Category Archives: Tails from the Wild Side

The Goose and the Woodpecker

Saturday, October 21st was a sunny, temperate day. This meant if the resident disabled woodpecker Wooka was not ‘working’ at an educational program, we’d be heading outside for some sunshine and pecking in the dirt like we’ve done for years.

Not long after I arrived, I was told that he had not been doing well and that he’d be seeing the vet for an exam. He hadn’t been eating much, wasn’t very active, and had been fluffing himself up a lot to stay warm. The influence of his age was quickly brought up as a factor; he had to be around 7 years old.
My first photo of Wooka taken in December of 2012.
He’s enjoying peanut butter smeared on an orange slice. 

I asked if it was OK to still take him outside for recess or if I should pass. I was told that not only was it OK to take him outside but that he might actually enjoy the sunshine and fresh air for a while. Besides, I think we all suspected that it might be our last time together.

With bird in hand, I made my way to an enclosed cage towards the outer edge of the wildlife center’s backyard. I closed us in, set him down on the dirt floor in a patch of sun, and laid a towel down to sit on.

Within minutes of settling in the cage, Lucy, the resident imprinted Canada goose, ambled her way towards us which she almost always does. What she had never done in all the years I’ve been in that cage with Wooka, however, was 1) lay down and 2) press herself up against the cage door. With an almost 360-degree option to select any number of places to lazily walk around nipping at grass and leaves which is her typical behavior, she choose to sit pressed against the door. It seemed deliberate, like no one was coming or going without her permission. It was so cute and out of character that I texted a photo to the director that we were “…being guarded by Fox Valley’s finest.”

She stayed in that position the entire time that I stayed in my spot and that Wooka was left to do as he pleased. He actually surprised me by hopping around and pecking a bit more than I would have expected, given the fact that he hadn’t been feeling well.

He eventually fluffed up in a spot of sun and remained still for quite a while. And there we three sat, motionless and quiet, listening to the other birds around us that were chirping away and the leafy things happening under foot from scampering rodents making their way back and forth from the forest.

Making sure he was OK, I got up to have a closer look at Wooka. That inspired Lucy to get up and come around. It was like she wanted to have a look and check on him, too.

Thinking Wooka had ample time to enjoy being outside but not wanting him to get too chilly, I took him back inside.

Because the center knows how much I cared about Wooka, they were kind enough to contact me to let me know that he had passed, four days later.

That same evening it struck me that what I observed from Lucy the Saturday prior had to be more than a coincidence.

I am convinced that having lived and worked with him for so many years that Lucy had to have known, in her own birdie way, that his time was at hand. I saw a very strong, highly-intelligent bird take a protective stance over another species – a much weaker, smaller bird that had become part of her disabled animal family at the wildlife  center. I believe she was making sure that he would have a safe, uninterrupted last time in the sun.

WOOKA was a Yellow-shafted Northern Flicker that was transferred to our wildlife center from North Carolina. He was found abandoned and disabled as a nestling. Having developed only one eye, he remained small in size for his species as an adult and never developed the capability to fly or master perching as his toes were a bit misshapen. None of that seemed to matter to Wooka though, because he was a beautiful, lively little ambassador for his species who would at times defend his enclosure, flirt with the ladies, and peck through the dirt for bugs. I don’t see these birds too often at all so to get to care for him and engage with him during my volunteer shifts at the center was truly special. I will really miss exchanging “Wik wik”s with him.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

 

LUCY is an imprinted Canada Goose who is at least 8 years old. She was kept as a pet when she was a gosling (which is illegal since her species is covered under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act). She was relinquished at some point when she got older, probably because the people decided that this now-large bird that poops everywhere doesn’t make a good house pet. The center attempted to make her wild again but it was too late, she already identified as belonging with people and would not go off with and stay with her own kind. She has since become one of the most beloved members of the animal ambassador team with a personality that you would have to witness for yourself to believe. While I’m sorry that Lucy will never get to be a wild bird living with her own kind due to selfish humans, its a privilege to know her and learn about the quirkiness, personality, and intelligence of a species that otherwise remains hidden.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.


This is the center’s main area and shows Lucy looking into Wooka’s cage by the way she is being held. When she’s standing she can easily stare right into his cage, which she had been able to do every day for the 6+ years he lived there since patrolling this area is part of her daily routine.

Canada geese are known for being very family oriented and will even adopt orphaned goslings when they have similarly-sized goslings of their own. Perhaps, given her situation, Lucy has adopted the staff, volunteers, and animal ambassadors of Fox Valley as her own.

By the way, this is the first and only time I’ve held Lucy in the 7 years I’ve volunteered at the center. She likes the company of trusted friends but doesn’t like to be touched. I needed her to move from where she was standing but she refused so I took advantage of the situation by turning the move into a hug. I think she sensed that I really really desperately needed a bird hug that day and tolerated it. I would NEVER otherwise try to go hug a wild goose because a) jerk move and b) I’d get my butt handed to me. 

Advertisements

To The Guy Who Drove Over the Injured Opossum

Unlike with people, there is no emergency system in place for injured wild animals; no expectation that help will be on the way as soon as someone notices your accident and dire need for medical care. Unfortunately, unavoidable collisions with animals happen all the time and many animals don’t die upon impact even when the trauma is incredibly severe and injuries are fatal. There is nothing they can do when it happens.

I’m also very aware that at any given time, drivers may have only a split second to make a judgement and react – avoid an animal if possible or risk injury and potential devastation to other drivers. I totally get that, which is why I was completely shocked that the driver of a truck that could have avoided an injured opossum in the road, or even just slowed down, chose not to do so and drove right over him.

Not five minutes after leaving a restaurant to head home, I saw an opossum sitting upright in the opposite lane of a two-lane rural road. Instantly my heart skipped a beat and my stomach dropped as I saw him try to slowly raise his head. I knew he had been hit. He tried standing up but couldn’t. The movement was so slow and labored. I could see him trying to lift a leg that was extensively injured, but he couldn’t move forward.

As soon as I could, I pulled over and back around with my hazards on. As I put the car in park, a large white truck had come up the same lane. As the opossum’s head slowly turned, the truck went barreling over him. The sight was such a shock I couldn’t even scream. The truck was tall enough to pass over his head, and he remained upright despite getting rocked from the rush of air that came from the vehicle going about 50 mph.

The only thing I had in my car was my old sweatshirt I wore to the wildlife center, so I grabbed it.

Two other passers-by saw what I was about to do so they kindly slowed down and drove by in the other lane that was completely clear. The opossum was still hunched over in an upright position but not moving. I gently placed the sweatshirt over him, carried him over to my car, and placed him in my trunk. Not a flinch, not a hiss.

It was after-hours at the wildlife center where I volunteer but fortunately I was able to get ahold of someone who lived close enough and was willing to come over and help. She gently lifted him out of my car, brought him inside, and started to pull the sweatshirt back for an exam. It didn’t take long for her to say she was going to take him outside. I knew what that meant. That meant that he wouldn’t have to suffer much longer. It meant that soon he’d fall asleep; the confusion and agony of what had happened would be over.

I suppose there could have been other reasons the truck drove right over him, but since I saw the whole thing, I can only assume he didn’t give a shit. If that was the case, he’s certainly not the only one.

#SomeBadassesAreMarsupials

I never gave thought to opossums one way or the other until I met Snitch, a disabled opossum education animal at Fox Valley Wildlife Center. She was hit by a car and survived, but suffered neurological trauma, lost her vision, and also some teeth. She is why I learned just how cool, and misunderstood, these mammals are.

Arden Joel holding a disabled opossum

Joel and I keeping Snitch toasty in some blankies at a fundraising event in 2012.

Now that I know better, I’d gladly welcome them into our yard should they choose to visit and provide free cleanup services. I’d never pick up a wild one to pet and cuddle, understandably they get defensive and scared like any other animal that feels threatened, but there is no reason at all to hate.

The initial accident with the opossum may have been unavoidable, but callously driving over him was. Moments like that remind me that I live in an incredibly selfish and neglectful world. However, the kindness and compassion of a young lady who unselfishly answered the call to help end his suffering, reminds me that not everyone is so heartless.

Sometimes there are things can you do to help in these situations and sometimes there aren’t. I get that. But life in the wild is tough enough and there is no need to make it tougher. Have a heart, have some compassion, and please give a shit.

Good to keep handy, Animal Help Now is a resource for wildlife care contacts across the U.S. https://ahnow.org/#/

“Don’t be a hater. Please brake for awesome possums.” – The Awesome Opossum, Center for Biological Diversity

Love in the Time of Conjunctivitis

A slightly edited version of this post was originally published on 10,000 Birds.

Congratulating myself for leaving the house on time, I got into my car and drove off to meet up with a friend for lunch. Not one minute later, I noticed a small feathery mass sitting in the middle of my lane. Giving the bird a wide berth, I veered towards the other side of the road with the assumption that it would encourage her to fly off. As I drove past her, I glanced in my rearview mirror. She hadn’t budged. I felt compelled to go back and see if the bird was just being fickle or if it was something else.

As I approached on foot, I asked the little House Finch if she was OK, completely expecting her to fly off in a flurry but once again she did not. She moved her head around a bit but that was all. Once I got close enough, I reached out and grabbed her which was too easy to do. That was definitely a bad sign; it’s extremely difficult, if not impossible, to just walk up to and snatch a healthy adult wild bird. Upon initial inspection, I noticed that one eye was quite squinty and the other was red and completely swollen shut. I immediately assumed it was conjunctivitis and that she’d need rehabilitation.

I was going to be late for lunch.

Since I had no way to safely contain her in the car, I made the short drive back home with her clutched in one hand. Fortunately I was able to get an assist from my husband who set up a shoebox for the poor bird’s ride to the local wildlife rehabilitation facility, Fox Valley Wildlife Center, which was conveniently located just five minutes from my dining destination.

Arden Zich with sick house finch

She’s probably thinking, “So this is how it ends…” Not so, little friend!

In less than 24 hours of receiving medication, the eye that had been swollen shut had calmed down and opened enough for her to see again. Laura Kirk, the wildlife center’s director, said that the bird couldn’t inhale her seeds fast enough once she was set up in her own private quarters. The difficulty she had seeing me come at her must have meant that she’d had a hard time finding food as well.

sick female finch 24 hrs after medication conjunctivitis

The next day.

Not long after her arrival, a male House Finch was admitted with the same malady. Together they stayed in the bird infirmary for a few weeks while being treated with medicated eye drops and an antibiotic in their drinking water. I like to think they comforted each other and passed the time from their respective cages by swapping stories about themselves, how they endured being caught by big scary humans, and their plans for the future.

Once their treatments were complete, they were transferred to a soft release outdoor cage for observation and to readjust to the weather. With no netting between them, the pair was free to frolic about as they pleased until they were cleared for release. When that time came, the couple was chauffeured to the general area where the female finch was found.

male female house finch ready for release

The finch couple anxiously await their release.

Opening the carrier door was a bit uneventful and neither bird chose to leave immediately; they wanted to make sure the coast was clear before leaving their protective confines. Once one finch finally took flight, the other immediately sprang forth in the same direction. Together they flew to a nearby tree to take in the sights and sounds of their new surroundings, hopefully to make good on their plans for the future.

released recovered male female house finches

We ride together, we fly together.

Mycoplasmal conjunctivitis is a highly-contagious disease that primarily affects House Finches but can affect other birds such as Purple Finch and American Goldfinch. Birds can recover from the disease if they don’t first succumb to predation or starvation from the inability to see, which was undoubtedly imminent for “my” House Finch.

It is highly recommended that those who enjoy feeding birds ensure that feeders are spaced far enough apart to avoid crowding, clean feeders on a regular basis, and provide only enough seed for about one to two days. Feeders should be immediately removed and sanitized (10% bleach solution) and feeding area cleaned if sick birds have been observed in that area.

For more information and tips on how to help decrease spread of disease:

The Raccoon Rode Shotgun

A growing desire to get some food I can’t get at the local grocery store trumped my antipathy of getting into traffic and shopping with the masses on the afternoon of Sunday, June 7th. Reluctantly, I set out for my 16-mile journey.

About twenty minutes into my half hour trip, I noticed a soggy little animal trotting along the side of the street close to a busy intersection. It seemed like the size and shape of a kitten. I wasn’t sure exactly what to do in the moment but figured I should at least try to catch it. Once I was able to pull over and get a better look, I noticed a distinctive white and black mask.

That was no kitty cat. It was a little raccoon.Intersection Where Arden Finds Raccoon June 2015

This is the intersection where we first met.

I was not prepared to fiddle with a raccoon that afternoon. However, in those seconds of deciding what to do, I knew immediately where I could take her. If I were a helpless raccoon kit about to play in traffic, I’d hope that someone in a position to help would do just that. The grocery expedition would have to wait.

Fortunately the wee bandit hung a right as well, sending her my direction. Thinking fast about what to do and how to do it, I grabbed a beach towel from the back seat. I stretched out the towel as I approached her. Her curiosity quickly erupted into fits of screams and clawing the moment I threw the towel over her. Can’t blame her, I’d have done the same thing.

By the way, did anyone else at this busy intersection pull over or roll down a car window to ask if everything was alright or if I needed a hand? NO. 

Pinned down against the sidewalk under the towel, I worked fast to bundle her up like a burrito so that she couldn’t nip or scratch me.

My work with the wildlife center has taught me to keep a few old towels in the car for just such an occasion but unfortunately I had no way to contain her. Looking at my options, I had several large tote bags for my shopping trip, so I started bagging. She was carefully triple-bagged for good measure because raccoons carry disease that can be transferred to people and pets. Besides, my vivid imagination already had her escaping from a bag and attacking me, sending us both careening off the road. I placed her on the passenger seat next to me. It was the best way to ensure I could keep an eye on the road and any funny business coming from the bags.

When I finally arrived at the center, I anxiously handed over my sack o’ raccoon to staff member Audrey. With bated breath I asked if the kit was OK. There had been no movement or sound at all from the bag during the entire trip. About four seconds after making her way through the towel, Audrey flinched and said, “She’s alive.”

She was immediately put in a quarantined area for new raccoon arrivals and given a vaccine against the Distemper virus. I’d have to wait a week or two to even learn if she was carrying a disease that would change her fate yet again.

raccoon after intake June 2015

This is now her beach towel.

Fortunately that time came and went without any health issues. I’m told by staff that she mellowed over time once she got used to the routine of being fed and not smothered in towels. Since she was so little, she received daily formula feedings until she was old enough to be weaned onto solid foods.

Raccoon in rehab July 2015

Getting ready for a feeding. Doesn’t she look less “attacky”?

Once she was eating solids on her own she was moved outside to an enclosure that allowed her to readjust to the changing temperatures, climb, huddle up, and get her own food (which was provided in the enclosure but she had to make an effort to go get it).

Raccoons in outside enclosure 2015

I’m thrilled that she was released on October 17th  with several raccoon friends to a heavily wooded area. Here are some photos of the release:

one raccoon leaving cage

several raccoons leave cages

newly realeased raccoon plays in forest

raccoon climbs tree for first time

raccoon up in tree for first time

Kits are left orphaned usually because mom was hit by a car or she was trapped and removed from someone’s property. When the latter happens, kits may be left behind somewhere in the house or around the property unbeknownst to the home or land owner.

It’s not uncommon for raccoons to make themselves at home where humans are likely to leave lots of goodies in the trash. They’ll eat just about anything, so any food trash and pet food left outside makes their job to find food a lot easier. They also look for warm, quiet spots to raise their young, like attics. They too have a “work smarter not harder” ethic. Desirable? No. Admirable? Yes. There are several good resources available from The Humane Society’s “What to Do About Raccoons.”

There are occasions when someone without the proper permits or licenses tries to rehab a raccoon at home or even keep a little one as a pet. Bad idea. Why? Here are 10 reasons from “The Wild Animal That Doesn’t Belong in Your Home” by Dr. Becker. Aside from ensuring that the animal gets the right nutrition, is fed properly, and follows an appropriate weaning schedule, once an animal like a raccoon is imprinted and/or has become accustomed to life with humans, it’s extremely difficult to make them wild again or hypnotize them into thinking it all never happened.

I’m definitely not suggesting that anyone go put themselves in harm’s way by handling a wild animal that could bite, scratch or carry disease! However, if you’re an animal lover like me and are likely to help a critter in need*, you may want to have handy:

  • Protective gloves in the car
  • Old towels or sheets (old t-shirts and comfy clothes that can’t be donated work too!)
  • A box or crate (or even sturdy tote bags in a pinch!) that allows the animal to breath but not escape
  • Bungee cords (I stash these everywhere)
  • The Animal Help Now link and phone app to help identify local animal rehabilitators

*In need refers to a bird or animal that is truly orphaned or requires medical care. Not all little ones found alone are necessarily orphaned. For example, mother cottontail rabbit leaves her nest for an entire day so you might never see her. Sometimes little ones like birds and squirrels can be reunited with the parent which is always the animal’s best chance for survival. I knew for certain this raccoon was much too small to be ambling aimlessly around town, especially in the middle of the day. Young animals that would not otherwise leave their nest or den may do so if mother stops coming around to feed them; they’ll go in search of food even if they don’t know what they’re doing.

Consult a local licensed wildlife rehabber if you’re ever in doubt of what to do.

Help Birds Have a Brighter Future

September 1st marked the 100th anniversary of the death of Martha, the last Passenger Pigeon. The Passenger Pigeon was one of the most abundant birds in the world during the 19th century until they went extinct in 1914.

Billions to none… the extinction of the Passenger Pigeon

 “The extinction of the Passenger Pigeon had two major causes: commercial exploitation of pigeon meat on a massive scale and loss of habitat.”

Now, a report recently released from the National Audubon Society says that climate change is threatening 314 bird species with possible extinction.

The State of the Birds Report 2014

The birds don’t get a say in how our actions and decisions affect them. We know better and we can do better. I’ve read only a fraction about some of the long- and short-term consequences of the loss of a species; it is a large part of what motivates me to give my undivided attention and best possible care to whatever winged creatures come through the doors at the wildlife rehabilitation center.

state of birds 2014 birds in rehabiliation

 Feathered friends at the wildlife rehabilitation center.

The Top 5 Reasons I Give a Hoot

  1. They are pretty, intriguing, quirky, and fun to watch. Emphasis on the pretty!
  2. They give us clues about the health of the environment.
  3. Slurping up mosquitoes and other pesky pests – insectivorous birds rock!
  4. They spread seeds and pollen which helps other environmental goodies grow.
  5. They help naturally control disease and rodent populations.

Learn how you can take action right now:  Read it.   Watch it.

humming bird mug and humming bird 2

 Because, I mean, come on.

By the way, that IS delicious bird-friendly coffee in that mug!

Why Do Good Girls Like Bad Birds?

Sleek, black as coal, smart as a whip and a little bit naughty…I am bewitched by the American Crow. When the wildlife specialist said that the recovering crow could be moved from the indoor bird room to an outside enclosure and observed for flight, I jumped at the chance to give him a lift. YES I wanted to move the crow!

The crow had remained quite calm the past several times I had provided him with room service, so gently but firmly, I carried the surprisingly light bird in my hands as I walked outside. Maybe he sensed that he was being looked at, because the very moment I glanced down at the top of his head, he looked up at me.

When I volunteer at the wildlife center, I tend to mentally slip into a bit of a Snow White fantasy world where woodland creatures may very well sing to me and help me clean up around the place. The instant our eyes met, I had a dreamy notion that we were having a true connection. We needed no words; just two sentient beings sharing a moment and an understanding. Soon, we’d be making quick work of washing all those dirty dishes…

CHOMP

Crow Nip 2014

Not only was I not mad, I admired his brass. He can’t get rid of me that easily.

♫ And cheerfully together we can tidy up the place…so hum a merry tune ♪

American Crow Wildlife Rehabilitation June 2014Here is my guy. Is he handsome or what?

UPDATE:
While this post was written in good fun, the bird was certainly not “bad,” he was just being a cautious bird that was caught by a predator (me). The title is based on the song Why Do Good Girls Like Bad Boys – Angel & The Reruns. I didn’t get any feedback prompting this update, it just breaks my heart that these birds are ever considered anything less than highly intelligent, highly social creatures that want to live their lives as much as we want to live ours.

Reptiles Tip the Scales (A Feather-Free Post)

Earlier this month, the wildlife rehabilitation center held its 2nd annual Wild about Wildlife fundraiser. As a not-for-profit organization, the center requires support and donations from the public in order to “keep the lights on.” More than just keeping the lights on, it costs money to have extra staff on hand through the busy season, not to mention year-round supplies and medication. Money received from fundraisers, education programs, and general donations are critical to on-going wildlife care.

Arden WAW Fundraiser 2013

Yours truly sharing information at the information desk.

There were a number of generous sponsors of the event as well as several vendors and organizations that contributed to a fun-filled and informative afternoon. Our wildlife rehabilitation center was joined by:

Aside from turtles, I’m not much of a reptile gal, so I asked our center’s director Ashley about the Jim Nesci show. She told me she had been to one of his shows several years ago and found it really fun and exciting.

Fun? Exciting?? Reptiles??? Hmph.

A man with an alligator walks in to a room…

Once Jim arrived, he started to bring his creatures around the side of the building. He got some assistance moving many yet-to-be-identified guests into the presentation room in addition to his alligator “Bubba ” (the sequel). Joel, who loved alligators as a tot, was one of the guys who helped grab a handle to carry the gator. Now if anyone ever compares the weight of something to an adult alligator, he’ll know exactly what they’re talking about! This is just one of the super-cool benefits of being a volunteer – or even the spouse of a volunteer! You NEVER know what you might closely encounter!

Jim quickly gained the attention of everyone in the room and built our anticipation for the show. The kids immediately became so excited they could barely stay in their seats. After general introductions about Jim and his Cold Blooded Creatures club (90% of club members are rescues), Jim brought out the first guest, a big beautiful African Spurred tortoise named Tank. Tank, which was bred in captivity, crawled around the carpet while the kids crawled around him. A few lucky little ones even got to go for a tortoise ride. A few of us big kids couldn’t help but reach out to touch his shell and legs, too. Tank didn’t mind any of the attention one bit.

African Spurred tortoise_Tank_Jim Nesci

Next up on the reptile runway show was Godzilla, a black throat monitor lizard.  A very enthusiastic young lady in the front row was picked to pose with the native Tanzanian reptile.

black throat monitor lizard_Godzilla_Jim Nesci

Here is Lucky, a North American Alligator, that was acquired after having been discovered in a water sewage treatment plant. A few lucky audience members got to hold the “little” gator.

North American Alligator_Lucky_Jim Nesci

I don’t know if blondes have more fun, but I know that Blondie, an Albino Burmese Python, had no issues with being lifted up by three strong men and stretched out to be held by about 20 eager little arms.

Albino Burmese Python_Blondie_Jim Nesci

Much more than just show and tell, Jim consistently enforced messages of education and responsibility with these creatures – for both of our sakes.

I DARE You to Make Me Like You, Gator

I’ve never been particularly fond of alligators. During nature shows, I grimace and huff in disapproval when I see them snatch poor, unsuspecting animals that are just trying to get a drink of water. Alligators just seem so unfeeling and brutish.

Jim and Bubba taught me a thing or two and have given me a new perspective.

Jim opened up the bag that contained Bubba and instructed him to back out. Just like that, Bubba backed out. So there we all were: big humans, little humans, a regulation-sized alligator, and a smattering of raptors looking on like “Oh this is gonna be good…”

Alligator in Reverse_Bubba_Jim Nesci

Jim told us all about the original Bubba and his successor that lay before us. Through facts and tales we learned about a mother gator’s nurturing qualities and more about a gator’s respectable IQ. Among a few stories, Jim told us about how his own Bubba would first determine his gator-lady’s mood and then approach her accordingly. (That’s an intelligent species in my book!) We also learned that alligators have remarkable immune systems that can be used for study to help humans.

Unbelievably, Bubba operated like he was being remote controlled when Jim asked him to stand, walk, and lay down. It broke my heart to hear Jim tell stories about how people at his shows have hit, poked, and kicked Bubba. These were not life-saving measures, just humans taking an opportunity to be cruel to a living creature that was doing no harm. What did Bubba do in response to the abuse? Nothing.

Alligator_Bubba_Jim Nesci

You got me, gator. Forget about just liking you, I respect you.

Please be a champion of responsible animal care and support your local animal rehabbers, rescuers and shelters. Keep them in mind during the holidays when you consider donations to charitable organizations. These people work HARD at giving animals, that are often impacted by humans, a second chance.