Saturday, September 26, 2009

Up, up, and away...

A great blue heron, pictured above, was released recently by the VINS Wildlife Services department. The heron was transported to VINS August 7 when a member of the public saw the bird looking weak. Indeed, after examination, the heron was found to be emaciated and lethargic. Read more about this bird's stay in our rehabilitation department and see a video of her eating. The photos above capture her release from our care back into the wilds of Vermont. In the top two photos, VINS staff member Kristen Rzemien lets go of the heron. Photos by Brian Bowen.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Countdown to Migration

If you're a broad-winged hawk, it's time to skedaddle. September through about the first week in October is migration time for these small buteos. Traveling in huge flocks called kettles, broad-wings leave their breeding grounds in North America and head on down to northern South America. Pictured above is a broad-winged hawk perching in his outdoor rehabilitation enclosure here at VINS.

Now if you're a broad-winged hawk undergoing rehabilitation during the month of September, this presents a problem for you. As of this week, the VINS Wildlife Services department has three broad-wings who are still recuperating from various injuries. Two of the hawks have severe eye damage, while one is a juvenile with an elbow injury. While their release date is unpredictable at this point, we are pretty sure they will not make it out of rehab before migration season ends. Besides fully recovering from their injuries, the hawks will still need time in our flight cage to build up their flight muscles. Additionally, they will have to be live-prey tested before they are released: we will need to see that they can catch live rodents to ensure they will be able to hunt in the wild.

Above, VINS Wildlife Services Intern Audrey Gossett takes one of the broad-winged hawks out of his enclosure so we can take a closer look at his eye. Below, you can clearly see the damage to this bird's eye is still quite severe.

These three hawks' injuries could take weeks longer to heal, and once they are flighted and their hunting skills tested, we could be well on our way to winter!

But don't worry: we won't leave these hawks out in the cold!

Migrating birds that cannot make it through their recuperation here at VINS in time to head south before winter hits will be "over-wintered" in the Wildlife Services department. In other words, we'll provide them a comfortable, warm enclosure and feed them their preferred foods of choice until spring. While we always prefer to get birds out the door and on their way to their most natural setting in the wild, we sometimes have to make exceptions for migrating birds.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Confiscated Crow

I love crows. I love them so much that I've nearly driven off the road trying to catch a glimpse of them as they fly overhead while I'm driving. I love all birds, but crows -- and their corvid cousin, the raven -- are at the top of the list for me. I can't quite explain it, but there's something about crows and ravens that makes me feel as though I'm in the presence of something very special.

Watch a video, posted below, of the crow pictured above, who was confiscated by a Vermont U.S. Fish & Wildlife game warden.

Last week, the Wildlife Services department here at VINS received a call from Vermont Game Warden Jason Batchelder. He had confiscated a juvenile crow who had been raised in a couple's apartment after receiving a call from the couple's landlord. This is illegal. In fact, it is considered a criminal offense to raise wilds bird in your home in the state of Vermont, and in all other states, as dictated by the Migratory Bird Act. Wild birds raised in people's homes by those who do not have the proper training or licensure are almost always unhealthy, malnourished birds. Birds that come into our rehabilitation department after even just a week of improper human care come in suffering from a possible mix of malnutrition, severe feather damage, parasites, bone deformities and other injuries and illnesses.

Note the damage to the crow's tail feathers in the above photo, and her overall shaggy appearance.

The crow Sgt. Batchelder brought in had been in the couple's apartment since the week of May 24. The bird came in reeking of cigarette smoke, and with incredible feather damage. It is unclear if the couple tried to clip the bird's feathers to prevent her* from flying away, or if the feathers broke when the crow perhaps thrashed about in a cage. Her growth appears to be stunted, as she is small for her age. This is likely due to the very inappropriate diet the bird was fed, which included milk. As birds are not mammals, they do not drink milk. Birds do not nurse from their mother: their mother brings food to their nest and feeds them via her beak. White feathers on the crow also indicate malnutrition.

The game warden has pressed charges against the couple, which may result in a fine and a loss of hunting, fishing and trapping permits for one year.

But the biggest loss is for this young crow, who did not have the chance to grow up in her natural environment, where she could have learned best from her parents. We have high hopes for this bird, however, as we've taken in human-raised birds in the past (including a raven), and successfully released them to the wild. We'll just have to be sure we can "wild" her up, and perhaps pair her up with another crow or two so she can figure out that she is a crow herself. Read about a similar situation regarding a raven who was habituated to humans, but was successfully rehabilitated at VINS and returned to the wild.

As for now, we are feeding the crow a balanced diet, and are pleased to see her putting on weight. We eagerly await the proper regrowth of her beautiful, black feathers.

* You may notice some blog entries have a specific gender associated with the bird being profiled. While in some cases you can tell visually what sex the bird is, in many cases you cannot: only a blood test can truly confirm whether some birds are male or female. Crows are such birds. I, however, prefer to call animals he or she rather than "it" - so I ocassionally "assign" a gender to them if the bird's sex is not clear.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

The Fab Five

Five baby goldfinches made their way to VINS Wildlife Services last week. The little birds were brought to VINS when the tree the goldfinch family was nesting in was cut down.

Received as nestlings, this quintet of black and gold cuties is beginning to fledge... causing just a bit of chaos (and lots of laughter) in our baby bird room. Watch our video posted here to see how challenging it can be to feed five fledgling goldfinches.

Goldfinches are known to have broods late in the summer, when the thistle and aster -- a common food for goldfinches -- is in bloom. These small birds have a light and chipper contact call, which some say sounds almost like "potato chip! potato chip!"

The birds will likely remain in our care for another few weeks or so, being released back into the wild once we observe them all eating on their own and flying well in the songbird aviary. Don't forget to see the fab five in action!