Birds and Squirrels and Bears, Oh My!

Birds and Squirrels and Bears, Oh My!

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

Pickles’ Precarious Predicament

Pickles’ Precarious Predicament

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

Pickles the raccoon, free

Luna, horns up

Luna, horns up

PRWC Gift Shop

PRWC Gift Shop

A Tale of Three Birds

A Tale of Three Birds

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

Snowy Egret

Snowy Egret

American Coot

American Coot

Flatwoods Eagle, Flat Out

Flatwoods Eagle, Flat Out

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.

Flatwoods eagle recovering in cage.

Eagle perching in outdoor cage.

Eagle perching in outdoor cage.

Trick or Treat–Raccoon on the Roof

Trick or Treat–Raccoon on the Roof

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!

I can’t look, tell me when it’s over!