Snowbirds and snow birds

Snowbirds and snow birds

This week at Peace River Wildlife Center has been a busy one.  The snowbirds are returning (yay!), and the snow birds are also back (yay and boo.)  While we love to have our seasonal volunteers return to help around PRWC, we are sad to see so many migrating birds admitted as patients.

The number one casualty this week has been grey catbirds crashing into windows.  I’m not sure why they are so over-represented for this particular calamity.  Are they some of the first to migrate?  Do they have poor vision?  Are they just clumsy?  We have admitted 10 grey catbirds that have suffered injuries after flying into windows this week.  Some of them just need a little time to recover from minor head trauma.  Sadly, others do not survive the brain, spinal, and skeletal injuries sustained.

It is estimated more than a billion birds die from collision with glass annually in the US alone.  They may think they can fly through the clear glass or see trees and clouds reflected and not understand the glass is there.  Placing a grid on the outside of your windows with tempera paint or soap is the easiest, most inexpensive way to deter bird strikes. 

There are some wonderful resources to explain why and how birds get injured by flying into windows and glass doors and how we can help.  Check out the website https://www.allaboutbirds.org/why-birds-hit-windows-and-how-you-can-help-prevent-it/ for more details. 

We have also seen other unusual and migratory species this week at PRWC.   Some of them have also hit windows, while others were hit by cars or attacked by cats.  We have had an American redstart, a red-eyed vireo, an indigo bunting, a sedge wren, a belted kingfisher and a hermit thrush.  One of our daily challenges is properly identifying each patient that comes in to us. 

Sometimes it is easy to ID our patient’s species.  We see a lot of repeat customers—as a species, not necessarily individuals.  Although we have seen the same tortoise brought back in a few times because he has an old healed injury that looks so bad it is hard to believe he is living with it, when in fact he is thriving in his home territory despite a large divot in his shell that has granulated over. 

Other recidivists commonly include black vultures.  Quite often vultures can live long, productive lives with a healed broken wing.  We get calls periodically about grounded vultures that don’t have fresh injuries and our advice is to leave them where they are if they do not seem to be suffering or weak. 

While we would never release a bird that can’t fly, if the vulture’s broken wing heals on its own (which is often the case) the bird can live with the deformity.  They are still quite adept at getting up into a tree at night to roost to avoid the few predators they have.  And since they eat carrion, they usually don’t have trouble feeding themselves despite the fact that they are unable to fly.

We routinely see a lot of doves, red-shouldered hawks, mockingbirds, and other native species that live here year-round.  When the migratory birds are flying through the area, we are sometimes temporarily stumped as to the species.  But why does it matter?  There is a huge difference in how we treat and feed different types of birds.  This is why it is especially important that rescuers not feed an injured bird or mammal anything.  It is more damaging to feed the wrong thing than nothing at all.  Even water can be dangerous if it is aspirated by a weak or injured animal.

One of the first indicators for bird identification is the beak.  The size and shape can tell us a lot about what the bird eats—seeds, insects, etc.  The feet can give us a clue as to where they live—fields, marshes, etc.  To properly treat avian patients, we need to positively identify them.  To this end, we have a library of reference materials and have just started playing with a smart phone app—The Cornell Lab Merlin Bird ID.  Simply take a photo of the bird and the app helps identify the species.  We have had pretty good luck with it and a lot of fun confusing it with pictures of Luna, our leucistic eastern screech owl.

I know all our birding friends are thrilled to see so many different species migrating to and through SW Florida.  Areas like Ollie’s Pond, Celery Fields, and even your own back yard are wonderful places to see birds of all different types.  Let’s do everything we can to help these travelers complete their journeys safely.

by- Robin Jenkins, DVM

Red-eyed vireo

Red-eyed vireo

Indigo bunting

Indigo bunting

Hermit thrush

Hermit thrush

Don’t judge me by my search history

Don’t judge me by my search history

Necessity is the mother of invention, but I have a feeling the Internet is the granddaddy of the unintended consequences.  It makes me nervous to think that if I were to die under dubious circumstances that triggered a forensic investigation, I would not come out looking good, especially when they started looking at my electronic footprint.

I admit that when I first heard about bump stocks, I didn’t know what they were, so I Googled it.  But that is far from what I mean.  I have never searched for ways to construct bombs from fertilizer or place a devise in my shoe to take a plane out of the sky.  Who does something like that?!  I am referring to surfing the web for questionable content of a sexual nature.  But probably not in the way that “normal” people do.

At Peace River Wildlife Center, we don’t see armadillos frequently, so when we admitted one recently I was curious as to whether it was a male or female.  Some young mammals have obvious differences between the two genders (like dogs and squirrels) while some are difficult to distinguish (like cats and rabbits.)  Since Google is such a font of knowledge (you can even use it to determine if the correct idiom is “font” or “fount” of knowledge, and argue with yourself over the results), I decided to look it up.  Instead of typing it out into the search bar “How to determine the sex of an armadillo,” I used veterinary shorthand “sexing armadillos.”  I do not recommend you try this at home.

Equally embarrassing would be a search of my phone and recent texts.  One of PRWC’s rehabbers had a male squirrel in home care with a urogenital issue.  Many texts back and forth between the two of us included details of his symptoms, differential diagnoses, and treatment options.  And, of course, pictures of the offending (offended?) member.  Quite literally. 

I also get into trouble when I can’t remember a specific word I am searching for in the vast emptiness that used to be my mind.  I was trying to order hanging fabric pouches for our baby mammals on Amazon Smile the other day and could not come up with the appropriate words to type into the search bar to get what I wanted.  We have one that is a favourite of all the baby squirrels and opossums that is shaped like a banana. 

So, I typed in “banana hammock.”  Again, please don’t try this at home.  Or in the office, for that matter.  especially not in the office.  The results are not pretty.  I did finally get some satisfactory results by adding the word “ferret,” but by then, the damage was done.

The armadillo was a female (we think), the squirrel is recovering from his malady, and I somehow managed to order a “double fleece hang-n-tent sleeper for small animals.”  So, the ends justified the means, but I’m not sure if the forensic investigators will be able to follow it through to what is, to me, the obvious conclusion. 

I’m afraid they would stop at the first squirrel penis photo and assume I deserved whatever horrible fate I had encountered.  That I had somehow instigated being buried alive under an avalanche of Cheerio boxes.  Or that I committed suicide by repeatedly slashing my wrists with tiny raccoon claws.  Or maybe that the pressure had finally gotten to me and I was trying to build a bomb instead of what I was actually doing—trying to invent a bottle-holder for baby raccoons to give my tattered wrists a break.  Please stick up for me if they call you in as a character witness.

by- Robin Jenkins, DVM

Juvenile raccoon takes a bottle

Juvenile raccoon takes a bottle

Raccoon feeding station

Raccoon feeding station

Can ‘coon

Can ‘coon

No, this isn’t yet another column about my travel exploits.  This week Peace River Wildlife Center admitted a raccoon in a pretty precarious position.

While emptying recycle bins in the Punta Gorda Isles neighborhood, the sanitation engineers made a startling discovery.  They found a young adult raccoon at the bottom of a recycle bin with a tin can firmly stuck on her head.

Luckily for the raccoon and PRWC, they knew just what to do.  They brought the entire construct to us—can, ‘coon, and all.  Unable to simply pull the can off her head, we drilled a hole in the can through which the anesthetic gas was administered.  Once the raccoon was asleep, we enlarged the opening at the top of the can, using a tin snip, until we could wrest the can off.

The raccoon was in pretty good shape, all things considered.  She obviously had not been stuck in this predicament for long.  She had no injuries except some minor abrasions, nor was she dehydrated or emaciated, as she would have been in short order if the can had not been removed quickly.  She was treated and released to get back to the mischief of being a raccoon.

Whether we think of them as rascally scamps or the scourge of the earth, raccoons and many other wild animals are out there, in our neighborhoods, gardens, lawns—even in our attics.  How can we diminish the potential damage to our property and help keep these innocent invaders safe?

The most important and easiest thing to do is limit food supplies.  Keep trash and recyclables in secure containers.  Rinse and crush containers before placing them outside.  Do not feed animals outside—cat food, bird food, etc.  If you must have food outside for pets, do not leave it out at night.

If you have fruit trees in your yard, remove ripe fruit from the tree and pick up fallen fruit daily.

Fish in ponds should be given a rock shelf to hide under so they do not become food for herons or raccoons.

Tree branches should be cut three feet from the house.  Do not allow shrubs to get too thick and overgrown or touch the house.

Enclose the base of any decks or porches, extending the hardware cloth partially into the ground.

Place wire mesh over chimney caps, vent stacks, and gable, ridge, and dryer vents.

Keep your roof in good repair, check for loose shingles or holes in soffits or eaves.  If you do find or suspect that you have a raccoon in your attic, there is a 90% chance that it is a female with babies.  Do not exclude the mother without getting the babies out or giving her time to move them.

Often, making the space inhospitable for her will cause her to move her babies to an alternative nest site.  Play loud music or talk radio, flash lights, and place a spill proof receptacle of something with a strong odor like an ammonia soaked rag near the nest.

If you obtain the assistance of a professional trapper or nuisance wildlife removal service, just make sure they are aware that removing one adult raccoon from the attic may not be the end of the problem.  And ask them what they plan to do with the animals they remove.  Some disreputable companies will drop trapped animals in water and drown them, even the babies.  While some frustrated homeowners may not have an issue with that practice, many people are surprised to hear that this happens.

Simply removing animals from your property may not be the answer either.  Obviously, you want to get them out of your house, but not wanting them to nest in nearby trees or other wild spaces is not feasible.  If you remove a raccoon or young family from your yard, others will simply take their place.

Many people are frustrated by raccoons and other wildlife on their properties and in their homes.  And while these wild animals can cause damage, killing or moving them is not the answer.  We have invaded their space, so we must learn to be good neighbors to these native creatures.  A few fairly simple practices can not only keep wildlife safe, but make our homes more comfortable for us and less attractive to wild invaders.

by- Robin Jenkins, DVM

Can 'coon

Can ‘coon

Anesthesia to remove can

Anesthesia to remove can

Raccoon after can removed

Raccoon after can removed

Slipping into fall

Slipping into fall

With all the hubbub over Hurricane Irma, how many of us missed the arrival of autumn?  Here at Peace River Wildlife Center we usually notice this change in seasons well before the temperatures start to decrease.  Southwest Florida does not have the spectacular autumnal foliage of which our northern neighbors boast.   Instead of colourful leaves littering the ground, we have baby squirrels falling from the trees.

Speaking of Irma, PRWC did indeed evacuate most of our animals.  Our patient and resident total just before Irma hit was 243.  Our original plan was to shelter in place as many of our animals as possible, taking them into the hospital and surgery wards.  The day before Irma made landfall in Florida, when she decided to ignore all prognostications and made that darned right turn too late, it was decided to evacuate most of the animals in our care.  Being right on Charlotte Harbor, we are at risk of flooding from storm surge or significant rainfall and our dilapidated buildings are not as sturdy as we would like.

The entire day before the storm hit was spent placing all our patients and most of our residents into kennels and transporting them to safety.  We boarded up the windows and locked down everything we could.  Many volunteers helped ensure the safety of our animals.

The Monday after the storm, these same brave souls showed up to clean up the debris left in Irma’s wake and bring the animals back.  This was an even braver act, because some of the birds were sheltered in Arcadia, and driving back and forth from there with no idea when gas would be available was an act of courage and faith.

We even had friends we had never even met show up to lend a hand.  People had seen our plea on Facebook or just drove by to see if we needed help.  They rolled up their sleeves, grabbed a rake, shovel, or chainsaw, and made it possible for us to get all our frightened birds back into their habitats within a day of the storm’s passing.

Luckily, all our birds, mammals, and reptiles made it through the storm and stress involved in capturing, kenneling, and moving them.  Most of them had to spend over 48 hours in kennels with little more room than to turn around and lie down.  While we tried to make them as comfortable as possible, this sort of evacuation is always stressful.  That amount of stress can be fatal to many of our delicate patients and residents.  Being able to get the birds back into their habitats as quickly as we did undoubtedly saved lives.

In the aftermath of the storm, PRWC was inundated with wildlife impacted by the wind and rain.  We had numerous adult birds that had been buffeted by the winds, dashed against walls and windows or the ground, and suffered head trauma and broken bones.  Most of the ones with head trauma recovered quickly and have already been released.

We also got a lot of baby bunnies, squirrels, and doves.  Many nests had been blown out of trees and countless trees had been uprooted or broken apart by the winds.  Most people who brought these displaced and orphaned babies to us were thrilled to find us accepting patients so quickly.  With the power out, entire neighborhoods flooded, and shortages at the grocery stores and gas stations, people were relieved to find they had some semblance of control over something and saving the life of a tiny animal became that much more significant.

Charlotte County dodged a bullet with this storm.  Things could have been much worse, and without the improvements to our infrastructure that have been ongoing since Hurricane Charley, they likely would have been.  Kudos to all the first responders who saved lives and made our lives so much easier so quickly.  And thanks to all the businesses that got up and running as quickly as possible—both for the sake of their customers and their employees. 

Charley knocked us for a loop.  Irma was no match for our preparedness and cooperation.  Now if we could just figure out how to keep some of those baby squirrels up in the trees where they belong.  Did someone say, “Duct tape?” 

by- Robin Jenkins, DVM

The show must go on

The show must go on

As I write this week’s column, Hurricane Irma is barreling toward Florida.  She may slam into Miami, skim the east coast, wander up the center of the state, or even end up in the Gulf.  At this point, it is looking grim for the entire state, but we are as ready as it is possible to be for something of this magnitude and uncertainty.

Every resident of Florida knows what goes into making a hurricane plan.  In the spring, well before any hurricanes are forming, residents stock up on water, non-perishable foods, batteries, flashlights, candles, and lanterns.  We purchase extra cans of gasoline and test our generators.  Important records and documents are stowed in Rubbermaid bins and kept easily accessible.  Pets have all current vaccinations, records, food, and medications at the ready with their kennels. 

We’re on top of this.  Right?  Well…

Hurricane Irma is a great example for all of us that maybe we aren’t quite as prepared as we should be.  There really shouldn’t be long lines at the stores and the community shouldn’t run out of bread, water, and gasoline before a storm hits.  If everyone is well prepared in advance, there should be no need for a last-minute panic.  But there was.  There always is.

It is a daunting task to prepare your home and family for an approaching storm, especially if you have a dog or cat.  Imagine the complexity of having to care for 243 “pets” and not only ensuring their safety during a storm, but caring for them afterward, in uncertain conditions.   Not to mention the number of injured ones that will flood in after the storm has passed.

This is the dilemma Peace River Wildlife Center faces during hurricane season.  Our dedicated staff of employees and volunteers not only have to get their own homes in order, they help us with the monumental task of making preparations to shelter the animals in our care.

Currently PRWC has 100 permanent resident animals, 92 of which are birds.  Our patient load as of two days before Irma is scheduled to make landfall in the U.S. is 143—46 birds, 92 mammals, and 5 reptiles.  Each of these animals must be made safe from the approaching storm and cared for until it is ready to be released or, in the case of our residents, for the rest of its life.

Since our facility is located right on Charlotte Harbor, we are in a precarious position for storm surge, wind, and flooding from excessive rainfall.  Unfortunately, evacuating many of our animals would be more stressful for them than sheltering in place.  Evacuation is not always recommended or even possible. 

Florida is a long, narrow peninsula.  There are only two major roads running north and south.  These roads should be kept clear as a storm approaches for those that are required to leave and for trucks bringing in supplies and workers to assist in recovery efforts.

We take small birds, mammals, and land reptiles inside for the duration of a storm.  Every animal in a habitat that tends to flood must be moved to another cage.  We make sure there are places the remaining animals can get out of the wind and rain when staying within their habitats. 

Preparations include ordering and storing as much food as we can possibly fit in our freezers, in case we cannot get our regular weekly shipments after a storm.  We can go through 500 pounds of thread herring and 50 pounds of smelt in a week.  Our raptors eat over $1,000 worth of frozen rodents and chicks every week.  We have 5 different liquid diets for baby birds, depending on the species.  Are they insectivores, herbivores, carnivores, pescivores, or omnivores?  We also stock six different types of baby mammal formulas, depending on species and age. 

Our windows are boarded and our generator tested.  Plenty of gasoline and water has been stored.  (A special thanks to the person who took two empty five-gallon water jugs from the office.  We were planning to fill them with tap water to help with cleaning cages in case the water goes out.  What kind of despicable person steals from a non-profit trying to help injured animals at a time like this?)

We have stocked up on medications, gloves, and as much fresh food as we can stuff into our refrigerators.  We have refilled our oxygen tanks (hats off again to Southern Oxygen for their support!)  If the power is out and we can’t do laundry, we will have to rely on newspapers to line the cages, instead of the sheets and pillowcases we usually use. 

There are some special creatures that will be taken off-site.  Our more critical patients that need medication and other treatments will go home with rehabbers.  When we run out of caging space in the hospital and surgical ward, the rest of the residents that cannot remain in their habitats will go home with other staff members. 

We also have to assemble crates and carriers to place these animals in, whether they are being moved inside or off-site.  We have many kennels, but storage is at a premium, so they are taken apart to be stored, collapsed on themselves.  Thanks to coverage by the Sun, community members have offered to help with constructing kennels and transporting any animals that need to be moved.

Computers and essential paperwork will be stored off-site as well.  The buildings we are in now are woefully inadequate.  The good news is that our new facility will be built to current codes and will be strong enough to withstand more severe weather than our existing structures.  The bad news is that new facility is at least one hurricane season away.

Best case scenario, Irma will pass us by and this has been a great test of our emergency preparedness plan.  Worst case scenario, no amount of preparation will have mattered.  More than likely, the scenario we face will be somewhere in between.  The good news is that natural disasters tend to bring people together.  Friends, neighbors, and even enemies work toward a common goal, temporarily forgetting about the ridiculous things that we allow to divide us at times.

by-Robin Jenkins, DVM