Friday, July 29, 2011

Not So Baby Anymore

Have any parents out there woken up one morning and realized your "baby" is taller then you are? That must be how our foster owl has been feeling lately. Now that adulthood is creeping in, our fledgling eastern screech owl has grown in almost all her adult feathers and now weighs 193 grams! (That's 0.4 pounds, for those, like me, to whom grams make no sense). Overall, baby is flying well, has a very healthy appetite and is now 20 grams heavier than our adult.

Foster mom has stepped up big time, too. She is now very protective of her adopted youngster and puffs all up and makes a "scary owl" clicking noise with her beak to ward us off every time we go in their enclosure.

Working with injured wildlife we experience our share of hardships, but this little owlet has been one of the fun, incredibly rewarding projects that keeps us all coming back for more. Soon we will say goodbye to our little one and watch her swoop off on her own into the Vermont night.

Raptors, Raptors, Everywhere!

In the past month, we have had an influx of juvenile raptors here at the VINS rehabilitation center, and I wanted to share some snapshots!

The two youngsters to the left came in to VINS together after their nest was cut down by an unsuspecting logger. The kind man was very surprised by what came down with the tree he was working on and got the three nest mates to help very quickly. Unfortunately the tree landed on one of the young broad-winged hawks and caused spinal damage too severe to save the bird. These two, however are looking great and with a few more weeks of care should be ready to go back to the wild.

The fierce-looking bird to the right is a juvenile northern goshawk who came in after being found in a yard. Goshawks are accipiters, or bird-chasing hawks, who are built for speed! This little guy was probably chasing lunch and crashed into a window or the side of a building and was stunned. This type of hawk is also notoriously high-strung in captivity, so we are trying to speed his recovery along to get him back out in the wild as soon as possible.

We are also currently housing two juvenile American kestrels. One of the kestrels, a male, is looking great, you can see him below in his outdoor enclosure, working on his flight muscles and re-adjusting to the Vermont weather.
Pretty soon he should be back on the wing chasing birds and bugs for his dinner!

Here at VINS we care for about 500 injured and orphaned birds each year, and these are only a few of the over 230 we have treated in 2011 alone. If you want to find out how you can help up take care of these youngsters, as well as the other hundreds of birds we will treat, visit or come visit us for more information!

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Luck of the Loon

A common loon had the good luck of being found by a local Vermont man after the bird became grounded. The bird was under the scoreboard of the Otter Valley Union High School football field in Brandon -- not your typical loon hangout. Loons -- who must be in water to take off for flight -- often become "grounded," or stuck on land, when they land on a surface other than water.

Watch a video of the loon's release!

Loons are deep divers who use their powerful legs to propel themselves beneath the water's surface to hunt for fish and other edible critters. Their legs are far back on their bodies near their tails, aiding in their diving skills, but
making them poor land walkers. Loons who become grounded are often found hobbling around, trying to get back to a body of water. VINS has seen many grounded loons brought into our care over the years. Remember the Christmas loon? How about this loon, from way back in 2009?

Luckily, this grounded loon had only a nick on his left foot, but was otherwise healthy. We've been surprised that so many of the loons who have come in for care are simply grounded and barely need any treatment. Must be the luck of the loon.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Standing Tall

A juvenile great blue heron was found roadside in East Dummerston, VT last week, lethargic and unable to stand. The tall, gangly fellow was brought to VINS, where we did an exam to see what might be the problem.

See a video of the heron's exam, and watch him eat fish!

Upon exam (see photos of his exam below), we found a few parasitic flukes in his mouth -- easily treated with an antiparasitic -- and that the heron was a bit on the thin side. When we put him into his enclosure, he was indeed unable to stand, which we attributed to his being underweight. A lot of first-year birds have trouble capturing prey -- in this case, fish -- and lose weight and the energy to continue on.

After a week in our care, we've gotten the heron hydrated and are bulking him up. He dutifully snaps up live minnows we purchase from the local bait store, and he's standing tall and proud! The future looks bright for this bird, and we hope to release him back into the wild soon.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Look For It Now: Spiked Lobelia

In July, it's easy to overlook many of Vermont's smaller wildflowers as the showstoppers -- wild bergamot, Queen Anne's lace, Black-eyed Susans and purple loosestrife -- gain height and vie for bees' attention with their bright colors and big flower heads. But a closer look at the forest floor and in-between meadow stalks reveals some pretty amazing -- albeit very small -- wildflowers.

Spiked lobelia (Lobelia spicata) is one such native flower. At home in meadows and thickets, this flower has a spike-like cluster of small bluish-white flowers on a slender stalk. Each flower has the telltale "lobelia look" of two narrow lobes above three wider lobes below. The stalk itself can grow up to 4 feet, but with tiny flowers measuring only about 1/3-inch long, this pretty gal is easy to miss. Spiked lobelia is blooming now through August, so head outside and look for it now.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Country Road, Take Me Home

When a delivery truck pulled up to a store here in Vermont, the recipients of the trucks' goods got far more than they bargained for when out popped five baby birds. Here's the scoop.

Watch a video of the baby wrens.

A mom and dad house wren thought they had found a safe, dry home to build a nest in a seemingly out-of-use truck at the Vermont Country Store. For days on end they dutifully built a nest of twigs, leaves and stems, tucked into a track in the truck. The mother laid her eggs, incubated them and began to raise a clutch of chattering wrens. But a few days into the young birds' lives, the truck roared to life, and the babies -- nest and all -- were on their way to Nusantara in Rutland to make a delivery!

Luckily, the folks at Nusantara heard the chitter-chatter of the baby wrens upon unloading the truck, and were able to extract the nest. Many hours had passed since the babies' last feeding, and they were a bit weak and dehydrated. To drive them all the way back to the Vermont Country Store in such a state would mean risking their lives, so to VINS they came.

Unfortunately, one of the wrens had to be humanely euthanized as he fractured his leg at some point in his journey, and the bone damage was irreparable. But we've still got four active, healthy baby wrens with us here at VINS, who we'll finish raising then return to the wild. In the meantime, the wrens are keeping our facility abuzz with their delightfully scratchy calls.

Friday, July 8, 2011

The Success of a Mess

How often in life is it possible to gauge success by the severity of a mess? In the case of an injured woodpecker, that's just what we are going for!

This beautiful female hairy woodpecker came into VINS on June 22nd after flying into a window. We know she is female because a male of the same species would have a bright red patch on the back of his head.

See a video here of the mess this woodpecker made, as well as her practicing her flight!

She was flying fast enough when she hit the window that she fractured her right wing. We wrapped her wing upon arrival so it would be close to her body and immobile. It is important to set a birds wing in a normal position as soon as possible after injury because the bird will not be able to fly if their wing heals out of place.

After about a week with her wing wrapped, we removed the bandage and moved the woodpecker into a larger indoor enclosure so she can practice her flight. We naturalized the enclosure with large logs set upright - to act as trees - and filled small holes in these logs with woodpecker food. This allows the bird to feel more at home, as well as find her own food and keep up her drilling practice.

In this video, you can see she has not forgotten how to drill!

Hopefully we will soon be able to release our messy house guest and see where her newly healed shoulder takes her.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Raptor Camp Week 1: Fun, Friendship, Owls

By Katie Christman
VINS Education Intern

The first week of VINS Raptor Camp kicked off with a full 5 days of live bird programs, nature hikes, bird tag games and learning to hold a raptor on the glove just like the VINS educators (an activity highly-anticipated by the campers)!
We still have Raptor Camp openings for the weeks of August 8-12 and August 15-19.

Monday & Tuesday.
Campers spent their first two days learning about raptors’ adaptations and what makes them unique from songbirds and waterfowl. They were greeted with behind-the-scenes tours and the opportunity to feed VINS’s education hawks, owls and falcons. One of the campers’ favorite activities was sweep netting in the meadow for insects. Campers not only learned how the VINS’ meadow is an important habitat and food source for many birds, they had fun while doing it.

Wednesday & Thursday. Wednesday was all about owls. Campers played camouflage in the woods and had a unique opportunity to meet our snowy owl up close. If you see shelters in the woods as you walk along the trail, those were built by our campers! As the end of the week came closer, the campers were building their skills in order to be prepared for holding one of the birds at the end of the week. That’s why Thursday focused on falcons and their training. Not only did campers get to meet both our American kestrel and the peregrine falcon, they learned how we train our birds at VINS through a training game and practiced their bird balancing skills through relay races.

On Friday our campers were bubbling over with excitement, ready to hold the eastern screech owl on the glove for the first time. Every camper did an excellent job holding the owl and listening to directions. I think we’re looking at some potential future VINS educators or volunteers! Campers had another special treat by having guest speaker Rick Kendall, superintendent of Saint-Gaudens Natural Historic Site, talk to them about the duties of a park ranger and how they could become park rangers based on their interests.

Overall, the first week of raptor camp was fun and exciting. Campers had some amazing opportunities to learn, make friends and get up close and personal to our birds that call VINS home. A special thanks to counselors Mary and Mischa for their hard work and enthusiasm!

We still have Raptor Camp openings for the weeks of August 8-12 and August 15-19. See our web site for enrollment information.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Robin: In It to Win It

Found bleeding in the road, this American robin came to VINS with a golf ball-sized patch of skin missing from her rump -- the area just above her tail. We suspect she was struck by a car or dropped by a predator. In any case, this common backyard bird is in for the long haul here at the Wildlife Services department -- but she's got spirit, and we think she's in it to win it!

Watch a video of her bandage change.

Due to the large amount of exposed flesh, the b
ird is at serious risk for infection. We're cleaning her wound and changing the bandage daily to reduce such a risk. We are also concerned about the robin's uropygial gland -- a gland on the rump that secretes oil (when pinched by the bird's beak) that can be applied to the feathers to assist with waterproofing. If the gland does not heal properly, the bird may have trouble keeping her feathers waterproof, which may cause death. Waterlogged feathers may prevent flight and may cause hypothermia as rainwater will soak to the bird's skin instead of rolling off the feathers.

So far, the robin is a great patient. She endures her bandage chan
ges quite well, with minimal stress. And despite her injury, she eats a full meal each day without hesitation. We are eager to see her wound close up, and discover if this classic songbird will sing again for us Vermonters.