24 Chapters
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17: Time for Release!

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Time for Release!

Learning Objectives

1. Determining if a bird is ready for release.

2. Common injuries that make a bird not releasable.

3. Release logistics: where, when, how.


There is nothing more rewarding than releasing a bird that was injured and in need of help. For many in this profession, this is what it is all about. Your patient has come a long way since admission, but there are a few final checks that are ­necessary before it is ready to be returned to the wild.

© D.E. Scott 2016. Raptor Medicine, Surgery, and Rehabilitation (D.E. Scott)

Time for Release!

Pre-release Checks

Feather quality

The feathers must be in good condition with very little or no damage. They should be clean and waterproof, and should repel water readily when sprayed or misted. Any significantly damaged feathers should be repaired if possible (Chapter 13) or the release must be postponed until a successful molt has occurred. There should be very little sound generated by the feathers in flight, and owls must be almost entirely silent in flight after the first one or two wing beats.

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7: Miscellaneous Conditions

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Miscellaneous Conditions

There are many conditions affecting raptors that are not directly infectious in nature. Some are secondary to trauma or poor husbandry or due to exposure to toxic chemicals and substances in the environment.

Learning Objectives





Diagnosis and treatment of lead poisoning.

Dealing with bumblefoot.

The emaciated bird.

Treatment of spinal trauma.


Aspirate air from the pockets with an 18 gauge needle. Make a small nick with the needle as you are withdrawing to make a larger hole.

This should be repeated as necessary. Anesthesia is not required.

• Pressure bandages are helpful if the location allows a bandage to be placed.

• Do not give subcutaneous fluids.

• Attempt to correct the underlying cause.

Anticoagulant Toxicity

Air Sac Rupture/

Subcutaneous Air


Air sac ruptures and subcutaneous air can occur for many reasons. The most common cause is trauma such as hit-by-car, window-strike, or gunshot. It can also be caused accidentally, secondary to a lacerated trachea during intubation, or if the oxygen flow rate is too high during anesthesia.

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9: Soft Tissue Surgery

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Soft Tissue Surgery

Learning Objectives

1. Creating a sterile field.

2. Instruments and suture material required.

3. Dealing with barbed-wire injuries.

4. Abdominal approaches and procedures.

5. Toe amputation.

Preparing the Surgical Field

The feathers are of vital importance. Therefore, always pluck as few feathers as possible to create a sterile field. It is always preferable to pluck feathers, rather than to clip them, since this encourages feather regrowth and minimizes the time required before eventual release. However, some feather clipping instead of plucking may be necessary in cases where the skin is badly traumatized and torn.

A sterile field can be created using masking tape in a border around the surgical field

(Fig. 9.1). Masking tape forms a nice margin, does not leave a sticky residue on the feathers, and can be surgically prepared prior to the placement of traditional drapes.

The surgical field should be prepared with scrubs of iodine or chlorhexidine-based antiseptics alternated with either alcohol or saline. Be careful when using alcohol around existing wounds. In addition, alcohol has a significant cooling effect and can cause hypothermia in small birds, or even in large birds, if used on the body wall or abdomen.

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5: Ophthalmology

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A careful examination of the eyes is absolutely required during all intake exams. It is very easy to focus on an obvious fracture, for instance, and miss serious unilateral or bilateral eye damage.

Eye trauma is actually very common in birds of prey. At Carolina Raptor Center, 40% of all birds admitted had damage to one or both eyes in the period 2010–2014 (Scott, 2015) so it is critical that a thorough exam (including the posterior chamber) be done. Bayón et al. (2007) is an excellent overview of avian ophthalmology

It does not take much to do a complete exam.

All that is required is a good light source and a direct ophthalmoscope (Fig. 5.1). Induction of mydriasis is rarely needed but can sometimes be induced with general anesthesia if necessary.

help protect the eye, as the actual socket is quite shallow (Fig. 5.3).

The extraocular muscles are under-developed.

Thus, the eye cannot move within the orbit.

The iris contains striated muscle allowing voluntary control of pupil size. This makes evaluation of the pupillary light response (PLR) less reliable, and also means that mydriasis cannot be achieved with topical atropine. When a bird is stressed, the PLR can be essentially absent.

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15: Housing and Husbandry

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Housing and Husbandry

Learning Objectives

1. Appropriate perching.

2. Basic cage construction details.

3. Minimum requirements for caging.

4. Resident bird husbandry basics.

5. Common husbandry problems.

Chain link fence secured on the ground around the perimeter for at least 2′ (0.6 m) is very effective

(Fig. 15.3).

Vertical slats

The walls should be made of vertical wood slats or other similar material. The important detail

Indoor housing

In general, birds of prey do well in dog and cat carriers, as long as these are modified to include a perch (Fig. 15.1; Table 15.1). The appropriate sized carrier should be provided so there is space above the bird’s head when it is on the perch.

Outdoor Cage Construction

Cages of the appropriate construction and size are critical to the successful rehabilitation of raptors.

Some construction factors to consider are discussed below.

Double doors

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