Injured or Sick Birds and Orphaned Babies

Pushing the Envelope
by Stephanie Anderson

Fly or die. The philosophy of some raptor rehab centers. It means if a rescued bird arrives with an injury and the prognosis for release is questionable, the bird is immediately euthanized.

For many rehabbers, the “fly or die” philosophy is strictly a necessity of resource management. If money or professional services aren’t available, rehabbers have no option but to eliminate the worst cases and direct their total efforts towards the survival of the fittest. Although that’s generally the cold reality, Wild At Heart doesn’t always agree with that line of thinking.

“We’ve had too many success stories with severely injured birds to be limited to this type of approach to raptor rescue and rehabilitation,” says Sam Fox, director of Wild At Heart. Besides, we find even the unsuccessful attempts to save traumatically injured raptors give us unprecedented insights into future options for saving our beloved wildlife.”

Like every reputable rehab facility, Wild At Heart is extremely conscious of how its resources are allocated. “We have a commitment to our contributors, volunteers, the community at-large, and Arizona’s raptors, to manage the center responsibly,” says Sam.

“And for us, part of the responsibility is to occasionally push the envelope by taking extreme measures when treating certain borderline cases. We don’t do this with all critically injured birds. Euthanasia is sometimes the most merciful response, but if the individual circumstances bode well for a reasonably successful outcome, we’ll consider extraordinary measures to save the raptor.”

“There’s a lot to consider when selecting an appropriate candidate for this kind of special treatment – it’s a tough decision. We use our experience and that of our volunteer veterinarians. These vets make the difference. Because of them, we’re occasionally able to push the envelope.”

“Age and species are two of the first considerations in our selection process,” says Sam. “Is it a common raptor or on the endangered list? Will the bird be able to survive the trauma of a difficult surgery and the possibility of uncomfortable, extensive rehab? If in the end the raptor isn’t releasable, will it have a good quality of life in captivity – either here or at another facility? Some birds do well in captivity as educational birds or foster parents – but some don’t. If the bird is going to be miserable, we’ve done it no favor by keeping it alive.”

For Wild At Heart, pushing the envelope is about more than just saving individual lives. It’s about research; about stepping beyond routine injuries and exploring the unknown; about finding better solutions for saving our wildlife in the future. And in the end, it’s about enriching all of our lives.

A Rescue Story
by Dr. Kristen Nelson, Veterinarian

Written on Dr. Nelson’s blog about a

Wild At Heart Owl Rescue…

“The staff at Capital Insight Partners, LLC discovered a Great Horned Owl outside their window. The poor thing laid next to the building with her right wing stuck out in an abnormal position. She was dazed and in shock.

Thanks to the quick response of Wild At Heart, Ariel is still alive today. Within thirty minutes of receiving the call, a volunteer came to pick her up.

This great non-profit organization specializes in the treatment of raptors. Every year they care for between 400 and 600 hawks, owls and falcons.

Back at the Wild At Heart hospital, Ariel received treatment for her injuries. X-rays revealed a fractured humerus, the biggest bone in the wing. She required surgery and extensive post-op care to save her wing. Note the bright yellow bandage that protects the bone as it heals.”

I want to thank ‘Sam’ and Bob Fox, the veterinarians and volunteers at Wild At Heart. Besides helping injured birds in need, this organization has many different programs aimed at protecting raptors.

It is a win-win for everyone involved. The orphans are cared for by members of their own species. This makes them more successful when released back into the wild. Caring for the chicks allows the adults to experience a more normal life, even in captivity. Who knows, maybe Ariel will be a foster mom some day.

To learn more about this fabulous organization please go to

Blog by Dr. Kristen Nelson, Veterinarian