Tag Archives: wildlife

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 chose 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.”


Being guarded by Lucy, Canada Goose Extraordinaire.

She stayed in that position the entire time that I stayed in my spot, while 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, 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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Lucy was able to see Wooka in his cage every day for the 6+ years he lived there since patrolling that area where he stayed was 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.


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.


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.

This is Ciega, who joined the education wild animal team after Snitch passed. Ciega also had neurological trauma and blindness from being hit by a car. Not at all vicious or fearsome, she let me take her outside for recess on nice days. 

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

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.

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.

Free as a Bird

My article as published in “Snitch’s Scoops” distributed by the Fox Valley Wildlife Center.
feather 1 gray

Perhaps because it was the first bird to fascinate me as a child, I was instantly enchanted with a sparsely-feathered cardinal nestling that checked in to the center during my shift.

Male Cardinal Nestling Incubator

Baby bird in his incubator.

Not only was it late in the season to receive a baby bird, we could only wonder why the little fellow was found out of his nest and without his parent’s care.

I was honored to help the team provide for his needs and watch him grow over time in to a lively, healthy bird. As such, I got the privilege of assisting in the release of this cardinal to his “forever home” back out in nature.

Male Cardinal Soft Release

Cardinal in the soft release flight enclosure.

The day had come (late October 2012) for the cardinal to be released. Selfishly, it broke my heart to have to say goodbye but this is what we all worked so hard to do-give this little bird a second chance. The weather was mild and the wind had disappeared. It was a beautiful day for release. The container housing the bird was placed not far from sunflower seeds and a tray of water. Happy tears rained down as the lid was lifted. The cardinal quickly fluttered out of the box and on to the deck where he looked around a bit before taking off into an evergreen in our backyard. While we couldn’t see him, we heard the unmistakable cardinal call from that tree for a couple of hours. After that, he went silent. We were left to simply wonder if he was still there or if he had left.

Male Cardinal Release and Final Look Before Leaving

Exchanging goodbyes

Around noon the following day, I was ecstatic to spot him on the patio hopping around and pecking at seeds. Wow, was I ever treated to the most magnificent private cardinal show! I watched him chase after a leaf, shoo away a finch, and peck for seeds in the cracks of the walkway and in the mulch. He frequently zoomed around the yard and made little pit stops in the grass, but always came back to the seeds. The behavior seemed almost playful, and it went on for well over an hour. At one point, I noticed him fly towards the fence but stop just short of going past it. My impression was that perhaps he didn’t know he had his freedom to fly beyond the fence and as far as his wings could take him.

Male Cardinal Day After Release

About an hour later, I noticed him hopping around in the grass under the fence. I knew the time had arrived for him to continue to explore his new world. In a matter of seconds, he swooped through the fence, zipped across the neighbor’s yard, and flew around the corner until I couldn’t see him any longer.

Thanks to the center, this once helpless little bird would grow to discover that he could fly as far as his wings could take him.

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 pheasant.GBWF.org: 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

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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

white bar

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!

Waxing Poetic Over Waxwings

There are an infinite number of delightful and remarkable things birds do that I get to observe up close while performing the otherwise routine tasks of feeding them and cleaning up around them at our local wildlife rehab center. On one such occasion in August, I had the extreme pleasure of witnessing some extra-special behaviors by some young cedar waxwings.

I had cycled back to the birds in net cages that were being fed solid foods every half hour. One particular net cage I moved on to contained all cedar waxwings. A chorus of soft hissy-whistles began as soon as I lifted the little cover over the cage, making my heart burst with joy for about the 20th time since I had started my shift. Several birds were already perched on a branch while a few others jockeyed for position to be first in line for fruit cocktail. I dipped the dull-tipped tweezers in to the little tray of fruit and began dispensing small beakfuls to each guest. After the first round of this, I noticed one bird had hopped away from the group, stood beside the dish of fruit, and was repeatedly bending forward and back, forward and back, forward only to the point of getting the tip of his beak in the fruit and then upright again. He was mimicking movements of getting food from the tray! It reminded me of those old drinking bird toys. He wasn’t there just yet as nothing was going down the hatch, but he was clearly putting two and two together. I’ve seen a number of young birds perched on top of their food dish nipping at bits of food but not like this, not these very first attempts at eating independently, especially since this group had been in an incubator for weeks and had been completely helpless. These are the moments that have me pinching myself to confirm that I’m really seeing what I’m seeing, because I find that getting to peek behind the curtains of what nature otherwise does not let us experience so up close and personal to be one of the greatest gifts of all.

During a feeding later that same day, I also observed one waxwing that I’m pretty sure was trying to cheat the system. They remained perched shoulder to shoulder on the branch as I tweezered out fruit one by one. Everyone had been sitting very nicely through the first two rounds and gaping appropriately during their turn, but as I finished working my way back down the line once more, the last bird in line fluttered to the end of the other side and wedged himself between the first two, essentially positioning himself to get extras more quickly. Of course I can’t be certain why he felt compelled at that moment to play musical perching, but to hazard a guess, it was an intentional move to get more food even faster. It wasn’t blatant aggression like most starlings I’ve fed that elbow their mates out of their way and wrangle to get each bite of food coming through the door but rather just a subtle bit of trickery which I found to be charmingly naughty.

According to my dog, I’m well known for rewarding naughty-but-impossibly-cute behavior, and so for his efforts, that smooth operator got a wink and an extra berry.

As a volunteer with our local wildlife center, I’ve been trained by staff to safely provide general care to birds and animals. Please call your local wildlife rehabilitator if you find injured or orphaned wildlife to ensure that the animal receives the appropriate care.