Part Three: Meanwhile Back at the Ranch…

Shredder. Photograph by Ken Smith.

Little Rufus, red-shouldered hawk, went back to Second Chance on Monday, January 9th to undergo major surgery to remove his damaged left eye and the seal the lids permanently. A hawk’s eyes are much larger than they appear on the outside, so this was no simple task. Dr. Pat conducted the grueling 2-hour operation with the assistance of Kathleen Handley, at no charge. Rufus spent the rest of the week recuperating indoors, first at Second Chance, and then at Owl Moon. His recovery went smoothly, and by Tuesday this week he was feisty and ready to return to the red-shoulder mews. He appears relieved to be back outside with the others.

Pasadena, the juvenile female red-shoulder with the fractured right ulna, is doing great. Her wing has recovered much of the range of motion it lost, and we began creance flying her last Friday, January 6th. After only three sessions, she is flying as if nothing ever happened to her wing, so I am confident that she will be able to return to her hometown in another week or two. At this point I just want to be sure the bone is fully healed and that she is in top physical condition before going back to the wild.

Soldier-girl is still having difficulties with her left leg and foot, lingering consequences of a nasty compound fracture of the tibiotarsus and fibula. She bears weight on the leg sporadically. The opposing toe, or hallux, is still apt to fold under the foot when she perches. I tried applying an inter-digital wrap on the foot to keep the hallux back where it belongs, but that was not enough.

Today I went a step further and applied a “ball bandage,” which is certain to keep the hallux back, but makes perching more difficult. It is basically a ball of gauze placed in the grip of the foot. The foot is then wrapped to hold the gauze in place. The ball bandage forces her to bear most of her weight on the right foot, which she does anyway. The healthy foot is prone to pressure sores from constantly bearing all her weight, so I applied padding and an inter-digital wrap on that foot as well to protect it. The perches in her mew are doubled (two perches aligned closely parallel) and padded  to give her more surface on which to land and keep her balance, and to allow her to lie down and rest both legs, which she often does at night. We cannot be sure that these efforts will succeed in the long run, but we want to give Soldier-girl every chance.

Meanwhile Squeak-toy hangs out with the others, and though we are not working with, or on, him these days, he made progress on his own initiative. After three weeks of sticking to the lowest perch in the mew, Squeak-toy discovered, all by himself, that he could fly to the next highest perch! Now THIS perch has become his favorite, though he is willing to share.

Finally, it is with great pleasure that I announce Shredder, the great-horned owl, is back in his native woods. His release day came on Sunday, January 8, 2012. We gave him quite a send-off too! I invited Jim and Maureen, the nice couple who rescued Grace, to attend the big event. They live just up the road from Shredder’s home turf in Middletown, MD. Ken came to band Shredder before release. He brought two friends, Jonna and her daughter Juliana, to witness the event. Zoe, who found Shredder, and her neighbor were also present.

We met just before dusk. I hoped to get a parting shot of Shredder with a full moon rising but it became too dark too fast. Shredder made a beeline for the trees. He stopped briefly on a pole to scope out his options, and then continued into the darkness. Farewell Shredder! We hope we got you home in time to reunite with your mate and have a successful nesting season!

-Suzanne Shoemaker

Suzanne Shoemaker holds Shredder prior to his release. Photograph by Ken Smith.

Part Two: The Mysterious Affliction of Grace

A female Cooper's hawk. Photograph by Ken Smith.

I hadn’t even left Shayne’s house, before I got a call about another hawk. Jim and Maureen’s neighbor had found it in their back pasture, unable to stand. After many phone calls (recall this is New Years Day), they were referred to Owl Moon Raptor Center, and I met them there when I arrived. It turned out to be another Cooper’s hawk, an adult female, a beautiful bird I called “Grace.” I will warn you from the start that Grace’s story ends sadly, though I was not without hope when I first examined her.

Grace’s condition was perplexing. She could not stand, but she could move her upper legs. Her lower legs were folded at the hock or (ankle) joint, and both her feet were clenched. The joints were rigid and difficult to pry open. My first thoughts were 1) spinal injury, as Cooper’s hawks are particularly prone to impact traumas involving the head or spine because of their aerial pursuit of avian prey, 2) some kind of toxin, or 3) West Nile Virus (WNV). We are past the normal season for this mosquito-borne disease, but it has been a warm fall/winter here, so I didn’t want to rule it out. I have never seen a case of spinal injury with these specific symptoms, but I started Grace on a NSAID, non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug, which is prescribed for CNS disorders/injuries, as well as in treatment for WNV.

That afternoon I brought her to Second Chance, where Dr. Pat Klein examined her and took x-rays. The x-rays showed no visible spinal damage, but this is often the case even when symptoms are clearly spinal, as there can be soft tissue injury, including nerve damage, with no visible displacement of the vertebrae. Pat considered toxicity as well, but spinal trauma was the prime candidate. She recommended I continue NSAID treatments and hope for improvement in the next few days.

With the NSAID and supportive care (fluids and hand-feeding 2-3 times daily), Grace grew stronger and more active and alert over the next several days, but her legs remained folded underneath her. I worked on her joints a bit, and they gradually loosened and became more pliable, but she was not very responsive to the touch.

My next step was to email avian specialist Dr. Erica Miller at Tri-State Bird Rescue and Research in Newark, DE. She advised me of a test I could do to confirm spinal damage: if I pinch the toes and she pulls back, but does not look at her toes or attempt to bite or do anything else, then it is indeed spinal. If not, she advised that clenched feet are associated with some neuro-toxins, including organophosphates (Ops), carbamates, and organochlorines. Ops and carbamates will slow the heart rate, and there is an antidote for these toxins. With organochlorine poisoning you can only provide supportive care and hope it will work its way out of her system.

Unfortunately the test confirmed that Grace had spinal damage. I wanted to give the NSAIDs more time to work, so I continued to treat and support her for a few more days. My hope of a good outcome faded with each new day when I saw her lying down. After a full week I took Grace back to Dr. Pat intending to euthanize, but in a last ditch effort we decided to give her the antidote for Op and carbamate poisoning in hope of a miracle. She did not respond to this treatment either. Thus, after eight days of intensive care, Grace was euthanized.

-Suzanne Shoemaker

Part One: Hawk Trapping on Aisle Ten

I’m back! I’ve taken a bit of a hiatus from the blog over the last few weeks necessitated in part by the fact that I have been too busy with patients to sit down and write. Now I have so much to catch up on that I had to break my story into three parts to make it more manageable to read. So hold on and prepare yourself, because over the next three days I will take you on the roller coaster ride of events that has been my last few weeks.  We begin where I left you last time, on Wednesday, December 28, 2011…

Cooper sitting in the rafters at Sam's Club. Photography by Pat Gilbert.

Part I: Hawk Trapping on Aisle Ten

I received a call from my friend and fellow rehabber, Judy Holzman of All Creatures Great and Small Wildlife Center in Columbia, MD. Judy had just spoken to Pat,  who manages a Sam’s Club in Baltimore. She and her co-workers had discovered a hawk flying about high in the rafters of the superstore. Pat knew the bird was in trouble, as there was no hawk food in the store and no easy way out for the bird.

Judy and I both knew that it was most likely a Cooper’s hawk. Cooper’s hawks are bird hunters, and prone to getting trapped in warehouses and other large buildings. They fly in chasing their prey, such as house sparrows and starlings, which sometimes seek food and shelter in such places. You have probably seen these smaller birds flying around in your local Home Depot or other superstore. The hawk flies in chasing it’s prey, but once inside it gets spooked and flies high into the rafters seeking safety. Unfortunately most of these buildings have skylights, but no openings in the roof. The exits are close to the ground, and the hawk won’t fly down to where it would find its escape, not without something to lure it down.

In this matter, rehabbers often enlist the help of falconers or raptor banders, who have the equipment needed to lure and capture hawks. I called Ken Smith, a raptor bander who has helped me before with such cases. Ken has a number of hawk traps, including a Bal Chatri (a.k.a. BC). This trap is basically a small welded-wire cage with a weighted base and loops of monofilament fishing line tied all over the outside. A live pigeon, starling, sparrow, or mouse is placed inside the cage, which protects it from the hawk. The trap is placed below the hungry hawk and, if possible, on a surface above the floor such as a high shelf (so the hawk will feel safe approaching it), or on the floor near an open exit (so it has the option to keep flying through the exit). When the hawk lands on the trap, its feet become caught in the monofilament loops and it can’t fly away.

Judy, Ken and I arrived at Sam’s Club at 8 pm, a half-hour before closing, and met Janice, the night manager, who kindly walked us through the aisles to where the hawk was perching, over the store bakery. Fortunately, this was also near the large freezers, which had a good solid roof, and a ladder that reached the top.  This made an ideal set-up. We could anchor the trap on the freezer roof, which was close enough to the hawk that it would spot it (but not spook when we placed it there), and high enough above the workers who were restocking shelves, that the hawk would feel safe in approaching it. The plan was implemented! We set the trap on top of the freezer where we could observe it from the ground, and then climbed down and watched at a distance with our binoculars.

We had prepared for a long evening of waiting, but it took only about 20 minutes before the hawk landed on the trap. , Once we were sure his feet were entangled Ken and I rushed to the ladder and climbed to the hawk. Ken got a hold on his feet and we untangled him from the trap. When we reached the ground with the hawk, Pat, the store manager was there with her camera, and a number of employees were snapping pictures with their cell phones. They were excited to see “Cooper” the hawk, whom they had proudly named after identifying his species.  A quick examination revealed that Cooper, a juvenile male, was dehydrated and in need a couple of days of fluids and food before being turned loose. So we tucked him in a box and I took him home to Owl Moon Raptor Center.

As expected, Cooper recovered quickly, and he was ready for release on Sunday; New Years Day. Though I normally release birds back in their home territory, I was reluctant to send Cooper back to his urban home, with all of its traffic hazards and the very real chance of him winding up in another superstore or warehouse. A juvenile hawk has not mated or established a nesting territory in its first winter, so it is not a major disruption to move them. We decided to release Cooper in rural Ellicott City, where Shayne, a friend of Ken’s, has several acres of prime Cooper’s hawk habitat: a stream, meadows, and tall trees. I met Ken there, and after Ken banded Cooper, Shayne’s mother was given the honor of releasing him. He flew straight through a bamboo thicket and kept on going!

-Suzanne Shoemaker

Suzanne Shoemaker and Ken Smith remove Cooper from the trap. Photograph by Pat Gilbert.

Sam's Club staff gather around to see Cooper after he is safely removed from the trap. Photograph by Pat Gilbert.

Cooper's head is covered with a can to keep him calm while Suzanne Shoemaker and Ken Smith band, weigh and measure him before release. Photograph by Shayne Twigg.

Carolyn Twigg prepares to release Cooper. Photograph by Shayne Twigg.

Owl Moon has Videos Now!

I am really excited to announce that Owl Moon’s website now has video capability! Check out these videos of Shredder flying on the creance line.

Okay, so we may not be going to Sundance this year, but we hope these videos help you understand a little better what we mean by “creance” flying. Now that we can post videos, well the possibilities really are endless! Is there something you would like to see? Let us know if you have any suggestions or requests for video ideas.

-Natasha Lewandrowski

An Owl in the Family: January 11th, 2012

Neesa: Owl Moon’s first owl. Photograph by Suzanne Shoemaker.

Hello! My name is Natasha Lewandrowski. I am Suzanne Shoemaker’s daughter. I’ve been with Owl Moon from the beginning, but I’ve recently become more involved through collaborating with my mom on this blog. Usually she writes the posts, and I help her edit them and manage the site. However, this week my mom is busy finishing end-of-year reports to keep Owl Moon up and running, so I am stepping out from behind the scenes to bring you a story about the origins of Owl Moon Raptor Center.

Sixteen years ago, when I was ten, my mom and I began volunteering at Second Chance Wildlife Center in Gaithersburg, MD. It was the sort of unique educational opportunity that was only possible because my mom forwent a traditional career in order to homeschool my brother Callum and I. She believes in the value of hands-on learning. Thus, through scouring opossum cages and syringe-feeding orphan squirrels,* I learned about the animals that shared my neighborhood and my mother discovered her calling as a wildlife rehabilitator. A wildlife biologist by training, my mom has always been interested in working with animals. During my childhood she worked as an animal control officer, a veterinary technician, and a cheetah interpreter for the National Zoo. When she was a kid my mom wanted to grow up to be a rabbit, she told me. Given her current companions, I’m pretty sure she’s glad she didn’t!

At Second Chance my mom met Gary, who became her mentor in falconry. She also met Neesa; a yearling barred owl with a bum leg that prevented him from returning to the wild. Neesa became my mother’s first raptor. Having an owl in the family is actually a lot less cool than it sounds. Wild animals do not make good pets. In fact, they make barely tolerable roommates! I took to wearing a bicycle helmet when I did my laundry to protect my head from Neesa’s dive-bomb attacks. After my parents bought their first house, my dad built two large flight cages (called mews) in the backyard. I think his original idea was that we would get the laundry room back. Instead, it allowed for full scale rehab operations to begin and the official founding of Owl Moon Raptor Center!

Having a rehab clinic in the house made for some interesting times during my teenage years. Whenever I brought a new friend over I would inevitably have to explain why there was a cup of frozen mice thawing on the kitchen counter. If they were grossed out by the mice, however, it was quickly forgotten when they met the patients. My husband, Dustin, still remembers how the first time he went to my parent’s house for dinner, half the freezer was occupied by a bald eagle.

Dustin and I moved out to Seattle in 2007. My mom and I talk frequently on the phone, and she always gives me the updates on her current patients. Even 2000 miles away I feel like I am getting to know her birds. I feel excited when she releases one, and sad when she loses one. Each bird’s story is unique. I kept telling her, “mom, you need to write these stories down,” but with all those birds to take care of she never found the time.

Then, last October, my mom asked me to help her design a calendar to raise money for OMRC. As I was working on the layout it occurred to me that the calendar really should have a web address on it where one could go for more information. Just one problem, Owl Moon didn’t have a website. Setting up the site itself was easily done, but I needed my mom to write the content for it. Now my mom can be a bit of a procrastinator when it comes to projects (just ask my dad when her quilt will be finished), but she’s also a perfectionist; so instead of asking her to write the content I wrote it myself and sent it to her. She sent it back “fixed” the next day. Then she sent it back even more fixed the next day…and the next.

Now that the blog is up she is having a lot of fun relating the weekly stories. I’m having a lot of fun too; helping her and following along every week with you. Thanks for joining me today! Next week we will be back to our regularly scheduled program, which I hear has to do with a hawk trapped in a Sam’s Club and a late night rescue!

-Natasha Lewandrowski

* The syringes have nipples rather than needles on them.

Weekly News, New Year’s Edition: January 3rd, 2011

Suzanne Shoemaker works with Shredder on the creance line. Photograph by Callum Lewandrowski.

Happy New Year! 2011 went out with a bang here at Owl Moon Raptor Center. As a result, I’m afraid I’m a little late writing my update this week. Mother Nature keeps her own schedule, so it’s up to me to keep up and find time to write when I can.

Pasadena, a juvenile red-shouldered hawk named for her hometown joined Squeak-toy, Soldier-girl, and Rufus in the mews.  I first received the call about her back on the night of December 6th. Crisdee had seen her first the previous afternoon, perched on her son’s slide. When Crisdee saw her again the next day she was on the ground. It was raining, so she knew the hawk must be injured or sick to still be there.  Crisdee called her mom, who tried calling a number of rehabbers in the area, but by then it was after dark, and none could make it over for a nighttime rescue.

Crisdee’s mom reached me at about 8 pm. I live two hours away, so I too was unable to make it over that night. Instead I called Crisdee and convinced her that she could safely capture the bird herself if she followed my instructions. I stayed on the phone while Crisdee gathered the necessary supplies, and talked her through the process.

Recipe for Safely Capturing a Sick or Injured Raptor

  • One pair of thick leather gloves
  • An old bed sheet
  • One medium to large cardboard box
  • A sheet of cardboard or poster board, large enough to cover the box

Step one: Put on gloves, Step two: Gather up sheet such that you can throw it over the bird, Step three: Slowly approach the bird, talking to it quietly, if possible back it against a barrier of some kind or between people. Step four: Toss bed sheet over bird. Step five: Place cardboard box over sheet and bird. Step six: Slide cardboard or poster board under box, bird, and sheet. Holding sheet of cardboard tight to box, slowly flip all over so as to contain bird in box with cardboard cover. At this point you can lift cardboard slightly and if the bird is covered by sheet, close box flaps and carefully slide sheet out of a small opening. Step nine:  Throw sheet over box.

Crisdee was triumphant! Her husband, Matthew, was graciously willing to drive an hour in the rain at night to take the hawk to Judy Holzman at All Creatures Great and Small Wildlife Center in Columbia, MD.

Judy suspected a fracture in the right wing, so the next day she took the hawk to her vet, Dr. Stephen Gold. Dr. Gold x-rayed the wing and found  that the ulna was fractured just below the “elbow.” The fracture had been kept fairly well aligned by the intact radius bone, which parallels the ulna. Dr. Gold wrapped the wing to immobilize it. Judy kept the wing wrapped for a full week, and then kept Pasadena on cage rest for another week. After the second week, She transferred Pasadena to Owl Moon Raptor Center to allow her to begin exercising her wings in the mew.

Two weeks is a relatively accelerated schedule for a bird to begin exercising after a bone fracture, but there is a reason for this: With this type of fracture the callus can bridge from the ulna to the radius if the wing is too long immobile, permanently reducing the range of motion in the wing.

Thus Pasadena joined Squeak-toy, Soldier-girl, and Rufus, bringing the red-shoulder mew to full capacity. They get a little stirred up when I enter, but seem to remain quiet in between times. I know that they are sharing the food because I do regular weight checks on all of them, and no one is gaining or losing significantly.

Pasadena will recuperate in the mew for another week before we begin flying her on a creance line. For now I am doing some gentle physical therapy exercises on the wing when I check her weight. Her range of motion in the wrist joint is slightly reduced, but that is not unexpected at this stage. I hope that by intervening early with physical therapy and flying time we will prevent the callus from bridging and gradually increase range of motion to normal.

I am concerned about Soldier-girl. The same bridging I worry about with Pasadena that can occur between the parallel ulna and radius bones of the wing can occur between the parallel tibiotarsus and fibula bones in the leg. I took Soldier-girl to Dr. Barb Stastny at Opossum Pike Vet Clinic last week after I saw her favoring the leg she fractured last month. Follow-up x-rays show that she had fractured both the tibiotarsus and fibula of that leg. The tibiotarsus was broken in two places, a nasty fracture. The callus is large, and appears to have bridged the two bones. It has reduced range of motion in her “ankle” joint (higher on the leg than our ankle) and is affecting the tendons as well. She is not able to grip her left foot tightly or extend the hallux (opposing toe) normally.  She sometimes perches with the hallux under the foot, which can lead to sores and other foot problems.

Dr. Barb prescribed an anti-inflammatory drug, which will help to alleviate any pain and inflammation that may be causing Soldier-girl to favor the leg, and she will re-examine her after 3 to 4 more weeks of recovery time. Meanwhile, we are doing physical therapies on the foot to try to enable her to extend the hallux, and keeping our fingers crossed.

Shredder rests in the grass after a flight. Photograph by Callum Lewandrowski.

Rufus, the adult male red-shoulder with a blind eye, is getting around much better than last week. He is more alert, can fly from perch to perch, and is doing less circling to the right. He is finding and eating enough food on his own that he no longer requires hand feeding. While his improvements are cause for hope he still has a way to go in all these areas before he will be self-sufficient.

Squeak-toy, the juvenile male, is still hanging out with the others. Because of this I must postpone training him. There is little I can do to train a bird without close control of its weight, and I cannot control his weight while he is group feeding with the other birds His physical therapy has ended. I became convinced that he is no longer benefitting from the exercises. His condition has improved as much as it ever will. Now the time has come to find him a permanent home.

Finally, Shredder, the great horned owl, is  stronger and more ornery every day; signs that he is nearly ready to leave us and go on his way. His flights are long, he is gaining height, and his stamina has grown to where he can fly for longer periods without getting winded. He is actively flying around in his mews, as well. His progress is great to see. I am optimistic that he will be ready to return to the wild within another week to two.

Shredder flying on the creance line. Photograph by Callum Lewandrowski.

As we welcome 2012, I want to thank each and every one of you for joining me on this journey. It has now been over three months since I started this blog with the help of my daughter, Natasha Lewandrowski.  Writing these stories is not always easy.  Frequently I share with you my burdens and sorrows as much as my triumphs and joys. I wish that all the stories could have happy endings, but it helps me to know that you are out there pulling for these beautiful birds as much as I am. I feel your support, and I believe that the birds feel your positive energy through me. I plan to go on writing as long as you are on board and as long as I can find the time to put our adventures into words! I look forward to keeping the momentum going in 2012. Thank you for your support and have a Happy New Year!

Suzanne Shoemaker with Shredder. Photography by Callum Lewandrowski.