Module C3. Monitor and maintain health in captive birds of prey.

Please read these notes carefully!

  1. This is the lesson and assessment module for ‘C3. Monitor and maintain health in captive birds of prey’.
  2. You can study this module on its own, or as part of a larger course – your Raptor Awards Instructor will advise you about this.
  3. The notes and references are here to help you understand the health needs of Birds of Prey, but you must also work with your Instructor to be sure you cover the whole topic.
  4. The lesson ‘quiz’ at the bottom of this page will help you demonstrate that you have the correct knowledge to keep a bird of prey in a healthy condition.  Your Instructor will give you more guidance about demonstrating your competence.
  5. This assessment of your knowledge (lesson quiz) will help provide evidence that you are ready to receive your Certificate from Raptor Awards


How can you identify the signs of ill-health and what action should you take?

“All birds, both parents and offspring are in a constant balance between health and disease”.   NEIL A FORBES BVETMED RFP DIPECAMS FRCVS

“The best way to cope with any illness or injuries… is to try and avoid them in the first place”  Jemima Parry-Jones

Owls, hawks, falcons and eagles are wild creatures and as such they are excellent at hiding any signs of ill-health.  In the wild an obviously ill animal of any sort quickly attracts the attention of predators.

This means that your bird of prey can actually be quite seriously ill before any external symptoms are apparent.  Therefore, it is your responsibility to examine your hawk on a regular basis and to observe it closely every day.  You must know what to look for and how to spot potential trouble.

If your hawk is regularly flown, then you will be able to examine her every day both visually and physically.  However, if the Bird of Prey is in an aviary in a collection or zoo your examination will probably be restricted to visual only.  Remember that catching an otherwise un-trained Bird of Prey is extremely stressful and can cause injury, actual health problems and even death. (see module C4 Catching, restraining and moving birds of prey).

What are the signs of good health? 

A healthy Hawk will be alert and watching its surroundings.  It should have an upright posture and its wings should be held close to the body (unless it has recently bathed or is wet from another cause).  The feathers should be tight and close to the body.  The Hawk will rouse occasionally but will settle its feather back quickly.  It will come down at once for food and will pull strongly at the food and swallow easily.  It will regularly sit with one leg tucked up under the body (but if its always the same leg it may have specific injuries to that foot or leg).  If you can observe the eyes they will be full and round with no sign of the nictitating membrane (third eyelid).

If you can physically examine the hawk then the feet and legs should feel cold to the touch.  The nares (nasal openings) should be clear,  There should be no bad breath smell.  The Hawk should be weighed each day and unexplained weight loss investigated.  In flight she will be balanced and eager to fly.

What are the signs of ill-health?

Sick FalconYour hawk may be losing weight, refusing or vomiting food.  One or both of her wings may be dropped.  Her breathing may be laboured, or she is breathing with her mouth open. Her eyes may be partly closed and/or the nictitating membrane may be visible.  She may have her feathers ruffled out.  Her voice may have changed.  She may be having fits, or noticeably twitching or shivering.

What should I do if I suspect my Hawk is ill?

  1. Consult your specialist veterinarian
  2. Remove the Hawk to a quiet warm place away from other birds in your collection
  3. Keep her dark to reduce visual stress
  4. Other actions will depend upon your own degree of knowledge, expertise and training, and the likely cause of the illness or injury, and the advice of your Veterinary Surgeon.

Recommended reading:

  1. Falconry.  Care, Captive Breeding and Conservation.  Jemima Parry-Jones. Chapter 6
  2. Falconry and Hawking.  Phillip Glasier.  Chapter 23

For more advanced students who wish to take their studies further we also recommend:

  1. Understanding the Bird of Prey.  Nick Fox.  Chapter 1 Structure and Function and Chapter 5 Training and conditioning.
  2. the series of articles by Neil Forbes available at this web address –
  3. Bird of prey: Health and disease. John E. Cooper (ed) 3rd edition.



This worksheet may help you keep your notes in good order – CLICK

Back to: Keeping Birds of Prey