Raptors are some of the most amazing kinds of wildlife. They are admired for their tenacity, their beauty, and the wonder of their “bigness” in comparison to other birds. There are lots of things that go into raptor care in veterinary medicine. One of the most important things is safety. As with any animal, it is important to determine what part of the animal is most dangerous–or what their “weapons” are. In raptors, their weapons are their feet. Raptors have extreme grip strength and incredibly sharp talons that are made for catching and carrying prey and for ripping it apart to eat.
Some of the essential tools for raptors include “raptor gloves” which protect you more from talons and help you to get a hold on a raptors’ feet in order to make sure they are controlled while you handle them. Raptors also have strong wings and sharp beaks that can cause problems in handling if you are not carefully restraining them. Because all raptors are wild animals, proper restraint is essential to getting a good physical exam and giving treatments to sick birds.
Medically, raptors are hardy species and can often recover after intensive veterinary care for problems that appear to be very severe. It is amazing what I have seen raptors get through in the veterinary hospital. It is also important for veterinarians who plan to treat wildlife to have good relationships with wildlife rehabilitators in order to provide a more long-term recovery spot for raptors. There are also some medical conditions, which, in domestic animals are not life-threatening, but in raptors can be reasons for euthanasia or for keeping a bird in captivity for the rest of its life. One of these conditions is blindness. Raptors rely on their excellent eyesight to catch prey and avoid hazards. Even blindness in only one eye is a condition that makes a raptor not releasable back to the wild because it puts them in danger of obstacles in the wild and of starving to death because they cannot see their food well enough to catch it. Certain wing fractures can heal and birds can be released, but some fractures can become infected, or occur in places that cannot be stabilized and eventually lead to amputation or inappropriate angles of healing that do not allow for flight. Obviously, the lack of flight would be a reason that a bird must remain in captivity.
Overall, raptors are very cool birds who are important in the wild for the health of ecosystems and the balance of life in the wild. As veterinarians, we have the ability to help protect and serve the wildlife of our world by providing care for animals like raptors. Personally, I hope to be able to do this for the wildlife in my community in the near future, with the help of wildlife rehabilitators who rescue and rehab these amazing creatures to be released back into the wild.