It is normal for chicks of most raptor species to leave the nest before they can fly. Some raptors also nest on the ground or even under it. Unless the chick shows signs of injury, its greatest chance of success in the wild depends on leaving it where it is to develop normally under the care of its parents.
A fledgling is what we call a young raptor that has left the nest but it still not old enough for full flight. The parents find and feed these grounded fledglings for several days as they develop their flight abilities. Many species of raptors have a prolonged adolescent period where, even though the young are old enough to fly, they are still supported by their parents. This is the time period that the young gain valuable hunting experience because they are still fed by the parents when they are unsuccessful hunting on their own.
With very few exceptions, leaving a fledgling raptor alone is the best option for increasing its chances of survival. It can be difficult to distinguish between a young raptor that is too young to fly and one that is injured. It is not always easy to identify a fledgling. Fledglings can look like adults except that they might have a ragged or fluffy appearance. They are full-sized at this stage but have not grown in all their adult feathers. If you see blood or an open wound, the bird needs help. Please call our Injured Raptor Hotline: 307.203.2551.
Additionally, with the exception of ground nesting raptors, it is not normal to find a chick that is featherless, or covered only in down, with its eyes closed. If you know where the nest is, and it is safely accessible, it is okay to attempt to put a chick at this age back in its nest. Otherwise, please call our Injured Raptor Hotline at 307.203.2551 before moving any young raptor that is not in apparent danger.