Sunday, March 1, 2015

It Begins with a Barred Owl

by Calah Beckwith
Lead Wildlife Keeper

It wasn't surprising that our first patient of 2015 was a Barred Owl. With 50 Barred Owls admitted as patients in 2014, the majority of which were received during the late fall and early winter months, we've become accustomed to providing care for these most common New England owls.

It's been a tough winter for Barred Owls, with many finding themselves in the path of a car during their pursuits for food. Patient 15-001, our first of 2015, was no exception. We don't know conclusively that he was struck by a car, but his injuries and the location in which he was found lead us to believe he had a "run-in" with a vehicle. During his initial exam, we found that he had sustained an injury to his coracoid - a bone which connects the shoulder to the sternum. He had a lot of swelling not only in his shoulder, but also throughout his body. He had a generally "puffy" appearance, dried blood caked around his nares, and very wet, raspy sounds in his breathing, which indicates fluid or blood in his lungs - all signs of internal trauma.

We splinted and immobilized his wing, gave him medications for pain and inflammation, and also gave him fluids to address dehydration. Birds heal quickly, and within two weeks, his fracture had developed a solid callous - an indication that the fracture site was stable and mended. After another few weeks of exercise and flight training to build up the muscles in his injured wing, we determined that he was ready for a final test before being returned to the wild: a live prey test. To pass this test, a raptor must capture a live mouse - he must be able to locate and successfully maneuver in a large outdoor enclosure to catch his prey. 

Barred Owl 15-001 passed this test with ease. We said farewell to him 52 days after his initial admission to our facility, and we are confident he will thrive in the wild. His release was an immense success, with a strong flight to a high branch in a tree where he could survey his territory.


Saturday, December 6, 2014

Our Tiniest Patient: the Northern Saw-whet Owl

by Calah Beckwith
Lead Wildlife Keeper

Hawks, falcons, eagles, owls. We treat a variety of raptors, each with his or her own unique challenges and needs. These predators of the sky range in size from the 10-pound bald eagle to the 1/4-pound American kestrel. Without exception, we know that regardless of size all raptors have extremely sharp talons and beaks made for tearing flesh. However, some raptors possess tools that are much more dangerous to humans than others. Eagles, for example, are incredibly large and powerful with talons and beaks that can cause great injury to those providing care if not handled with respect, confidence, and composure.

One day after his admission, the
little owl is feeling the effects of
his collision with a car.
On the other end of the scale is the diminutive northern saw-whet owl. It's almost hard to believe that a raptor this small exists in the forests of New England. This owl is 7-8 inches in length from head to tail, and it weighs between 75 and 100 grams (0.15 - 0.22 pounds). Saw-whet owls are one of the most common owls in the forests of the northern U.S., but they are very rare in avian rehabilitation. They are very secretive, and their tiny stature makes them difficult to spot in their forest habitats. 

Nearly one month ago, we were surprised and honored to receive a northern saw-whet owl at our Center for Wild Bird Rehabilitation. The little owl struck the side of a car while flying across a road - likely in pursuit of a meal. He sustained severe head trauma, damage to his right eye, a fractured furcula (similar to your collar bone), and trauma to his right shoulder. He weighed in at 70 grams (about the same size as an American robin) and is likely a male based on his particularly small stature.  

Now in a larger enclosure, the
northern saw-whet owl is bright-eyed
and well on his way to a full recovery.
While this little raptor has much less intimidating weapons, he must be handled with the same care and respect as the larger birds. Small birds respond to the stress of human interaction and captivity with much more intense physiological symptoms than their larger counterparts. Without a proper understanding of bird behavior and an ability to recognize signs of stress, it is certainly possible for a bird to die simply as a result of being handled by humans. We, therefore, had to be very careful with this tiny patient. We performed all treatments with speed and efficiency, limiting handling times and frequency.

We splinted his fractured wing, gave him special drops for his damaged eye, and gave him medications for pain and swelling. In general, he has handled the stress of captivity quite well. His splint has been removed, and he is now in a large enclosure where he can stretch his wings. Soon, we'll move him to a large outdoor enclosure where we can truly evaluate his flight ability. We're hopeful that he will have the flight skills necessary for survival in the wild - the prognosis is certainly good. 

We have felt truly blessed to be a part of this little owl's story and to help him find his way back to nature.