Weekly News, Thanksgiving Edition: November 23rd, 2011

Whiskers takes off from Naomi's glove. Photograph by Suzanne Shoemaker.

This has been the week of the Cooper’s hawks here at Owl Moon! It began last Wednesday with a call from my falconer friend, Jeff. Jeff is the Special Operations Commander for Charles County, MD Sheriff’s Department. His coworkers know about his interest in birds of prey, so when they got a report about a hawk they sent him to investigate. This Coopers, a juvenile male, had been found at the base of a large tree in the yard of a bed & breakfast in Newport, MD. Jeff took him home and provided supportive care overnight, then brought him to Owl Moon the next day. Though not paralyzed, the hawk was unable to stand or fly. He was disoriented and had head tremors; symptoms which suggest damage to the central nervous system (CNS). There were two possibilities to consider: an impact injury that resulted in head and spinal trauma (such as from flying into a window or being hit by a car), or West Nile Virus, an acute inflammatory virus affecting the CNS. Fortunately, both instances are treated with non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDS). We started him on a high dose, along with fluid therapy to combat dehydration.

The second call came Friday morning. Chevy Chase Club in Chevy Chase, MD reported that an eagle had flown into the glass of their outdoor ice rink and looked in bad shape. I suspected it was not really an eagle, because eagles are not generally found in urban residential areas, nor are they prone to fly into glass. However, I arrived on the scene with a large kennel, prepared for anything. They had followed my suggestion and placed a box over the bird, to prevent it from escaping before its injuries could be evaluated.  When I tipped up the box to peek inside, I saw the skinny legs and long toes and tail of a Cooper’s hawk. This one is a juvenile female, considerably larger than the male.

Spooky investigates the camera. Photograph by Suzanne Shoemaker.

I am happy to say that “Spooky,” so named because like all Accipiters (the family of true hawks that includes Northern Goshawks, Cooper’s, and Sharp-shinned hawks), she is easily spooked and quick to react, is recovering quickly. We treated her for a few days with NSAIDs, to reduce pain and swelling. Then, to protect her from her own hard-wired instinct to “thrash and crash” in captivity, we moved her to an outside mews. There she can perch up high and have space enough to respect her comfort zone, and thus be safe from self-inflicted injury and feather damage. We plan to band and release Spooky this Friday.

Meanwhile, the juvenile male Cooper’s hawk was not responding to our treatments. He was eating and digesting his food, but he continued to have head tremors and did not regain use of his legs. Sadly, he passed away overnight Friday. The cause of his death will remain a mystery, but I suspect it was a case of West Nile Virus, which in my experience seems to be especially deadly in juvenile Cooper’s hawks. It is always sad to lose a patient; especially knowing the efforts that caring people like Jeff, have invested to save them.

Fortunately, Saturday had a bright side as well. It was release day for our juvenile barred owl “Whiskers.” Whiskers was found in Upper Marlboro, MD, a good distance from Owl Moon Raptor Center. Along the way I stopped at my bird-banding friend, Ken’s, house to band her. He ended up coming along for the release, which was fortunate because on route I got a call from my friend and fellow rehabber, Lee, asking if I could pick up an injured hawk that had been found in Piney Point, MD (even further away). Naomi, the woman who rescued Whisker’s, met us at the intersection where she had found her a month earlier. Naomi was pleased to accept the honor of releasing her. It was dusk, and Whiskers flew into a nearby tree where she surveyed her surroundings long enough for a few photographs before flying off into the sunset.

Meanwhile, Lee had been busy on the phone. She called MD Department of Natural Resources (DNR), whose Officer Dyson was kind enough to pick up the injured hawk at the Merchant Marines Barracks in Piney Point and transport it to a rendezvous point closer to Upper Marlboro. This saved us a good deal of time and gasoline. When we met Officer Dyson we saw he had brought us yet another juvenile Cooper’s hawk; a soaking wet female. This lucky little lady, whom Ken dubbed “Wet Coops,” had been fished out of the Potomac River by Merchant Marines. Concerned about hypothermia, Ken sat with her wrapped in a towel next to the car’s heater, to get her feathers dried out, as we drove back in the direction of home.

Like Spooky, Wet Coops was probably injured by an impact, as she too has some soft tissue injury of her right wing. Wet Coops was also dehydrated and painfully emaciated, which requires fluid therapy and careful reintroduction to solid food. I am pleased to report that after three days, she has reached that point where we can breathe easier. She is stronger and self-feeding, back on a normal diet, and behaving like a typical Coops!

Happy Thanksgiving from Owl Moon! I personally would like to thank Jeff, Naomi, Ken, Lee, and officer Dyson, as well as the folks at the Chevy Chase Club, Merchant Marines, and people like them who go out of their way to help injured wildlife. It makes a difference to birds like Whiskers, who will spend this holiday flying free in her native woods thanks to their kindness.

-Suzanne Shoemaker

Whiskers investigates her surroundings after release. Photograph by Suzanne Shoemaker.

Weekly News: November 16th, 2011

Shredder. Photograph by Suzanne Shoemaker.

This week I focused my efforts on reconditioning Whiskers for release, and giving Squeak-toy daily physical therapy. Whiskers, the juvenile female barred owl, was given five flight sessions on a creance line; a long line attached to jesses on her legs. Each time she flew stronger and farther before tiring. Whiskers had us convinced with her first flight, that she would be ready for release soon. We are making plans to have her banded, and transport her back to her home territory in Upper Marlboro later this week. I’ll try to photograph her release and post photos for you next week.

Squeak-toy, the juvenile male red-shouldered hawk, is making progress too, but his physical therapy is hard work for both of us. His right wing muscles are tense and contracted, so we work to get him to relax and extend his muscles. We stretch the wing to its full length, and rotate it at the shoulder joint, gently pulling it through the motions of flight. A short flight session on a creance follows, and then we repeat the physical therapy while his muscles are still warm.

After one week of this daily routine, I can both feel and see progress. During physical therapy, Squeak-toy’s muscles feel more relaxed and stretchable; and in flight, his wing is extending farther, making him more balanced and symmetrical. While this is encouraging to see, he is not yet getting much lift or forward momentum, so his flights are short. This may be partly due to feather damage in that right wing, a result of wing-droop from the injury. The droop causes the wing to drag on his perches, wearing the feather tips. Unfortunately, we cannot correct his feather problem before he makes more progress with the physical therapy.

Meanwhile, Shredder, the great-horned owl, requires another week of cage rest. We visited Opossum Pike Vet Clinic this week, where Dr. Barb Stastny did a follow-up examination of his fractured left humerus. The bone has formed a nice callus, though there was a slight slippage and shortening of the bone at the fracture site. It is difficult to say if this will cause problems with his flight capabilities without putting him to the test. At the end of this week, we will move him to an outside mews (flight cage), where we can begin to assess his flight, but the true test will come when we fly him on a creance line.

-Suzanne Shoemaker

Whiskers lands in the grass after a short flight on the creance line. Photograph by Suzanne Shoemaker.

Weekly News: November 9, 2011

Whiskers sits on Suzanne's glove during her first flight reconditioning session. Photograph by Suzanne Shoemaker.

Owl Moon received a new patient this week, a juvenile female barred owl transferred from Second Chance Wildlife Center in Gaithersburg, MD. We have been calling her “Whiskers” because, as is typical of juvenile owls, her face is fuzzier than an adult’s.

Whiskers arrived at Second Chance on Oct 17th. She was found along a road in Upper Marlboro, MD, but it wasn’t clear if she had been hit by a car. Second Chance found no injuries and, though very thin and dehydrated, she was alert and responsive. Second Chance gave her fluids for the next several days, as well as non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDS). The NSAIDS served two purposes, they would alleviate pain and swelling in case she had been hit and incurred undetected soft tissue injury, such as bruising. Secondly, they would help in case she had contracted West Nile Virus. Though she was not exhibiting the classic central nervous system symptoms, this is a busy season for West Nile in birds. Symptoms can vary widely and juveniles are frequently victims. Because no clear reason could be found for her condition, NSAIDS were given as a precautionary measure.

After Whiskers was rehydrated, she was gavaged (tube-fed) a liquid diet, and in a few days was fed mice.  After she had eaten well for a few days and gained over 150 grams, she was turned over to Owl Moon on November 3rd. Second Chance often transfers birds of prey to Owl Moon for continued care, as we have
large outdoor enclosures designed for raptors, called “mews.” The windows of a mew have vertical bars or wooden slats, which serve two purposes. First, they provide a sense of cover so the bird feels less exposed to potential threats. Second, they prevent birds from hanging on with their feet and damaging feathers. Our
two mews are 10’x12,’ and up two 8’ high in back. This is large enough to allow recovering raptors space to stretch their wings and fly short distances from perch to perch, the next step toward release.

This is what Shredder's bandage looks like when it is applied. Photograph by Suzanne Shoemaker.

This is what Shredder's banage looks like when it comes off. Photograph by Suzanne Shoemaker.

In her first week at Owl Moon, Whiskers has continued to gain weight, and received her first session of flight exercise on a creance line. She flew beautifully right off the bat, so I am confident that she can be released after a couple more weeks of  reconditioning.

“Squeek-toy,” the juvenile red-shouldered hawk, is getting flight time on the creance too, as well as physical therapy exercises. We flex and extend his injured wing to stretch the retracted muscles, and rotate it to increase range of motion at the shoulder joint. While his flexibility is improving, he appears to have some soreness afterward. We hope he will regain full use of the wing, but we won’t be pushing him too hard or too fast.

Meanwhile, I am pleased to announce that “Shredder,” the great-horned owl, is bandage-free, and glad of it! The fracture of the humerus of his left wing has formed a callus, and he holds the wing in a nearly normal position, a good sign. I will be scheduling a follow-up appointment for him next week with Dr. Stastny at Opossum Pike Veterinary Clinic, so I will have a more complete report next week. If all is well, he will be following Whiskers into the outdoor mews soon.

-Suzanne Shoemaker

In this close-up Whisker's whiskers are clearly visible around her beak. Photograph by Suzanne Shoemaker.

Weekly News: November 2, 2011

Squeek-toy gets ready for a practice flight in a flight cage at OMRC

In wildlife rehab, as in all forms of medicine, there are stories with happy endings and sad endings. Regretfully, the great horned owl I wrote about last week that had been kept under inhumane conditions turned out to have a sad ending.

I transferred him to Tri-State Bird Rescue and Research Center in Newark, DE as planned. While there, Dr. Erica Miller, an expert avian veterinarian whose opinion I regard highly, gave him a thorough examination and took further x-rays. She discovered that his injuries were more complicated and serious than we knew. In addition to the fracture of the ulna near the “elbow” joint, the radius bone was luxated (dislocated), and the callus that formed around the fracture of the ulna of the right wing had already caused irreparable damage to the “elbow” joint. Moreover, he had arthritis in both of his “wrist” joints, possibly a consequence of struggling in the confines of his inhumanely small caging. The result was that he would never fly well enough for release, and he would suffer from chronic pain in the joints. Dr. Miller determined that the most humane solution for him would be euthanasia, and this was done. This is always a difficult conclusion to accept, but I feel strongly that it was the right decision. He had already been through too much suffering in the hands of irresponsible humans. It would not have been fair to put him through any more, given that he would never be able to return to the wild.

On the brighter side, Dr. Miller also examined a juvenile male red-shouldered hawk that I have had for several weeks now. This bird (I call him “Squeak-toy,” because he is very vocal and sounds just like one) was
brought to me laying on his back in a shallow box, nearly paralyzed by spinal trauma from hitting a plate glass window in full flight. I placed him on anti-inflammatory and pain medications, and gradually he regained use of his legs and can stand and tear his food to eat. He also regained the use of his wings and can fly, but not well.  In the early x-rays, no fractures had been found. But in a recent x-ray, Dr. Miller discovered that, in addition to spinal trauma, Squeak -toy had fractured his right coracoid bone, a sturdy bone that connects the sternum to the shoulder. As a result, the muscles operating his right wing have all retracted. She prescribed some physical therapy exercises, as well as flight exercise, in an effort to re-stretch the muscles so he can extend both wings symmetrically to fly well.  The outcome is yet to be determined, but I am hopeful.

Shredder with the offending bandage

Meanwhile, back at OMRC, the other great horned owl from last week continues to shred and remove his wing/body wrap, earning him the nickname “Shredder.” Of course he doesn’t like the handling required to rewrap his wing every day. Too bad there is no way to tell him he could save us both the trouble if he would just leave it alone  Fortunately for us, we have to undergo this exercise only three more days before the fracture will be healed enough to remove the bandage.

-Suzanne Shoemaker