Cotswold Owl Rescue Trust

Caring For Wild Owls In The Cotswolds

Registered Charity: 1061750

First Steps and the viability of sick or injured owls

Found and Orphaned Tawny Owlet?

Orphaned Tawny owlets are actually less prevalent than the general public think. Owlets grow rapidly from hatching and a brood soon outgrows the nest-space provided by the parent. At about 4-6 weeks the young owlets are often seen running along tree branches or walking around on the ground. This is perfectly normal but well-meaning people see the ball of fluff and the "ah" factor takes over from common sense. Whilst the parent bird is often watching from above, the so called orphan is scooped up and "rescued" and taken home or brought to a rehabilitator to raise. We advise wherever possible, that suspect orphans are observed from a distance, and if there are no apparent injuries or distress it should be left alone. If you are particularly concerned, you may pick up the owlet and place it in the cover of a nearby bush or a low branch where the parent will hear its calls.

An exception to the rule !

Is when an owlet is seen out in the open in the middle of the day, in an environment likely to cause it harm and is calling to its parents without any response. In this instance you may take the owlet to your nearest rehabilitator, sanctuary or vet.

If you have taken an owlet home and it is not injured or showing signs of distress, then please follow these simple steps:

Put the owlet in a secure box with just enough space for it to stand in comfortably.

Put the box in your car, or if you picked the owlet up on foot, take up the box.

Now take the owlet back to where you found it and place it away from any roadside or place it may be injured. Don't worry, Its parents WILL be nearby and probably worried sick after seeing some human take its offspring and rush off with it.

Go home make yourself some tea and pat yourself on the back that you have done your bit for conservation.

Remember: An owl rears its young over a six month period and is trained for the job. People make terrible owls and are even worse at flying! So! please don't pick up an owl to 'Have a go' unless you are qualified to do so !

Ok! So if the owl is obviously injured, then follow the viability steps set out below

EUTHANASIA IS RECOMMENDED WHEN:

AN OWL IS NOT VIABLE FOR A SUCCESSFUL RETURN TO THE WILD AND WHERE THE OWL MAY NOT ENJOY A HAPPY AND CONTENTED LIFE IN SUITABLE CAPTIVITY. In this case it is best to have the bird humanely put down

RETURN TO THE WILD IS ALSO NOT POSSIBLE IF ANY OF THE FOLLOWING APPLY:

LOSS OF AN EYE (owls need two eyes to hunt efficiently in the wild, although a recent study has shown that tawny owls have been seen to adapt and manage with just one eye)

PERMANENTLY DAMAGED BEAK (Will be unable to tear up larger prey into manageable sizes)

BREAK TO THE JOINT OF A WING OR LEG: avian bone is prone to infection and joint problems, also some nerves may be damaged preventing the proper function of the limbs. You can see from below the problems with broken wings and the effect on the joints. A midshaft break is easier to treat but still has no long term guarentees.

Proximal Break to any joint has a bad prognosis and is best put down as joints very rarely heal well enough to enable either good flight or good hunting

Midshaft Break is more optomistic as the bone does not impact on the joints when healing

PERMANENT LOSS OF MAIN PRIMARY FEATHERS (rendering the owl unable to fly properly)

LOSS OF A HIND TOE OR TALON (unable to perch properly and catch and dispatch its prey)

INABILITY TO PREEN (Damage to the preen gland or any injury preventing the owl from preening will make it prone to water-logging and subsequently an inability to fly)

EUTHANASIA IS THE BEST COURSE OF ACTION IN ANY OF THE ABOVE CIRCUMSTANCES UNLESS THE OWL IS A RARE SPECIES and may help in captive breeding programes

RETURN TO THE WILD CAN BE ACHIEVED WHEN:

THE OWL IS OF SOUND MIND (by behaviour pattern, exhibiting good psychological health)

THE OWL IS FEEDING FOR ITSELF AND CASTING REGULARLY

THE OWL IS PREENING (Waterproofing of the feathers is very important)

THERE IS NO INJURY THAT IN ANY WAY COULD IMPAIR HUNTING (see above criteria)

IT IS NOT A MIGRATORY BIRD OUT OF SEASON (e.g. Short-eared outside its migratory season)

NO IMPRINTING HAS OCCURRED (Has been reared from young by human hands)

WEATHER CONDITIONS ARE FAVOURABLE

Stabilizing an injured owl: It is vital to prevent the rescued owl going into shock (circulatory failure). 10% of the birds body weight is given of warm water containing glucose and administered orally via a tube directly into the stomach. (Not for the amateur) and the owl is then left for an hour to get the benefit of the treatment.

If you have found an injured owl, please follow these procedures:

Don't Panic! put the owl into a secure but ventilated box and leave it in a quiet, warm and dark place.

Do not delay: In contacting your local vet or an experienced rehabilitator and do not try to "have a go" at treating it yourself. Owls need specialist care if they are to recover fully. Your vet should not charge you for treating wildlife.

Do not try to give any food or water: The bird MAY require surgery. (Imagine if you were to be knocked down, and somebody was trying to make you eat a pizza while you were waiting for the ambulance !)

If a wing, foot or leg looks broken: Usually this is obvious by the fact there is bone protrusion and blood from the site but sometimes a break is not obvious so do not rule out a break if the animal has had any sort of impact injury. Restrict the owls movement by confinement in as small a box as possible. Support the owls body weight if the leg is suspect. Immediate veterinary attention is vital.

If the eye or eyes are closed: The owl may have collided with a vehicle and have trauma to the optic nerve and/or haemorrhage to the orbs. keep the owl calm and seek veterinary attention as soon as possible.

If the owl cannot stand up but seems uninjured: If the owl seems lethargic and cannot stand, especially if the legs are bowed outwards, it may have eaten a poisoned rodent. If the owl has not eaten too much poison it may recover naturally, but a vet will give it a vitamin-K injection to help its recovery and stop internal bleeding.

Other Important Factors:

Resist the urge to show it to your family or friends.

Refrain from handling it too much, (even a sick owl can use its talons), if the owl goes into shock it will die very quickly.

If the owl was just underweight and weak (feel up between the top of its legs to feel if the stomach is empty) and not injured in any way, then about 60gr of raw uncooked beef in small pieces will do until you can find a vet or rehabilitator.

Remember that however calm the bird may appear to be, it is still distressed by its injury or illness and its sudden captivity. Wild owls can die if over handled or stressed by human contact when unwell.

Don't delay. Contact your nearest raptor rescue centre or rehabilitator.