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!