Sunday, December 11, 2016

CWBR Updates & A Special Release

By Lauren Adams,
Lead Wildlife Keeper

Ah, winter.  The “quiet” season in wildlife rehabilitation.  Around here, we call it Barred Owl season.  When the cold air creeps in, the mornings are frosty, and nighttime descends in mid-afternoon, this is when New England is up against its toughest test.  Barred Owls, unlike many birds that populate our skies in spring and summer, do not migrate south, but rather prefer to stick it out during t

he dreary months.  These hearty birds are adapted for cold nights, snow-covered landscapes, wintry storms and scarce food supply.  Like true New Englanders, they are tough cookies.

This is why Barred Owls are one of my absolute favorite birds to rehabilitate.  And lucky for me, this is our most common patient that we see this time of year.  Since the beginning of October, we have seen 28 Barred Owls come through our doors, making up more than half of our total patients in that time.  Despite their adaptations to survive under harsh winter conditions, they have not adapted to the greatest challenge of all, the ever-expanding presence of humans.  Barred Owls are no match for slick roadways, fast cars and blinding headlights.  Most of these birds have been victims of vehicle strikes and suffer a variety of injuries from head trauma to fractured wing bones. 

But toughness prevails, and there’s no quit in these birds.  They bounce back remarkably from severe injuries and poor condition.  We have been able to release many of these owls back into the wild, lively and healthy.  As the weather gets colder, the snow falls, and the deep freeze sets in, we expect to see many more Barred Owls come in.  Good thing we are ready for them.

Current patients in care:

5 Barred Owls:
Actually a low number for us right now.  2 are in the flight cage as a pre-release stage.  The other 3 are in various stages of rehab, on medications, fluid therapy, and lots of TLC.

1 Northern Goshawk
This gorgeous male came in weak and emaciated, but very feisty.  He had lots of feather damage and parasites, but no significant injuries.  He is doing very well, and has ended his course of meds and is now self-feeding.

1 Coopers Hawk
This large female arrived with signs of significant spinal trauma.  After being stabilized for a few days at another rehab center, she was transferred here for continued care.  She has shown some incremental improvement on treatment, and will hopefully continue in that direction.

1 Rock Dove
This little guy came in with a wing injury, and could not fly.  He has since regained almost full use of his wings, and is starting to fly out in one of our rehab aviaries.

We have had lots of successful releases lately, mostly Barred Owls, but one great triumph was the release of a very handsome adult male Long-tailed Duck. 

This extremely rare case came in to us November 8th when some kind folks in Brattleborofound him underneath their car looking not quite right.  This poor guy was most likely on his migration route from breeding grounds in northern Canada to the coast.  He was almost completely non-responsive on intake, unable to stand, or open his eyes.  His breathing was labored, and he had a mild head twitch, a sign of neurological damage.  We did not have high hopes for this guy.  In the absence of any physical signs of trauma, we suspected toxicity.  We put the bird on a treatment of IV fluids, vitamins and nutritional support, and over two weeks, he showed drastic improvement.  He started standing and opening his eyes.  His breathing difficulty and head twitch cleared up.  We were able to introduce him into water where he immediately started bathing and preening.  Once he was able to dive and flap his wings, we set up a transfer for him to a wildlife rehab center in Cape Neddick, Maine, where they could monitor him for a little longer before releasing him into a flock right along the Maine seacoast.  I am so impressed with this bird’s improvement, and thrilled to report that he was successfully released last week.  You can see picture of the release on the facebook page of The Center for Wildlife in Cape Neddick, Maine.

Well, that’s about it for updates.  We are currently at patient #531 and counting…

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

VINS Says Goodbye to a Beloved Ambassador, Utah the Great Horned Owl

By Lauren Adams,
Lead Wildlife Keeper

You can hear him even before you get inside the building.  Each day he greets us with the characteristic “Hoothoot Hoot Hoot.” 

“Good morning, Utah,” we reply going about our daily tasks.  It is easy to take for granted a friendly conversation with one of the most fearsome predators of the sky, the Great Horned Owl.  But this is VINS, where our co-workers might have feathers and eat mice for dinner, but are no less important to our jobs than the other humans, and are equally treasured in our hearts.

If I ever forget how amazing it is to be up close and personal with a Great Horned Owl, all I need to do is attend one of our educational programs and observe the joy and awe on the faces of the audience when Utah emerges on the glove addressing the crowd with his deep voice and majestic presence.  He represents his species magnificently as an ambassador from the wild, teaching visitors to VINS about raptors, owls, their habitats and behaviors, their place in their ecosystem, and of course, their calls.

Utah came to VINS in May of 2004 from Salt Lake City, Utah where he had hatched in 2000.  After a collision with a car, Utah suffered permanent brain damage including partial blindness in one eye.  Because of his injuries, Utah remained permanently in captivity where he could live comfortably and safely.  Since arriving at VINS, Utah has been an invaluable member of our education team.  His calm temperament and easygoing personality have made him a favorite of both staff and guests alike. 

Ask anyone who has had the pleasure of meeting him, though, and they will tell you that his best quality was his hoot.  From inside his crate, long before you could see him, you could hear him foreshadow the thrill that was yet to come.  There was always a buzz of anticipation in the air when Utah was scheduled to come out, and he never disappointed. 

My favorite memory of Utah was during a program with one of our educators, Nathan.  On a busy day in mid-summer, to a fully packed room, I recall the enchanted giggles of delight as Nathan demonstrated Utah’s call-and-response, hooting back and forth like they were sharing some private joke, the true meaning of which, we could only imagine.

On Friday, we said goodbye to one of our most beloved birds and friends.  Utah’s injuries and his age finally got the better of him, and he passed away, leaving a hole both in our programs and in our hearts.  It is always difficult to lose a cherished member of our education team here at VINS.  It reminds us of the fragility of the existence of a wild bird, and of how lucky we are to have them touch our lives, even briefly.  It is a little easier, though, thinking about Utah’s immeasurable contribution to VINS and the community.  In his 16 years of life, he reached thousands, maybe more. 

It will be sad to come in to work each morning and not hear his soulful greeting.  But I know how special it was to have heard it at all, and I will never forget the sound.

Monday, October 17, 2016

Peter Guesses "Hooo" Will Be Our 500th Patient!

By Peter Gau
Wildlife Keeper
VINS is abuzz with exciting news from the Center for Wild Bird Rehabilitation. With the intake of patient #491 we’re only 9 birds away from treating 500 injured or orphaned wild birds in 2016! We haven’t been so close to this milestone in a few years- this is a big deal!

The staff has been guessing about the date of our 500th patient. Some say early November, some have even said December 31st. With baby bird season over the days of multiple birds coming in at once have decreased, so I think we’ll be closer to December. My guess for the species would have to be a Barred Owl. During the winter and after Christmas we get many Barred Owls in due to car collisions. Combined with the fact that the Barred Owl is the most common species of owl in this part of Vermont, there is a very good chance that we could reach patient 500 from admitting Barred Owls in the next couple of months.

As for the year so far, we have a top 10 species list admitted to our hospital, they are as follows:
1-      European Starling (EUST)
2-      American Robin (AMRO)
3-      Barred Owl (BDOW)
4-      Rock Dove or Pigeon (RODO)
5-      Mourning Dove (MODO)
6-      Eastern Phoebe (EAHP)
7-      Cedar Waxwing (CEWA)
8-      Mallard Duck (MALL)
9-      Broad Winged Hawk (BWHA)
10-  Common Grackle (COGR)

This year has been a busy one. That is both sad and amazing. It is sad because so many birds were injured, kept illegally, imprinted or starving. The amazing side is that were able to help and rehabilitate many of those birds and give them a second chance at life in the wild. As always if you see an injured animal, do not approach it, call your local wildlife center or Fish and Wildlife Service for instructions. Thank you to everyone who supports VINS and our mission for rehabilitation and education!

Monday, October 10, 2016

Welcome to Northfield, VINS' newest educator!

By Lauren Adams
Lead Wildlife Keeper

Northfield” arrived at VINS on June 26th this year as a nestling hawk. She was found in Northfield Vermont, lying in the middle of the road with her wing drooped out to the side. A passerby recognized that the small broad-winged hawk needed help; she was possibly injured and definitely too young to fend for herself. He kindly scooped her up and transported her to VINS’ Center for Wild Bird Rehabilitation. 

Northfield was still too young to have left the nest when she got here, so she most likely fell from her nest due to unknown causes. Unfortunately, the fall resulted in an injury to her shoulder, which was evident by the dropping wing. Upon x-ray, we were able to see that the bird had a small fracture at the very top of her humerus bone, right below the shoulder joint. 

Previous experience tells us that this is a very difficult injury to heal back to full function of the wing. Broad-winged hawks migrate thousands of miles each year between their winter habitats in Central and South America and their breeding summertime regions as far north as central Canada.  Injuries very close to joints usually result in some limitations on the range of motion of the joint, and therefore impairment of proper functioning of the limb. Given the far distances that these birds have to fly, they need 100% use of their wings to be a healthy and thriving wild bird.

We started the little bird on a treatment of a wing wrap, to stabilize the injury until the fracture healed, pain medications, and a hand-feeding schedule until she was old enough to self-feed. At this point, we decided that, given the extremely low likelihood that this bird would fly capably enough for release back into the wild on her injured wing, we give her a permanent home here at VINS. Because she was a nestling bird, and being hand-fed by us, this presented the opportunity to purposefully imprint her onto humans. 

Usually we are very careful not to have young birds imprint onto us when we raise them for release.  This is because a wild bird needs to identify as their own species in order to behave and function well. Usually, baby raptors imprint onto their parents while they are in the nest, between about 2 and 6 weeks old. When a baby raptor is removed from their natural environment and hand-raised by humans, they are very likely to imprint onto the humans that are standing in for their own parents. An imprinted bird will not be afraid of humans and approach them begging for food. Being afraid of humans is a very important part of being a wild animal, so an imprinted bird is non-releasable back into the wild.

With Northfield, once we knew that she would not be releasable, imprinting was an important tool that we could use to incorporate her into our education program. We reversed our normal course of action with baby raptors and exposed her to human contact as much as possible. This allowed for her to grow up not being afraid of people, making her very calm around us, easier to train, and much more likely to be relaxed in front of large groups of people. 

Northfield has now reached her full adult size, although she will not get her adult plumage until next year.  She has cruised through her glove-training and is very comfortable with our educators.  We are thrilled to welcome her to the VINS family of education raptors. She is our first glove-trained Broad-winged hawk, although we do have three who live on permanent exhibit. With Northfield, we are able to enrich the education we offer to our visitors about raptors and migration. 

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

How Different is Different Enough?

By Jordan Daley
Science Outreach Coordinator

Photo by Michael Butler Brown
At first, I jumped for joy when I read this NY Times Science article the other day: A Quadruple Take on the Giraffe: There are four species, not one? It's fascinating! It's exciting! It sounds great: new species! Then I did my own double take, asking what does it really mean?

The premise of the study, published in Current Biology, is simple. The authors performed genetic tests on 200 individual giraffes from the existing 9 subspecies of Giraffa camelopardalis. Their findings show that some of the subspecies are far more different than we initially thought. The genetics show as much difference as a brown bear and a polar bear. So now we're looking at 4 separate species of giraffe, the Maasai, Northern, Southern, and Reticulated Giraffes, and among them, numerous subspecies.

This past spring VINS hosted a Brain Buzz event with our friends at the Dartmouth Graduate Office and the Upper Valley Food Coop. Michael B. Brown spoke to us about wildlife and energy development and offered us insight into one particular subspecies of the then singular giraffe species, Rothschild's giraffe. Michael described how this subspecies lives largely in isolation in very specific areas of Uganda and their numbers are low, only an estimated 1500. The IUCN classifies them as endangered. 

As if being endangered wasn't enough, the Rothschild's giraffe now finds it in another precarious situation- taxonomically confused. The authors of the September 2016 study suggest that the Rothschild's giraffe is actually so similar to the Nubian giraffe that we should consider them all just one species of Northern giraffe. 

Yet, this whole "how many giraffe species are there?" thing isn't entirely new. An earlier study published in BMC Biology in December 2007 indicates that giraffes might be as different as 6 or even 11 different species! That study gives the Rothschild's giraffe a whole species unto itself.

Bouncing around from subspecies, to species, back to subspecies, and now nothing very special at all, might seem like a downgrade for the Rothschild's giraffe, but what will the new taxonomy really change? I reached out to Dr. Doug Bolger, Professor of Environmental Studies at Dartmouth College, to learn more. Doug and Michael work together and both are interested in populations of animals and how they're effected by human impacts, including land use and development. 

When I first asked about the implications of this study, Dr. Bolger's first answer was to be expected, "Well, it's complicated." Sifting through the nitty gritty, we quickly settled into this question of "how different is different enough?" This is really at the root of all our taxonomic questions. 

As Dr. Bolger explained, there are lots of ways to determine the question of "how different is different enough?" There are theories that value geography, or ability to reproduce sexually, physical form, or any number of different characteristics. Carl Linneaus began to systematize our categories of species in the early 1700s, making observations of an animal's physical and behavioral forms. Since then we've found better and better ways to observe differences between animals. This 2016 giraffe study does the same thing Linneaus did when he first described the giraffe in 1758, but rather than describing physical features, it looks at the genetics. Naturally, when we zoom in closer and closer, we start to see different things, and our existing categories don't seem to fit anymore. 

These categories don't always work because they're static. Evolution, on the other hand, is constantly acting on the species. As observers, we're inspecting the ongoing billion year old process of evolution from just one point in time. Just like a photograph, our perspective doesn't really reveal the whole situation. Our categories are affected by that perspective. They can't really accurately reflect the diversity of species because that diversity is still undergoing a slow but constant evolutionary process. 

Of course, that doesn't mean we should just chuck them out the window- they're still useful because our human impacts act much more quickly than evolution. And however imperfect, they help us understand the needs of different animals, how they interact with each other, and what measures we can take to protect them. An example: red tailed hawks and Cooper's hawks both belong to the hawk family, Accipitridae, but the red tail is in the genus Buteo and the Cooper's belongs to Accipiter. Their different categories correspond to their body and tail shapes, hunting behaviors, and habitats. They have different needs and we need to protect habitat that is suitable for each species to thrive. We need categories to help us create achievable conservation goals that respond to human impacts. We need to understand the imperfect nature of those categories, so that we can be adaptable to new findings.

So for a giraffe like the Rothschild's, not having a category designation like subspecies, might mean that their specific conservation needs get over looked in the larger picture of Nubian or Northern giraffes. (For now, the IUCN still lists the Rothschild's giraffe as endangered and conservation efforts continue.) And yet, breaking down the larger genus of giraffes into four smaller and more precise species might mean that conservation efforts can have an even greater impact on each species. So whatever we decide about which groups are different enough, Dr. Bolger says, "What is clear is that the evolutionary histories of these four categories are longer and more distinct than we ever thought, and that is worthy of conservation." Here at VINS, we agree. 

Photo by Michael Butler Brown

Monday, September 5, 2016

A Chorus of Songbirds: A Birdsong App for Everyone

By Jordan Daley
Science Outreach Coordinator

Full Disclosure: I'm not a birder. Though I guess you could say that I'm becoming one. When I started working at VINS a little over a year ago, my exposure to the birding world was limited to one good friend, who co-piloted a road trip with me that followed the Atlantic flyway before heading west to the Rockies. She taught me how to use binoculars and I once carefully described all the markings I could see on a bird outside our tent, with all the precision and dedication of a novice. She laughed as I described it in more and more detail; it was a pigeon. My friend had grown up on the East coast like me, and the only bird she really wanted to see when we reached the Rockies was a Steller's Jay, but the common bird evaded us straight through Colorado, Wyoming, and Montana. Last fall in Yosemite, I felt for the first time, the delight of seeing a bird that had previously eluded me. A Steller's Jay was right there in front of me, not majestic at all, eating the crumbs the toddler in our party had left all over the campsite. I could have wept for joy.

Me and my binoculars in Rocky Mountain Nat'l Park,
pretending to know what I'm looking for.
As I said before, I'm not REALLY a birder. When we got home from our trip I set up a feeder outside my kitchen window and started to learn my backyard birds. Sometimes I can tell the difference between different families of hawk soaring over me. I definitely know when I've seen an owl, and the difference between a soaring eagle and a soaring turkey vulture. Even as my visual ID skills are steadily growing and I started to build some confidence, I was thrust into a whole new aspect of bird ID: BIRD SONG.

Steve and Caitlin were both patient and knowledgable:
"That sound? No Jordan, that's a squirrel."
I had the pleasure this spring of walking all over VINS' Old Pepper Place Nature Reserve with Caitlin Cusack, a forester from Vermont Land Trust and Steve Hagenbuch, a conservation biologist from Audubon Vermont. As we walked through the forest listening for the songs of forest birds, my secret soon came out. I had no idea what we were listening for. First they teased me, then they taught me a couple of mnemonics, and then they made sure to explain everything we were hearing. Just tuning myself to two songs- the black-throated green warbler and the black-throated blue warbler, suddenly opened up a whole new plane for observing the forest. I was paying attention to the sounds all around, above and below me, not just the movement in the trees in front of me- it's like birding in four dimensions.

After that eye, or rather, ear opening experience I jumped feet first into learning my bird songs. Luckily for me, VINS was working on our new app for iPads, A Chorus of Songbirds. I became it's first student, and let me tell you, this app is FUN.

In the gallery of songbirds, the photos are striking and the songs are clear. You can sort the species by various characteristics to learn about a family of birds or a geographic location. The very handy "similar species" function is probably the most important function for a newbie like me. Being able to listen to two songs that sounds similar, has helped me sharpen my listening skills and clued me in to small differences.

I would be remiss in my duty not to mention (read: warn you about) the highly addicting Songbird Wizard, a song or photo quiz game that tests your ID skills. If you're like me, working in an office all day, you might not get the daily practice of listening to bird song that can be essential to learning. This game is a truly enjoyable way to listen and build your skills wherever you are. Though I suggest setting a timer or else your 5 minutes coffee breaks might turn into marathon bird song breaks.

After a month of A Chorus of Songbird usage, I am proud to announce that I have stopped referring to the white-throated sparrow as "that mocking jay bird."

So many times when I open a birding app I discover that I just don't know where to start. I'm not sure how to translate my few observations into a solid search. I didn't feel that way with A Chorus of Songbirds. The information is clear and accessible for any kind of birder, even a haphazard one like me.

You can buy A Chorus of Songbirds for iPad only by following the link or searching for it in the app store, Try it for yourself and know that all of the proceeds go to VINS and support the important bird conservation, rehabilitation, and education work that we do here.

And I know what you're thinking, "She works there! Of course she has to sell it!" but I would also point out that I'm taking a big risk here. If my boss reads this and finds out just how much time I spent playing the bird song game, this might be the last post you ever read from me.

Monday, July 18, 2016

Meet Peter our new Wildlife Keeper

By Peter Gau, Wildlife Keeper

I have always loved animals. In college I studied animal rehabilitation. Since then, I've held many animal related jobs, working with exotic, domestic animals and wild/native animals. Animals are my passion and luckily they're also my job. I had been out of the wildlife rehabilitation field for about a year and decided that I needed to get back into doing what I love.

Most rehab facilities do basically the same type of work, rehab injured and orphaned wild animals. VINS is a special facility because of the education component to it. Every animal caretaker in the world has two jobs. One is the husbandry of their animals, and two is teaching the public about them. Education is so important because most animals that come in to rehab centers across the world are human caused, directly or indirectly. 

VINS has an incredible staff on hand, from our education staff to our camp staff to our administrative staff and of course the rehabbers, each employee is committed to their job. Together we work to heal wildlife and educate people to prevent more incidents. It is every animal caretakers dream to be out of a job, meaning that we do such a good job of teaching that we actually reduce human related animal injuries.

After all being said my first days here have been amazing! My first day we had about 5-6 patients come in. That was crazy in itself, not to mention that I have to learn the procedures of VINS on top of admitting new birds. Just last week we released a Turkey Vulture (TUVU) that has been in our care for two months! I am very happy here at VINS and very proud of the work we do here!

Friday, July 15, 2016

Nest Watch Update – July 2016

By Anna Autilio
Environmental Educator

The nestboxes are empty again as the breeding season passes us faster than a Tree Swallow can fly! While monitoring our boxes for Project NestWatch, we here at VINS were lucky enough to see 7 Tree Swallow families and 1 House Wren family raise between 1 and 6 young birds each. Here is the season summary:

                16 boxes available
    10 active nests
                50 eggs laid
                44 young hatched
                33 young fledged
                House Wren Hatch Date: 7/ 8 June
                House Wren Fledge Date: 26/27 June
                Tree Swallow Hatch Date: 8 – 15 June
                Tree Swallow Fledge Date: 30 June – 7 July

There are still some baby birds yet to come, as some species prefer to nest later in the summer. Keep an eye out for American Goldfinches, which may only start nesting in late July, and Mourning Doves. Northern Cardinals and American Robins may have multiple clutches throughout the summer.

Also remember that fledglings, or young birds who have just left the nest, may not be the most experienced fliers yet. They are often seen on the ground, fluttering and looking lost, but most of the time their parents are right nearby, hiding from humans but providing food for the quickly growing baby until it can master the wind.

Monday, July 11, 2016

Remembering Burlington, An Owl Ambassador

By Jordan Daley, Science Outreach Coordinator

Last week VINS lost a treasured animal ambassador and member of our VINS family. Burlington, a resident Great Horned Owl passed away after ten years of greeting and inspiring visitors to the Nature Center.

Burlington came to VINS in June of 2006, well into his adult years. He was hit by a van travelling at 65 mph. Despite the enormous impact, this bird proved to be determined from the start, quickly eating the mouse he was hunting at the time of the collision. After a long road to recovery, his injury proved too severe to heal completely and the damage to his right elbow and shoulder rendered Burlington flightless.

Unable to hunt in the wild, he was transferred to our permanent raptor exhibits. Burlington's stunning plumage and calm demeanor made him an incredible example of the "Tiger of the Sky." Great Horned Owls are often compared to the predatory cat for their hunting skills; they are the apex predators of the night sky.

Visitors and staff aren't the only ones who benefited from Burlington's presence. He is survived by an enclosure-mate, Barnard, a female Great Horned Owl. Occasionally, during feeding time, Barnard would offer mice to Burlington. In the wild, this courtship behavior helps to strengthen the bond between a mated pair. This mate-feeding is one way we knew they were comfortable in their enclosure together.

Burlington left, Barnard right

Burlington will be dearly missed. He has touched countless lives as an ambassador to the world of owls, inspiring stewardship and conservation. May his legacy continue to do so. 

You can contribute to the welfare of Burlington's enclosure-mate and his fellow animal ambassadors through the VINS Raptor Information, Support & Education program. Please visit for more details. Your contribution supports the specialized care each of our birds receive.  

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Project NestWatch Update: June 2016

By Anna Autilio  
Environmental Educator 

Baby bird season is well underway all over Vermont, and here at VINS we are monitoring the 16 nestboxes on our campus for Project NestWatch. This citizen science program, run by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, aims to monitor the status and trends in bird reproductive biology, including when nesting occurs, how many eggs are laid, how many of them hatch, and how many hatchlings survive to leave the nest. Literally anyone can participate in this global project, provided you can find a bird’s nest, and can safely keep track of its inhabitants throughout the spring and summer seasons.

Our boxes at VINS, which stand 6 to 7 feet above the ground and all have north-facing holes, were built to house cavity-nesting songbirds like Eastern Bluebirds and Tree Swallows. So far in 2016, 10 of the nestboxes are occupied with growing families, including one House Wren nest (Troglodytes aedon) with five hatchlings, and nine Tree Swallow nests (Tachycineta bicolor) with 3-6 hatchlings each.

Throughout the summer, we will be checking in on these birds and their young once a week, to minimize disturbance to the nests, but ensure that enough data is collected to accurately assess breeding success of these species. Critical points in the breeding cycle of birds include nest construction, egg-laying, young hatching, and young fledging.

The boxes were all checked for the first time on June 2nd, and only contained eggs. Hatchlings began to appear during the next check on June 9th, but two nests still contained only eggs. Stay tuned for updates in the coming weeks!

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Baby Bird Season Begins at VINS with lots of Barred Owlets

By Jordan Daley
Science Outreach Coordinator

Did you know that Barred Owls are Vermont's most common owl? They inhabit our old forests and wetland areas. They love large dark trees with cavities and plenty of prey around. These silent flyers will sneak up on anything they can get their talons on, from rodents to crayfish.

They are fascinating birds with striking patterns and huge dark eyes that make even the most calloused birder melt. Their calls are wild and varied depending on their age and season, but the "who cooks for you, who cooks for you all?" is a classic! Like most owls, they've got an air of mystery. They're nighttime hunters, relying on their camouflage during the day and their excellent sense of hearing at night.

And if the adult version doesn't entice you to absolutely adore these amazing raptors, maybe the baby version will.

Meet our first baby barred owl of the season: BDOW 16-055. (A charming name, I know. We don't name our rehab patients. The goal is to return them to the wild.)

This bird was brought to us after falling from a nest. The nest was located but the little guy was just too small to climb or fly back up and after careful observation and a couple attempts to reach the 50 ft cavity, we made the call to admit this baby. He's already been at VINS for about two weeks and is growing healthy and strong!

He didn't get to spend much time alone in his cozy little enclosure.

An enormous thank you to our Vermont State Game Wardens, who presented our second baby barred!

BDOW-16-063 came to us just a few days later. He was presented by Warden Carey who brought him in from Chittenden, VT. This little guy had a similar story to our first patient. He also fell from a nest, but we were unable to locate either a nest or parents.

Game wardens are our partners in wildlife conservation. We regularly receive patients that they've rescued from illegal possession scenarios, accidental or malicious gunshot wounds, our simply displaced babies. In this case, lots of people worked together to get this young owlet to a safe place for care.

Side-by-side these two chicks started feeding together and interacting as siblings in the nest.

Welcome to Owlet #3, a tiny Barred Owl from St. Johnsbury!

A couple stumbled upon this tiny fellow while hiking in the Northeast Kingdom. It is unclear how this bird came to be on the ground, but in our dense Northern forests, it can be difficult to locate a barred owl nest. This chick was initially discovered by the couple's dog who picked it up. Luckily this dog was gentle and the owlet didn't sustain any puncture wounds.

This couple logged over 20 miles on trails to get this bird safely to VINS. So young that his vision still isn't developed this bird has taken to his older nest-mates well and often looks to them for food and warmth. We're happy to see him habituating nicely and grateful for the long hours the presenters put in to get him to safety!

UPDATE: Baby Barred #4 is here! 
This fellow came in a little bigger than we had expected and that is because he had been living in human hands longer than we knew. If there is any important lesson we want our friends and readers to learn it's this: humans don't make good wild animal parents. Not only that, but when you have rescued a raptor or any other protected bird, it is a legal requirement that you report the finding to your state wildlife agency or a licensed wildlife rehabilitation facility within 24 hours. 

While we appreciate the rescuer's good intentions, the wisest step they took was bringing the owlet to us. Most people don't keep their kitchens stocked with owl food- but luckily we do! Most people don't have owl masks and puppets for preventing feeding- but VINS does! Most families don't have time to feed baby birds every 15, 30 or 60 minutes, let alone the correct mix of nutrients and tools we use to mimic feeding in the wild- but our rehabbers are experts! For now this baby barred owl is doing well with his fellow nest-mates but we'll be watching closely for signs of imprinting.

Thank you again to everyone who is keeping an eye out for orphaned and injured birds! You're the first step in a line of care that is essential to returning those birds to the wild. Please consider helping to support these owls with a donation to the VINS Center for Wild Bird Rehabilitation!

UPDATE: And then there was 5!

That's right, you read it correctly. There 5 baby barred owls at VINS Center for Wild Bird Rehab. Yes, we're amazed too. And these 5 babies are starting test their wings! They're all eating amazingly well and hoping about in their new outside enclosure. You can watch them live on our VINS Patient Cam. This last fellow came to us just this week and is already well acclimated. He was found with a droopy left wing in Coolidge State Park, VT. After just a couple days of resting the wing he is already looking great! Once this guy can fly well and hunt for himself we'll be sending him home!

Stay tuned as these owlets grow up healthy and strong and return to the wild! We're updating our friends on social media using #babybarredvt

What can you do to support our rehabilitation facility? Adopt a raptor!

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

National Poetry Month: Wild Words from a VINS Fan

By Jordan Daley
Science Outreach Coordinator

April is National Poetry Month and VINS staff, volunteers and fans are celebrating! We recently received a letter from Gabby Baker, a 4th grader who loves VINS. She included a poem that she composed for her fourth grade class.

Miss Baker's poem got me thinking. Poetry has long been the way we ask and attempt to answer big questions about our world. What are we? Where did we come from? What is the earth? How does it work? What is the nature of life?

In my experiences as an environmental educator and an outdoor explorer, I've often turned to poetry as a way to convey things I understand but can't explain, or things that strike me as so beautiful, that my description should sound just as special. Sometimes, it's the poetry that I've read that connects my mind and body to the nature I'm exploring. The words of writers like Walt Whitman, Lawrence Collins, and Annie Dillard ring as true and timeless as the mountains I've climbed.

I think of the tall pines swaying in my childhood backyard when I read Gary Snyder:

"in the blue night
frost haze, the sky glows
with the moon
pine tree tops
bend snow-blue, fade
into sky, frost, starlight..."

There's no denying the powerful connection between the natural world and poetry. But this isn't just the Vermont Institute of Nature, we're the Vermont Institute of Natural SCIENCE, and poetry is a part of that too. From Lucretius's "On the Nature of Things," and epic about atoms, to Michael Symmonds Robert's "Corpus," reflections on mapping the genome, throughout human history, poetry has zoomed all the way in to our microscopic observations and all the way out to our cosmic theories to help us explain the way the world works.

This month VINS staff and volunteers will be sharing their own poems about the natural world, science and our work. We invite you to join us!

Send your poems to us via Facebook (Vermont Institute of Natural Science (VINS)), Twitter (@VINS_Tweets), Instagram (@vinsraptors) or by e-mail at

We can't wait to hear from you! And with that I leave you with one more verse exclaiming the diversity of life on earth, from Erasmus Darwin's "The Temple of Nature".

"ON rapid feet o'er hills, and plains, and rocks,
Speed the scared leveret and rapacious fox;
On rapid pinions cleave the fields above
The hawk descending, and escaping dove;
With nicer nostril track the tainted ground
The hungry vulture, and the prowling hound;
Converge reflected light with nicer eye
The midnight owl, and microscopic fly;
With finer ear pursue their nightly course
The listening lion, and the alarmed horse."

Monday, April 4, 2016

It Takes a Village to Heal an Owl

By Lauren Adams, Lead Wildlife Keeper
And Jordan Daley, Science Outreach Coordinator

On January 16th the Center for Wild Bird Rehabilitation admitted our 6th patient of 2016. BDOW 16-006 is a very lucky Barred Owl. Some kind individuals rescued her after a collision with a vehicle in Thetford, VT on the evening of January 15th. Ted Levin, one of the rescuers, kept the bird safe and quiet overnight, and then brought her to VINS in the morning.

This started as a very typical case. Barred Owls are some of the most frequent patients we see here, and vehicle strikes are the most common reason. This Barred Owl arrived in rough shape. She suffered some injuries that consistent with vehicle strikes: head trauma, eye damage, and bruising. The bird had a very swollen and bruised left eye, which seemed painful. She was fortunate enough not have sustained any fractures of bones, or any other significant injuries. Because the rescuers acted so quickly after the incident, we did not find any emaciation or feather damage.

We immediately started the owl on anti-inflammatory medications and fluid therapy. Initially, she wasn’t eating, so we had to hand-feed the bird, which is common for injured animals, most likely due to pain and stress. By the end of January, she had ended her course of medications and had started to eat on her own consistently. Her attitude had improved greatly, and she was moved to a larger, outdoor enclosure. On February 9th, she was moved to our flight cage for pre-release flight conditioning and evaluation.

Toward mid-February, we were all very impressed with the bird’s progress and improvement, but one thing was clear:  she had permanent damage to her left eye.  What started out looking like a blood clot in the retina, turned into a cloudy and completely non-functional eye. Upon physical examination, we discovered that the globe had begun to collapse. BDOW 16-006 had done so well in rehab, and was behaving perfectly healthy. The eye damage was the final obstacle to overcome before she could be released.

While many birds need both of their eyes for survival in the wild, and would be considered non-releasable without one eye or with permanent eye damage, Barred Owls can survive with just one eye. As nocturnal creatures, Barred Owls rely primarily on their excellent hearing in order to hunt. Like most other predators (including humans!) owls have binocular vision, in which both eyes face forward. This means the field of vision for each eye includes a lot of overlap, so losing an eye means they lose very little of their field of vision.

On February 15th, Dr. Blakely Murrell-Liland of the Kedron Valley Veterinary Clinic, helped us out with a special consultation. We agreed that the bird would be best off if the damaged eye was surgically removed. This would ensure a clean and closed site where the eye used to be, which will be less likely to pick up an infection in the future. 

Eye-removal surgery is not something we do on-site at VINS, so we enlisted the help of the wildlife rehabilitation program at the Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine at Tufts University in Massachusetts. With a team of wildlife veterinarians, vet techs, and surgical equipment, they were happy to operate on the Barred Owl. BDOW 16-006 was transferred down to the Tufts Veterinary Hospital on February 23rd.  The surgery went smoothly, and the bird recovered from the operation on pain medications until March 5th, when she was ready to come back. Bright, alert, and feisty as ever, she was transferred back to VINS. Once her sutures had healed, she returned to our flight cage where she again impressed us all with her flight and her appetite.

The last step before setting up the release was a live-prey test. We can tell a lot by observing flight, behavior, and feeding habits, enough to be confident in a bird’s ability to hunt successfully and survive so not all of our patients have to demonstrate their ability to hunt on a live prey animal. However, when a bird has sustained a permanent disability we need to be 100% certain that it will be able to hunt successfully in the wild.
To no one’s surprise, BDOW 16-006 passed the live-prey test easily. She was ready for the wild. We released the bird back where she came from in Thetford, Vermont. The Barred Owl flew off beautifully on a sunny afternoon on March 30th, after spending 76 days in care. It was thrilling to see her go after such a long road to recovery. 

You might say this was a lucky bird to have so many people care about her, but we know luck has very little to do with it. Between the rescue, the rehabilitation at VINS, the surgery at Tufts, and the release, this owl fell into the safety net designed just for this purpose. VINS is proud to be a part of this network of skilled, informed and interested citizens, volunteers, rehabilitators, veterinarians and institutions that made BDOW 16-006’s release possible!

Trucker Holds Injured Eagle After Accident: What you should do instead!

A truck driver in Washington state held an injured eagle in his arms while waiting for assistance to transport the bird. His rig had collided with the bird minutes earlier. The police who responded to the incident also shared a photo of the event.

Since it went viral, many people have been praising the man's patriotism and compassion. The photo is certainly a powerful symbol of the impact humans can have on wildlife and Mashable called the act "what any American would do." However, we'd like to take this example of a passionate steward as an opportunity to educate future stewards.
While we appreciate this man's commitment to saving this bird, VINS wants to make sure everyone understands the risks and proper way to handle an injured bird.
Raptors have extremely strong feet. An Eagle's grip can exert upwards of 500 pounds per square inch. Add super sharp talons to that grip and Bald Eagles can do some serious damage. Do not approach an injured raptor (hawks, eagles, falcons, owls) without taking the proper steps to protect yourself.
An injured wild bird should be afraid of you and may act to protect itself. Your best bet is to call a professional right away and follow their instructions or wait for their help. If you must act on your own use a heavy blanket to scoop up the bird and place it in a contained area- like a dog crate. Transport the bird to a wildlife rehabilitation organization as soon as you can. Wear heavy gloves and jacket or any other protective material you have.
Remember that every moment that you're handling the bird is very stressful for the animal. It can cause their recovery to be more difficult and longer. Please minimize your contact.
Look up your local rehabilitation facility's number and add it to your phone or put the number in your car so that you can call as soon as you encounter an injured animal!
This individual was transported to a local rehabilitation facility and did not recover from it's injuries, as reported in the story above. 

The phone number for VINS Wildlife Emergency Hotline is 802-359-5000 x510

If you get our voicemail please leave a message. Our rehabilitation staff check the messages in between providing care for patients and will return your call as soon as they can!

Thursday, March 10, 2016

Minnesota, A Truly Great Gray Owl ~1993-2016

By Lauren Adams, Lead Wildlife Keeper
and Jordan Daley, Science Outreach Coordinator
On Monday, March 7,  we lost a very special member of our VINS family, our female Great Gray Owl, Minnesota. She was a magnificent bird, both a staff and visitor favorite, and she will be greatly missed.

In November of 1993, she was admitted as a patient to the rehabilitation program at The Raptor Center at the University of Minnesota. She was treated for fractures in her humerus and radius bones of her left wing were, but was unable to regain full function of that wing. After living there as an educational bird,  she was then transferred to VINS, along with her mate, in July of 2000.

The remarkable thing is that she had already grown her full adult plumage, and was at least 2 years old when she was admitted in 1993. That would make her at least 24 years old at the time of her passing. There is not a lot known about the lifespan of these secretive birds. We do know that she far exceeded the life expectancy for wild Great Gray Owls, which is around 13 years.  

This bird was a true animal ambassador, inviting observers into the mysterious world of owls. The injuries to her wing, while a limitation, were also her greatest asset as an education animal. Flightless, she perched very low to the ground, allowing visitors an unusual close-up look at this striking creature. Anyone who was lucky enough to see her will no doubt remember her piercing gaze, stunning feathers, and powerful presence, despite her calm demeanor. I can only imagine how many lives this incredible bird touched in her 24+ years.

Our Great Gray Owl’s passing has left a void in our hearts here at VINS, but rather than mourn our loss, we wish to celebrate a long and beautiful life. This bird’s contribution to VINS, our educational programs, and to the larger community is immeasurable. Each memory and each story passed on about an encounter with this owl is a piece of her that will live on forever. We wish to thank her for her lifelong service.

Monday, March 7, 2016

A Goose, a Road Trip and an Important Lesson in Wildlife Rehabilitation

By Lauren Adams, Lead Wildlife Keeper

Last weekend, I took a goose on a road trip. I know what you’re thinking.  1. What?  2. Why?  Excellent questions.  

When I started work as the new Wildlife Keeper at VINs in December, the Canada Goose had already been there for 10 days. She had come in to our Center for Wild Bird Rehabilitation because some people found her standing in the middle of the road, seemingly uninjured, but not acting quite right. She wasn’t afraid of them, but rather, seemed almost friendly. These kind strangers brought the goose in to us, and they did the right thing. Because, even though this goose didn’t have a physical ailment, she had a potentially life-threatening condition for a wild animal; she was imprinted. 
 To understand imprinting, it helps to know a few things about wildlife. A healthy wild animal should be afraid of humans. If you approach an animal in the wild, its first instinct is to get far away from you. If this doesn’t happen, something is wrong. Maybe that animal has an injury or illness that makes it physically unable to run, hop, fly, crawl, swim, or slither away. This animal probably needs help, and this is how we get a lot of injured birds into rehab. But even so, the animal probably won’t act “friendly”. You will likely see signs of fear, instinctive behaviors that animals exhibit when they feel threatened. This might be vocalizing, biting, puffing up their feathers (or fur) to look bigger, or other types of aggressive behavior.  

This was not the case with Goose.  She was reported to have been following people, trying to get into people’s houses, and being generally more interested in humans than in the other wild geese at the pond. By the time I got to VINS, Goose was happily part of the daily routine in our department of wildlife rehabilitation:  nipping at ankles while we prepared diets for our raptors, honking at the laundry machine, and joining us in our break room at lunchtime. 

One of the most important principles in wildlife rehabilitation is minimizing human contact with the animals. Human contact, even just seeing people, or hearing human voices, is very stressful to a wild animal. This can prolong an animal’s recovery, and even stress a bird out so much that they injure themselves while inside of an enclosure. Secondly, particularly with baby animals, we want to avoid any habituation at all costs. 

Habitation happens when a wild animal becomes so used to being around people that their fear instincts no longer kick in when they encounter humans.  In order to do our jobs as wildlife rehabilitators, we must release a healthy, fully-functioning animal back into the wild.  This means that we know the animal will be able to do all of its natural behaviors in the world, such as hunt, migrate, or breed, capably.  Part of a wild animal’s success involves knowing what to be afraid of, including humans.

Imprinting is a particular type of habituation, and it happens when a bird is a hatchling. They “imprint” on the individual that takes care of it, which is usually their parent. This is an extremely important process for a wild bird because this is how they learn what they are. In a normal situation, a baby goose is raised by its parents, so it learns that it is a goose and what normal goose behavior is.

What happened with our Canada Goose, is that she was probably orphaned not long after hatching.  Some well-meaning people took her in to take care of her, but unfortunately, this means that she imprinted on people. This explains her very relaxed behavior when hanging around humans. Why is this life-threatening for a wild bird? Well, it’s a harsh world out there. Wild animals need all of their instincts working properly in order to survive. A wild Canada Goose needs to be afraid of cars and avoid roads. She needs to know not to approach hunters. She needs to be properly socialized with other Canada Geese, so she can be a part of a flock and migrate. A habituated or imprinted wild bird does not have a very long life expectancy out in the wild.

So this brings me, finally, to our road trip. Goose needed a place to live, somewhere she would be safe from predators, have the proper food to eat, and have a reasonable “habitat” where she will be able to live without injuring herself. Most importantly, it had to be a property managed by a profession, licensed rehabilitator; it is illegal for individuals to keep a native species without the proper permits. While VINS is a licensed rehabilitation facility and we are set up to house many species of birds long term, or even permanently, waterfowl require specific things that we don’t have. So, even though I loved having Goose around, we needed to find her a permanent home.

We were lucky enough to find a lovely new, permanent home for Goose. So, on Saturday, we drove the 98 miles to North Ferrisburgh where a wildlife rehabilitator, operating out of her home, has a waterfowl sanctuary in her backyard. When we arrived, I knew that this was the perfect place for a goose. Helena has a huge backyard with a beautiful pond and about 20 or so non-releaseable ducks and geese. Though Goose  will be happy here and likely live a long life, this story isn't altogether satisfying.

Remember that as a wildlife rehabilitation facility, our goal is always to return a bird to the wild. When an animal has a physical injury, the chance for healing and making a safe return can vary from great to small, but there is always a chance. A mental injury- like imprinting- its a sure sentence that this bird with never return to the wild. With baby bird season coming up, our southern migrants returning north to lay their eggs, the winter thawing to a hospitable spring, our woods and yards will soon be full of young impressionable birds. Consider their future and the future of each species when you find one orphaned or injured. Call VINS right away. Don't try to care for it yourself. Together, we can get as many of those babies back to the wild.

Friday, January 29, 2016

Art and Science: Eyes on the Natural World

By Jordan Daley
Research and Education Coordinator

My dad often took me hiking as a little girl. I’d fill my pockets with granite I found along the trail and tuck leaves and bird feathers in my hair. Over peanut butter sandwiches next to a lake or atop a mountain Dad would pluck each little treasure from my ponytail saying, “Leave only footprints, take only photographs.” Sheepishly I’d turn out my pockets, “but we didn’t bring a camera!” “Then you better pay attention so you don’t forget.”

Winslow Homer, A Good One, Adirondacks 1889
Some Sundays we would visit The Hyde Collection which is where I saw the Winslow Homer painting, A Good One, Adirondacks. Immediately I recognized it. It wasn't so much the place or the activity. The tree in the foreground is likely a log beneath the Hudson River by now. The thing I recognized was the way I felt on countless wanderings. Homer had captured on canvas what I had been trying save in my pockets.

I recognized the warmth reflecting from the water just below the cool breeze coming down the river. I recognized the smell of the river's mud and aquatic plants that creep up the edges of logs and stones jutting into the water. I felt the peaceful rocking of the canoe and the river's quiet lapping against the boat. My fore arm tensed and released as I remembered the tensile arc of a fishing line casting into a deep pool under the shade trees of the riparian forest.

I had many similar experiences throughout my academic career. I took a physical environmental chemistry course as an undergraduate and as we started to investigate the complex interactions of chemicals, temperature and decomposition in a marsh, the numbers and graphs grabbed me with the same nostalgia as Homer's work. 

A biogeochemical schematic of carbon cycling in wetlands is framed by images of Barnum Creek and Heron Marsh
I had smelled the unmistakable methane stink of  the marsh. I had waded through Barnum Creek into it's neighboring bog and felt the temperature change around my ankles. The chemical reactions I drew in my notes were animated by my memories of exploring outside. This gut connection told me the science was right. I knew this equation must be accurate because I had lived it countless times. 
At first when I drew this all the lines were straight. However
our paths between experiences is often much more complex

At VINS we recognize the power that both art and science have to connect people to the natural world. I like to think of it as a sort of triangle where all the lines point to each other. Sort of like this. You can see it across campus, in our lessons in schools, during camp hours and in the daily lives of many of our staff. 

Judy Callens, senior adviser and long time friend of VINS reflects on her own experience of bringing art into her work. "In our daily lives, we move through our jobs and perform tasks, often without really seeing the world around us. But when I really stop myself from just moving from task to task, I am struck by the feeling of having been in a fog all day. Art is a way of making myself stop. When I hike, or go on a photo taking trip, I have to stop and really SEE. Then when I try to transform what I have seen into a painting, I am struck by the details and the beauty of the details. Why didn't I notice that amazing reflection in the pond?  How did I miss the lavender color in the background of the trees. Really, lavender??? What about the details of a leaf? Or if I sit and watch what is going on around me in the forest, the truth that I am not alone, but surrounded by hundreds of active curious creatures that know how to stay really really quiet becomes apparent. Art is a way of making people slow down, see, and reflect upon the beauty that is often lost in the daily fog of living"

Hannah Putnam, Director of the
Center for Environmental Education, put into words the educational magic that happened to me in my chemistry class, "Art and science are closely related; as scientists, we are continually honing our observation skills as we look for hidden details, new understandings and unasked questions. Often these questions arise out of our curiosity about the world around us and our appreciation for its beauty and complexity. People drawn to the field of science, math and engineering are often good spatial thinkers. They are able to visualize the world around them and see relationships as they exist in space. I like to think that many artists look at the world through these same eyes.”

So for you artful scientists or discerning artists, for you who are trying to capture something fleeting, explain something complex, illuminate our world or simply appreciate it fully, we invite you to join us. 

Here on campus you can view exhibits of paintings and photographs by local artists, on displayed throughout the year in our pavilion and indoor classroom. Seven sculptures can be found on the nature center site. We also team up with artists to develop our exhibits such as the Ice Age Mammals on the Meadow which features live sized sculptures by artists based in Norwich VT and Brooklyn NY.

Join us on Thursday February 4th from 7:00-8:30 for a Science Talk and Artist Walk about our exhibit. Geologist Meredith Kelly, PhD, will set the stage for us describing the harsh wintry world of the last Ice Age and the adaptations mammals used to survive. Then Wendy Klemperer and Bob Shanahan will walk us through the lighted path way to view the Ice Age Mammal sculptures up close, discuss their process and the amazing creatures that inspired them.

Stay in touch for more events and exhibitions exploring art, science and the natural world at, and on Facebook, Instagram @vinsraptors and Twitter @VINS_Tweets.