For most birds of prey, spring and early summer is nesting season - which means that come mid-summer, there’s an influx of young fledglings getting themselves into predicaments as they start to branch.
Branching is when these young birds of prey learn to fly. They don’t develop this skill overnight though…they hop around on the branches near to their nest site for an extended period of time, developing their muscular strength, often returning to the nest to feed or to roost until they are fully independent. More often than not these little fledglings will end up tumbling to the floor whilst finding their feet (or wings!), at risk of being hit by passing traffic.
Roads can be particularly problematic to all birds, however - not just these youngsters. High speed limits and wide lanes can make some roads especially deadly, and although many birds will sit on a perch and look out for food, barn owls in particular will eat on the wing and swoop low to hunt, sometimes straight into the path of oncoming traffic. Headlights can dazzle and stun these poor birds in the dark, making it quite a challenge to avoid these deadly obstacles, and strong winds and a downdraught from lorries can also prove a hazard, blowing lightweight birds out of control and into danger.
Suffolk Owl Sanctuary’s Raptor Hospital has seen an influx of such like admissions during the recent summer months, all demanding a high level of care and attention in order to give them the best possible chance of survival and a successful release back into the wild.
This weak little tawny owl (above) was found on the floor with an eye injury and a parasitic infection. As a young brancher, it’s fairly possible that it had suffered a traffic collision. After a week of treatment and a further week in one of our recuperation aviaries, we felt it was ready for a soft release.
Offering a soft release from a hacking aviary gives young birds an adjustment period to the territory, and a source of food whilst they learn to hunt. They are routinely fed for a period after release until we are confident the bird is establishing the necessary survival skills themselves.
In July we cared for a large number of kestrels - four of which were newly fledged birds found with a variety of issues such as malnutrition, or injuries from road traffic collisions.
All were nursed back to full health and also benefitted from a soft release.
This is one of the youngsters (above). Kestrels tend to have a very large clutch of eggs, often with only one or two going on to reach adulthood. With a period of time at Suffolk Owl Sanctuary, we were able to give these newly hunting yearlings an increased chance at success.
A group of little owl fledglings were all found alongside busy roads, rescued and brought in to us for a check over.
Luckily they were all fit and healthy, and we were able to release them all together from our secluded hacking soft release aviary.
What to do if you find a young bird on the floor….
First and foremost, resist intervening - the parents are probably close by and still caring for them and watching for their safety. Adult birds of prey invest a huge amount of their time and resources into their offspring. The chicks also vocalise frequently and will potentially still be in audio contact with their parents, who will be watching or not far away.
If you feel like a serious injury has been sustained, carefully place the bird inside a covered and well ventilated cardboard box, on a towel or on some newspaper, and call your nearest bird of prey centre, found here: https://www.owl-help.org.uk/raptor-rescue-orgs
Do not give the bird food or water.
For emergency advice between 8.00am and 8.00pm call Suffolk Owl Sanctuary on 03456 807 897 (Opt 5).