Thursday, June 25, 2009

Video Babes

Baby bird season is officially underway here at VINS Wildlife Services, and we have a bunch of videos posted here for your viewing pleasure. As of today, we have about 30 young birds in our care -- ranging from wood ducklings to crows. While baby bird care has become second nature to the staff here at VINS, we realize some of you may like to know more about what goes on during this busy season. So here's the scoop on caring for these littlest of patients.

Just like adult birds, babies are checked over when they first arrive at VINS. We check for broken bones, eye injuries, dehydration and such, and proper medical attention is given. Nestling birds are fed from 6 a.m. to 8 p.m., each and every day. When you add that to all the adult rehabilitation patients we have, plus the care of our educational raptors, well, that's a lot of work for us! We don't know how bird moms and dads in the wild do it so well, but we know we successfully feed baby birds each summer with the help of our volunteer baby bird feeders. This faithful group of children and adults come to VINS throughout the week to make sure all the little gaping mouths are well-fed. In the evenings, VINS staff members take baby birds home to continue their feedings until 8 p.m., and to begin them in the early morning.

Currently, we have a baby tree swallow and brown-headed cowbird in the incubator, where they're kept warm. Each of these birds is fed a diet of FONS every 1/2-hour. FONS is an acronym for formula for nestling songbirds. It's a mixture of high-quality kitten food, egg, yogurt and other high-protein, high-calcium ingredients. Other young birds are fed solid foods, such as soaked kitten food, mealworms, cooked egg and minced fruit. Feeding times for fledglings may range from every 1/2-hour to every 3 hours, depending on how well they are self-feeding.

In our videos you'll catch a glimpse of the incubator babes, which include a tree swallow and a cowbird; a group of fledgling yellow-bellied sapsuckers nestled against a piece of bark; and a fledgling crow. The crow, you'll see, has a bald head. Sadly, this crow was being attacked and picked upon by other crows. He has some minor deformities, which may be the cause of the attacks. Survival of the fittest, you could say, may have factored in here. Animals often try to kill off a weak member of their family or pack, so that only the strong continue on. A passer-by saw the crow being attacked, and brought him to VINS, where he is doing quite well... not to mention winning over all of our hearts.

All of the young birds here will be released when they are deemed healthy and strong enough to survive in the wild. Prior to release, most birds will be transferred from their indoor enclosures to our songbird aviary or our flight cage, where they can perfect their flying skills before tackling the great out-of-doors.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

'Once upon a midnight dreary...'

In Edgar Allen Poe's, "The Raven," we meet a stoic raven "once upon a midnight dreary," whose foreboding repetition of "nevermore" sends a young man into a state of madness. In England at the Tower of London, it is believed that if the ravens who reside on the grounds leave, the kingdom of England will fall. In some Native American tribes, ravens are considered at once creator and trickster, and are present in numerous cultural tales.

It's a fact: people like ravens. They are mysterious, smart and just plain neat to see. On June 16, VINS Wildlife Services took in a young raven with a broken leg. While the leg has been splinted and the bird is stable and eating, there's more to this raven's tale than meets the eye.

It was apparent from the start that this bird was no ordinary raven. For one, he has not appeared nervous around us at all. Normally a wild bird is either anxious and timid around staff, or feisty and ready to fight. This raven, however, seems quite comfortable being handled. There is no fear or apprehension on his part.

Secondly, the raven has been gravitating toward us, literally. When we open his enclosure to feed him, he may jump onto one's shoulder. One time, he even pulled on the ponytail of a staff member when she turned her back on him.

And last but not least, while we're aware that crows and ravens can often be heard making odd gurgley noises that are so far off from the "caw" call we associate them with, we're pretty darn sure we've heard this bird trying to say "hello."

All these factors have led us to believe we may have an imprinted raven, meaning the bird had been kept illegally and raised by humans, and has since begun to think of himself as human. We're guessing whoever had him in captivity called out "hello" to him, and this raven -- being the smart fellow he is -- is mimicking what he has heard. While the raven's leg injury prognosis remains to be seen, if the bird is imprinted, we will not be able to release him from captivity. An imprinted bird simply cannot survive in the wild. There is a chance, however, that the bird is instead habituated, meaning that he was initially raised by his own parents and thus imprinted onto them, but then was taken in by humans and got used to living with them. Habituation is reversible. Imprinting is not. We may be able to pair him with another rehabilitator's wild fledgling raven so that we can better understand if he is imprinted versus habituated -- that may be his only hope for a life in the wild.

We love birds and we can understand it may be tempting to care for a young bird who believes you are his or her mom, but imprinting a bird is one of the worst things that can be done to it. Wild birds need to stay wild. If you find an injured or orphaned birds, bring it to a rehabilitator as soon as you can. The longer the bird is in your care, the more likely he or she will become imprinted.

Wildlife Services also received a group of tree swallow nestlings Wednesday whose parents were both killed by a house sparrow (house sparrows are known for being aggressive toward other birds and their babies). A kind couple took in the birds and fed them, but unfortunately the baby birds were kept by the people for at least a week. The baby swallows are suffering malnutrition due to an incomplete diet, and appear poorly developed. They may not survive their childhood. Again, the intentions of the humans were good, but those good intentions may cause the birds to be unreleasable, or even to die. Five tree swallows came in, and one has already been euthanized due to a severely crooked jaw that could not have properly healed.

So when you find an injured or orphaned bird, call your local rehabilitator and let them do the dirty work! Rehabilitators will feed them and provide medical care -- you just need to make the call : )

Top left photo: The raven and his leg splint. Bottom right: Four tree swallows in the baby bird incubator.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

I'm So Blue...

"But I'm getting better!" we can just imagine one of our fledgling blue jays saying. On May 31, a young blue jay was found on the ground in Essex Junction, VT, struggling to move.

Believed to have fallen from the nest, the bird had broken his leg, with the bone poking clean through the skin.

VINS Wildlife Services took the jay in and immediately splinted the leg while the bird was under anesthesia. The leg was then re-splinted to better align the bone by cutting back some of the skin around the break. This allowed for more flexibility while working with the leg, and for staff to better line up the separate sections of bone.

The jay is now in an enclosure with a younger blue jay who came in June 1 with a wound on his right hip and left leg. We suspect the younger jay's injury stems from a cat attack. His wounds have been cleaned and although there is some swelling in the hip region, he is healing well.

Since both birds are fledglings, they are hand-fed an assortment of foods (ranging from meal worms to soaked kitten food) every hour. Soon they will be moved to a larger enclosure to practice flying and begin eating on their own.

Below watch a video of the the two fledgling blue jays perching side-by-side in their enclosure. You'll notice the younger blue jay in the back is still gaping for food. Gaping is when they open their mouths and call so that their mom will put food into their mouths. Essentially they are saying, "Hey! I'm hungry. Put some food in my mouth, please!" The blue jay in the foreground is the older jay -- you will see his splint on his right leg. Above, the older jay goes under anesthesia so that staff can set his leg.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Maternal Instinct

Another one of our raptors from the exhibits here at VINS has found her calling in fostering a young baby of her kind. Our female red-tailed hawk, who has been known to go through various stages of nesting with her male partner on exhibit, now has the chance to flex her maternal muscle with the young orphaned hawk we recently took into rehab.

While none of us on staff have witnessed the adult hawk feeding the youngster, we have noticed she keeps a watchful eye over him. We will often find her perched beside the baby, towering over him in a seemingly protective manner. We will keep the pair together so that the little hawk can learn to be a hawk, and eventually we will move them together to the flight cage where the baby can learn to fly.

In other news... it's been raining ducks! With 10 wood ducklings and two young mallards in rehab, Wildlife Services' staff has been kept on its toes mincing greens, changing out towels and listening to the persistent peeping of these young waterfowl. We tend to see quite a few young ducklings in the summer -- either orphaned when their parents are killed, or when they stray from their siblings and mother. On occasion, we receive ducklings attacked by pet cats. (A great reminder to keep Kitty indoors!)

The two mallards -- who came into rehab separately -- are doing quite well. They were recently upgraded to an outdoor enclosure complete with kiddie pool for swimming. The pair seem to have bonded, and will likely be released together once they can fly.

The wood ducklings came in three separate batches, believe it or not. Wood ducks represent a special challenge to rehabbers, as they tend to have a difficult time growing up without their mothers. Fortunately, their chances of doing well in a rehabilitation setting go up when they have siblings to grow with. Having a group of 10 will increase their chances of being releasable.

On the other hand, mallard ducklings are a bit more hardy, and have a better chance of growing up to be strong and releasable when raised in a rehabilitation setting, even if they are on their own without siblings.