Yep, on Monday the 19th I got a call from folks on a neighboring farm who said their nephews had found a “large bird” while putting up a deer stand. They saw movement in the brush and upon investigation, found the downed bird.
My guess during the phone conversation was that they’d found a female red tail, as they can be quite big; at any rate, I told them to go ahead and bring me the bird, if they could; if not, I’d come get it. They were willing to bring it, so when they drove up I headed out the door, fully expecting to see an injured red tail.
When I looked into the back of their truck, my jaw dropped. Their "large bird" was an immature bald eagle, sitting back on its butt, legs splayed in front with feet balled. As soon as I got my jaw off the ground, I gasped, “That’s not a hawk; that’s a bald eagle!”
After a cursory examination that showed no obvious signs of physical injury, I whipped out my cell phone to call raptor rehabber Steve Hicks, as I knew I was out of my element on this one, and he got as excited as I was but walked me through what I needed to do to adhere to the very strict federal regulations surrounding eagles.
I was boxing the bird as we spoke, getting it ready to take it Smalley’s for a thorough exam—which, of course, was the next step. It was close to time for the clinic to close, so I called ahead as I loaded up the bird, alerting them that this was an emergency, since it was a bald eagle.
A thorough exam, including x-rays, confirmed no physical injuries—no birdshot, no broken bones, nothing. Vet Shelley Baumann checked the bird’s eyes for signs of head trauma—again, nothing. As soon as the major physical exam and x-rays were done, I called Steve Hicks and relayed our findings to him, getting suggestions as to other things we night need to look for, but none of the health issues he suggested seemed to be present, either. Our best guess was that she’d sustained a severe concussion and was still woozy from it, as she seemed alert and aware of her surroundings but was very docile. Another possibility is that she ate something mildly toxic that was still working its way out of her system.
(Special thanks to high school work-study student Brittany Devaney, who works part-time at Smalley’s, for taking charge of my camera and documenting this lady’s vet visit while Shelley and I concentrated our efforts on the bird.)
After securing the necessary paperwork from Smalley’s to document that they’d seen the bird for me and sent her back home with me for transfer to Steve Hicks, I took her home and waited for Steve and Angie to pick her up—federal regs required that she be out of my possession within 12 hours of her vet visit, and they were bringing me another mammal release cage that wouldn’t fit in my car, so we couldn’t meet halfway per our usual practice.
When they arrived, Steve decided that based on the size of her head and feet, she was female; FWS permits supervisor Resee Collins, after seeing photos, agreed and added that she was a second-year bird and was large, even for a female. Beak to tail, this gargantuan lady is just under three feet, and her wingspan is around 80 inches—that’s just under seven feet. Her signature white head won’t come in for another two years.
As of this afternoon, Steve reports that she’s eating well and very alert and aggressive so his plan, weather permitting, is to release her this weekend. What a sight that should be!
According to the Georgia DNR website (www.georgiawildlife.org), this year there were 124 occupied bald eagle nesting territories, 98 successful nests and 162 young fledged. The website adds the following information for those who have sighted bald eagles: “Georgians who see a bald eagle nest or two or more eagles together are encouraged to download the form [located] at www.georgiawildlife.com (click “Conservation,” “Species of Concern,” “Bird Conservation” and then “Report Nesting Bald Eagles”). Send the completed form to Jim Ozier, email@example.com or Georgia Wildlife Resources Division, Nongame Conservation Section, 116 Rum Creek Drive, Forsyth, GA 31029."
Since the last update, LWR has taken in only two additional animals—another flying squirrel and a DOA Eurasian collared dove—and we have 3 gray squirrels in release phase and 3 in pre-release, including the two sibs from the last update. If you recall, they came in with bloody noses and one had a broken arm. I’m happy to report that the broken arm healed nicely: you’d never know it had ever been broken, since he doesn’t even favor it now. Young animals heal so quickly, given a safe haven while the healing takes place!
Next week the Great Horned owl (GHO) will go back for x-rays to determine the status of her leg. This is causing quite a bit of suspense, as we’re hoping it’s healing properly but won’t know for sure until it’s x-rayed. If it’s not showing signs of healing after 4 weeks in a splint, we have no choice but to euthanize.
I can just hear some of you now, wondering, “But why? If she’s an imprint and not a candidate for release, why not just amputate the leg?”
Well, for starters, it’s against federal law. That’s the simple explanation. The reason it’s against federal law is the more complicated explanation. You see, birds of any kind—songbird or raptor—don’t ever really sit down. They’re always standing, shifting their weight from one leg to the other and sometimes pulling one leg into their chests to put all their weight on the other leg. To take away one leg means all the weight is always on that one good leg, which can cause all sorts of foot problems and severe pain for the bird. Furthermore, raptors use their feet to hold their prey so they can tear bits off to eat. A raptor with only one good leg faces a double whammy of inability to properly hold its food AND the very real risk of severe and painful foot infections. So it’s just more humane to put the bird down rather than have it face a life of constant infections and pain. See? Sometimes federal law DOES make sense!
The red screech owl, during a follow-up visit to Smalley’s, was diagnosed with a luxated lens. Basically, this means the trauma to his eye was so severe that the lens was ripped loose and displaced. And yep, this means he’s blind in that eye and may eventually develop glaucoma and/or a cataract. As long as he’s in no pain, he can still be groomed for use as an educational bird, though. At the moment, his eye has improved considerably in appearance, at least, If you’ll recall, he couldn’t even open it in the photos I posted in the last update. At left and below are some shots of him a week ago and two days ago.
Close-up a week ago
'If I fluff up, that camera thingy won't steal my food!'
Close-up two days ago
And finally, we have more photos of the flyers, who are very active little rascals…at night. Remember, they’re nocturnal, as if those huge, dark eyes didn’t give that away! They’re eating solids in addition to their formula and are down to three formula feedings a day. Notice in the photos that their fur looks oily or greasy. No one fully understands why their fur looks this way, although several other rehabbers I’ve talked with speculate it could have something to do with their aerodynamics. Despite its oily look, their fur is actually very, very soft. And if you’ll take a close look at their tails, you can see that they’re flat, unlike the bushy plumes of their diurnal cousins the grays. Actually, I’ve always thought their tails resembled furry feathers. A flying squirrel’s tail acts as a rudder while it’s gliding; if the flyer loses its tail it can still glide but cannot control its direction.
Just hangin' out...
Hurry! Inside! Blasted paparazzi!
In the past three weeks, LWR has received three imprinted owls. You read about the screech in the last update; since then, a Great Horned owl (GHO) and another screech have come in, both imprinted. The GHO also has a broken leg, most likely from improper handling, and the second screech has a massive concussion and a blood-filled eye, both most likely a result of having been sideswiped by a car after being dumped to fend for himself with no clue how to do so. What will be their ultimate fates? That’s still uncertain, as the GHO’s leg may also have nerve damage, and the second screech could lose vision in the damaged eye.
Please don’t mistake my calm discussion of these birds for lack of ire or having vented all my frustration last update—I’m still homicidally infuriated and have spent many hours contemplating a fitting fate for the cretins who ruined these owls for life in the wild. Unfortunately, every punishment I’d like to mete out is considered cruel and unusual. Yeah, and kidnapping owls from the wild, trying to make pets of them, feeding them the wrong diet, forcing them to use improper perches, and then abandoning them to fend for themselves isn’t cruel and unusual??
I could rant about this for the remainder of this update, but I suspect I’m preaching to the choir, so let’s look at some of the less fury-inducing events at LWR over the past couple of weeks.
The bluebird, both mourning doves and both possums have been released. The squirrel with the broken leg has joined her cousins in preparing for release. Below are some photos, from several weeks ago, of vets Jim Hobby and Shelley Baumann working on her. (They were slated for the last update, but the imprinted screech got priority.)
Tiny or not, it's still a two-person job!
All wrapped up
'You're in good hands...'
Look at me now!
LWR also received an older adult GHO who’d gotten tangled in the netting of a batting cage in another county. The finder couldn’t free the bird any other way than to cut the netting loose around the entangled owl, and I spent 15 minutes just cutting the netting off the wings—every feather seemed to have gone through a separate hole in his struggles to free himself. His right leg was somewhat swollen, so I kept him long enough to run him to Smalley’s the next day and be sure nothing was broken. After an additional day of observation, he was returned to the finder for release, and when I called to follow up, the finder’s family was ecstatic at having been able to release the owl back into his home territory.
Look at his eyes—the deep gold color is a mark of a mature bird.
The imprinted GHO with the broken leg also visited Smalley’s for the leg to be splinted. Below are photos of vet Peggy Hobby and vet techs Autumn and Jamie splinting her leg.
Why am I getting so sleepy?
Unwrapping my makeshift bandage
Let's stay asleep 'til we're done
Why am I so woozy?
Look at the difference in her eye color, compared to the mature GHO above: the color deepens as the bird ages, so this marks her as a young bird. She’s absolutely magnificent, huh?
LWR also received two adorable flying squirrels, about 5-6 weeks old, who’d been unnested. Flyers aren’t uncommon in this area, but they are fairly infrequent rehab guests. These gorgeous, gentle little nocturnal squirrels are very social creatures, unlike gray squirrels, and tend to form colonies. When you’re outside and hear what sounds like birds chirping in the middle of the night, it’s actually flyers, chatting away to each other.
We also had two more gray squirrels come in, male sibs who’d fallen hard from their nest, hard enough to bloody both their noses and break one’s bottom teeth and his right arm. The teeth will grow back; squirrels’ teeth continue to grow throughout their lives. The location of the break makes it pretty much impossible to splint, so vet Shelley Baumann and I agreed to try confinement to a pen that allows very limited mobility, in hopes that his young age and gravity will work in his favor to allow the break to heal properly. These two are doing better but still stiff and in some pain. No photos; they’re still too skittish and traumatized.
And finally, just yesterday, we received the second screech owl I mentioned at the beginning of the update. Isn’t he a gorgeous little fellow? Screeches have several color phases: brown, gray, white and red. He’s a red, as if that wasn’t pretty obvious!
Vet Jim Hobby examined him today and found the right eye so full of blood that determining the full extent of the damage is impossible. We’re treating the eye to reduce inflammation and try to get the blood to drain, so that we can get a better idea of what’s going on with the eye. This little guy’s talons are also horribly overgrown, an indication that he’s not had proper perches. Based on the trauma to the eye, this fellow’s got a serious headache, in addition to the pain the eye must be causing. If he’s very lucky, the eye won’t have sustained so much damage that he’ll lose vision in it.