So shoot me for using an overworked paraphrase—it seemed appropriate enough!
Let’s start with a release: the dog-attacked Eastern cottontail from last week’s update has been released. I’m always torn between relief and guilt when I release rabbits—relief that they survived to be released, and guilt that they may very well be some predator’s lunch before the day is over.
The mocker continues to look a bit scruffy but is maturing nicely and is almost ready for the flight pen.
Sadly, I called it on the possums; the respiratory infection took a turn for the worse and stopped responding to meds. They struggled to breathe and even on heat, they began to lose body heat. It was time to end their suffering.
Beaver Butt is attempting to wean himself from formula; one day he wants it, the next, he refuses it. He’s eating solids well, though, and getting a balanced diet from the variety of foods he has access to…and Lord knows he’s growing. He weighed 2 lbs. when he came in; he topped the scale at just over 5 lbs. this week.
This barred owl was hit by a car and is blind in one eye, as you can see in the photo. He also has a broken wing, but the break is fixable, so all he needs is a safe place, with a steady food supply, to recuperate—and flight conditioning afterwards, prior to release. Owls with impaired vision in one eye can still be released, as they hunt primarily by sound. One good eye will suffice them nicely. Hawks, on the other hand, hunt visually and need good vision in both eyes.
And LWR also received a Canada goose egg this week. Yes, you read that correctly—an EGG. Long story short, the “rescuer” intervened and removed this egg from the nest when ants got the other eggs after several had hatched. This person told me that s/he was surprised when the egg began to hatch. Well, why remove it if you didn’t expect it to hatch, huh?
This person then let the egg sit for “two or three days” with NO heat and NO humidity while the poor gosling struggled to hatch. When I was finally called, it was because the person “didn’t want the goose to think I’m his mother.” Uh-huh. This happens all too often—people “rescue” a wild animal, nearly kill it with “kindness” or neglect, and then miraculously find my number when the critter’s nearly dead. Yeah, there’s a reason I’m cynical…
I got the egg home, sat it in a very shallow bowl of warm water to provide heat and humidity quickly and assessed the situation. The poor gosling had been trying to hatch for at least two and maybe three days. The portions of the membrane that I could see were dried out. The poor thing was peeping frantically.
I called Steve Hicks of Bubba & Friends
, who has dealt with this situation with raptor eggs, and following his advice, I moistened the dried membrane and worked to free the bird from the shell. With each little bit I removed, the gosling became more active and struggled to finish freeing itself from the remaining shell.
When I finally got him completely out, there was poop in the shell. This is a sure sign that he’d been in the shell too long. Also, the membrane was dried out inside the shell, as well.
The result? A gosling I didn’t expect to live through the night. He was cold; his neck was like cooked spaghetti—he had no control over it at all—and he couldn’t stand. I put him on heat and started hand-feeding him.
I was headed to Smalley’s Animal Hospital the next day for the barred owl exam, so I took the gosling in with the intention of having him euthanized, as by that morning, he showed only minimal improvement. Vet Peggy Hobby and I discussed the situation and had decided that euthanasia was the best option when vet Jim Hobby walked through, asked what was up and got a brief rundown of the situation. He offhandedly suggested we give the gosling another 24 hours. I think at that point Peggy & I felt a bit guilty at maybe rushing the situation, as we both decided to do just that.
Jim, if you’re reading this, thank you! Today, 24 hours later, the gosling is still unsteady, but he’s preening himself, alert, and attempting to eat on his own. Only time will tell how much improvement there will be and whether he’ll be releasable, but he’s a determined little gosling, so we’ll see how much progress he can make toward a fairly normal life.
The Carolina wrens, who were doing so well at the last update, all died last week. The runt was the first to go, which honestly didn’t surprise me, as runts either do really well or struggle to survive. He’d struggled and was behind his sibs developmentally. The other two seemed to be doing great, and then in the space of three days, they both keeled over for no apparent reason.
Sadly, this isn’t all that unusual in rehab. Other rehabbers and I have bemoaned the fact that an apparently perfectly healthy charge will often drop dead overnight. One fellow rehabber even calls 3AM the “death hour”, as it nearly always seems to be around that time that critters check out on us. It’s one of the many frustrating, heartbreaking aspects of rehab—you do all the right things and “lose” anyway. Yes, all rehabbers know you can’t save ‘em all. And yes, all rehabbers rail against fate when they lose a charge that was thriving one day and dying/dead the next. It’s not logical and it hurts…and it never gets easier, as you spend the next several days second-guessing yourself.
This dog-attacked rabbit looked pretty bad when he came in, and since rabbits don’t generally do well in rehab, I didn’t hold out much hope he’d make it through the night. Rabbits are very high-stress little dears, which makes sense when you realize that they’re prey animals. Frank Vinson, my former department chair from my days in academia, summed it up nicely when he said that everything but vegans and bluebirds eats rabbits!
However…sometimes ya get lucky and a rabbit does pretty well in rehab. This little darlin’ is healing nicely (circled area below is site of wound in photo above) and will soon be off antibiotics. Unlike most rabbits in rehab, he’s a pretty confident little fellow—note the upright ears. Stressed or frightened rabbits lay their ears back. He also eats while I’m watching, something else rehab rabbits almost never do.
This is just a neat shot of the downy GHO about to chow down.
LWR also received a downy barred owl. He may be cute, but he’s already an aggressive little fellow, clicking his beak and hissing.
This adult barred owl was hanging upside down from a branch over the river, tangled in fishing line. The rescuers shot the branch down to retrieve the owl. As you can see, the flight feathers on his right wing are well and truly trashed; the left wing suffered some damage but not nearly this bad. He’s a lucky bird; nothing is broken. But those trashed feathers mean he’ll be in rehab until he molts.
LWR received two possums from the same litter, several days apart. When possums leave the pouch and cling to Mama’s back, if they fall off or she shakes them loose, she doesn’t notice or look for missing babies. Possums are so lovably clueless…
These two both came in with severe respiratory infections. You can see the snot in the first one’s little nose; the second also came in covered with maggot eggs and fleas, hence the photo of her all wet. She had to have a bath first thing to remove all her “pets”.
They’re both still struggling but I’m cautiously optimistic right now, as they seem to be slowly responding to antibiotics. Possums seldom get sick but when they do, they do it with spectacular and often fatal flair. Right now, we’re taking it a feeding at a time and hoping for the best.
The flying squirrel should be named Harriet Houdini, as she’s somehow figured out how to escape from a locked cage! For the past two mornings, I’ve walked into the rehab end of the house to find her peering from a cabinet…OUTSIDE her cage. I’ve tested the cage and can’t find the escape route, so officially, we’re saying she’s channeling Houdini. Flyers in the wild remain with their mothers longer than gray squirrels do, and I always imitate that practice in rehab, as it increases their chances of survival upon release, but I do think Ms. Houdini is ready for the pre-release caging now!
You’ve all laughed at my descriptions of the beaver throwing tantrums—well, here’s photo proof. See those tear tracks? When beavers pitch a hissy fit, they do it right, tears and all. I was omigod 10 minutes late feeding Beaver Butt because I was outside getting him fresh branches to mutilate, and this is the result—he actually bawled!
All was forgiven once his belly was full and he had a nice swim, though.
And finally, LWR received our first mockingbird of the year, a nestling who had been fed an imbalanced emergency diet for 4 days before the finders called me. The result was a somewhat messy bird with diarrhea, but he’s improved now that he’s getting a proper, balanced diet. He's still a bit messy in the photos below, though.
Young mockers have really big mouths—literally. Because baby songbirds “gape” for food, rehabbers use the term “gape” to describe their beaks, as in “What color is his gape?” Here’s a classic mocker gape.
Mockers are always gaping…
…except when they sleep.
If you’ll recall, last week LWR had received a nest of hatchling Carolina wrens, just 2-3 days old, after a cat had killed the mother and one of the siblings. Below are photos of their development over the past week. (Scroll down to the April 4 update to refresh your memory as to their appearance on intake, April 2.)
April 6—three hungry nestlings:
April 7—love the symmetry here:
April 10—someone’s ALWAYS hungry:
Today, April 11—love the expression on the runt’s face in the second shot:
This is the time of year that people begin “rescuing” baby songbirds who may not need human help, so here are some common situations and suggested guidelines to help you determine whether to intervene:
· Parents have abandoned the hatchlings/nestlings—Are you SURE of this? Just because you don’t see the parents doesn’t mean they’re not feeding the babies. As long as the babies are quiet in the nest, the parents are still feeding. They’re not going to fly in with food while you’re hovering over/around the nest. Position yourself where you can see the nest but not be seen, and odds are you’ll start seeing parents flying their little wings to the bone to feed gaping beaks. If the babies remain vocal, constantly crying for food, and seem to be getting weaker, then call your nearest rehabber before intervening.
· Babies are out of the nest—Are these “babies” fully feathered? Do they have short tail feathers and are they flying awkwardly and begging for food? If so, they’re fledglings and the parents are still feeding them as they develop their flight skills and learn to find their own food. Unless they’re in imminent danger from predators such as cats or dogs, leave them alone and let the parents finish raising their babies.
· One of the parents is dead; you know this for a fact—While the male can feed the babies, he cannot brood them, so call your nearest rehabber for advice. S/he may suggest waiting to see which parent is still living or taking immediate action to make sure the babies don’t die from hypothermia, as unfeathered hatchlings/nestlings are unable to regulate their body temperatures.
· The cat had the baby in its mouth/paws—Immediate action is necessary, even if you don’t see wounds. Cat saliva is designed to break down flesh, and the bird needs medical attention ASAP. Call your nearest rehabber immediately.
· The dog had the baby in its mouth/paws—see above. While dog saliva isn’t as toxic as cat saliva, it’s still pretty deadly to birds.
· The baby fell and I know where the nest is—Is the baby uninjured? Can you reach the nest? Place the baby back in the nest.
· The baby fell and I cannot locate/reach the nest—Call your nearest rehabber.
· The baby fell and appears to be injured—Call your nearest rehabber.
· And a final note: Under NO circumstances should you feed a baby bird unless directed to do so by a rehabber! Too many well-meaning idiots feed baby birds the wrong foods and condemn them to death as a result. Foods to ALWAYS avoid for birds:
1. Milk. Birds don’t have boobs, people. Birds cannot digest milk.
2. Bread. All this does is stop up the crop. It has no nutritional value.
3. Crackers. See #2.
4. Processed meats. This means no ham, bologna, deli slices, hot dogs, etc.
5. Anything salty. This includes cured ham.
6. Tea. Caffeine kills birds.
7. Water. If you don’t know what you’re doing, it’s very easy to get the water into the lungs and cause aspiration pneumonia.
So what CAN you feed a baby bird? That will depend on your local rehabber, whom you WILL call ASAP, right? My personal preference is that callers feed nothing and meet me ASAP so I can start the bird(s) off on the right diet immediately. Remember, time is of the essence in getting baby birds to a qualified rehabber: some species, like our Carolina wrens above, need feeding every 5-10 minutes for several days after they hatch, or their systems will start to shut down.
This downy great horned owl just came in this evening. He was found by the side of the road, no parents in sight—GHO parents are VERY aggressive in defending their young—but a red tailed hawk was nearby. GHOs and RTs prey on each other’s young when the opportunity arises, so this little guy was in imminent danger and the finder made the right assessment in rescuing the little fellow. (Little being a relative term when describing a GHO!)
And rounding out this week’s cute overload, here are the obligatory shots of the beaver doing “beavery” things. Here we have his best imitation of road kill.
He really likes to swim and dive.
And after his “bath” he likes to have a wooden "pacifier" while he gets a little cuddle.
Baby songbird season, that is. And with a trickle rather than a deluge so far—knock on wood! These Carolina wrens were only 2-3 days old when they came in on April 2 after a cat killed the mother and one of the siblings. I’ve included a quarter in the photo for scale. Tiny little things, huh?
But wrens grow quickly. Here they are today, April 4. Carolina wrens tend to be one of the species we see most often in rehab, because of the odd places they’ll nest: pots, bicycle helmets, shop fans, boat motors, tractor tire wells, shirt pockets, boxes with even the slightest opening, four-wheeler seats…you name it, and chances are a Carolina wren has used it as a nest at some point. I like to say, only partially in jest, that if you stand still for more than five minutes, they’ll try to start a nest in your hair!
LWR also received a downy barred owl near the end of March. She was found on the ground, and the people who found her watched for several hours before intervening and retrieving her. Raptor babies can go longer between meals than songbird babies, so while several hours’ observation before rescuing a raptor baby is acceptable, quicker intervention is needed for baby songbirds. Just a general rule of thumb for you to file away for future reference!
This downy baby was doing quite well until the weekend, when she began stretching her left leg straight out to the side, as if it was broken at the hip.
I took her in for x-rays Monday, and while the x-rays definitely indicate “something ain’t right,” we’re not sure exactly what’s not right. The whole leg looks displaced but it’s not out of joint. At this point, she may be on borrowed time, as we can’t seem to find a way to correct this leg issue. We’re not even sure if this is what we call a nest injury, meaning that the original damage occurred in the nest and didn’t show until she started trying to put weight on that leg, or if the damage occurred in the fall from the nest and again, didn’t show until she started trying to stand up more. All the usual methods for dealing with an injury like this in an adult bird won’t work with a bird whose bones are still growing, so we’re a bit stymied.
This male Eastern bluebird died the day he came in. The finder saw him on the ground and when he didn’t move for some time, she picked him up and called me. There was no sign of injury, no indication of pesticide poisoning…yet this is the position he died in. Never opened his eyes, never moved at all after I examined him and put him back down. He was dead within 2 hours of intake.
This great horned owl came in with what at first looked to be a nasty leg fracture, in addition to a missing toe, but x-rays showed the leg was badly out of joint—badly enough that the tendons and ligaments were trashed and there was severe nerve damage.
This was an old injury, as indicated by the tissue around the missing toe—it’s already black, so she’d been down a while. Our best guess is an old leg-hold trap: she went for the bait; the trap was rusty and closed slowly enough that she was able to twist free as it snapped shut, trashing her leg and losing the toe in the process. Of course, this is all conjuncture; we have no way to prove it. But the scenario fits the injury.
I’m not even going to waste my breath ranting about this; you know how I feel about people who use these monstrosities. Unfortunately, what I’d like to do to these cretins is considered cruel and unusual by the current legal system. And leg-hold traps on innocent birds isn’t? Gandhi said, “The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way its animals are treated.” What does our country’s continued use of leg-hold traps and their ilk say about us?
The red shouldered hawk’s bumblefoot is healing nicely. I’m quite pleased at his progress. He’s also attempting to fly and doing quite well at it, so he may be releasable after all. He’ll now be going to Steve Hicks of Bubba & Friends
to see how well he does in a proper flight pen.
And ending with a cute overload, here are some shots of the beaver kit, whose motto seems to be “eat, sleep, poop and whine.” Sounds kinda like a human baby, doesn’t it?!