Inside Nesting Season at Ojai Raptor Center
The Ojai Valley and surrounding cities are home to an array of nesting raptors. Diurnal raptors include Red-tailed Hawks, Red-shouldered Hawks, American Kestrels, and Cooper’s Hawks. Nocturnal birds of prey like Great Horned Owls, Barn Owls, Western Screech Owls, Northern Pygmy Owls and Burrowing Owls are also busy making homes and raising young. As the wild birds of the valley are busy raising families, ORC staff and volunteers are busy raising orphaned babies and fledglings. Wildlife rehabilitation is a ton of work- and nesting season is by far the most demanding. Many young birds need to be fed multiple times a day and kept in a clean and quiet place. Everyday, volunteers turn over the entire ORC campus, cleaning, feeding, medicating, and starting all over again. Food preparation and administration and cleaning are neverending during nesting season for staff and volunteers. Intaking new birds and caring for our education ambassador birds (some of whom are also busy fostering orphaned birds) are also an everyday task.
*At ORC we take special care to avoid imprinting young birds. Imprinting is an extremely common injury to wild birds. It’s an irreversible socio-psychological disorder that happens when birds under 6 weeks of age are raised by people. When they become accustomed to the sound of human voices, human faces and being fed by humans, they imprint on them instead of their own species. Imprinted birds are unable to learn how to hunt or forage correctly, are unable to defend themselves against natural predators, do not learn the “language” of their specie and are not able to find mates and procreate- imprinted birds are not considered for release. We avoid imprinting by keeping human activity in our hospital and rehab enclosures to a minimum, using ghillie suits and keeping baby birds with their own species. We never talk to rehabilitating patients and birds are only handled when their enclosures are cleaned or when they need to be medicated or medically reassessed.
Of the approximately 300 orphaned birds we will receive this season, the majority will find their way to us because a member of the public finds them and gets them to care. We answer thousands of phone calls during this time of year. Birds are dropped off at local shelters or other wildlife centers before they are brought to us for specialized care.
When you find a baby bird- the best thing to do is first observe the situation. All birds spend a certain amount of time on the ground or alone, looking pretty vulnerable. This is called fledging- when they’re old enough to be leaving the nest, but have not yet mastered flying. In most cases their parents are still caring for them. If you observe the bird alone for extended periods of time with no sign of the parents, or they’re in danger from traffic or pets, it might be time to take action. You can always call us, or your local wildlife rehabilitation center if you’re unsure. If you do decide to contain a bird put in a dark cardboard box or crate that has air holes, keep it in a warm, dark , and quiet place. ***Do not attempt to feed or give it water.*** The goal is always to keep baby birds in the wild so their natural parents are able to raise them.
If you do decide to contain any wildlife, it’s of the utmost importance that it gets to professional care immediately. The longer it stays with you, the less chance it has for a full recovery. Every specie has highly specific dietary and social needs- beyond the fact that it might need immediate attention for injury or illness that might not be obvious. So while we absolutely need the public to help get birds to care, we want to highlight that they really cannot be cared for by someone without a permit, it’s both dangerous for you, the animal and it’s unlawful.
So what happens to birds when they come to a wildlife rehabilitation center like ORC? Any bird or animal that comes to us receives a head to toe medical exam by a professional, licensed wildlife rehabilitator. In our hospital we are equipped to do everything but major surgeries- this involves things like fluid therapy, pain management, suturing, parasite and bacterial infection management, splinting of broken wings and taking in and raising healthy orphans. We frequently work with local vets in cases that require x-rays and surgeries.
While most birds we receive in the spring are healthy orphans, we will still be receiving injured adults, as we do the rest of the year. The common injuries we see are head traumas (many from car collisions), broken wings, gun shots, victims of poison, birds attacked by other animals, and parasite overloads. The majority of these injuries are accompanied by some level of dehydration or emaciation.
Once birds are strong enough to leave the hospital they move to an appropriate enclosure that will be beneficial to healing from their specific injury or progressing their growth process. This is usually to a space in our intermediary hospital which is outside and consists of 10 different spaces that can be modified to the needs of the patient. After that, the final stage of rehabilitation before release is to move to one of our species specific flights.
All the orphans that come to ORC will go through both flight and hunting training to assure they’re ready to be independent in the wild. Our goal is always to release viable individuals who will go on to nest and further their species.
Nesting season Quick facts
- Great Horned Owls are the first raptors to nest in our area. Cooper's Hawks are the last.
-In 2015, Cooper's Hawks were our most common fledgling intake.
-Barn Owls and American Crows are the loudest babies!
-We receive birds from local residents, animal shelters, veterinary offices, other wildlife rehabilitation centers, law enforcement and USFW.
-Baby birds are started on specialized formulas and are tube fed before being put on appropriate whole food diets.
-We use heating pads, blankets and lights to warm up babies who arrive cold and lethargic.
-We feed baby insectivorous song birds mealworms that we raise at the center.
-During nesting season we do 4-6 loads of laundry a day and air dry them on our volunteer-built clothes line :)
-Baby Hummingbirds need to be syringe-fed nectar every 15 minutes.
Ojai Raptor center is fully supported by volunteer efforts and public donations.
We take in all wildlife, including non-raptor birds! If it's a species we don't specialize in, we will transport it to the appropriate permitted party.