After moving the juvenile Red-shouldered hawk, “Duck”, to an outdoor mew on Thursday, and flying him on a creance line, we were convinced that he was back to full health and ready for release. So yesterday, I packed Duck in a carrier and transported him back to the beautiful Pogue Mahone Farm in Jefferson, MD, where Kathy had rescued him from drowning in their horses’ water trough. Kathy and her daughter were present. When we set him free, Duck bolted from the box, landed on Kathy’s pick-up truck for a quick look around, and then took off high over the pastures to the distant trees. Farewell, Duck, and stay out of those troughs!
It’s hard to believe it, but on October 18th the Owl Moon Raptor Center Blog will be one year old! It’s been a great year too. Since launching, we have shared the stories of OMRC’s patients with over 5000 site visitors in 57 countries! We have learned quite a bit about blogging too. For one thing, it takes a LOT of time. OMRC is the busiest in the spring and summer when young raptors are fledging and leaving the nest. It has been challenging for Suzanne to find time to write in between taking care of all of those birds, so starting this month we are going to try something new. We will give short, frequent updates on patients as they come in and developments occur. As time permits, we will tell longer more in-depth stories. We hope that this new format will make it easier for readers to follow along with the patient stories as they occur.
Without further ado, let’s get to some patient updates!
When last we wrote, Owl Moon was in the process of transferring Zen to Meadowside Nature Center in Rockville, MD. It seemed that his injured elbow would never heal well enough for him to survive in the wild. In the last few weeks, however, Zen has made a surprising amount of progress. After molting his damaged feathers and growing in a full new set, his flight is looking stronger and more even than before. It now seems possible that Zen might be releasable. If not, we will proceed with the transfer to Meadowside. We will give him more time to build his strength and complete his molt before making a determination.
Bob has finally regrown his missing tail feathers, and is currently being reconditioned for release.
In the last post, we introduced you to Crooked Beak, a juvenile red-shouldered hawk with a misaligned beak. Great news! After considerable time and effort, her beak is back in alignment. She is currently being reconditioned in preparation for release.
Little Bear, another newbie from our last post, is also in the process of being reconditioned for release. When birds come to Owl Moon as juveniles it is important for us to test their hunting skills with live prey before returning them to the wild. Little Bear will be released on his home turf and we hope he will reunite with his parents. It is best for young raptors to learn to hunt with parental support, but their instincts are strong, and they can make it on their own.
Eastern Screech Owl
We have decided not to release Henry, the adorable young screech owl featured in last post’s videos. His damaged eye would make him vulnerable to predators in the wild and he would have difficulty hunting without the depth perception that two good eyes offer. The good news is that Henry will make a great education bird once a suitable arrangement is found.
Another patient we introduced last time was Kite, a juvenile osprey found dangling in a tree with his toe caught in fishing line. We are happy to report that Kite’s injuries were minor. He was released where he was found in Edgewater, MD on July 25th. Many onlookers, including some of the firemen who rescued him, came to see him off.
Plato is a new patient at OMRC. He was rescued in La Plata, MD on July 22nd after flying into a window. When Plato arrived, his case looked grim. He suffered spinal compression from the impact. We treated him with NSAIDs, non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, with analgesics for pain, for several weeks, while he slowly regained the use of his legs. Plato is now able to stand, perch, and walk, though his legs are weak, and he sometimes rests on his hocks for support and balance. He can also fly. It seems that the spinal trauma affected the use of his legs more than his wings. We cannot yet determine Plato’s chances for a full recovery. His progress thus far is encouraging, but nerve damage can require months to heal, and he may never recover to where he can be released. Unfortunately, Cooper’s hawks do poorly in captivity. If he does not recover fully he will need to be euthanized. We continue to hope.
Eastern Screech Owl
David is another new patient. He is a juvenile male screech owl like Henry, but you will notice they do not look alike. Unlike most owls, screech owls come in two different colors. David is a gray phase screech owl. Henry is a red phase. David was found at Camp David, the presidential retreat in Maryland, and brought to Owl Moon on July 31st. He had a soft tissue (muscle and/or nerve) injury in his left wing and the damage appears to be permanent. He is not flying well enough for release at this point. We will seek an education placement for him if his flight does not improve soon.
Pixie is a Broad-winged hawk. He earned his name by charming us with his playful peeping sounds and bouncing around in his cage when he thinks no one is watching. Pixie was found at Catoctin Mountain State Park on August 5th. He wasn’t flying, but he had no visible injuries. X-rays revealed a fractured coracoid. The coracoid is a bone that runs between the shoulder and the breastplate, and it is critical for flying. The bone has since healed, and we just started him flying on the creance line. His flight does not look good at this point, but there is still time for it to improve.
Great Horned Owl
Cleopatra came to Owl Moon on August 18th. She arrived unable to stand, uncoordinated, disoriented and lethargic. The symptoms suggest neurological impairment, probably due to West Nile Virus. Her prognosis looked grim, but day by day she has carried on. In Suzanne’s experience, adult birds seem to fare better against the disease than juveniles, but it is still devastating. Cleopatra is one tough bird though. She has regained her ability to perch, she is eating on her own, and she has her great-horned “attitude” back! Nothing is certain at this point, but her strength is definitely working in her favor.
Summer was found near the Pennsylvania/Maryland border. He came to Owl Moon through a fellow rehabber, David Coppersmith. Summer’s symptoms indicate West Nile Virus. His condition is improving but we are worried that he might be permanently disabled. He eats, but he doesn’t recognize food until it is waved close to his face. His vision may be impaired as a result of the virus. Suzanne has an appointment to take him to the vet for examination. For now he has joined the other red-shouldered hawks in the outdoor mew, but is receiving extra attention.
Beastie Boy was transferred to Owl Moon from Second Chance Wildlife Center on September 7th. He collided with a car when he flew up from a roadside deer carcass he had been feeding on. Second Chance treated Beastie for a deep laceration on his left shoulder and a fractured hallux (back toe) on the right foot. The shoulder wound has healed, but it remains to be determined if he can fly well enough to return to the wild and hunt. We hope so. Beastie is not content to remain idle in his cage while his fractured toe mends.
Lastly, there is Duck. Duck isn’t actually a duck, but he was found in water. He was discovered clinging to the side of a horse trough in Jefferson, MD, on September 7th. He was close to drowning when he was rescued. Duck is another suspected case of West Nile Virus (WNV). He appears off-balance and uncoordinated, and these symptoms of WNV can cause birds to wind up in predicaments they would normally avoid, such as landing in a horse trough. He is receiving Non-Steroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drugs, the standard WNV treatment, just in case. He is doing well so far, but it is too early to tell.
Hello, Natasha here!
I am currently visiting my parents and Owl Moon Raptor Center at their home in Boyds. As some of you may know from my blog, I am in the process of moving from Seattle, WA, to New Brunswick, NJ with my husband, Dustin. We have been staying in Boyds for a few weeks while we search for a new apartment.
Suzanne, my mother, wasted no time in putting me to work helping with the raptors. Since I have been here I have helped her administer medications and fluids to several patients, driven two birds to Tri-State Bird Rescue and Research Center in Newark, DE, and sewn protective mosquito-net curtains for the outdoor mews to keep the birds safe from West Nile Virus, not to mention writing this blog!
One of the birds I drove to Tri-State was Sonya, the female Cooper’s hawk that was injured in a collision with a car back in February. Sonya has recovered from her injury, but she needs to show she is capable of catching live prey before she can be released. Sonya’s injury has permanently weakened her leg, so Suzanne canot fly her on the creance line for reconditioning. At Tri-State she will have the opportunity to prove her hunting proficiency while exercising in large outdoor flight cages.
At Owl Moon there are seven patients presently on site. Zen the barred owl is still here. Pending a permit approval, Zen will be transferred to Meadowside Nature Center in Rockville, MD where he will be used for education. There is also a young barred owl we call Little Bear. Little Bear was found orphaned and emaciated. He is healthy now, but he will stay with us until he shows he is capable of hunting on his own, and then be released near where he was found in Pasadena, MD.
Bob, the red-shouldered hawk is re-growing some missing tail feathers. They have started to come in and we are hopeful he will soon be ready for release. In the meantime, he shares a mew with another red-shouldered hawk, Crooked Beak, a fledgling who was found with (you guessed it) a misaligned beak. Her beak is nearly in alignment now, but we cannot release her until we are sure that it will wear properly and not overgrow after she is released.
A fledgling osprey we named Kite arrived on July 20th. Kite was found struggling to free himself from fishing line caught on his toe, on a tree limb 50 feet off the ground. The most recent additions arrived yesterday, July 22. The first is a fledgling male red-shouldered hawk with symptoms of West Nile Virus. He is being treated with anti-inflammatory drugs and fluids. The other new arrival is a fledgling male Cooper’s hawk. He was injured when he flew into a window. Though he does not exhibit any external injuries, he is unable to stand. We will take him to the vet for X-rays on Wednesday.
The most endearing patient is Henry, a fledgling screech owl. Henry came to Owl Moon on May 3rd after falling out of his nest cavity. He sustained an eye injury in the fall resulting in blindness in his right eye. His best chance to learn how to hunt would be with his parents, however, so Suzanne returned him to his nest. Unfortunately, she had to take him back when it seemed his parents had not returned to take care of him. Henry’s future is uncertain. If he shows he can hunt, he will be released. If not, he will be placed as an education bird.
For now Henry is being fostered with an adult screech owl, Root’n Toot’n. While I hope Henry can be released, I know he would make an great education bird also. He has such an endearing personality. Check out these adorable videos of him!
That brings us up to date on the current patients. We look forward to sharing many more stories of patients that have come and gone this busy nesting season in the near future!
The next call concerning a grounded Great Horned Owlet came from Melinda. Her husband, an excavator, had brought home this baby from a job site in Thurmont, MD the night before. He had found it on the ground and observed one of its parents defending it from a hawk before retrieving it. Melinda fed it raw beef that evening and morning, and then had to leave it at home when she went to work. She called Second Chance later that morning and was referred to Owl Moon Raptor Center. When I spoke to Melinda I advised her of my goal to return it to its parents, either in the existing nest or an artificial one. In the interim I would pick it up and take it to Owl Moon where it would receive a complete diet of whole mice. Raw beef may be okay in an emergency, but raptor chicks need the whole animal (including bones and organs), for proper nutrition, and will quickly develop metabolic and developmental problems on a diet of raw beef. Melinda agreed, and when I picked the owlet up she told me she would call me with the address and contact information of the people who owned the property where the owlet was found.
The only word I got back was a text saying that trees were being cut down on the nest site property. The tree cutting explained why the baby ended up on the ground, but it provided no useful information for reuniting this owlet with her parents, which was still a possibility even in light of the tree cutting. Alas, this baby, only two to three weeks of age, was now officially an orphan. She needed a foster nest. An orphan can be placed with other parents as long as the chicks are close in age. The foster parents will care for it as if it is one of their own. This was a problem because it is already late in the nesting season for Great Horned Owls in our area. Most young owls, like Twilight and Gylfie, are already leaving the nest. I put out a call for help to all the birding folks I know. I got a great response, but days passed, and no suitable nest was found. Each passing day increases the risk of a lone young orphan becoming habituated, or worse, imprinted to people. I was taking every precaution to minimize human contact, but I needed to get her with other owls soon, for this baby to have any chance of success in the wild.
Meanwhile, I had visitors! A troop of 12 young Girl Scouts (Brownies) from Iamsville, MD arranged to visit Owl Moon Raptor Center for an ambitious nest-building project. This project was the culmination of a lot of planning and organizing by the girls, and its completion would earn them their Journey Badge. They arrived on Saturday, April 14, in several vehicles, and began unloading the supplies they had gathered and purchased: 12 laundry baskets of camouflage colors, and at least that many trash bags full of green twigs and branches they had clipped from trees and shrubs in their yards. We talked about the need for these nests, and how they would be used to reunite young raptors with their parents. I showed them an example of what we were making, and they went right to work. It is not easy for little fingers to weave twigs through openings in a laundry basket and between other twigs. I was impressed by their strength and determination to do a good job, and persistence to get the job done. We opted to work in teams with parents assisting, and managed to complete seven beautiful nests in only two hours’ time! The girls lined each one with a soft bed of pine needles they gathered and carried from my neighbor’s yard with her consent.
Before we concluded, I showed them photographs of my raptor patients, including the orphaned nestling great-horned owl. I asked the girls to come up with a name for her, and after several great suggestions and discussion, they decided to call her “Journey.” It was the perfect name. The owl was just beginning her life’s journey, as the Brownies were completing their Journey Badge. I told them I hoped Journey would be the first to use one of their nests.
As luck would have it, the very next day fate intervened. I got a call from Second Chance about a baby owl found on the ground in Potomac, MD. When I returned the call I spoke with Lee, who had found it on her front walkway that morning. She was not sure what species of owl she had. As I drove to Potomac, I prayed that it would be a healthy great horned owl, the same age as Journey. Lee led me to a box they had sheltered the owlet in, under a tree in their yard. I held my breath when I looked inside. He could have been Journey’s brother!
We searched for the nest by looking on the ground for the remains of prey, such as bones, fur, and feathers, and owl droppings. It was easy to know when we found it. A good chunk of the nest was on the ground on the driveway below a tall White Pine. Owls don’t build their own nests. Instead they use the old nests of crows and hawks, which are often in pretty poor condition. What remained of this nest was at the top, in the crotch of two large limbs. We scoured the yard, and the remaining nest, for a possible sibling, as there are often two and occasionally three chicks in a brood. None were found. This made for an ideal fostering situation for Journey. We could put her in a nest basket with this owlet, who was named “Alan” by Lee’s daughter, Lily. Alan’s parents would take care of both chicks. We would have to wait until the next evening to put the nest basket in the tree, as it was too late to arrange for Jason and Mike to climb that evening. I took this Alan back to Owl Moon, and introduced him to his new sibling, Journey.
Jason and Mike already had the climbing ropes in place in a tree near the nest tree when Lee Prouty and I arrived the next evening. We had decided against putting the nest basket in the original nest tree because it overhung the paved driveway. The chosen tree overhung the lawn, and would provide a soft landing should one of the owlets come down a second time. Lee (the finder) and her daughters, Lily and Lexi, looked on and took pictures while Ken Smith, a licensed raptor bander, banded both owlets. Then I gave each owlet a parting meal of mice to hold them over until mom and dad took over feeding duties. We proceeded with re-nesting, just as we had done with Twilight and Gylfie. Only with Journey and Alan, who were about three weeks younger, we didn’t worry that they would try to “flee the scene.” They settled into their new nest immediately.
Lee Prouty and I hung around with Lee and Lily until after dark, watching and listening for evidence of the reunion. We heard lots of calling, both adult and juvenile over the next hour or so. Some of the calling was coming from the nest tree, which was an indication that perhaps Alan had a sibling after all. Then we saw an adult fly into the original nest and heard signs of a juvenile responding to a meal, which all but confirmed that we had inadvertently added a third chick to the brood. Great Horned Owls have triplets of their own sometimes, but I would have thought twice had I known in advance. However, under these circumstances, with no good alternative for Journey I probably would have gone ahead anyway. That evening, having just received a meal from me, Journey and Alan were quiet.
Tuesday morning, Lee, Lexi, and Lily were up early, with binoculars on the nest at first light. They “were thrilled to see the wide wingspan of the mother in the new nest attending to her baby, as well as her newly adopted baby!” Alan was back with his parents, and Journey’s new journey had begun!
Its baby season for great horned owls and that means its baby season for Owl Moon too! In the past three weeks I’ve have had four baby great horned owls come through my doors. I know I said last time this was going to be a two part story, but there so much to tell it looks like it’s going to be three parts.
The first baby great horned of the season was a “brancher” from Rockville, MD. A brancher is a baby who has graduated from the nest but is not yet able to fly. In this stage they climb around in the tree branches (hence called “branchers”), building their strength. Branchers often wind up on the ground, and their parents will continue to feed and care for them. Jim discovered the owlet when he arrived home from work on April 3rd. He stepped up onto his deck, and right there in front of him was a baby Great Horned Owl, perched on the railing by his back door. Jim knew what it was because he and his family had been observing them since February, when the pair built their nest.
Jim left the baby undisturbed that evening, but discovered the bird was still there the next morning as he was getting his kids ready for school. Jim was concerned for the owl’s safety, so he contacted Second Chance Wildlife Center, who referred him to me. When I arrived, I first examined the baby owl to make sure it wasn’t injured. Jim’s son named the baby owl “Twilight,” after an owl character from the book series Guardians of Ga’Hoole by Kathryn Lasky. Twilight appeared healthy, so my next objective was to scope out his nest to see if he could be returned to it. Though their parents will tend to them on the ground, in suburbia it is best if you can get branchers back into the nest tree if possible, where they are safe from prowling pets and traffic.
The nest was intact; 80 feet high in a white oak tree, across the ninth green of the Manor Country Club Golf Course in a grove of trees a good distance behind Jim’s house. However, there were two complications. Firstly, the tree was dead. It was not safe to climb to the height of the nest. Second, there was another baby still in the nest. This was problematic because at the branching age siblings can be spooked out of the nest when a climber approaches to put the other baby back. For the safety of the climber and Twilight’s sibling, we decided to build a replacement nest rather then put Twilight back in the original.
I built a new nest in a laundry basket with the help of Jim’s son, his wife Georgeann, and my friend Lee (also a wildlife rehabber). Owl Moon’s “re-nesting” partners, Mike Fried and Jason Beach of Comprehensive Tree Care, were prepared to take on the job.
Our standard re-nesting procedure goes like this. First, we consult with the climbers to scout the best accessible location for the new nest. Preferably we choose a place in the same tree as the original nest, but a neighboring tree can suffice for older babies. Then, Mike sets up the ropes and Jason climbs to the new nest site. We tie the nest basket to the ropes, along with tools to mount it to the tree, and send it up. With the nest mounted, Jason sends the rope down for the baby. We place the baby in a soft cooler or 5-gallon bucket covered with a towel, tie this to the rope, and send it up to Jason. Jason carefully removes the baby and places it in the nest, from below the nest if possible. Out of sight, he waits quietly to make sure the baby settles in before descending to the ground.
The whole procedure went off without a hitch. We left that evening with Twilight safely back in his nest tree, sixty feet up in a cozy basket. His sibling was twenty feet above him in the original nest. One of the parents, who had been watching us from a distance as we worked, flew in to join the sibling in the original nest just as we were packing up to leave after dark.
The whole thing had gone perfectly, so I was surprised when I received a call the next morning from Randy, Head of Greens at Manor Country Club, telling me there was a baby owl on the ground at the golf course. When we arrived, we discovered that is was not Twilight this time, but his sibling who had come down. Twilight was still where we left him, perched on the side of the nest basket.
Both owlets coming down in such quick succession without any foul weather involved was an indication that maybe they were near enough to being fully fledged to be on the ground. As mentioned above, in the normal course of an owls’ maturation, and with great horned owls in particular, the babies often spend time on the ground between branching and being fully flighted. Their feathers provide camouflage, and their parents will lead them to cover, feed them, and defend them against predators. My concern was that their home was a golf course, with very little cover, no limbs low on the trees, and lots of golfers.
We decided to try putting Twilight’s sibling, which Jim’s son named “Gylfie” after another owl character in the series, into the nest basket with Twilight. It was risky because we would be disturbing Twilight, who had settled in nicely, but it seemed worth the risk to get Gylfie up out of harms’ way. The plan was set for the next morning. Lee and I arrived early to give Gylfie some food and fluids prior to re-nesting since it would be evening before her parents would feed her. Jason and another Mike, Mike Rice, arrived and set up the ropes, just as they had done two nights before.
The problems began at the critical moment when Jason went to put Gylfie in with Twilight. Unfortunately, Twilight had settled on the basket perch closest to where Jason was forced (by the way the tree was configured) to approach. He would need to get past Twilight to get Gylfie into the basket. Jason’s approach was slow and careful, but the disturbance was too much, and both owlets flew from the nest.
The key word here is “flew.” These two youngsters were so close to being fully fledged, that they managed to fly a good distance before landing on the ground. Granted, theirs were not the smoothest of landings, with one rolling head over heels, but both were fine. We decided to try again. This time, with both owlets together and a towel to cover the basket until they settled down, we stood a better chance of success.
It was not to be. Gylfie flew out a second time when Jason removed the towel. Again, she landed fine. Without having an alternative solution to protect these babies on the busy golf course, we made one final attempt. It proved futile. In the end, we left Twilight in the basket, and Gylfie in the safest place we could get her to stay put; the richly-landscaped backyard of James and Georgeann.
We returned at dusk, hoping to get Gylfie into the lower branches of the trees. Gylfie, however, was not to be found. We learned that the landscape maintenance crew had come through that day, and the disturbance undoubtedly sent Gylfie into a neighboring yard. The fact that we didn’t find her does not mean that she was in danger, however. She was following the normal course of events for a growing owl. She was big enough and a strong enough flyer to face the world with the help of her parents, who were no doubt standing by. She made up her own mind; it was time to leave the nest. Among the greenery in the yards surrounding the golf course, there is plenty of vegetation in which a young owl can hide. With their strong talons and wings to propel them, young owls can even climb the trunks of trees like a cat, and get themselves into the lower branches.
Two days later, Twilight left his nest basket and presumably joined Gylfie. James or Georgeann have not seen them since, but we know Gylfie and Twilight have two healthy parents looking out for them. Their parents will keep them in cover, and continue to feed and watch over them. Sometimes you just have to trust Mother Nature.
The onset of “baby season,” and the addition of several new patients, have made for a busy and exciting three weeks at Owl Moon Raptor Center. So much has happened since my last post that I’m going to break up this update into two. This post will focus on new and existing patients. Part two will tell the stories of some baby owls we helped reunite with their families.
I am especially excited to share one of the newbies with you. Elfie is a long-eared owl, which is a species I have never encountered before in my career as a wildlife rehabilitator. The Long-eared owl is not considered a native of Maryland. Its range extends mostly north and west of us. MD Department of Natural Resources rates Long-eared owls in the state’s Rare, Threatened, or Endangered Species List as SH: historically known from Maryland but not verified for an extended period of time usually 20 or more years), with the expectation that it may be rediscovered. Even in their normal range, long-eared owls are not often seen. They are strictly nocturnal, and very secretive.
Elfie was found by Diane on the ground just outside her fenced backyard in Gaithersburg, MD on March 22nd. Elfie may well have been just passing through on northward migration when an accident befell her. It was Diane’s dog barking and the ruckus the crows were making that drew her attention to Elfie. She acted quickly, placing the owl in a box and transporting it to Second Chance Wildlife Center. Second Chance examined, took X-rays and treated the owl for three days before transferring her to Owl Moon on March 25th.
The X-rays showed nothing remarkable, but it became evident by observation that Elfie had suffered a soft-tissue injury in her right shoulder. The evidence was in her “threat posture.” When a grounded owl feels threatened, their normal response is to try and look bigger and more threatening by raising and turning both wings forward-facing, and clapping their beaks. When Elfie tries to look bigger, only one wing comes up, on her good left side. We placed her on a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID) to reduce her pain and inflammation, and kept her confined to encourage her to rest her injured shoulder for a full three weeks.
This week we began giving her short exercise sessions on a creance line to see how she’s coming along and to help her begin to stretch and return to full health, we hope. It is difficult to say if she will have a complete recovery after only two flying sessions, but I am optimistic. She is not gaining much altitude, but flies a good distance before landing. Her right wing is slightly off, but overall her flight is balanced, and we know she is capable of full range of motion in both wings. Only time will tell, and we will keep you posted.
Unfortunately, two other new patients did not make it, but I will tell you about them because I feel that all my patients deserve to have their stories told. The same day we received Elfie, Frederick County Animal Control Officer Michael Douglas brought me a beautiful adult male red-shouldered hawk. It was apparent that this bird had been grounded for some time, unable to hunt. He was weak and emaciated, and his right wing was broken. I could feel a callus already forming near the wrist joint. I knew the damage was severe and this bird had suffered a lot already, so I brought him directly to Second Chance for an x-ray. What I didn’t know until I saw the films, was that the damage was caused by a gunshot. The shot had broken bones in two places on the end of the wing, one right at the wrist joint. There was no possible way to repair the damage, and sadly, euthanasia was the only humane option. I reported our findings to Officer Douglas and State and Federal authorities. Officer Douglas is doggedly investigating a solid lead in the case. I wish him success and hope that justice prevails.
The other sad case was an adult female barred owl, found by Georgina in a bamboo thicket behind her house in Rockville, MD. Like Diane, it was her dog that first alerted her to the owl. I picked the owl up and brought her back to Owl Moon. She was thin, weak, and dehydrated, but there was no evidence of trauma. She was experiencing respiratory distress, so I treated her with an NSAID and gave her a good dose of fluids to rehydrate her. Sadly she passed away during the night. Respiratory distress can be caused by toxic substances such as lead and rat poisons, which are increasingly common in our environment, and likely to wind up in raptors through the food chain. Because the cause of this owl’s death was a mystery, I asked Dr. Pierce at the MD Department of Health Laboratory in Frederick to perform a necropsy. She kindly agreed, and though she was unable to find any gross lesions, she sent tissues out for histopathology and toxicology testing. I have not yet received a report of the results.
Now for some updates to the patients you know. On March 27th two of our red-shouldered hawks, Soldier-girl and Rufus, were transferred to Tri-State Bird Rescue and Research Center. We had done for them as much as we could do at Owl Moon. Both birds needed to be live-prey tested in a large flight cage before we could be sure they could hunt successfully with their respective handicaps: Soldier-girl’s being a weakened grip in the left foot, and Rufus’s being his missing right eye. If these two could prove they could hunt, they would be reconditioned and released.
Dr. Erica Miller, an avian specialist, examined Rufus prior to prey testing. What she found was not good. His left, and only remaining eye was visually impaired. It, too, must have been injured by the vehicle impact that ruined his right eye. The news was devastating. We had all grown fond of him. However, it did explain the observations I had noted about his behavior in the mew. He was more likely to fly into things, such as perches and walls, than the other red-shoulders, and he often perched with his blind eye oriented toward me. Of course, being blind in one eye might be enough to explain some crashing, but I have released other birds that were blind or impaired in one eye, who could still navigate around a mew and catch live prey. Tri-State went ahead with live-prey testing, but sadly, Rufus began losing weight after four days with access to live prey. They decided to euthanize, and sadly I agreed. In light of the new information, and with knowledge that his disposition was not suited to life in captivity, I knew there could be no satisfactory life for him.
Fortunately, there was good news from Tri-State as well. Soldier-girl, the juvenile red-shouldered hawk I have been nursing along for months following her nasty leg fracture, caught and killed three live mice on her first day out in the flight cage. That’s the way it is supposed to be done! So Soldier-girl is now on the fast track to release, and you can be sure I will be there to witness and photograph the event. I plan to bring her back to Owl Moon for the occasion.
Meanwhile at OMRC, Squeak-toy, the juvenile male red-shouldered hawk still shares a mew with Bob, the adult male. Squeak-toy is due to be transferred to Hawk Mountain Sanctuary this month. His new home is ready and his transfer awaits only the final approval of their permit, which was caught up in a backlog of paperwork at the US Fish and Wildlife Permitting Office. Bob is doing well and receiving regular flight exercise to recondition him for release, though his release may be held up until he grows in a few tail feathers. He arrived in rehab short four feathers on the right side, and he has yet to grow them in. He would have difficulty steering with such an asymmetric tail; so we’d like to see some feather replacement before we turn him loose.
Zen, the barred owl who was hit by a car in Mt. Airy, MD and suffered a fracture of the process of his left elbow, is barely tolerating his daily physical therapy (PT) sessions and every other day creance flying exercise. His name, which seemed so fitting when he arrived, has proved to be somewhat ironic. I have never known a more rascally and determined barred owl! Each time I go to catch him for his PT session; I grit my teeth and prepare for his latest evasive action. Unfortunately, Zen’s elbow therapy is proving to be a losing battle. The callus that formed around the fractured chip has grown large, and impedes the action of the elbow joint, reducing extension of his wing by more than 25 degrees. The result is that he will never fly well enough for release. Fortunately, his bold and mischievous personality makes him a good candidate for education. Unfortunately for Zen, Barred owls are not in short supply. If you would like to help find Zen a home please inquire at your local nature center.
Sonya, the adult Cooper’s Hawk that was hit by a car, resulting in a compound fracture in her left leg (tibiotarsus), is finally outdoors in a mew. She is much happier there. She was so stir crazy that I only kept her confined indoors for five days following her pin removal on March 22nd. Sonya still has a way to go before we can consider her a release candidate. She does not bear full weight on the leg, nor does she grip perches with that foot yet, but she is gradually improving in both areas, and as long as she is improving there is hope. I remember when Soldier-girl was at this stage of recovery and it was difficult to imagine her ever being ready for release.
That brings us up to date on the patients. I can’t wait to share with you the pictures and videos of the adorable baby owlets.
The National Wildlife Rehabilitators Association (NWRA) 2012 Symposium was every bit as gratifying as I had hoped. The first day, Tuesday, was a long one however. I had to leave my house at 4:30 am to catch a 7 am flight to Baton Rouge, LA via Charlotte, NC. My friend and fellow rehabber, Roxy Brandenburg, was on the same flight, and we were both excited to be arriving in time for a tour of Cypress Island Swamp. The Nature Conservancy manages Cypress Island Preserve; 9500 acres of cypress and tupelo trees dripping with Spanish moss, and bottomland hardwood forests at Lake Martin. The preserve is part of the Atchafalaya Basin; America’s largest river basin swamp.
Atchafalaya Basin branches off the Mississippi River and extends 135 miles to Atchafalaya Bay, where it eventually empties into the Gulf of Mexico. You may remember hearing about it last spring, when the Mississippi River was flooding its banks and there was talk of opening up the floodgates into Atchafalaya Basin to save many homes and towns from the floodwaters. The growing delta of the Atchafalaya River is the destination of thousands of water birds that migrate along the Mississippi Flyway. More than 300 species overwinter in the diverse habitats it offers, and hundreds more use these habitats to sustain them on their migration to points further south in Mexico and South America. For more information about this incredibly important wetland check out this website: http://www.basinkeeper.org/.
Roxy and I arrived in Baton Rouge in time to dump our bags at the hotel and grab a quick lunch (our first taste of the incredible Cajun cuisine that was to be another highlight of the NWRA Symposium) before catching the tour shuttle. Unfortunately the early morning flight caught up with me. I fell asleep on the bus and missed most of the scenery en route to the swamp. I awoke as we passed through a quaint little town called Breaux Bridge, which proclaims itself the “Crawfish Capitol of the World,” and is full of history and local culture including antique shops, beautiful architecture, restaurants, and live music. I wish I could have stayed and visited, but from there it was a only a short drive to the Cyprus Island Swamp. http://tourism.breauxbridgelive.com/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=12&Itemid=43
Our first stop was The Nature Conservancy’s Cypress Island Visitor’s Center, where we disembarked for a quick bathroom break. Most of us, eager to go back to where we had just passed hundreds of Great Egrets in the trees and on nests, got right back on the bus to proceed, but I later learned that one person was rewarded for her dallying. She walked down to the water’s edge where she disturbed a black snake napping on the shore. When she got out her camera to take a picture, the snake opened its jaws to reveal an enormous “cotton” mouth. She had inadvertently disturbed a Water Moccasin, and had snapped a great photo of its signature mouth!
Back at the rookery, a Audubon Society volunteer had kindly set up about 8 spotting scopes in a row, each one focused on a fascinating sight in the swamp, including an Alligator, a Snapping Turtle, a Brown Water Snake in shed, a Great Egret displaying his incredible plumage to the females, a Little Blue Heron, a Roseate Spoonbill, an Anhinga, and a Crested Cormorant. The birds he had focused on were among hundreds that had already arrived and begun the ritual of courtship and nesting. He told us that, in the next month, these hundreds will become thousands, and more species, including Cattle and Snowy Egrets, White Ibis, Little Green and Great Blue Herons, and Black-crowned and Yellow-crowned Night Herons will arrive, and the young will be hatching and visible in the nests. What a sight that will be! http://www.nature.org/ourinitiatives/regions/northamerica/unitedstates/louisiana/placesweprotect/cypress-island.xml
From there we drove a short piece down the road to the docks and broke into smaller groups for our boat tour. I managed to place myself in the smallest boat, a group of six, and we followed Norbert, our 76 year-old native “swamper” guide, to board. My pictures tell the rest of the story. We saw many of the above-named birds in hunting mode, and alligators and turtles galore. The sun had just emerged following a day of record rains (up to 15 inches!) and the reptiles were out basking. The alligators ranged in size from about 8 feet to 14 feet, and Norbert explained that the age difference was roughly 100 years! An 8-footer being 50 years old, while a 14-footer is 150.
Midway through the tour, Norbert parked the boat in some floating water hyacinth (an extremely invasive non-native plant that requires intense management to keep waterways open), and showed us the minute flowers of Spanish Moss, and how they pollinate by wind. In our nearby surroundings, we saw a 6-foot alligator, a “chameleon” Green Anole Lizard change color, and another Brown Water Snake.
Norbert then got out some tattered clippings of a National Geographic article that showed him as a younger man in the swamp. He had grown up in the swamp, and raised his own kids on a diet of wild swamp critters, including alligators, turtles, beaver, and raccoon. Last but not least, Norbert pulled out a jug of his very own Moonshine, and poured each of us a shot! It was surprisingly good!
Finally, Norbert took us to where a few spectacular trees, less desirable as timber due to their prolific branches, grew to the ripe old age of 1500 years! He explained that Cypress is extremely slow growing due to its wet growing conditions, so while these trees have an enormous girth of 10+ feet, they are deceptively old for their size. We also saw the Cypress “knees”, an emergent part of the roots that allow the trees to breathe air, and Norbert explained how the knees are desirable for creating elaborate carvings, and so most had been cut. Somehow the trees had managed to live on. That concluded our wonderful boat tour, and we returned to the docks to board our bus for the ride back to the hotel.
The next day, Wednesday, the NWRA Symposium kicked off with an awesome keynote speech and slide presentation given by C.C. Lockwood, a free-lance photographer who spent the better part of the last thirty years living in the Atchafalaya Basin and photographing its unique flora and fauna. He has written several incredible books and produced an award-winning film on the Basin, published by National Geographic. It turns out that it was C.C. Lockwood who had photographed Norbert as a young man, in the old tattered National Geographic clippings he so proudly shared with us. C.C. Lockwood’s latest honor is that one of his photographs; of Cypress trees set against a beautiful sky reflected in the water, was selected for the US Postage Stamp celebrating the 200th Anniversary of Louisiana Statehood. It will soon be available at your local post office.
These were two highlights of the Symposium for me, but it was only the beginning of a week of superb presentations and informative discussion about a wide range of important topics relating to wildlife rehabilitation ranging from Care of Opossum Neonates and Rehabilitating Sea Turtles to acquiring fish and insects for feeding wildlife, and Getting the Most out of Eagle Scout Projects. Some of my favorite presentations were Physical Therapy in Aquatic Birds (easily translated for use in raptors), Treatment of Lead Intoxication in Bald Eagles (over 85% of all the Bald Eagle patients received at The University of Minnesota Raptor Center have at least some lead in their blood, and most have clinical signs of lead poisoning), Strigiformes – Why Owls Aren’t Just Raptors by Another Name, Infectious Diseases of Raptors, Reuniting and Fostering Raptors, Triaging Injured Wildlife, and Beyond the Individual – Rehabilitation of Species, a thought-provoking presentation and discussion about the difficult choices required to save a species.
I’m sure that, as 2012 unfolds, you will hear more about my experiences and education at the 2012 NWRA Symposium. Meanwhile, I have returned to Maryland and Owl Moon where I am enthused and invigorated to get back to the work of rehabilitating raptors!
On February 26 I was enjoying an unusually leisurely Sunday when I received a call from Officer Douglas of Frederick County Animal Control. He had picked up an injured hawk and wanted to know if I could receive it. Half hour later he delivered to me a juvenile male Red-shouldered Hawk. It was immediately obvious that the little guy’s injuries were serious. His left foot had several punctures, and the whole foot was infected and swollen to the point of disfigurement. His wounds were probably a week old, and he was severely dehydrated and emaciated from being unable to hunt and take care of himself over that time.
The puncture wounds appeared to be the work of a prey animal; most likely a squirrel. If the hawk does not land on the squirrel’s head and kill it quickly, the squirrel can get the upper hand. Fighting back with all the power of its nut-cracking teeth and jaws, a squirrel can be a formidable opponent to a small hawk such as a Red-shouldered. This hawk, in his youthful naiveté, had apparently made the mistake of holding on too long and his would-be prey got a hold of him. I started him on antibiotics and pain meds, cleaned his wounds, and began fluid therapy to rehydrate him before I could offer him any food.
That same afternoon I received another male Red-shouldered Hawk (bringing my Red-shoulder count up to five), an adult, transferred from Second Chance Wildlife Center in Gaithersburg, MD. His history was another mysterious case. He was found in a yard in Chevy Chase, MD on Feb. 17, where he had been seen all day, “flapping his wings but not flying.” The examination suggested that he had suffered an impact. There was blood in his trachea (wind pipe), and he was very weak and unsteady on his legs, preferring to rest on his hocks. Like the juvenile, he had probably been down for some time, because he too was emaciated. Second Chance had treated him with non-steroidal anti-inflammatory (NSAID) drugs and fluid therapy, and after ten days he had regained some of his strength, was eating on his own, and ready for outdoor housing. I placed him in the mew with Squeak-toy.
I call Squeak–toy’s new roommate “Bob”, because of the strange bobbing movements he made with his head when I first put him outdoors. His legs were unsteady and he wobbled when he landed on a perch. He would raise and lower his head, looking at his feet, to maintain his balance. Bob is still not 100 percent, but his condition is greatly improved. When he first went out, he lacked strength in his wings as well as his legs. His flight was balanced, but he could not gain enough height to fly to the highest perch. Now he is flying circles over me when I enter, and landing on stronger, sturdier legs. Speaking of making it to the highest perch, Squeak-toy is getting there now too! I am pleased and proud that he is still making progress on his own.
The morning after I received the two hawks, I got a call from Wes. Wes had rescued a Barred Owl from the side of Interstate 70 in Mount Airy, MD, where he exited on his way to work. He continued driving to work where he modified a box, placed the owl in it, and called Animal Control to pick it up. Then he found Owl Moon Raptor Center on the MD Dept. of Natural Resources website and decided to cancel the call to Animal Control and bring the owl to Owl Moon himself.
The Barred Owl, a male we call “Zen,” was unusually calm and alert on arrival. In my initial exam I could feel unnatural movement in the elbow joint of his left wing. Any injury in the area of a joint is serious, but I could not feel a fracture. It was Monday, so I called my vet, Dr. Barb Stastny at Opossum Pike Vet Clinic, and arranged to bring the Barred owl, and the juvenile Red-shouldered Hawk with the infected foot, to her for examination. The owl’s X-ray showed some separation in the joint, probably from the swelling, and possibly a “chip” fracture at the tip (olecranon process) of the elbow. We started him on NSAID drugs to alleviate the pain and inflammation. We will keep him quiet, on cage rest, for a couple of weeks, and gradually begin some gentle physical therapy to try to prevent stiffening in the joint that would limit range of motion.
Dr. Barb did not like the look of the Red-shoulder’s foot anymore than I did, but we decided to try him on antibiotics and pain meds for a week, soak his foot daily and keep it in a ball bandage, and see how he responded. Unfortunately, the foot barely improved even with these intense treatments. It remained deformed and he could not use his toes at all. I brought him back to Dr. Barb and she took X-rays. We found that the infection had entered the bones of his digits and two of the digits were luxated. Sadly, nothing we could do would give him back the use of that foot, and he would continue to suffer severe pain. We made the humane decision to euthanize him.
Meanwhile, Zen’s injured wing seems to be improving. We don’t want him using it at this stage, so we can’t test his flight, but he flaps it now when he can get away with it. The elbow is still swollen, and though range of motion in the joint is restricted now, we are cautiously hopeful that Zen could yet regain full flying ability. We will continue to keep him quiet and do gentle physical therapy, and give him more time to recover.
Sonya, the adult female Cooper’s hawk that impacted with a car three weeks ago, is still on the mend. I took her back to Opossum Pike Vet Clinic last Friday, March 9, for follow up X-rays. Dr. Barb had hoped that the compound fracture in her left leg might have healed enough to remove the pin, but while a callus is forming, it has not completely “bridged” at one of the fracture sites, so she left the pin in place and replaced the splint, to keep the leg immobilized. We will return after two more weeks to have the pin removed. Both Sonya and I will be very relieved when she can tear apart her food and eat on her own again!
Tomorrow I am off to Baton Rouge, LA, for the 2012 National Wildlife Rehabilitators Association Symposium. I will watch and listen to presentations by rehabilitators, veterinarians, biologists, and educators from all over the country about many topics of concern to wildlife rehabilitators. This year there is a session devoted to reuniting and fostering baby birds and mammals, a topic near and dear to me. I always learn so much at these symposiums, and come home feeling renewed and invigorated. It comes just in time to take on raptor nesting season, which is already underway. Thank you to my husband, Jan, for taking over many of my duties, as well as my friend Kathleen Handley, another wildlife rehabilitator, who will handle any and all medical treatments in my absence. I look forward to reporting back to you all next week.
PS. I also get to do a bayou boat tour! Can’t wait!
The collision occurred during evening rush hour between a red SUV and a bird that was “definitely NOT a pigeon.” Josh cringed as he saw the bird drop on the road, almost getting run over several times. He knew he had to do something quickly if the bird was to be saved. Risking his own safety and the wrath of his fellow commuters, Josh pulled over, jumped out, and stopped traffic. He flushed the bird off the road and onto a grassy area. Then, grabbing an old towel out of his car, he scooped the bird up.
Now that Josh could examine the bird up close he saw she was a raptor. He had warned me over the phone that the bird’s leg was pretty bad, and as soon as I arrived I could see he was right. “Sonya,” as he named her, turned out to be an adult female Cooper’s hawk. Examination and X-rays later confirmed that she has a compound fracture of the tibiotarsus and fibula of her left leg, and severe bruising over her breast and abdomen. The bone is in three pieces, but fortunately (in part because she was rescued immediately after the accident), the skin remained intact. As soon as I got her back to Owl Moon Raptor Center, I splinted the fractured leg by surrounding it in a length of foam pipe insulation, and then wrapping that snugly in place with vetwrap. I also treated her with fluids and a good dose of pain medication.
Friday morning I called Opossum Pike Vet Clinic (OPVC) and arranged to drop Sonya off for x-rays and possible surgery. I was not at all sure that surgery would be an option, and had braced myself (and Josh) for the worst. As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, Cooper’s hawks are rarely of suitable temperament for life in captivity. If Sonya’s leg had been irreparable, Dr. Barb and I would likely have chosen to humanely end her suffering. Fortunately, after looking at the radiographs, Dr. Barb determined it was worth a try. She went ahead with surgery, placing a pin through all three fragments, and setting the pieces in near-perfect alignment. With bird’s legs, however, alignment is only half the battle. Their spindly bones have a tendency to rotate around pins, so Barb added external support in the form of a moldable splint and leg wrap. I am grateful to Dr. Barb and OPVC for providing these services pro bono.
Sonya is now recuperating back at Owl Moon, receiving regular doses of a pain medication, anti-inflammatory drug, antibiotic, and fluids. We cannot be sure that she will recover to the point of being able to hunt and survive the rigors of life in the wild, but we have hope. Sonya has a strong spirit of survival which she demonstrates in her response to handling; instantaneously meeting the offending hand with an adroitly placed talon strike of her healthy right leg!
In other Owl Moon news, the two beautiful barred owls, Mystery and Cheerio, were set free in their respective woodlands on the evening of Sunday, February 12th. Cheerio, who I learned is a juvenile, was first. My friend and volunteer assistant, Lee Prouty, and I took her home to Petersville, MD, where we met Gary, her rescuer, at a barn along his driveway at dusk. I placed Cheerio on a post and she sat there watching us for a minute or two before realizing she was free to go. Next we drove Mystery to her home in Monrovia, MD where we met Daniel and Patti, who rescued her, as well as their daughter and a friend. She flew into a nearby tree to gain her bearings, and then continued on toward a distant line of trees and out of sight.
The release of the barred owls vacated one of my mews, allowing me to separate Squeak-toy from Soldier-girl and Rufus, the other two red-shouldered hawks. Because Squeak-toy cannot be released, I need to prepare him for life as an education bird. That means getting him used to handling so that he will be comfortable in front of groups for education programs. A relaxed bird is easier to work with, and therefore easier to place in a good program. Squeak-toy has a good start. He is young, and his treatments and physical therapy required a lot of handling, so he is already comfortable being touched by people. He is also handsome, and other than the disability his coracoid fracture left him with, he is a healthy bird. Having him in a mew by himself makes it easier for Squeak-toy and I to work together as we prepare him for a new life.
Feb. 23 Addendum: Exciting news! Squeak-toy had some visitors yesterday, Denise and Jeremy from Hawk Mountain Sanctuary in Kempton, PA. They were looking for a medium-sized hawk for their education programs. Today I heard back from Denise and Squeak-toy convinced them that he is their guy! They will begin right away to prepare the necessary paperwork, and pending approval from the US Fish and Wildlife Service, the transfer will take place in early April. I cannot imagine a better home for Squeak-toy! Hawk Mountain is a highly respected center for raptor research, education, and conservation. It is also a great place to watch hawks during the fall migration, when thousands pass over the mountain lookout on their way south. Learn more about Squeak-toy’s new home at http://www.hawkmountain.org!
Winter is typically the slowest season in wildlife rehabilitation. Nesting season is long past, and the young that survived to fledge, and passed the early tests, have grown wiser and gained the hunting skills that will hopefully carry them through a normal winter. In harsh winters with deep snow cover, such as New England had in 2010, many birds simply can’t find enough food to eat, and rehabbers receive them in a weak and emaciated condition. But Maryland winters are not usually harsh, and snow melts fast, so winter is the time for rehabbers to catch up on paperwork and do the maintenance and improvement projects that we just don’t have time for the rest of the year. It is also the only opportunity we have to take a vacation.
I see a lot of different owls in my line of work, but never in my life a snowy owl, so with all the news of the snowy owl “invasion”, or “irruption”, this winter, and with a favorite sister living in one of the hot spots in Maine, I couldn’t let this opportunity slip by. It was time for a vacation, albeit a short one. My sister Janet and her partner, Josh, did all the research and scouted out the surest place to find a snowy, Cape Neddick “Nubble” Lighthouse in York, Maine. I got a cheap seat on a flight to Boston for January 27th and off I went.
I had a great time visiting with Janet and my other family in Massachusetts the rest of that day and night, and we left for Maine the next morning, first stop: Nubble Lighthouse. The snowy owl had been reported there on January 26, but it was not to be seen early in the afternoon on the 28th. We decided it may yet be there, just on the other side of the rocks, so we left for lunch and returned at dusk, hoping she would become active and show herself. Temperatures dropped as the sun went down, and the wind grew strong. We enjoyed a beautiful sunset. We were about to leave when a white owl flew up from the far side of the island and was whisked off with the wind over the water to the northwest and out of sight. Now we knew the snowy was still there. We planned to return with Josh the next morning at sunrise.
We arrived about a half hour after sunrise and there was the snowy, plainly visible in the early light, sitting on the rocks on the lighthouse island, apparently finishing an unidentified breakfast. She was close enough to see clearly through our binoculars and scope, but sadly not close enough for my camera lens. We watched as the snowy groomed and looked around, and around, and around, and around, for over two hours. Then she began walking around, and looking up. I got my camera ready in anticipation of some action. She suddenly took flight and flew nearly the whole length of the island, then landed on the rail of the lighthouse walkway fence. She perched a minute or two longer before dropping down out of sight behind the rocks and the keeper’s house. Alas, that was the conclusion of my first snowy owl experience, but definitely a successful trip!
Back at Owl Moon Raptor Center, my husband Jan was kindly caring for the current crew. I am pleased to report that no new patients have arrived since I last wrote, and none of our current patients are receiving treatments. It is a matter of maintenance: preparing food, feeding, replacing water, and cleaning up after them. Thank you, Jan, for a weekend off.
In the outdoor mews, we have the three red-shouldered hawks: Squeak-toy, Soldier-girl, and Rufus in one; and the two barred owls: Mystery and Cheerio, in the other. We are following up on a lead to find Squeak-toy a permanent home as an education bird, a duty for which he is well suited. He is young and adaptable, and has become quite comfortable and tame in human company. Soldier-girl went to Dr. Barb at Opossum Pike Vet Clinic this week for a follow-up examination. The good news is that she has recovered some capacity to grip her left foot, and she may recover more as her bone “remodels.” The healing process continues. She is still weak in that leg, however, and prefers to lie down at night. We will not know if she is a release candidate for a few more weeks. Rufus is being allowed time to adjust to seeing with just one eye, which could take weeks, or even months. We will begin flying him after another week or two.
We have been creance flying Mystery and Cheerio nearly every day, in preparation for their release. They have been flying well, growing stronger and gaining stamina, and we plan to release both when the weather improves this weekend. We will take them back to their home territories, where I look forward to sharing the joy of their release with the kind people who rescued them. I hope to have photos of their release to share with you all next week.