Raptor Nesting Season

provided by Clinic for the Rehabilitation of Wildlife

Winter months bring a special time of year for many raptor species. Raptors, or birds of prey, include owls, hawks, falcons and eagles. These birds are characterized by their sharp talons and beaks that allow them to catch and tear apart their food. While all birds of prey are carnivores, their diet can range from insects to small rodents to songbirds to larger mammals depending on the individual species.

Another thing these birds have in common is their young. Hatchlings of raptor species are altricial, which means they are born helpless and requiring care from their parents until they are able to catch food on their own. Unlike other altricial species that hatch naked and featherless, birds of prey hatch covered in white or gray, fluffy, down feathers. As they grow, the fluffy down is replaced by regular feathers that help them fly.

Many raptor species in Florida begin their nesting season by building their nests in the late fall and their nesting season lasts into the spring, while birds in northern states do not begin nesting until the late winter/early spring. During these months, baby raptors are admitted to the Clinic for the Rehabilitation of Wildlife (CROW) for a variety of reasons. Common occurances include destruction of their nest, falling from the nest, and predator attacks.

In many cases, the young birds are uninjured and able to be returned to their nest or reunited with their parents. For species such as eastern screech owls who nest in cavities, a nest box can be used to replace a destroyed nest or act as a substitute if the location of the nest is unknown. For other raptor species, a temporary nest can be created using a plastic milk crate or similar crate attached to the nest tree if the nest is destroyed or is out of reach. Even with the substitute nest, raptor parents will continue to care for their young. In fact, a research study at CROW showed an 88% success rate (defined as the young being re-nested and later fledging normally) in raptors over a three-year period.

Recently, the first baby raptors of the season were admitted to CROW. On December 14, a nestling eastern screech owl was found in a Fort Myers driveway after it presumably fell from its nest. The owl appeared in good health, but was monitored for a few days for any developing signs of injury before being cleared to attempt a renesting. The owlet was returned to the area it was found and successfully reunited with its parents.

Sometimes, however, renesting is unsuccessful. On December 11, a pair of barn owls, were brought in from the Clewiston area. They were found after the old building that contained their nest was demolished. The owlets did not have any apparent injuries and were attempted to be reunited with the parents overnight. Sadly, there was no sign of the adult owls. The owlets were indeed in good health when checked by the veterinarians and growing fast. They will remain in the expert care of CROW’s rehabilitation staff and be raised until they are flying and able to hunt on their own.

If you find a baby raptor and are concerned it may need help, please call CROW at 239-472-3644 before trying to help. We will be happy to help determine if the bird needs medical care or can be returned to the nest, give tips on locating the nest, or send a volunteer to help with placing a temporary nest or nest box to reunite it with its parents.

THIS WEEK AT CROW (12/9-12/15):
There were 90 new patients admitted to CROW’s Wildlife Hospital including six brown pelicans, five red-shouldered hawks, three gopher tortoises, a great horned owl, a northern cardinal, and an American kestrel. Recent Releases include a great blue heron, two double-crested cormorants, a brown pelican and a laughing gull. Check out a full list of CROW’s current patients and recent releases!

Wildlife doesn’t have health insurance! Your donations help cover the costs of medical and rehabilitative care for over 5,000 patients admitted to CROW’s Wildlife Hospital each year!

Want to learn more about wildlife rehabilitation? Stop by CROW’s Visitor Education Center at 3883 Sanibel Captiva Road.

About Clinic for the Rehabilitation of Wildlife (CROW)
Established in 1968, the Clinic for the Rehabilitation of Wildlife (CROW) is a teaching hospital saving the sick, injured and orphaned native and migratory wildlife of Southwest Florida and beyond.  Through state-of-the-art veterinary care, public education programs and an engaging visitor center, CROW works to improve the health of the environment, humans and our animals through wildlife medicine. For more information, or to plan your visit, go to http://www.crowclinic.org. If you find an animal that is in need of help, call (239) 472-3644 ext. #222.

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