Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Spring (and a Ruffed Grouse) Is In the Air

When a ruffed grouse comes into VINS Wildlife Services for rehabilitation, there's usually an audible sigh of dismay from staff members. It's not that we don't love grouses, it's just that their high stress level makes keeping them comfortable -- and quite frankly keeping them alive -- a challenge. We keep their handling down to a minimum and enclose them in a quiet area to help keep their stress levels down, but even with those precautions grouses are tough customers.

This grouse came in April 6 after being struck by a car. He had some soft tissue damage, dehydration and a terrible-looking wound on his head. He basically was scalped in the accident, and his skull was exposed. But after being stitched up by Wildlife Services Director Allison Stark and a few weeks in rehab, the bird was deemed releasable! Please take a peek at our video of the grouse's April 24 release by Wildlife Services staff member Sara Eisenhauer.

In other news... Each year, the staff at the Vermont Institute of Natural Science dedicates a full day's work to a thorough spring cleaning of the nature center. Enclosures are scrubbed. Perches are repaired. Tents and teepees are assembled. Trails are tidied up.

When the enclosures for our exhibit birds are cleaned and necessary repairs made, the birds are removed to prevent what would likely be a stressful situation for them. After removing our two golden eagles from their enclosure and crating them, their enclosure received a thorough scrub-down, new perches and even a new, larger tub to bathe in. But it was when we put the goldens back into their revamped enclosure that things really got interesting! Take a look at the following photos of the golden eagles being moved back into their enclosure! (Photos by VINS volunteer and birder extraordinaire Bob Heitzman.)

Above, the female golden eagle pushes with her talons at the crate door, rearing to go.

Above and below, the female golden flies out of her crate and back to her enclosure. Check out those long legs!

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Welcome to Vermont, Baby Owl!

VINS Wildlife Services welcomed its first baby bird of the season last week - a baby great horned owl. The owl, believed to be about 4 weeks old now, is a wobbly mass of downy fluff, topped off with a knobby black beak and bright eyes that expertly dart about and focus in on each morsel of food coming his way.

The owl came to VINS April 14, but his journey to rehabilitation started nearly a week prior in Rhode Island. The owl is believed to have fallen from its nest, but nobody is quite sure as he was brought to a vet clinic in Rhode Island on April 8 with no information! From there, the owl, who received a clean bill of health, was transferred to a wildlife clinic in the state. The owl quickly made news headlines when a local station ran a story on the raptor seeking more information as to where it came from and who had brought it to the clinic. No luck there! On April 10, the baby was transferred to Born to Be Wild Nature Center, a rehabilitation facility in Bradford, R.I. The rehabber felt the young owlet deserved to be at a facility with an adult great horned owl, so he could learn the ropes of being an owl. It's easy to imprint baby birds, and once they are imprinted they cannot be returned to the wild.

So, the rehabber contacted us, and since VINS has an adult female great horned owl who occasionally plays foster mom to orphaned baby owls, we decided to make the transfer after approval from U.S. Fish and Wildlife.

The baby owl is now safe and sound at VINS, where he’s hand-fed 4 times a day by rehab staff. The foster mom does not feed the baby herself, but rather serves as a role model to the young one. The baby is gaining weight and looking good. Once he has grown in his feathers and learned to fly, we'll release him back into the wild.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Into the Wild

April 11 was a big day for the red-tailed hawk that VINS Wildlife Services had in rehabilitation since November 2008. This hawk made a triumphant recovery over the span of nearly 5 months at VINS, and he was released back into the woods of Vermont this past Saturday.

The hawk, which was featured in an earlier blog entry, Red Tail Recovery, was able to be released in a location close to where it was originally found. In fact, the man who found the hawk on the highway in South Royalton, VT, was there with his family to watch the release of this magnificent, strong bird.

Watch a video of the hawk's release by clicking here! You'll notice in the video, the hawk is sometimes accidentally referred to as a "she" when in fact this hawk is male. The best way to identify a raptor's sex is by size and weight, and unlike humans, it's the female who is normally larger than her male counterpart. The hawk we released was just over 1000 grams, while the average female's weight in the wild is more than 1200 grams, or about 2.5 pounds. In the photo above, note the red tail on the hawk.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

A 'Small' Procedure

Every bird that comes into VINS Wildlife Services for treatment receives a patient number. It's great for keeping track of multiple birds of the same species, not to mention it's the best way to maintain clear records of each bird's examination and treatment papers. The first two numbers represent the current year, and the last numbers represent the chronological order in which the birds are admitted to Wildlife Services.

Patient #09-046, the 46th patient of 2009, is a black-capped chickadee. He was attacked by a cat, and sustained a broken wing and possible puncture wounds from the cat's teeth. Cat attacks can be serious, as a bacterium in cat saliva can be toxic to birds. We automatically put birds who have sustained cat attacks on antibiotics.

Now, examining a chickadee's wing is something of a special project. As you can imagine, chickadees have very tiny, toothpick-like bones in their wings, and deciphering which bone is broken and the location of the break on the bone is no small feat. Without x-ray equipment, we must carefully probe the wings with our fingers, feeling for the break. To top it off, we must work quickly to minimize stress and pain to the bird. Afterall, this bird weighs a mere 10 grams and his tiny heart can only take so much stress.

After figuring out which bone was broken, we wrapped his wing up so it could begin to heal. Chickadee #09-046 also was given homeopathics to reduce the swelling around the break area. Watch our videos to see us unwrapping the wing wrap to check the bone, and rewrapping it to give the bird's bone more time to heal.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Oh, Baby!

They're oh-so-tiny. Maybe not even fully feathered. They can't even fly yet. They are out of the nest and on the ground. They're baby birds. They're helpless. They need my help!

Wait! Not so fast! Just because a baby bird is a baby does not mean the bird needs your help. The desire to help animals -- especially baby animals -- is a natural one for a lot of people. But sometimes our good intentions are not best for the bird.

Very soon, VINS Wildlife Services will begin to receive its yearly onslaught of baby birds. The babies come to us in all conditions for all sorts of reasons. There are the bald little featherless babies who have fallen from the nest and sustained injuries. There are the nestlings who have been brought in by someone's cat. There are full nests of baby birds orphaned by mom who has been killed or simply flew the coop. Yes, there are many baby birds who need treatment to make it.

Left: A fledgling barn swallow (left) and a fledgling eastern phoebe were patients in Wildlife Services during the summer of 2008.
But every spring and summer we receive many calls from concerned members of the public who see a baby bird and automatically believe something is wrong. The truth of the matter is, birds have been raising their young for, well, a really long time, and bird parents are the best parents for baby birds. A baby bird on the ground does not necessarily mean something is wrong. Often times, mom and dad are close by, watching their baby and feeding him on the ground. Other times, nestlings found on the ground and who are not ready to fly can be picked up by humans and returned to their nest. Just check that the bird is warm before placing him back in the nest. See Baby Bird Facts for more information. Take note: It is a MYTH that birds will reject their young once they've been handled by humans. The truth is that birds have a very poorly developed sense of smell, so the scent of a human will not deter a bird parent from caring for its young.

To learn how to detect whether or not a baby bird is just being a baby or if the bird needs the assistance of wildlife rehabilitators, please see our web page on Baby Bird Facts. Print it out and keep it nearby. It'll be a great help to you and the birds this breeding season!

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Why Mess with Nature?

People often ask me why we rehabilitate wild birds. Some believe rehabilitators interfere with nature, and that it’s natural for a bird to sustain an injury or become ill.

I agree that illness, injuries and death are all a part of nature. But I don’t feel there is anything natural about a wild bird being hit by a car, running into power lines put up by humans, eating a carcass containing lead bullet fragments, crashing into glass windows or losing one’s nest when a tree is cut down. (Above, a rough-legged hawk in rehab perches in front of his window.) When humans interfere with the health of a bird, I think it’s our responsibility to help them get better and return to the wild.

The New York Times featured an editorial today recapping Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar’s national survey on bird populations. The newspaper called the report “grievous,” with one-third of the U.S. bird population “endangered, threatened or in serious decline.” The editorial mentioned the decline in bird populations as a “direct result of human activity.” That would be us.

Above, a mourning dove who was attacked by a cat receives food via a syringe.

There are things each of us can do on a small scale to improve the lives of the wild feathered friends in our own backyards. A couple ideas include leaving dead trees or those that have fallen to decay naturally in the woods. Woodpeckers enjoy these trees for insect treats, while owls may make their cavity nests in them. If you have large windows that birds keep smacking into, try putting up window decals that will help birds detect a flat surface. Have a cat? Try keeping kitty indoors. All cats can live happily indoors, and doing so would save billions – yes billions – of songbirds each year. For more information on how you can easily help prevent bird injuries, click here.

Above: a rough-legged hawk in Wildlife Services