I’ll bet many of you didn’t even know we were expecting here at Peace River Wildlife Center. We didn’t know ourselves until Wildlife Center of Venice (WCV) called to ask if we could provide a permanent home for a fledgling barred owl that they had taken in and would not be able to release.
A few months ago, my hero, Kevin Barton of WCV, had performed his magic to re-nest a fallen nestling barred owl. The youngster had been admitted to WCV uninjured and the parents were still onsite at the nest. Kevin was able to climb the tree and plop the baby right back up there where he belonged.
Barred owls, with their distinctive “Who cooks for you?” call, were historically found on the east coast of the U.S., mainly in old-growth forests because they prefer to nest in natural cavities and hollows of mature and dead trees. As this type of habitat becomes scarce, they’ve adapted and will now nest in man-made structures like boxes or steal stick nests built by crows, hawks or even squirrels. They do not migrate and usually spend their entire lives within a six-mile radius. This species has been expanding north and west, into Canada and now down into northern California, where they are pushing northern spotted owls out of their habitat.
Breeding season in Florida is late January to March. Hatchling barred owls are born covered in white fluffy down, which is replaced in nestlings at two to three weeks by a secondary greyish-buff down. At six weeks, the fledglings start to get their adult feathers, beginning on the back, over the scapular or shoulder area. Then the abdomen, flanks, and upper breast get feathers, in that order. By four months of age the head will still be downy. The young barred owl will have complete adult plumage by six months.
By three weeks of age, a baby barred owl is normally moving around the nest and will snap his bill and lie on his back, presenting his talons, if threatened. At four to five weeks, the branching baby will perch on the edge of the nest and climb out onto nearby branches. If he drops to the ground, he can even climb back up his tree or a neighboring one using his talons and beak to dig in, while fluttering his wings to get to lower branches, and will remain there while his parents protect and feed him. The barred owl’s primary predator is the great horned owl, although raccoons can be a threat as well. And sometimes, even with the best of intentions, man can be nature’s worst enemy.
During a re-nesting, we normally ask the homeowners in the area to keep an eye on the baby and let us know if it falls out of the nest again. We will re-nest another time or two, but if it continues to end up on the ground, we assume there is either something wrong with the baby or there are larger siblings that will not allow the smaller one to eat and rest comfortably. I know that feeling, having had an older sister who used her height and weight advantages to torture me throughout our youth.
When WCV heard nothing more about the status of the barred owl, they assumed all was well. Until it wasn’t. At some point, they realized the homeowners were paying a little too much attention to the baby owl. Concerned that the parents weren’t feeding it enough, the people lured the owl down from the tree and fed it ground beef off of their shoes. I have heard some wacky advice people claim to have gotten from the internet, but that was a new one for all of us.
The owlet was taken back into rehab and placed with foster parent barred owls to try to wild him up again. But by then, the damage was done. He was too habituated to people and would never be able to live free. He would not know how to feed himself or associate with members of his own species.
Luckily, PRWC was able to obtain a permit to keep the owl as an education bird. He is currently learning the ropes as a glove-trained bird and will go to outreach events and greet visitors at the Center as soon as he is ready.
We believe his birth date to be in February of this year, making him about 5 months old now. A blood test showed the bird to be a male, so we are in the process of choosing a name for him. So far, we have had a few suggestions:
A little owl stares at a big world. Photo by Josh Olive
Orion—the constellation named after a hunter in Greek mythology.
Rigel—the brightest star in the Orion constellation.
Betelgeuse—(pronounced “beetle juice”) the second brightest star in the Orion constellation and one of the largest stars known (950 times as large as our sun.)
Shakespeare—because he is a barred (bard) owl.
If you have other suggestions, email us at PeaceRiverWildlife@yahoo.com or comment on our FaceBook page.
In the meantime, don’t forget to visit all of PRWC’s residents, who get a little lonely during the summer months. If you have extra time on your hands during the lazy, hazy days of summer, consider volunteering at PRWC. We need habitat cleaners, tour guides, gift shop clerks, and hospital helpers. It’s hot and dirty work, but you never know what will turn up in the course of a day. Around here, we always expect the unexpected.
by Robin Jenkins, DVM
In case you missed Fashion Week in Paris, do not despair. It’s time for Couture Week at Peace River Wildlife Center. This week we will be hosting a “Who Wore It Better?” campaign. As seen on Facebook (the harbinger of fashion sense worldwide, as well as the People of Walmart) we will compare a few fabulous creatures wearing the same apparel and leave it up to you to decide who wore it better.
A few weeks ago, someone donated a pair of pillowcases in a pretty pastel coral colour with a ruffled edge. I mentioned that it looked like a skirt and everything went downhill from there. Maybe we are all getting a little punch-drunk from the 20 admissions per day. Maybe it’s the lack of sleep from taking care of all the baby mammals in home care. But every now and then you just have to take a step back and laugh at yourself (or your fellow coworker, as the case may be.)
I took one of the pillowcases home and turned it into a skirt, leaving the other behind as a cage liner as intended by the donor. As luck would have it, I happened to have a blouse that matched it quite well, both in colour and style. I was feeling pretty plucky, and so decided to challenge the patients at PRWC to see if they could wear said garment with the same panache that I did.
First up is a gallant gopher tortoise. She throws the shrug over her shoulders and poses like a prima donna. She was admitted after having been hit by a car and has a fracture on her carapace (upper shell.) She is recovering nicely from her physical wounds (but may need some serious counselling if her friends and family see these pictures.) Luckily, this tortoise will be released soon, but not all are so fortunate. If you see a tortoise crossing a busy roadway, stop only if you can do so safely. Help the tortoise to the side of the road it was headed toward and place it as far from the shoulder of the road as possible.
Don’t hate the beautiful opossum
Our next model is a young Virginia opossum. “Don’t hate me because I’m beautiful,” she emotes. Many people fear opossums, but these mild-mannered creatures are extremely beneficial to the environment. They eat disease-carrying ticks and venomous snakes without getting injured. Due to their low body temperature, they do not carry many of the viral diseases that most mammals can get. Being naturally docile creatures, their primary mode of defense is to roll over and play dead, looking and smelling the part. So, while she may look lovely in her couture, I’m fairly confident that I smell better at least.
Our final contender is a pair of eastern cottontails working their adorable magic. They snuggle into the pleats like they belong there, making them their own. These two neonates were found in the middle of a fenced dog yard, in a shallow divot with a few blades of grass, a couple tufts of hair, and no mother.
Cottontails snuggle into the pleats
While that may sound like an inappropriate place for a rabbit nest, it is a common scenario. Mother rabbit does little to construct her nest and places it where she can observe potential predators coming at her new family from a distance. She only visits her nest twice a day to feed her young, to lessen the chances of predators following her to her babies. Unless they look dehydrated or injured (or not well-dressed), leave the bunnies alone.
We’ve all seen Hillary in her vacuum cleaner bag and The Donald facing off against an ear of corn and a troll doll. Now you get to decide who you think makes the best fashion statement at PRWC. Because with everything that is wrong with this country and the world today, fashion faux pas are definitely the biggest issues to focus on.
by-Robin Jenkins, DVM
Dr Robin sports her pillowcase pleats
“Have you tried turning it off and then back on again?”
I’m sure the on-call technicians for computer services get tired of hearing the same problem and giving the same advice over and over. The rehabbers at Peace River Wildlife Center have a similar challenge. Most of the calls we get at PRWC are pretty basic. If the caller is willing and able to follow our advice, the situation can usually be resolved quickly and to the benefit of both the caller and the animal.
“There was a bird or squirrel nest in the branch we cut off a tree.” “There were screech owls or woodpeckers nesting inside a dead palm we cut down.” “There were baby bats in the dead palm fronds we trimmed.” “ We patched a hole on our soffit and then found a family of raccoons living in our attic.” “There is a nest of baby bunnies in our dog yard.”
Our mantra is simple: Put the babies back. Whenever possible, we try to reunite the babies with their parents. Wild animals always do a better job raising their offspring than we can. In the event that mom has been killed or cannot be located, we do the best we can to raise the babies and get them back out into the wild—but there is no substitute for a mother’s love, attention, and education.
Whenever possible, take nesting seasons into consideration when doing household maintenance and yard work. Spring and summer are when most birds and mammals are raising their young. If you must trim, patch, remove, etc. please check for animals first before firing up the chainsaw, nail gun, or machete.
That being said, we do get some unique stories occasionally. This week it was a pileated woodpecker who was admitted after having had quite an adventure. The people that brought her in said she had flown into a spider web on their lanai, then fallen into the pool, and when they tried to release her outside, she got tangled in Spanish moss. We certainly don’t hear that story every day!
The pileated woodpecker is one of the largest woodpeckers in North America with a body length of up to 19 inches and a wingspan of almost 30 inches. It is readily identifiable by its large blackish body, white stripes along the sides of its head, and a shock of bright red plumage at the crest, from which its name derives. The female has a red crest starting just above her forehead, while the male’s crest goes from the top of the beak to the nape of his neck. He also has a red “mustache” at the edges of his bill.
The long, strong, chisel-like bill is proficient at drilling into dead and dying trees. The pileated makes distinctive rectangular-shaped holes in rotting wood, up to a foot in length. It has been known to cut a smaller tree in half with its aggressive pecking after ants and other woodboring insects.
These large excavations can attract other species as feeding and nesting sites. In this way, the pileated is considered a keystone species—one that has a disproportionately large effect on its environment relative to its abundance. Other woodpeckers and songbirds often feed at the site of a pileated excavation. Screech owls, wood ducks, and other cavity nesters, even small mammals, will use the site for breeding purposes.
The pileated’s appetite for woodboring insects can help control forest beetle populations that could be detrimental to the health of woodlands. And its proficiency at tearing apart rotting wood helps to accelerate decomposition and nutrient recycling, helping to make the forests even healthier for new growth.
Our young female woodpecker patient appeared to be a little neurological upon admission. She had suffered mild head trauma trying to get out of the lanai. She was frantic and uncoordinated when admitted, but soon calmed down. After a couple days of rest and symptomatic treatment, she was stronger and able to fly again.
She was taken back to the area from which she came for release. Her parents will still be in the area, since pileated pairs maintain their territory throughout the year. The young are cared for through autumn of their birth year, before striking out for a new territory to call their own.
While our little girl is old enough to fly and feed herself, she definitely needs some guidance from her parents. A video of her recent escapades would have looked like an audition reel for a revamp of the “I Love Lucy” show, redhead and all. We have dubbed her “Grace” and hope she can stay out of trouble.
by- Robin Jenkins, DVM
I usually try to avoid political discussions in this weekly forum, but it is getting to the point where that is impossible. The illegal aliens have infiltrated Peace River Wildlife Center and we demand that the wall be constructed immediately, if not sooner between our esteemed country and that of our insidious neighbor.
No, I am not seeing little green men again. The immigrants to which I refer are from the planet Canada. Apparently, the health care system in that nefarious country is so bad there that even their wildlife has to come to Florida for treatment.
PRWC admitted a surf scoter that was found on the ground, unable to walk well. Of course, being a medium-sized sea duck, it I would be more of an anomaly if he could walk well on land.
This unusual bird breeds in northern Canada and Alaska and winters along both the Pacific and Atlantic coastlines, never far inland. Punta Gorda is at the far southern edge of their natural winter-grounds habitat. This young adult male bird was brought to us by concerned citizens who were understandably confused about the bird’s identity and health.
Surf scoters should be well ensconced in their far northern breeding grounds by May and have their nests built and eggs laid by early June. This little outlier is not only in the wrong place, but in the wrong time as well. While it is not incorrect to assume there must be something wrong with him, his actions are not completely out of the ordinary.
Young surf scoters and other non-breeding adults do not necessarily return to their breeding grounds. However most of them do spend summers in more northern locales like New Jersey and on the west coast. It’s understandable why this little guy decided to stay in southwest Florida. It always amazes me that anyone from Canada returns home after a visit here, and don’t even get me started on New Jersey!
After the breeding pair returns to the breeding grounds, builds their nest, and lays their eggs; the male departs. The female is solely responsible for incubation of the eggs. As soon as the brood hatches, she leads her precocial chicks to a nearby pond to begin feeding on aquatic invertebrates. The new mothers are not territorial as far as their broods go, and it is not uncommon to have an exchange of young between mothers.
Outside of the breeding grounds, surf scoters are usually found out at sea. They dive to feed on fish spawn and mussels, which they swallow whole, shell and all. They usually occur in large flocks, sleeping and feeding in synchronous shifts to facilitate food gathering and safety.
PRWC’s patient surf scoter was little weak on admission. His waterproofing was poor, which is another indication of suboptimal health. He is being treated symptomatically for dehydration and is eating well. After cage rest in the hospital, he will be transferred to an outdoor habitat where we can monitor his progress and decide on his future deportation status. Unlike some heartless politicos in this country, we want to make sure this little guy is healthy before we return him to the wilds of an inhospitable country like Alaska.
by- Robin Jenkins, DVM
Are you a litterbug? Sure you are—we’ve all been there. Tossed a cigarette butt out of the car window. Had a plastic Publix bag whip out of the boat as you get up on plane. Released helium balloons in celebration of a wedding or memorial of a loved one. But these seemingly insignificant acts that can actually have life-threatening consequences. The detritus we humans strew about this planet is a grave danger to the other inhabitants.
Peace River Wildlife Center admitted an adult sandhill crane with an injury to her upper beak. People in the neighborhood where she lived had been reporting her for over a week, but as long as she could still fly, it was difficult to catch her to assess the damage. Eventually, someone was able to corral her into a small area and she was caught up and brought to PRWC.
Unfortunately, there was nothing we could do for her, other than put her out of her misery. She had a small, grey, rubbery gasket around her upper beak. It had probably been on the ground where she was feeding and she speared the soil through it, looking for insects. As she fed, it wedged higher and tighter up her beak, toward her eyes, until it constricted the blood flow.
By the time she was admitted, most of the upper beak was dead. While the tip of the beak may mend or regrow, an injury at that level will never heal. She was left unable to feed herself and would die a slow death in the wild, eventually being set upon by predators as she got weaker.
PRWC and many other facilities have tried using prosthetics on birds for this sort of injury, as well as missing legs and other body parts. Success has been variable, depending on the species of bird and the reason for and site of the injury. A wild animal could never be released with a prosthetic on. Constant remodeling of the tissue to which the appliance is attached means the fitting has to be adjusted over time. The stump can also be a source of discomfort and infection that must be closely monitored.
So, why not keep her in captivity? This is an ethical question that we deal with on a daily basis. Being licensed by U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (migratory birds), U.S. Dept. of Agriculture (mammals), and Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission (all Florida native wildlife); PRWC is often not at liberty to make that call. There are specific guidelines by the regulatory federal and state agencies regarding what types of injuries are considered inhumane for a bird or mammal to live with. Some of our current residents were rehabbed before recent rules came into effect and have been grandfathered in.
A good case in point is Lucy, our resident turkey vulture. She had a broken bone in her wing that required amputation at the shoulder. This type of surgery is no longer permitted. If we are unable to preserve at least half of the humerus, we must euthanize the bird. This is necessary for balance issues, to give the bird a good quality of life. We often find Lucy on her back, unable to right herself. If she were to fall when no one is present, she could exhaust or hurt herself trying to get up. Should she fall into her water bowl, she could drown.
Luckily, in the more than 20 years Lucy has been with us, none of the numerous times we have had to “rescue” her from herself has proved life-threatening. We have made as many accommodations to her habitat as possible and all of our volunteers help us keep a close eye on her. As she has age, she has gotten less comfortable around the public and startles more easily. (Lucy and I have so much in common!) We moved her farther off display to a more secluded habitat and she is more comfortable there.
The sandhill crane with the injured upper beak would not have been suitable as an educational resident bird and could not be released. Her demise was ultimately due to a tiny piece of trash. Someone was doing some kind of repair and didn’t realize they had dropped the tiny gasket or couldn’t find it. It was only a half-inch round and a quarter-inch thick. What possible damage could something so small do?
It cost one bird her life, and could possibly have negatively impacted more of them. If she had a colt or two (baby sandhill cranes are called colts), they may not survive the fledgling period that they would be experiencing at this time of year without her. Hopefully their father will be able to raise them by himself. (Hats off to single fathers everywhere.)
What can we all do to prevent this type of situation? Take care not to litter, intentionally or not. Be mindful of the trash you see on your travels through your neighborhood. Plastic bags, deflated balloons, pieces of ribbon, Styrofoam cups, and just about anything that can be mistaken for food by an animal or trap and entangle them, can cause irreparable harm. Pick it up and throw it away, please. You’ll sleep better at night, and some unsuspecting animal might get the chance to wake up the next day thanks to you.
by-Robin Jenkins, DVM
A sandhill crane with a necrotic beak caused by a constriction