MAITLAND — Each spring, hundreds of baby raptors are admitted to the Audubon Center for Birds of Prey’s Raptor Trauma Clinic, where staff and volunteers work diligently to keep up. This busy time of year is known as “baby season” at the center, and operating costs can double with the increase in patients. In particular, food costs jump with the many young mouths to feed multiple times daily. So far in 2023, the clinic has admitted more than 200 total birds, with 20 percent of those patients considered babies, or not yet able to fly. Forty-one of the babies admitted had fallen from their nests.
“Baby season is an incredibly busy time of year for us, but it’s also very rewarding,” says Samantha Little, CVT, Raptor Conservation Specialist at the Clinic.
The first baby of the year arrived in January: an eaglet that staff renested after treatment. In February, a group of Great Horned Owlets arrived. As the season ramps up, other species, including eagles, Osprey, owls, and hawks, are arriving daily. Baby season lasts through June.
The Raptor Trauma Clinic building includes a large examination and treatment area, lab, radiology, ICU, and separate recovery rooms based on species and size of the raptors. Similar to a veterinary hospital, the Raptor Trauma Clinic has specialized equipment and procedures for treating these unique species, designed to reduce stress on birds and provide a calm environment for recovery.
While Clinic staff can treat broken bones and other fall-related injuries, it is traumatic for baby birds to be displaced from their families and nests. Audubon’s goal with every patient is a safe return back to the wild, but for baby birds, this often requires more effort. Adult birds are returned to the general area in which they were found, but babies sometimes need to be placed in a foster nest (either in the wild or at the center), placed in a new nest, or given a basket or platform (in the case that their original nest was destroyed but the parents are still present.)
Center residents Fil and Hitch, two female barred owls, often step in as foster mothers for babies. Not all owl species will care for an orphaned baby, but Fil and Hitch have fostered several seasons of babies in their aviary at the center. Once a nest of babies is strong enough, they are released back to the wild.
“Our efforts would not be possible without the help of a tremendous network of volunteers,” says Katie Warner, Center Director. “Thanks to the generosity and kindness of many individuals, we are able to return many of our patients to their nests and reunite families.”
Some tips for Florida residents:
• Be aware of any raptor nests in your yard or neighborhood, especially during baby season.
• Be sure the bird truly needs help before attempting to rescue it - if you have questions call the center at 407-644-0190 or visit https://cbop.audubon.org/conservation/how-help-sick-or-injured-raptor.
• Refrain from trimming any trees during nesting season, especially between January and June.
To offset the increased costs during baby season, the Audubon Center for Birds of Prey will host a Baby Owl Shower (https://cbop.audubon.org/events/audubons-baby-owl-shower-2023) on May 13 from 10 a.m. to noon. A community event, Baby Owl Shower will include activities, bird meet and greets, and a raffle to raise funds to support the Raptor Trauma Clinic. Admission to the event is free with a gift from the center’s wish list (https://CBOP.audubon.org/BOS).