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Flying again: exercise for convalescing raptors

When an animal is admitted to a Wildlife Rehabilitation Center, it starts a long process to survey and be released in nature. In this article we are going to discover one of the most exciting and difficult stage in raptor rehabilitation: the recovery of flight capacity. Finally, I will tell you some tips for attending injured birds.

WHAT IS A WILDLIFE REHABILITATION CENTER?

For all species the survival is a challenge. To the natural tests we have to add the threats of our life: poison, shots, electrocution, collisions are the daily admissions’ reasons in a wildlife rehabilitation center.

The Wildlife Rehabilitation Centers have the purpose to rehabilitate incapacitated wild species to release in the nature in the best conditions and secure its adaptation and survival.

Every time, when a wild animal is rescued and moved to the Rehabilitation Center a cooperation team word for days, months and years starts with an single purpose: the animal’s freedom.

The first step for an animal’s admission is the exploration to determinate its health and to obtain a diagnosis. Also, the species’ information is necessary (species’ name, age, sex, biometric data). According to its health’s gravity, the veterinary will choose to keep it in the ICU (Intensive Care Unit) for a strict control and treatment, move to a environment place or flight (for birds), or even directly the freedom.

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Owl (Bubo bubo) with injures in right wing – http://www.verkami.com

Specific food, adequate hydration and handling according to the physiological and ethological features are important for the process, since the animal is rescued until its release.

RECOVERY OF INJURIES AND DECREASE OF THE FLIGHT CAPACITY

An optimum flight capacity is essential for birds, but in raptors is more important because of hunting require different types of flights according their vital strategy (the best way to hunt  is an increase in quantities and quality of food with the lowest possible energy cost). Some birds have to fly in reduced spaces and speed is cruel to hunt, such us forest species (goshawk and sparrowhawk), and other raptors can use the termal air currents until they reach the sufficient altitude to move effortlessly (vultures). These characteristics must be borne in mind when planning rehabilitation training.

Regarding raptors, their recovery of injuries involve periods of inactivity that could decrease the physical condition creating muscle atrophy and circulatory disorders. However, this inactivity period is necessary in most circumstances and veterinarians provision an adequate food and vitamin supplements maintaining a body condition to facilitate the recovery. So, when injuries are recovered, raptors will need exercises before they are released.

AFTER THE REHABILITATION… TO THE GYM!

Different techniques, with the purpose to increase slowly the animals’ muscular mass and recovery its flight’s skills, are used for the raptors’ rehabilitation.

  • Common facilities to rehabilitation: it is common to use them because it is only necessary to have suitable and big facilities with perches in different distances and height which help the bird’s flight. Another benefit is that many animals can stay in the same facility reducing the stress of the human contact and improving their social behavior. The problem is that the flights are not under control, the rehabilitation is slow, and the bird makes only minimum flights to reach the food place.
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Vultures (Gyps fulvus) in common facilities to fly – Photo: Patricia, http://www.diariodeburgos.
  • Rehabilitation using guarantor: this method can be used for large birds, which would need big facilities, and is based to exercise in open field with guarantors (large ropes with ballast at one end to avoid escape of birds, the other end is used to hold their tarsus with a leather This exercise is more efficient, testing about flight capacity and a monitoring process can be obtained. Disadvantage is greater stress because of transport to training place and handling during the exercise. It is therefore essential to carry out a risk analysis to assess the cost (direct handling, stress,…) and benefit (extent of their flying range) taken into account the individual behavior.
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Bonelli’s Eagle (Aquila fasciata) in rehabilitation flying with guarantor – http://www.grefa.org
  • Facilities to rehabilitation in oval design: First circular facilities to rehabilitation were used in the United Arab Emirates due to the long tradition of falconry (it is a hunting in which man makes use of previously trained birds of prey). The facility is formed by a corridor to fly in the entire perimeter, and resting boxes where birds are housed.  This corridor is divided with moved curtains to lead them inside the boxes. In this way birds can fly continuously. Also, it is possible an indirect handling during the process: entrance and exit through manual doors and curtains to block the flight, and stress will be lower than in direct handling.  In this case, the process could be monitoring, the exercises will be twice a week firstly, and later they will be increased until all days with a time and repetition increment.

Exercises and method will be selected according to the species and their injuries. It is very interested to alternate them with other steps such us the use of pieces of meat adhering that it obliges them to work specific muscles on neck and pelvic.

WHAT WE HAVE TO DO IF WE FIND A WOUNDED BIRD?

If we find a wounded bird, we have to touch them with care, otherwise it is dangerous for us and for the bird because we could increase its wounds.

There are some recommendations:

  • Be sure that animal needs your help because sometimes bird chicks are helped thinking they are abandoned but it is wrong.
  • Use a blanket and take it fast to avoid more wounds. If we close its eyes the birds are more relax although be careful with the claws and the beak.
  • Move it inside a carton box with air holes and leave it in a quiet place.
  • Phone to the closest rehabilitation center, in order to collect the bird as soon as possible and give you the best advices.
  • Do not force it to drink or eat because it could be bad to get worse.
  • Don’t try to treat it because a specialize veterinary has to examine it.

REFERENCES

  • Mauro Hernandez Segovia, ” Birds of Prey Rehabilitation and Conservation : Veterinary Aspects ” . Ardeola 39 ( 2) , 1992 , 49-64.
  • Gustavo Aprile and Claudio Bertonatti , “Manual on Wildlife Rehabilitation ” . Argentina Wildlife Foundation .
  • Patricia Contreras Coppelia Ovalle , Maria José Ubilla Carvajal, “Evaluation of the Animal Welfare raptors in rehabilitation” . Faculty of Ecology and Natural Resources, University Andres Bello.
  • Patrick Reding. “Exercise for convalescing Raptors ” . The Raptor Center, University of Minnesota.
  • Main photo: Releasing barn owl (Tyto alba) – http://www.martioda.org

Sara de la Rosa Ruiz

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