Bird-napped! The Case of the Kidnapped Bluejay

This is a scenario that is seen at the wildlife hospital all too often.
A well meaning individual arrives carrying a shoe box containing a fledgling bird. Inside the box, along with the bird is what every rescuer believes young birds will eat pieces of bread. Sometimes there is a little container of water which has tipped and has made the little bird soaking wet. Sometimes the cup contains cow’s milk; when was the last time you saw a bird nursing?
Just a few weeks ago we had just this scenario happen. A caring woman brought in a little fledgling bluejay. She found it in her side yard and said it could not fly and was holding one wing at an odd angle, so she assumed it must be fractured. The women arrived at the hospital before Donna, the rehabilitator, so it was waiting when I got there. Yes there was some untouched bread in the box and a spilled cup of water (thankfully not milk!). On examining the little guy I was able to feel that he had food in his crop – a sure sign that mom was still looking after him. He had no injuries and was healthy. The wings were fine. I suspected that he was exhibiting typical dove behavior of holding the wing up to slap with it as a defense mechanism. Kidnapped!
Fledglings are the “teenagers” of the bird world, and just like human teenagers it’s the time of their lives when they hop out of the nest and begin to stretch their wings. It’s during this time when they can get themselves into trouble too – but also have to learn important life lessons.
Fledgling birds leave the nest and hop around on the ground or in low bushes while the parents watch over them. They are not flying for 3 or 4 days at this time. Yes they are vulnerable at this time, but no rehabber can teach them the things they need to survive better than their parents.
So what about our little kidnapped bluejay? I called the finder and got the exact location of where she picked up the bird. Auriel, our assistant rehabber, agreed to take the bluejay & try to reunite it with its mom since it was on her way home.
She took the little bird to the side yard, and as she tucked him into a bush an adult bluejay flew out! As she placed him in the bush she then saw another fledgling just the same size (bluejays lays 2 eggs at a time). It must be his sibling. She left the two little bluejays snuggled up together and called me with the good news of a successful reuniting (and no ransom involved!)
So next time you see a little fledgling bird on the ground remember the lesson of our kidnapped bluejay.
If it’s fully feathered, has no injuries, and especially if you see parent birds around – please leave it. Don’t kidnap it. If it’s in an unsafe area, like a road, move it out of harm’s way.
We rehabbers have a saying – “If you care – leave it there!”


Raising Raccoons (it’s not for the faint of heart!)

Way back in my early days as a rehabber (when I was the opossum princess-raising all the baby possums) I had a volunteer who raised the baby raccoons for the center. She described the experience as “like having chimpanzees in the house “. Now that I have been the sole raccoon mom the last several years, I realize that she was right. Raising raccoon babies is an experience unlike any other. It is to their advantage that they are such cute babies (although some go through a period where they resemble mini werewolves)-otherwise we might never put up with their antics!
I have raised teeny tiny babies only a couple of days old, weighing a little more than 2 ounces. Upon admission to the Center, they first receive subcutaneous fluids, vitamin injections, probiotics, and other supplements. Once warmed they are then given oral electrolyte fluids in a baby bottle if they are suckling-otherwise we might tube fed them. After several feedings of fluids we start them on dilute raccoon formula, gradually advancing to full strength. They are fed every 3 hours-six times a day, so they have to come home with me each day.
Rehabbers look at things very differently. Most people who saw my master bathroom would see it as a very spacious 10×12 room with a separate toilet area. I saw it as an area large enough to hold several carriers of baby raccoons with a bonus “raccoon romper room” play area (the little toilet room!)
Right now I am caring for 12 raccoons of various ages and I have the scars to prove it. Even as little babies their claws are very sharp and feeding sessions end up with my arms and legs shredded.
For animals who as adults are expert dumpster divers, they have incredibly sensitive tummies as babies. They all need to be put on a course of antibiotics, and go through a lot of diarrhea meds as well. At this point it’s all about poop, how to get them to start, how to get it to stop, cleaning it, off their feet and heads, and doing 5 loads of raccoon laundry a day.
They are unbelievable little divas when it comes to their feeding bottles. The nipples must be to their liking (and do not EVER use different ones), the temperature of the milk must be just right, the bottle must be a certain shape, and the person feeding them must meet with their approval. If you get it all right they can suck their bottles down faster than a college student in a beer chugging contest.
At around 8 weeks of age we begin to add weaning food –fruit loops! Yes I know that doesn’t seem healthy as a first food but the object is to get them to accept solids and to want to put it in their mouths. (They are still getting bottles of nutritious formula during this time.) I have never had any problems weaning babies this way, but I do have a trail of fruit loops from my house to the nature center. They are in my bathroom, in my car, in my driveway, in the Center’s parking lot, in my office, and the rest end up in their bellies. At this age they begin to play with each other like puppies, and they scream and chatter sounding very much like chimps.
When they are down to 2 bottles a day they move back to the center in large enclosures where they can climb and sleep in hammocks that we fashion for them. From there they will transition to outside enclosures, will have limited contact with people, and will begin to get a wild diet including mice, acorns, fish, mussels in the shell, and raw eggs in little nests we make, and so on. We release at about 7 months of age and it is always bittersweet. These babies that came to me tiny enough to fit in the palm of my hand are now beautiful big raccoons ready for life in the wild. I always send them off telling them to stay safe and to have a wonderful life.
My volunteer was right-it is like having chimpanzees in the house-but raising these wonderful woodland babies is an experience I will carry with me for the rest of my life.   1405111316499


The “Other Release”

The “Other Release”
Not long ago a gentleman  presented me with a box containing a bird that  had been stranded in a store.  The man explained that while trying to capture the bird it flew up into a ceiling fan and became injured. Upon opening the box I was horrified to find a beautiful chuck wills widow on one side of the container and one of his wings, completely severed, on the opposite side. I knew immediately that I would need to euthanize the poor creature and gave the finder this sad news. He looked as if he was going to burst into tears and questioned why I could not fix him or keep him as a captive. I could tell he was quite upset with the situation. I explained that this type of bird is an aerial insectivore. They soar the skies at dawn & dusk with their huge mouths wide open catching all types of flying insects. Their beaks are incredibly tiny and are not designed to physically pick up food. In captivity they are very nervous and high strung. In order to keep a bird such as this alive, we would have to force feed several times a day, and possibly insert a feeding tube which would be terrifying for this animal.
I also informed him that we are regulated by the government and there are rules we must follow – one which prohibits us from possessing birds with full wing amputations (and re-attaching the wing is not possible).
Sometimes an animal may be able to be fixed physically, but  could never survive the rehabilitation  needed. The stress alone would cause it to perish. There are so many things we must consider.

(c) Alan Murphy Photography

I am writing this article so that  the non-rehabilitator can understand the great emotional toll we as rehabilitators face on a regular basis.
I became a wildlife rehabber  because I have a deep love and respect for wild animals and I will do whatever it takes to save them or make them comfortable. There is no greater joy than successfully rehabilitating and then releasing back to mother nature, one of her own.
However through years of painful learning experiences, I have slowly gained the knowledge to look at an animal brought in, and know what its chances for recuperation are, or if it could be a suitable captive animal. As an experienced  rehabber I also know that sick or injured wildlife may look or act as normal as possible, they don’t moan or cry out in pain – this is their survival tactic.
And as for these animals that are so badly mutilated, injured, or diseased that they will never fly or even walk in the wild again, we can provide them with the “other release”. We can release these wild creatures,with humane euthanasia, from their broken bodies so that their spirits at least can fly or run free again.
As rehabilitators  we have dedicated our lives to relieving suffering in wild animals, making them well, and returning them back to the wild.
But some times the best we can offer them is the “other release”, and each time it takes away another piece of our hearts.


Rehab News – A Spooky Encounter

A rehabber’s work never seems to end; there are always animals to clean or babies to feed & tend to, and sick or injured patients to care for. The list is endless! So when the opportunity arose for a fun night out we jumped on the chance. Myself, my husband Chuck, our interns Sigrid & Julian, the other rehabber, Auriel, and Andrea, a volunteer, headed out to a local tourist attraction to enjoy being “scared to death” at their Halloween haunted house & haunted gardens. The event was jam packed with adults and kids of all ages. We went through the haunted attractions twice! The first time we jumped out of our skin by the actors successfully frightening us, & the second time laughing our way through.
   Standing by the entrance, my husband noticed an opossum toddling nearby. Always anxious to observe animals in their natural habitats we quietly made our way towards him. He disappeared into the bushes and I figured that was the last we’d see of him that night. I figured wrong! A minute or so later, people sitting and eating at the nearby picnic tables were surprised to see a full grown opossum right under their feet. It always makes me uncomfortable to see a wild animal that seems to have no fear of people. I decided to do a little test to see if he would take food from me. I held a muffin leftover from dinner out and to my dismay the little possum took it from my hand. Not proper behavior for a “wild animal”. He then waddled over by the gift shop and that’s where it all got crazy. People started screaming as if a wild panther was walking amongst them. Someone yelled something about a giant rat. (a common misconception due to the appearance of their tails. Opossums are not rodents, but marsupials, just like kangaroos). Another man passed a remark about how tasty opossums are. A staff person was unsuccessfully trying to calm the situation as the little guy became more terrified and almost ran into the haunted house! Now adults and kids were screaming and I heard Andrea yelling “Donna, just grab him!”
I caught him by the tail and held on so he could not run away. I kept his feet on the ground since it is very uncomfortable to dangle an adult opossum from his tail. He tried to get free but never once tried to turn and bite me. I asked the staff person to get me a box to put him in as the crowd watched, some intrigued, some terrified, some probably thinking it was part of the show. Once safely in the box the staff person said they would release it out back. I informed her that I was a wildlife rehabber and that this animal seemed too tame to be let go and that I worried for his safety. She agreed and admitted that he had chased after them a couple of days ago to try to get their soda! I brought him back to my house that night and set him up in one of my cats carriers where he slept on his back with all 4 feet in the air-totally comfortable. I feel that he may have been raised as a pet and then released when he reached adulthood. Even when “tame”, wild animals never make good pets, they are messy, can carry parasites, cannot be trained, and are unpredictable.
We named the little guy “Spooky” since he came to us at a Halloween event, and he resides happily at the Center where he has a large inside enclosure and an outdoor play area. He enjoys a varied diet and loves to sleep in his hanging basket. Spooky will be a wonderful education ambassador. His main message will be that you should never feed wildlife because they lose their fear of people and because it can cause many other problems for people and wildlife as well. While the staff and volunteers at the center all love Spooky, it still makes me sad to think that he lost his chance at being wild because well meaning people decided to feed/habituate him.
Next time you visit the Center look for Spooky in his outside play area!

Rehab Enrichment

One of the most rewarding aspects of our job as rehabbers is providing enrichment for our patients and our permanent residents.
Environmental or behavioral enrichment is achieved by adding to a captive animal’s environment or by modifying that environment to stimulate behaviors resembling those of a healthy wild animal. Enrichment is intended to encourage behaviors that are appropriate for the species, and that satisfy an animal’s physical and psychological needs.

Here are some of the things we do to enrich the lives of our animals. Sulcata tortoises are allowed out of their enclosures to forage on grasses, and some days we “bury” the bases of heads of romaine lettuce so they appear to be growing out of the ground. The big tortoises love to eat romaine this way.

Birds and squirrels are treated to their enclosures decorated with fresh browse (foliage) each day. They especially love browse that has edible berries or acorns attached. Squirrels are also given pans of dirt to dig & hide nuts in.
The raccoons are kept busy exploring the contents of “treat tubes” – paper towel cardboard rolls stuffed with treats like nuts and superworms.
The raccoons and opossums both enjoy finding hay nests that we make for them (complete with raw eggs) and placed in their enclosures.
The vultures love to rip things up so we give them both stuffed and rubber squeaky toys for this job. Our resident parrots also love rubber squeaky toys.
On “hay day” many of the birds & mammals are given a pile of timothy hay so they can practice their nest building skills.
When time allows we may also make food trees for the animals – food items are impaled on branches so the animal can forage more naturally. Even are little mice are given wheels to run in- hide houses, nesting materials and fresh treats daily.
How can you help provide enrichment for our animals? Donate some of the items we use for this important endeavor.

Here are some things we need:
– Bags of Timothy hay
– Acorns (from trees not sprayed with chemicals)
– Clean stuffed toys
– Rubber squeaky toys
– Bunny chew sticks
– Baby toys (like plastic keys, etc)
– 4-6 pumpkins (whole) for raccoons to tear up
– Cat/dog toys
– Unsalted peanuts in the shell

Thanks to all!

And the Racer is on at SNC

And the Racer is on at SNC
by Lynn Rochelle
While Jan Kolenda and I were chatting as she was working on her mural, I saw a black racer go into the yard behind the administration building.  From her scaffolding, she saw that the racer had something in its mouth.  I crept up to get a closer look, and sure enough, that racer had 2 legs dangling from both sides of its mouth.  “Poor frog,” I said.
“Lucky racer,” said Jan.
But when we saw the racer go back into the cactus garden, we noticed there was no lump of food in its body.  It didn’t occur to us that the frog had gotten away.
Then the race was on.  With the racer hot on its hopping trail, the frog was leaping for its life along the north side of the building, right beside us.  As the frog took 3-foot jumps, the racer stubbornly slithered right behind it.  Then the frog stopped still in its tracks by a clump of grass.  The racer stopped, too and reared its head trying to locate its escaped dinner.  Slowly turning its head, it spotted the juicy meal sitting quietly.  In a flash, the frog leaped back the way it had come, outpacing the racer once again.  To my knowledge, the frog won the race.
Jan was rooting for the snake, while I was rooting for the frog.
Another day at SNC.

Some of our Wonderful Hospital Volunteers

When it comes to the care and rehabilitation of the hundreds of animals that come through our doors, there are so many important jobs being performed. The rehabbers treat and medicate; the “wild cooks” prepare hundreds of meals per day & sort through boxes & boxes of food; the dedicated volunteers clean up after the patients and make them comfortable and the foster parents take over the job of raising babies. All are vital to our mission.
There are four very special people I’d like to highlight. Aside from their duties as animal caretakers, they perform one of the most wonderful of jobs – they are our release specialists. Andrea Stallworth-Davis, Bruce Smith, Rick Johnson, and Margie Pasko all devote considerable time scoping out suitable release sites, catching up the animals at the center, transporting them to the site, and then experiencing the bittersweet moment of giving these beautiful creatures their first taste of freedom. They scatter some food around the area to help make the transition easier. They always remain with the animals until they are sure that they are safely on their way in their new lives. Andrea (the bird whisperer) releases birds near her home and keeps tabs on many of the releases that she still recognizes. Margie & Rick (the possum parents) treat their opossum releases with flea treatments before they go, and provide bags of food to scatter. Bruce (the gopher guy) is always looking for new release sites for the animals, and has released gopher tortoises, squirrels, bunnies, and whatever else we need him to take. After spending many days, and more often months feeding, treating, and caring for our precious patients, it is wonderful to know that we can depend on these very special people to give back to Mother Nature one of her own.

gopher tortoiseraccoon release

Our Backyard Wilderness Mural Dedication Ceremony

The installation of “Our Backyard Wilderness”, the ceramic relief tile wall, has been completed! This artwork is not only be a statement piece of all that we do at the SNC, but also educational. Fifty different animals are depicted in the mural and visitors young and old can have fun seeing if they can find them all. 
The dedication ceremony is to be held on Tuesday, September 30th at 10 am. The Center will be closed for the morning and this event is by invitation only. All of our current members and donors to the project will be invited.  If you are unsure if your membership is current, please call Rebecca at 954-752-9453 to confirm. 
Parking for the event will be at the Dog Park parking lot across the street. Parking on site is for individuals who are handicapped. 
(not to scale)