The Hard Part of Rehab

There are days when the patients who come into VINS Wildlife Services are in bad shape – very bad shape. The wince-and-grimace-upon-seeing-the-bird kind of bad shape.

One of the hardest parts of rehabilitation for me is that when we do get in a particularly sad looking bird, I have no way of communicating to the bird that we’re trying to help him. We’re not going to hurt him. We’re here to help: to bandage the wound; to splint the leg; to stop the hurt. Unfortunately, not every bird that comes into Wildlife Services makes it. But some leave here to return to the wild with another shot at life.

Above, a great-horned owl receives a bath of epson salts and tepid water for her infected foot.

Saturday, we received a great-horned owl – a huge, beautiful gal with dark plumage – who was one of the “very bad shape” ones. Her right foot was grotesquely swollen due to infection. Her toes on her left foot showed signs of frostbite, and some of her talons were nearly dislodged from her toes. She was also severely emaciated (starved). When a raptor has an injured foot, their chances of hunting down a good meal are poor as their feet are integral in catching live prey. To top it off, she was covered in lice… a lot of lice.

After bathing her deformed foot and giving her fluids, VINS staff quickly made the decision to humanely euthanize the dear bird. Upon further examination, it was evident she was clearly suffering. Her left foot was essentially dead, and her right foot was not much better. She was too ill to make a recovery, and without properly working feet, she would never have had a chance at survival in the wild.

Those are the tough cases: when there is nothing more you can do for the bird. Many of us take comfort in the fact that by euthanizing some birds, we can at the very least end their pain.

But then there are the more promising cases. Earlier in March, we got in an American crow. Although they can be a nuisance to farmers and they’re far from being in short supply, crows receive the same treatment and attention at VINS that we would give a bald eagle. This bird had blood coming out of his left eye, his left nare (or nostril), and his left ear. His nare and ear were so caked with dried blood; I doubt he could breathe easily or hear well. His left eye was partially closed – swollen and encrusted with blood. Each time the crow breathed in and out, we could hear gurgling: internal bleeding. Since the crow was found in the road, we believe he was hit by a car.

The crow was hydrated and tube-fed until eating on his own, and received medication for pain, homeopathics for internal bleeding and head trauma, and anti-parasitic meds. Watch our video to see the crow receiving treatment. The crow is now breathing well – with no more gurgle – and eating on his own. He’s been moved to a larger enclosure, where we’ll continue to monitor his progress.

Below, VINS staff flushes out the eyes of an American crow.


  1. Gilly on March 26, 2009 at 7:49 pm

    Handsome bird. Glad he is okay. Sad about the owl 🙁
    Good work!

    Gilly from New Zealand

  2. Meghan on March 27, 2009 at 2:05 pm

    Thanks, Gilly! The crow is doing better each day — eating more food and looking good.

  3. Unknown on April 2, 2009 at 2:51 pm

    Can you give me any information about rehabbing a crow? I live in wyoming and I have an injured crow that I was allowed to attempt to rehab but I don’t know if I’m helping or prolonging his suffering. There aren’t any wildlife rehab centers out here, just a game warden who told me he would put the crow down. I would be grateful for any information…what can I use for pain meds, what were the homeopathic you used ect? My crow has no open wounds, but he can’t stand. He’s eating and drinking but thats about it. If I can’t get him well again then he’ll have to be put down (shot). Thank you for any info you could send my way, the situation is getting desperate!

Leave a Comment