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.