Monthly Archives: December 2012

My Kind of Courtship!

Unlike some species of mammals that have season-specific courtship cycles, this particular mammal exhibits courtship behaviors all year long. It is just past the first day of winter in the Midwest where creatures dare to brave the cold and biting winds, yet here we’ve captured the male enticing the female out of their warm nest. Curious, she accepts the offer.

offering a ride

In a courtship display, the male brings the female to one of her favorite big-box craft and home décor retailers to browse an assortment of pretty but often unnecessary nesting materials. Here she is spotted in her typical drab winter plumage, almost indistinguishable from her surroundings.

Once inside, she flits and flutters about the isles, evaluating the various wares. The male, which does not usually accompany the female on such excursions, remains patient at her side while she pauses to study several pieces. Reluctantly, she passes on an adorable bird figurine but vows to snatch up a peacock trinket box once it goes on sale.

Now, weary from foraging and in need of sustenance, the male brings his female to the food source of her choosing.

a meal for the weary

The male has once again proven his merit in this pairing. The female is pleased.*

the female is pleased

*The male earns extra points by playing along with the female’s desire to take photos for this post. Of course having a picture of myself walking on a sidewalk outside of a store did not happen organically. It was a scream to watch other people going by as we did this bit. We got several curious stares as to why the man was snapping photos from the front seat of his parked car and why that guacamole was having a portrait session. If I didn’t know what was going on, I’d think it was awfully strange. Perhaps this guy caught in the crosshairs thought that Joel was a private investigator, and a really bad one at that.

what in the world


A Big Boy Beak, Goosey Squeaks, and Lots of Teeth

Saturdays filled with feathers and fur are once again winding down for the year. I already miss the demanding shrieks of hungry baby birds and it has just barely begun to snow here around Chicago.

No two visits to the wildlife rehabilitation center are ever the same. The guests, as I like to refer to them, come in for numerous reasons and I never know how long they’re going to stay. If asked, I’m sure they’d all like an early checkout and I wouldn’t blame them a bit. If something in a big predator suit put me in a confined space and handled me a bit here and there, I too would execute every life saving measure to get away, even from predators who bore a striking resemblance to nice ladies in sensible glasses wearing cute duck t-shirts. I give my kindest expression and will thoughts of pure comfort and well-being while providing care in efforts to calm them but it doesn’t generally work. That’s just the way it goes.

This past year seemed extra special and I’m sure it has had much to do with seeing a greater variety of birds and several new experiences in general with all the animals. I got a warning nip from an owl, was completely startled by a raccoon that patted me on the shoulder, secured a heron’s leg during an exam, provided bird physical therapy, fed a fox, and was winked at by a turtle. Aside from many songbirds I’d cared for previously, new to my own eyes at the center was a scarlet tanager, nightjar, black-capped chickadee, pheasant, peacock, turkey, sora, button quail, sandhill crane, snow goose, peking duck, great blue heron, and grouse. I’d like to give an honorable mention to a snapping turtle that spent a little time lodging in the bird room, too.

A Few Guests of 2012

Juvenile Male Cardinal

Juvenile Male Cardinal (the spot is from mashed berries)

Northern Cardinal: This handsome little fella completely stole my heart. I was there the day he came to the wildlife center as a squawky, sparsely-feathered nestling and there the day he took his first flight of freedom. I watched him eat his first solids, and over time, develop his big boy beak and grow a tail. I am so honored and privileged to have played a role on the team who helped this particular little bird get a second chance. As the first bird that fascinated me as a child, the northern cardinal will always have a special place in my heart. All About Birds: Northern Cardinals



Goslings: The center was filled with the melodious sounds of squeaky young waterfowl. Here are a few goslings that were successfully cared for through to release. As these little goslings tottered and staggered about with their itty bitty baby wing nubbins out for balance, it was amazing to know that they would eventually grow to approximately one and a half times the size of their adult bodies in order to heft them up in flight, and at times, whack nice ladies in sensible glasses who would try to provide them with room service. All About Birds: Canada Goose

Young Virginia Opossum

Young Virginia Opossum

Opossum: This year I learned some pretty cool facts about opossums. As the only marsupials in North America, opossums are immune to rattle snake venom and rabies. When they flash those pearly whites, they’re flashing 50 of them, more than any other North American mammal. Even if you don’t find their hand-like paws endearing, please give opossums a break. They are scavengers that help clean up nature’s waste. The National Opossum Society



Turkey: I am not sure how it came to be that this adult turkey* found his way to the center. I thought that this collection of photos was much more satisfying and representative of the experience of trying to get the perfect shot than the perfect shot itself. He was silly, curious, and sweet. Seeing that he was already people-friendly and was not going to be released in the wild, I was allowed to speak to him and touch him. I was told that he liked to be petted, so I rubbed his chest and buried my hand in his thick, soft feathers. Let’s just say…he didn’t hate it.

Swinhoe's Pheasant

Swinhoe’s Pheasant

Pheasant: Like the turkey, I unfortunately don’t know the history of two identical-looking pheasants that were shuttled to the center. The other bird, not pictured, had an injured foot that successfully healed. I snapped a photo of this curious bird having a little look-see while stretching her legs. Someone on the Cornell Lab of Ornithology Face Book page suggested that this is a swinhoe’s Swinhoe’s Pheasant

New Animal Ambassadors

Wooka the Northern Flicker

Wooka the Northern Flicker

Wooka: You could say that Wooka, a male northern flicker, relocated for work. Originally cared for by the wildlife center’s specialist at a center in North Carolina, he joined the animal ambassador team at the end of summer. He is underdeveloped with only one eye and misshapen toes that do not allow him to climb well. However, doing what woodpeckers do best, Wooka likes to peck and lick his pb n’ o (peanut butter and orange) treats. He was a hit with the children who learned more about woodpeckers, other wild birds, and many other kinds of local wildlife at the center’s open house. All About Birds: Northern Flicker


Zihna, Red-tailed Hawk

Zihna: Zihna is a Red-tailed hawk that joined the animal ambassador team in 2012. He was brought in having suffered a head injury. It was later determined that he unfortunately could not be released. Zihna sits very nicely on a perch while demonstrating his laser-like focus on moving objects. Thanks to training by staff, he is now able to accompany the other animals on educational program outings. All About Birds: Red-tailed Hawk

white bar

noah cottontail rabbit

Noah, Cottontail Rabbit

Noah: Noah is without vision. The wildlife center director explained that not having eyes could have been due to a rare birth defect or due to an infection prior to birth. As he is unable to see, he did not vacate the nest with the rest of his siblings when they were mature enough to leave. His reluctance to leave was observed by a home owner who originally took notice of mother rabbit’s nest in her yard. Sweet and full of energy, he is the most recent mammal addition to the ambassador team. He loves his hay and assorted bunny nibbles. National Geographic: Cottontail Rabbit

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The new ambassadors join the ranks of Lucy the Canada goose, Toby the 3 toed box turtle, and Ernie the pigeon.

To a casual observer, I am changing soiled towels in a bird cage or giving a dish of fruit to some squirrels. For me though, it’s the thrill of connecting with and providing care for these amazing creatures that do not have a voice to ask for help. I gasped when I saw the most brilliant red-orange I had ever seen on the tanager. It is completely arresting to lock eyes with a wary, soulful fox. The antics of squirrels just being squirrels make for some of the best free entertainment out there. They give back to us tenfold with the opportunity to once again enjoy their charm and beauty back out in the wild.

Many more new guests will arrive in spring, and I hope that I am there once again to accommodate their needs during their stay.

*I am not sure of the species. Please free to add it to the comments section if you know or have a good guess!

Beyond Just Showing Up: Be the Volunteer Icing on the Cake

As winter approaches and I wind down my regular visits to the wildlife rehabilitation center for another year, I am inspired to write about the impact of volunteers. I am not a volunteer expert, and never mind that there are already a few other (several hundred thousand) Google results for how to be a good volunteer. As someone with a bird’s eye view of how the volunteer process affects the organization and enough life experience to shine the spotlight on why it’s good to do more than just show up, I’d like to add another cookie to the Google search result cookie jar.

Many organizations like the wildlife rehabilitation center, a not-for-profit group, are heavily dependent on their volunteers. At a minimum, they need people who show up and can follow basic rules. The ones who show up with a willing spirit and proactively help operations run like a well-oiled machine are the volunteer icing on the cake.

volunteer checkbox 2Let’s say we’ve already established the self-interest part of signing up to volunteer, which I believe is important. There is nothing wrong at all with a scoop or two of self-serving motivation and personal interest. It’s why you are willing to show up and do something in the first place! The recipients of your efforts get a big benefit too of course, so it’s a win-win for everyone. Great! Now, to make volunteer icing:

Be proactive – If you finish a task early, look for something else to do with the time to which you committed. Find someone to ask what you can do next. If you can’t find someone, identify something to stay active and engaged. At the wildlife center, this may mean washing dishes, folding towels, or wiping down counter tops. Pick up a manual and refresh your memory of activities and rules, it may inspire a new idea for you to suggest. There is always something to do.    

Why? When everyone’s time is at a premium, others will admire your initiative. You’ll earn a reputation as a doer. You are much more likely to get a recommendation from the staff that supports your claim as a go-getter with examples when you need references.

Be flexible – There are activities at which we may excel or naturally like to do more than others, and while there is nothing wrong with voicing your preferences, it makes good business sense to give your time and energy willingly to where it matters most.

Why? Offering up your skills elsewhere and making yourself available will undoubtedly garner appreciation from the staff and others that you are someone willing to help do what it takes to get the job done. You may meet new people and learn new skills. It’s easy to want to go for the fun stuff an organization may have to offer, but you will be respected for being an agreeable team player by helping out elsewhere, too.

Be accountable – If you can’t make your commitment to help, give the staff advance notice whenever possible. Do your best each time in all that you do, even when performing less-than-glamorous work. On an altruistic note, consider the kind of support you’d hope for if you were on the receiving end of someone else’s goodwill. While a volunteer may be free labor, the organization still needs support to get the work done with quality and efficiency. Be as professional and accountable as if you were collecting a paycheck.

Why? You’ll earn a reputation as someone who cares about the organization, the recipients of the support that the organization provides, and your own personal contributions. Others will view you as proficient and trustworthy, which may earn you additional privileges, higher levels of responsibility, and possibly paid employment. Last but certainly not least, you will simply feel good about your efforts.

This is not an exhaustive list of good traits to have as a volunteer but rather some behaviors that I’ve seen make a real impact on the success of an organization in a day, a week, a month, and a year. Have fun doing doing good stuff with good people for a good cause? Yep, that’s a win-win.