Friday, August 27, 2010

These boots were made for walkin'!

Now I have seen many an odd thing in my day -- but boots for a sparrow? Why, I never thought I'd see the day.

Alas, a young song sparrow in our care needed some corrective footwear to prevent his feet from curling inwards. We believe the bird has a genetic growth deformity where his feet and toes are bending in, preventing him from perching. Perching is essential to a songbird's survival in the wild -- they must be able to wrap their toes around tree branches where they live and fly to to escape predators. Sometimes they use their toes to hold seeds while they peck the seeds apart with their beak.

So we fitted the sparrow with boots that hold his feet flat. We hope the sparrow's boots will in time help uncurl his feet and prevent further damage, allowing him to return to the wild (sans boots, of course).

Are you ready boots? Start walking!

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

An Osprey Takes the Plunge

By David Deen for The Outside Story
Illustration by Adelaide Tyrol

Flyfishing from a canoe in a small headwater pond at the tippity-top of the Connecticut River is usually a quiet experience. That’s why the sudden splash caused me to turn my head just in time to see an osprey struggling up out of the water and into the air.

My first thought was that the bird had misjudged its attempt at a fish, splashing down instead of plucking the fish out of the water. The bird quickly flew up about 25 feet above the water and began to half fly, half hover in a circle. Before long it made a second, wings folded, headlong dive for the water. But instead of expanding its wings and grasping acrobatically with its talons for the fish, the bird went headfirst into the water.

If you are as ignorant as I was about the osprey’s fishing technique, you might think this particular bird had a technique problem. I imagined it must have given itself a throbbing headache from smacking into the water at full speed diving for a fish. All for nothing.
Continue reading this article.

The VINS Nature Blog will run excerpts from current articles in Northern Woodlands' "The Outside Story" periodically to enhance our nature offerings to our readers.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Deadly Oil

A fledgling American robin had a rough start and end to life, landing in an open container of motor oil during what must have been one of the first (and last) flights of his life. Although we tried washing the oil off the bird, the young robin died within a few days. The bird, who came in weak and drenched in oil, likely ingested the oil orally and through his skin, leading to his early death.

Watch a video of VINS staff washing the young, oiled robin.
In the photo, the bird sits in the box he was brought to VINS in, awaiting his

Cases like this, the great-horned owl we are caring for, and the recent gull patient remind us all what a tremendous effect humans have on the lives and well-being of wildlife. While death is part of nature, many deaths are a direct result of careless human action. A robin getting attacked by a wild cooper's hawk, for example, is part of nature. A robin dying from landing in an open container of motor oil, however, is not natural. It is important for us all to think about how what we do and how we live affect the living creatures around us.
  • Pesticides & Other Poisons. The National Audubon Society estimates 7 million songbirds die from exposure to pesticides each year. Look at the label on the pesticide you may be using on your lawn and garden. It may state that it is "lethal" to birds. If so, don't use it. There are alternatives.
  • Cats. Have a cat? Help prevent the hundreds of millions of migratory birds killed for sport every year by pet cats (who do not need to eat birds to survive) by keeping your cat indoors. The American Bird Conservancy's Cats Indoors! campaign has information on how to make your outdoor feline a happy indoor kitty.
  • Motor Oil & Cooking Oil. Containers of oil must be covered when not in use or when discarded, as birds who land in them can drown. Oil ruins feather structure and prevents flight (which will eventually cause death if not cleaned off feathers). Oil also may cause illness and death to birds who inadvertently consume it.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

The Perils of Ground Nesting

Recently, VINS received two juvenile northern harriers into care after their nest had been destroyed. Northern harriers are hawks who can be found soaring low over open fields in search of mice and other rodents.

Harriers are ground-nesters, and come haying season in Vermont, the offspring of any ground-nesters (also including such birds as bobolinks and killdeer) have a heck of a time surviving the blades and wheels of balers and other farming equipment. In this case, the farmer's equipment disrupted the nest, but left the two juvenile harriers unscathed. However, without the tall grass around to act as natural protection to predators, the parents flew off and the young were left in the great wide open to fend for themselves.

The farmer called VINS for help, and we took the young hawks in and have been caring for them the past three weeks. The birds are quite big now, and are in an outdoor enclosure where they can practice flying short distances from branch to branch. Soon, they will be moved into the large flight cage where they will take their first true flights in preparation for their return to the wild.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Look For It Now: White Wood Aster

This late-summer native flower looks almost like an early snowfall dusting the forest floors of Vermont. You can find white wood aster (Eurybia divaricata) sprinkled about edges of the woods, growing 1 to 3 feet tall. The flower has white rays encircling a yellow center that reddens over time. The plant's leaves have a narrow heart shape to them, with serrated edges. Look for white wood aster blooming now through September and early October.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Small & Sweet

Sometimes the patients that come to VINS are small. And sometimes, they are unbelievably small! Black-capped chickadees, ruby-crowned kinglets and American goldfinches are in the "small" range. But ruby-throated hummingbirds blow all other birds out of the water with their tiny, tiny, tiny size.

A hummingbird weighs around 3 grams -- about equal to the weight of a sheet of a paper or two. Its small size and light weight is all well and good for buzzing about in search of insects and sweet flowers, but when you are a human trying to handle such a wee thing, it's tough! See our video to see how delicate we have to be when holding this fragile girl.

This female ruby-throated hummingbird came into our care with an injury to her left wing. A man found her on his porch, unable to fly. We wrapped the wing to the bird's body to stabilize the fracture site. Her bones are so small, it's hard to accurately detect the specific fracture site, but we believe based on her inability to fly and the way she holds her left wing, there's a break there.

We removed the wrap after a week's time, and found that the wing still droops a bit, so at this point we are unsure if the hummingbird will be able to fly again. We will keep a close eye on her, and continue to offer her nectar and wild flowers as we monitor her progress.