For the Birds Radio Program: Rehabilitation Permit

Original Air Date: Jan. 31, 1989

What’s involved in having a permit to rehab birds?

Audio missing


(Recording of a Common Raven)

The last day of January means now we only have 2 1/2 months to finish up our taxes and donate to the Chickadee checkoff, and that Groundhog’s day is only 2 days away. For people who take care of injured birds, today is also the day that our annual reports are due.

People who handle protected species of birds, including all native American songbirds, are required by state and federal law to have special permits. In Minnesota and Wisconsin, the permitting agency is the Department of Natural Resources. They naturally require first of all that every permittee know something about wild birds–how to identify them and determine their various nutrition needs, how to cage them without causing feather damage, and how to treat common injuries and care for baby birds. They also determine that the petitioner has suitable facilities for caring for birds. But most important, they make sure that no permittee is keeping wild birds as pets. It is absolutely illegal to keep any protected native American species as a pet. Once in a while a bird with irreparable injuries is kept in permanent captivity by an individual, but that person is required to have a special education or research permit.

Once a person has a state permit, the next step is to obtain a federal permit by writing to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and completing an application. You must sign a form stating that you have read and understand the federal regulations regarding the possession of migratory birds, and that you will adhere to these regulations. In the case of endangered species, a permittee is required to report to a special agent of the Fish and Wildlife Service within 48 hours. In Minnesota the D.N.R. requires all hawks and owls to be taken to the Raptor Center in the university department of veterinary medicine on the St. Paul campus. Actually anyone who finds an injured raptor is misguided at best if he tries to care for it without expert guidance–we’re lucky to have what is probably the finest facility of its kind anywhere in the world only a few hours from Duluth, and these birds are too precious for unqualified people to experiment on.
Federal and state laws both require annual reports about the care and disposition of all birds treated that year. The federal government gives out a one-page form to fill out, and the Minnesota D.N.R. simply asks for the number of each species, along with the date and place of release of rehabilitated birds or the disposition of birds that died. January is probably the best month to write reports like this since it’s a slow time of year for rehabilitators–most injuries seem to happen during spring or fall migration, and baby birds aren’t around in winter for people to pick up.

Technically it is illegal for any person without a permit to pick up an injured or even a dead bird, although law enforcement officers never prosecute if you are legitimately taking it to a licensed rehabilitator or educational facility. If you find a bird requiring care, carefully place it in a closed cardboard box and get it as quickly as possible to a wildlife center. If it’s a rare or unusual species, do your best to see that it gets to an advanced facility like the Raptor Center. Most injured birds that people find were hurt by human activity–striking our power lines and guy wires, hit by our cars, and yes, even in 1989, shot by our guns. We have a moral responsibility to aid those creatures hurt by what we ourselves have done.

(Recording of a Common Raven)

This is Laura Erickson, and this program has been “For the Birds.”