Saturday, October 31, 2009

When a Bird Can't Go Back to the Wild

Not every bird that comes into our care is able to heal. Although we try our best with each bird -- no matter what kind of bird it is -- we are not always able to help every patient return to his or her home in the wild.

Recently, a red-tailed hawk was admitted to VINS' Wildlife Services department after striking the front window of a car. The driver of the car initially brought the bird to a local vet, who noted severe eye damage from the accident. However, once the bird was transferred to our care, we could see that the eye damage was quite old and happened well before the car accident. In fact, the bird probably flew into the car because of his eye injury and not being able to see well.
The hawk's left eye was completely missing, and had been for some time judging by the color and texture of the wound. The bird was also very emaciated (thin, or starving), as he probably could not hunt well -- if at all -- due to his missing eye. Hawks need both eyes to hunt in the wild. If they can't hunt, they can't eat. Upon examination, we knew right away this bird would not be returnable to the wild for this reason.

Unfortunately, being a red-tailed hawk, hopes were not high that we could find placement at a nature center for this bird to live out his days. Red-tailed hawks are very common throughout North America, and many nature centers already have a red-tailed hawk on exhibit or for education programs. Placing a red-tailed hawk is not easy -- it's often impossible. VINS itself has 2 red-tails on exhibit, and 2 who serve as educational birds for our programs. We simply could not take another.

After careful consideration, the staff here made the difficult decision to humanely euthanize this bird. While our goal is always to return a bird to its home in the wild, sometimes it is just not possible. We can take comfort that we ended the suffering of this injured and starving bird.

But some birds who are non-releasable get a second chance at life... a new life.

Remember the juvenile crow who was rescued from a couple's apartment by a Vermont game warden? Read her story here, if you need a refresher. Well, things are looking up for this special gal. See for yourself in her "before and after" photos below.
After observing her for a month we can see she is habituated to humans, which means she is unafraid of people. She is also used to being taken care of and fed by humans, and would likely not be able to fend for herself in the wild. All of these facts add up to a bird that we cannot release to the wild. Lucky for this little bird, there is an Audubon Center that is looking for a crow!

The crow is a great candidate to be an exhibit or educational bird, as she is comfortable around people, and even seems to enjoy our company! We wish this funny crow the best of luck at her future home. We will miss her funny cackles and odd howling noises. Hear and see this entertaining bird here.

Below, see how great the crow looks in her outdoor enclosure here at VINS, with all her new feathers. What a treat for the eyes!

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Lots of Hooting to be Had!

What would Halloween be without an owl? Maybe some creepy crawlies? How about a bat cave? Well don your costume and see all up-close -- and much more -- at VINS' annual Hoots and Howls event.
Hoots and Howls features a fun, non-scary guided tour around the VINS grounds, where guests can meet critters that crawl, watch a skit, listen to nature stories, see the Ghost Owl, explore the habitats of nocturnal animals and more.

Local Vermont newsman Jack Thurston of WCAX stopped by VINS recently to chat with educators Beth Roy and Chris Collier about Friday's Hoots and Howls. Read the article and see photos and video of a few special VINS' owls.

Hoots and Howls takes place Friday, Oct. 30, rain or shine, from 5:30 – 8 p.m., with the last tour leaving at 7:30 p.m. Reservations are encouraged. Call (802) 359-5000 x246 or e-mail Admission is $6 for all ages, $3 for VINS Members and free for children under 2 years of age.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Kestrel Out!

An American kestrel -- a small falcon -- was released from rehabilitation at VINS Oct. 23. The kestrel came into our wildlife rehab department with a fractured wing. As you can see from the photos below, she was quite happy to take flight back into the wild. Watch a video of the release and learn more about this bird's story here.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

A Surprise Guest

Summer is so long-gone. We've already had our first snowfall here in Vermont, and many of the trees are completely bare of leaves. Pumpkins dot the doorsteps of homes throughout town, and many birds have high-tailed it south.

So what is this we have here? Who is this warm, pink blob with downy yellow feathers? Who is this peeping away, night and day? Certainly it cannot be a baby bird. Baby bird season has left with the summer.

But it is a baby bird! On October 22, the VINS Wildlife Services department received a baby rock dove. While typically their breeding season ends in August or September, there are exceptions. And this particular exception is quite exceptional!

This sweet baby bird was found alone in a nest during construction work on a bridge. One of the workers felt the young dove was in danger, with nightly temperatures now dipping into the low 30s. The baby was brought here, and the staff has taken over as Mom. We're feeding him a liquid diet appropriate for seed-eaters, and will soon move him onto solid foods. He's being kept warm and snug in a cozy enclosure that sits upon a heating pad. Luckily, rock doves stay in Vermont year-round, so we'll be able to release the bird once he's grown and flying, despite the cold weather.

As a side-note, all birds are protected under the Migratory Bird Act. It is illegal to remove birds from nests unless there are dire circumstances, such as both parents being dead or an injury to the baby bird. In this case, the construction work may have scared off the parents, leaving the baby rock dove unable to fend for itself. In most cases, though, construction work is not a legitimate reason to take a baby from its nest, or to disturb the nest. The work must be held off until the baby birds have fledged.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

A Day in the Life

If there's one thing that holds true in the field of wildlife rehabilitation, it's that one day is never quite like the next. Monday you may be hydrating a red-tailed hawk subcutaneously (beneath the skin), and Tuesday you might find yourself suturing an open wound on a ruffed grouse.

To give you an idea of some of the things we do here at VINS Wildlife Services, take a peak at the photos and videos I've posted.

Above, Wildlife Services' staff Audrey Gossett (right) and Sara Eisenhauer examine an injured crow that had just been brought to VINS by a member of the public. Below, Audrey examines the bird's wing and leg, carefully feeling for possible fractures and checking for wounds. Watch a video of the entire examination.

After a full examination, the crow was found to have a break in his leg. To heal this fracture, we knew the best thing to do would be to splint the crow's leg, which we did while the crow was under anesthesia -- see below. We anesthetize birds who may become too stressed during certain medical procedures.

The crow's fractured leg will be checked periodically, to see how it's healing. Once the fracture has healed, the splint will be removed and physical therapy may be performed to loosen up the leg muscles. From that point on, the crow will be upgraded periodically to larger and larger enclosures, ending finally in our flight cage where he can build up his muscles before returning to the wild.

Another patient recently admitted is shown above undergoing a common routine: he's being weighed! All of the birds who come into our care are weighed once a week, if not more often. Monitoring a bird's weight is vital to ensuring the bird's return to health. A sudden drop in weight or no weight gain when needed is a sign something is wrong. Above, Audrey prepares to weigh a barred owl. In the video you'll see that the owl's head is covered with a towel. This helps keep the owl calm during the weighing process. This owl "got his bell rung" when struck by a car. Beyond minor head trauma, the owl is doing well and is expected to make a full recovery.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Bye-bye Barred!

A juvenile barred owl was released from rehabilitation October 3 as part of Raptor Appreciation Day at the Vermont Institute of Natural Science. Wildlife Services Intern Jessica Katz had the honors of sending this young raptor back into the woods.

The owl, found orphaned as a baby, was part of a trio of young barreds who made their way into our care this summer. The VINS Wildlife Services staff raised the owls over the summer, taking care not to imprint the impressionable youngsters. Above, watch a video of the owl's release. See a larger version of this video here.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Snapper Time!

They say beauty is in the eye of the beholder. So, if you ask me, we’ve added quite a beauty to our exhibits here at VINS. Featuring powerful jaws and a snorkel-like snout, this Common Snapping Turtle – now on exhibit in Fledgling Corner – is sure to turn heads.

Recently acquired by the VINS Wildlife Services department from a local university that used the snapper for education, this native turtle is set up in a 150-gallon tank where she is clearly visible for visitors to get a great look at her.

The turtle’s debut here is perfectly in sync with a very special time of year for snappers: hatch time! It’s time for snapping turtle eggs – laid and buried by mother snappers in the spring – to crack open and let loose tiny hatchlings who will dig their way up through the soil.

Watch a video of these special little turtles making their way in Vermont.

If you’ve been to VINS this summer, you may have seen areas roped off to protect buried eggs laid by snapping turtles on our grounds. Right now, hatchling snappers – with carapaces (shells) about the size of a half-dollar – are hatching and scrambling across the grass and paths here at VINS and instinctively heading toward bodies of water. With one female snapper laying 25-80 eggs each summer, it’s time to tread gingerly along the walkways here at VINS and to keep one’s eyes peeled for babies! In the photo above, two hatchlings takes their first few steps.

Snapping turtles, common in Vermont and through most of the eastern half of the United States, are the largest freshwater turtles in North America. These big reptiles can weigh up to 35 pounds with a carapace spanning up to 20 inches. They get their name from how they quickly snap their powerful jaws in defense or when biting at prey, so caution is always advised around snappers. While in the wild, these turtles might eat fish, insects, rodents, amphibians, smaller turtles and the occasional bird. Here at VINS, we’ll feed our snapper deceased mice a few times a week.

Its snapper time in Vermont! Come to VINS and get an up-close, clear view of this beautiful chelonian (turtle, or tortoise), like you’ve never seen before.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Grease & Pigeons Don't Mix

If you've ever lived in the city, you've probably been lucky enough to hear the purr of a pigeon from the ledge outside your apartment window. Their gentle coo is a welcome treat amid the cacophony of traffic and sirens. Of course, there are some who have been known to call pigeons "flying rats," but I won't go there...

On August 8, a pigeon -- more formally known as a rock dove -- was brought to VINS Wildlife Services in poor condition. The pigeon was found outdoors behind a restaurant's kitchen drenched in cooking grease. The pigeon must have accidentally fallen into an open vat of discarded cooking oil. While no animal would like to be dunked in grease, it's a particularly bad situation for birds to get into, as such feather damage can mean flight problems for birds.

Birds themselves have a special oil they self-apply to their feathers, which helps to waterproof the bird. The oil comes out through their skin via the uropygial gland -- a small opening above their tail that they can rub their heads against, abstracting oil coating it over their feathers using their head. Without preening using the uropygial gland, birds feathers may become become so saturated with water or bogged down by various matter that the bird is unable to fly.

Dawn dish soap is great for cutting grease, so once we got this pigeon settled into her enclosure, we began daily baths of warm water and dish soap. We used a toothbrush to gently scrub away the oil. After a few weeks of daily bathing, the pigeons feathers began to look fluffy and dry.

Today, the pigeon is flying with beauty and strength in our songbird aviary, and is scheduled for release within the next week.