Tag Archives: wildlife rehabilitation

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.

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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.

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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. 

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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.

A Bird Crush On: American Goldfinch

Once I start my regular volunteer shifts at the wildlife rehabilitation center, my Saturdays get rather birdy which is exactly how I like it. While I’ve had a lot of fun this year caring for many feathered friends, I have to say that my crush for the season must go to the American Goldfinch. The center received a few nestling goldfinch in August and September, well after the usual rush of little ones that check in for care and a second chance. I recently learned that their breeding season is later than most other North American birds because it is the time of the season when fibrous seeds, used for feeding young, are produced from plants like thistle and milkweed.

I’ve always thought that goldfinch are as pretty and fun to watch as most other birds at our feeders, but now that I’ve been able to care for some little ones, I’ve fallen hopelessly beak over talons for these squeaky little golden nuggets.

female American Goldfinch nestling orphan

Orphaned young female American Goldfinch nestling.

As this one female goldfinch started to learn to feed herself and was getting weaned off of hand-feeding, I discovered that she liked the food placed upon branches. She would gape like she wanted to be fed, but would then back away, like her instincts were kicking in at the same time, telling her that she should be feeding herself. Following her lead, I would place little bits of food on the branch. I’m not a bird expert, but judging by her reaction, food that would magically appear on a branch just millimeters from her beak seemed to go over exceptionally well.

female American Goldfinch fledgling orphan

Eating on her own and perching pretty!

I’m simply delighted that this sweet little bird, the only survivor from a fallen nest, was recently released.

There is a sibling trio of orphaned goldfinch that will be ready for release soon as well. Like any other group of siblings, this bird bunch has squabbled, jumped on each other, fought over food, knocked each other over, chatted about who-knows-what, learned from one another, and become bothered when temporarily separated.

American Goldfinch sibling orphans

Thick as thieves.

As the trees start to display their autumn colors, as falling temperatures coax us in to fuzzy sweatshirts, and as marketers wheedle us in to purchasing pumpkin-inspired everything, I find that my eye has perhaps wandered a bit here and there towards a devilishly handsome crow that is recovering from a wing injury. Is this popular symbol of the season already vying for position as my new corvid crush?

PLEASE consult a licensed wildlife rehabilitator any time you find orphaned wildlife. Providing the wrong food or feeding improperly can lead to the death of that bird or animal.

Intake Bird #106

Joel called me some time after lunch to ask what he should do about a little robin that was hopping around a parking lot where he was working. I asked him why he was asking. He explained that he was in a large parking lot hosting an outdoor event and had been watching a little robin that had been running around the lot for some time.

“It has been aimlessly hopping against the brick building and against windows for a few hours, gaping at anything that comes near it.”
“Hours?”
“Yes.”
“Has any parent been trying to feed it?”
“No.”
“You haven’t seen any bigger robin hovering around it?”
“No.”
“Does it seem like he’s trying to feed himself?”
“No.”
“Do you see a nest?”
“Yes.”
“Can you place him in or by the nest?”

This is when I got a very detailed description of the setting, represented by the graphic below. The screen shot is the lot where Joel was working. The arrows represent everywhere the bird was hopping, including making his way towards a busy four lane road. The dashed yellow line represents 10 foot-tall fencing around spindly trees at least 30 feet high where Joel saw two nests. He said that placing the bird at the bottom of the trees would mean thrusting it through the fence and leaving it on trash-littered gravel.

where baby bird was found

I asked Joel to place him in a box by the trees (represented by the red box) where he could keep watch for the parents just in case they found all those scary big blue stick figures too intimidating. Another hour came and went with no parental care.

“Bring him home.”

Around 7:00 that evening, Joel walked quietly through the kitchen from the garage and gently handed over the box. I pulled back two of the four flaps and saw an older nestling/young fledgling-aged American robin on a branch snoozing away with his head tucked under his wing. I fixed up a nice little nest for our new house guest by lining a small plastic bowl with tissues and placing him in a towel-covered enclosure so that he could rest safely, comfortably, and quietly for the evening.

orphaned baby robin guest

Our little guest’s next trip was to the wildlife center. In three years, this was my first time bringing in a patient. He became bird intake #106. Not only did I get to care for him during my shift, it hadn’t been more than a few hours before he was joined by another orphaned robin that also needed a little extra time before braving the world on his own.

Over time, he was joined by several more robins and I got to continue caring for them all on my shifts. I was happy for him because it meant that he and the other birds were learning how to be robins.

I was able to be there and take photos on the day of release. “Our” robin was released with six others on a beautiful, sunny day to an area thick with trees and vegetation.

robin release peeking out

They were hesitant at first to make a move when the door was opened. Within about a minute, one robin jumped up and took flight while the others cautiously peered out. Slowly but surely, one by one, the others came out of the cage and took flight up and in to the nearby trees.

robin release peeking around a little further

The American robin is a common bird across the North American continent. According to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, “…only 40 percent of nests successfully produce young. Only 25 percent of those fledged young survive to November. From that point on, about half of the robins alive in any year will make it to the next. Despite the fact that a lucky robin can live to be 14 years old, the entire population turns over on average every six years.”

Were the car trips, daily feedings, and daily cage cleanings for this one little common bird that odds say won’t live that long even worth the effort?

Robins show us how to enjoy a bath like it is Christmas morning. They assure us that winter is  over and spring has once again arrived. They tell us that it’s time to wake up with their dawn song. Some of their hearty and spirited calls sound like laughter, as if they just heard a really good joke. They pump their tails in time to their chirping, and that’s just kind of cool.

Aside from my own selfish ideas about their value (read: entertainment), I can only assume that if the birds got a vote, they too would raise a wing to say, “Yes, it’s worth the effort.”

released robin in the tree