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

Weekly News: December 7st, 2011

Soldier-girl puffs up, ready to strike at any hands that venture too near. Photograph by Suzanne Shoemaker.

A feisty new lady joined the ranks of Owl Moon patients this week. She is, like Squeak-toy, a juvenile red-shouldered hawk. However, “Soldier-girl,” being female, is considerably larger than Squeak-toy, a male. In raptors, unlike most bird species, females are typically larger than males*. Whereas Squeak-toy weighs in plump at 620 grams, Soldier-girl is lean at 880 grams. Both birds have similar personalities and I am curious to see how they get along when placed together in an outdoors mews, which is due to happen this weekend.

They are alike because both are brave and quick to take the offensive when approached. For example, DO NOT make the mistake of reaching into either crate to place a water dish or food down without donning heavy gloves first. Before you know what hit you, you will be cradling your hand and an angry red-shouldered hawk will be glaring at you from its perch daring you to try again. Squeak-toy, being a veteran, can get the message across with a look in his eyes alone now, but Soldier-girl puffs up and raises her wings to send the point home.

Both birds will let you know, in no uncertain terms, if/when you are offending them.  Red-shouldered hawks are known to be vocal raptors, but these two take the prize. Squeak- toy starts up with some short squeaks (hence the name) as soon as he hears someone approaching and the calls increase in duration and volume with handling. Soldier-girl, on the other hand, gives little warning, but blares with great volume once in hand. They give a repeated series of loud, long kee-aahs that can be quite alarming. It is easy to imagine how their calls might cause a predator to drop them!

As to how Soldier-girl wound up in rehab, I’ll have to fill you in on that when I get more history from my vet, Barb Stastny. For now I only know that she had a fracture in her left leg which Barb repaired with a pin. Soldier-girl recovered from surgery at Opossum Pike Vet Clinic for two weeks before being transferred to Owl Moon Raptor Center last Friday, for continued care and reconditioning.

Squeak-toy gives me the look that says "back off!" Photograph by Suzanne Shoemaker.

Squeak-toy continues to receive physical therapy and flying time, but his recovery is not going as well as I’d hoped. He has not regained enough extension in his right wing to fly well, and despite our daily routines, his progress has slowed. I’ve decided that the next step is to train him to fly to the glove. This will serve two purposes: first, it will allow me to work with him and fly him more frequently without assistance (creance flying requires two people); and second, it will make him easier to place as an education bird (both for and his handler should we find that he is not a candidate for release. In my experience as a falconer, the training will not make him less capable of surviving in the wild if Squeak-toy does recover enough to release.  Trained birds that were reared in the wild by their parents will revert back to the wild state rapidly upon release.

Shredder after a satisfying, if somewhat messy, dinner. Photograph by Suzanne Shoemaker.

Meanwhile good ‘ole Shredder, the great horned owl, has been outside for close to two weeks now. After the first week we attempted to fly him on a creance line to assess his flight, and begin to recondition him for possible release. What we discovered was, though his wings had the mechanics for flight, he was very reluctant to use them. A feint grinding I heard and felt when I rotated his wing through the motions of flight was cause for further anxiety. I called Dr. Barb to schedule him for a follow-up exam and x-ray.

Barb saw him the next morning. She found that the pin, which was still in the mended humerus (upper wing bone), had slid upward, and protruded enough to rub on his shoulder blade when he lifted his wing (hence the grinding sound). It had not broken the skin nor caused any damage, but it was painful and a problem. Fortunately, the pin was no longer needed so Barb removed it. Otherwise, Barb was pleased with the way the bone had healed and gave him a good prognosis for release. What a relief!

Shredder needed another round of antibiotics and another week in the mews to recuperate, but the important news is that no new harm was done to wing. Already he is more active in the mews, and I look forward to seeing him fly on a creance this weekend. Until next week!

-Suzanne Shoemaker

* There are several hypotheses for why there is so-called “reverse sexual size dimorphism” in raptors. One is that the difference in size allows mates to hunt different size prey, so there is less competition and more complete use of resources on a nesting territory. It makes sense that the female would be the larger, because she needs greater reserves for developing eggs and for the long period of incubating eggs and brooding young.

Weekly News: December 1st, 2011

Two bald eagles with locked talons. Photograph by Fellipe Gonzales Pianheri.

Imagine you are living in a nice wooded suburban neighborhood in Gaithersburg, MD. You are puttering around in your garage on an unseasonably warm Saturday afternoon in late November. Suddenly, you hear loud peeping noises coming from your back yard. You look out the window to investigate, and behold two enormous brown birds with white-feathered heads and curved yellow beaks huddled against each other on the ground. With surprise you realize that you are looking at two bald eagles!

This strange story is exactly what happened to Jim last week. The two eagles remained on the ground, half buried in a thick bed of pine needles and leaf litter, for over an hour. Neither was standing, and one had its wings splayed out. Jim was worried they might be injured, so he called Second Chance Wildlife Center to report the situation. The staff at Second Chance were not able to leave to do a field investigation, but my friend Lee, a licensed rehabber who volunteers there, overheard the phone conversation and offered to call me.

I was out of town myself when Lee called, but after hearing Jim’s story, I shared his concern. It sounded to me like the two eagles might have locked talons in aerial combat (rival males) or during one of their spectacular “cartwheeling” courtship rituals (male and female). Injury is not an unlikely result from either a battle or a crash landing, and with the onset of eagle nesting season both are possible.  November is earlier than normal for nesting behavior to begin, so this was more likely a case of male rivalry over nesting territory, which comes before courtship.

Lee offered to stop by and assess the situation. She found the two adult bald eagles apparently joined by their talons, screaming and awkwardly repositioning themselves. As she was formulating a strategy for getting two large, strong, well-armed birds in hand, they suddenly unlocked talons and one after the other took flight. The first caused onlookers a moment of panic as it flew low over the road, right in the path of a passing car. It veered up just in time to clear the hood.  The second eagle chose a safer path. The story ended happily, because both birds appeared to be uninjured.

The eagle event was one peak in a roller coaster week at OMRC,  but I have some sad news to report about Wet Coops, the juvenile female Cooper’s hawk that was pulled from the Potomac River by Merchant Marines.  Though she was doing well otherwise, her right wing was not improving. I took her to Second Chance Wildlife Center to have it X-rayed and examined by Dr. Pat Klein. The injury was more severe than I thought. The upper wing bone (humerus), was dislocated from the shoulder, and had dropped down. When this happens in humans, it can be a simple matter of popping it back into the socket. In birds, the structure of the shoulder joint is different, and there is no such repair. Cooper’s hawks need precision flying to hunt their primary prey, smaller birds. They must be extremely quick and agile to succeed. Wet Coops, would never again fly well enough to hunt. Some birds in her situation might be placed as education birds in zoos and nature centers. Unfortunately, the flighty temperament of Cooper’s hawks makes them ill-suited for captive life. Their lightning-fast reflexes cause them to injure themselves in confined spaces, and they rarely become comfortable around humans, even after extended periods in captivity. For these reasons I made the difficult decision to have her euthanized.

That same afternoon a call came to rescue an injured hawk that Steve discovered on the ground in his back yard in Gaithersburg, MD. Steve had seen the bird the previous week, but it had disappeared during the interim. When he saw it again it was picking up sticks and appeared to be arranging them and then sitting on them, as if building a nest. The hawk allowed Steve and his partner to walk within a few feet of its “nest” without being disturbed. When I arrived a couple hours later, with Lee and Joseph, my volunteer assistant, we found the bird, a juvenile female red-tailed hawk, indeed standing on a mound of sticks and other forest litter. However, we were not permitted to approach. She took off at a full run. Joseph swung around in front, and Lee and I moved in from the sides, but it wasn’t us that stopped her. She had discovered something else that grabbed her attention underneath the forest litter. She pulled away some sticks and leaves and suddenly it was in her talons; a garter snake! We took advantage of her distraction to make the capture.

With the hawk in hand it was immediately obvious why she could not fly. Her right wing was badly broken along the radius and ulna, or (forearm). It was an open fracture with the bone exposed to the air, the worst kind, especially since it was over a week old. I knew it was serious and prepared myself for more bad news. We brought her to Second Chance, and Dr. Klein examined her. She determined that the fracture could not be repaired. It was too old, and the bone was likely dead from exposure to air. The young red-tail had bravely suffered and survived admirably by foraging on the ground for over a week with her injury. The injury had taken its toll though. She was very thin and likely in severe pain. With great sadness we accepted for the second time that day that euthanasia was the only humane course of action.

Days like this can weigh heavily on a rehabber. We know we can’t save them all but there is always the lingering question; could I have done more? Fortunately the sad days are more than offset on the happy days when we get to release a patient. Spooky, the juvenile female Cooper’s hawk that flew into glass at Chevy Chase Club’s ice rink, was returned to her home on Friday. Ken met me there to band her. It was a picture perfect day, and there was lots of outdoor activity at the club. Mike, the Grounds Superintendent and a raptor enthusiast, kindly offered to drive us in a golf cart to a secluded and wooded natural area. Spooky was raring to go, and when Ken released her, she raced to a distant treetop before even pausing to scout her surroundings. We happily left her looking down at us from her high perch.

Ken releasing Spooky. Photograph by Suzanne Shoemaker.

And finally, yippee! The first annual Owl Moon Raptor Center Calendars have arrived at OMRC, hot off the press. Thank you to my daughter Natasha Lewandrowski for helping me with the layout and design, and to TCC Printing Company in Seattle, WA, for doing a beautiful job with printing and production. If you have ordered your calendar already I will be shipping it to you this week. If you would like a calendar but have not yet sent us your donation, please do so soon. Our first run calendars are spoken for, but we just placed an order for an additional 25. There is still time to order them for the holidays so get ‘em while they’re hot!

-Suzanne Shoemaker

The Owl Moon Raptor Center calendar is here!

Weekly News, Thanksgiving Edition: November 23rd, 2011

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

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

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

Spooky investigates the camera. Photograph by Suzanne Shoemaker.

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

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

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

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

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

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

-Suzanne Shoemaker

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

Weekly News: November 16th, 2011

Shredder. Photograph by Suzanne Shoemaker.

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

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

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

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

-Suzanne Shoemaker

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

Weekly News: November 9, 2011

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

-Suzanne Shoemaker

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

Weekly News: November 2, 2011

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

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

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

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

Shredder with the offending bandage

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

-Suzanne Shoemaker