Shortly after the Jan. 3 update, animals began trickling in. I really hate this time of year, as most of what I see are adults who’re injured too badly to save. Add to that the polar temps Georgia experienced for nearly two solid weeks, and it didn’t bode well for the five animals I’ve had come in thus far this year.
The first intake of the year was an adult chipping sparrow with an open wing fracture. Hot on the heels of getting the call on this sweet little bird, I received a call about a great blue heron in a culvert in Dublin. The sparrow was in another county, but we’d arranged a halfway point to meet, so I picked up the sparrow and headed to town with my waders to get the heron out of the icy water in the culvert.
The poor heron was a victim of old age and cold weather. He was starving to death, with a breastbone so rail-thin it was almost like a razor blade. With the unusually cold temps we’d been having, he’d not been able to find enough food and was too weak to get out of the frigid water—not a good combo. Birds need much, much more food when the mercury drops, because they burn off so much energy staying warm. The great blue’s chances didn’t look good.
Both birds obviously went to Smalley’s immediately for a thorough vet exam. Vet Peggy Hobby confirmed the open facture on the chipping sparrow, which meant our only option was euthanasia. We discussed the great blue’s options and decided to give him 24 hours—maybe warmth and food would start him on the path to recovery. I picked up some shiners (small fish) on the way home to feed him, but he was too weak to eat on his own. I force-fed him a few small fish—too much food too quickly will kill a starving animal—and hoped for the best, but he died during the night.
Five days later LWR received an adult screech owl, probably female, based on her size (remember, female raptors are generally larger than males). She had been hit by a car and was in pretty bad shape. It was again Peggy Hobby who saw this bird. The lens of her right eye was torn loose and her beak was cracked along the left side. Adding to her general misery, she had a massive headache from a severe concussion and just sat hunched over in pain. Despite the severity of the injuries, we thought she had a chance, so I took her home and made her comfortable in a warm, dark room for the remainder of the day.
By the next morning she was looking much better and was alert enough that I felt safe attempting to feed her very tiny, soft bits of food, which she ate eagerly. She was transferred to Steve Hicks of Bubba & Friends raptor rehab shortly thereafter, and at last report, she’s doing quite well.
Fast forward another five days, and an early morning call resulted in the intake of a Canada goose. One wing was pretty obviously broken, so we headed to Smalley’s, where vet Jim Hobby & I discovered that in fact, both wings were broken. There was nothing to be done for the goose but end his suffering humanely.
Photo courtesy of Tommy Martin
And just two days ago, I got a late afternoon call about a downed red-tailed hawk. Based on the caller’s description, the bird wasn’t in good shape: he said she was on her back in his yard. When I got there, she hadn’t moved from that position, so I scooped her up and headed to Smalley’s again.
Photo courtesy of Tommy Martin
X-rays showed no fractures and her reflexes seemed normal, but the confusion in her eyes was heartbreaking. Vet Shelley Baumann showed me the bird’s cloudy lungs on the x-ray and said that indicated pulmonary bruising—in other words, her chest and lungs were bruised. Shelley drained excess air and blood from the hawk’s chest cavity, which seemed to ease her breathing considerably.
As of today, she’s eating well and pooping normally, although she’s still not attempting to use her legs or wings. At this point, though, we’re still too close to when the injury occurred to expect really drastic improvement. I’ve talked with Steve Hicks and we’ve agreed to delay transfer until she’s a little more stable—after all, our goal is to assist the bird in returning to the wild, not stress her into further injury or death.
And on an “up” note, now’s the time to put out bluebird boxes if you want these lovely cavity nesters to hang around your yard. The best location is facing a meadow or lawn, but with trees or shrubs nearby so fledging babies later this spring have somewhere safe to make their first clumsy flight to—and remember, no chemicals in the wood of the box or on the lawn! That goes for all birds: chemicals, pesticides, rat poisons, etc., are deadly to all birds, including birds of prey. A slightly weedy lawn is well worth the extra wildlife it will attract.