Saturday, October 19, 2013

Empty Nest Syndrome

Nestling American Robin (1) and Cedar Waxwings (4)
by Katharine Britton
VINS Volunteer

I’m feeling the pang of an empty nest. Not because of a last child about to fly off to college or into her own first home. No, these are actual empty nests I’m grieving. Real nests. Real birds.

For the past three months I have been one of many volunteers feeding orphaned baby birds at the Vermont Institute for Natural Science (VINS). A dozen robins, several grackles and European starlings; a few phoebes, chickadees, and nuthatches; one cedar waxwing, one flicker, two mockingbirds, a hermit thrush, and a few song sparrows, among many others, have passed through our facility.

Nestling Black-capped Chickadee
In one week’s time, a hatchling, which somewhat resembles a clam with a beak and legs, becomes a nestling: a soft pile of feather and bone wedged into a nest. By the following week that soft dumpling is in the fledgling room, having discovered one morning that he (or she) has wings, but isn’t quite sure what to do with them. Staff members furnish these fledgling enclosures with tree branches and trunks (custom designed for the species of bird) and what were so recently clam-like hatchlings, soar - and occasionally crash land - from perch to perch, teaching themselves to fly. Had they not been orphaned, their parents would have taught them how.

Nestling Black-capped Chickadees
Before they learn to fly, baby birds engage in four primary activities. The first two are eating and pooping. We baby bird feeders are responsible for what goes on at both ends. The most practiced and least squeamish among us develop the dexterity to catch the little gelatinous missiles before they hit the side of the nest or the floor of the incubator or box. Barehanded. It’s not difficult, really, to judge when the bird is about to send one off. They hike their bottoms up to the edge of the nest and let fly over the side. At least that is what their genetic programming tells them they are doing. Nestlings aren’t especially coordinated, and occasionally - quite often, actually - the gelatinous goop lands in or on the nest, or even on a nest-mate.

Nestling Hermit Thrush (L) and Cedar Waxwing (R)
The nests, I should point out, are not charming assemblages of twigs and leaves, bits of seed fluff, and the occasional aesthetic decoration that you see in the wild. Ours are utilitarian nests that we construct from Cool Whip containers, washcloths, paper towels, and toilet paper, wound into a coil the correct diameter to accommodate the number of nesting birds. Sometimes this will be a clutch of four. Sometimes a single, orphaned bird - the family cat or dog having dispatched its siblings and parents.

The third baby bird activity is making noise. They chirp, peep, screech, tweet (really)… Merely sliding open the door of an incubator that’s housing a clutch or two of hatchlings elicits paroxysms of delight from its occupants - or so I interpret the boundless enthusiasm. As the door slides open, the hatchlings - lying limp in their nests, lids shut tight over bulbous eyes, the only signs of life the almost imperceptible beating of their miniscule hearts - shoot upright on bandy little legs, sometimes nearly launching themselves right over the side of the nest in their exuberance. Beaks open, they peep as though their lives depend on it. Which, in the wild, would be true. It is thrilling to receive such a hearty welcome.

Incubators keep baby birds warm and toasty.
At this stage we feed them formula, delivered via syringe, down the gullet. Baby birds need a lot of sleep (the fourth activity). All that excitement: the opening of eyes, the standing, the squeaking, sometimes so exhausts the little fellows that they nod off between swallows. A gentle tap, tap on the side of the incubator, or slowly closing and reopening the door is enough to startle them awake and, up they spring, beaks agape, necks upstretched, so happy to see you. I’m aware that I’m anthropomorphizing here. Theirs is a programmed response, having nothing to do with me. Still. What a feeling.

Once the hatchlings become nestlings we offer them tiny bits of scrambled egg, mealworms, fruit, and soaked cat food. Generally, tiny beaks open obligingly as soon as we appear (generally hourly), and eagerly accept six to eight morsels. Some species are greedy and noisy: grackles, for instance, and will keep begging. Others, phoebes and bluebirds, are fussier and satisfied earlier. These species seem more independent, more interested in growing wing feathers and learning to fly than being forceps-fed.

Fledgling Eastern Pheobes (3, left)
and American Robins (2, right)
Once the birds are in the fledgling enclosures, dishes of water are introduced and experiments in bathing begin. What fun! The sheets and towels covering the floors are soon soaked. Changing a wet sheet in a five by six foot enclosure, housing five bobbing robins, a grackle, a starling, and four phoebes sailing around overhead and scolding, is not easy. It also has risks. Hats are recommended. At this point the birds are also given dishes of food so they can learn to self-feed. The bluebirds, ever inventive, spend far more time liberating mealworms than consuming them.

Feeding them in these enclosures is an exercise in patience and faith. They are now mobile and believe they are ready to fly free. Think adolescence. It’s difficult to keep track of who’s been fed and who hasn’t. Birds occasionally land on the food dish you’re holding, or your head, shoulder, or hand, making feeding even more challenging, but also great fun: A bluebird on the hand is worth any number in the bush.

Fledgling Eastern Bluebirds (3) and American Robin (1)

The birds, once fully-fledged and self-feeding, are moved to an outdoor aviary, where they can perfect those flight skills they’ve so recently discovered. And then we say goodbye. I can only hope that the birds will be able to translate what they learned at VINS into the wild: encounter blueberries, say, and with a flash of recognition, know they’re safe to eat.

Bidding farewell to a group each week after my shift - knowing that, by the following week, they might be gone - was both heartwarming and heartbreaking. I grew attached to these little duffers, who trusted me to show up with my syringe or forceps at the prescribed time, to remember who’d been fed and who hadn’t, to make sure everyone got enough, and to keep their enclosure clean. I tried not to bond, since these were wild creatures that, sadly, wouldn’t benefit from learning to trust humans. But I did.

Fledgling Eastern Bluebird
And now nesting season is over, and birds are making their way south, even, I hope, some that I helped raise. The counters in the VINS “nursery” are bare of boxes, and empty Cool Whip containers stand stacked in the corner like beach chairs at summer’s end, reminding me of all the fun I had with my little feathered friends. I wish those fledglings long lives, smooth sailing, and many healthy broods of their own - none of which ever need care in our facility, because that would mean they’d been orphaned.

A mother’s job is to raise her children to become independent, but then, when they gain that independence, we grieve, not only for the little ones we’ve lost but for who we were and what we had. It is a mother’s nature to care for another. My baby birds are grown, the nests are empty, and I miss them all greatly.

To learn more about VINS' baby bird feeder program and other volunteer opportunities at VINS Nature Center, visit our website at or contact Chloe Viner at or 802-359-5001 ext. 210.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Something to Crow About

by Brittany Redelico
Wildlife Services Intern

photo by Sara Eisenhauer
Remember the nestling American Crow we had in our care earlier this summer? Well, I am happy to report that this (not so) little crow has moved on to bigger and better things.

When admitting a young crow (or corvid or raptor) at a rehabilitation facility like VINS, we are extra careful not to imprint the little one. Certain species of birds are susceptible to human imprinting, and extra precautions are taken to limit this possibility. We must wear masks over our faces and gloves on our hands so that these super-smart birds do not associate themselves with humans. We also provide imprintable birds with mirrors so they will feel as though they aren’t alone and will begin to identify with the species they see in the mirror. For the few weeks this crow was in our rehab facility, we did our best to help the little crow develop a crow-like identity.
photo by Brittany Redelico
Our one concern with this crow was that he was not learning to eat on his own. For his age of five weeks, he should have been able to find, pick up, and eat his own food. Even after leaving a fresh dish of food for him several days in a row, he did not pick up on a self eating habit. This made us question his ability to survive and thrive in the wild.

We needed to come up with a better solution.

photo by Brittany Redelico
Here at VINS, we work closely with rehabbers and veterinarians throughout the state, and we called around to find out if any other rehabbers were caring for a crow of the same age. Crows are social birds, and it is more natural for them to live in groups rather than alone. Our hope was that if we provided our crow with a social group, he would learn by example and begin to eat on his own – and it would gain him entry into his own “murder” (or “flock” of crows). After many efforts to find a "friend" for this crow, we found a rehabber in Addison, VT with not only one, but two juvenile crows. These crows were approximately the same age and had been eating on their own for a good while. So we said our goodbyes, and off he went to live with his new flock.
We kept our fingers crossed for the well-being of our little crow. Apparently, all he needed was a bit of companionship with fellow crows, because he was eating on his own within 24 hours of meeting his new friends. We were ecstatic to hear that our plan had worked! We are so happy for this crow, and thrilled to see him succeed. He’s still in Addison, practicing flying and developing strong bonds with his new family. Soon he’ll be wild and free, and we have every hope that he’ll live a long, healthy life in the wilds of Vermont.

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Bye-bye, Bittern

by Alyssa Womer
Wildlife Services Intern

What did you do this past fourth of July? Have a barbeque with friends and family? Set off some fireworks? Whatever you did, I’m sure you enjoyed your holiday more than the American Bittern recently released from our care here at VINS. 

On July 6th, a member of the public found a fledgling bittern wandering around in his yard in Putney, VT. This might not be unusual, as most fledgling birds spend a lot of time on the ground exploring how their wings work and figuring out how to eat without the help of their parents. However, the American Bittern inhabits freshwater wetlands populated by dense reeds, and our bittern was discovered over a mile from the nearest body of water! 

Upon arrival at VINS, we discovered that the bird was thin, likely because he was orphaned. We tube-fed the bittern a rehydrating solution and some fish slurry (a blended mixture of small fish, high-protein dog food, and vitamins), and he perked up in no time! By his second day in our care, the bittern was ready to eat whole dead fish, which we fed to him via tweezers. After a few days, we began leaving live minnows in a small pool in his enclosure. We continued to feed him a mixture of live and dead fish as well as small dead mice. 

After two and a half weeks at VINS, the bittern’s weight had almost doubled, putting him in the healthy range. The bittern became reluctant to accept hand-fed fish and mice, and we recognized that as a sign that he was ready return to the wild! Soon after, we transported the bittern to the banks of the Ottauquechee River, just off the VINS Nature Trail. We found a spot thick with reeds and cattails, where the bittern could utilize his vertically-striped camouflage plumage, and set him down facing the water. He made a speedy exit, and it was clear our bittern was ready to take care of himself. We were happy to see him return to the wild, and he was feisty to the bitter(n) end!

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Phantom of the Forest

by Sara Eisenhauer
Wildlife Services Manager

VINS Wildlife Services Dept received a mystery bird earlier this month. When the patient arrived, we knew right away that it was a baby raptor – it had a sharp curved tip to its beak, and very sharp talons - but what species of raptor?? Here in our rehab dept, we feel like we’ve seen it all, but sometimes we can still get stumped. This baby raptor was no “wee” baby – it was the size of a small chicken, but had no feathers, just white fluff.  This white fluff indicated to us that it was still very young and helpless.
Stumped or not, we still had to begin the initial exam.
During the exam, I noticed a few things that were different about this bird, compared to other baby raptors we’ve seen:  first of all, its legs were quite long – longer than a Broad-winged Hawk, or a Red-tailed Hawk. Secondly, he would protest by making a “kek kek kek” sound. It sounded so familiar to me, but I just couldn’t place it.  The final clue that gave it away happened when I took a peek into the babe’s mouth - it was purplish/blue in color. Aha!! I knew right away what we had – a nestling Northern Goshawk!!

Adult Northern Goshawk
photo by jacosammie
Northern Goshawks are what I like to call “Phantom Raptors.” I know they’re here in Vermont, but I rarely get to see them, let alone witness them as babies!  Goshawks are an impressive raptor, the largest species of accipiter that is found in Vermont. They prefer to live in dense forests, and are not as common in suburban areas. They’re very fast, aggressive hunters and will pursue their prey to the point of exhaustion, sometimes even on foot! Have you ever wondered what that flash of movement is that’s going after the birds at your feeders? Or who might be trying to make a quick meal out of the chickens in your backyard? It could be the phantom Goshawk. 

Despite they’re aggressive nature, they are a vital part of our natural world, and a bird that I’ve always admired and respected.
So how’s our little Goshawk baby? Well, we did find a small fracture in his left wing, which has healed nicely. He is also eating like a champ and has begun growing in his little goshawk feathers! It will be awhile before he’s able to fend for himself in the wilderness, but we’re more than happy to help him along the way. And I’m glad that the phantom is no longer a mystery.

Friday, July 19, 2013

A Rosie Result

by Calah Beckwith
Wildlife Keeper

Remember the Hairy Woodpecker who needed some VINS TLC after hitting a window? Well, unfortunately, that's an all too common cause of admission for avian rehab patients. Striking a window at full speed can cause bone fractures, head or spinal trauma, internal bleeding, and often death.

We recently admitted a male Rose-breasted Grosbeak who struck a window and sustained severe internal injuries. He had raspy, gurgling breath sounds, and we could see blood in his mouth. He hadn't sustained any other injuries, but internal trauma can be very difficult to recover from. We gave him homeopathic medications to treat general trauma and internal bleeding as well as a medication to help with inflammation and pain. Despite his injury, the grosbeak had a feisty attitude and a good appetite - both very good signs. 

Luckily, as with the Hairy Woodpecker, the Rose-breasted Grosbeak's story has a happy ending. It only took three days for the grosbeak to make a full recovery. Watch this video of the grosbeak's return to the wild.

Photo by Ellen & Tony, this is for the birds
The Rose-breasted Grosbeak is a member of the cardinal family, which includes the Scarlet Tanager, Indigo Bunting, and Northern Cardinal, among others. They have a beautifully sweet song, similar to that of an American Robin, but so perfect and clear it's as though they've had opera lessons. Rose-breasted grosbeak females are members of a very elite group of singing ladies. Most female songbirds do not sing songs to attract a mate or defend a territory, but the female rose-breasted grosbeak has been known to sing and will often exchange quiet songs with her mate.

Photo by mytimemachine
Males of the species are terrific fathers, assisting with nest-building, incubation of eggs and nestlings, and feeding of babies. And they look as though they're headed to a fancy party, sporting a brilliant red ascot and black and white tuxedo. Females are streaked brown all over with a white stripe over the eyes.

If you're lucky, you may have Rose-breasted Grosbeaks visit your feeders. Though they eat a lot of insects and berries, they do eat seed, including sunflower and safflower. And remember, whether you're feeding the birds or just enjoying those who make your yard home, you can help keep them safe around windows by following this advice from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology.     

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

School is Out, Nature Camp is in!

by Kelly Beerman
Nature Camp Coordinator

It is that time of year again for VINS Natures Camps! It was certainly a wet and muggy couple of weeks, but the campers were having too much fun to even care about the weather. Despite the rain and humidity, all six camp sessions had many adventures, with campers hoping to return after their first week to continue their outdoor explorations. Let’s take a look and see what adventures ensued!

Week One: Natural Expressions, Earth Explorers: Adaptations, Aqua Adventures, Radical Raptors, and Eagles on Target/Natural Leaders.
Week Two: Geocaching! 

Wow, what a first week! Natural Expressions campers were busy over in Woodstock at Artistree/Purple Crayon Productions creating arts and crafts based on their observations of nature and even constructing fairy houses! Campers took a field trip and hiked up Mt. Tom to the Pouge, a beautiful pond near the top. If you had visited Earth Explorers and Aqua Adventures over at Storrs Pond, you would have seen that campers were busy learning their frog calls, fishing, making their own minnow traps, understanding the many stages of the water cycle, and just having a great time swimming or canoeing.

Here at the VINS Nature Center, our Radical Raptors group was able to participate in behind the scenes tours of Wildlife Services and raptor feeding times. One of our favorite camps, Radical Raptors gave campers the chance to see up-close how we train our raptors. At the end of the week, these campers also have the unique opportunity to have an American Kestrel sit on their gloved hand – like a real VINS educator (after much instruction and with much supervision of course)! Last but not least, our Eagle campers (the oldest age group) tried out their Robin Hood skills by learning the basics of archery in the outdoors. They focused on proper bow and arrow technique while learning a little bit about the history of archery and some new games! Have you ever played Tic-Tac-Toe with a bow and arrow? 

Our second week was a bit more laid back with just two groups here at the Nature Center and a shorter week because of the July Fourth holiday - but that doesn’t mean they didn’t have just as much fun learning about geocaching! Campers were able to orient themselves by using a compass at first and understand the importance of finding your way in nature. Then, the uses of GPS units were introduced along with the idea that you can use these devices not just in your car for directions, but to go on an outdoor treasure hunt! These two camp groups were able to find an officially registered geocache located somewhere near the Quechee Gorge (we can’t tell you exactly where, that would be cheating) and they also created their own cache for the other camp group to find.

This year, VINS has an even more diverse camp program with over 35 sessions of camps for children pre-K through 8th grade and ranging in topics from habitat exploration to survival skills to artistic expressions of nature. While these first weeks turned out to be tons of fun, we still have more outdoor adventures to come! To see a full list of our camps and to register, please visit our website at If you’d like to see all of our fun antics at Nature Camp, check out our Facebook page throughout the summer to see our photo albums grow with camp memories! 

Thursday, July 4, 2013

Patriotic Patient

by Calah Beckwith
Wildlife Keeper

It's not a Bald Eagle or even a wild turkey (Benjamin Franklin's legendary choice for our national symbol). Today, America's Independence Day, we received into our care a female American Kestrel nestling. Though she still has a good bit of fluff, this tyke is already sporting some red, white, and blue. 

This little girl had been hopping around on the ground for three days with no parents in sight. She is very skinny and dehydrated, but she is spirited! Baby raptors are very difficult to care for, especially when they are all alone. Even during the fledgling stage, these little ones are extremely susceptible to imprinting - just like the American Crow I recently wrote about. We'll provide similar safeguards - wearing masks and limiting human contact and sounds - to ensure she remains wild and doesn't become too comfortable with people.

She's going to get lots of TLC here at VINS, and we'll keep you updated on her progress.  

Happy Fourth of July!

Friday, June 28, 2013

Why So Blue?

by Sara Eisenhauer
Wildlife Services Manager

On June 18th, VINS’ Wildlife Services Department received its first baby Blue Jay of the season. Blue Jays have always been one of my favorite birds, so you can imagine my excitement when I heard of its arrival. However, this little jay wasn’t feeling so excited - it had been attacked by a dog and suffered neurological damage and a fracture to its left leg. We don’t encounter dog attack cases very often, but when we do, the patients usually come to us in very rough shape. 

Neurological damage and spinal trauma are very common injuries from dog attacks - the strong bite of a dog can damage many nerves in the bird’s body, including those in the spinal column. This little jay was unable to stabilize itself and held its head in a constant upside down position. We acted quickly and immediately gave the jay an anti-inflammatory medication for pain and swelling, an antibiotic to prevent infection, and a homeopathic medication for nerve damage. The next step was to splint his broken leg. 

Example of leg splint and boot
on an American Crow
As a wildlife rehabilitator, I have found that one of the most challenging procedures I have done is leg splints. Birds have very thin leg bones, and their legs are shaped in an entirely different way compared to those of mammals. The goal with leg splinting is not only to stabilize the fracture, but to prevent the entire leg from moving. On a small songbird, you can’t put their leg in a solid cast, so you have to be creative: we call it the Z-splint. Birds’ legs are shaped in a Z-formation, so we fashion a splint to replicate this.  The only way to do this successfully is to anesthetize the bird. Once the splint is secured, you then have to fashion a “shoe.” Even though the injured leg can no longer move within the splint, the bird’s foot and toes can still move.  This can be a problem – the movement of the foot causes muscles and tendons to pull on the fracture site. To prevent this, we make a little shoe that we tape to the bottom of the bird’s foot.  We like to call them “booties.”

Fledgling Blue Jay -
fully healed and growing strong!
With a secure splint, healing medications and a healthy Blue Jay diet, we hoped this youngster would be on his way to a full recovery. Birds’ bones heal very quickly, and the baby Blue Jay’s splint and shoe were ready to be removed after only one week. To our delight, the fracture had a firm callous on it, and it was healed!  The little jay’s neurological damage amazingly corrected itself, as well, and he was no longer upside down!  We now have him in a larger enclosure, where he’s practicing flying, eating like a champ, and growing into one of my favorite birds – a Blue Jay.

Thursday, May 30, 2013

Can You Handle the Cuteness?

Baby bird season is in full swing here at VINS, and we are busy, busy! Though taking care of the little ones is a lot of work, it is definitely the most rewarding season for us. I wanted to share some of the adorable babies we have the privilege of working with every day - cause it would be a shame to keep it all to ourselves! Visit our website and check out our webcam to see some of the special babes in our incubator.

This nest of six Black-capped Chickadees came to us after their mother had been killed by a cat. Left on their own, these little guys wouldn't have made it, but a compassionate woman rescued them and immediately got them to VINS. They're a raucous bunch!

This tiny tot is a much younger Black-capped Chickadee. He was found on the ground with no nest in sight. He was cold and hungry and needed someone to help him grow big and strong, and the nice folks who notice him helped him find his way to VINS - and a toasty warm incubator. When he first arrived, he was practically naked - nothing but a bit of fuzz to keep him warm. Now he's growing in some baby feathers, and you can start to see his Chickadee markings. He even makes little Chickadee sounds!

This little American Robin has only been with us a short time. He (or she) was found on the ground, apparently having fallen out of his nest. He has no injuries, and is actually a healthy fledgling bird. Fledgling birds can seem very helpless and alone when they first leave the nest, but they are typically being cared for by parents who aren't far away. If you see a fully-feathered "baby" bird on the ground, leave it where it is (assuming it's a safe spot) and keep an eye out for the parents. You should see them come to the baby at regular intervals - they may even fuss at you if you get too close to their little one. If you don't see parents, the baby seems to be injured, or it's in an unsafe location with cars, cats or dogs, get in touch with an avian rehabber. 

These European Starlings were nesting in the wall of a house! The homeowner found the nest and removed it, along with these five babies. They arrived very cold and lethargic, but once we got them warmed up and a fed, they really came alive. They're feisty and active and are just on the cusp of fledging. What a crew!

These babies are a stark contrast to the previous Robin and Starlings. They are about the same age (about 10 days old), but look much younger. The difference is nutrition. The first, healthy Robin was cared for by it's parents until its "abduction," and the Starlings came to VINS as nestlings and received our specialized nestling formula. 

The American Robin (above) and European Starling (left) pictured here were cared for during the first week of their lives by members of the public. These folks had the best of intentions and rescued the babies after they had fallen from their nests. But they were ill-equipped to provide for the special needs of these tykes. Of course, a baby bird's parents are always the best at caring for them, but when that isn't an option, an experience, licensed avian rehabilitator is the next best bet. Now that these babies are receiving the proper nutrition, we're hopeful that they'll begin to thrive and develop properly - but only time will tell. We certainly appreciate the compassion of those who found and initially cared for the Robin and Starling, and it's been a great chance for us to teach others about the best way to grow healthy, strong songbirds! 

We have two unique baby birds in our care, as well - a House Finch (who is just a blur in this photo, he moves so quickly!) and a White-breasted Nuthatch. These aren't rare birds in our area, we just don't see them as patients here at VINS very often. They are a cute pair, snuggling together and chirping at one another (we've likened the nasal ballads of the Nuthatch to those of Aaron Neville). The Nuthatch is a fledgling who was attacked by a cat. He has a broken halux (his rear digit or "thumb") which we have splinted. The House Finch's parents built the sweetest little nest inside a clothespin bag hanging from a clothesline. We suspect something happened to this little one's parents, as they hadn't returned to the nest in some time. And the kind woman who was keeping an eye on the nest brought him in to us - clothespin bag and all! Both birds are thriving and are starting to stretch their wings and practice flying. What a pair!

And last but not least, the American Crow. He was found on the ground, having fallen or been blown out of his nest. He had very few feathers, and he was very cold and lethargic. The cold can be fatal for nestling birds of any species, and we were fearful that this Crow had gotten too cold and may not be able to recover. We got him warmed up and treated him for internal trauma, and slowly but surely he perked up. Now he's a "big kid" and has lots of feathers. He preens and takes care of his new feathers, and he likes to practice flapping his wings. Though his health is good, that was only one challenge that we've faced with this youngster. Crows are incredibly susceptible to imprinting - becoming irreversibly socially-bonded to humans rather than those of their own species. Because of this, we have to take special steps to prevent his imprinting on VINS staff members. He has a mirror so he's always looking at another crow, we wear a special mask any time we interact with him, we never talk around him, and we play him a special mix of nature sounds which includes the sounds of crows. With any luck, he'll grow up wild and join a murder of crow companions!

Phew! There are a lot of mouths to feed at VINS right now - about 30 babies total. But we always have room for more. If you find a baby bird, give us a call and we'll make sure the little one receives the best care humans have to offer. Call our Wildlife Services Department with any bird-related questions or emergencies at 802-359-5001 ext. 212.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Hard Knocks and Happy Endings....A Woodpecker Makes His Way Home

Woodpeckers seem to have a knack for getting themselves into trouble, especially those who live in close proximity to homes and businesses. Many woodpeckers make themselves right at home in our backyards, placing them perilously close to one of the biggest threats to birds - windows.

Each year, hundreds of thousands of birds are injured or lose their lives by flying into plate glass windows. Birds do not see the glass, but rather they see a reflection of the landscape - typically the sky or trees. The bird thinks it is flying skyward or into the forest, but instead it hits glass. 

One recent woodpecker patient here at VINS had a very unlucky encounter with a window. This patient, a Hairy Woodpecker, arrived in extremely rough shape. He had severe head trauma and was unable to hold his head upright. His feathers were puffed up and he had his head tucked under his wing - both signs that he wasn't feeling well. 

This guy was truly down-and-out, and we weren't sure he would be able to make a full recovery. We treated him with homeopathic medications for head trauma as well as an anti-inflammatory to help with any swelling and pain. He was very wobbly for a long time - his head bobbed from side to side, and he was generally unsteady. 

He slowly improved and we decided to give him a chance to spread his wings in our songbird aviary. It took several days for his equilibrium to return, but he eventually gained the ability to make short flights across the aviary. And a few days after that, he was zooming around the enclosure making the classic Hairy Woodpecker call. What a joy to see this guy flying and calling with no hint of a head bob or unsteadiness! Watch this video of the healed and healthy Hairy Woodpecker in VINS' songbird aviary. 

So we sent him on his way! He returned to his original home, where, we understand, his mate had been waiting for him the whole time.

To learn more about how you can safeguard your windows or how to help a bird that has hit a window, visit the Cornell Lab of Ornithology's webpage dedicated to keeping birds safe around windows or call VINS' Wildlife Services Department at 802-359-5001 ext. 212.


Thursday, May 9, 2013

Oh, Baby! VINS' First Baby Bird of the Season.

Spring has arrived in New England, and for VINS this means the arrival of "baby bird season." Right now, birds are busy finding mates, establishing territories, building nests, and, for the lady-birds, laying eggs. While many birds successfully raise their young to adulthood, there are some whose babies find themselves in need of a helping human hand. 

Each spring, we wonder when the first baby bird will arrive in our Wildlife Services Department and what species it will be. This was a particularly long winter, so we expected that the babies would show up a bit later than in past years.  

(Watch a video of our first baby of the year.)

Well, we got our answer nearly two weeks ago. Our first baby, a tiny mourning dove, arrived on April 25. This little one was found on a sidewalk - likely the result of an overactive tyke who wandered a bit too far over the edge of his nest. Other than a bit of bruising on his abdomen and a small amount of blood on his wing, both injuries likely sustained during his tumble out of the nest onto concrete, this little dove was in good condition. 

Our main priorities with any nestling baby bird are to 1) make sure the bird is warm, and 2) get some food in the baby's belly. This baby was nice and warm when he arrived (not too hot and not too cold, but just right), so we got him settled in an incubator to maintain his temperature and served him his first meal. He's been eating and growing ever since! 

Baby birds grow very quickly, so he went from the helpless baby you see in the photo above to the awkward yet active youngster featured in this video to the fully-feathered teenager in the photo to the left in less than two week's time. In the video, the baby is making his first attempt at eating solid food and drinking water on his own. We have a bottle rigged with a soft opening that mimics his mother's mouth. He sticks his head in the bottle, opens his mouth and takes in the mix of seed and starter. It's takes time for him to learn that he must actively eat and drink rather than just opening his mouth and waiting for the food to fall in! You can see when he's offered water that he opens his mouth, expecting the water to jump in! Nearly a week has gone by since the video was taken, and he is a master-drinker now - though he's still working on eating solid food without the bottle. Oh, baby! 


Friday, April 19, 2013

Red-hot Red-tail

Not too long ago, we played host to a red-tailed hawk who was suffering the effects of our long, harsh Vermont winter. She was emaciated and crawling with internal parasites, but she was full of fire and spirit – take a look back at her humble beginnings in the VINS rehab department.

Watch a video of this red-hot red-tail on her journey back into the wild.

In a little more than one month, this red-tail put on 220 grams – about ½ pound.  That doesn’t sound like much, but it’s quite a lot for a bird who weighs in at a meager 2.6 pounds. It’s the equivalent of a 130 pound human gaining 24.5 pounds in 40 days!

This special gal was the embodiment of everything we love about red-tailed hawks. She was graceful and wild and nothing short of spectacular. We suspect she was getting on in years – her dark amber eyes, bright red unblemished tail, and chocolate-hued body were good indications of her age – so she had certainly earned her red-tail attitude. During her time at VINS, she put on plenty of weight, got in some practice flights, and tested her new strength on live prey – and she’s ready to go!

As you’ll see in the video of her release, madam red-tail was, indeed, red-hot! She’s raising her hackles – the feathers on top of her head - and looking as fierce as possible. Though she gets a bit of a short start initially, once her freedom sinks in, she takes a nice long flight into the forest. Farewell, feisty lady!

Goodbye, VINS!

Releasing a barred owl back into the wild.
Today I had the chance to release a barred owl who came to VINS in February after being struck by a car. This will be the last bird I release for VINS, as my time here in the wildlife rehabilitation department comes to a close.

Watch a video of the owl's release!

I've been working at VINS for five years now, caring for all sorts of birds -- from nestling cedar waxwings and baby robins, to great blue herons and bald eagles. Every bird has been special and important, but some patients I remember more than others, like the osprey with vision problems who we tried desperately to save, but couldn't. Or the little hummingbird who came in with what the presenter thought were injured wings, but it turned out the hummer just had some spiderwebs wrapped around his feathers (that's how tiny hummingbirds are; spiderwebs can prevent them from flapping their wings!).

Beyond the beloved birds, the people I've met here at VINS have made my time here so special. Staff and interns, like Sara E., Calah, Lauren, Sarah S., Katie, Noella, Jenna, Hannah, and Chris (and all the other interns I've met along the way). Volunteers like Jack, Betsy, Marjory, Peg, Jeff, Lilah, Duff, Pat, and Sara have been so fun to work with and get to know. Thank you all for a wonderful five years here at VINS.

Saturday, April 6, 2013

Baby, baby, baby, ohhhh!

Mallard duckling
Each spring and summer, VINS Wildlife Services cares for several hundred injured and orphaned baby birds. Watch our cute baby bird video!

We patch up baby birds' wounds, set their broken bones, and feed them specialized meals that mimic their diets in the wild. Once the birds are healthy enough and ready to live life on their own, we release them to the wild.

Caring for these birds means around-the-clock attention, feedings, and cleaning. Please consider donating to help us care for these precious lives!

Nestling barred owl.

Friday, March 15, 2013

Chickadee checks out!

A little black-capped chickadee came to VINS last month with a drooping wing. While we couldn't detect a specific fracture, we wrapped the bird's wing to stabilize it, in case there was a small broken bone. 

Within a month, the wrap had been removed, the wing was sitting normally along the bird's body, and this chickadee was flying all over our aviary and ready to check out!

Watch a video of this bird's release!

Above , VINS intern Sarah Sanderson prepares to release the chickadee.

Friday, March 8, 2013

Red-tail on the Move

A red-tailed hawk was found in Hartland, Vermont ... in a chicken coop! The emaciated raptor was going after a family's chicken, became entangled in the coop, and needed rescue. Watch a video of the hawk!

Upon exam, VINS staff found the hawk to be emaciated -- very thin and underweight -- and had internal parasites. We treated the parasites with medication, and are in the process of getting the bird up to a healthy weight. 

Above, getting the hawk out of her enclosure. Below, handling the hawk before moving her outside.

The red-tail in her outdoor enclosure.
Today, the hawk got moved from her small indoor enclosure to an outdoor enclosure much larger in size. Here she will be able to stretch her wings, fly up to several perches, and begin working her muscles. Soon she will be moved into our very large flight cage, where we can monitor her flight ability and decide if she is ready to return to her life in the wild.

Friday, March 1, 2013

The results are in!

A few weeks ago, the Vermont Institute of Natural Science hosted a Great Backyard Bird Count event. For two days, birds were counted in a specific location every 15 minutes for four hours. Members of the public helped VINS staff keep an eye out -- with the use of binoculars and telescopes -- and tally up the numbers of species seen. The results were submitted to GBBC, and are used to help biologists throughout the world monitor bird populations.

Photo by Michelle Black.
VINS: Sunday, February 17, 2013  11AM-2PM
52 American goldfinches
2 tufted titmice
4 black-capped chickadees
3 white-breasted nuthatch
1 red-breasted nuthatch
2 American crow

VINS: Monday, February 18, 2013  11AM-2PM
3 black-capped chickadees
29 American goldfinches
2 tufted titmice

Worldwide Data: According to GBBC
Total Checklists Submitted (from around the world): 133,624  
Total Species Observed (worldwide): 3,432  
Total Individual Birds Counted: 34,185,218!