Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Caring for Birds of Prey in Captivity

At the World Bird Sanctuary, you will find over 200 animals, most of which are birds of prey.  From eagles to hawks to owls, WBS is home to numerous different species of raptors.  Keeping birds in captivity poses a few challenges that WBS staff and volunteers must work through every day.

Every single one of World Bird Sanctuary’s raptors gets fed a natural meat diet each day.  Bald eagles may get fish, and Great Horned Owls may get rats for example.  This food needs to be prepared on a daily basis for our 200+ animals.

Some birds get a little extra care.  For instance, older birds coping with arthritis get an arthritis supplement on their food.  Some birds get extra calcium sprinkled on their meals for added benefit.  Rehab patients may require daily medications in their food.  By feeding frozen/thawed food, our birds (especially those with disabilities) do not have any risk of injury during feeding as they might in the wild.  They simply get their meals served up to them on a silver platter.

The raptors at WBS are fed a natural diet each day-Duncan the Wedge-tailed Eagle enjoys his lunch (photo: Paige Davis)

In the wild, birds of prey are constantly scraping their talons on trees, rocks, and prey.  In captivity, sometimes the birds need a trim to help keep their talons from overgrowing.  Just as our fingernails continuously grow, so do raptors’ talons.  The staff at WBS must monitor each bird and make sure their talons are well kept.  It is like giving a manicure, but to much sharper and more deadly “fingernails.”

Birds of prey have talons that grow continuously like our fingernails; they must be trimmed on a regular basis (photo: Paige Davis)

Just as the talons continuously grow, so do birds’ beaks!  Birds’ beaks also need a trim (known in falconry as “coping”) once in a while if they do not keep it worn down themselves.  This can be an artistic task; shaping a bird’s beak requires a good eye and a steady hand.  Luckily World Bird Sanctuary has a great team of people for such a task.
Pictured is a before and after of Ivory after a beak coping (photo: Paige Davis)

In addition to all of these tasks, WBS staff and volunteers must also clean up after each animal and maintain their exhibits.  Birds do not have a bladder to hold waste, which makes them lighter.  It also makes for a lot of poop!  And let me tell you, raptor poop is like cement when it dries.  Caretakers often use a scraper to remove the waste before deep cleaning.  It can be a very dirty job full of bird poop, but it makes for some happy, healthy feathered friends once the work is done.

Submitted by Paige Davis, World Bird Sanctuary Naturalist

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