Wednesday, March 30, 2011

A Fine Take-off

This barred owl, who came to VINS with head trauma after being struck by a car, made a fabulous dash out of his box upon release. The owl was treated for six weeks in VINS' rehabilitation department, and made a full recovery. In our video of the owl's release, the owl takes off out of the box in a flurry of feathers, but our video stills below really give you an idea of how beautiful an owl's movement can be. Enjoy the photos of VINS President John Dolan releasing the owl back into the wild!

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Old Crow Medicine

An American crow was recently admitted to the VINS Wildlife Services department, presenting with an oozing infection in both eyes we suspected to be conjunctivitis. He showed no other injuries.

In the photo above, VINS staff discuss the crow's ocular predicament after his initial exam. Below is a close-up of one of the infected eyes.

The crow was initially taken to a veterinarian who started the crow on an antibiotic ointment, which had no positive effect we could see. We
discontinued that treatment and began gently washing the eyes out daily, and started him on an anti-fungal medication. We had researched an herbal eye wash that might help soothe and clear the eyes, but unfortunately the crow's condition worsened before we could try the eye wash, and we made the decision to euthanize the bird. In addition to his infection worsening, he stopped eating, and we believed he was suffering greatly. While we were saddened we could not heal this bird, each bird offers us a learning experience to treat future patients the best we can.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

In Its Own Good Time

With spring just days away, it's a joy to see the earth transition into yet another season... in its own good time. The warmer March temperatures mixing with the cold Vermont earth make for some interesting sightings.

Softer snow means that birds and other critters can be tracked quite easily.
And snow melting off our roofs makes icicles that provide perches for clever chickadees.

While I've been counting down the days to spring since February began, someone reminded me this past weekend that winter will end when winter is ready to end. And spring will arrive right on time. While I dream about sighting my first trout lily of the spring, there's much to appreciate outside my home in this very moment -- slushy snow, fog, mud and all. Change can be good, but realizing that where you are right now is right where you're supposed to be can be even better.

In the photos above, a black-capped chickadee clings to an icicle on my roof overhang, and tracks of two mourning doves (above and left) walking side-by-side in my slushy driveway. Click on the photos for a larger view.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Luck Be a MODO Tonight

This mourning dove is one lucky guy. Based on the nature of his injuries, we suspect he was attacked by a cooper's hawk or similar bird, but managed to escape.

See a video of this dove's treatment.

The mourning dove (or "MODO," as abbreviated in the bird world) was found hiding out in a garage, likely trying to recover from the attack, and was brought in by the people who found him. (As a side note, if you ever see a wild animal attacking another wild animal, we never recommend breaking it up to try to "save" one of the animals. All animals need to eat and defend their territory; it's nature!)

Upon exam, we found the dove to have serious wounds to his right wing, and a large tear in the flesh on his head that exposed his skull. The tear on the scalp is quite large, and we have plans to stitch it up once the bird is a bit more stable. As you will see in our video, he was too weak to sustain anesthesia, so we will have to wait a few more days to put him under and get to stitching. The dove is also very thin, and has mild frostbite on several of his toes, which we are currently treating.

So for now, this little MODO needs some rest, food and a bit of luck to survive his serious injuries.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Farm Fresh Food -- At VINS Camps!

By Amanda Charland
VINS Camp Program Coordinator

I subscribe to the school of thought that food should be local, fresh, and simple. The best sandwich I’ve ever had – made while working on an organic farm here in Vermont -- followed all of these guidelines. It featured crusty local bread smeared with fresh garlic goat cheese, topped with a beautiful array of crisp greens and sun-sweetened peppers. Eaten under the sun in a field with birds swirling above and bees
buzzing by made it the world’s best sandwich!

This summer, VINS Nature Camps will feature The Nature of Food, a children’s camp session dedicated to really getting to know food.

It’s important to educate kids about eating well, and that learning should be fun. The food-lover and naturalist in me couldn’t imagine a better way to spend my day than on a farm: working outside, playing with the earth, knowing what’s healthy and eating fresh food from a garden that I grew on my own.
The taste is irresistible! That’s why I’m developing an exciting curriculum for our summer camp, The Nature of Food. Kids will learn to create a vegetable garden here at VINS, play games about plant growth, and visit a working farm. We will even make a trip to King Arthur Flour in Norwich to learn about milling grains and make our own delicious and nutritious treats!

You can find more information about The Nature of Food and our other awesome camps at

Thursday, March 3, 2011

The Numbers Are In

This year, the Vermont Institute of Natural Science helped more than 100 visitors actively identify and count wild birds as part of the Great Backyard Bird Count on Feb. 21.

The VINS team of VINS staff members and members of the public recorded a checklist tallying 7 different avian species, which was added to the 90,693 other lists submitted for the 4-day event. In total, 593 different species and 11,251,464 birds were seen in the United States and Canada.

For a proud "bird-nerd" like myself, the numbers alone are an impressive data-set, but in the hands of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and Audubon this information will lead to the greatest understanding of our bird populations ever. Now a 14-year project, scientists have a broader perspective of the changes in bird movements, range shifts, and population trends in reaction to the ever-changing world. This year the common redpolls, just 18 seen in Vermont for 2010, numbered over 5,000! This species (pictured with the more common American goldfinch) is an irruptive species, absent in some years and present in others, most likely owing their presence to certain weather patterns.

The bigger total observation numbers of the top species for the whole count could point to bigger changes on the horizon; 2010 saw 1.85 million robins, where this year the high count was just 1 million. The leader of 2011 was the starling, an introduced and invasive European species, which nearly tripled from last year with 1.36 million views. Perhaps this is a glimpse of an invasive bird taking over an environment not adapted to balance such a competitor, or just a yearly spike in numbers. Year-by-year changes in distribution and density help us truly understand how the environment is indeed changing. I look forward to next years data.

Thank you again to all the visitors and VINS staff and volunteers. Special thanks to West Lebanon Feed & Supply for the sunflower seed for the VINS’ birdfeeders! Photo by Bob Heitzman.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

This Is How It's Done

With so many barred owls in critical condition here in Wildlife Services, it is especially rewarding when one is ready to be released into the wild. One such owl was released at a local school last week after spending almost three months in our care!

Watch a video of this owl's silent flight here.

This particular barred owl stood out among our patients. With a shattered bone in his wing and severe head trauma, his prognosis was not good. Yet after keeping his wing stabilized for several weeks, it healed and the owl was ready to fly again. We put him in our large flight cage and to our delight, he flew like a dream! Not only did he get good lift and distance, but he was agile, able to effortlessly switch direction mid-flight. Furthermore, he was a good eater, making him an exemplary patient. Every afternoon around 3:30 we went out and put food on his feeding stump. He wasn't shy; before we turned to leave, he swooped down and snatched the food without hesitation!

In the video of this owl at feeding time, this owl demonstrates his excellent flying skills as well as an adaptation most owls have: silent flight. Its soft, broad wings and fringed feathers allow it to fly without making a sound. Silent flight allows owls to not only hunt without being heard, but to continue listening for prey as they are flying. Pay attention, all you barred owls: this, ladies and gentlemen, is how it's done.

The bottom photo, courtesy of Jeff Mornis, was taken at this owl's release.