So, You’ve Found an Injured Raptor…


On Sunday I received an unexpected e-mail.

A concerned couple had witnessed a raptor, what appeared to be a young hawk, in the middle of the street in front of their house at 4AM. By 8AM he still hadn’t moved, so the wife went out to investigate. She managed to get close enough to stroke the hawk’s back, and found the bird to not be bothered in the least by the attention. Something was wrong. So, they herded the hawk to the neighbor’s yard and quickly e-mailed our rescue. We sprung into action.

The hawk in question was disoriented and small, male Cooper’s Hawks can be as small as American Robins. We were able to gather him up without much difficulty and get him to the nearby Phoenix Wildlife Center that will see to it he gets the treatment he needs. As we were answering questions it occurred to me – not everyone might know how to approach an injured raptor, nor why it’s often better to take the bird to the rehabber yourself rather than waiting for them to send somebody out.

Is the raptor actually injured?

There are multiple ways that raptors showcase injuries. One of them, and perhaps the easiest to observe, is a wingdroop. One wing will be held lower than the other and the bird will often be reluctant to extend it fully. This is usually indicative of a bruise, sprain, or even sometimes a break.

Secondly, head racheting is a big clue. This is characterized by rapid motions of the head in a short period of time. This level of disorientation is indicative of a head injury, likely from a collision with a window or car. The bird we were handling yesterday showed signs of both of these things and was also in his full colors. There was no risk of this being a fledgling bird.

How Do You Pick Up a Raptor?

You’ll need three things: a pair of thick, leather gloves (think electrician’s gloves), a beach towel, and a secure box or dog kennel.

Wear the gloves, and leave the door to the kennel open. Approach the bird slowly, with your body bent over to lower your profile. Hold the towel behind the bird and in one smooth motion wrap the towel around the bird, securing the wings to his body. You will want to hold him with your hands against his sides, keeping the wings closed, and low enough that his beak will be unable to strike you. Wrapped up in a little “burrito” like this he cannot foot you.

Move the bird to the kennel and deposit him therein. Shut the door. You now have yourself a very offended and disheveled raptor.

Why transport the bird yourself? Isn’t that the rehab facility’s job?

Well, the thing about rescues and rehabs is that they’re non-profits run primarily by volunteers. These are places that are often chronically underpaid and understaffed – in many cases they are literally being run out of a person’s house as ours is. If you’re able to transport the bird to them, you are saving them time as well as money.

People who transport injured animals like this are the unsung heroes of the rehabilitation world. As willing as we are to drive to pick up surrendered hedgehogs, for instance, it’s always better when they can be dropped off with us. Those hours saved by drop-offs are hours we can put into other animals, and into educating the public and doing more good.

All of that having been said – if you aren’t comfortable handling the bird yourself, please call someone qualified to do so. If you’re within an hour’s drive of Woodstock, feel free to call me.

Here in Maryland the two dedicated Raptor Rescues that can help are:

Owl Moon Raptor Center in Boyd’s, MD ( (301) 353-8947 )

Phoenix Wildlife Center in Phoenix, MD. ( (410) 628-9736 )

Many other wildlife rescues in MD will also take in raptors and are qualified to care for them, but these two mainly specialize in birds of prey so many will end up in those places regardless.

Do you like what we do? Ensure we’re able to continue doing it. Otherworld Exotics is a non-profit exotic animal rescue affiliated with the Hedgehog Welfare Society. Every dollar we get goes towards veterinary fees, food for the animals, and medicine and other supplies that ensures they live long healthy lives. If you can, donate to us at or @OtherworldExotics on Venmo in this climate even $1 can help ensure we can continue helping animals for many years to come.