
(You'll find these in reference books listed in the resources.)
- overhead projector
- Enlarge and make transparencies out of the three silhouettes on this page.
Project the silhouettes on the overhead projector.
- Study each silhouette and try to identify each type of raptor.
(The three pictured are identified at the bottom of the page.)
- Project the detailed drawings of various types of raptors on the overhead
projector. Observe the different parts of the bird's anatomy. Take note of the similarities among
various raptor species.
- Sketch a bird of prey's food chain. Start with a raptor at the top of the food
chain and work down. Where does each "layer" in the food chain get its food?
- Discuss the parts of a raptor's anatomy that are crucial for it to catch prey.
How do these parts differ from nonraptor bird species?
- What factors in a raptor's food chain could contribute to the decline or health
of a raptor species? Have these factors changed over time?
Plan a trip to a zoo to visit the raptors. Schedule a period with the zoo's raptor
specialist to learn why the birds are in captivity, what foods they eat, and what
role they serve as examples of raptors in the wild.
If you have a raptor center nearby, schedule a tour of its facilities. Or ask a special
ist to bring a raptor to class for close inspection. Have the tour guide or specialist
explain what people should do when they find an injured raptor, and what steps the
center takes when a bird is brought to the facility.
Invite a wildlife specialist from your state conservation department to discuss the
types of nests in which various raptors hatch and care for their young. What are the
nests made of and where are they located? Will nesting raptors adopt young birds that
are not their own?
Newton's Apple is a production of KTCA Twin Cities Public Television. Made possible
by a grant from 3M. Educational materials developed with the National Science Teachers