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Rehabilitating Raptors

Rehabilitating Raptors was Andy Nortje’s passion. Since a teenager he had been interested in nocturnal and diurnal raptors. When he retired to the Island in Sedgefield, he registered with Cape Nature as a Raptor Rehabilitator.  He was also a member of the Cape Falconry Club.

Over the years many birds have passed through Andy’s hands and he  gained valuable experience rehabilitating raptors. Some arrived badly injured with little chance of being released back into the wild and others regained their health and condition sufficiently to joyfully be set free again into their natural habitat.

How rehabilitating Raptors happens

Rehabilitating raptors requires time, patience, commitment and intimate knowledge of the particular species' requirements so a genuine love for these feathered creatures is needed.  

  1. When someone finds an injured bird, it will likely be in shock. The best thing is to place a towel or warm confining garment over it being careful to avoid retaliation from its' talons and beak. Then, put it in a box and take it to the nearest vet (or rehabilitator if that is easier).
  2. The vet will examine the bird and decide what needs to be done. Wing bones are often fractured and an x-ray will determine whether a pin is indicated. Simply binding the wings to the body rendering them immobile for a time could also do the trick, allowing self-healing to take place with minimal interference.
  3. The vet will usually administer much needed electrolytes and vitamins to make sure the injured bird is restored to full hydration. Dusting for external parasites may be necessary because the general condition of the bird is weakened by the trauma of its injury.
  4. It is can then be passed on to a rehabilitator where it is either placed in a small cage to restrict its movements or allowed into a larger cage or perhaps even an aviary. At this point, the hope is the bird will eat by itself.
  5. When it is time to release the bird there are several factors to consider. It must be fit and fully healed. The locality of the release is of major importance. Its natural prey must be available. It should never be released in an area that would bring it into conflict with a breeding pair of the same species.

Examples of Rehabilitating Raptors

Early in 2015 a beautiful Jackal Buzzard struck a car near Sedgefield Golf course sustaining a fracture of the ulna. The vet decided to simply bind the wings to the body. After 4 weeks the wing was x-rayed and found to be perfectly healed. She was exercised in captivity for a further 4 weeks, fed well and finally successfully released back into her original territory.

Most rehab birds come with a history. The  Rock Kestrel in the photo came to Andy as a very young bird around 6 weeks old, all the way from Somerset West.

Someone found it on a patio and thinking it was too young to survive brought it inside, keeping it for a while not realising they were doing more harm than good. The parents were probably aware of the locality of the youngster and would no doubt have taken care of it.

A mutual friend brought it to Andy who looked after it for 18 months, flying it for release. It was eventually released in the upper Knysna River area where the cliffs provided a suitable habitat for it.

Immature African Harrier Hawk being released

The immature African Harrier Hawk (formerly Gymnogene) in the photo was blown off its nest near Herold’s Bay by strong winds that occur frequently along this coastline.

It was close to death when found and brought to Simply Vets Integrated Health  Clinic in Sedgfield.

In this instance, it was cared for by local vets Anushka Viljoen and Professor Anne Carstens with assistance from Andy until its successful release.

A Eurasian Hobby Falcon was found lying on the ground with a rip in its abdomen in Central Sedgefield by a Municipal worker. (not actual photo)

After surgery by vets at the Knysna Veterinary Clinic it was released 4 weeks later, just in time for its migratory journey north back to Europe.

This smallish raptor is an amazing bird that flies very swiftly for long distances, feeding mostly on the wing on insects and bats.

Owl Awareness Project at Scarab Market

As part of Andy’s function of rehabilitating raptors, an Owl Awareness Project was suggested by Hank Chalmers, a friend of Andy’s and owner of Eagle Encounters at Spier. The aim of the project is to dispel myths and negative perceptions about owls and to educate people of the deadly effect that indiscriminately used rat poisons have on owl populations.

The balance of nature is upset as owls, the natural predators that keep these vermin in check, will die when eating poisoned rodents. Alternatively, their chicks will die when fed poisoned rats/mice by the parents. In this manner many owl populations have been wiped out of their normal habitats by such human ignorance and thoughtless actions.

After obtaining the necessary permits, Hank sent Andy a Spotted Eagle Owl that had been human imprinted. This means it has been brought up and fed by a human and identifies itself with a human. As a result, it cannot be set free as it would go to any human for food thereby endangering itself.

However, this made the owl perfect for educational purposes. Unfortunately, its left ear tuft was damaged in-transit making the bird look unbalanced. With this look and its yellow eyes, Andy had no option but to call the bird Vincent! However, the ear tuft soon grew back.

Vincent lives in an aviary on Andy’s property. One day Andy heard him calling in a soft, different-from-the-usual hoot and being answered.

He had attracted a girlfriend! She spent days in a Loquat tree close by. Andy called her Geraldine but sadly she realised after a few months there could be no future with Vincent!

On Saturdays Andy and Vincent could be found together at “The Owl Box” at Scarab Market.

Seen close up, the beauty of this magnificent bird, looking very regal and wise, can be fully appreciated. An opportunity for a personal encounter like this helps people to understand the dangers inflicted on such birds by the indiscriminate use of chemicals that poison their prey (food).

Since its inception, the Owl Project has been very successful with residents and tourists visiting Sedgefield and local school groups.

Owl boxes could be ordered and purchased from Andy by people who know they live in an area where they can safely provide a nesting box for owls on their property.

This is an environmentally friendly way to deal with a rats/mice problem.

The Sedgefield Island is a conservancy and considered a safe place for owls. Recently locals have enjoyed watching two Cape Eagle Owl chicks being safely raised by their parents in such a box on the Island.

Sadly in 2022 Andy passed away but I leave this page here to honour the great work he did in caring for and raising awareness of birds of prey in our area.

Andy and his wife, Christine also have two holiday accommodation lets called Bird Cottages where visitors can see first-hand any raptors that are in rehabilitation at the time of their stay.

Links to Related Sites

Eagle Encounters is a non-profit wildlife rehabilitation, conservation, education and eco-tourism centre based on the historic Spier Wine Farm, at Stellenbosch, South Africa.


Adult raptors have few predators and may live for 20 to 30 years in the wild. They have a slow breeding rate and high mortality. Approximately one quarter of raptors survive their first year and only half these reach maturity and raise their own young. When survival drops as a result of human impact; urbanisation, deliberate or accidental poisoning, inexperienced raptor hand-raising, illegal trade and hunting, population numbers are drastically reduced.