Friday, December 30, 2011

Back to the Daily Grind

The VINS Wildlife Services department has gotten off to a slow start this winter season, with a surprisingly small number of patients in for care as compared to previous years.

Watch a video of our red-tailed hawk patient.

However, with colder temps and snowfall, we're now seeing patients suffering various ailments come in daily for treatment, which, of course, is not good for the birds, but we're happy to be here to help these wild animals get better. In addition to the red-tailed hawk you see here, we've received several barred owls, a mallard duck, a crow, a Canada goose, and a turkey vulture. The staff here is back to being quite busy with patient care.

This red-tail came in a few days ago after someone found him on the side of the road. The bird has no fractures, but is very thin and has a minor infection on his right foot. We ran a fecal, and sure enough, this bird was loaded with parasites, including roundworm -- gross! -- which are the likely culprits to his emaciation. We administered antiparasitics and the parasites are on their way out. The bird, as you will see in this video, is also receiving antibiotics to systemically treat his infected foot. Above left, Meghan Oliver (left) and Hannah Goldman prepare to give the bird a shot of antibiotics in his leg.

The bird's weight is stabilizing, and he's now eating solid food (mice). We're hoping to plump him up in the next few weeks, mend his foot, and get him back into the wild so he can return home.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Love is in the Air

Why wait until spring to fall in love when you can now? Great-horned owls wouldn't have it any other way. While the "love" may be questionable, there's no question breeding season for these large raptors is about to get underway.

Great-horned owls begin to search for mates in winter, ne
sting as early as January and February and laying eggs in March and April. Here at the Vermont Institute of Natural Science, we have irrefutable proof that it's time to start pairing up in the owl world.

For the past five or so winters, a wild female great-horned owl has wooed our educational male great-horned owl, who lives in an outdoor enclosure behind our Wildlife Services building. Every evening at dusk, the female flies to a tree behind our rehabilitation facility, where she perches ... and waits. There, she hoots to our resident male, our male calls back, and soon the two are hooting up a storm.

Take a close look at the photo above and you'll see the outline of the wild female owl, perched in the tree, getting as close as she can to our male in the enclosure below her. In the photo below, our male owl sits on one of his perches in his enclosure.

While these two lovebirds won't have the chance to meet beak-to-beak, they are warming up our winter evenings here at VINS with their endearing, lovelorn hoots.


Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Speak Your Mind on Invasives!

By Mandy Vellia, OCISMA Coordinator

In 2002, the Noxious Weed Quarantine was passed by the Vermont Agency of Agriculture to regulate the sale and movement of invasive plants. These non-native plants have proven to be harmful to Vermont’s working lands, natural areas, and waterways. While not all exotic plants are bad, species classified as “invasive” do present a threat to native ecosystems. They have a longer growing season and can out-compete our native plants for sunlight and nutrients, decreasing the overall biodiversity of an area. They can be difficult to manage and cost land owners thousands of dollars each year. The Noxious Weed Quarantine helps to mitigate the spread of invasives by limiting their sale and distribution. (In the photo, bittersweet berries.)

A Watch List of potentially harmful species has been created by the Vermont Invasive Exotic Plant Committee for the state of Vermont. Although there has been no regulatory enforcement to limit the spread of the plants on the watchlist, a Voluntary Code of Conduct has been available for horticultural professionals. By signing this voluntary document, they have agreed to stop selling and using certain species that were not yet included under the Quarantine rule.

On Friday, a public hearing will be held on the proposed amendment to the Quarantine Rule to include Amur Maple (Acer ginnala), Norway Maple (Acer platanoides), Burning Bush (Euonymus alatus), Japanese Barberry (Berberis thunbergii), Common Barberry (Berberis vulgaris), Yellow Flag Iris (Iris pseudacorus), and Brittle Waternymph (Najas minor). If adopted, the sale of these plants will be prohibited once retail inventories are diminished.

The hearing is scheduled for noon on Friday, December 23 at the Agency of Agriculture, Food and Markets, 116 State Street, Montpelier, in the second floor conference room.

For more information, please visit Vermont Invasives or email ocisma@vinsweb.org. OCISMA is a volunteer organization dedicated to educating.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

First Barred of the Winter

The VINS Wildlife Services department received its first barred owl patient of the winter. The owl, found laying in a person's yard in Norwich, VT, was brought in Wednesday for treatment.

See a video of the owl. In the photo, VINS intern Hannah Goldman holds the owl as we prepare to give him treatment.

Normally by December, VINS is flooded with injured, often starving barred owls. Heavy snow accumulations -- common in Vermont -- make hunting tough for owls, who must punch through the snow to get to rodents below its surface. But this year, the state has seen so little snow that barreds (and other local owls) are having an easy winter. Other birds that also stick around for New England winters -- like goldfinches, chickadees, and blue jays -- are also having an easy go of it, with plenty of seeds and even fruits still easily accessible on various plants and trees.

Our owl is currently unable to use his legs and has loose feces, sure signs of spinal trauma. We believe the owl probably struck a home or bounced off a car, losing use of his legs and landing in a front yard. We're currently providing him with medication and fluids to help him get better. The next few days for this owl will be critical; if he doesn't regain use of his legs within the next 48 hours, it is unlikely he'll ever use them again. Time will tell.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Ssspecial Resident at VINS

By Katie Christman
VINS Education Intern


A sudden case of identity theft has been thrust upon the staff at the Vermont Institute of Natural Science (cue the dramatic music). Fortunately for us, our credit cards remain untouched and are bank accounts are secure. Rather, an unsuspecting snake has become the victim of mistaken identity!


Take a good look at the snake in both of these pictures, above and below. Are both of them garter snakes? Is one of them a garter snake, or neither? The picture below is of
a common garter snake (photo by Tom Spinker), one of the most common snakes that you will find here in Vermont. The picture above is of an eastern ribbonsnake (photo by Susan E. Adams), a snake that is labeled as a species of special concern in the state of Vermont. Special concern is a protective legal designation assigned by Vermont Fish and Wildlife’s Natural Heritage Information Project, meaning that a species, in this case the ribbonsnake’s population is rare and its status should be watched.

Out of the 11 species of snakes that are found in Vermont, garter snakes are considered by some to be one of the most varied species in their coloration. Usually, most garter snakes can be found with two to three lateral stripes running from the head to the tail, with stripe color varying from yellow to brown, green to bluish white. The body’s color is usually darker ranging from brown, green, olive, or black. Dark spots and checkered patterns can be noted on the body as well. (This pattern resembles those of men’s stocking garters, hence the name.) Ribbonsnakes have similar colorations to the garter snake, but two things stand out for this reptile: the size, with ribbonsnakes hitting between 45-66 inches and garter snakes hitting 18-54 inches; and a distinguishing spot of yellow in front of the eyes.

If you’re ever out on a hike in or around a wetland, be on the lookout for this rare species as they prefer wet habitats, compared to the garter snake that can be found anywhere ranging from wetlands to clearings to suburban settings.


Stop by the VINS Nature Center and visit our native wetland exhibit to see this special snake up close!