This week has been a busy one at Peace River Wildlife Center. Baby season has finally slowed down to a trickle of orphan intakes. We still see the occasional baby dove and squirrel; they seem to breed year round down here. Some species just don’t go by the book. It’s as if they don’t even know how to read! For the most part though, our patients at this time of year are injured. We have had many broken wings recently, in many different types of birds—from an American coot, to a merlin, to a snowy egret. The variety of species is a harbinger of the differences in how we treat the injuries and what we expect of the healing process.
The American coot is described as “chicken-like.” It is normally found in fresh water marshes, widely distributed from North to South America. It is a clumsy flier, necessitating a long takeoff across the water’s surface. It is however a good swimmer and diver thanks to its lobulated webbed toes and is an herbivore. It is usually found in the SW Florida area only during the winter and does not breed here.
The merlin is in the falcon family, thus usually hunts its prey, small birds, on wing during short quick flights. This species’ breeding grounds are primarily limited to northern US and Southern Canada. They are seen in SW Florida during migration only.
The snowy egret is a year round resident species in SW Florida. It feeds on a wide variety of items from earthworms to crustaceans to small fish. They feed at the edges of both salt and fresh water and in shallow marshes to deeper ocean and lake waters.
A limited diet and ability to access that food source makes the merlin a much more difficult bird to rehabilitate from a broken wing. When released he needs to have the ability to fly with much more precision than either of the other species mentioned. He needs to be able to swoop and soar, banking after the smaller birds on which he will feed. If one wing is fractionally shorter than the other, or the bone has not healed straight, he will not be able to feed himself.
The coot has the disadvantage of not being a strong flier to begin with. Although he can feed himself if returned to a marshy area, if his limited takeoff ability is further hindered, he may not be able to avoid predators. His ability to migrate will also be undermined and he will not be able to return to his natural breeding grounds
The snowy egret is at a slight advantage over the other two species. He is a light bird, an adept flier, with a wide variety of natural habitats and food items. He definitely has the best chance of a successful release.
We will do all that we can for each of these birds. Hope for the best, expect the worst. We have been surprised before by birds we thought would do well and didn’t, and by birds we never thought would fly again that thankfully proved us wrong. Our credo is, “treat the patient, not the x-ray.” Sometimes the worst looking injury heals beyond our greatest expectations.
The one thing that makes all of this possible is the generosity of our supporters. Last year one of the local communities made a generous donation to Peace River Wildlife Center. That in and of itself isn’t really all that newsworthy, but the manner in which they collected the donations was. Each year Windmill Village of Punta Gorda sponsors a Christmas Card Project. Four large wooden “cards” are decorated by resident artists and displayed in their neighborhood. Each resident can have their name added to a card by donating to one of four charities. Instead of sending a few cards to select neighbors, residents at the Village spread their cheer to the entire community where they live, saving trees and reducing waste. And in the true spirit of the season, they give back to the community at large by making generous donations to local charities. What a great idea! It is that spirit of cooperation that makes organizations like PRWC able to fulfill their missions.
by–Robin jenkins, DVM
Peace River Wildlife Center has been abuzz with a recent bald eagle patient this past week. One of our long standing volunteers, Barb Taylor, participated in a rescue class a few weeks ago and got to put her newfound skills to the test. Her first rescue was a fuzzy baby duck, and while cute, was not exactly a challenge. Barb’s second rescue presented itself while she was on a Sierra Club hike. Deep into the trails of Charlotte Flatwoods Environmental Park, she found a bald eagle lying face down in the dirt of the path. Thinking it was dead, she was startled to see the shallow rise and fall of its chest as it struggled to breathe. Barb ran back to her car and retrieved her rescue gear, got the eagle loaded into a kennel, and brought it into PRWC.
At PRWC we examined the eagle—an approximately 3-4-year-old female. She was barely conscious but reacted when handled. She flailed her wings and stabbed at us with her talons, but even these efforts were slow and weak. Ascertaining that there were no injuries that demanded our immediate attention, we placed her in a quiet cage in our surgery suite and let her recover from the stress of the capture, transport and exam. Checking on her every few minutes, our rehabbers reported she went from lying on her face, to standing with her head down, to perching within the first 24 hours. By the next day she was placed in an outdoor woodflight cage. Her swift recovery continued as she made it clear she was quite ready to be released.
The morning of the third day after the eagle’s rescue, Barb and I met with the park employees and interested media back out at Flatwoods Park to release the recovered bird. She flew away strong and straight, eager to get away from our ministrations. It’s hard to say what happened to this majestic bird. She may have had very slight head trauma after colliding with something or she may have ingested a toxin from the nearby landfill either directly or via a poisoned mouse or rat. We will never know what may have happened, but we do know one thing for sure—this bird would not have survived without the help of one woman who found her in the woods, one small organization that treats injured wildlife, and a compassionate community that supports PRWC’s efforts through cash donations and gifts-in-kind contributions.
This weekend November 7, 8 & 9 PRWC will be having one of its annual garage sales at Sun Flea Market in Port Charlotte across from Target. Our regular Charity Thrift Store booths will be brimming with treasures and some of our resident birds will be making special guest appearances. If you have items to donate for the sale or need additional information, call 941-637-3830.
by- Robin Jenkins, DVM
Flatwoods eagle recovering in cage.
Eagle perching in outdoor cage.
Trick or treat? That is the question that runs through my mind every time my phone rings. Especially on those rare occasions when I am not at work at Peace River Wildlife Center. Sometimes it is a relatively benign question from one of the rehabbers like, “Where do we order crane chow from? We are completely out of it.” (Never is it, “We are running low,” it always has to be a scramble!) Inevitably the next phone call will be, “What can we feed the cranes until the crane chow comes in?” And, yes, crane chow is a thing—a specially formulated pelleted food that we feed our resident sandhill cranes. The answer, by the way, is Crossties Farm and Garden in Punta Gorda. They have been supplying PRWC with not only crane chow, but bird seed, hay, and numerous other staples for over ten years. And they usually don’t even snicker anymore when we call them with questions like, “Is crane chow more like dog chow or kitten chow? Or Cheerios?”
Those are the questions I look forward to. Many times the first question from the disembodied voice on the other end of the phone is, “Are you busy?” That never ends well. A recent phone call that started with that inquiry was a doozy. I knew I was in for trouble when the rehabber on duty wasn’t even the one calling, but had somehow talked the volunteer in the office into calling me. That poor guy. Apparently there was a baby raccoon stuck on the roof at Lowes in Port Charlotte. Was I busy? I have been advised by the editor that I cannot report on the exact nature of what my response was. Suffice it to say that I threw some rescue equipment in the car and headed OTB (Over The Bridge) anyway.
Luckily for me, unluckily for him, my husband was trying to nap on the sofa in front of a bad football game. (All of our favourite teams are not having exactly stellar seasons this year, so they are almost all bad games lately.) When we arrived at Lowes my favourite Charlotte County Animal Control officer, Ronelle Moore, was already on scene. It turns out there were five baby raccoons and a mother on the roof. One had fallen into the garden department earlier and had climbed up the chain link fence in the far corner of the store and seemed to be stuck there, not knowing how to get down or back to where mom and the siblings were.
Ronelle had been successful in getting one other baby off of the roof, into a net, and transferred to a carrier. Raccoons being as smart as they are, that was not going to work a second time. The mother was there splitting her time between the three babies still on the roof and the one in the carrier directly below. The baby in the far corner at the top of the fence was seemingly not on her radar at the moment, so that is where we headed next. An extension ladder was provided and I shimmied up, grabbed that baby, and handed it down to Ronelle.
Sounds simple, right? It was not. First I had to convince Lowes’ safety officer that I knew what I was doing, wouldn’t fall, and wouldn’t sue them if I did. Then I had to convince myself of the first two things. Have I mentioned lately that I suffer from acrophobia—an irrational fear of heights? Although in my own defense, I don’t really see how being leery of climbing a rickety ladder to wrestle with a wild animal could be considered irrational. The Lowes employees and well-intentioned by-standers were not vaccinated against rabies, so they couldn’t handle the raccoon, even though babies this young are not really at risk of the disease, raccoons are Florida’s number one rabies vector species and should always be handled as such.
After tripping over some crazy rope that was intertwined with the ladder rungs and the sales label that was attached half way up the ladder, I made it up to the baby. That was when everyone started yelling that the mother raccoon was headed my way. The baby had a remarkably strong grip on the fence and was just out of reach, but I finally pried him loose and gently tossed him into Ronelle’s waiting net below. Meanwhile the chorus of “Here she comes!” was getting ever louder. I couldn’t look up—I surely didn’t want to stare a mad mama raccoon in the face. I couldn’t look down—never look down! I just picked my way back down through the impediments as quickly as I could and listened to Cat Stevens serenade me in my mind with “Oh, baby, baby, it’s a wild world.”
We placed the two captured babies in the woods at the edge of the parking lot and mama followed, leading them away from the store. That is when Casey McVey from Assurance Wildlife Trapping showed up. We moved the ladder next to the area where the remaining three babies were hunkered down and he wove his way through the overhanging tarps to grab them and hand them down to us. He made it look so easy. Of course, the little tykes were tired out by then (probably from laughing at our antics.) The last of the babies were reunited with mom and the family lived happily ever after. Or not. All I know is that they did not end up back on Lowes roof the next night. And don’t think for a minute that I wasn’t worried about that happening.
Kudos to Ronelle and all the CCAC officers for helping with wildlife emergencies even though their job is to provide service to companion animals and protect people. A big thanks to Casey who obviously knows his way around a ladder and isn’t afraid to use it. Most importantly I want to point out that Lowes closed down a large portion of their garden center for a couple hours while we orchestrated the removal of the raccoon family. It is so gratifying when the whole community works together. What a treat!
Stop by PRWC in costume during our normal business hours of 11a.m. to 4p.m. on Halloween for a special treat.
by–Robin Jenkins, DVM
I can’t look, tell me when it’s over!
Last week’s wildlife rescue class taught by some of Peace River Wildlife Center’s rescue volunteers was a rousing success and not a moment too soon. Life has indeed been a little wild lately at PRWC. We recently admitted an injured adult male bobcat that had been hit by a car. The gentleman traveling in the car behind the one that hit the wayward feline saw the cat fly six feet in the air. When it landed on the road, he knew it would get hit again if he didn’t act quickly. He scooped up the unconscious cat, loaded it into his trunk, and made a bee line to PRWC. Of course, the cat was awake by the time he arrived, so our intrepid rehabber, Cara Brown, had to wrestle the unhappy cat out of the trunk and into a large dog kennel.
While we applaud this rescuer’s bravado, we cannot condone his actions. He could have been seriously hurt. Any mammal should be considered a possible rabies vector species and handled only by trained and vaccinated personnel. This rule is for the protection of the people involved as well as the animal. Had this man been scratched or bitten, even inadvertently, the bobcat would have to have been euthanized so it could be tested for rabies. And the man would have had to get a painful and expensive series of injections.
If anyone sees an injured mammal and wants to remove it from its immediate environment due to concerns about its safety, the best course of action is to call Charlotte County Animal Control at 941-833-5690 or PRWC at 941-637-3830. Of course, it can take a while for either party to get to a remote location. The next best plan would be to use gloves or a towel to move the animal so that there is no direct contact with skin. Contain the animal if at all possible—place it into a box or put a laundry hamper or trash can over it. If you cannot load it into your car and bring it to PRWC (or your nearest wildlife rehabilitator), place it in a dark, quiet location with a moderate temperature—not too hot or too cold, until assistance arrives. It is our hope that with many more rescue volunteers, PRWC’s response time can be dramatically reduced.
Now that the public service portion of this article is over—how cool was that!?! Esso (Exxon) used to promise to put a tiger in your tank if you used their gas. This guy took that a bit literally when he put a bobcat in his trunk. I don’t know if it had much of an effect on his car’s acceleration, but it sure increased the responsiveness of the staff at PRWC and energized everyone who has been following the story on our Facebook page. The bobcat ended up with some superficial scrapes and bruises. He had minor head trauma that resolved fairly quickly—hence the attempt to leap out of the car trunk. He does have a broken jaw that had an external fixation appliance applied at a local veterinarian’s office and the cat is recovering off exhibit at the Wildlife Center of Venice, a facility with better caging for a large, strong mammal like a bobcat. The cat’s mental state appears to be completely normal now—he snarls and lunges at his caretakers.
As soon as his jaw has healed the bobcat will be released back into the area where he was found, near the site of his capture. Just not back into the middle of the road. If cats really do have nine lives, this guy has eight left and we would like to see him live them out calmly and quietly, well away from traffic.
by- Robin Jenkins, DVM
Bobcat under anesthesia
Cara and bobcat 10.14
As the snowbirds start to stream down south for the winter, so do the snow birds. Here at Peace River Wildlife Center we have noticed an increase in migrating avian species. We are starting to see wood storks, hawks, and songbirds that pass into and through our area of southwest Florida because of our mild winter weather. It is also hard to miss the longer lines at the grocery stores and increased traffic on the roads as the seasonal residents return. Yes, all of our friends (people and birds) are heading back to town, and unfortunately sometimes they run into and over each other.
That is where PRWC comes in. We rehabilitate the injured bird and try to get it back out into the wild as quickly as possible so that it can resume its migrator flight or not miss breeding season. Many of our year round resident raptors are getting ready to start building or repairing nests and breeding—great horned owls, eagles, etc. But we can’t rehab these injured birds until they are delivered into our capable hands. And that is where our heroes come in—the rescuers.
PRWC treats over 2,000 birds, mammals, and reptiles each year and we care for over 120 residents that cannot be released due to their injuries. With a paid staff of only three full-time people and six part-timers, we rely on hundreds of volunteers to keep our doors open, the habitats clean, and the donations rolling in to pay for food and medications for all of our patients and residents. When a call comes in regarding an injured animal, we can rarely spare anyone that is on duty to leave the facility to go on a rescue. Charlotte County Animal Control officers help out whenever they can, but their primary duty is to domestic animals and public safety. Over the years we have had many stalwart volunteer rescuers that were ready, willing, and able to pick up an injured eagle, bobcat, or snapping turtle, but now we find ourselves relying on just a few individuals to pick up all of our injured animals.
And that is where you come in. PRWC is looking for a few good men. Or women! This coming Saturday, October 18, 2014 from 10a.m. to 12p.m. PRWC will present a Basic Wildlife Rescue Class for anyone interested in learning the basics on how to handle injured wildlife to transport it to a licensed rehab facility. The class will be at the Riverside RV Resort Activities Center, 9770 Kings Highway, Arcadia, FL. That is a mere 4 ½ miles northeast of I-75 on Kings Highway or CR 769.
Admission is free and all donations will benefit PRWC. Reservations are not necessary, but interested parties can call Sam at 406-690-8151 for more information and to confirm attendance so enough equipment and supplies are available. Ideally we would love to have at least one person from each of the areas we serve, from Desoto, Charlotte, Lee, and southern Sarasota counties. She and Bill will present hands-on training and handouts. You will learn how to approach and contain injured wildlife while keeping both yourself and the animal safe. If you have can’t make the deadline for this class, call PRWC at 941-637-3830 to inquire about constantly forming new classes.
No experience is required. A love of nature and empathy for all of her creatures is mandatory. A strong sense of adventure and a weak sense of smell are highly recommended.
by- Robin Jenkins, DVM
Torn pelican pouch.
Phoenix, a bald eagle badly burned by a power line.
Fishing tackle in pelican bill.