Saturday, February 28, 2009

So, Who Cooks For You?

Imagine a Vermont spring night, the sky a velvety black save for the sparkle of a thousand stars. The wood frogs bark to their loves from the marsh while an opossum casually rambles through the thicket. The lull of the evening is broken by the low, resounding call of someone with a question. “Who cooks for you? Who cooks for you all?” The barred owl is awake. Barred owls are often heard and not seen. Their charming call – which sounds a lot like “who-cooks-for-you?” – is a treat to hear.

This barred owl came in to VINS Wildlife Services after colliding with a vehicle. He presented with two fractures in his left wing. He was also weak and lethargic. His wing was wrapped for about three weeks to keep it immobilized. He has since been receiving physical therapy under anesthesia to essentially “un-stiffen” his muscles and tendons. Soon, this owl will be sent into our flight cage where we will be able to see how well he flies with his newly healed wing.

Friday, February 27, 2009

Waterfowl Superhero

Wikipedia states that a superhero is a character with “extraordinary powers and abilities, relevant skills, and/or advanced equipment.” Meet the hooded merganser: waterfowl superhero.

A diving waterfowl, the hooded merganser plunges deep into rivers and lakes, using his extraordinary ability of altering his vision to better see his underwater prey of fish, crayfish and the like. Equipment-wise, mergansers – like other diving waterfowl – are built with their legs further back along their body to better propel them forward beneath the water’s surface. And just like Batman has a cool costume, the hooded merganser has an awesome crest on his head, which he can unfurl at a moment’s notice, expressing a variety of behaviors.

See a video of the merganser’s release here!

In early February, we received a hooded merganser at VINS that was found in the road. We suspected a collision with a car. The bird was a bit thin and had possible internal injuries, but luckily no open wounds or broken bones. His treatment was quite simple, as it took him about a day to eat the live fish we put in the tub in his enclosure. When a bird is eating well – especially live prey – it’s a good bet that he’s quite healthy.

After a few hardy meals of minnows and time to splash in his tub, we decided to release him after 3 days in rehab.

Monday, February 23, 2009

A Pint-Sized Patient

This little guy is a northern saw-whet owl. One of the smallest owls in North America, the saw-whet is a pint-sized raptor who can be found year-round in Vermont. A typical saw-whet is a mere 8 inches from the tip of its tail to its head, and weighs less than 3 ounces – equal to the weight of about 3 slices of bread!

This particular saw-whet was treated for a broken leg and a wounded wing. The tip of the bird’s wing was nearly torn off, so it was removed as it would not have healed properly on its own. The bird was also started on antibiotics to help prevent infection. His broken leg was initially splinted and wrapped by a local vet who first took in the owl, and we have since removed and changed the wrap to check on the bone’s healing process. As you can see from the photos, the owl’s wrapped leg doesn’t look too much different from how a human’s leg might look with a cast.

So where did this fellow come from? Well, the owl was found sitting on a road in Stockbridge, VT in late January. When we find an injured bird on the road, we can usually assume it was hit by a car. Collisions with cars account for 20% of the injured birds VINS receives each year. Raptors, such as the saw-whet owl, are often drawn to roadways. Unfortunately, people throw food out of their cars, drawing in mice and other rodents. With rodents come the raptors, who prey on these critters for food… and you can imagine what happens with cars whizzing by.

For now, we’ll continue to monitor the owl’s leg and foot sore, and be sure he’s eating well.