Rehab and Release

Raptor Rehabilitation

SOAR provides care for well over 350+ birds each year that have been injured or orphaned, primarily from western Iowa. Most injuries are the result of human activities: collisions with cars, windows, power lines, fences, mowers, and effects from pesticides and other poisons like lead. Other injuries occur from storm damage causing nests to fall or birds to be blown into immovable objects.

SOAR receives the injured birds (usually after several phone calls to assess the situation) with the help of volunteer rescuers and transporters, Iowa Department of Natural Resources (DNR) Conservation Officers, and county conservation board staff, as well as other wildlife rehabilitation groups. Click here if you find an injured bird.

On admission, live birds:

  • are checked for major injuries -- fractures and wounds that would need immediate stabilization, cleaning, and bandaging -- these may need the attention from one of our two cooperating veterinary clinics
  • have their eyesight evaluated
  • have their feathers checked for damage and parasites, all admits receive medication to rid them of external parasites
  • are hydrated -- most birds come in with some level of dehydration
  • offered food appropriate for their level of starvation
  • after exam, each bird is housed in an ICU 'carry crate' for security and to limit movement. They will stay in ICU to monitor food intake and output, facilitate any needed bandage changing, and administering of medications.
  • all bald eagle admits will receive a blood lead level test, a weight, and a beak depth measurement to determine gender - bald eagle data is maintained for ongoing eagles and lead research and is shared with classroom educators for use in science, STEM, technology, and language arts classes. Click here to learn more about SOAR's Student Data Project..

Once birds are stable, healed and off medication, they can be transferred to large flight areas for physical therapy -- exercising muscles into shape, working out joint injuries, and gaining confidence flying. Click here to help support patient care.

If a bird comes in dead on arrival (DOA), care is still provided:

  • if an eagle, then data is collected for ongoing lead research:
    • an x-ray is scheduled to determine if the bird was shot or has lead fragments within the digestive tract,
    • a liver sample is removed and mailed to a diagnostic lab for a lead level test, and
    • if SOAR is participating in research with other wildlife agencies or universities, then that data is collected and sent.
    • all eagles are then sent to the federal eagle repository in Denver, CO.
  • for other birds, if requested by a conservation officer, we will attempt to determine cause of death. Species that are known to ingest lead ammunition fragments or fishing tackle are often x-rayed as part of this determination.
barred owl in intensive care crate

Support Patient Care

Bird patients, just like their human counterparts, are each unique. Treatment varies with each bird, but can include rehydration, special diets, de-worming, needing bandages, over-the-counter and prescription medicines, special therapies, plus visits to one of our veterinarians for x-rays, surgeries, and evaluation.

No matter the donation, each bird receives the highest quality of care. Please send your tax-deductible donation marked 'Patient Support.'

Your direct donations - mailed to SOAR or through PayPal - support our mission by providing patient care, ongoing care and support of our educational ambassador team, help to provide educational programming, and continue our research efforts.

Jump to our Support SOAR page for a link for PayPal donations (you can note your category of support in the message line on PayPal) or send your donation to:

25494 320th St
Dedham, IA 51440

SOAR is a 501(c)3 and donations are tax-deductible, please contact your tax adviser if you have questions.

Rehabilitating Birds with Lead Exposure

Symptoms or behaviors that may indicate lead exposure

lead symptoms, eagle hanging headLead poisoning symptoms:

  • Bird may be unable to stand, may appear "drunk"
    • Lead in the system can cause brain swelling (encephalitis) that interferes with vision and nerve function
    • Poor vision can lead to secondary injuries -- collisions with power-lines, cars, trees -- and may make birds less wary and possibly more easily approached and shot
  • Respiratory distress, open mouth breathing, purple mouth lining
    • Lead impairs the ability of the red blood cells to carry oxygen and so no matter how fast the bird breathes, they cannot properly oxygenate their blood
  • Muscle weakness
  • Dehydration and starvation
  • Kidney damage
  • Liver damage
  • Seizures
  • Death

How does SOAR test for elevated lead levels:

taking blood sampleSOAR can run blood lead levels on site with just one drop of blood. This gives us an immediate result and know for sure if the bird has an elevated blood lead level. Photo at right is of blood being drawn from a vein on the inside of the wing near the elbow for the blood lead test.

An elevated blood lead level combined with symptoms may call for chelation therapy. Calcium EDTA is used for chelation (this is the same medication that would be used for a human with an elevated blood lead level). It is a process of intramuscular injections over a period of time, followed by a rest period. The rest time allows the lead stored in the organs and bone to come out into the blood where the chelation medication can bind with it to form a compound the kidneys can excrete. This process is repeated as needed.

dead eagles

A blood lead level (BLL) over 0.2 and less than 0.6 ppm (parts per million) is considered a toxic (also described as sub-clinical) lead level and indicates exposure to lead, but may not be lethal by itself and may or may not require treatment, based on symptoms. A blood lead level above 0.6 ppm is considered a lethal (also described as clinical) lead level and most likely will chelate.




Attempted treatment:

  • Oral or subcutaneous fluids are given.
  • If the bird is not vomiting, a high calorie, easy to digest meals are given, usually hand feeding is necessary. We often start with just high-calorie fluids before solid foods are offered.
  • The bird is kept warm and quiet.
  • Chelation therapy

Recovery and Release

Each bird recovers at their own pace, much like an injured human athlete. Once the bird is moved from intensive care, then the bird is put in a flight pen with others of the same species. In the flight pen, the bird is able to exercise muscles into shape. Time in the flight pen also will tell us if their vision is good.

We can observe the birds from outside the flight pen. We look for effortless flight, with several laps around the pen without heavy breathing. With the return of good muscle-tone, effortless flight, and a healthy appetite, the bird is ready for release.

With every bird, the key to a release site is appropriate habitat for that bird! Weather plays a factor, too. We want to give these rehabilitated birds every chance at continued success, so will not release right before a winter storm or during one of Iowa's blazing hot spells. Owls tend to be released late in the day. Birds that migrate (like peregrines, osprey, swans, and barn owls) and are ready for release after fall migration are held to be released the next spring. The same is true for winter visitors that are not ready for release when others of their species are heading back north to breeding territory in the spring.

SOAR, occasionally has a public release event, usually held in the fall. Otherwise most releases are subdued and low-key. We do our best to document the release and share here.