Caring for raptors

This information should be used as a guide only. You will need specific information to properly care for injured and orphaned wildlife.

Read more about rescuing and releasing animals in the Northern Territory (NT).

You need a permit to care for injured or rescued wildlife.

Background 

Raptors may need rehabilitation for many reasons. A fledgling may be injured falling from a nest or a bird may be wounded in an escape from a predator.

The most common reasons for a raptor to come into care are being hit by a vehicle and domestic animal attack.

Raptors that have an attacking hunting style are more likely to collide with fences, windows and power lines. This includes all of the following raptors:

  • goshawks
  • sparrowhawks 
  • harriers 
  • hobbies
  • kestrels
  • falcons.

Raptors that scavenge for food - eagles, buzzards and kites - are prone to being hit by vehicles while foraging along roads. 

Raptors that hunt around water - sea eagles and ospreys - can be injured by entanglement in fishing line.

Threatened raptors

The Tiwi Islands masked owl (Tyto novaehollandiae melvillensis) is considered endangered in the NT. 

All of the following are considered vulnerable in the NT:

  • grey falcon (Falco hypoleucos) 
  • red goshawk (Erythrotriorchis radiates) 
  • Top End masked owl (Tyto novaehollandiae kimberli). 

If you encounter any of these species, report it to Parks and Wildlife immediately.

Housing

Raptors should be kept in a quiet, secure location away from family pets and excessive noise. This includes general household noise, traffic, domestic animals and construction.

Intensive care

Intensive care enclosures should be set up to stabilise injuries, assist feeding and give medication to very sick or seriously injured raptors.

Raptors in intensive care should be housed separately. 

For smaller raptors, there are commercially made heavy-duty plastic boxes that can be easily cleaned, disinfected and moved around. 

For larger raptors, use custom-made wooden boxes that have been surface-sealed to make them waterproof. Sealed surfaces are easier to clean and disinfect.

Secondary care

Secondary care enclosures should allow for movement to maintain and build fitness. The enclosure should be sealed and the raptor should have access to natural light. 

The floor should be made of sealed, cleanable material. Depending on the raptor’s mobility, various perches are needed around the enclosure. 

Don’t use smooth branches because they can cause calluses and foot sores. 

Wrap the perch in materials like hemp rope or astroturf to create a textured surface. The raptor’s talons should not be able to completely encircle the circumference of the perch. 

Secondary care enclosures are ideal for nervous species such as goshawks. Raptors can be released from this type of enclosure if the raptor is in short-term care.

Pre-release

In pre-release enclosures, the bigger the better. Pre-release enclosures must give the raptor space to exercise. Open-plan aviaries constructed from loosely hung nylon mesh are best. 

The lower part of the enclosure must be predator proof. Fences should have a 1m flat skirt section on the outside to stop predators digging into the enclosure.

Keep flight paths clear in the aviary. 

Planted aviaries give good shelter and enrichment opportunities and a natural floor will allow foraging.

Different types of perches should be placed around the enclosure. Healthy raptors look for high perches. Low perches are needed for those still healing.

Don’t use wire mesh in raptor rehabilitation as it can cause feather damage.

Recommended enclosure sizes are 25m long for small raptors and 50m long for large raptors.

Large flight aviaries

Large flight aviaries are the easiest way for raptors to gain fitness and to forage. 

Falconry-based training techniques can also be used to prepare raptors for release.

This includes free flying and creancing - tethering the bird by the leg.

These are complicated techniques that must be done by experienced and skilled carers. You must be approved by the Parks and Wildlife Commission to do this.

Food and water

Try to feed the raptor as close to its natural diet as possible. This can include quail, rodents and pigeons.

Day-old chickens should only be used as a supplement as they are nutritionally inadequate.

For adult raptors at a normal weight, feed the appropriate amount for that species once per day.

Feeding orphaned chicks

For orphaned chicks use all of the following guidelines:

  • chicks aged one to 10 days - a minced, skinned rodent with head, feet and intestines removed every two hours - only feed if the crop is empty
  • chicks aged 10 to 15 days - a chopped, skinned rodent with head, feet and intestines removed every four hours - only feed if the crop is totally empty
  • chicks aged 15 to 25 days - a whole skinned rodent or plucked quail.

Never reuse food that has not been eaten and do not refreeze food. Only give out enough for one meal.

Make sure the food is at room temperature before feeding.

Water

Raptors need fresh water, changed daily. 

Raptors also need to bathe, so you should provide either:

  • for large raptors - a pool no more than 300mm at the deepest point
  • or for small raptors - a pool 100mm at the deepest point.

Capture and handling

Raptors may be dangerous animals and can defend themselves by kicking and scratching with their talons or inflicting painful bites. 

You need to be an experienced carer to capture a raptor.

During capture, be careful not to injure or restrict breathing by holding raptors too tight. It’s also important not to stress the raptor. 

Generally, wait until you have the right equipment or timing to lower the risk and impact of stress. 

Two people may be needed to capture an injured raptor. The first person should approach the bird quietly from the front, while the second person, holding a net, towel or blanket, approaches from behind.

Throw the net, towel or blanket over the raptor. Secure the raptor in the towel or blanket, which will lower the chance of further injury. Cover the raptor’s head to reduce stress. 

Limit handling raptors to the shortest time possible.

Transport

Acceptable ways to transport raptors are any of the following, which let the bird perch upright but stop them moving to prevent injury:

  • a solid wooden box that’s been surface-sealed
  • a pet pack
  • a thick cardboard box.

Don’t use wire mesh enclosures when transporting raptors as this can damage their feathers.

Raptors need to be kept warm, at 25 degrees Celsius to 27 degrees Celsius. Featherless young need to be kept warmer - 36 degrees Celsius is ideal. 

Warm, dark and quiet environments reduce stress for the animals when they are being moved. Turn the car radio off and keep the windows up.

Contact

For more information contact Wildlife Operations in your region.

Last updated: 27 June 2017