Why can’t I take care of the bird I hit with my car?

Laundry basket rehab
- Photo Credit: Francesca Gross
Feeding newborn
- Photo Credit: Francesca Gross
Incubator
- Photo Credit: Francesca Gross
Recovering Blue Jays
- Photo Credit: Francesca Gross
Natchez hooked beak
- Photo Credit: Francesca Gross
Natchez sharp talons
- Photo Credit: Francesca Gross
Summer patient list
- Photo Credit: Francesca Gross

You hear that awful thud on your bumper as you drive through a wooded area. Perhaps it’s a songbird, or something big, with talons. Perhaps it’s after a strong storm, and a shorebird blown in from the Gulf is disoriented and hurt. What should you do? Taking it home with you to care for may be more cruel than kind. Here’s a story about the nearly fatal rescue of Natchez, a Mississippi Kite who is now living at the Alabama Wildlife Center (AWC) at Oak Mountain State Park.

People love watching Mississippi Kites. Birdwatchers anticipate the appearance of these insect-eaters along the Gulf Coast in the spring. After soaring on their long, narrow, pointed wings from wintering in the tropics, as far south as Argentina where they pair-bond, they arrive in the southeast in the spring to begin nesting. Kite is great way to describe the flight of these birds. Seen near southern rivers in the spring, the hawks hunt insects along riverine forests, open woodland, prairie, and wooded suburbs. These social birds sail smoothly along using a long, black-tipped tail as a rudder, calling out their distinctive high, thin whistled “phee, phew.”

Natchez was such a beauty until an accident brought him to the ground. Raptors like Mississippi Kites are often hit by cars because they love the easy meals of snakes, frogs, and squished salamanders they find on the road at dusk. Well-meaning bird lovers brought Natchez home with them, fed him hamburger and egg, and tried to care for him. Without knowing that every bird’s diet is unique, Natchez’s caregivers were weakening the already-injured bird. Mississippi Kites hunt insects and eat on the fly. Without a diet of insects, their bones and feet may be malformed and other development stunted, making them un-releasable. Help from the AWC put Natchez on an insect diet that helped him survive, but permanent bone damage and improper feather development prevented his release into the wild.

Since there are different treatments for songbirds, raptors, and water/shore birds, as well as different foods and habitats, it’s best to call AWC right away to ask for help if you find an injured bird. For example, every bird needs a different cage to practice flight in. Raptors need a particular minimum length in the flight cage to properly exercise their wings for future flight. AWC has built a beautiful flight cage for raptors, funded through private donations. Stop by the center and take a look. If you’re lucky, staff might bring Natchez out for you to meet personally.

It is illegal to possess any native wild animal without permits from state wildlife agencies and from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Anyone illegally possessing native wildlife in the U.S. is subject to fines, imprisonment, or both. In addition to being illegal, possession is detrimental to the animal. While juvenile animals may appear cute and cuddly, when they grow up, they will develop natural urges that make them unsuitable as pets. It is simply inhumane to deprive a wild animal of its natural behavior and home in the wild. (AWC website)

-Francesca Gross