Free As A Bird

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There are few symbols of freedom more compelling than the image of a bird of prey, wings outstretched carving a lazy circle in the sky above…

Of all the many types of wild animal rescues that the Cape of Good Hope SPCA Wildlife Department responds to each and every year, the majority of these cases (65%) involve sick or injured wild birds. And of these, as much as a quarter are cases involving birds of prey (otherwise known as raptors).

Birds are also sadly the animals we most often have to humanely euthanise due to having severe wing injuries which most often cannot be treated such that the bird will ever be able to fly again, and a life in a cage of never being able to fly again, we are certain, is not a life any bird wants.

We are also fortunate to be able to release many birds back into the wild after just a short stay of recovery at our Wildlife Care facility.

Oftentimes, we see birds that have suffered concussions after having collided with solid objects like buildings, windows and trees. It is common to encounter birds of prey who have been fixated on chasing down a prey item and not been looking where they are flying!

A stunned bird just needs a few days of quiet cage rest, hydration and a few good meals in order to feel themselves again and be released.

Owl rescued by the Cape of Good Hope SPCA Wildlife Department

At this time of year, it is not uncommon to encounter a large number of juvenile birds who are busy fledging and may have left the nest for the first time, only to encounter our beloved pets!

An average-sized bird of prey chick can hold its own against a domestic cat or small-breed family dog, but younger birds, even with sharp talons and beaks, are no match for big dogs or determined cats. These cases require lots of specialised medical care when they are admitted to our Wildlife facility, and not all of them will make it due to the severity of the wounds they have sustained.

In the case of healthy fledgling chicks, we most often endeavour to reunite them with their parents at the original nest site once they are strong enough, and have had some good results with these ‘family reunions.’

32 raptor species have been recorded living in and around Cape Town; this is an impressive number for any city in the world to boast.

The raptor species most commonly admitted to our Wildlife Unit are sparrowhawks (black morphs and rufous-breasted), Eagle owls, barn owls, jackal buzzards, rock kestrels and kites.

The cliffs, mountains and forests of Table Mountain provide a perfect habitat for birds of prey, affording them great places to nest and feed.

The thermals (up-winds) created by the mountains are also sought out by the bigger raptors who use them to rise high into the sky with minimal energy output.

Cape Town overall is a great city for birds: 358 species have been recorded.

The Mother City is also home to almost a quarter of southern Africa’s total endemic (meaning only occurring here) bird species. Table Mountain National Park is also home to 25 globally threatened bird species while the open ocean around Cape Town is home to 51 species of ocean (pelagic) birds.

These are birds very seldom seen from land as they spend the majority of their time far from the coast out in the open ocean, but they can be seen from the high cliffs of Cape Point using a high-powered spotting scope.

Cape Town also has 36 vagrant species of birds; birds that are not normally seen in the area and do not typically occur there but maybe just pop in for a holiday visit.

Why do we have so many different types of bird here?

It’s all due to the diversity of living conditions Cape Town offers birds. The greater the diversity of conditions, the greater the number of bird species you will find living there. 

We have open ocean areas, coastal areas, forest areas, inland (fresh) waters, river estuaries, cliff faces and mountains – all spaces sought out by birds.

The Fynbos Biome in particular is home to a large diversity of southern African species and some unique ones that occur nowhere else on the planet, so the next time you spot a feathered friend out and about in Cape Town, remember just how lucky we are to have them.    

Should you come across an injured bird or a nestling chick that has fallen out of its nest, give our Wildlife Department a call on 021 700 4158/9 and our knowledgeable staff will advise you on what to do next.

Some Do’s & Don’t’s of Wild Bird Care:


  • Keep the bird warm and dry, preferably in a covered box (use an old towel).
  • Place it in a quiet room where it won’t be disturbed
  • Keep pets / small kids away
  • Offer it some water to drink
  • Call your nearest SPCA


  • Attempt to feed the bird (hydrating it is more important)
  • • Feed birds ProNutro or bread!
  • Handle the bird OR take selfies.
Successful release of a Buzzard bird of prey

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The SPCA is the only organisation that offers a 24-hour Inspectorate service.

Contact our Inspectorate by calling us on
(021) 700-4158/9
083 326 1604 (after hours)

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