Friday, February 26, 2010

The Smallest of Splints

While being bitten by a cat is far from pleasant, it's even more of a drag if you're a bird. If you are a bird and a cat sinks its teeth into your feathered flesh, you are at risk of dying even from a tiny bite. Why? Well, there are bacteria in a cat's saliva that are toxic to birds. So even a small bite can be lethal to our flying friends. Watch a video of this northern cardinal!

However, with proper and quick treatment, birds can be saved from an untimely death. A good wound cleaning and a course of antibiotics often do the trick.

Above, VINS staff members work on removing a splint from a cardinal's leg.

In January, VINS Wildlife Services received a northern cardinal that had been attacked by a cat. In addition to the bite itself, the bird had a fractured bone in its left leg. We started the bird on an antibiotic, and splinted the leg... using a very tiny, tiny, tiny splint. A cardinal's leg, after all, is not much thicker than a toothpick.

The cardinal's splint remained on its leg for about 2 weeks before being removed. The bone was healing, but needed more time, so the splint was replaced. Finally, after 3 weeks, the splint was removed and the bone successfully healed. The bird is eating well and will soon be moved to our outdoor songbird aviary to build up muscle strength. Happily, this ruby red gem will likely return to his proper place in the wild.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Climate Change & You

UPDATE : Due to severe weather this event is rescheduled for March 18th, 7:00-8:30.

Ian Miyashiro, VINS Staff

The topic of climate change can evoke strong emotions in people. Denial, fear, hope, panic and inspiration are just a few emotions I experience every time I read a report, a magazine or watch one of Al Gore’s talks on climate change. The world is changing around us in more ways than many of us care to imagine, and one of the biggest changes ahead we can point to and observe is our changing climate.

Statistically, the per person emissions of carbon dioxide for each United States citizen is more than 3.5 times that of the rest of the world. There are simple things everyone can do to reduce our impact on the environment. Recycling, buying and eating locally, and even simply switching to compact fluorescent light bulbs can make a significant difference in what our future will look like.

Join us on Wednesday, February 24 at 7 p.m. at the VINS Nature Center in Quechee, Vermont for Climate Change and You, the first in a series of adult education programs focused on understanding nature in your own backyard. We will review the facts, the projections and predictions, and discuss what will change in our home state. The goal of this program is to foster hope and recognize that we can and are making a difference for the environment. For more information visit our website at

UPDATE : Due to severe weather this event is rescheduled for March 18th, 7:00-8:30.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

A Clear Prognosis

Like wolves, red-tailed hawks seem to have a spirit that's both majestic and dignified, symbolizing their status of royalty in the wild. Their large size, powerful flap and graceful soar make them a delight to spot for birders and non-birders alike.

In early February, the VINS Wildlife Services team received a call about a red-tailed hawk sitting in a field. The hawk, when approached by a passer-by, tried to walk away, but could not fly. The bird was brought into our care for a close evaluation.

While we could see one of the hawk's wings was drooping a bit, there were no broken bones or wounds to indicate a specific problem. As a healthy wing would not droop or hang limp, we suspected possible nerve damage and prescribed a homeopathic to treat it.

Above, VINS staff Audrey Gossett (left) and Noella Girard administer fluids orally to a red-tailed hawk.
Watch a video of this hawk being treated here.

In three days' time, the bird's prognosis was clear. It was nerve damage, and unfortunately it was more severe than we knew and beyond our help. We knew the nerve destruction was quite severe as the dear bird began to chew on her own wing with her beak. Often when animals lose sensation of a limb -- due to an injury such as nerve damage -- they try to get rid of the limb as it is useless and dragging it a hindrance. As soon as we saw this happening, we knew we needed to end the bird's suffering and chose to humanely euthanize the hawk. Not every bird we see can return to full health, but we take heart in knowing that we ended what could have been a long period of suffering for this red-tailed hawk had it remained without help in the wild.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

1 Blue Jay, 2 Goldfinches, 3 Chickadees...

Take Part in the Great Backyard Bird Count!
By Sara Eisenhauer, VINS Wildlife Keeper and Educator

Birding is a passion of mine. From early childhood to adulthood, it has never faltered. Hearing the sweet call of the song sparrow in spring or the chattering of a black-capped chickadee in the winter warms my heart. Birding in winter, however, can be a challenge. Once the first snowfall occurs, many birds have migrated south. So who is still around? How can we find these winter residents? One of the best ways to enjoy our winter fauna is to create a bird-friendly habitat.

Downy woodpecker at suet feeder. Photo by John J. Mosesso.

I placed my feeders outside in December. I stocked up on black-oil sunflower seed and thistle. I added a suet cake to the collection. Then I waited… and waited… and waited! It can take a few weeks before birds will realize the bounty you have laid out. Black-capped chickadees were the first on the scene, taking one seed at a time, hanging upside down from the feeders: typical chickadee-style. Tufted titmice came next. American goldfinches flocked to the thistle, dressed in their olive-green winter attire. Blue jays would fly in like missiles; grab a beak-full of seed, then fly off to stash their bounty for later consumption. White-breasted nuthatches, tree sparrows, dark-eyed juncos, and mourning doves dined as well. To my delight, I had established a winter birding haven, right outside my kitchen windows.

Bringing birds to your own backyard is easy, if you create a safe habitat for them and supply the right foods. From homemade suet cakes to pine cone feeders, there are a lot of possibilities! Learn all about your options for attracting backyard birds at VINS, February 13 and 14, as we celebrate the Great Backyard Bird Count. Become a citizen scientist by partaking in this international event, and learn about feeding birds in your own backyard, tips on creating your own feeders and suet, what food birds prefer, and more. Please visit our web site at for details on this special event.