Bitter ‘Nole Precedents and Bittern New Residents

Bitter ‘Nole Precedents and Bittern New Residents

A quick recap of the Bowl Season—UF Gators won and FSU Seminoles lost.  I realize their Rose Bowl loss is the Seminoles’ only loss of the season and the Gator’s Birmingham Bowl win was practically their only win of the season.  If any Seminole fans out there feel the need to rub our Gator noses in that, please refer to the first sentence.  We can now all become honourary Oregon Duck fans to cheer on an amazing group of kids who have played some pretty amazing ball this year.  I think we should name Peace River Wildlife Center’s new resident wood duck Mariota in honour of the Duck’s (and maybe future Tampa Bay Buccaneers’!) quarterback, Marcus Mariota.

 

For those of you who are wondering why I am writing about sports this week instead of wildlife, may I remind you that I did indeed talk about ducks and alligators in my opening salvo?  And that I am actually no more qualified to write about wildlife than I am sports, theater, or cooking.  However, that has never stopped me before, and I don’t want to set a precedent.

 

Over the last couple weeks I have introduced PRWC’s new resident wood duck and little blue heron.  Another new resident at PRWC is an American bittern.  As a winter-only resident of Southwest Florida, this medium-sized heron with a distinctive appearance is a thrilling addition to our family.  The vertical stripes of brown, black, and white help the bird to blend in to his freshwater wetlands habitat.  This colouration camouflage is his main crypsis.  Crypsis is an ecological term for the ability to avoid observation.  It can be accomplished by camouflage (many species), time of day of activity and feeding (nocturnal animals), location of burrow or nest (underground), transparency (jellyfish) and mimicry (moths).  The bittern’s deep booming call could be considered a form of auditory crypsis.  It is often difficult to locate the origin of the far-carrying call, giving it a ventriloquist-like quality.

 

The bittern’s camouflage helps him avoid detection while hunting prey.  He feeds on insects, amphibians, small fish and rodents.  In his northern breeding habitat he will frequent freshwater wetlands.  He winters near southern waters (that’s us!) because of the more temperate climate and can even be seen in brackish marshes during that time.  The bittern is a solitary feeder, standing still in or near shallow water and striking quickly when he sees prey.  While he can be seen eating any time of the day, he is generally a crepuscular hunter.  He stalks his prey during the low light of dawn and dusk.  (Did someone get a word of the day calendar from Santa?)

 

This Friday, January 9, 2015 PRWC will hold our monthly Sunset Celebration from 4-6p.m. at our facility.  It is a great time to check out the resident birds, learn a little more about PRWC, and witness a spectacular sunset over Charlotte Harbour.  Come down and help us think of crazy names for our newest residents.  We may even entertain suggestions for other names for our wood duck in case you don’t like Mariota.  The name, not the player.  Who could hate that kid?  Unless you are a ‘Nole fan.

by-Robin Jenkins, DVM

American Bittern

American Bittern

A Little Blue Over The Holidays

A Little Blue Over The Holidays

Happy new year to all!  What better way for Peace River Wildlife Center to start a new year than with some new additions to our resident animal ambassadors?  We now have a little blue heron in our shorebird habitat, and we are quite happy about it.  (Upcoming articles will detail other new residents.)

The little blue heron is a small to medium sized bird.  It is unique in that the juvenile is a completely different colour than the adult.  For the first year of its life, the little blue has white feathers on its body and yellow-green legs.  This age-related colour morph helps the youngsters to blend in with the other birds while it hangs out with a flock of snowy egrets.  The snowys are less likely to attack the interloper because it looks so much like their own offspring.

The all-white little blue benefits by being able to find more food than a solitary juvenile would.  The egrets often display a frenetic energy when foraging for food.  They will thrash about with wings spread and run back and forth in the shallows to stir up prey.  The little blue in contrast, will stand still with head held just above the water’s edge and dart down to grab a small fish or amphibian as it swims by.  Another advantage to this arrangement is the decreased chance of being picked off by a predator in the midst of a congregation of egrets than a lone bird would have.

At its first molt darker blue feathers start to appear in a patchwork of colour, giving it a tie-dyed appearance.  When mature the bird will have a slate blue body, purplish head, yellow eyes and greenish grey legs.  The little blue’s colours have been described as moody blues, from which her name, Sojourn, has been derived.  (Seventh Sojourn was the Moody Blues’ 7th album for those of you who were born too early or late to know anything about good music and don’t get that obscure reference.)

The adult little blue will be a solitary bird until breeding season, when it will nest in groups of other little blues at the edges of egret colonial breeders’ rookeries.  An interesting note about the feet of a little blue—it has teeth-like structures along the edge of the long middle toe that it uses like a comb during grooming.  This is called a pectinate toe and is found in a few other members of the egret/heron/bittern family.  Also oddly enough barn owls and night hawks have these structures although in many other ways they are they quite dissimilar species.

Webster’s (oh, who am I kidding—Wikipedia, does anyone pick up a dusty old paper dictionary anymore?) defines sojourn as a temporary stay.  Our little Sojourn arrived at PRWC as a transfer from the Wildlife Center of Venice.  She had suffered a broken wing that healed, but left her unable to fly well enough to be released.  After her temporary stays in the wild and at WCV we hope that she will be with us here at PRWC for a good long time.  Stop by from 11a.m. to 4p.m. to see this colourful new addition to our family and the over 100 other birds on display daily at PRWC.

by- Robin Jenkins, DVM

Little blue heron in the wild

Little blue heron in the wild

Sojourn, PRWC's little blue

Sojourn, PRWC’s little blue

What’s Up, Duck?

What’s Up, Duck?

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

Wood Duck

Wood Duck, male and female

Wood Duck, male and female

Team Bella vs Team Luna

Team Bella vs Team Luna

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

Ria Grasman with Luna

Callie Stahl with Bella the Great Horned owl

Callie Stahl with Bella the Great Horned owl

Dirty Laundry

Dirty Laundry

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

Whip-poor-will with a broken wing

Injured cormorant

Injured cormorant