It’s Thursday again. We all know what that means. As soon as we get done reading our favourite authors’ articles in the Waterline section of the Charlotte Sun, we log onto Facebook for TBT. That’s ThrowBack Thursday— a weekly ritual where old friends post really old pictures and we get to reminisce about Farrah Fawcett hairdos and other unfortunate fashion fads. I love seeing baby pictures of people I would never have thought could have ever been that cute. I like the pictures of grandpa with his first car, a childhood friend blowing out the candles on her sweet 16 birthday cake, and puppy pictures of the grizzled old lab who can barely get up to greet you when you walk in the door now.
This week’s stroll down Memory Lane takes me back to my first hicky. I know for a fact that it happened on a Thursday. It happened last Thursday to be precise. And I got it from a baby raccoon. This stuff is too weird to be fiction. A young couple found a baby raccoon, barely a few days old, at the base of a tree. They watched from a distance for the mother to come and reclaim the baby. When she didn’t, they wrapped the neonate in a towel and brought it to Peace River Wildlife Center.
Upon initial exam it was noticed that the baby raccoon had a large swelling on the left side of her abdomen. Since it could have been traumatic in nature from the fall from the tree, she was given an anti-inflammatory and a fairly poor prognosis. The rehabber on duty offered the baby raccoon a bottle with dilute raccoon formula and she inhaled it. Normally baby raccoons are difficult to transition onto a bottle, but this little girl was a fighter with a strong will to live. And she was hungry!
The next day, x-rays showed no broken bones, but the swelling on her side was due to a massive hernia. Her entire intestinal tract was just under the skin because the muscular abdominal wall on that side had a large hole in it. She was taken to surgery with little hope of surviving the ordeal. Anesthesia on a neonate is risky business and the chances of her intestines having been damaged by the injury or during the surgery itself were high. Luckily the intestines appeared to be healthy, but would they continue to function correctly after the major surgery? And can we keep her free from infection?
She not only survived the surgery to repair the hernia, but woke up hungry. She was eating and peeing immediately after surgery, but the big question was whether or not she could poop. Nobody gets as excited over a little raccoon poop as a wildlife rehabilitator. When she finally pooped the next day, we practically threw a party—a pooper party, not to be confused with a party pooper. And speaking of parties, back to the hicky incidence.
After bottle feeding the baby raccoon, I have to burp her, just like a human baby. Well, a little differently because she is only about 6 inches long and weighs only 4 ounces. I usually hold her in one hand and gently pat her back with the other. But at PRWC having two free hands is a luxury. So I rested her on my shoulder while answering the phone. The next thing I knew, she had latched on to my neck looking for her bottle. I immediately pulled her away, but her strong suction caused a loud THUP and, yes, a tiny but obvious hicky.
These things are difficult enough to explain to a curious husband upon returning home from work after a hectic day. Even more entertaining is seeing the look on my teenage daughter’s face while I explain it in front of a group of her friends. The horrified expression on her face is a picture I’d like to post on Facebook. ThrowBack Thursday. Maybe she can remember the good old days before her parents became an endless source of embarrassment.
– By Robin Jenkins
Racoon baby pre-op
Baby raccoon post-op
I’m baaaack. For those of you who missed me, thanks for the well-wishes and for constantly interrupting my recent vacation to tell me you want me to write more articles. Obviously, absolutely nothing has been happening at Peace River Wildlife Center worth writing about. We haven’t had any cute patients admitted. (Okay, except for these two common gallinules which are adorable.) And we certainly haven’t had any interesting releases. It’s a little difficult to single out any one incident when we have released almost 100 birds and mammals over the past few weeks alone. (But that is exactly what I am going to do.)
This spring PRWC had four red shouldered hawk fledglings fall out of their nests. We tried to re-nest two of them, but they ended up right back at our facility after falling out again within a day or two. So we set them all up together to wait until they were old enough to be released. At first they had to be force fed. Then they started to eat on their own. Eventually, before release, we had to live prey train them to be sure they can fend for themselves in the wild. One of our rescue volunteers, Bill Kimber, got to do the honours with this hawk. The bird was taken back to the area from which it was rescued and released safely back into the wild.
As an avid nature photographer, Bill was a frequent visitor at PRWC. He was finally convinced by our tour guide coordinator, Jan Cummings (she can be very persuasive!) to come on board as a tour guide. After all, it’s only one day a week for a few hours. What could possibly go wrong? Bill could be the poster child for exactly why one never wants to ask that question.
Innocently enough, Bill started volunteering at PRWC almost a year ago as a tour guide. Soon after that he and his wife, Elaine, took a class on wildlife rescue. They now go on many rescues for PRWC when people find wildlife in distress, but are unable to bring the animals in for treatment. With Elaine as a “decoy”, his first rescue was a burrowing owl. Now, with close to 80 rescues under their collective belt, Bill and Elaine are two of our most trusted rescuers, claiming that “doing a capture and then a successful release gives us a great deal of joy and celebration.”
Our small staff, usually consisting of one rehabilitator and one office clerk, is unable to leave their posts to go out and pick up injured wildlife. We are lucky to have dedicated volunteers like Bill to help with rescues and we can always use more. If anyone is interested in learning how to safely rescue injured wildlife, call PRWC or information on upcoming classes.
But Bill’s service to PRWC doesn’t stop there. He is a newly elected member of our board of directors. Hoping to put his experience as a Florida Master Naturalist and an avid fisherman to good use in the pursuit of PRWC’s goal to treat and rehabilitate injured and orphaned wildlife and release them back into the wild, Bill’s love of the outdoors should serve him well as he helps PRWC transition to the next level of its existence.
Peace River Wildlife Center has grown and changed over the past 30 years, but one thing remains constant. We continue to attract some of the best people who selflessly give their time and talents to help further the mission of wildlife rehabilitation. We are indebted to all of our past volunteers for making us what we are today. And we are grateful to our current and future volunteers as we look forward to what we will become in the not-too-distant future.
– By Robin Jenkins
Releasing a Red Shouldered Hawk
Everyone handles Empty Nest Syndrome differently. My only child is a senior at Charlotte High School this year and, as such, is getting ready to graduate. She attended her prom last week (wearing a dress I thought might cause her father to have a heart attack) and will be packing off to the University of Central Florida this coming fall (along with 60,000 of her closest friends).
In the past 12 years I have been a homeroom mom, uniform mom, teacher’s assistant, library assistant, office assistant, band mom, cookie baker, field trip chaperone, and have provided support to just about any other endeavor asked of me by the public school system. I have enjoyed not only being close to my daughter, but watching all of her classmates grow from the cute little troublemakers that they were, to the respectable adults they are on the verge of becoming.
And that one inevitable big troublemaker. In days past, he would have ended up a politician or a felon. Luckily for him, he no longer has to choose between the two. Seems like all of the former now end up as the latter eventually. So am I making plans to turn her bedroom into a sewing room or an art studio? No, my empty nester issues run much deeper than that. Especially at this time of year. Not graduation time, but baby season.
I do not suffer from Empty Nest Syndrome, I celebrate it! Every week or so we get to release a group of baby rabbits, raccoons, squirrels, opossums, or birds that the foster mothers at Peace River Wildlife Center have raised. PRWC takes in 10-20 baby animals each day during the months of April through June. When we are able to release a handful of juveniles, those incubators and cages fill right back up with new incoming babies.
Some of the situations that bring these babies to a wildlife rehabilitation facility are avoidable. Spring is historically breeding season for many birds and mammals. Please check your shrubs and trees closely before trimming or cutting them down. Even (especially!) dead palm trees should be checked, as they make wonderful nesting sites for woodpeckers and screech owls.
If an active nest is found, please wait a few weeks until the eggs have hatched and the babies have fledged before cutting down the tree or trimming the branches. I have had dead cabbage palms in my yard for years before they fall over on their own. And by that time they are so rotted and hollow that they weigh very little, and they have been prime real estate for many generations of birds to raise their young. Often young birds and mammals are brought to us by mistake. A fledgling bird (one that has started to replace his downy fluff with normal flight feathers) can be returned to the nest or a nearby branch if found on the ground.
Baby squirrels that have fallen out of the nest will usually be taken back up into the nest by their mother, or if the entire nest has been blown down, she will relocate the family. If you hire a trapper to get a raccoon out of your attic, make sure he checks to see if the adult is a female, if she is lactating, and if he can also get to and remove her babies, keeping the family together for relocation.
Probably 90% of the baby eastern cottontail rabbits and whitetail deer we get are actually “kidnapped.” The mother rabbit nests in a shallow dip, lined with a few grass clippings and a bit of her fur, often in the middle of a mown lawn or field. That way she can see predators coming from a distance and dart off, leading danger away from her babies. She will return to the nest only once or twice a day to feed her young. The same principal holds true for deer. The mother
will wander off to graze, leaving the spotted fawn alone for long periods of time.
She will return to nurse the fawn if there is no threat around, like a human standing there trying to “rescue” the “orphaned” fawn. Both of these species fare much better raised by their own mothers, so unless they are obviously injured, please leave them where you found them. If you find a baby bird or mammal that has suffered some sort of trauma, is bleeding, has a broken bone, or has been inside of a dog’s or cat’s mouth; definitely transport that animal, as gently and quickly as possible, to PRWC for treatment.
If you have any questions, call ahead and we can generally determine if the animal might need help or if it would be better off left alone with its parents. As for the “nests” being freed up by graduating high school students, I don’t have much advice, other than to offer my condolences to all the sad mothers out there.
And if you find yourselves with too much time on your hands, stop by PRWC and we can hook you up with some babies who scream to be fed every 10 minutes, leave the floors of their “bedrooms” a complete mess, and never, ever say thank you. You will feel like that teenager of yours has moved right back in. Or it will be a wonderful reminder of just how grateful you are that he moved out in the first place.
– By Robin Jenkins DVM
Who knew a Sandhill crane with a crooked smile could warm your heart? During this busy spring season, we accepted hundreds of animals but one in particular stands out. On May 6, 2013 one of our experienced wildlife rescuers, Sam Custer, went out to investigate a report of an injured Sandhill crane in Punta Gorda. When she arrived, one juvenile crane was trapped in a fence with his parents and sibling nearby.
Sam rescued the trapped crane but then noticed the other juvenile crane had a beak that was crisscrossed. Since his deformed beak would inhibit the ability to feed himself, Sam rescued him too. The crane trapped in the fence sustained spinal trauma and unfortunately did not survive. However, the crisscrossed patient was another story. Since he was only a juvenile when found, the crisscrossed beak most likely was a birth defect and not an injury.
Due to his disability, he was deemed non-releasable and became a new member of our resident crane flock. In addition to his beak, he also developed another issue when his right ankle became permanently swollen. His strut is a little awkward but don’t let that fool you because he can outrun our adult cranes. Our lead rehabber, Cara Brown, named him “Chickie-pants” (don’t ask me, but somehow it works).
Our resident adult cranes were not too excited to have a youngster moving in and they are still adjusting. You will notice if you visit the center that Chickie is the most curious and spunky of our cranes. He is every volunteer cleaner’s assistant when they are working around the pelican pond. Come visit Chickie-Pants and see how a young crane with a crazy smile will bring a smile to your face!
– By Amy Rhoads
Some mothers are nurturing and selfless. My mother was not that mother. (Not her fault, that’s just the way children were treated by her generation.) Some mothers raise self-reliant children and never laugh when their children get hurt. I am not that mother. (Not my proudest moment, but a funny story for a later time.) Some mothers love unconditionally and will always accept their children back. Wally’s mother is not that mother.
Wally, as we have dubbed the juvenile sandhill crane that was hit by a car in front of the Punta Gorda Wal-Mart on April 18th, has been returned to his home territory. His broken leg healed comparatively quickly and although it is not perfectly straight, it is stable enough for him to walk on it. After an absence of only four weeks, Wally was reunited with his family. The parents and sibling’s whereabouts were monitored during his recovery and as soon as he was deemed ready for release, he was taken to a field where they were grazing.
The heartwarming reunion we had hoped for turned into a disappointing cold shoulder when Wally approached his family. The other juvenile pecked him on the head. Then the mother pecked him on the head. Not to be the odd man out, the father then pecked Wally on the head. At that point Wally hustled out of their immediate vicinity. As long as he remained in the periphery of where they were grazing, they tolerated his presence. Whenever he tried to get too close to them, they chased him off a short way.
Sandhill cranes often lay two to three eggs, but rarely raise more than one chick to fledging. It may have actually been beneficial for Wally to have spent some time at PRWC while recovering from his wounds. The parents may have rejected him even if he hadn’t been separated from them and his short time away helped him to become more independent. While in captivity he was paired with one of our resident cranes, Chickie Pants, who kept him from being fatally stressed and showed him the ropes—eating crane kibble out of a bucket, exercising by pacing up and down a narrow corridor, etc.
Wally may not have been accepted back into the fold of his family, but if he remains in the area with them, he will learn all that he needs to know to be a successful crane by watching them from a short distance. He can already fly and is familiar with the territory, so this is definitely the best chance he has at a normal life. If he remains in captivity much longer he risks physical and psychological damage that would be irreversible.
Every release by PRWC is bittersweet. We always want what is best for everyone. Sometimes it is not always easy to tell when it is time to let go. During those times, it takes an act of faith that everything will work out the way it should. In the words of one of my favourite philosophers, John Lennon,“Everything will be okay in the end. If it’s not okay, it’s not the end.”
– By Robin Jenkins DVM