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.