TECHNIQUE

Hand-rearing Birds of Prey (Wildlife Casualty Management)
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Summary Information
Type of technique Health & Management / UK Wildlife Casualty Management / Techniques:
Synonyms and Keywords
  • Hand-rearing Raptors

N.B. This information should be read in association with Hand-rearing of Orphaned Wildlife which contains background information together with links to the Electronic Library and Organisations (UK Contacts). The related Species pages contain similar linkages.

Description This page has been prepared for the "UK Wildlife: First Aid and Care" Wildpro module, and is designed for the needs of the following species: Accipiter gentilis - Northern goshawk, Accipiter nisus - Eurasian sparrowhawk, Aquila chrysaetos - Golden eagle, Buteo buteo - Common buzzard, Buteo lagopus - Rough-legged buzzard, Circus aeruginosus - Western marsh harrier, Circus cyaneus - Northern harrier, Circus pygargus - Montagu's harrier, Haliaeetus albicilla - White-tailed eagle, Milvus milvus - Red kite, Pernis apivorus - European honey buzzard, Pandion haliaetus - Osprey, Falco columbarius - Merlin, Falco peregrinus - Peregrine falcon, Falco subbuteo - Hobby, Falco tinnunculus - Common kestrel, Athene noctua - Little owl, Strix aluco - Tawny owl, Asio otus - Long-eared owl, Asio flammeus - Short-eared owl, Nyctea scandiaca - Snowy owl, Tyto alba - Barn owl.

These species are from the families Accipitridae, Falconidae, Strigidae, Tytonidae.

These species should be reared in groups where possible, with minimise visual contact and handling to avoid imprinting.

Initial Care: 

General bird information:

  • On arrival any young bird should be weighed, warmed, and given supplementary fluids by an appropriate route to counteract dehydration.
  • Cold, weak chicks may benefit greatly from a short period, for example 30 minutes, left in a dark cardboard box at 30-35C.(P19.1.w4)
  • The age should be determined if possible.
  • See: Hand-rearing of Orphaned Wildlife for further general information.

General Care (including warmth and hygiene):

General altricial and semialtricial bird information

  • Young birds, particularly altricial or semialtricial unfeathered/poorly down-covered nestlings, have poor ability to maintain body temperature and are prone to hypothermia, hyperthermia and burns.
  • Keep out of draughts but ensure ventilation is adequate.(V.w5)
  • A thermometer should be placed beside the nest box to indicate the temperature at which the chicks are being maintained.

Bird of prey specific information:

  • Newly-hatched chicks should be maintained at 95F; reduce temperature by 1F per day until the secondary down comes through (young birds become more able to thermo-regulate at this stage).(D18)
  • Chicks more that 10 days old, maintained in a room of temperature at least 70F/21C, should not require additional heat; avoid overheating.(D18)
  • Monitor the temperature near the nest with a reliable thermometer.
  • Use behavioural cues to determine whether the room temperature is correct i.e. cold chicks huddle together and cry, hot chicks pant, move away from one another and cry (a different sound). (D18)
  • Artificial nests should keep the chicks' legs tucked under them to avoid the legs splaying. 
  • Suggested containers include plastic half-gallon ice-cream or margarine tubs, with a minimum of two inches (5cm) of sand in the bottom, formed into a hollow using a fist, and lined with two pieces of kitchen paper. (D18)
    • Shaped nests may also be made by crumpling nesting material within the nest box. (B11.22.w24)
    • Remove kitchen paper when soiled (e.g. at every feed).
    • Re-form the cup in the sand when replacing the lining paper.
    • Wash nest containers daily to remove droppings.
    • (D18)

Food:

A variety of feeds have been described for rearing birds of prey:

  • Mixed, finely minced or chopped meat (quail with skin, guts, gizzard, head, feet and wings removed; rabbit with skin, head, feet and guts removed; rats with skin, head, feet and guts removed; skinned mice; day-old chicks with skin, head, feet, guts including gizzard and yolk sac removed).
    • Feed minced food without bones for first two-three days, then including bone.
    • Add a probiotic (e.g. Avipro Paediatric, Vetark) to the food for several days.
    • Dampen the food or dip into water before feeding, to avoid dehydration and make feeding easier.
    • Add a good multi-vitamin supplement, but avoid overdosing.
    • Nutrobal (Vetark) may be added for extra calcium - take care to follow the manufacturer's dosage recommendations.
    • Add casting materials (fur/feathers) at 10-14 days, or later for very large species; do not include in feed for small species such as merlins until the chicks are feathering up.
    • (D18)
  • First day: muscle meat from day-old chicks; 2-3 days: pieces of day-old chick (not including skin or yolk sac, or pieces of baby (pinkie) mice/rats. By seven days, may be fed day-old chick pieces with skin, but without the yolk sac. By 14 days old, chopped day old-chicks with vitamin/mineral supplement added. By 28 days old, chopped quail/chickens with added vitamins/minerals. By close to fledging, should be eating whole carcasses. (B11.22.w24)
  • Chopped chick with appropriate vitamin/mineral supplementation e.g. Nutrobal (Vetark) to prevent development of metabolic bone disease.(D24)
  • Whole animal diet required.
    • Chopped day-old chicks or mice with added vitamins and mineral.
    • Chopped rabbit or chicken for larger birds.
    • Ensure bones have been crushed into manageable pieces with no long splinters.
    • (B151)
  • Small pieces of mice or chicks, or bits of raw beef or chicken.(B118.5.w5)
  • Preferably feed using meat from the natural prey species, therefore e.g. mice for Buteo spp., and quail for falcons.
    • Day-old chicks do not provide balanced nutrition.
    • Initially feed on ground muscle, liver and organs (excluding stomach and intestines).
    • Add bits of bone after 2-3 days.
    • (B150.w2)
  • Osprey chicks should be fed on fish. (B197.8.w8)

Feeding Frequency:

Bird of prey specific information:

  • Feed every 2-3 hours initially and gradually increase feeding interval.(B150.w2)
  • Feed four times a day. (B11.22.w24, D18)

Feeding Technique: 

  • Hand feed using tweezers/blunt forceps.
  • Raise and lower the piece of food in front of the chick.
  • If chick does not open bill, try touching bristles on sides of bill.
  • The chick's mouth may need to be opened initially.
    • Care should be taken to avoid damaging the bill.
  • (B118.5.w5, D24)
  • For most species, bring food towards the chick at about eye-level, slowly, and the chick will try to grab the food from the forceps.(D18)
  • For falcons, need to place food inside the mouth, touching the upper palate to stimulate the chick to close its bill and swallow.
  • N.B. Expect chicks to miss the food and fall over when grabbing initially.

Quantities:

  • Check crop is empty not distended before feeding (N.B. owls do not have a crop)
  • Feed until crop is full (not stuffed) or begging stops; do not overfeed.
  • Gradually increase amount per feed, at a rate appropriate to the individual chick.
  • (B11.22.w24, B118.5.w5, B150.w2, D18, D24)

Toileting: 

Raptor specific information:

  • Droppings may be squirted out backwards with some force.

Weighing: 

General bird information:

  • Regular weighing provides a good indication of growth, however a balance must be chosen between the frequency of weighing for accurate monitoring of progress and the stress which may be caused by repeated handling.

Bird of prey specific information:

  • Weighing each chick before and after feeding gives a good indication of both food intake and growth. (D18)
  • Suggested intake of 8% body weight per feed and weight gain of 10% per day. (B11.22.w24)

Weaning:

  • Most raptor chicks will pick up food for themselves by 10 days old (D18); chicks may be picking up food by as early as seven days old.(B11.22.w24)
  • Whole food should be taken by about 8 weeks old (depending on species and time to fledging), when nearly adult size/nearly fledged.(B150.w2, B11.22.w24)
  • Offer whole day-old chicks or mice, and rabbits or chickens for the larger birds. (B151)
  • Ensure that long bones on larger food items are broken before they are offered as food.

Release:

Appropriate Use (?)
  • Wild animals should not be taken for hand-rearing unless they are definitely orphaned or abandoned, injured/visibly unwell, or in immediate danger.
  • Tawny owlets undergo a normal period of exploration, called "branching" before they can fly. Members of the public may find such owlets on the ground and mistakenly identify them as orphaned. The owlets should be observed for signs of injury or disease but if healthy and not in immediate danger should not be taken into care. The area may be rechecked later to ensure that the owlet is still being fed.
Notes
  • Keep the temperature of the room in which chicks are being reared steady.
  • Rear in groups where possible.
  • Minimise visual contact and handling to avoid imprinting and wean as soon as possible.
  • Feeding using puppet heads which resemble adult birds of prey may reduce the risk of imprinting on humans.
  • Encouraging the chicks to pick up their own food rather than being fed from as early an age as possible may decrease the risk of imprinting.
  • Considerable input of time and effort required .
  • Care should be taken not to under or over-supplement with vitamins or minerals.
  • Include minced bone in feed once the chicks are a few days old.
  • Rings may be placed on most species at 10-14 days old; contact British Trust for Ornithology (BTO) for details.
Complications/ Limitations / Risk
  • Birds of prey chicks are easily tamed or imprinted to the point of not being suitable for release.
  • Risk of damaging bill if opened manually.(V.w6)
  • Bird of prey chicks are easily killed by overfeeding.(D18)
  • Overheating is more likely to cause problems rapidly than is underheating, although both should be avoided.(D18)
  • Splayed legs may develop very quickly (within an hour) if chicks are not kept in a correctly-shaped nest. (D18)
Equipment / Chemicals required and Suppliers
  • No specialist equipment required for rearing.
  • Source of suitable food (day-old chicks, quail, mice, rats etc.) required, e.g. a large [pet store or a specialist animal food supplier.
  • Avipro Paediatric (Vetark Professional, Winchester, UK).
  • Nutrobal (Vetark Professional, Winchester, UK).
  • Aviary required prior to release.
Expertise level / Ease of Use
  • Initial time commitment is considerable.
  • It is strongly recommended that juveniles of these species are transferred to expert individuals or organisations as rearing and successful release requires considerable expertise, specialised pre-release accommodation and may involve training of the animal. While rearing by inexperienced persons may result in a physically healthy juvenile, the chance of survival after release may be seriously reduced if expert techniques have not been correctly applied.
Cost/ Availability
  • Total food cost over time to release may be considerable.
  • Most food items should be available from pet stores.
  • Cost of construction of a suitable aviary may be considerable.
Legal and Ethical Considerations
  • Hand-rearing should not be started unless the carer is prepared to give the time and effort required for rearing to release, or to ensure that appropriate care will be continued through to release.
  • Consider whether hand-rearing is the best option for the individual compared with leaving it in the wild.
  • Consider whether euthanasia is a more humane/kinder option for the individual than attempting hand-rearing.
  • Under Section 14 of the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 the release of individuals of any species listed in Schedule 9 of that Act or any other species which is not ordinarily resident in the UK is prohibited without a licence. Tyto alba - Barn owl is listed in Schedule 9; a licence is required for releasing barn owls. A general licence permits the release of wild rehabilitated animals but a specific licence must be obtained for the release of captive-bred barn individuals. (D53)
  • An offence may be committed under the Abandonment of Animals Act 1960 Section 1 if a released animal does not have a reasonable chance of survival (i.e. a chance similar to its non-rehabilitated peers). It is an offence under this Act for a person having control or charge of an animal to abandon it permanently or otherwise in circumstances likely to cause unnecessary suffering. This may include release at an unsuitable site, in the wrong territory, unfit, not having learned to hunt, at the wrong time of year etc. (J35.147.w1, B156.21.w21, B223, W5.Jan01)
  • See: Legislation relating to Wildlife Casualties.
Author Debra Bourne
Referee Becki Lawson and Suzanne Boardman
References

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