Friday, August 26, 2011

Splish Splash

Remember our female mallard whose broken leg just recently healed? Well, that healed leg is now paddling her toward a new life.

On August 22nd we sent her off in style at Dewey's Mill Pond here in Quechee, VT.

The duck came into our care after being hit by a vehicle in the Barre area on July 31. She suffered a broken leg, which produced a lot of swelling and pain in the right ankle. After two splints, lots of rest, and some anti-inflammatory medication, she was feeling much better and was finally able to use that leg again.

Watch a video of the duck returning to the lake here.

After the video camera was turned off the mallard started to dabble for a snack and splash around, having a quacking good time in her new home. She even started calling to her neighbors in search of a friend -- several of whom were waiting just beyond the reeds in the background. All in all, it was a very happy ending.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

A New Leg to Stand On

This beautiful female mallard duck came to the VINS Wildlife Services department on August 1. She was transferred here from another rehabilitator and had been found on the side of the road after being struck by a vehicle. This little lady was so swollen around her left leg that at the time she came in, we were unable to find the fracture that was causing her so much pain.

You can see a video here of VINS staff removing her bandage.

A few days of rest and anti-inflammatory medication reduced the swelling enough that we could finally tell the leg was broken along her tarsometatarsus bone -- the first long leg bone above the foot. There was also a great deal of soft tissue damage and, even after the care, swelling along the leg was making it hard for this duck to use her leg at all.

VINS wildlife staff placed a splint on the injur
ed leg to try and hold it in place so the fracture could heal properly. Despite the brace, through, the mallard continued to hold that leg splayed out behind her, not neatly tucked under her body. After nearly two weeks of bracing the leg, and two different splints, it was finally time for the bandage to come off for good!

Since it is very important to keep bandaging dry while it is on a bird, this had been a duck out of water for several weeks, with only a small bowl in which to dip her beak. Once that splint was off, though, it was time for some watery fun. We allowed the mallard to test out her newly healed leg in our exam room where she promptly shuffled over to her small water bowl and flopped in it. We gave her a mist bath as well, which she loved! She tried to catch the water in her mouth and was preening and rousing (fluffing her feathers up and shaking it all out). She was such a happy duck!

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Small Falcon, Big Farewell

Last Saturday, VINS Education Intern Sarah Sincerbeaux released an American kestrel back into the wild. Watch a video of this bird's release!

The small falcon came to VINS' rehabilitation department as a fledgling -- he was old enough to have
left his nest, but young enough that he may have been relying on his parents for food. He was hit by a pick-up truck on July 11 in Washington, VT, and needed help recovering. The bird came in disoriented and unable to stand, but with some medication and a full menu of mice and fluids, he began his journey back to health.

The kestrel made a full recovery here at VINS. We tested his hunting skills by offering him live mice, which he dutifully captured and ate. This young falcon is now living life where he belongs: in the wild!

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Look For It Now: Dogday Harvestfly

As high summer reaches its peak of heat and humidity, we are annually serenaded by the high-pitched whining song of the cicadas as they emerge from their nymphal exoskeletons and prepare for life as adults.

Here at VINS we have been listening to the song for weeks, and the other day were surprised to find this delightful creature sitting on the door to one of our outdoor bird enclosures!

This is a Dogday Harvestfly.
The name actually comes from the time of year they emerge: the dog days of summer. He has just emerged from the exoskeleton that protected him through the first three years of his life. He is still clinging to the exoskeleton in this picture, but a few hours later, once he adjusted to his new body, he spread his 3-1/4 inch wings and left the nymph behind.

Dogday Harvestflies, or Tibicen canicularis, are around every year here in the Northeast. Some other species of cicadas only emerge every 13 or 17 years! Now that this insect - who is a member of the homoptera family - has reached adulthood, he will only live long enough to mate and, if he is actually a she, lay eggs. Cicadas do all their feeding as nymphs, this species feeds on the juices from tree roots with a particular taste for pine, but now that this cicada is an adult there is no more root juice in his future.

Friday, August 12, 2011

'Moor' Than Meets the Eye

By Sara Eisenhauer
Lead Wildlife Keeper

Last week, the staff in Wildlife Services received an interesting patient. It was small, fuzzy, had a beak that looked like candy corn and giant feet. We had never seen anything like it! Initially we thought it was a young sora, but after searching through several books and a few web sites, we were able to identify our mystery pati
ent: a baby common moorhen.

Watch a video of this young moorhen.

This is a very unique species, for moorhens are not commonly seen in Vermont. The bird was discovered in a marshy area of Lake Champlain, struggling to stay above water.

Once it arrived at our facility, we did a thorough exam and found that this little one was suffering from a form of spinal trauma and was unable to stand. But what could have caused this trauma on an otherwise healthy bird? If a snapping turtle or large fish bit at it, surely there would be signs of trauma.

Well, there is a somewhat dark side to the moorhen. Each breeding season,
a female moorhen can lay up to 10 eggs, which means 10 hungry mouths to feed. Sometimes there just isn’t enough food to go around, and the solution for an adult moorhen is to violently attack and kill some of its young. This method, in the end, leaves the parents with fewer chicks to feed, which allows for a higher chance of survival for the remaining youngsters. Given that we found no open wounds on the bird, the baby could indeed be a recipient of violent shaking from the parent that did not cause death, but merely damaged the spine.

Unfortunately, although we did our best, our little patient did not make it through the night. This story is just an example of how nature, in all its glory, can also have its dark (but practical) side.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Wild & Wonderful Woodpecker

By Jessamy Schwartz
VINS AmeriCorps Member

“All these injured birds are here because they share something in common. They are all here because someone cared enough to take the time to pick them up and bring them here,” said VINS Education Intern Sarah Sincerbeaux, at a recent raptor program.

Watch a video of the pileated's release. Above, Jessamy releases the bird.

So true. I was reminded of that the other day when one of my most favorite birds, the pileated woodpecker, was released at an artist's reception held here at VINS. This lucky woodpecker was found just off Route 4 in White River Junction, VT. A woman noticed a spot of red on the side of the road and pulled her car over to investigate. That flash of color along the road turned out to be the red crest feathers of a hatch-year pileated woodpecker on the ground. She brought the bird to VINS where it was examined and found to have head trauma and bruising on its leg. The pileated was given fluids and a place to rest.

After a few days, the woodpecker was full of energy and moved to a larger enclosure where it was fed a delicious concoction of peanut butter, fruit and mealworms (it really does smell delicious, and intern Sarah Mac says that even the mealworms wouldn’t deter her from enjoying it!) The pileated definitely welcomed the sight of the mealworms stuffed inside logs, and pecked throughout the enclosure making a mess of worms and wood shavings.

After just six days in rehab, he was back to his young, energetic pileated woodpecker ways and ready to go back into the wild. The guests at the artist's reception gathered around to witness another VINS success story. On the count of three, the young pileated took flight and after a flash of red, black and white, he was high up in a tree, pecking away. This young one almost did not make it through its very first year of life, but a second chance was given because someone cared.

Thank you to all the caring individuals who have brought injured wild birds to the Wildlife Services department at VINS!

Monday, August 8, 2011


Well, nest-mates, anyway.

These are the two young, fuzzy white faced broad-winged hawks who came into the care of the VINS wildlife services team last month. The two were rescued by a logger who, unknowingly, was also their downfall when he cut the tree in which their nest was perched. Below is the pair when they first came in.

The gentleman logger who initially grounded the birds got them into the care of a well trained volunteer who, after observing them for injury overnight, attempted to re-nest the pair in a tree local to their original nest sight. She was hoping the parents were still in the area after the excitement of the previous day and watched the new nest from a distance from 5:30am until dusk, waiting for signs the adult broad-wings would return.

Alas, no parental hawks were to return to the site. The nestlings were brought back to the ground (much more gently this time), and were brought in to VINS. Here they have moved through three different enclosures to keep up with their rapid growth.

Now the two have moved outside into one of our small flight enclosures to practice flying, build up some muscles, and get used to the hot days and cool nights of the Vermont summer.

Since both birds are eating well on their own and are nearly fully grown, with some accrued endurance in the flight department and by passing a live prey test in a week or two, they will be deemed "rehabilitated" and set free!

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Look For It Now: Epipactis Hellborine

I've never been a fan of orchids. They're too pretty, too perfect and just too exotic. Give me some hardy goldenrod and some frost-resistant aster any day over a dainty, fine-petaled orchid.

But I'm starting to warm up to the Orchidaceae family since
recently discovering epipactis hellborine -- an orchid now blooming in abundance in certain spots in Vermont. I came upon this non-native hiking in the Coolidge State Forest, where it was found at the edge of the woods both beside a dirt path and a paved road.

Epipactis hellborine, or broad-leafed hellborine, has a cluster of drooping flower heads that range in color from a greenish-white to a light purple-pink. Each flower head is tiny -- only about 1/2-inch across -- with the flower stalk growing 1-3 feet.

Apparently, this orchid, which was introduced from Europe, has invasive tendenc
ies and can beat out native flowers for space. So, much like purple loosestrife -- also blooming in Vermont now -- its beauty is bittersweet (and all the more reason to treasure goldenrod and aster).

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Such Sweet Sorrow

The young crow who came in several weeks ago with a broken leg has successfully been released back in his home territory!

Read about the juvenile crow's history in our previous blog entries here and here.

The crow was picked up from VINS last week, after we successfully splinted and healed a severely broken leg, by the volunteer transporter who originally brought him to us. She sent us a few pictures of his release day, below. After these pictures were taken the crow flew up to a tree and met another crow to spend the day with.

It was such fun watching him heal and grow up here at VINS, and while we will miss his cawing in the background, it is always more fun to see a happy ending like this one, as they fly away and leave us in their dust.

So long, heron!

It was with great delight we released the juvenile great blue heron who came into our care a few weeks ago.

The bird was initially brought into our care when he was found on a road thin, weak and unable t
o stand. Read his story here. The young bird made a stellar recovery here at VINS, gaining weight on live fish, regaining his strength and putting those long gams of his to good use standing tall. We released him a few days ago, and he took a perfect flight away from us. See our photos below of the heron's first flaps back into the wild. Click on images for a larger view.