Wednesday, January 27, 2010

The Allure of the Wild

Many people crave a close connection to nature. The allure of wild animals freely roaming the land and the mystery of the deep, dark woods has a strong pull for many. Sometimes, that craving for a deep connection to what is wild takes a troubling turn.

Above, the northern cardinal in his mesh enclosure.
Watch a video of this cardinal!


All too often, the Wildlife Services department at VINS takes in birds who have been kept illegally by members of the public for days, weeks, months and even years. While in some cases, the person was just trying to help an injured bird and thought they were doing the right thing by keeping the bird in their care, other times people take in baby birds or injured birds and can't resist the temptation to keep the wild animal as a pet. This is both illegal (under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act) and cruel to the bird. While many people's hearts are in the right place when they take a bird into their care, they simply don't know the proper way to care for a wild bird. Wild animals must always be brought to licensed wildlife rehabilitators.

In December, a northern cardinal was brought to the VINS Wildlife Services department for care. The bright red bird spent five years in the home of a person unlicensed to care for wild birds. While this person indeed cared deeply for the bird, his actions ultimately prevented the bird from living a wild life.

The man had found the cardinal as a baby, and raised him on his own. While the bird's health is now stable, he did come with some nutritional deficiencies and of course, an inability to survive on his own in the wild. The cardinal is now on a natural diet, and when the current cold snap is over, he'll be moved to our outdoor songbird exhibit. The exhibit is a beautiful set-up for the public's viewing pleasure, complete with growing trees, perches, roost boxes and heat lamps. It currently includes one bohemian waxwing, one cedar waxwing, a pine grosbeak and two mourning doves.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

A Little TLC

We all need a little TLC now and again. For one saw-whet owl, TLC came in the form of gentle physical therapy from the trained staff at VINS. In early November, a saw-whet owl was found by a member of the public under a mailbox on the road. It is likely the bird was hit by a car, based on where she was found. The bird was initially treated by a local vet who applied a wrap to her right wing after finding two broken bones there.

Watch a video of this owl receiving physical therapy! In the photo above, intern Audrey Gossett performs physical therapy while the owl is under anesthesia.

The owl came into our care and after several weeks with the wing wrap on, we found the fracture to have healed. We removed her wing wrap, but after weeks of being held in one position the owl's wing was quite stiff.
We began physical therapy (PT) on the tiny raptor to help her loosen up her wing muscles and tendons, and allow the bones to gently shift back naturally into various positions.

If you've ever broken your leg or arm, chances are you endured weeks or months of PT to get your limb back in working condition. PT on a bird is no different. We performed weekly therapy sessions on the owl's wing, first putting the bird under anesthesia. The anesthesia helped the owl remain still and calm while we performed the therapy. PT may be painful to a bird as well, so putting the bird under may help dissolve some of the pain.

The owl's PT sessions are now over, and she is able to flex her wing as needed. Soon, we will move the saw-whet to an outdoor enclosure where we can evaluate her flight ability.

Remember the pileated woodpecker in our care? Watch a video of this feisty bird being weighed! And check out many more videos of our wild bird patients on the YouTube VINSWildlife Channel!

Friday, January 15, 2010

Back Home

Last month, the Wildlife Services department at VINS approved one of its patients, a barred owl, for release back into the wild. The owl, pictured below during its release, was found by a member of the public in November. The bird came in suffering from head trauma and damage to one of its eyes. The owl was most likely struck by a car.

VINS Wildlife Services staff member Meghan Oliver releases a barred owl back into the wild.
Watch a full video of the release here!


With the proper medical treatment and some "R & R" in our rehabilitation department, the owl returned to full health, proving both his flight skills and hunting ability in our flight cage. The flight cage is a large enclosure where we can place owls and other raptors to observe their flight and determine if they are ready to be returned to the wild. We "live prey test" our raptors, which involves placing rodents in the flight cage with a raptor to see if the bird can hunt. This particular barred owl successfully passed two live prey tests and was flying well, allowing us to release him out of rehab and back into his home in the wild.

Learn more about this owl's plight and enjoy a full video of the barred owl's release, by going here.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Looking to the Stars

By Hannah Putnam
Environmental Educator

In New England, sunny winter days turn into crisp nights with clear skies that are perfect for stargazing. I have been fascinated by the star-filled night sky ever since I was a child. One of the first constellations that I learned to identify was Orion, with his belt of three stars providing my young eyes with an easy reference point to orient myself.


There are many stories about the constellation we call Orion. Some people look up and see Orion the great hunter or archer who is fighting the nearby constellation, Taurus the Bull. Orion carries a club and a shield, and has a sword through his belt. Other people look up and see something totally different. For the Pawnee Indians of the Great Plains, the stars in the Orion constellation form the shape of three deer leaping across the sky. The Ojibwa see the Winter Maker who heralds the coming of many months of cold and snow.

The hunter Orion has a faithful companion in his dog Sirius, another constellation itself, known as Canis Major. Sirius is the brightest star in our skies, second only to our sun. It is blue-white and appears to sparkle when it is near the horizon because of the angle of its light passing through our atmosphere.

If you, like me, are fascinated by the mysteries of our night sky, join me at VINS as we present Looking to the Stars, a series of astronomy programs. We’ll delve into the depths of outer space and explore constellations, distant galaxies and planets. Under clear skies, we’ll be stargazing. Stories and interactive activities for all ages take place whether cloudy or clear. The first program takes place on Jan. 22 from 7:00 - 8:30 p.m. Future dates for Looking to the Stars include Feb. 12 and March 12. Pre-registration requested. The cost is $10 for VINS members, $12 for non-members. For registration and cancellation due to extreme winter weather, call (802) 359-5000, ext. 223

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Nature's Own Carpenter

There are few birds in Vermont with an appearance as striking as that of the pileated woodpecker. A crow-sized woodpecker, this bird is crowned with a shock of red feathers so bright they seem to glow. When a pileated raises that crest of red feathers, it's a spectacular sight. In nature, pileateds peck out huge, rectangular holes in trees that are so large other birds are often attracted to feed there.
On Christmas Eve, a female pileated woodpecker flew into a house window in Middlebury, VT. The owners of the home took the bird in, and kept her in their bathroom until they could get her to a rehabber. The homeowners said the bird "redesigned" the bathroom, which probably means she drilled the woodwork in the bathroom. She was just being a woodpecker! (We always recommend injured birds -- until they can get to a rehabilitator -- are placed in a box with adequate ventilation and kept in a quiet, dark room. Confining the birds to a box rather than in an open room will reduce the bird's stress level, while preventing it from flailing about and causing further injury.)

The bird came into our care Dec. 30. Upon examination, we found a fracture in her left wing. We also found the tip of her beak -- her very long, hard beak -- was a bit dull and not as pointy as most pileateds are. We treated the bird for head trauma and wrapped her wing to set her fractured bone. Soon, we'll remove her wing rap and evaluate the progress of her healing fracture. From there, we may choose to re-wrap the wing, or, if the fracture site feels firm, we may leave it off. If this bird progresses, we'll see her flying free again soon.

Monday, January 4, 2010

Master the 'Figure 8'

If you are a licensed rehabilitator, in the process of earning a rehab license, or are a VINS volunteer, please join the VINS Wildlife Services staff at our Workshops for Wildlife Rehabilitators. In this series of seven courses, you'll learn to perfect a "figure 8" wing wrap, plus much, much more.

The series, which begins Jan. 10 and runs through April, covers a variety of information pertaining to wild bird rescue and rehabilitation.

Participants may choose to attend some or all of the workshops, which include:
Jan. 10 Avian Anatomy & Physiology
Jan. 24 Avian Rescue & Transport
Jan. 31 Fluid Therapy & Emaciation Treatment
Feb. 7 Wound Management
March 7 Fracture Immobilization
March 28 Medications & Homeopathics
April 11 Baby Bird Care

During class, participants will work hands-on with medical materials (gauze, vet syringes, splints, etc.), and also with deceased bird specimens. VINS staff will assist students to be sure they understand the information and procedures taught in class.

Members of the public interested in learning how to rescue injured birds and transport them to VINS may attend the January 24 “Rescue and Transport” workshop at no charge.

For more information on each class, as well as costs, time and location, download a workshop flyer
or call (802) 359-5001, ext. 212.