Oh joy! The last of the gray squirrels have left, and after a heavier-than-usual second breeding season (gray squirrels generally have two breeding seasons, late winter and late summer), I’m delighted to see the last little bushy-tail depart. After hearing from several other rehabbers around the state, it would appear that we all had bumper crops of gray squirrels this year.
And someone forgot to tell the cottontails that their peak breeding season was done, as this youngster would indicate. I rarely name cottontails, as they either don’t survive or are released so quickly, but Miss Delilah came in just after her eyes had opened, having been fed a diet of milk and eggs for two days before I got her—for the record, this is NOT appropriate food for a rabbit, wild or domestic—and she was such a little sweetheart that we fell in love with her even though we knew she was going to be a heartbreaker. I knew that, given rabbits’ delicate digestive systems, the improper food was probably going to be fatal, but I had high hopes when she seemed to be thriving after three days. Unfortunately, she developed massive diarrhea overnight. If caught quickly enough, diarrhea doesn’t always have to be fatal for cottontails, but Delilah’s hit during the night and by the next morning, it was touch and go. I thought we were out of danger by the end of the day, but the stress was too much for this little love and she died during the night.
October was also a bumper month for red tails. This adult male came in so weak and emaciated he couldn’t even stand up. He had a broken wing that had healed in the wild. I honestly didn’t expect him to make it through the night, but I started fluids and small but frequent feedings—feeding a starving animal too much too quickly will kill it—and by the next morning he was standing. Given his apparently miraculous recovery, I started calling him Lazarus; unfortunately, he quickly began throwing up his food and died shortly afterward. Makes you wonder how the human Lazarus fared after his return from death…
This first year female red tail was luckier; she was found by hunters before she became debilitated. Her wing was also broken and had begun healing in the wild, and Steve Hicks of Bubba & Friends raptor rehab is optimistic that she’ll make a full recovery. She’s already capable of short flights.
During the few days I had her, I enjoyed watching her lightning-fast reflexes when I offered her mice. This very large, very aggressive lady would leap up, snag a mouse in one foot, and be eating it by the time she hit the bottom of her box. Look at that face—it just screams huntress extraordinaire!
This poor barred owl was alert and ate well, but his leg had sustained multiple fractures when he was hit by a car, necessitating euthanasia. Barred owls aren’t as flashy as great horned owls nor as cute as screech owls, but despite their sweet faces, they’re aggressive hunters who will even prey on their own species.
And finally, just this past weekend, I had an uncommon visitor: an American coot. Coots are small waterfowl who overwinter in Georgia. This adult male had the misfortune to be hit by a car, probably shortly after he arrived here for the winter, judging by his abundant fat reserves. Coots are year-round residents out West and summer residents up North, but we only see them in the late fall and winter.
They look like small ducks with chicken beaks, really. Coots have the neatest, largest feet—instead of webbed feet, they have scalloped lobes on each toe. Our poor winter guest had multiple pelvic and hip fractures; his x-ray looked like a jigsaw puzzle, so obviously, he was euthanized.
And for those of you who haven’t heard this too-funny tale, I offer one of my most recent “I can’t make this stuff up” experiences:
Late one afternoon a couple of weeks ago, the local 911 called—a lady in the county seat had reported an injured turkey. I asked for the lady's name and number and immediately called her, thinking the whole time, A turkey? In town? The lady answers and I identify myself and ask her to tell me what she's got...
"Well, it's a wild turkey, and there's a dead animal in the road and he just keeps going back and eating on it, and when a car comes by he flies or runs off and then comes back, and I don't know what's wrong with him."
I already know what she's got, and it ain't a turkey...exactly. "Are you sure it's a turkey?"
"Well, yeah, it's got a red head--ain't that a turkey?"
"Ma'am, turkeys don't eat roadkill; what you have is a turkey vulture, and there's nothing wrong with him if he can fly away and return to his meal between cars." I'm stifling laughter at this point.
"Get outta here! I'm so excited! It's a what?"
"A turkey vulture. They have red heads, like a turkey. That's where the name comes from." My voice HAS to be trembling by this point; I'm biting my lips so I don't laugh in her ear.
"Damn! Who knew? What's it called again?"
I speak veerrry slowly and enunciate veerrry clearly. "A. tur.key. vul.ture."
"Well, I had no idea! Are they common around here?"
"Yes ma'am, they're pretty common. You might want to go drag the carcass out of the road between cars, so he doesn't end up roadkill while eating roadkill. Vultures are pretty good at avoiding cars, but every now and then some do get hit."
"Oh, I can't do that; I can't handle that kind of thing! There's not a lot of traffic on this street, anyway."
I'm ready to end this conversation now. "Well, just keep any eye out and let's hope he doesn't get hit while he's eating."
Sooo…in light of this glaring case of mistaken identity, please be sure the turkey you serve for Thanksgiving is indeed a turkey and not a vulture!