The Audubon Center for Birds of Prey is home to the Raptor Trauma Clinic, which treats hundreds of raptors, including eagles, hawks, vultures, owls, falcons, and kites each year. The Clinic team assesses the birds’ injuries and then determines if they can be released back to the wild, or if placement in a zoo or sanctuary is possible. In 2022, the Clinic faced the added challenge of Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza in addition to the most common sources of injury and illness: falls from nests, vehicle strikes, gunshot wounds, electrocution, lead poisoning, and disease.
In 2022, the Clinic admitted 688 patients from 31 different counties across the state. Of those, 80 were Bald Eagles. Volunteers from the Audubon EagleWatch program, who monitor nests and report eagle sightings, often coordinate transportation of injured eagles to the Clinic. Clinic staff saw Red-shouldered Hawks with the most frequency at 240 admissions, followed by 97 Barred Owls and 84 Osprey. While it’s impossible to determine the cause of every injury, human-wildlife interactions account for about 80 percent of injuries.
Protocols for Protecting Patients
It was a difficult year for birds as Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza (HPAI) swept across bird populations. For bird enthusiasts at home, it meant clearing out feeders and removing bird baths to prevent transmission, and in the Clinic, new safety measures included foot wash stations, pre-screening and isolation for new patients, and testing those that exhibited symptoms. Thanks to these procedures, the Center’s permanent raptor residents remained healthy, and of 50 patients tested, only seven tested positive. Staff worked with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) to track the spread of the disease by logging all cases in the statewide database.
The Audubon Center for Birds of Prey team released 200 raptor patients back into the wild, including 23 Bald Eagles. The Clinic released its 700th Bald Eagle since opening in 1979 – a milestone we celebrated with an eagle release event in 2023.
A handful of rehabilitated patients could not be released back to the wild, which means the team must find a placement at another properly licensed facility and arrange transport for the bird. The Jacksonville Zoo and the Virginia Zoo each welcomed a Bald Eagle, while a Red-shouldered Hawk found a home at the Seminole County Environmental Center and a Short-tailed Hawk landed at the Avian Conditioning Center in Apopka.
Patient Profile: A Happy Ending for an American Kestrel
In July, FWC confiscated an adult American Kestrel from its owner, who had kept the bird illegally for two years, and brought it to the Center for evaluation. Clinic staff found feather damage and determined that the bird had not imprinted on its owner. Imprinting occurs in the very early phase of an animal’s life, when it identifies its parent and models its behavior after them. When a bird imprints on a human, it puts the bird in a dangerous kind of gray area: Unable to effectively communicate with members of its own species, it cannot survive in the wild, but because it does not fear humans as a wild bird typically would, it can become aggressive and territorial toward humans.
The kestrel strengthened its flying ability under the care of Clinic staff, who avoided interacting with the bird in an attempt to disassociate it from humans. After a few months of recovery, the bird was released to the wild in October. Audubon educates the public on the legalities of rescuing and/or keeping raptors and getting them to the proper facilities for treatment.
How You Can Help
The Raptor Trauma Clinic helps hundreds of raptors each year, but each patient’s road to recovery begins with members of the public acting quickly to contact the appropriate authorities. Learn how to tell if a bird needs help, and when it should be left alone. It’s important to remember that raptors can be dangerous, and they are protected by state and federal laws. Be sure to contact a permitted wildlife rehabilitator to care for any injured animal.
Another way to help injured raptors is to donate to the Audubon Center for Birds of Prey. The Raptor Trauma Clinic accounts for 40 percent of the Center’s annual budget, and we rely on donations from individuals, corporations, and foundations to support our work. Support the Center today.
Interested in volunteering to monitor and protect Bald Eagle populations in your area? Learn more about joining the Audubon EagleWatch program here: https://cbop.audubon.org/conservation/about-eaglewatch-program
Visitors can see Florida’s native raptors up close at the Center for Birds of Prey! Visit us from Tuesday – Sunday between 10:00 a.m. and 4:00 p.m. Learn more at: https://cbop.audubon.org/visit-us/plan-your-visit