Saturday, December 6, 2014

Our Tiniest Patient: the Northern Saw-whet Owl

by Calah Beckwith
Lead Wildlife Keeper

Hawks, falcons, eagles, owls. We treat a variety of raptors, each with his or her own unique challenges and needs. These predators of the sky range in size from the 10-pound bald eagle to the 1/4-pound American kestrel. Without exception, we know that regardless of size all raptors have extremely sharp talons and beaks made for tearing flesh. However, some raptors possess tools that are much more dangerous to humans than others. Eagles, for example, are incredibly large and powerful with talons and beaks that can cause great injury to those providing care if not handled with respect, confidence, and composure.

One day after his admission, the
little owl is feeling the effects of
his collision with a car.
On the other end of the scale is the diminutive northern saw-whet owl. It's almost hard to believe that a raptor this small exists in the forests of New England. This owl is 7-8 inches in length from head to tail, and it weighs between 75 and 100 grams (0.15 - 0.22 pounds). Saw-whet owls are one of the most common owls in the forests of the northern U.S., but they are very rare in avian rehabilitation. They are very secretive, and their tiny stature makes them difficult to spot in their forest habitats. 

Nearly one month ago, we were surprised and honored to receive a northern saw-whet owl at our Center for Wild Bird Rehabilitation. The little owl struck the side of a car while flying across a road - likely in pursuit of a meal. He sustained severe head trauma, damage to his right eye, a fractured furcula (similar to your collar bone), and trauma to his right shoulder. He weighed in at 70 grams (about the same size as an American robin) and is likely a male based on his particularly small stature.  

Now in a larger enclosure, the
northern saw-whet owl is bright-eyed
and well on his way to a full recovery.
While this little raptor has much less intimidating weapons, he must be handled with the same care and respect as the larger birds. Small birds respond to the stress of human interaction and captivity with much more intense physiological symptoms than their larger counterparts. Without a proper understanding of bird behavior and an ability to recognize signs of stress, it is certainly possible for a bird to die simply as a result of being handled by humans. We, therefore, had to be very careful with this tiny patient. We performed all treatments with speed and efficiency, limiting handling times and frequency.

We splinted his fractured wing, gave him special drops for his damaged eye, and gave him medications for pain and swelling. In general, he has handled the stress of captivity quite well. His splint has been removed, and he is now in a large enclosure where he can stretch his wings. Soon, we'll move him to a large outdoor enclosure where we can truly evaluate his flight ability. We're hopeful that he will have the flight skills necessary for survival in the wild - the prognosis is certainly good. 

We have felt truly blessed to be a part of this little owl's story and to help him find his way back to nature.         

Saturday, November 1, 2014

A Hawk Hullabaloo and a Barred Owl Bonanza

At the Center for Wild Bird Rehabilitation, we serve myriad bird orders: raptors, songbirds, waterfowl, wading birds....the list goes on. However, each season brings us a new "assortment" of avian patients. During the spring and summer months, we are inundated with baby birds, mostly of the songbird variety, but we also see a number of ducks and geese as well as a few wading birds and raptors. 

This Broad-winged Hawk experienced severe nerve damage
and head trauma. He recovered successfully and was released
just in time for fall migration.
Once fall migration is in full swing, raptors dominate our patient logs - particularly broad-winged hawks. Between August and October, these rambunctious raptors are amped up for a migration that takes them thousands of miles from Vermont to South America for the winter. They are in a frenzy, and nothing can stand in the way of their instinct to move south - nothing except a car or a window. All 14 of the broad-winged hawks we have received into our care since August 1 have suffered injuries related to either a collision with a car or a window. More than 1/2 of these birds suffered mortal injuries from which they were unable to recover. A lucky few sustained relatively minor head and/or internal trauma. Describing these injuries as "minor" truly is relative, as a swelling brain and bleeding internal organs are very serious and unpredictable injuries. Fortunately, these remaining patients had successful recoveries, and we were able to release them in plenty of time for migration.

This little guy suffered a fracture of the humerus
near his shoulder. His wing is splinted to secure the
fracture sight. 
Barred Owls have also ruled the roost here in Wild Bird Rehab this fall. This woodland owl encountered a similar obstacle as the migrating Broad-winged Hawks - cars. While this hooting owl doesn't migrate, and adults of the species likely remain in the same territory throughout their lives, young Barred Owls may move quite a bit - particularly in the fall when they are forced to disperse from their natal areas. As the majority of the Barred Owls we have received into our care have been youngsters, it is likely that their increased movements to find new home ranges placed them in harm's way. Another possibility is that their pursuit of prey tempted them to cross dangerous roadways. Roads are fantastic open spaces on which prey is easy to detect. Many raptors are drawn to roads and the potential buffet they may provide, but many times this hunting strategy ends in a collision with a vehicle. 

This lucky Barred Owl prepares for release in a large outdoor
enclosure where he can stretch his wings.
As with the hawk patients, only half of the 12 owls presented at our hospital had treatable injuries. Many of the surviving patients experienced eye injuries, nearly all suffered internal and head trauma, and a few had wing fractures. We have already released two successfully rehabilitated owls, and we currently have four receiving treatment. These patients have a good prognosis, and we're hopeful they'll all make a full recovery!


Saturday, September 20, 2014

Late Bloomers

by Calah Beckwith
Lead Wildlife Keeper

With cool temperatures and changing leaves, it feels as though summer has been over for a while now. Birds have been gathering in mixed-species flocks and foraging relentlessly in preparation for migration. Baby birds are all grown up and fending for themselves.....or are they?

VINS rehabbers are playing parent to two very special - and adorable - late bloomers. A fledgling American goldfinch graced our doorstep a few days ago. He was found cold, hungry, and parentless. Though goldfinches typically breed later in the summer - their child-rearing coincides with peak seed production - this little guy is especially young. With an inability to find food on his own and very limited flight, this fledgling could not survive without the care of his parents. We aren't certain why he was left on his own with no adult goldfinches around, but we were more than happy to help the tyke. We got him warmed up, and he took to hand-feeding right away. He still has quite a bit of growing up to do, so we'll take care of him until he's ready to live on his own in the wild.

Another late bloomer, a fledgling American robin, found himself in need of our assistance after being attacked by a cat. He arrived three weeks ago with a broken leg and a bruised body. After a week with a leg splint and special medication to ward off cat-related bacteria, the little robin was (mostly) good as new. This little robin is also a bit of a runt and seems to be developing much more slowly than most robins we've cared for in the past. That's okay, though. He's eating well and gaining weight and starting to grow some "big kid" feathers. He's got a little ways to go - he still needs to learn to eat on his own - so we'll make sure he learns the ropes before he heads out into the real world. 

Two unusually late babies, but we're honored to help them grow and thrive. It's a nice way for us to hang on to summer just a little big longer.  

Saturday, September 6, 2014

Red-tail Retirement

by Calah Beckwith
Lead Wildlife Keeper

When we say we provide a life-long home for raptors with disabilities, we really mean it. A good number of our raptors have been with us for more than 20 years, and the high-quality habitat, health care, and diet we provide ensures that many of these birds will double or even triple the lifespan their species could expect in the wild. 

In addition to providing all of the "physical" necessities for the birds who call VINS home, we also make every attempt to stay attuned to their mental needs, as well. We come to know our birds quite intimately, and we develop an understanding of their routines, habits, and normal behaviors. When a bird begins to deviate from these routines and behaviors, we make every attempt to find the cause of the change. 

A few months ago, we noticed a behavior change in a male red-tailed hawk who has been a member of our raptor education team for many years. This particular bird LOVES his food and has always eaten every last bit of food provided. Despite the injury to his wing and limited flight ability, he's always been quite agile and mobile. One week, we noticed that he had gone three days without eating any of his food. We also observed that he had developed a bit of a limp with one leg. We did a full examination and did not find any outward injuries. 

Now this hawk is at least 20 years old, though he could certainly be older. He arrived at VINS in 1998 as an adult, and we believe him to be a few years older than that. He is certainly a senior citizen, and his behavior and limp led us to believe he was suffering from arthritis. It wasn't that he didn't want to eat, he was just having trouble accessing his food. When he did get to his food, though, he had trouble lifting the mouse clinched in his talons up to his mouth. 

The male red-tailed hawk (top, left) 
relaxes in his new habitat with his new lady companion.
We started him on an anti-inflammatory to help with arthritis-related pain and stiffness, and we began to hand-feed him to ensure that he received sufficient nutrition. He took all of this in stride and was a very cooperative patient. Obviously, his arthritis would prevent him from being comfortable siting on a glove and participating in education programs. 

So we made the decision to retire our beloved red-tailed hawk. Retirement at VINS means a cushy life as an exhibit bird with lots of space to move around, trees to sit in, a forest to gaze at, plentiful food - and no expectation of being handled by people. He thrived as an avian ambassador and glove-trained education bird, but even red-tailed hawks deserve a rest after a job well done.

After a few weeks of medication and hand-feeding, our red-tail started showing signs of improvement, and he was eating on his own and bouncing around his enclosure like a spry youngster. Just this week, he made the transition to our exhibit area; and one of the perks of his new home is that he is sharing it with a female companion. Within minutes of his introduction to his new habitat, he was sitting next to the female hawk and they were chatting up a storm. He settled in like he had lived there forever, and the lady hawk seems to enjoy his company. 

A well-deserved retirement for a hard-working, much-loved bird. Congrats, red! 

Come to VINS Nature Center to visit all of the birds who call VINS home, and see the red-tailed hawk in his new habitat. He loves visitors!       

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

VINS Incredible Insect Festival

Naturalist Photographer Sam Jaffe
Alyssa MacLeod
VINS Intern

What a perfect saturday in August - learning all about the wonderful world of insects at VINS. The Incredible Insect Festival on August 2 was a smash hit bringing out a total of 349 visitors. All day visitors were able to browse the large caterpillar collection of Sam Jaffe, an Master's student of environmental education at the Antioch University of New England. Among the over 50 different species he brought, my favorites were the Cecropia moth caterpillars. They were so big and colorful, I overheard one kid exclaim "It looks like candy!"

Being such a success as a first time event, I sure hope to be here for an even bigger turn out next year! There were many things I just didn't have enough time to try. For example, Anne Dannenberg taught some people how to make bee hives out of bamboo.  These small, easy to make hives are great to put around gardens to help attract pollinators, and also make great decoration! This activity was earlier complemented by a pollinator workshop also given by Anne. For those not interested in the workshop, story time was another alternative.

Story time was a blast with some stories read from books, some told from memory, and some acted out with puppets. Later in the afternoon I was also able to lead a bug hunting expedition. After quickly going over the basics of what a bug is, what they are good for, and how to collect them, those kids were itching to get their hands on a net. They each picked a net and a collecting jar and we were off to the field. We didn't make it far in before they started sweeping everything in sight. It was maybe 38 seconds into this adventure before I was called on to pull out my trusty field guide. Every insect was a fascinating find whether it was an invasive ladybug, a Halloween Pennant dragonfly, or an ambush bug. I thoroughly enjoyed how much they felt ownership over what they had caught and wanted to know more about it.
At the very end of the day as I was helping to clean up, I passed my dad who had come out for the day with my mom. He was practicing fly casting with a few other folks, led by Brian Burkholder. They were all so involved in this task, they nearly caught me with a cast a few times. It was clear to me that everyone found something to capture their fancy at this event from the 4 year olds enthralled by story time, to the older kids eyeing the candy-like caterpillars, and even the old-timers meditatively fly casting over and over again.

After spending my days this summer mostly helping kids to appreciate raptors better, I felt refreshed and invigorated spending a day helping others learn more about insects - my true passion. Being a naturalist, I love learning about all things - birds, bugs, plants, mammals, geology, etc - but without a doubt bugs are my favorite. As a group of organisms that often receives a "ewwww!" it was nice to see so many "ohhhs" and "ahhhs" at the VINS Incredible Insect Festival. 

Saturday, August 23, 2014

A Falcon Finds Freedom

The peregrine falcon with his wing splinted.
by Calah Beckwith
Lead Wildlife Keeper

A juvenile peregrine falcon has made his way back home after a stint at the VINS Center for Wild Bird Rehabilitation. The young falcon came to VINS at the beginning of June after an unsuccessful first flight from his nest, in which he collided with a fence and suffered a fractured wing. 

As broken bones go, the little peregrine's fracture was concerning. The humerus (the bone that connects the shoulder to the elbow) had broken into several different pieces, and the fracture site was severely swollen and bruised. We immediately splinted and immobilized his wing, and he spent two weeks in his little bird "cast." When the splint was removed, we found that the fracture had healed perfectly - he had a large calcified"knot" at the fracture site, a sign that it was firm and strong. Shortly after the splint was removed, he was placed in an outdoor enclosure, where he could breath fresh air, stretch his wings, and strengthen his flight muscles.

The young falcon spends time in an outdoor enclosure
after his wing has healed.
By the end of July, the peregrine was ready to return to the wild. His family had been spotted daily at his original nesting site at the Entergy Vermont Yankee plant, so the VINS staff made the journey to Vernon, VT to reunite him with his parents and siblings. He made an amazing maiden flight and headed straight for the nesting site, where it is hoped he will follow the example of his family members and hone his hunting and flying skills.

Fully healed and recovered from his injuries, the peregrine falcon returns to his nest site.
Spot the bird in flight in the lower left corner of the photo; his nest site is at the tower in the upper right of the photo.

Saturday, June 28, 2014

Remarkable Robins

by Calah Beckwith
Lead Wildlife Keeper

The good condition for
for such a long journey.
What are the chances? I find myself saying this many times each week, and I’m constantly amazed at the strength and will to survive that our wild patients exhibit. Of all the birds who find themselves in harms way, it’s likely that a very small percentage will be lucky enough to be found by someone who will help. Many of the birds that find their way to the VINS Wild Bird Hospital do so under extraordinary circumstances.

Four nestling American robins -
weary from their travels
A few weeks ago, we received a call from a very concerned woman who found a nest filled with baby American robins in her barn. The problem was that the barn had been transported just that day from New York through Massachusetts to its final resting place in New Hampshire – an eight-hour trip! These little robins had survived a tri-state journey with no food or warmth.

The robins during their days as fledglings.

When they arrived at VINS, we were shocked at the amazing condition of the robins. They were a bit stinky, dehydrated, and thin, but they were alert and begging for food. It was fortunate that the babies had just enough feathers to keep warm, were big enough to survive an eight-hour fast, and were able to remain securely in their nest. If they had been any smaller with fewer feathers, they wouldn’t have been able to stay warm nor could they have tolerated an entire day without food. Had they been any older, the movement of the barn may have caused them to leave the nest or “fledge” too early, and they wouldn’t have survived. These robin nestlings were at just the right age – what are the chances?!

Today, the robins are (mostly) grown up. They’re testing out their wings in our outdoor aviary and learning to eat on their own. It's so much fun to watch them forage for insects and explore the outdoors. What amazing little birds! 

Juvenile robins spend time outdoors.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

The Bear Man

Guest blog by Gene Walz, Friend of VINS
          Bears understand us better than we understand them.
That’s one of the many take-away insights that Ben Kilham revealed to a packed audience at VINS at his June 19 talk. In other words, bears are not the simple dangerous brutes many people fear. 
The Bear Man, as he is called, knows his bears, black bears, specifically. He’s raised, rehabilitated, and released back into the wild over 100 orphaned or injured bears. He’s studied their behavior first-hand. He’s written about them in a highly regarded book Out on a Limb: What Black Bears Have Taught Me about Intelligence and Intuition. And his work has been the subject of several feature documentaries on Discovery and National Geographic channels. 
The Social Black Bear was Kilham’s VINS topic. It was based on more than 1,000 social interactions that he has documented on his wooded acreage in LymeNew Hampshire. Among the areas he covered in a fast-paced and convincingly illustrated talk were bear friendships, anatomy and mating habits, diet, territorial ranges, hierarchies, justice, and “reciprocal altruism” (tolerance of other bears on home territory).
Between 5,000 and 6,000 black bears live in Vermont, more than 5,000 in New Hampshire, and over 20,000 in Maine. So it’s important to know about them.
Males have a home range of around 200 square miles; females require only 5 to 8 square miles. They find each other by leaving scent marks on trees and bushes and pathways. Mating season runs from late May until the first week in July, with partnerships lasting between three and seven days. Only 10% of male bears, those weighing over 300 pounds, can actually mate.
After winter hibernation, mother bears emerge from their dens in early to mid-April with, on average, two cubs – although, surprisingly, as many as seven have been produced. Male cubs are evicted from the mother’s home territory after the first year; females become part of a strict hierarchy overseen by the dominant matriarch. Rules and punishment are strict.
Jack-in-the-pulpit roots are black bears' most important food source, moreso than acorns and beech nuts, which are staples. Their favorite and most nutritious food is black oil sunflower seeds. Thus the cause of many bear-human encounters – near bird feeders.
The focus of many questions after the lively talk and the subject of the final chapter of Kilham’s book deal with this topic. What should people do when facing a black bear?
Kilham’s answer: hold your position, keep your eyes firmly on the bear, and speak softly but firmly to it. If threatened, bears may engage in false charges. Do not panic. Watch their faces, eyes, and ears for their emotional expressions.
Bears avoid people whenever possible. They know better. If people knew as much about bears as bears know about people, there’d be far fewer conflicts, far fewer headlines. Still, there have only been 67 deaths from black bears in the past one hundred years. We are much more dangerous to them than they are to us.

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Baby Birds Have Arrived!

by Calah Beckwith, Lead Wildlife Keeper

It was a little late in coming this year, but baby bird season is upon us! We are busy feeding many of these little guys every thirty minutes, but I wanted to take a moment to share some photos of the current crew.

Two of the first babies to arrive at the Wild Bird Hospital this year: European Starlings. Upon arrival, they were ice cold and barely breathing. We got them warmed up fast, and they were begging and feisty in no time!

And look at them now! Only a few days later, they've grown feathers and refuse to stay in their nest. They scoot around exploring and snuggle under stuffed animals. 

The starlings were quickly joined by an American robin. This little one fell more than 20 feet from her nest. She had swelling and bruising around her abdomen with likely internal trauma - very dangerous injuries in a tiny baby bird.

But she's a strong little robin, and she fought hard to heal. Now she's big enough to perch on branches and exercise her wing muscles. A true fledgling! She has plenty of company now, with three nestling robins that are just about ready to pop out of the nest and explore the world for themselves.

Our most recent patients are these captivating nestling blue jays. Even as nestlings, we can see the unique crest on their heads and white bars on their wings. This brood's tree was accidentally cut down. Though the nice folks who picked them up tried to create and new nest in hopes that the parents would return, they were nowhere in sight. We're very careful with these special babies; they are very easy to imprint, so we can't talk to or spend too much time with them - which is incredibly difficult with such adorable and interesting little birds.

Ultimately, we know that keeping our distance is in their best interest and will help them survive in nature as truly wild blue jays. If you'd like to watch as these baby blue jays grow and change every day,  click here to check out our baby bird cam.

Saturday, May 24, 2014

World Turtle Day (and a baby wood frog)

by Calah Beckwith, Lead Wildlife Keeper
photos by Linda Conrad, Guest Services Manager

Hatchling Painted Turtle
Turtles! They're ancient and fearless and amazingly built. They carry a mighty defense system on their backs; they make precarious journeys through forests and neighborhoods and across roads to mate and lay eggs; and....they have ridiculously adorable and heroic babies.

For these reasons (and many, many others), each May 23, the entire world stops to pay tribute to them on World Turtle Day.

So, in honor of World Turtle Day and these special reptiles, VINS had a "return to the wild" party for some of our resident turtles. Each spring, snapping turtles and painted turtles emerge from the Ottauquechee River to dig nests and lay eggs in the meadows and fields at VINS Nature Center. 

Baby Painted tiny!
When the baby turtles make their appearance (primarily fall for snapping turtles; spring for painted turtles), we serve as a shuttle service - transporting dozens of baby turtles down to the Ottauquechee River from their nest sites. Most  of these baby turtles must make the long, treacherous journey from nest to water on their own, facing numerous predators and dangers along the way - an amazing feat for a baby the size of a quarter!

Tiny Painted Turtles serve as
ambassadors for their species.
A lucky few of the wee turtles will spend the first year or two of their lives as residents of the Nature Center, where they will be nurtured and fed and kept safe. These little turtles live in exhibit aquariums, and they serve as ambassadors for their species by participating in turtle education programs and teaching people of all ages about the fascinating and unique world of turtles.

A two-year old painted turtle makes his way toward the
Ottauquechee River....for the very first time.
They don't live here, forever, though; and today is the day we say goodbye to some of our residents and welcome a new group of youngsters. We returned to the wild two painted turtles who have spent the past two years under the care of the VINS wildlife staff. They are big and strong and ready to thrive in their Ottauquechee River home. We also shuttled three hatchling painted turtles, giving them a leg up on life. What a special day of change, hope, and freedom!

A baby painted turtle, having just emerged from the nest,
toddles into the river. Note the pine needles for scale....he's just a little guy!

And here's a baby wood frog....just because he's criminally cute.

 Happy Spring!



Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Baby Bird Blues

by Calah Beckwith
Lead Wildlife Keeper

Each spring, we anxiously await the arrival of our first baby birds. Caring for baby birds is very difficult, delicate work, and it requires a lot of time and experience; but baby birds are also some of the most rewarding patients in avian rehab. There is nothing more fulfilling than watching a baby bird grow and thrive, and knowing that we have provided the proper environment, diet, and enrichment.

But sometimes they don't grow and thrive. Despite our best efforts, sometimes baby birds don't survive. This was our unfortunate experience with our very first baby birds of the year. They were newly hatched when they arrived, looking like little pink, squirming wads of gum. They were, of course, American robins.

Though the reason for their abandonment was unknown, it was immediately apparent that one of the babies was struggling. His color was a bit pale, he was not begging for food, and he seemed to have a hard time breathing. Shortly after his arrival at the Wild Bird Hospital, this tiny bird died.

His sibling, however, appeared very pink and healthy, was begging vigorously, and was pooping well (an important requirement for any healthy baby). He was vibrant throughout the day, but things changed dramatically the next morning. At his 6am feeding, he was weak and unable to beg. By 8am, he seemed to be struggling to breath. A short time later, we observed swelling and bruising around his abdomen which had not been there previously - a sign of possible internal trauma. Many times, internal injuries aren't apparent until well after the trauma has occurred. This appeared to be the case with the baby robin. By late morning, it was apparent that the baby was not going to bounce back as we had hoped, and we made the decision to humanely end his suffering.

As both a bird-lover and a rehabilitator, these decisions are excruciating. My co-workers and I are passionate about our work, and we are dedicated to saving birds' lives. Every choice we make weighs every possible outcome, and we always strive to do what is most ethical and humane for the animal. Sometimes, this means we have to make difficult decisions that make us sad. Ultimately, we must understand that though our primary job is to help any wild bird in our care to heal, recover, and grow, another important part of our work is to know when to let them go.

It's hard to know what type of trauma these little ones experienced prior to their arrival at VINS. They may have had a hard fall from the nest and were suffering from internal trauma that we couldn't see, they may have gotten colder than their little bodies could tolerate (temps below 90 can be fatal), or they may have gone too long without food before their arrival at our hospital (feedings every 15-30 min are vital). What we do know is that once they arrived at VINS, they were given the best care possible.

So what can you do to ensure that baby birds have the best chance of survival? For nestling birds like the robins in this article, your first priority should be to keep the baby warm - then call the VINS Wild Bird Hospital at 802-359-5001 ext. 212. For detailed instructions on how to help a baby bird in need, click here to read Baby Bird Rescue 101.

Friday, April 18, 2014

Bald Eagle....Freedom for A Special Patient

by Calah Beckwith
Lead Wildlife Keeper

A bald eagle is a rare and special patient at the VINS Wild Bird Hospital. Recently, we had the privilege of providing care for an injured juvenile eagle. He was found on March 21 in Danby, VT by game warden Justin Stedman. He was sitting on the side of a road, seeming weak and stunned. 

When he arrived at VINS, we were incredibly concerned about his condition. He was so weak that he was unable to hold his head up. He was emaciated, exhibited signs of head trauma, and we suspected that he had been hit by a car. We started him immediately on fluid therapy - our treatment for emaciation and dehydration - as well as medications for head trauma, pain, and weakness.

When we placed him in his enclosure, he was unable to stand on his own, and we had give him a soft towel "donut" to sit in. His breathing was shallow, and he was so weak that I feared he wouldn't make it through the night.

When I came in the next morning, I checked on him first thing. Amazingly enough, he was standing up and quite alert! As the days went by, he became stronger - and I mean STRONG. By his second day in our care, it took three people to handle him; we are able to handle most raptors with two people. Bald eagles are incredibly powerful birds, and in a rehab setting, we develop an intense respect for their strength. It is impressive.

Needless to say, this eagle progressed quickly. He was eating massive amounts of food - rabbit, chicken, rat - in no time. He put on weight, stretched his wings in our flight cage, and then it was time to bid him a fond farewell.

So on a chilly Tuesday morning, we said goodbye to this powerful, beautiful bird. I have no doubt he'll succeed in the wild - he's strong, and he's a fighter.

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Roughed-up Ruffed Grouse

by VINS Staff

Ruffed Grouse, Bonasa umbellus
Have you ever wondered where birds sleep? Birds sleep, or roost, in any number of places - in trees and cavities, on the ground; some even roost under the snow. The ruffed grouse (Bonasa umbellus), a common New England ground-feeding bird related to the chicken and turkey, has a very unusual roosting ritual. When snow depths reach at least 10 inches, the bird will plunge down from a height into the snow. The grouse will burrow in and hollow out a cavity, creating a pocket of air under the snow. The snow acts as an insulator, keeping the cavity warmer than the air above, while also offering protection from avian predators. When the time comes to vacate their roost, the grouse explodes up out of the snow, causing alarm to anyone in the vicinity.

Ruffed Grouse in VINS' Rehabilitation Center
Photo by Sara Eisenhauer
Recently, the VINS Wildlife Services Department played host to a ruffed grouse that got himself into a bit of trouble. When a grouse “explodes,” he often does not see obstacles that are nearby, which can result in collisions with buildings, windows, or cars. This particular bird crashed through a plate glass window! VINS’ grouse patient was amazingly lucky and sustained minimal injuries – he had a few cuts and abrasions, an injury to his right eye, and a broken toe on his left foot. He was given a little birdie “boot” to stabilize his toe, his cuts were cleaned, and his injured eye was rinsed and cleaned. After about two weeks in rehab, the ruffed grouse was healthy and fit, and he was returned to his home in the wild.

Ruffed Grouse
Photo by Bill Byrne, Mass. Energy & Environmental Affairs