Santa brought Peace River Wildlife Center some exciting gifts this year. We have gotten four new resident birds that will be wonderful additions to our shorebird habitat. Many of them came to us from the Wildlife Center of Venice, our sister organization in Sarasota County. While WCV has an even more spacious rehabilitation facility than PRWC does, they are not open to the public and do not have permanent resident animals on display. When they have a patient that will not be releasable, they must find placement or euthanize that individual. Luckily for everyone involved, PRWC is able to help out with that. In return WCV takes on our bigger mammal patients like deer and bobcats since they have the appropriate room and caging for those species.
The first of our new residents is a beautiful male wood duck that presented to WCV with head trauma. (The other birds will be highlighted in upcoming weeks.) After an appropriate amount of time, they deemed the duck unreleasable due to the lack of improvement in his mentation. He is able to get around his enclosure, eat, and swim; but his head and neck are rotated and he would not survive well in the wild. This gorgeous male bird is in full breeding plumage right now. The crest on his head is resplendent in an iridescent greenish-purple. Sounds like he is ready to walk the red carpet at the Oscars.
The wood duck is the only North American duck to routinely raise two broods each season. They nest in cavities formed when branches fall off of trees or nests abandoned by other birds such as the pileated woodpecker. Although they do not construct their own nest cavities, they are quite particular when it comes to the selection of an appropriate site, preferring to be close to or over water. After a 30-day incubation period, the precocial chicks are ready to take on the world. Within 24 hours of hatching they follow as the mother flies out of the nest by jumping out of the cavity and tumbling to the ground below, rarely getting hurt.
Mother will then lead the chicks to a rearing area, up to one mile away from the nest cavity’s location. The fledglings are able to fly by the time they are 8-10 weeks of age. They eat mostly insects soon after hatching and slowly add plants as they mature, becoming omnivores as adults. Our new resident will be on display in the shorebird habitat at PRWC where he can be viewed along with our other residents seven days a week from 11a.m. to 4p.m.
In the “no good deed goes unpunished” category: A couple weeks ago I mentioned that the washing machine at Peace River Wildlife Center was dying. I thanked Earl Smith, owner of Bill Smith Appliances for having given us such a great deal on the premium machine. Apparently one of my readers thought I was being sarcastic. (He must know me pretty well!) But this time I was honestly just expressing my gratitude to Earl Smith. He has been a longtime supporter and benefactor of PRWC. Bill Smith Appliances is a locally owned company that supports the community, sells quality merchandise, and stands behind the products they sell. Trust me when I say, if I am upset with a company, you don’t have to read between the lines to figure it out.
Like I also mentioned in the previous article, we do a lot of laundry. A lot. Every piece is a heavily soiled towel or sheet that we use to line the cages, support weak birds, or pad hard surfaces. The average household may do 100 loads of laundry in a year. At PRWC we do over 1,500 loads in that same time frame. So we get well over 10 years’ worth of service from a machine in just 1 years’ time. Any of our volunteers can attest to that fact. They can explain it to you while they are folding the laundry. And if Santa did not bring you the major appliance of your dreams, tell him to go to Bill Smith Appliances to buy it for you, pronto.
by-Robin Jenkins, DVM
Wood Duck, male and female
By now everyone familiar with Peace River Wildlife Center knows about our leucistic eastern screech owl, Luna. He was admitted as a fledgling that had fallen or gotten pushed out of his nest at a mere 2-3 weeks of age. We initially raised him with other screech owl chicks, but the decision was made to keep him as a resident for his own safety and the glove-training process was started. His lack of normal colouration made him incapable of camouflage that is vital a defense mechanism against his predators.
Eastern screech owls are normally found with one of three colour variations called phases or morphs. They can be red, brown, or grey. The feathers are mottled with one of those colours and cream and black striations. The overall effect allows the bird to blend in with the bark of the tree branches where it is perching, hiding from predators and prey alike.
Our little Luna is leucistic, a genetic abnormality that caused the melanocytes, cells that produce colour, to be absent. Usually in an albino animal or bird, the melanocytes are still there; they just do not produce melanin, the black/brown pigment, but can still produce other colours, such as red, yellow or orange. Even more unusual for a leucistic animal, Luna does not have normally coloured eyes. A screech owl’s eyes are yellow. Luna’s eyes appear dark, but in bright sunlight the deep red of the underlying blood vessels can be seen through the colourless irises.
Now Luna has a “little” sister. Bella is a great horned owl that presented to PRWC after having been unintentionally imprinted by the people who rescued her as a fledgling. They tried to release her but after weeks in the wild, she kept flying down to people to be fed, and was eventually brought to PRWC. This type of sad situation is the primary reason why it is so important for wildlife to be handled and raised only by qualified rehabbers with state and federal permits and licenses. Bella was unable to care for herself in the wild. She did not know how to hunt or how to avoid predators. Many of these lessons can be taught to young birds and mammals as they are growing up or the natural instincts can be honed, but if handled improperly, the instincts are diminished and the bird or animal is not releasable.
For all of their obvious differences, Luna and Bella have many things in common. Screech owls and great horned owls, Florida’s smallest and largest owls respectively, are the only two owls with ear tufts. These tufts are not ears; the actual ear is a small opening in the side of the head, under the feathers. Both of these owls are primarily nocturnal hunters, but can and will hunt during the day when food is scarce. The screech owl eats insects, lizards, and mice. The great horned prefers larger prey like rats, rabbits, and other birds.
One of the most interesting features of all owls is the feather structure. The leading edge of the feather is soft and downy, giving the feathers an almost fur-like appearance and making it possible for the bird to fly silently. Owls do not make the same flapping noises that most birds do in flight. This allows the owl to silently approach prey without attracting any unwanted attention to it presence. A trip to PRWC when Luna and Bella are on glove gives our visitors a chance to get close enough to an owl to see their fuzzy little feet. Or fuzzy BIG feet, in Bella’s case.
Bella recently made her triumphant grand debut on glove at PRWC where she wowed the crowd with her majestic appearance. Luna is as cute as ever and remains a favourite. Whether you are Team Luna or Team Bella there is always something new and exciting to see at PRWC and a great deal to learn about living in harmony with the wide variety of creatures with which we share our little corner of paradise.
by-Robin Jenkins, DVM
Ria Grasman with Luna
Callie Stahl with Bella the Great Horned owl
Peace River Wildlife Center will be holding our monthly Sunset Celebration, Friday December 12, 2014 at our facility from 4p.m. to 6p.m. Everyone is welcome to join us for a wine and cheese reception. Get a rare glimpse of PRWC after hours as the diurnal birds settle in to roost for the night and the nocturnal species awaken and get ready for the night shift. Best of all; watch an amazing sunset over Charlotte Harbour. Luna will be out on glove for pictures and the obligatory oohs and aahs. And we may have a very special guest or two. We have these events the second Friday of each month from November to March; mark your calendars now so you don’t miss a moment of the fun.
Speaking of fun, who doesn’t love to do laundry? While it may not be at the top of everyone’s favourite hobby list, it certainly is at the top of every to do list. Here at PRWC we have more than our fair share of dirty laundry, emphasis on the dirty. If you have never washed a sheet on which a great blue heron has thrown up a half digested herring, you, my friend, have never done laundry. Did you know that pelican poop turns into concrete after six hours overnight in a hospital cage? Try getting that out of a towel! Then imagine not having a working washing machine.
Due to the heavy workload and unbelievable expectations we place on our washers, they don’t seem to last very long. I’m not sure if it is entirely mechanical failure or if they sometimes succumb to nervous breakdowns. Our current washer is less than two years old and was a top-of-the-line machine when purchased from Bill Smith Appliances at cost. (Thanks to owner, Earl Smith, who has been a good friend of PRWC for years!) Not that there is anything wrong with the machine or our service from Bill Smith. A good washer lasts us a year if we are lucky. The fact that this machine held up for two years is a testament to its quality and determination. But running constantly from 7a.m. to 6p.m. seven days a week really takes it out of a machine. And the amount of soil in the towels and sheets is enough to choke a horse. (Not that we condone that sort of thing.) In the course of a year a normal household does about 100 loads of laundry. We do over 1,500. So we actually get 10 year’s worth of use in one year’s time.
But our washer now sounds like an unbalanced space shuttle trying to drill to the center of the earth. Its need for new shocks takes a back seat to the fact that the entire housing of the machine is rusted practically to dust. (Sounds like my old Volkswagen. Man, I loved that car. There was this one time in high school my girlfriend, Karen, and I …oh, wait. That is a totally inappropriate story for this forum and has nothing to do with back seats and dirty laundry. Or does it?) Anyway, we have been informed that the needed repairs for the washer will cost more than buying a new machine. So, here we go again.
A commercial machine is out of the question. The price alone ($8,000 per machine) is prohibitive and the infrastructure needed for reinforced flooring and special plumbing and electrical is not possible at this time and location. What we need now is a good quality machine, which will cost us about $1,000. We don’t need lot of bells and whistles. The washer doesn’t need to be able to dry clean, sort delicates, or brew your morning cup of coffee. We just need a washing machine that can withstand being run 12 hours a day. Same cycle every time. Hot water, heavily soiled laundry. No shrinking violets need apply.
If anyone has a recommendation for a machine they think would hold up to our abuse, please let us know at 941-637-3830. If you would like to donate toward our “laundry fund”, make checks payable to PRWC. If all else fails, does anyone know the address for Santa?
by–Robin Jenkins, DVM
Whip-poor-will with a broken wing
Sometimes you eat the bear and sometimes the bear eats you. No, we are not going to trade recipes for bear meat—which, by the way does not have a sanitized name like saying you are eating venison instead of deer or more to the point, Bambi’s mom. I looked it up. I also had to Google whether or not actual people actually eat bears. The first site listed in the affirmative column is Alaska. No surprise there. I’ll bet Sarah Palin has some good recipes for bear meat. And Mexican Sea Bass from the last time she crossed the ocean to get there. I Googled that one too. Turns out it’s not true that she said we should send all the immigrants back across the ocean to Mexico, but it’s still funny.
So what brought up this ursine discussion? There are days at Peace River Wildlife Center when we feel like our efforts are in vain. We rescue, stabilize, feed, medicate, nurture, support, rehabilitate…in short, we do everything we can and still some of our patients don’t survive. Some of them don’t get to us in time. Some of them are just too severely injured that they die soon after admission or we can only help ease their suffering by euthanizing them—a “good” death. Occasionally we will keep a patient with a poor prognosis alive against our better judgments if they do not seem to be in any immediate discomfort. Every now and then, one of these long shots pulls through and it makes our day.
Recently one of our home care volunteer teams alerted us to the fact that one of their baby squirrels this season was not developing normally. This couple, Hugh and Martha, have been raising squirrels for PRWC for over 10 years and know what to expect at certain milestones in an infant squirrel’s growth. This baby was not behaving normally when he should have been starting to walk and eat on his own. He nursed okay from the nipple on a syringe, but was more spastic than he should have been at his age, and getting worse instead of better each day.
It was obvious at that point that “Squiggy’s” brain function was not normal. He may have been injured when he fell from his tree or he may have been kicked out of his nest because of a congenital problem. Whatever the cause, the abnormality appears to be in his cerebellum—the structure at the base of the brain that is responsible for motor control and coordination. He is learning how to deal with the intention tremors, the jerky motions that occur when he tries to focus on something like eating. With a little help he has already mastered eating out of a dish and drinking out of a water bottle.
He would never be able to care for himself in the wild and will never be released, so he is in training to be an education ambassador for PRWC. He is “just” a squirrel and many people may not understand why we would go to such extreme measures to make him comfortable and extend his life. What can I say? Sometimes you just don’t feel like eating bear, so you dress him up in a tutu and teach him how to ride a unicycle. Not really an appropriate analogy. We will not be dressing the little squirrel in ballet attire or asking him to do anything that is not natural for his species. He will strictly be an example of our southwest Florida native fauna and maybe a model for what a difference an extra dose of love and patience can make. And can’t we all use more of that in our lives?
by–Robin Jenkins, DVM
Happy Thanksgiving from all of us at Peace River Wildlife Center. From the underpaid staff, to the underappreciated volunteers, to the recently-under-a-truck-tire patients; we all have something to be truly grateful for this year. PRWC is coming up on its 34th year and we are stronger than ever. We rehabilitate approximately 2,000 orphaned and injured birds, mammals and reptiles every year and host approximately 75,000 visitors annually who come to view our non-releasable birds that are on educational display in natural habitats at our facility seven days a week from 11a.m. to 4p.m. including holidays.
One of the things I, personally, am most grateful for is our ever-expanding rescue crew. We have a great group of folks who travel the county and beyond to find and bring injured animals to us when we get calls from concerned citizens. Unfortunately, few of them are yet qualified to take on the risks involved in rescuing raccoons. So when our overworked Charlotte County Animal Control officers are not available, that challenge often lands in my lap. With decidedly mixed results.
Last Sunday a call came in from Port Charlotte that a raccoon had a jar stuck on her head. The alert neighbors pointed out the overgrown lot where the raccoon had been last seen and indeed there she was, hunkered down in her den at the base of a tree with a glass quart-sized jar on her head. After hacking through the underbrush to get close to the den, I still couldn’t reach the raccoon, even using my “Nifty Nabber” (which is one of my favourite tools of the trade.) This den, comprised of fallen branches and palm fronds, was absolutely Hobbit-worthy. Much bigger than it looked from the outside, the den was roomy enough for a cowering raccoon to stay well out of my reach no matter how I contorted myself through the brambles.
Eventually I placed a live trap at the opening of the den and within a few hours she was confined within it. The next morning she was transported to PRWC and anesthetized so we could work on removing the glass jar. I removed her from the trap and began to assess what we would need to maneuver the jar off of her head. I was afraid we may have to break the glass and risk cutting the young adult female raccoon. I merely touched the jar and it slipped off of her head like Cinderella’s glass slipper gliding onto the correct sister’s foot. I was astonished, and since I hadn’t yet taken any pictures, I slipped it back on for a photo op. Of course when I went to remove it again, it emulated one of the wicked step-sisters and wouldn’t come off as easily. That is when I realized that attempting to pull the jar straight out toward the raccoon’s nose was not working, but tilting it down toward her chest and rolling her head out was what had worked in the first place. “Pickles” the raccoon was free, despite my best attempts to outwit myself, I had gotten some great pictures of her, and she was released as soon as she woke up.
PRWC will be open our normal hours on Thanksgiving and also on Christmas day for people looking to get out of the house for a little while. Or for those moms who need a little less “help” in the kitchen—send the kids off with dad and the grandparents so you can cook in peace. Or, if you “cook” like I do, pop those TV dinners in the oven with no witnesses. Just don’t forget to scrape it onto the fancy serving bowls before everyone gets back.
You don’t have to wait for Black Friday or Small Business Saturday to start your holiday shopping either. Our gift shop is bursting at the seams with one of a kind t-shirts, jewelry, ornaments, holiday cards, books, toys and lots of other unique merchandise. Stop in to wish Luna, our leucistic (albino) screech owl, and all our residents a happy holiday and give our wonderful staff a big hug for volunteering to be with their fur and feathers family instead of their own today.
by–Robin Jenkins, DVM
Pickles the raccoon, free
Luna, horns up
PRWC Gift Shop