Optimizing Raptor Welfare from Acquisition to Disposition
American Association of Zoo Veterinarians Conference 2019
Michelle Willette, DVM, MPH, DACVPM; Julia Ponder, DVM, MPH; Lori Arent, BS, MS; Gail Buhl, BS; Kelsey Griffin, BS
The Raptor Center, College of Veterinary Medicine, University of Minnesota, St. Paul, MN, USA


Raptors are extremely popular as outreach ambassadors and exhibit animals. Birds are generally obtained through wildlife rehabilitation programs (Willette, unpublished data) or captive-bred (± imprinted).3 There are programmatic and welfare implications for birds from either source: raptors obtained from wildlife rehabilitation facilities are permanently impaired; raptors imprinted on humans often show malfunctional behavior, including aggression.4 Veterinarians play a vital role in the acquisition of these birds and their ensuing health and welfare.

The Association of Zoos and Aquariums’ definition of animal welfare refers to an animal’s collective physical, mental, and emotional states over a period of time and is measured on a continuum from good to poor.2 There are a variety of welfare assessment tools available;7 the animal-centric measurements are used to approximate the animal’s quality of life (QoL). Zoological medicine has moved beyond health-related QoL to overall QoL, establishing baselines and benchmarks for individual animals in advance of any health issues.8,9 Establishing individualized QoL baselines is critical for these long-lived, special-needs birds.

As part of the Partners-4-Wildlife welfare initiative,6 The Raptor Center has developed a suite of tools to improve the welfare of captive raptors. These tools aid with optimizing the outcome of raptors admitted for rehabilitation,1,5 considerations for captive placement, and a process for monitoring QoL in captive raptors utilizing health metrics, ethograms, and activity budgets. Recently, the tools have been utilized for placement and end-of-life decisions, assessing response to pain medications and in resolving regulatory issues.


The authors thank Dr. Meredith Lum, Dr. Renata Tobolova, Tracy Swanson (2019), and Kelsey Lance (2019) for their contributions.

Literature Cited

1.  Arent LR, Willette M, Buhl G. Raptors: victims and ambassadors—raptor rehabilitation, education, and outreach. In: Boal CW, Dykstra CR, eds. Urban Raptors: Ecology and Conservation of Birds of Prey in Cities. Washington DC: Island Press; 2018:229–245.

2.  AZA Animal Welfare Committee [Internet]. Association of Zoos and Aquariums; [cited 2019 January 31]. Available from: www.aza.org/animal_welfare_committee.

3.  Position Statement—Owls—Ambassador Animal Programs [Internet]. International Association of Avian Trainers and Educators; [cited 2019 January 31]. Available from: https://iaate.org/images/article-pdfs/Position_Statement_-_Welfare_of_Human-reared_vs_Parent-reared_Owls_in_Ambassador_Animal_Programs.pdf.

4.  Jones MP. Behavioral aspects of captive birds of prey. Vet Clin North Am Exot Anim Pract. 2001;4(3):613–632.

5.  Lacy K. Selection process for non-releasable birds: the first step in bird welfare [Internet]. Cascades Raptor Center; [cited 2019 January 31]. Available from: https://cascadesraptorcenter.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/01/IAATE_Atlanta_2017_Kit_Lacy_Paper_.pdf. (VIN editor: Original link was modified as of 11-4-20.)

6.  Partners for Wildlife [Internet]. Partners 4 Wildlife; [cited 2019 January 31]. Available from: https://raptor.umn.edu/partnersforwildlife.

7.  Vicino GA, Miller LJ. Five opportunities to thrive: from prevention of cruelty to optimizing welfare [Internet]. Behaviour. 2015; [cited 2019 January 31]. Available from: http://behaviour-2015.m.asnevents.com.au/schedule/session/6656/abstract/24659.

8.  WelfareTrak [Internet]. WelfareTrak—Chicago Zoological Society; [cited 2019 January 31]. Available from: https://www.welfaretrak.org/. (VIN editor: This link is not secure, as of 11-4-20.)

9.  ZooMonitor [Internet]. ZooMonitor—Lincoln Park Zoo; [cited 2019 January 31]. Available from: https://zoomonitor.org/home.


Speaker Information
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Michelle Willette, DVM, MPH, DACVPM
The Raptor Center
College of Veterinary Medicine
University of Minnesota
St. Paul, MN, USA

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