Announcing the Owl Moon Raptor Center 2013 Calendar!

Owl Moon Raptor Center 2013 Calendar, cover. Photograph by Luis Camacho.

Owl Moon Raptor Center is excited to announce our second annual calendar! The 2013 calendar features twelve heartwarming stories about Owl Moon’s patients, together with twenty four evocative full-color photographs. Seven talented photographers contributed images to this year’s calendar. We are sure you will be delighted by the beautiful imagery and the stylistic variety!  Check out the sneak peak below.

10 great reasons to pre-order your Owl Moon Calendar today!

  1. 100% of your donation supports care and treatment for injured and orphaned birds of prey.
  2. Owl Moon is funded completely by donations…so we’d um…really like it if you donated.
  3. The calendar contains many stories and images that were not featured on the blog.
  4. Owl Moon calendars make great gifts!
  5. Do you need a calendar? Do you like awesome birds of prey? You will love this calendar.
  6. Know someone else who needs a calendar? Do they like awesome birds of prey? They will love this calendar.
  7. Have a boring empty spot on your wall? You know what’s NOT boring? Birds of prey!
  8. Need a little inspiration to get you going in the morning? Birds of prey are very motivational (just ask a mouse).
  9. C’mon! You know you want one.
  10. Please, please, pleeeeeease buy a calendar!

Calendars are only available while supplies last, so pre-order yours today!

Donate: $25 each or $100 for five

Donations can be made on our Donate page. Owl Moon is not a licensed 501(C)(3), so donations are not tax deductible.

Owl Moon Raptor Center 2013 Calendar. June. Main photograph by Suzanne Shoemaker. Inset photograph by Tony Zuccarelli.

Patient Updates: October 29, 2012

Goalie
Red-shouldered Hawk
Male

Cinnamon
Red-shouldered Hawk
Male, Juvenile

Friday was a busy day! In the morning Lee and I, together with our guests Cynthia and her daughter Orli, released the two Red-shouldered Hawks, Goalie and Cinnamon. Both hawks were returned to where they were found. Goalie, the adult, went first. We found a nice stretch of woodland next to a creek and pond behind Richard Montgomery High School in Rockville, MD. Lee opened the box while I took the video shown below on my phone. Goalie wasted no time in getting through the trees and out of site.  We caught another quick glimpse of him as we headed back to our cars, and then he was gone.

Cinnamon was released in the neighborhood in Chevy Chase, MD where he was found. John and his wife Joyanna were there, along with several of their neighbors who participated in Cinnamon’s rescue, including Kathy and Steve. I took Cinnamon out of the box so I could remove a protective “wrist bumper” from his wing prior to release. That gave everyone a close-up view of this beautiful juvenile hawk. Then it was time to send him on his way. Cinnamon didn’t linger. He soared high up to a tree limb in the parkland that backs up to the homes. He surveyed his surroundings briefly, then flew out of sight.

This video shows Cinnamon flying on the creance line. I could tell from his strong flight that he was ready to go.

Pumpkin. Photograph by Suzanne Shoemaker.

New Patient!

Pumpkin
Barred Owl
Male, Juvenile

After I returned home Friday afternoon, I received a visit from Sarah Milbourne. Sarah manages the Scales and Tails Program for MD Department of Natural Resources (DNR). Scales and Tails is an educational outreach program that uses live birds to teach the public about raptors and their place in the ecosystem.

DNR had rescued a juvenile male Barred Owl from entanglement in fishing line at Deep Creek Lake in western Maryland. Fortunately, the owl had not been injured, but the monofiliment line had damaged many of his feathers. Sarah wanted to learn how to repair the owl’s damaged feathers using a technique called “imping”. Imping involves trimming back the damaged feathers and replacing them by inserting a pin between the shaft of the original feather and that of a replacement feather.

We began the imping process on Pumpkin, named in celebration of the season, but it will require more than one sitting to repair all his damaged feathers. Pumpkin will reside at Owl Moon until Sarah and I finish imping. When we are sure Pumpkin’s feathers are healthy, he will return to his home at Deep Creek Lake.

Patient Updates: October 24, 2012

Beastie Boy. Photograph by Liz Falvo.

Much has happened since our last update. Fortunately, much of the news is happy, but there is sad news to report as well.

Beastie Boy
Red-tailed Hawk
Male

Beastie Boy, the Red-tailed hawk with a fractured hallux (opposing toe) and lacerated shoulder, returned to Second Chance Wildlife Center on September 30th for follow-up x-rays and examination by Dr. Patrice Klein. It was found that the fractured hallux was poorly aligned and has developed a thick callus. The result is that Beastie Boy has lost a functional joint in that toe, which is important for capturing live-prey.

There is hope that, as the bone remodels, some function may return. It is also possible that Beastie Boy will be capable of hunting live prey even with the damaged toe. If that happens, he will be returned to the wild.

With this hope in mind, Beastie Boy was transferred to a Deron Meador, a falconer, for reconditioning and live-prey testing. If Beastie Boy cannot hunt well enough for release, we will find a good home for him as an education bird.

Elmo
Great Horned Owl
Male

Elmo, the Great Horned Owl with severe tremors (likely caused by West Nile Virus), did not improve. We treated him for ten days with non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAID). If you saw the video, you will understand we could not let Elmo continue to suffer with these tremors. We made the decision to euthanize him on September 27th.

Bob. Photograph by Suzanne Shoemaker.

Now for the happy news! As of the last update, three birds were being reconditioned for release: Bob, an adult Red-shouldered Hawk; Crooked Beak, a juvenile Red-shouldered Hawk; and Little Bear, a juvenile Barred Owl. I am pleased to report that all three are now flying free.

Bob
Red-shouldered Hawk
Male

Bob was the first to go. He was returned to his home turf (or should I say “home air”?) in a suburban neighborhood in Gaithersburg, MD on October 6th. After making a brief stop on a nearby tree to look around, Bob took off through the next row of trees and quickly disappeared.

Crooked Beak just after her release. Photograph by Suzanne Shoemaker.

Crooked Beak
Red-shouldered Hawk
Female

Little Bear
Barred Owl
Male

Crooked Beak and Little Bear were released on the same day, October 10th. Crooked Beak was a nestling when she came to us, and therefore had never flown free. We decided to release her here at Owl Moon. She is comfortable enough with me that she might return for handouts if she has difficulty making it on her own. This is a technique called “hacking” or “soft release” and we have used it successfully with other juveniles. Crooked Beak was released at 11 am. She landed first on the roof of the mews. She sat there for several minutes scoping out her surroundings, then took flight again, made a semicircle over the back yard and headed straight over the back field and into the woods on the other side. I still have hope of seeing Crooked Beak come around again, but as far as I know, she has not returned. We hope this means she is hunting well on her own.

Little Bear was released at 4 pm, at his home on a Chesapeake Bay tributary in Severna Park, MD. In true Little Bear fashion, he foiled my attempts to photograph his release by flying out of the box and straight into the camera, then over my head and into the trees before I could refocus. I should have known better! Little Bear was always full of mischief and I have confidence that he will outsmart his prey as easily as he outsmarted me.

Cleopatra. Photograph by Liz Falvo.

Cleopatra
Great Horned Owl
Female

Cleopatra was transferred to Tri-State Bird Rescue and Research Center in Newark, Delaware on October 17th, for pre-release conditioning. I wish I could have kept her here and reconditioned her myself, but Owl Moon has only two outdoor mews, and both are currently occupied. It was in Cleopatra’s best interest to seek outdoor space for her with another rehabilitator.

TriState is a superb facility with beautiful big mews (fitting for Cleo), and their staff has generously accepted birds from us on many occasions when they have space. We are grateful to TriState for taking Cleo, and know that she is in the best possible hands.  We will return to retrieve her when she is ready for release.

Zen. Photograph by Suzanne Shoemaker.

Zen
Barred Owl
Male

Back at the ranch, the remaining patients are doing well. Zen has quieted down now that Little Bear is gone and he has a mew to himself. Zen’s outer primary feathers have been growing in for several weeks, but the increased activity with two in the mew caused damage to the developing blood feathers and he lost several. They have now begun to regrow, and we intend to keep him solitary until they are fully grown. Then we can give Zen a fair flight assessment, which we hope will demonstrate that he can be released.

Pixie. Photograph by Natasha Lewandrowski.

Pixie
Broad-winged Hawk
Male

Pixie, the juvenile Broad-winged Hawk, and Plato, the juvenile Cooper’s Hawk, are still in rehab, and both are in line for outdoor mews as soon as they become available. Meanwhile, we exercise them on a creance line most days. They enjoy getting out in the sunshine and spreading their wings. Neither is a sure bet for release, but we continue to treat them with that goal in mind.

Summer. Photograph by Suzanne Shoemaker.

Summer
Red-shouldered Hawk
Juvenile Female

Summer is showing improvement overall. She (I now think female based on weight) is active and eating well on her own, and most of her CNS symptoms have subsided. However, the visit to Dr. Jennifer Hyman the veterinary ophthalmologist, confirmed that Summer has permanent damage to her right eye. That eye has lost most, if not all, sight.

Many rehabilitators would remove Summer as a release candidate based solely on her impaired vision.  My own feelings are mixed. I want Summer to survive. I also firmly believe that the best place for a hawk is flying free in the wild. Our plan is to test fly Summer on a creance line. If she flies well, we will look for a falconer to train her and hunt with her. If she proves to her falconer that she can hunt and avoid obstacles with one good eye, then we will give Summer the chance to make it on her own.

Cinnamon and Goalie. Photograph by Suzanne Shoemaker.

New Patients!

Cinnamon
Red-shouldered Hawk
Male

John found the first, on a residential side street in Chevy Chase, MD on October 2nd. We call this juvenile male “Cinnamon” because of his unusual cinnamon-colored plumage. John had observed him standing on the roadside for hours, clearly not normal hawk behavior. He called Owl Moon Raptor Center and we picked Cinnamon up right where John first saw him. We could see some weakness in his left wing when Cinnamon made a half-hearted attempt to escape. Cinnamon later showed us he could indeed fly, but we found an abrasion on the wing near the wrist joint, probably the result of an impact. We cleaned and bandaged the wound and it has since healed completely. Cinnamon has been flown on a creance line for pre-release assessment and conditioning, and while he flies well, there is a slight droop to the injured wing following a workout. We would like to resolve this before we return him to his Chevy Chase home, but we don’t expect that to take long.

Unnamed
Red-shouldered Hawk
juvenile female

The second hawk was found in Jerry’s neighbor’s garage in Upper Marlboro, MD on October 7th. She had apparently crashed through a window and was found inside, weak and unable to stand. Jerry and his neighbors tried to feed and nurse the hawk for two days before they found Owl Moon. With the help of volunteers Matthew and Mandy, who provided rescue and transport services, she made it to Owl Moon. We treated her with fluids for dehydration, and pain and NSAID drugs for severe spinal trauma.

The hawk had respiratory symptoms as well, possibly a result of the trauma. We treated her for this with antibiotics. I took her to Opossum Pike Vet Clinic for x-rays. Dr. Barb could not find a spinal fracture, but her prognosis was guarded. She felt that, if we did not see improvement after four to five days, it was unlikely the hawk would recover from the spinal injury.

After ten days there was very little improvement in her legs. She could not stand and her respiration had worsened. We determined that euthanasia was the kindest option.

Goalie
Red-shouldered Hawk
Male

Goalie (named for reasons that will become apparent) was transferred to Owl Moon Raptor Center from Second Chance Wildlife Center on October 21st. He was brought to Second Chance on October 18th, following rescue from entanglement in a soccer net at Richard Montgomery High School in Rockville, MD. The rescuers (who remain anonymous) untangled him from the net and released him, but Goalie did not fly away.

Second Chance staff could not find any injuries on intake. They kept him on cage rest until their vet, Dr. Pat Klein, could examine him on October 20th. Dr. Klein found no injuries either, and recommended transfer to Owl Moon for flight-testing. Goalie is now in an outdoor mew with Summer and Cinnamon.  He flies well in the mew, but is relatively calm and quiet for a Red-shouldered Hawk. We will give him a few more days rest and flight test him on a creance line to be sure he is fit for release. Like Cinnamon, we do not expect to keep him long. We hope he can return home later this week.

My Visit to Owl Moon

Natasha Lewandrowski with Henry and his foster dad Root’n Toot’n. Photograph by Suzanne Shoemaker.

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!

West Nile Virus is spread through mosquito bites. To protect the birds we covered the mew windows in mosquito netting. Photograph by Suzanne Shoemaker.

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.

Zen (foreground) and Little Bear (background). Photograph by Suzanne Shoemaker.

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.

Crooked Beak (left) and Bob (right) are both red-shouldered hawks. They look different because Bob is an adult and Crooked Beak is a juvenile. When Crooked Beak gets older she too will gain the rust-red chest for which her species is named. Photograph by Suzanne Shoemaker.

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.

Kite the fledgling osprey. Photograph by Suzanne Shoemaker.

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.

Root’n Toot’n (left) and Henry (right). Photograph by Suzanne Shoemaker.

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!

Cheers,

Natasha

Part Three: Journey’s New Home

Journey. Photograph by Suzanne Shoemaker.

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.

The troop works on nest baskets. Photograph by Pamm Shankman.

Regan and Chasie working on a nest. Photograph by Pamm Shankman.

Wendy and Valerie weaving branches. Photograph by Pamm Shankman.

Abby examines her nest. Photograph by Pamm Shankman.

Abby and Charlene test out their final product. Photograph by Pamm Shankman.

Yup! These baskets should be comfy enough for owls. Photograph by Pamm Shankman.

The troop shows off the results of their hard work. Photograph by Pamm Shankman.

After the Brownies had completed their nest baskets I brought Squeak-toy out for some job training. As an education bird he will need to be relaxed and comfortable in front of groups. Photograph by Pamm Shankman.

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.

That night Journey and Alan were introduced. Photograph by Suzanne Shoemaker.

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.

Jason climbs the tree we have chosen to site the nest basket in. Photograph by Suzanne Shoemaker.

I hold Alan so that Ken can band him. Photograph by Ken Smith.

Journey and Alan, banded and well fed, now ready to ride up to their new nest in a soft cooler. Photograph by Ken Smith.

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!

Part Two: Oodles of Owlets

Twilight sitting on Jim's porch, where he was found. Photograph by Suzanne Shoemaker.

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.

The original nest is visible 80 feet high in a dead oak tree. Photograph by Suzanne Shoemaker.

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.

Mike prepares the laundry basket nest for its ascent into the tree. Photograph by Suzanne Shoemaker.

Jason climbs into the tree. Photograph by Suzanne Shoemaker.

Jason raises the laundry basket nest into the tree. Photograph by Suzanne Shoemaker.

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.

One of Twilight's parents looks on as we work. The adults watch out for their babies even after they leave the nest. Photograph by Suzanne Shoemaker.

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.

Twilight peers down the from his new nest. Photograph by Suzanne Shoemaker.

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.

Lee Prouty holds Gylfie as we prepare to put them both back in the nest basket. Photograph by Suzanne Shoemaker.

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.

Part One: A Rare Visitor

Elfie squints against the wind. Photograph by Suzanne Shoemaker.

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.

Elfie shows off the long "ears" for which her species is named. They are not actually ears, but rather tufts of feathers on the top of the head. Her real ears are not visible under all her feathers. Photograph by Suzanne Shoemaker.

The shape of Elfie's face changes dramatically depending on the posture of her "ears." Photograph by Suzanne Shoemaker.

Elfie looks quite different when her "ears" are down. Photograph by Suzanne Shoemaker.

Elfie's shoulder injury is revealed in her defensive posture. In a healthy owl both wings would be up like the one on the right, but Elfie's injury prevents her from lifting the other wing. Photograph by Suzanne Shoemaker.

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.

Zen appears calm now, but don't be fooled. He is one feisty owl when it comes time for his physical therapy sessions. Photograph by Suzanne Shoemaker.

Sonya is much happier now that she is out in the mew. Photograph by Suzanne Shoemaker.

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.

-Suzanne Shoemaker

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!