Week of the Red-Shouldered Hawks: March 12, 2012

Squeak-toy and Bob. Photograph by Suzanne Shoemaker.

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.

-Suzanne Shoemaker

PS. I also get to do a bayou boat tour! Can’t wait!

Zen the Barred Owl. Photograph by Suzanne Shoemaker.

Rush Hour Rescue: February 24, 2012

Suzanne prepares to hand feed Sonya. Her bandaged leg is clearly visible. Photograph by Jan Lewandrowski.

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!

Suzanne feeds Sonya by hand. Photograph by Jan Lewandrowski.

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.

Cheerio sits on a post after her release. She doesn't seem to realize she is free to go. Photograph by Suzanne Shoemaker.

Mystery looks truely mysterious back in her woodland home at night. Photograph by Suzanne Shoemaker.

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.

Squeak-toy on a pearch. Photograph by Suzanne Shoemaker

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!

A Mystery and a Cheerio: January 31st 2012

Mystery (left) and Cheerio (right). Photograph by Suzanne Shoemaker

Allow me to introduce to you, “Mystery” and “Cheerio,” two female barred owls who joined us this month. Mystery’s condition is, as her name hints, a little mysterious. She was transferred to Owl Moon from Second Chance Wildlife Center on January 5th where Daniel and Patti brought her 11 days earlier after they found her “unable to move” in their yard in Monrovia, MD. Mystery was weak and lethargic, and very dehydrated upon her arrival, but otherwise she appeared in good physical shape. She was a healthy weight, even somewhat plump. The color of her mucous membranes (roof of mouth, “gums”, and underside of eyelids) was a normal pink; and no wounds, fractures, or other injuries were evident. The only remarkable aspect of her condition was a rather heavy infestation of parasites. Hippoboscid, or “flat” flies are an unpleasant external parasite that is commonly seen in raptors, though not normally in these numbers. Hippoboscid flies reside under the feathers and make their living sucking blood from the skin. Mystery also had a high number of feather lice, which feed on the feather vanes and the blood in the quills of growing feathers and can be quite an irritation.

Mystery was treated with a mild insecticide to kill the flies and lice. While ectoparasites can be a serious problem, they are not likely the reason why Mystery wound up in rehab. A healthy raptor can usually keep a parasite load in check. It is when one gets sick or injured that the parasites get the upper hand. Ectoparasites themselves would cause a slow decline, and symptoms such as anemia and weight loss, none of which Mystery had. It is possible that she had been hit by a car or suffered another trauma; perhaps a concussion, and her symptoms were no longer evident. The cause of her decline will likely remain a mystery. Second Chance treated her with the “catch-all” non-steroidal anti-inflammatory (NSAID) drug. Maybe the NSAID’s helped, or maybe she just needed some time. Whatever the reason, Mystery has since recovered nicely. She has regained her strength, is eating well, and flying in the outdoor mew and on the creance line with vigor. We want to allow Mystery more time to build strength and stamina, but I expect to be able to return her to her home in Monrovia soon.

Owl Moon’s other barred owl, “Cheerio,” (named by my 3 year-old grand-niece, Sophia) is also recovering well. Cheerio was discovered by Gary, who found her in his driveway in Petersville, MD, after returning home from working a night shift early Friday morning, January 20th. He brought her indoors and kept her in a box in a warm, quiet place until evening. I met him on his way back to work that evening and transferred her to Owl Moon Raptor Center.

Cheerio was presumably hit by a car. She had a concussion, a bad bruise on her left “forearm,” and was lethargic, dehydrated and in pain. We are treating her with the usual NSAID, and she is responding well. She is not eating on her own yet, but she is being hand fed a normal diet of mice and quail, and acting plenty feisty when we need to give her treatments. We plan to move her to the outdoor mew with Mystery in another day or two, where Mystery can remind her how to feed herself!

I have saved the best news for last! I am pleased to report that beautiful Pasadena, the red-shouldered hawk with a wing fracture, is now flying free in the town from which she took her name. Matthew and Crisdee were present, as was their son, Holden, and Crisdee’s mom and dad, Pandee and John. All were involved in Pasadena’s rescue. Crisdee was the one who had bravely captured the injured hawk, so I asked her if she would like to do the release. She was game, but Pasadena bit me as I was getting her out of the carrier, so rather than pass a biting bird to Crisdee, I ended up letting her go myself.

We released Pasadena from Matthew and Crisdee’s back deck, which has a lovely expansive view of the sky. When she took off we could watch her go for a long while. She flew high and didn’t stop until she reached a tall tree in the distance. Then she took off again and circled high, surveying her surroundings before landing on another tall tree. It was wonderful to watch. Matthew filmed the release with his phone, and you can see he did an admirable job, but Pasadena was faster than Matthew and she quickly flew out his view.

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.

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.

Weekly News: December 21st, 2011

The size difference between female and male red shouldered hawks is plainly visible as Soldier-girl and Rufus perch next to each other. Photograph by Suzanne Shoemaker.

A third red-shouldered hawk was added the mix at Owl Moon this week. “Rufus,” an adult male named for the vibrant red coloring of his breast plumage, joined Squeak-toy and Soldier-girl in the outdoor mews last Wednesday. Rufus came to Owl Moon from Second Chance Wildlife Center, where he had received treatment for severe head trauma and damage to the right eye sustained in a collision with a car on November 13. Rufus lost vision in the eye, and is still showing symptoms of brain injury (circling to the right), but, after four weeks, he no longer needs intensive care. Though brain injuries can require a long recovery, there is some hope for Rufus. If he can navigate in flight and catch live prey using his single eye, Rufus may yet be capable of survival in the wild.

Thus, on Sunday, December 11, Second Chance transferred Rufus to Owl Moon Raptor Center, where we can house him in an outdoor mews and monitor his progress. Over the next several weeks we will observe and assess his flight and hunting skills. For now, Rufus’s damaged eye is sewn shut. If we determine that he is a release candidate, Dr. Pat Klein at Second Chance may decide to surgically remove his damaged eye beforehand to prevent future infections. If we find that Rufus is not a candidate for release, our choices become more difficult. We will need to evaluate whether his condition and temperament are suited to life as an education bird, and if so can we find him a suitable home. If the answer to any of these questions is no, euthanasia is the only humane choice. The reality of being a wildlife rehabber is often that of making tough ethical decisions. Rufus can’t tell me what he would want. As his caregiver, I am put in the uncomfortable position of having to choose for him.

Rufus’ future hangs in the balance, but for now the jury is still out. We will take things one day at a time and hope for the best. Back in the mews the three roommates seem to be getting along well. Rufus is navigating in the mews pretty well. He occasionally miscalculates and bumps into walls, but mostly is able to fly to perches, and he is learning that he needs to turn his head to see well on both sides. Twice a day I instill drops in the damaged eye to prevent infection. I offer him food by hand once a day to make sure he is getting enough to eat. Thus far I have been unable to observe him eating on his own. He eats from my hand willingly, and I only feed him what he takes. Soldier-girl has maintained her “Alpha” status with both of her male companions. I will be watching her weight as well to be sure she is not taking more than her share of the group meal.

I am pleased to report that Shredder the great-horned owl is making good progress in flight reconditioning. He is now flying the full length of the creance line, and his flight is nearly symmetrical and balanced. I am feeling confident that after a few more weeks of these workouts Shredder will recover the skills, strength, and stamina he needs for life in the wild. In our physical therapy sessions we can see that he has full range of motion in his mended left wing as well. I don’t expect anything will hold him back at this point, but I have learned from experience it is better not to count your owls before they hatch.

I have noticed that with creance flying we see behavioral as well as physical improvements., The birds become increasingly cantankerous as time goes on. I think flying “free” outside the confines of the mews brings out their wildness. They become increasingly frustrated when they come to the end of their line. Fortunately, it seems to work out such that by the time they get truly exasperated and petulant they are physically ready for release. In fact, I have begun to use behavioral cues, along with physical observations, to determine when a bird is ready for release. Some wildlife rehabilitators worry that creance flying may lead raptors to become more habituated, but I have found that the opposite is true, unless it is done in concert with training to the glove.

We at Owl Moon Raptor Center wish each of you a joyous holiday season! May 2012 be a happy, healthy, peaceful year for all of us, and for our wild and domestic animal friends!

-Suzanne Shoemaker

P.S. Thank you to The Christmas Owl for getting the word out about this years’ calendar! You can see the post and check out other adorable owl themed gift ideas here: http://thechristmasowl.com/2011/12/19/owl-moon-raptor-center/

Patient Profile: Sir Galahad

Sir Galahad. Photograph by Suzanne Shoemaker.

Today it is my pleasure to introduce to you a bird who is a true gentleman among raptors. In the three years he has been with Owl Moon he has served as both a host and a role model. Sir Galahad, as we have come to call him, is an adult red-tailed hawk. I think he is male, but in truth I can’t know for sure. His weight is in the range of gender overlap, being high for a male and low for a female. I call him “he” because his behavior is more like that I see in males; less aggressive and less inclined to raise those crown feathers than females. Sir Galahad left Owl Moon last Friday to begin a new life at Meadowside Nature Center in Rockville, MD.
Today, I would like to take a moment to remember our time together.

I first met Sir Galahad on March 19, 2009. Ian had been walking a footpath along the Monocacy River in Frederick, MD when he came upon a hawk on the ground. The hawk didn’t fly off when he approached. Concerned for its well-being, Ian called me.  Ian and a friend walked me back to where they had seen the bird earlier. The hawk wasn’t there, but after searching in widening circles for half an hour, I spotted him on a low branch. He didn’t budge when I reached up and grabbed both legs. So began our long “friendship.”

Sir Galahad was severely emaciated and dehydrated, so I began his treatment as soon as I got him home. There was no immediately visible wound, but there had to be a reason why he had gone hungry. I noticed a slight droop in his left wing, but I couldn’t feel a fracture. After he was re-hydrated and eating again, I brought him to Opossum Pike Vet Clinic where Dr. Barb Stastny took x-rays. No injuries were visible on the radiographs, so I kept him on cage rest for another two weeks and then moved him to an outdoor mews. Outside I noticed he could not fly to the higher perches. Rather, he worked his way up sequentially from lower perches.  After another week, we tested his flight on a creance line. We found that while he could fly on the level, he was unable to gain much altitude.

Sir Galahad. Photograph by Suzanne Shoemaker.

I knew there must be something I was not seeing so I took him to Tri-State Bird Rescue and Research in Newark, DE, where avian specialists took further x-rays and evaluated him. Dr. Erica Miller discovered an inflammation in his left wrist joint. She prescribed an anti-inflammatory drug and suggested I give him physical therapy along with the flight exercise. Erica said if his flight did not improve in two weeks, it probably never would. After the allotted time expired his condition remained unchanged. Sir Galahad needed a permanent home.

Since Sir Galahad is able to fly (though not well), I wanted his home to meet certain criteria for a good quality of life. I wanted his mew to be large enough for him to spread his wings and fly. Additionally, I wanted him to be trained to fly to the glove so he could exercise his wings outside of the mew. Training to the glove would make him more comfortable with people, improving his life and also make him more useful for education programs. There are typically restrictions on how long a rehabilitator can keep a bird if it cannot be returned to the wild. Fortunately, Maryland Department of Natural Resources Wildlife & Heritage Service allowed me some extra time to find such a home.

During that time, Sir Galahad hosted numerous red-tails, who out of necessity shared his home. Every newcomer was treated politely and with respect. Sir Galahad’s quiet dignity gained him the respect of his guests in return. They always behaved congenially towards each other, and with some companions I even saw mutual grooming and other signs of bonding. At times I found it emotionally difficult to separate them when it came time to release the roommate, but each time, Sir Galahad adjusted well and was just as hospitable to his next guest.

Sir Galahad (left) with his companion Hunchie (right). Photograph by Suzanne Shoemaker.

Over the three nesting seasons Sir Galahad spent at Owl Moon, he also became a foster parent to three juvenile red-tailed hawks that, for various reasons, could not be returned to their real parents. Each time, Sir Galahad came through. He treated them well and showed them how to be a red-tail. Two of the juveniles were released here at Owl Moon, and both made visits to the mews from time to time. I like to imagine they were paying a visit to their old mentor, but the handouts I left for them to help them get by while they were learning to hunt on their own probably enticed them as well.

Saying goodbye to Sir Galahad is a mixed blessing for me. I am happy to have the mew open for newcomers, but I will sorely miss seeing him every day. I am thrilled however, that Meadowside Nature Center will be his new home! Meadowside’s large mew and caring staff will provide him an excellent home. The staff is excited at the prospect of training him and providing regular exercise outside the mew. Lisa will be his handler, and I will be helping her learn the techniques of training a hawk to fly to the glove. Best of all, Meadowside is only 20 minutes from my house, so I can visit him often!

If you would like to meet Sir Galahad you can visit him at Meadowside Nature Center.  He will be used in their education programs, and when he has completed training you may even be able to see him fly to Lisa’s glove. Be sure to send us a message or a picture if you do. We would love to hear how he is doing!

Here I (left) am introducing Sir Galahad to his new handler, Lisa (right). Photograph by Maura Wade.

Weekly News: December 15th, 2011

Squeak-toy eyes the camera warily from his new outdoor digs. Photograph by Suzanne Shoemaker

Squeak-toy and Soldier-girl moved into spacious new outdoor quarters this week. Needless to say, these two are thrilled to be in a large enclosure where they can easily keep a “safe” distance from me and other potential intruders. When I go in to care for them Squeak-toy starts up with his signature squeaking and Soldier-girl makes several fly-bys before settling on a high perch to keep an eye on me (and the food). Soldier-girl has asserted dominance, which is no surprise given her larger size and superior flying prowess. Squeak-toy learned fast that if he minds his own business and lets her eat first, all is well.

We continue to work with Squeak-toy as before, but have not been able to begin training him yet. I learned from Dr. Barb that Soldier-girl arrived at OPVC on November 7 with a comminuted (fragmented) fracture of the tibia and fibula of the left leg. Because it was comminuted, the bone was splinted rather than pinned. Raptors who have incurred leg injuries should not be exercised on a creance line, which attaches to jesses on the legs, so exercise in a flight cage will have to provide enough pre-release reconditioning for Soldier-girl. Given her inclination to fly in circles at my approach, I think she will do fine.

Shredder has been flown on a creance two times since the pin was removed from his wing. While his flight and his inclination to fly have improved, his flights are shorter than we expected. His skill and stamina will need to improve before we can release him. We plan to fly Shredder every other day (weather permitting) until his endurance improves, and then every day, to build his flight muscles. We began physical therapy this week to increase range of motion in his left wing, which we hope will speed up his progress.  Until next week!

-Suzanne Shoemaker