Let’s lead with some good news—Beaver Butt was transferred to rehabber Lorraine Conklin in South Georgia on May 24. While she doesn’t currently have any beaver kits, she does have two nonreleasable adult beavers who will teach him his needed social skills prior to his release next year, and she has a private pond with an established beaver population, mostly her former rehabs. Lorraine called Friday morning, May 25, to let me know Beaver Butt was settling in nicely and she had begun a very gradual process of introducing him to the nonreleasables.
Once again, let me stress that rehabbers don’t operate in a vacuum, and we don’t attempt to keep or rehab animals that are beyond our skill levels or our facility setup because they’re “cute” or to satisfy our egos. We maintain contact with each other on an as-needed basis so that we can arrange transfers like this one to place the animal where it will have the best chance at eventual release. Lorraine has the ideal setup for rehabbing beavers AND she has other beavers; I have neither. Beaver Butt’s chances of release increased by 100% when Lorraine agreed to the transfer. THIS is what wildlife rehab is all about—cooperation to ensure the best outcome for the critters.
In other news (sounds like I’m CNN or something! Maybe WNN—Wildlife News Network), the baby birds keep coming in…
The finches are actually good to go but refuse to leave the flight pen. This isn’t unusual for finches; they’re slow to leave the security of a sure meal, even when they’re pretty close to totally self-feeding. The mourning dove is totally self-feeding but looks at me as if to say, “Are you crazy? It’s a scary world out there!” when I mention release. I tried for three days last week to convince these slowpokes it was time to go, but I never force the issue. I prefer what’s known as a soft release, where the bird can decide when it’s comfortable choosing freedom and can continue to come down for supplemental feedings until its skill level and confidence are at appropriate levels.
The sole surviving barn swallow is in the flight pen as of today. Because they eat on the wing, meaning they snap up insects and eat them while in flight, barn swallows must be nearly 100% self-feeding before release. This means she’ll be with me until she refuses food from me because she’s feeding herself. That could be tomorrow or two weeks from now; barn swallows in rehab are unpredictable when it comes to self-feeding.
The cat food drenched mocker from last week is close to flight-pen-ready, as is his new buddy, this gorgeous little catbird who came in this week. Catbirds and mockers are in the same family—note the similarity of their heads, beaks and body shapes. But catbirds have a much more pleasant begging call, and they’re just generally sweeter birds. I like to call them the mocker’s more refined cousin. As adults they’re shyer than mockers and you’re less likely to see them, although you’ll often mistake their call for a cat meowing—hence their name.
The possums are making occasional early dusk appearances now, so I was able to get another shot of them for this week. How’d you like to pay the dental bill on those teeth? Possums have 52 teeth, more than any other North American mammal, yet they seldom bite. Their primary means of defense is to faint, or “play dead,” complete with emitting a foul odor and even drooling. It usually works and has led, of course, to the phrase “playing possum” to describe someone who’s faking illness, injury or sleep, or just being very still and quiet to avoid notice.
Several times a year, usually during breeding season, I have raccoons raid my bird feeders during the late afternoon. Normally, when a nocturnal animal is seen during the day, especially a known rabies vector species like coons, it’s not a good sign. But nursing mothers and sometimes newly independent juveniles will stage daytime raids out of sheer hunger. I advise people to use caution in this situation; never approach the coon directly, and if the problem persists for more than a few days, stop putting out afternoon feedings for the birds and squirrels for a while. The coon will move on if there’s no food available. In addition to being a highly rabies-prone species, coons shed a particularly nasty roundworm called baylis, or raccoon roundworm, in their feces. Baylis is virtually impossible to eliminate, remaining on surfaces for impossibly long periods of time. A person who touches these surfaces can then become infected, and baylis invades the brain, causing blindness and death. I will grant you that coons are cute and highly intelligent, but they’re vermin-infested, rabies-prone and really nasty-tempered. This is truly a case of it being best to admire wildlife from a very long, safe distance.
This hatchling woodpecker was found on the ground with a neck wound. He also had a beak deformity, as you can see in the photos. We don’t know the story behind his fall from the nest—did he actually fall or was he stolen from the nest by a predator and then dropped? Unfortunately, he didn’t make it, which is a shame. I wanted to see what species of woodpecker he’d turn out to be. My money was on red bellied.
This hit-by-car (HBC) box turtle escaped serious injury. The upper shell was chipped and the underside cracked—nothing that couldn’t be patched up so that after a few days’ meds and observation, he was releasable.
When LWR received a call about a HBC whippoorwill, I had to bite my tongue. Below the Fall Line in Georgia, we actually have chuck-will’s-widows, but everyone calls them whippoorwills. They’re actually slightly larger than a whippoorwill and their song is different, but they are in the same family: Goatsuckers, nocturnal birds who scoop up insects with a gaping maw of a mouth as they fly along at night. While his mouth isn’t fully open in the photo below, you can get an idea of just how different it is from a “regular” songbird’s mouth.
Fortunately, he was just concussed and was releasable after a couple of days of observation and hand-feeding. Because they eat on the wing, members of the Goatsucker family must be hand-fed in rehab, which is an added source of stress for the bird, so the sooner release can take place, the better for the bird’s overall wellbeing.
This nestling mockingbird is a classic example of why you shouldn’t believe everything you read on the Internet. The person who found this bird called me the afternoon after she found the bird, telling me that she’d fed it the previous evening but then read on the ‘Net not to feed baby birds, so she hadn’t fed him anything…all day. I informed her that she had probably already starved the bird past recovery and she needed to try and get some food in him ASAP, before we met. It was too late; the poor mocker was breathing his last when I got him and was dead before I made it home with him.
Folks, I’ve said it before and I’ll repeat it yet again: the information you read on the ‘Net concerning wildlife care too often isn’t so much “how to help orphaned wildlife” as it is “how to kill a wild baby in 24 hours or less.” There’s a reason I have no feeding instructions on my website and am vague about what I feed animals in my care. IF—and that’s a big “if”—you need to keep an animal overnight or through the next day before you can get it to me, I’ll explain over the phone what you need to do short-term. I do not give out long-term care instructions.
Contrast this tale with the story on these brown thrashers, who are still pre-fledglings. One of them hopped under the finder’s carport, and she assumed it was a fledgling and chained her dog to protect the bird. She watched it closely from the window to make sure nothing else bothered it. And then its sib showed up. And then a third sib. And then a fourth sib. She never saw parents at all and noticed that none of the birds could even flit short distances and they were desperate for food. She then scooped up all four pre-fledglings and called me. All this occurred within a four-hour window, so the birds were hungry but in good shape when I got them.
This is a textbook example of doing things right. She didn’t intervene at first other than to restrain her dog for the birds’ safety. She watched from a secluded area to see if the parents were feeding the birds. She did NOT attempt to feed them herself. She didn’t call half the neighborhood over to gawk and handle the birds. When all four sibs ended up unnested with no parents in sight, she rescued the birds and called me. The result? One of the smaller thrashers has a leg injury, a result of hopping from the nest—these babies may look flight-worthy but they’re still flying like feathered bricks. Otherwise, they’re in great shape and as you can see, two are already perching.
I wish every animal LWR received was found by someone with this sort of all-too-uncommon common sense, and I wish I’d asked the finder’s permission to use her name, as she deserves public recognition for her level-headed, common-sense approach to the situation. I don’t offer praise often or lightly, but this is a case where it’s truly justified.
And finally, the wood duckling is growing daily and getting more and more paranoid. Paranoia is a wood duck trait; because this little guy came in somewhat older than I usually get wood ducks, his paranoia is especially pronounced. I’ve had to resort to a screen in front of the tub to keep him from jumping out five seconds into his twice-daily swims, and God forbid I look at him; he peeps frantically and hides under his feather duster surrogate mama!
Okay, so shoot me—it’s a horrible riff on the movie title, but it seems appropriate for a less-than-stellar week.
Mixing up the order of the header, let’s start with the bad news. Apparently this is my year to be lethal to Carolina wrens, as all four of last week’s new babies either died or had to be euthanized. And my poor mystery birds, who turned out to be barn swallows, fared just as badly, with only one of them still with me today. Normally I have an 80-90% release rate for both species, and I’ve not changed my protocol for handling them, so I have no clue what’s going on. I just know it sucks, big time—and that’s putting it mildly.
The little runt finch died 24 hours after last week’s update, but the remaining three are now in the flight pen. One of them I really debated euthanizing, as she had a necrotic foot, caused by what appeared to be human hair wound around her leg. This is called a nest injury, for obvious reasons. The hair wound around the foot in the nest, cutting off the blood supply and slowly killing the tissue. Two of the toes are even fused together right at the claw.
Because finches are small, lightweight birds—and small birds can learn to compensate if one leg is damaged/useless—I decided to give her a chance; she’d never known what it was like to have two healthy legs, after all.
I’m happy to report that she’s compensating like a pro, flying and perching with no problems whatsoever.
The miracle bluebird was released late last week. She bolted out of the flight pen, too quickly for a photo, and her flight was strong, straight and steady. I wish all my rehabs had this kind of outcome.
I haven’t mentioned the possums in a couple of updates, mainly because there’s not a lot to say at the moment. They’re possums; they eat, sleep and poop…sometimes I think all three in nearly equal amounts. Because these two were old enough to lap formula on their own when they came in, my job was made somewhat easier: all I have to do is make sure they have fresh food, formula, and water daily, as opposed to feedings every four hours. The flip side of that is a lack of photos, as they tend to stay in their little hideout during the day. The other day they were both near enough the entrance that I could see their faces, so…we have a recent photo of the possums now!
This nestling mocker was found in a parking lot, and he serves as a prime example of why I prefer for people to get baby birds to me immediately. This guy was fed a mixture of canned cat food, water and sugar (don’t ask; I have no clue where THAT recipe came from), most of which he seemed to be wearing when I got him. In addition to wearing most of his food, he had diarrhea that was to the pure water stage and was so weak he could barely beg for food…and all this happened in the course of 24 hours that the finder possessed the bird.
To be honest, I didn’t hold out much hope for him, but I began feeding him the proper food, gave him a short bath to remove the worst of the crud covering his feathers, dried him off, put him on low heat, and hoped for the best.
While we still don’t have all the crud off the feathers—we have a one bath a day limit to prevent stripping his feathers of essential oils—he’s definitely looking better…and sounding better. He has his full-strength, grating mocker “feed me now” cry back in force.
This fledgling dove was found sopping wet in a thunderstorm. He’ll be in the flight pen tomorrow.
Apparently the waterfowl gods didn’t think a great blue heron was enough—a loon, that’s what I needed! This adult loon, in full breeding plumage, was found dragging himself by his wings across a farmer’s field. Loons are NOT land birds; they’re very breast-heavy and their legs are set too far back on their bodies for them to maneuver on land. Unfortunately, they’ll see what appears from the air to be water and crash land on pavement, metal roofs, in pools and even large puddles…and then they’re grounded, as they require a large strip of water to serve as a “runway” for flight takeoff.
After overnight observation to make sure everything functioned properly, I took Mr. Loon’s ill-tempered, aggressive butt to the river for release. He was quite a happy camper once he was in the water and put on quite a display of diving, exuberant surfacing and just plain swimming and calling. Loon calls are among the most haunting, gorgeous bird calls to me, and we don’t get to hear them often in the South. Loons are Northern birds; we only see/hear them during migration.
Late yesterday evening, this young wood duckling (app. a month old) came in. The finders saw him wandering alone near a lake, waited to see if Mama and sibs showed up, and when they didn’t, called me. Wood ducklings are stressy, paranoid little things, but they’re also as cute as can be. He likes his feather duster surrogate mother, and he enjoyed his morning swim today.
And, of course, we’ll end with the now-obligatory Beaver Butt photos…still a brat, still growing like a weed (he’s off pears and on a blueberry/strawberry kick this week)…and still with me for the foreseeable future…I thought I’d found permanent placement for him in Savannah earlier this week, but that fell through. It’s unfathomable to me that no other rehabber in the state has a beaver kit and that no educational centers are looking for one!
Yep, that’s what LWR has at the moment, with 13 songbirds coming in yesterday and today. Three separate nests of them…
These babies, whose species is still uncertain, came in after a feral cat wandered into the rescuer’s yard and knocked the nest out of a tree. The rescuer, a young girl, saved five of the six nestlings from the cat but fed them watered-down milk overnight. Once again, folks, birds don’t have boobs—they cannot digest milk properly! Luckily, these babies seem to be doing well so far, although you can still see bits of dried milk on their little faces. The stuff sticks to their skin like glue; I’m flaking it off bit by bit to avoid ripping skin off with it. Their begging cry sounds familiar, but I can’t quite place it. I know what they’re NOT: they’re not mockers or robins or bluebirds or any of the other birds I commonly see in rehab this time of year. By next week, as the feathers come in, we should be able to identify these wee ones. In the meantime, the guessing games are an endless source of amusement and bemusement.
These house finches were almost ready to fledge when their nest was found in a tractor trailer that was headed to Parts North. Finches are sweet little birds but can be stubborn about eating at this age. Fortunately, the little runt, last hatched and smaller than his sibs, is a rabble rouser—when he starts begging for food, no one wants to be left out!
Today people at a local business pulled a twig from the grille of one of their delivery trucks that hadn’t been used in a while, and this nest of Carolina wrens fell out. The nest was pretty much destroyed, and the business needed the truck, so they called LWR within an hour of finding the wrens.
I had just mentioned to a fellow rehabber the morning this influx started that I felt like I was walking around with my shoulders hunched, waiting for the blow, and sure enough, the “baby boom” began!
The mocker has been released but is still coming down for supplemental feedings. While he can be irritating at times as he sits 20 feet above me begging for food, it doesn’t take him long to figure out that he’s gotta come closer if he wants anything from me.
This sweet juvenile mourning dove came in after being attacked by a cat. Fortunately, the wound was minor and a short course of antibiotics ensured no infection set in from the cat saliva. As I’ve mentioned before, cat saliva is designed to break down flesh, so antibiotics are a necessity for any wildlife rescued from cats.
The best solution if you don’t want your cats killing birds is to keep your cats indoors. I have cats, and because I love my cats and my birds, the cats stay inside. They’re safer and healthier, and the birds around my yard have one less source of predation to worry about. Cats can decimate a songbird population, folks. I can’t stress it enough: Cats belong inside!!
The dove has also been released—no shots of the release, as she took off like a shot as soon as I offered her the option. I didn’t even have time to attempt to focus the camera on her!
We’re still not quite sure what was going on with this great blue heron (GBH). He came in because the people who found him thought his wing was broken, but an exam by Shelley Baumann of Smalley’s Animal Hospital proved otherwise.
After a couple of days’ R&R at the LWR bed and breakfast—and more fish than any one bird should legally be allowed to consume—he was also released. I’ve had other GBHs come in in the past who also seemed to just need a few days of regular meals and were then good to go.
He was amazingly tolerant of being handled but was quick to disappear upon release. I did manage one fairly good shot of him before he left, though.
Beaver Butt continues to find new ways to be a brat; his latest is to knock his water dish over, resulting in minor flooding in his storage tub “den”, which I’m lining with puppy pads to absorb most of the spillage. This shot is in front of the rehab tub as he awaits his swim. Note the towel, because he’s also figured out how to get out of the tub on his own and leave a trail of water all down the hallway as he waddles out, sopping wet, in search of me.
He’s also beginning to slap the water with his tail when he’s swimming. I’ve yet to actually witness this, but I hear it and find the watery evidence on my floor. The stubborn little snot refuses to do it while I’m watching, camera at the ready.
And finally, one of those instances where I’m delighted to be proven wrong. Some of you may remember the female Eastern bluebird who came into LWR in February of this year. If you’ll recall, I posted a photo of her wing x-ray, showing a jumbled mess of broken bones between the shoulder and the elbow. It was our considered opinion that she’d never fly again, and I’d been waiting to see how she might pan out as an educational bird, but she adamantly refused to trust me…
Yesterday while I was cleaning her cage, she flew out. Wait—read that again. Never mind, I’ll repeat it. SHE FLEW OUT. She then proceeded to fly all around the rehab area. It wasn’t pretty flight, but a) she wasn’t supposed to ever fly again and b) she’d been confined for three months on the assumption that she was nonflighted.
Today she went into the flight pen, where she’s happily flitting about in short bursts as she regains her stamina. Once she’s had sufficient time to build her strength back up, I’ll be releasing her. Sometimes being proven wrong puts the biggest grin on your face…
It’s an often-touted statistic that 50% of wildlife entering a rehab facility won’t leave alive due to the nature of their injuries/illnesses. It’s also a source of frustration, heartbreak and burnout for rehabbers, especially when factored in with the stubborn determination of the public to continue to allow their cats and dogs to roam freely, mauling wildlife right and left. These same irresponsible people are outraged when Fluffy or Fido drags in a bird or a squirrel or a rabbit. They then call a rehabber to take the injured critter and offer praise and kudos but no financial support for our efforts, which we fund mostly from our own meager budgets. This is why for a state the size of Georgia—the largest state in land area east of the Mississippi, with 159 counties—there are generally fewer than 100 licensed rehabbers at any given time and many counties don’t have even one licensed rehabber. Rehabbers suffer what’s now called “compassion fatigue”, run out of money to fund their rehab efforts, or just get tired of dealing with the above-referenced irresponsible public.
People, let me remind you again of the expenses incurred in rehabilitating YOUR native wildlife—YOUR legacy to future generations:
It takes about $100 to rehab a single squirrel; around $45 per songbird (a little over a dollar a day for as long as the bird is in rehab); about $450 per deer; somewhere around $75 per possum; about $60 per rabbit who survives to be released, and I can’t even break down the cost for raptors—a SMALL order of rats and mice for raptors in rehab runs a MINIMUM of $300, and that supply must be replenished often, depending on the number of raptors that come in. These amounts cover species-specific formulas; feeding implements; supplements; fruits, seeds and vegetables; bedding; caging; and medicines if needed. They don't include gas to pick up an animal or transport it to the vet if need be, nor do they include memberships in the NWRA nor species accounts and other informational books, pamphlets and brochures that provide valuable insights into the minds of the animals LWR rehabs and their habits in the wild.
Once again, let me remind you—rehabbers pay these expenses out of their own pockets and from the very few donations they receive from the public. Using LWR as an example, we received 208 intakes in 2011. If we had received a measly $20 per intake from the people bringing them to us, the resultant funds would have covered about HALF our expenses. Rehabbers cannot request money for taking the animals, nor can we refuse to take an animal without a donation—either action would cost us our rehab permits. We can merely suggest that a donation, while not required, would be helpful.
Please keep the above information in mind whenever you utilize the services of ANY rehabber in ANY state, and donate generously to their efforts. As I’ve said often in this space, kudos and attaboys/girls don’t fill furry bellies or feathered crops.
Why the rant right at the beginning? Two reasons—it’s been one of those weeks where I’ve lost too many critters that I desperately tried to save, and there’s been a great deal of conversation this week among fellow rehabbers expressing near-burnout sentiments.
Now, off the soapbox and on to a mixed update…
The poor little gosling, who really shouldn’t have survived overnight, was a happy albeit slow little fellow for two days before succumbing to numerous issues related to his difficult hatch, discussed at length last week.
We received two more possums, who as of this writing are doing quite well. And yes, I’m aware there’s only one in the photo. They refuse to cooperate and stay close enough together for a decent shot of both. They’re at the age to lap formula from a shallow dish, in addition to eating various soft foods, so I rarely see them out of their hideout during the day. They have healthy appetites, though—the food I place in their cage near dusk is nearly all gone the next morning!
Earlier this week, LWR received two hatchling barn owls. One was found on the ground covered with maggot eggs and with active maggots in his beak; the other, younger by about 5 days, was still in the nest. (Barn owls stagger their egg-laying so the babies hatch up to 5 days apart.) Both were ice cold and crying piteously for food. We have no idea what happened to the parents or any other possible sibs.
Barnies require special skills that I quite frankly don’t possess yet, so I called Steve Hicks of Bubba & Friends
while I was cleaning him to arrange a transfer for the next morning. After cleaning the older sib for two hours, I finally had him egg- and maggot-free. Once they were both good and warm, I offered small bits of food laced liberally with rehydrating solution. They were able to keep it down, but the older sib then pooped a nasty, smelly poop and threw up more live maggots. I was on the phone with Steve later that night, discussing the birds’ condition, when the older sib died. The younger sib made it through the night but died en route to Bubba & Friends
the next morning.
Rehabbers remind ourselves frequently that in Nature’s eyes these animals are dead the moment a human can touch them. We attempt to give them a second chance at life, and about half the time, we succeed. This is my mantra, but sometimes—this week, especially—it feels more like a tired and overused platitude.
The mocker is in the flight pen now and should be good for release sometime next week, maybe sooner.
And Beaver Butt continues to grow and whine. Such a brat! Still no pals or permanent placement, either, although I’m still putting out feelers. The longer he’s without a pal to learn beaver social skills with, the lower his chances at a successful release, and I’m honestly not set up properly to care for him for the next two years, so I’ll continue to seek a long-term solution for the lovable brat.
Thanks to all of you who posted kind reviews at Great Nonprofits—your support helped LWR win a 2012 Green Award, which means additional exposure to potential donors. No guarantees, of course, but exposure helps!