A little long crested eagle chick was rescued from a felled tree on a plantation and brought in to FreeMe Wildlife KZN. Raptor specialist, Tammy Caine, tells us about the very special care needed to give this tiny raptor a chance of life in the wild.“The chick was found in a felled pine plantation in the Wartburg area. It is assumed that the tree containing the nest was cut down. This was accidental as the felling team on site do check that there are no bird of prey nests in the trees prior to felling, and would have left the tree standing if they had seen the nest. As soon as the chick was found it was taken to the site supervisor, who brought it through to us.”
“Taking proper care of the chick means it is first kept in a warm, blanket lined ‘nest’ for the first few days while being monitored. It will then be moved into a more natural type nest, lined with twigs and leaves, which is important for the strength and the development of the legs and feet. The chick has to manoeuvre around on natural nesting material, where it will learn to balance, clamber and grip,” Tammy says.
“The chick is fed on a four hourly basis throughout the day. The crop is checked to make sure it is empty before the next feed. This is important as feeding on top of old, undigested food still sitting in the crop can cause a complication knows as sour crop. The chick is being fed a mixed diet of natural prey items to ensure that it is receiving optimal nutrition for growth. Feathers, fur, organs and bones, as well as flesh and muscle, is essential for the development of the chick’s own skeleton, digestive system, and organ function. Without these essential components in its diet, it would run the risk of developing diseases such as metabolic bone disease, which can cause permanent disability or even result in death. It is weighed once a day to check that it is gaining sufficient weight.”
Tammy says in order to avoid imprinting the chick on humans, they have isolated it in a specially designed raising box, where it does not have visual contact with human caregivers, but is fed with a hand puppet through a feeding door. “Human contact is kept to a minimum, and the chick is only handled when necessary to check on its condition. A mirror is also kept in the box with the chick as this well help the chick to recognise its own species. Imprinting is irreversible, and we are doing everything we can to prevent this from happening as it severely and adversely effects the bird’s chances of being released into the wild.
“The chick will be at FreeMe for several months until it is fully grown and self-sufficient, then it will be moved into an outdoor ‘nursery’ pen where it will remain in the nest, but will be in a more natural setting with access to logs and branches that will allow it to start exploring and developing the muscles needed for balance and flight. Once the chick is able to fly, it will be moved to the flight tunnel where it will develop flight strength and fitness in preparation for release.
“Our raptor release committee, which meets on a monthly basis, and includes members of our wildlife authority, Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife, will discuss the best option for a release site. Where possible, we always try to return animals back to the area they originated from, so in all likelihood the eagle will be returned to the Wartburg area for release.
Tammy emphasises that it is very important when a member of the public picks up an injured or baby raptor that they seek advise from a legal, permitted, recognised and respected rehabilitation centre as soon as possible.
“Stress levels need to be kept to a minimum, and the best place to keep a compromised raptor is in a dark box lined with a towel. No attempt should be made to treat, feed or rehydrate the raptor without consulting the rehabilitation centre first, as this can often make the situation worse, and cause further complications. Wild raptors, like any wildlife, can carry parasites and diseases, so it is best to handle the raptor as little as possible. There is also the risk of injury from sharp beaks and talons, so raptors need to be handled with care. Members of the public are not encouraged to consider keeping or raising the bird of prey themselves, no matter how tempting it might be. Not giving the raptor the benefit of access to experienced care or treatment, is both illegal and unethical.”
We wish this little raptor all the strength to grow up and be wild and free!
For more info on FreeMe go to: FreeMe Wildlife KZN