A Hitchhiker’s Guide to PRWC

A Hitchhiker’s Guide to PRWC

An alert Arcadia Florida resident picked up a hitchhiker last May.  While we do not generally encourage this sort of reckless behaviour, we are happy to report a positive outcome for this incident.  She found a fuzzy little “sandpiper” chick along the side of a busy road and attempted to hand raise it.  After three months she decided she should let the professionals take over and brought the fledgling to Peace River Wildlife Center.  The bird turned out to be a black-necked stilt, a species we do not often see here along the coastal waterways of Southwest Florida.  They are much more common around the Lake Okeechobee area.

 

We routinely see a plethora of the “usual suspects” in rehab here at PRWC.  Of the approximately 2,000 patients we admit annually, over 60% (1200) of them are in the most common eight species: raccoons, eastern cottontails, eastern grey squirrels, Virginia opossums, mourning doves, northern mockingbirds, common grackles, and gopher tortoises.  The remaining 800 individuals are an eclectic collection of over 120 other species.

 

While we are grateful that we are able to provide care for this unusual youngster, it would have been best for the rescuer to get it to us immediately after having found it.  PRWC is much more capable of providing proper nutrition and habitat for a growing bird or mammal to ensure his or her successful eventual release back into the wild.  We are also raising two juvenile opossums right now that presented with metabolic bone disease because people found them as infants and were trying to raise them at home on inappropriate diets.  The internet is a wonderful source of information.  Unfortunately not all of it is accurate.  If you want to help raise baby birds and mammals, please do so under the guidance of a trained and licensed rehabilitator.

 

The black-necked stilt is found in marshy areas and flooded pastures.  It is a relatively small bird with very long slender legs which allows it to find select morsels in deeper waters than other wading bird species.  It normally eats aquatic invertebrates and fish.  The female usually lays up to four eggs in her nest.  Nests have been found to contain more than four eggs and it is presumed that more than one female is sharing the nest because of the difference in patterns on the egg shells.

 

When the last of the eggs in a clutch hatches after an approximate 25 day incubation period, the entire brood will move away from the nest.  The precocial hatchling is capable of walking within one to two hours of birth.  After only 22 days the baby can make short hopping flights and sustained flight when a mere 30 days old.  These amazing birds have a ten year life span in the wild.

 

Hopefully our little stilt, “Wilt”, will be releasable.  He shows signs of delayed progress in his ability to fly, but no obvious physical pathology.  Like fellow hitchhiker Arthur Dent, he has already had many adventures and has at least another 42 to look forward to.

by–Robin Jenkins, DVM

MBD Opossum

Young Virginia opossum trying to overcome metabolic bone disease.

Coastal Cleanup 2014

Coastal Cleanup 2014

I will be out on the beach on Manasota Key this Saturday morning picking up trash.  That is how I spend every weekend that I can manage to get away from Peace River Wildlife Center.  The unusual thing about this weekend is that I will not be alone.  Not that I find myself strolling a deserted beach very often.  This weekend marks the 28th anniversary of the International Coastal Cleanup and I will be joined, at least in spirit, by kindred people from all over the globe.  According to Ocean Conservancy’s web site, “last year an astounding 648,015 volunteers in 92 countries picked up more than 12.3 million pounds of trash” in their respective sites.

The Coastal Cleanup is not offered as a solution to the problem of pollution, but rather as a snapshot of what is fouling the world’s waterways in a given moment in time.  People from around the area, across the country, and around the world will be pitching in to help protect the world’s oceans, lakes, and rivers.  This is a wonderful way to bring attention to the sheer volume of garbage that ends up in and near our waterways and the potential damage that can be done by all that waste.  I love this idea so much I don’t just do it once a year.  That is why I can often be found perusing the beach from Stump Pass Park to Blind Pass Beach with a bag in my hands.  While many of the people I pass have bags full of shells and shark’s teeth, my “treasures” are literally trash.

My family and friends find my pastime a little odd.  I can only imagine what passing strangers must think.  As a wildlife veterinarian I like to think of it as preventative medicine.  Every plastic bag I pick up is one less intestinal obstruction for a sea turtle that would have mistaken it for a delicious jellyfish.  Those burst helium balloons, released with the best of intentions to celebrate a wedding or honour the beloved deceased, with their dangling strings will not get wrapped around some poor bird’s feet, wings or beak—or worse yet, all three, as is often the case.  Each renegade fishing hook I discover is one less nasty puncture in the foot of a child frolicking in the surf.  I must have been Florence Nightingale in a previous life.  I’m kidding, of course.  I was a fly.

When people joke about reincarnation, they were always someone famous (or infamous).  Everyone was Betsy Ross or Hannibal Lecter.  No one was ever King Tut’s embalmer or just girl #3 sweeping floor.  If there is anything to this business of reincarnation and dim remembrances of past lives, I’m pretty I can follow my ascent to the top of the food chain.  My innate fear of spiders points to my aforementioned life as a fly, cut short to sustain a hungry arachnid.  I can commiserate with the rabbits in our care at PRWC as they flinch and jump at every loud sound because of my own intolerance for loud noises leads me to believe I spent time as one of “nature’s French fries”—a prey species that every other species likes to eat.  My poor eyesight was probably my undoing as a bird of prey.  I must not have spent any time as an elephant or surely my memory would be much sharper than it is.

As a human I try to be mindful of all other life forms with which we share this planet.  We are so fortunate here in Southwest Florida to share our home with many different species.  From alligators to tarpon, eagles to raccoons, and gopher tortoises to the plants lining the dunes of the beach, we must respect and protect them all.  They all serve a purpose and we have encroached on their territory, so try to be a good neighbor.

If you would like to get involved with a formal cleanup crew, Charlotte Harbor Environmental Center is meeting at Cedar Point Environmental Park in Englewood Saturday morning September  9/20 from 9-12.  Call them for more info at 941-475-0769.  Or join me for a bit of informal fun and walk the beach, a path, nature trail, or even your own neighborhood and pick up any litter you find.  Remember, we don’t  inherit the earth from our ancestors, we borrow it from our children.

 

by–Robin Jenkins, DVM

LAGU

A laughing gull entangled in improperly discarded fishing tackle.

top 10

Top 10 items found during Coastal Cleanup 2013

Eagle Soars Again

Eagle Soars Again

Some keep the Sabbath going to Church –

I keep it, staying at Home –

With a Bobolink for a Chorister –

And an Orchard, for a Dome –

Some keep the Sabbath in Surplice –

I, just wear my Wings –

And instead of tolling the Bell, for Church,

Our little Sexton – sings.

God preaches, a noted Clergyman –

And the sermon is never long,

So instead of getting to Heaven, at last –

I’m going, all along.

BY EMILY DICKINSON

  “Some keep the Sabbath” by Emily Dickinson, one of my favourite childhood poems, often echoes through my mind while working at Peace River Wildlife Center.  And quite often that work is being performed on a weekend.  Injured and orphaned animals need help on weekends and holidays too, so the staff and volunteers at PRWC don’t get to keep “banker’s” hours.  The events of a recent holiday weekend were no exception.   In April of this year a bald eagle was admitted with a wing injury.  A subluxation, or partial dislocation, of the elbow joint had grounded this youngster.  We estimated her age at approximately three years old since the dark feathers on her head and tail were mottled but not yet white and her beak was nearly completely yellow.  Most birds do not recover well from an injury like this.  In most cases the joint will freeze in place and since the wing cannot be bent and extended sufficiently, the bird can never fly again.  This is especially the case in a large bird like a bald eagle, the females of which weigh an average of 10 pounds.   With little hope of this bird’s eventual release, we immediately started looking for permanent placement for her.  It is always a challenge for us to find a facility that has met the strenuous criteria to be permitted to house an eagle, but does not already have one.  In the meantime, the eagle progressed from her hospital cage to an outdoor woodflight with a little more room.  When the time came that we needed the woodflight cage for other recovering patients, we got permission from USFW to move the young female in with our two permanent resident eagles, Bilfred and Arthur.  We are only permitted for two residents, but in extenuating circumstances have been allowed to temporarily house another eagle with them.  It helps us to find placement if we can tell the interested facility that the bird has been on public display and is calm, eats well, and handles life on exhibition without stress.  We do not keep birds that are anxious about being in captivity.  Our goal is to alleviate suffering, not induce it.   The last time we housed a juvenile eagle with our residents, she ended up being a bit of a bully.  She would hoard all of the food we placed in the habitat and would stake her claim to the best perches.  This time our old timers had had enough.  They started off by bullying the juvenile and showed no signs of getting accustomed to her being there.  She would often jump and flutter the entire length of the habitat, so we decided to place her in the 100’ flight cage to see just what she could do.   From the moment she was placed in the flight cage she could bound from one end to the other in three hops.  By the next day she could do it in two hops. Each day she got stronger.  Within days she was flying the entire 100 feet, but only one or two feet off the ground.  Soon she was three to four feet in the air.  Then she could fly up to the six foot perch.  After less than a month she was able to fly twenty feet up in the air, bank around and glide back and forth numerous times.   This young eagle had beaten the odds and was ready for release.  Since our flight cage is off-site, we enlist special volunteers to help with the feeding and care of these particular patients.  Some of our board members helped take care of this bird and were present for her release.  That sure beats sitting around a stuffy board room debating stock options and the price of futures.  Or whatever it is that board members at “real” companies do!  PRWC’s board of directors had a tangible influence on the actual future of this magnificent bald eagle, who is now soaring over Charlotte county again.   There were scattered showers on the afternoon of her release.  As we arrived at the site, the rain stopped.  As I took her out of her transport carrier, the sun came out.  She flew off into the distance, banked around a clump of trees and was gone from our sight.   Watching a bird, whether it is an eagle or a dove, fly away after it would have died from its injuries had we not intervened, is very gratifying.  Since many of those injuries are related to manmade incidents and devices, it is only fair that we help mitigate some of that damage.  THAT is why we do what we do.   So instead of getting to Heaven at last—I’m going all along.

 

by–  Robin Jenkins, DVM

BAEA at rest

Bald eagle with injured wing.

BAEA flying

Injured bald eagle exercising in cage.

BAEA flies away

Eagle flies away after release.

It’s Not The Heat

It’s Not The Heat

I’ll stop the world and melt with you.  While that is a catchy 80’s post-punk era tune, it is not a great way to spend a day at work.  Unfortunately, we can’t stop the world from delivering injured animals to us here at Peace River Wildlife Center, but it does feel like we are melting.  Our air conditioner is wheezing its last rattling gasp.  Mornings greet us with a breath of tepid air falling out of the vents like it doesn’t have the energy to cross the room, and the staff can relate.  By midday it is stifling in the hospital and office.  We often make up excuses to run outside for a breath of fresh air—and it is 98° in the shade out there!

4 Seasons Air Conditioning in Port Charlotte has been servicing our air conditioners for years at no charge.  Owner, Greg Hamilton, is a previous executive director of PRWC and has been a major supporter of the wildlife rehabilitation facility for many years.  Lest you think I am complaining about the manner in which his company maintains our units, be aware that the device in question is over 14 years old and runs nearly constantly in a very poorly insulated building.  Not long after a recent preventative maintenance visit, we noticed the coil was freezing up.  4 Seasons immediately sent out a service technician.  He did what he could to help the unit limp along, but declared that it was on its last leg.

Since PRWC is a nonprofit with no state or federal funding, we rely on donations to achieve our mission of getting injured and orphaned wildlife healthy enough to release back out into the wild.  Purchasing a new air conditioner would put a huge dent in our shoestring budget, but it is not optional equipment here in the Deep South.  Our staff members are not the only ones suffering from the heat.  Our most critical patients in the hospital need to be kept at a constantly regulated temperature.  Even our computers and electronics are starting to show signs of overheating.

Calls go out to many local air conditioning companies.  We need at least three quotes for the board of directors before we can get approval to spend such a relatively large amount of money.  Most of the companies are sympathetic to our cause and our needs and give us generous quotes ranging from $3,000 to $5,000.  4 Seasons went a step beyond the others.  Their sales manager, Valerie Hamilton, owner Greg’s daughter, called the manufacturer Goodman and explained the situation.  Goodman and 4 Seasons split the cost of a new unit and 4 Seasons provided all the labour to install it at no charge to PRWC.

Tyler Hamilton, Greg’s son, and Roger Lynn spend a grueling five hours installing the unit shoved into a tiny corner surrounded by a desk, a bookshelf and a freezer.  They endure stepping over rehabbers feeding baby birds and mammals, weaving around volunteers chopping fruits and veggies, and being brushed aside by the occasional emergency broken wing wrap.  Tyler and Roger not only install the new AC, but repair the structural problems in the floor, wall, and ducts that undoubtedly helped lead to the demise of the previous unit.

4 Seasons Air Conditioning is a wonderful example of a local company, owned and operated by a compassionate family that works together for the good of the community.  In the immortal words of Yogi Berra, “It’s not the heat, it’s the humility.”  From the delightfully cool office, we can genuinely say that PRWC is honoured to be the recipient of such benevolence.

 

by– Robin Jenkins, DVM

Valerie and Roger

Valerie Hamilton and Roger Lynn during the new AC installation at PRWC

new AC

The new AC unit, thanks to Goodman and 4 Seasons

old AC

The old AC unit

Batty for Bats

Batty for Bats

We have literally gone batty at Peace River Wildlife Center.  And I mean that, well, literally.  Not like OMGSuzie’s recent comment on a Facebook post, “I just literally cried my eyes out!!!!”  Because if she really had just cried so hard she lost both eyes, I’m impressed by her typing ability.  I didn’t think I looked at my keyboard as I was typing until I wore the letters off of some of the keys.  Now I apparently can’t type anything with the letters A,S,E,R,T,H, or N in it.

I Googled the phenomenon.  Apparently the black keyboards on laptops are prone to this problem, unlike the black letters on the white keyboards common to PCs and Macs.  The white “ink” on the black keys is not as hearty and the oils on your fingers (especially if you are munching on potato chips while writing your articles for the Charlotte Sun!) dissolve the letters.  I don’t want to put Court Nederveld (the Charlotte Sun’s computer guru) out of a job, so I’ll leave the technical stuff to the experts.  And if he promises never to try to explain the anatomy of a bat, I will never again attempt to resolve any of my plethora of computer problems.

PRWC takes in injured and orphaned wildlife and we have noticed over the years that many of the species we see are cyclical.  Of course we expect to see many baby birds in the spring and a lot of baby mammals during the summer.  But we have also noticed some years we see a dramatic increase in the number of a specific type of animal.  Last year we were inundated by gopher tortoises.  The year before it was opossums.  This year we are seeing many more bats than usual.

Bats’ breeding habits are similar to other mammals.  They have their babies in the late spring or early summer months.  For some reason, this year PRWC is getting in an inordinate amount of displaced baby bats.  Hopefully it is a good sign that the population as a whole is rebounding.  Most Florida bats prefer to roost in mature or dead trees, under palm fronds, or in Spanish moss.  A lot of this prime bat real estate is constantly being cleared by homeowners obsessed with that cover photo shot for House Beautiful or due to homeowner’s associations’ unrealistic rules that are harmful to the natural flora and fauna.

Bats are a beneficial species.  All 13 species of bats found in Florida are insectivores and a single bat eats his own weight in insects every night.  That equates to 3,000 insects per bat every night!  If you find a bat on the ground, an adult should pick it up using thick leather gloves or a towel.  (Children should always be discouraged from handling wildlife for the safety of the child and the animal.)  Place it in a box with the towel and call your local wildlife rehabilitator for further instructions.  A tree dwelling bat that may have been blown out during a storm can often be placed back into the tree at dusk.  If there are any injuries, the bat needs to be examined and treated by a licensed rehabber.

The Brazilian free-tailed bat is the most common bat found in Florida.  It is a colonial nester, preferring to roost in man-made structures—under Spanish roof tiles, bridges, and bat houses.  It has one pup in early June.  The adult wingspan is approximately 11 inches and the body is about two inches long.

The evening bat is a colonial nester, roosting under loose bark.  It usually has two pups in April through May.  Its size is similar to the free-tailed bat.

The Seminole bat is a solitary nester that likes Spanish moss.  This female will have three to four pups in May through June.  Size is also similar to the free-tailed bat.

The Florida bonneted (previously called Wagner’s mastiff) bat is a rare find.  It is Florida’s largest bat with a 20 inch wingspan and a body length of four inches.  It is a colonial nester that has one pup in June through September, but may have more than one cycle each year.  Preferring tree cavities, a colony has been observed just south of Punta Gorda.

While bats can get rabies and need to be handled accordingly, it is actually a rare occurrence.  Studies show that less than one percent of bats contract rabies and they usually die within three to four days.  Any mammal could potentially have been exposed to rabies, so never handle any wild animal without using appropriate precautions.  Always keep your pets vaccinated in case they should be exposed to wildlife.  And wash your hands before using your computer or you could end up with black keys—which is a bad thing.  Not to be confused with Black Keys, which is a great band.  But I’m not trying to take TJ Koontz’ (Charlotte Sun’s reporter on all that is new on the music scene) job either, so I’ll just get back to what I do best—as soon as I figure out what that is.

by–  Robin Jenkins, DVM

Wagner's Mastiff (Bonneted) Bat

Wagner’s Mastiff (Bonneted) Bat

Baby Evening Bat

Baby Evening Bat