Thursday, December 30, 2010

Look For It Now: Pine Siskin

By Sara Eisenhauer
VINS Wildlife Keeper

It’s a brisk 24 degrees outside this morning as I step out to top off my bird feeders. The usual customers are waiting: black-capped chickadees, tufted titmice, and American goldfinches. As I fill a tube-feeder, I hear a high-pitched zip -- almost like a coat zipper that is being pulled up. I shout out loud, “I know that sound!” To my delight, a small flock of pine siskins are also waiting for a seed refill!

The pine siskin (Carduelis pinus) is a small finch-like songbird that is commonly found in the northern provinces of Canada during the breeding season. Siskins are known as “irruptive species,” which means they will occasionally migrate south into the United States if food availability is low up north during winter months. The best way to see a pine siskin would be to place multiple feeders in your yard filled with sunflower seed or thistle. These winter visitors will usually join a flock of goldfinches in their search for food, which can make it difficult to distinguish them. What you should look for is a goldfinch wearing a pin-stripe suit. Siskins have a distinct striped belly and back, as well as hints of bright yellow on their wings and tail. They also have a very thin, pointed bill which makes it easy to pull seeds from wild thistle plants or your feeder.

Even though the winter months are cold and sometimes longer than we’d like, there are always opportunities to see rare winter visitors. So fill up your feeders, grab your binoculars, and enjoy what winter has to offer! (Photo above by VINS volunteer Bob Heitzman.)

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Best of Luck, Young Loon!

This time of year, most of the waterbirds whose songs we've savored over the summer months have long since left for warmer waters. Loons -- one of my favorite birds of summer -- have vacated Vermont to head to the ocean waters of the lower New England coast.

Watch a video of the loon's release!

Well, except for one particular young loon I came upon Christmas Eve. I had received
a call from Poultney on the 24th that a loon was stumbling through the snow in a person's yard. "It couldn't be," I thought to myself. But sure enough, a VINS volunteer picked up the struggling bird and brought it to my home that night. It was indeed a loon. And a huge one at that!

Loons, if they accidentally land on a surface (someone's lawn, a parking lot, etc.), cannot take off for flight. Their bodies are designed so that they can take off to fly from water, and from water only. Many loons become "grounded" when they land on the ground, and must be carried to water so they can fly.

On Christmas morning, I
brought the loon to work with me and examined him with the help of a VINS volunteer. I was happy to find this juvenile loon quite healthy: no fractures, no parasites, no emaciation, no feather damage, no head trauma. This young bird was the picture of health -- he had just been grounded, and now needs to fly himself down south before the rivers freeze here in Vermont! Many first-year birds (meaning born this spring) have a tough time learning the ropes of survival. Hunting, fishing, migration and avoiding predators -- while instinctual to a degree -- are skills perfected over time. Many first-years aren't skilled enough to make it to their second year alive. And I believe that's what was going on with this loon.

So later that day, me and four VINS volunteers (who graciously helped me with my animal care duties on the holiday) went down to a large opening on the Connecticut River, and bid this loon farewell.
See our video
. He swam off well, and we wish him the best of luck in migration.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

A Little Christmas Cheer

Happy Holidays! This brightly colored fellow came into Wildlife Services on December 17 after being found on the Middlebury College campus, unable to fly. We found that his right wing was drooping and missing feathers, which made us suspect that a cat had done the damage. He has undergone treatment to prevent infection caused by cat bite and is wearing a bandage to stabilize the injured wing. When his wing heals, we'll test his flight to see if he's ready to return to the wild.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Lucky Duck!

After more than a month of rehabilitation, our female mallard recovered from lead poisoning and was ready to be released into the wild. We asked for your help and you delivered: multiple callers and Facebookers responded with ideas of local mallard populations that our duck could join.

The one we picked ended up being the perfect spot: the junction of two rivers with a resident mallard population. After a few moments of tentative paddling, our duck spotted a group of mallards across the river, and with a few loud quacks, she flew off to join them. Thank you to everyone that called in and wrote on our
Facebook wall with suggestions! Watch the mallard release here.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Look For It Now: Wing Tracks

When birds land and take off in the snow they can leave behind more than just footprints. Whether you have three feet of snow or just a dusting, as we do in Quechee at the moment, you can find these lovely signs in the snow. Look for the delicate little lines where their wings flapped to help them get off the ground. Check on the ground near your feeder or under conifer trees where birds forage for food, and look closely for these exquisite little tracks in the snow.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Got Mallards? We Need Your Help!

The VINS Wildlife Services department needs your help! We have a female mallard in our care who is ready to return to the wild. Problem is, we don't want to send her off on her own!

Do you know of any mallard populations in Vermont's Upper Valley, or within a 1/2-hour drive of Quechee? We'd like to get this gal a posse to hang with, as ducks are social animals and we do not feel she'd fend well on her own. Returning her to where she was found is not an option, so we're putting feelers out to see if anyone has the scoop on local ducks.

This mallard made a complete turnaround from when she was first brought into our care weak, emaciated and on death's door. We discovered the poor girl had swallowed a lead sinker (from a fishing line) and was suffering from lead poisoning. We got the sinker out, got the lead out, have fattened her up, and she's now eager to return to the wild.

If you have mallard ducks frequenting your local river or lake, please let us know -- we'd like to get get our gal in with your group. You can reach the Wildlife Services department at (802) 359-5000, ext. 212, or email me, Meghan Oliver, at Thank you for your help!

January 6, 2011 - After more than a month of rehabilitation, our female mallard recovered from lead poisoning and was released into the wild. View our latest entry - Lucky Duck!

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

All Owls, All the Time

These days, it seems as though our incoming patients are all barred owls, all the time. In the past month, the VINS Wildlife Services department has received 15 injured barred owls, making us wonder if we'll have a repeat of the winter of 2007-08.

During that winter, VINS received more than 40 (yes, forty! That's
four-zero!) barred owl patients. The owls were coming in emaciated, hypothermic and sometimes with head trauma or other injuries. A low vole population further north brought many Canadian barreds down to Vermont to scrounge for food, making it a competitive hunting season for local owls. Add that scenario to our super-deep snowfall (we got more than 100 inches that winter), and all owls were having a tough time punching through the snow to grab the critters moving below.

Well, there's no serious snow accumulation as of yet in Vermont's Upper Valley, so we're a bit curious as to why we're seeing so many barred owls. These birds are all coming to us for the same reason: hit by a car. We're splinting legs, wrapping broken wings, bandaging wounds and treating head trauma galore. No matter the reason, we're happy to give these downtrodden birds a hand to get them back on the wing.

So far this year, VINS has admitted 476 injured, ill and orphaned birds into our rehabilitation department! That's nearly a record for us, and the year's not over yet. Please consider making a donation to support our work to help injured birds return to the wild. And thank you!

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Raptor Research at VINS

One of the ways VINS motivates people to care about the environment is through research. Recently, Tufts grad student Jana Thomas came to VINS’ Wildlife Services Department to record data on raptors for her Master’s thesis. Below, she summarizes her project. In the photos, VINS intern Katie Christman (right) assists Thomas in handling our red-tailed hawks.

By Jana Thomas
Tufts graduate student

I'm working on a Masters project with veterinary medicine program at Tufts University, trying to improve the options available to us for pain management in birds. Our project investigates pain management from both the behavioral and the neurological angle, with a special focus on red-tailed hawks.

The behavioral component is what we came to VINS to work on. We are using a holistic model of testing that first looks at normal behavior and then at how that behavior changes in painful or non-painful states. This includes behaviors like grooming, normal motion, vocalization, etc. There are differences in what a normal behavior is between species: for some animals, being healthy and comfortable means being calm and not moving much, while for other animals, a healthy individual will be more active. In a crow, for example, you might expect a healthy bird to be curious and constantly in motion, while we think of healthy red-tailed hawks as being more tranquil. We need to quantify these behaviors, however, to actually have any grounds for investigation.

To obtain a control animal for normal behavior of birds in a non-painful state, I went to VINS. I spent two days there videotaping normal behavior of two resident red-tailed hawks. Because these red-tails experience human handling and changes in their environment on a regular basis, we would expect them to be relatively unstressed by these events. My video recordings therefore show the normal behavior of a healthy red-tail in captivity. We'll compare this data from VINS to recordings of injured and recovering birds at the Tufts Wildlife Clinic, and are hoping to ultimately construct a system where we can use behavioral scoring to assess pain status. This would also allow us to quantify relief from pain, since effective pain management typically restores pain-related behaviors to normal behaviors. It's an ambitious project and may not be completed this year, but we are grateful to VINS for letting us use their red-tails for our research!

Friday, November 26, 2010

How Many People Does It Take...

... to feed a cormorant?

On the eve of Thanksgiving, a double-crested cormorant was found on a road in Springfield, VT -- certainly no place for a waterbird. The bird was likely struck by a car, given the signs
of head trauma and the internal bleeding. The cormorant is slightly thin and has wounds on both his right wing and foot.

Although the bird is more vibrant and active than when he first arrived at VINS, he is still struggling to recover. We're currently feeding the cormorant a fish slurry, which entails blending a whole fish in the blender and straining out the large bones (yuck!). It makes for a pretty stinky task for staff here to do, but it's a nutritious and appropriate meal for this fish-loving bird. The bird is still too weak to eat on his own, so tube-feeding him slurry is the way to go.

In the above photo, Wildlife Services staff handles the cormorant to tube-feed him. Below, Americorps member Jessamy Schwartz holds the bird for his injection of vitamin K.

Tubing this guy can be challenging. He's got a long, wiggly neck that writhes around when we try to place a tube into it, so we often find it takes three people to get the job done: one to hold the bird, another to hold open the beak and control the neck, and a third to do the actual tubing. Watch staff tube-feed the cormorant in our video.

In time, we hope to start feeding the cormorant his diet of choice -- live, whole fish -- and eventually get him healthy and back to his home on the water.

Training Time

By Katie Christman
VINS Education Intern

Have you ever wondered what it takes to get a dog to fetch, your kids to pick up their dirty laundry, or VINS' birds to fly in our educational programs? Well it has to do with some positive reinforcement, a lot of patience, and a willing subject.

In the photo, VINS staff Noella Girard (left) and Kasey Hopkins practice "V-jumps" with our educational harris' hawk. The hawk jumps up from the perch (bottom right) up to the gloved hand of an educator, and is rewarded with food. Watch a video of this hawk in flight training earlier this year.

Now that we’re deep into November, the busy seasons of summer and “leaf peeping” have gone and training season has come. This is our opportunity to work on improving and fine-tuning our educational programs, and to continue to maintain the behaviors that our ed birds have learned throughout the year. Our education birds get a break from the hustle and bustle routine of the summer and fall, yet we want to make sure that their lives are continually enriched throughout the year.

So what does training a wild bird look like? Well, first it’s important to recognize that training starts with the human first! Knowing the natural history of the birds at VINS helps guide our interactions and responses to the birds with which we’re working.
When we start training a bird, food is a great positive reinforcement. (Food works great for both animals and humans!) We know -- and our birds know -- that they want to eat. If they do a certain behavior, for instance, fly to our glove, they’ll get a piece of food. If they do an unwanted behavior, (if they don’t fly to our glove, for example), then we don’t reward them with food.

Sounds simple, right? Not always! Some birds need to be challenged more than others and pick up skills more quickly. A well trained harris’ hawk for example can learn a new skill in a week. Other birds like the owls will sit and wait for 10 or more minutes until they take that food (their positive reinforcement). How a bird responds to training has much to do with their natural history behaviors and the patience of their human trainer.

It is our diligence that keeps these birds active, responsive, and stimulated that makes them such wonderful ambassadors of wildlife in our educational programs. And though our busy season may be over, there are still plenty of educational programs featuring our live birds (and other critters and subjects) every day at VINS. Check our web site's calendar for more info!

Sunday, November 21, 2010

The Road to Recovery

By Katie Koerten
VINS Wildlife Services Intern

Vehicle collisions are the number one cause of admissions to our rehab facility at VINS. Otherwise healthy birds can sustain broken bones, head trauma and a host of other problems this way, and the prognosis is not always good.

The nitty gritty: watch a video of the owl's wound care. The photo above shows how the owl looked when he first arrived at VINS.

For one barred owl, life was looking pretty grim upon his arrival at VINS: not only did he have head trauma, but internal bleeding and soft tissue wounds too. Most worrisome, however, was the fact that he couldn't see, and as we all know, a barred owl that can't see is an owl that can't hunt. But we had hope; and since there were no troubling broken bones or other apparent severe internal injuries, we had good reason to remain optimistic about this owl.

We addressed the head trauma, vision loss and internal bleeding with homeopathic medicine and gave him a dose of anti-inflammatory to deal with any pain. His soft tissue wounds were of concern as they were large and vulnerable to infection. But in order to appropriately examine them, the owl would need to be anesthetized, which requires the patient to be in stable condition. Judging by his closed eyes, listless manner and the fact that he wasn't standing on his own, he wasn't there yet.
Before long, though, things were looking up. In just a few days, the owl was standing on his own, wide-eyed and alert. Best of all he was responding to our movement, indicating his vision was back, at least partially. Since he was stable, we could begin to care for the wounds on his wings. See the owl's wound get cleaned and bandaged in our video.

For now, the owl is receiving daily wound care as we continue to monitor his eyesight and overall health. We hope in time he'll return to the wild an active, able-bodied barred with full vision.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

A Webbed Farewell

It's not all forest-loving birds sporting talons and sharp beaks here: sometimes patients come to VINS fresh from the shore on webbed feet.

In late September, the Wildlife Services department welcomed a ring-billed gull into its care. The bird was found sitting in the middle of the road in St. Albans, VT.

In the photo, VINS Wildlife Keeper Sara Eisenhauer releases a ring-billed gull back into the wild. Watch a video of the release!

The bird came in to VINS thin, with mild head trauma, a broken blood feather, and a slight limp. While we can't say for sure what happened, we suspect he may have been struck by a car, given his grounding on the road.

After plumping the bird up and treating him for suspected nerve damage in his left leg, the gull spent some time in our outdoor flight cage where we could see this white-winged wonder do his thing. Here at VINS we're accustomed to seeing large raptors fly with muscled power back and forth in the flight cage, perch-to-perch. The gull, however, offered a nice change of scenery -- gracefully flapping his thin wings, hovering above us as he rode the wind and casually flew around, yellow legs dangling down.

On November 14, we released this gull back into the wild at a local lake known to have a gang of gulls frequenting its waters. See this fellow's triumphant flight back into the wild in our video.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Your Standard Red-Tail

Now this is how a red-tailed hawk is supposed to look: dark brown eyes, mottled brown feathers and a rusty red tail. Compare her to the leucistic red-tailed hawk seen recently in Vermont -- what a difference! See a video of the red-tail shown below being released.

Above, VINS Education Intern Katie Christman releases a red-tailed hawk.

This red-tail came to VINS after being found on the ground in a person's backyard. Upon exam, we found the hawk to be slightly thin with a bit of soft tissue damage. She was also missing a talon on her left foot. Our first thought was that perhaps the loss of a talon was effecting her ability to hunt, resulting in her losing a touch of weight. But after some care and recuperation, we were able to place this hawk in our flight cage and live prey test her. She's a beautiful flier, and had no problem hunting 3 live mice we placed in her enclosure. We suspect she probably flew into something or was struck by a car, resulting in her temporary grounding.

So after just a month of care, we sent this red-tail back to the skies. See her release here.

Friday, November 5, 2010

It’s a cormorant! It’s a loon! It’s a …

By Katie Koerten
VINS Wildlife Services Intern

Last week in Wildlife Services we were presented with every bird nerd’s dream: a mystery bird. Both the person who found the bird and the person who brought it to us were scratching their heads about what it could be.

Click here to see this mystery bird get released!

It was clearly a water bird, indicated by the long neck and placement of feet far back on its body. Its head shape and angle of its bill pointed suggested a loon or cormorant, however we quickly eliminated cormorant because our bird lacked the hook at the end of its bill. It had the long, pointed bill of a loon, yet its body seem
ed small, even for a juvenile loon. Its plumage was gray with little variation, and even a loon in winter plumage has distinct, albeit dull patterns on its feathers. Yet, our bird was aggressive, striking out with its beak when we tried to retrieve it from its carrier, and loons are notorious for being fierce in captivity.

However, one characteristic of this bird stood out among them all: its remarkable lobed toes. Unlike the webbed feet of a loon or duck, the feet of this bird had four separate toes, each one with wide lobes for paddling through the water. These feet belonged to none other than a grebe, and judging from the yellowish beak and all-over gray plumage, a red-necked grebe in its first year. Later, this grebe will develop a rusty red throat, but for now its neck was only slightly pink. In Vermont, red-necked grebes are migrants, passing through on their way to winter nesting sites.

After its examination we determined this bird to be healthy, but disoriented from being grounded during migration. Like loons, grebes can mistake our highways and parking lots for water during migration and try to land. Since their feet are placed so far back on their bodies, grebes are extremely awkward on land (some species are incapable of walking altogether!), and taking flight from the ground is nearly impossible. We decided this bird was ready for immediate release, and there, in the Connecticut River, the grebe displayed for us its special talents: swimming and diving. Once back in the water, it was a natural! Click here to watch a video of the grebe release.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

That's No Chicken

While the bird sitting in this chicken coop sure looks white and feathery like a chicken... that ain't no chicken. But this odd-looking bird was just what a local Vermonter found sitting in his coop the other day.

What you see there is actually a red-tailed hawk with leucism. A leucistic animal is similar to an albino in that there is a genetic mutation affecting pigmentation, but a leucistic animal maintains some normal coloring. So while this hawk's feathers have a reduced pigmentation (giving her the white feathers), her skin and eyes are normal in coloring. Albinism includes a complete or partial absence of normal pigments in the skin, eyes and hair (or fur or feathers).
If this hawk was albino, her skin would be pink and her eyes red. In the photos below, you can see the cere (skin above the beak) and feet are a nice, bright yellow -- standard hawk color. Her eyes are also a normal dark brown.

Hawks often work their way into chicken coops with great determination encouraged by a hungry belly. But getting back out of the coop is often tricky for them. Fortunately, the fellow who found this bird was able to release the hawk out of the coop (now shy one chicken), and she flew away.

Monday, November 1, 2010

A Mighty Flight

The juvenile bald eagle we released Friday is the talk of the town... and then some! Thanks to local and national media coverage, our eagle's release made the airwaves and print throughout the country.

Once considered an endangered species, it's big news when an eagle makes such a grand recovery.
In our video of the eagle's release on the Connecticut River in Vermont, VINS President John Dolan gives a little background on our raptor patient, while U.S. Fish and Wildlife's Sal Amato discusses the investigation into the bird's shooting. Vermont Fish and Wildlife's Wildlife BiologistJohn Buck, who was in attendance at the Oct. 28 event, was instrumental in coordinating the bird's release and is assisting the federal agency with the investigation.

See (and hear!) the eagle flap his enormous wings as VINS staff members Sara Eisenhauer and Kasey Hopkins release the young male raptor back into his home: the wild. Enjoy!

Friday, October 29, 2010

Bald Eagle Takes Off

The VINS Wildlife Services team enjoyed a huge success yesterday, releasing a juvenile bald eagle from rehabilitation after the bird was shot back in September.

See news coverage of the bald eagle's release:

While we are always proud to see an injured bird we treat recover and fly off into the wild, the rarity of eagles as patients here at VINS combined with the unfortunate circumstances of his injury made his
comeback all the more spectacular.

The eagle, which came into our care
about 2 months ago, recovered from a fractured wing after being shot with a shotgun in Troy, VT. Shooting eagles is, of course, completely illegal, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife is leading an investigation into the matter with the aid of Vermont Fish & Wildlife.

The eagle was a wonderful patient, who dutifully ate his food each day and took to flying as soon as we moved him into his flight cage. The fracture in his wing -- now completely healed -- has not affected the eagle's flight ability, which is key to survival for a raptor.

Read more about our eagle and his care here, here, and here.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

A Day in the Life of an Ed Intern

By Katie Christman
VINS Education Intern

I’m typing this from my cubicle with a recycled corn husk desk, books on birds scattered everywhere and owl pellets to my left. From my window at VINS, I have the best view from any cubicle space that I have ever had. The meadow, full of asters, faded goldenrod and grasses, is a rolling sea of color in the wind.

I’ve only been here for about one month, but I’ve already fallen into the daily work routine. I have to tell you, though, as an education intern I don’t view what I do as “work.” What I "do" is a learning experience that not only enriches the lives of the people (and birds) that live and visit here, but greatly enriches my life, as well. This daily routine is not always routine, and is often full of surprises, new experiences and the excitement that bubbles from not just the staff members here, but from the visitors and the birds!

As an education intern, I work with our educational birds, presenting programs to the public. Some days are full of visitors from abroad intrigued about our local birds, while other visitors interested in Vermont’s autumn foliage decide to drop by our nature center. You’ll rarely find a day that our education harris’s hawk doesn’t like to chase his fake rabbit lure or that our education turkey vulture doesn’t like to be out basking in the sun. And if meet our great horned owl, you might get a chance to listen to him call to a wild great horned owl that often visits the woods at VINS.

If you’ve never been to VINS, I encourage you to come and take a look. Come and see what I am lucky enough to see every day -- and expect the unexpected.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Fierce Predator of the Night

When people first see a saw-whet owl, their initial reaction is usually an exaggerated "awwwww," similar to how one might respond to seeing a fuzzy kitten playing with a ball of yarn. There's no doubt about it: saw-whets are adorable. Watch a video of this owl!

But while these owls are tiny in stature, they have all the same characteristics of the big guys, like great-horned owls and great gray owls. Saw-whets have the disc-shaped face (to funnel sound into their big ears), large, all-seeing eyes, and silent flight. Their beaks and talons may be minuscule next to those of a great-horned, but they can still hunt with the best of them, capturing mice, vole and other critters roaming the night.

The VINS Wildlife Services department recently received a saw-whet owl into care. The owl, found by a local woman in her garden, sustained a fracture in his left wing. We suspect the owl was struck by a car, or perhaps temporarily caught in the garden fence. The wing is currently wrapped to allow time for the bones to grow back together. See our video of this adorable (but fierce!) hunter of the night. Listen to him as he claps his beak. Owls clap their beaks open and shut to appear threatening. When the great-horned owls do it, it's quite intimidating. When the saw-whets do it, it's just darn cute.

In the photos above, the saw-whet is taken out of his enclosure to be weighed by wildlife keeper Sara Eisenhauer.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Moving Right Along

The bald eagle currently in our care after being shot with a shotgun is one step closer to the possibility of returning to the wild. See a video of the eagle being released into our flight cage.

On Friday, we moved the eagle from his indoor enclosure into our large, outdoor flight cage. The fracture site in his right wing has completely healed, and he's due for some exercise an
d fresh air. There he will exercise and regain his strength, and we'll be able to see how the shotgun blast may have altered his flight.

He took his first flight -- albeit a bit wobbly -- when Wildlife Services staff members released him from their arms into the enclosure. We were delighted to see this large raptor spread his wings and take flight with a few powerful flaps. See for yourself in our video! In the photos below, the eagle is released into the flight cage by VINS Wildlife Services staff members.

Read more about this eagle's story here and here.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

A Fine Balance: Weighing an Eagle

Weighing a wild bird can be a challenge, but it is an important way for rehabilitators to monitor a bird's health. We can see if she's losing weight (which may indicate the bird is not eating enough, or has internal parasites), or if she's gaining too much weight by eating too much. Watch a video of VINS staff weighing a bald eagle.

Birds must be calm enough to lay perfectly still on the scale so you can get an accurate reading. The handler must be able to completely let go of the bird and trust that the bird will lie still at least long enough to get a reading on the weight.

Weighing raptors presents a special challenge. Not only do you have to calm the bird (usually by covering their head), but you've got to watch out for those knife-like talons, which can really get to thrashing!

One of our newest patients is so large, he must be weighed on a special scale. Luckily, calming this giant is made so much easier by using a leather hood for his head. Once we tie that hood on, the eagle becomes so calm, he falls asleep! Imagine that: a powerful bald eagle asleep like a babe in my arms. Once he's in his relaxed state, laying him down on the scale is a cinch. See for yourself in our video of this bald eagle's weighing.

Our bald eagle's weight is spot-on. We weigh him about twice a week to keep tabs on him. He's eating well and will be moved into our flight cage soon. Read more about this special patient here.

Look For It Now: Witch Hazel

Witch hazel is a gem of a tree. The unique petal structure of the flowers and explosive pod-like fruits are only part of the shrub's allure. Witch hazel (Hamamelis virginiana) is so special because it is the last woody plant to flower, blossoming fully once the tree has dropped all its leaves. When the rest of the forest's flowers and trees have dulled to brown, you can count on witch hazel to brighten the autumn woods.

Witch hazel is a small deciduous tree with coarsely-toothed, alternating green leaves in the summer. The flowers, blooming now through November, are spider-like and mostly yellow, with four petals that grow in clusters. The fruit is a seed capsule that will shoot out seeds up to 20 feet, giving witch hazel the alternate name of snapping hazel.

Witch hazel has medicinal properties and is used in homeopathic form (under the name Hamamelis) by the VINS Wildlife Services department to treat internal bleeding in wild birds.

Fall is here and the witch hazel is blossoming: head outside and look for it now! Photo by Jared Clark.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Bald Eagle Receiving Care

The VINS Wildlife Services department is currently treating a juvenile bald eagle, who was found grounded in Vermont's Northeast Kingdom Sept. 5.

See local news coverage of our eagle patient:


The bird was transported to VINS, and upon examination we found the eagle to have a fracture in his right wing. We also noted a splattering of blood on the underside of each of his wings, which led us to suspect he may have been shot. We took the eagle to Kedron Valley Veterinary Clinic (Woodstock, VT) for x-ray, and found indeed the eagle had been shot with a shotgun. In the x-ray, the shot shows up as small white circles -- there's no mistaking it. One piece of shot in particular is clearly the culprit of the fracture.

We immediately wrapped the eagle's wing to allow his fracture to heal properly. The wrap was removed after 2 weeks' time, and we found the wing to have healed nicely. The fracture -- though healed -- is still a bit fragile, so for now the eagle, which we believe to be male based on his size, is indoors in a smaller enclosure. Eventually he will be moved into our outdoor flight cage, where we can monitor his flight and see if his injuries have altered his flight ability. The eagle is eating heaping portions of fish and other meat daily. He is feisty, alert and bright-eyed -- all promising signs for a return to the wild.

Please check back here for updates, video footage of the eagle and to learn more about his daily care here at the Vermont Institute of Natural Science.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Another Shot at Life

This Canada goose was brought to VINS August 24, spotted by a member of the public who noticed the bird was unable to fly.

The bird came to us emaciated and weak, but with no apparent injuries. We suspected lead poisoning might be the problem and upon x-ray, the VINS Wildlife Services department found the bird to b
e riddled with bird shot (see photo; x-ray courtesy of Kedron Valley Veterinary Clinic in Woodstock, VT), including a pellet from a pellet gun we believe contained lead. Luckily, the lead pellet was not in the bird's gizzard, which would have caused severe lead poisoning. We did treat the bird for lead, and also with several medications to treat his heavy parasite load (most wild birds carry parasites).

After some rest, relaxation and plenty of eating, the goose was back to health. We released him back into the wild Sept. 17. You can see photos of his release below. Good luck, goose! Photos by VINS volunteer Chiara Centrangolo.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Owls Hit the Big Screen

At VINS, we already know owls are cool. So it was no surprise many of the staff here got more than a little excited when word of Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga'Hoole got out. This animated film, which opens today, is about a group of kidnapped owls who join forces to save their kingdom.

To celebrate the opening of this film, VINS' staff and our education barn owl (pictured above) will be at the premier of the movie at the Lebanon, N.H. Entertainment Cinemas 6 on Saturday, Sept. 25, 6:45-7:15 p.m. The movie follows at 7:25 p.m. Staff will be giving discounted VINS' admission tickets (where you can see all sorts of owls!) to the public. Click here for more information.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Grown & Gone

One of the orphaned northern harriers brought to VINS in August was released back into the wild last Friday. We released her in northern Vermont, full of open land with rodents aplenty.

While in our care, this harrier doubled in size and left a stunning, full-grown raptor. She spent time in our flight cage building up her flight muscles and hunting for live
mice in her enclosure. We live-prey test our raptors before releasing them to the wild to ensure they can hunt and survive on their own once out of our care.

You may remember this harrier came to VINS with a sibling. Unfortunately, the sibling did not come to us in as good health as the other -- presenting thinner and weaker -- and did not survive.

With migration season upon us, this hawk will instinctively migrate to a warmer climate, leaving the cold Vermont winter behind. She'll head to southern parts of the United States, or perhaps as far as Central or South America. Photos by VINS volunteer Chiara Cetrangolo.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Update: Great-horned Owl

The great-horned owl that came to VINS drenched in whey is still receiving care from the Wildlife Services department. The owl's feathers have been cleaned of whey, but we are still contending with a wound on one of her wing tips.

The wound is regularly cleaned and debrided of dead tissue to encourage new tissue growth, which hopefully will allow the wound to fully heal. This particular owl is a tough customer, and she is adamant about ripping
off the bandages we put on her wing tip. This is problematic as we do not want to expose her wound to further infection. After trying all sorts of methods to keep the bandage on her, we finally settled on duct tape -- definitely not a common tool here in the Wildlife Services department, but it works. The duct tape does not come in contact with the owl's wound -- it merely holds the bandage in place (which is no small feat with such a nitpicky bird).

The owl was recently moved to a larger enclosure, is eating well and is maintaining a bright and feisty attitude -- all good things. Check back for more updates on this big girl.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Look For It Now: Banded Garden Spider

Autumn is nipping at this summer's heels, but don't put your field guides away just yet! There's still time to take in plenty of flora and fauna in our own backyards. The meadow here at VINS is full of bright and hardy flowering plants and flowers. Canada goldenrod (Solidago canadensis) and great lobelia (Lobelia siphilitica) are growing tall over the soft flowers of rabbit-foot clover (Trifolium arvense).

Suspended in-between these late-summer flowers is the banded garden spider (Argiope trifasciata), of which our meadows are full. This garden spider is found hanging head-down it is web, which she will weave east-west between stems and reeds.

The female has yellow-silver striping on her back. She has a dark abdomen, which she will usually face south toward the sun -- important for this late-summer arthropod during the cooler weather. The male is smaller and not as frequently seen. The female will deposit her egg cocoon in her web in early fall, with hundreds of spiderlings emerging next spring.

You'll find these fantastic spiders until the
first freeze. The cold weather is coming: look for the banded garden spider now! (Photos clockwise from top left: banded garden spider, rabbit-foot clover and great lobelia.)