When a Bird Can’t Go Back to the Wild

Not every bird that comes into our care is able to heal. Although we try our best with each bird — no matter what kind of bird it is — we are not always able to help every patient return to his or her home in the wild.

Recently, a red-tailed hawk was admitted to VINS’ Wildlife Services department after striking the front window of a car. The driver of the car initially brought the bird to a local vet, who noted severe eye damage from the accident. However, once the bird was transferred to our care, we could see that the eye damage was quite old and happened well before the car accident. In fact, the bird probably flew into the car because of his eye injury and not being able to see well.

The hawk’s left eye was completely missing, and had been for some time judging by the color and texture of the wound. The bird was also very emaciated (thin, or starving), as he probably could not hunt well — if at all — due to his missing eye. Hawks need both eyes to hunt in the wild. If they can’t hunt, they can’t eat. Upon examination, we knew right away this bird would not be returnable to the wild for this reason.

Unfortunately, being a red-tailed hawk, hopes were not high that we could find placement at a nature center for this bird to live out his days. Red-tailed hawks are very common throughout North America, and many nature centers already have a red-tailed hawk on exhibit or for education programs. Placing a red-tailed hawk is not easy — it’s often impossible. VINS itself has 2 red-tails on exhibit, and 2 who serve as educational birds for our programs. We simply could not take another.

After careful consideration, the staff here made the difficult decision to humanely euthanize this bird. While our goal is always to return a bird to its home in the wild, sometimes it is just not possible. We can take comfort that we ended the suffering of this injured and starving bird.

But some birds who are non-releasable get a second chance at life… a new life.

Remember the juvenile crow who was rescued from a couple’s apartment by a Vermont game warden? Read her story here, if you need a refresher. Well, things are looking up for this special gal. See for yourself in her “before and after” photos below.

After observing her for a month we can see she is habituated to humans, which means she is unafraid of people. She is also used to being taken care of and fed by humans, and would likely not be able to fend for herself in the wild. All of these facts add up to a bird that we cannot release to the wild. Lucky for this little bird, there is an Audubon Center that is looking for a crow!

The crow is a great candidate to be an exhibit or educational bird, as she is comfortable around people, and even seems to enjoy our company! We wish this funny crow the best of luck at her future home. We will miss her funny cackles and odd howling noises. Hear and see this entertaining bird here.

Below, see how great the crow looks in her outdoor enclosure here at VINS, with all her new feathers. What a treat for the eyes!


  1. Anonymous on November 4, 2009 at 4:11 pm

    Poor hawk. Lucky crow. I wish they could all live out a nice long, healthy, natural life. Thanks for all your hard work trying to make that so.

  2. Anonymous on November 5, 2009 at 12:47 am

    Such a sad story! You all have to make very difficult decisions. We certainly admire what you do every day. Keep doing a great job!

  3. Anonymous on November 5, 2009 at 10:52 pm

    What a sad story. You guys are doing great work, though!

  4. Anonymous on November 20, 2009 at 4:57 pm

    Can oprivate citizens provide forster homes for birds like this? I don't have the resources; but I know some people who might.

  5. Meghan on November 20, 2009 at 8:37 pm

    In answer to the "Anonymous" comment posted on 11/20: Only individuals with the proper state and federal licenses to house birds permanently on their property can take in a raptor (or any wild bird). I believe you would need a wildlife rehabilitator's license, or an educator's license — possibly both. You can contact your state's Fish and Wildlife department for information.

    It is important to remember that not every bird that is injured can be saved. While some permanently injured birds adapt well to captivity and can serve as educational birds, many do not make that adjustment. The bird's quality of life must be considered when transitioning a bird from a life in the wild to one of captivity.

    Thank you for your inquiry.

Leave a Comment