Wednesday, March 25, 2009

The Hard Part of Rehab

There are days when the patients who come into VINS Wildlife Services are in bad shape – very bad shape. The wince-and-grimace-upon-seeing-the-bird kind of bad shape.

One of the hardest parts of rehabilitation for me is that when we do get in a particularly sad looking bird, I have no way of communicating to the bird that we’re trying to help him. We’re not going to hurt him. We’re here to help: to bandage the wound; to splint the leg; to stop the hurt. Unfortunately, not every bird that comes into Wildlife Services makes it. But some leave here to return to the wild with another shot at life.

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Above, a great-horned owl receives a bath of epson salts and tepid water for her infected foot.

Saturday, we received a great-horned owl – a huge, beautiful gal with dark plumage – who was one of the “very bad shape” ones. Her right foot was grotesquely swollen due to infection. Her toes on her left foot showed signs of frostbite, and some of her talons were nearly dislodged from her toes. She was also severely emaciated (starved). When a raptor has an injured foot, their chances of hunting down a good meal are poor as their feet are integral in catching live prey. To top it off, she was covered in lice… a lot of lice.

After bathing her deformed foot and giving her fluids, VINS staff quickly made the decision to humanely euthanize the dear bird. Upon further examination, it was evident she was clearly suffering. Her left foot was essentially dead, and her right foot was not much better. She was too ill to make a recovery, and without properly working feet, she would never have had a chance at survival in the wild.

Those are the tough cases: when there is nothing more you can do for the bird. Many of us take comfort in the fact that by euthanizing some birds, we can at the very least end their pain.

But then there are the more promising cases. Earlier in March, we got in an American crow. Although they can be a nuisance to farmers and they’re far from being in short supply, crows receive the same treatment and attention at VINS that we would give a bald eagle. This bird had blood coming out of his left eye, his left nare (or nostril), and his left ear. His nare and ear were so caked with dried blood; I doubt he could breathe easily or hear well. His left eye was partially closed – swollen and encrusted with blood. Each time the crow breathed in and out, we could hear gurgling: internal bleeding. Since the crow was found in the road, we believe he was hit by a car.

The crow was hydrated and tube-fed until eating on his own, and received medication for pain, homeopathics for internal bleeding and head trauma, and anti-parasitic meds. Watch our video to see the crow receiving treatment. The crow is now breathing well – with no more gurgle – and eating on his own. He’s been moved to a larger enclosure, where we’ll continue to monitor his progress.

Below, VINS staff flushes out the eyes of an American crow.

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Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Silent Spring: Salmonella in Songbirds

I finally heard red-winged blackbirds trilling away earlier this week. Patches of brown grass are surfacing through melted snow. And my dirt road is a slippery mud pit, cratered with brutal potholes and riveted with tire marks deep enough to sway the intended direction of your car.

There's no doubt about it: Spring is here in Vermont.

For the songbirds, though, spring often brings a silent killer. Have you had sickly looking goldfinches or pine siskins at your feeders? You're not alone. (Above: a goldfinch receives antibiotics at VINS.)

Salmonella is a bacterium found in many places, including bird feces. According to the Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology, salmonella can be spread from bird to bird, either through the birds coming in contact with each other, or by consuming food or water contaminated with feces containing salmonella.

If you've seen birds hanging out at your feeder who look a bit off, they may have salmonella. Here are some signs of salmonella:


  • Puffed up feathers
  • Squinty or half-closed eyes
  • Lethargy, or hanging out on ground or feeder for an unusually long time
  • Low-to-the-ground, lethargic flight

It’s important to note these symptoms could be indicative of other illnesses or injuries. Take a look at your bird feeders. Are their piles of discarded seed beneath it? Is the seed wet and containing bird feces? If so, birds feeding on the ground could be ingesting salmonella. Has it been awhile since you've cleaned your feeder? Take in your feeder, throw out any old seed, and clean it in a bath of 10:1 water to bleach. Rinse it and let it dry completely before refilling it.

If you do have a bird you suspect is sick from salmonella, try capturing her and bringing her in to your local rehabber. Salmonella can sometimes be treated with antibiotics. Be sure to thoroughly wash your hands if you handle the bird or its feces.

And finally, don't feel bad! Birds get sick -- that's a reality. Illness is often just part of nature. But we can all do our best to help songbirds stay healthy by taking good care of our feeders.

Join the VINS Manchester staff at The Vermont Bird Place for a spring cleaning event! Bring your bird feeders and houses and let us do the dirty work. Your feeder/house will be thoroughly cleaned and scrubbed with environmentally safe cleanser and will be all set to go for a busy spring season. Your donation of $5 per feeder/house will go directly towards supporting VINS environmental education and summer camp programming in Manchester.
If you have questions, please contact VINS-Manchester at 802-362-4374 or The Vermont Bird Place at 802-362-2270, 48 Center Hill Road, Manchester Center, VT.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Red-Tail Recovery

When this red-tailed hawk first came in Nov. 28, 2008, he was bleeding from the mouth and suffering from both soft tissue damage and dehydration. His right wing was drooping, and while we initially suspected a broken bone, we soon found trauma beneath his wing. The skin around his “armpit” was torn open.

We began cleaning his wound with a bird-friendly disinfectant and applied a bandage. In a few weeks’ time, however, the routine cleaning of his wound abruptly came to a halt.


A white, mold-like growth began to cover the area we’d been cleaning, soon followed by patches of a greenish mold. We immediately started using an anti-fungal applied directly to his wound. But it wasn’t until we began using tea tree oil – an essential oil – that the fungus began clearing up. It took us weeks of special care – unwrapping his bandage, carefully removing patches of fungus and applying tea tree oil, then rewrapping his wing – to get his back on his feet... or wings. The fungus is now completely gone, after four weeks of specifically treating it.

A week ago we moved him into the flight cage where he could practice flying and regain his strength. He is flying beautifully and is likely to be released back into the wild soon.

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