Southwest Florida, you are welcome. I now have complete control over the weather and you can thank me for the ending the drought. In the past, all I had to do was plan a trip to the beach and it would guarantee rainy, chilly weather. Apparently, I now have additional bows in my precipitation quiver. Recently, any mention of the words “release” or “yardwork” are also met with a Noah-worthy deluge.
Peace River Wildlife Center is particularly busy at this time of year. We routinely admit 10 to 20 patients every day during spring and summer—with baby bird and mammal seasons in full swing, we are inundated with displaced, orphaned, and kidnapped babies of every species. We also see injured breeding adults, as they make the same ill-informed choices we did during our wistful youths, so intent on that one driving urge that they forget to watch for vehicles or dodge the chainsaw. With the drought now ebbing, many animals are moving from one location to another to find the ideal water source at just the right level, again indifferent to traffic and obstacles.
It is imperative that PRWC release any rehabbed animal as soon as it is ready to go, so that we can free up the minimal cage space we have for incoming patients. But lately, it seems as if all I have to do is utter the “R” word, and the storm clouds roll in. Releasing the babies we have tenderly cared for over the past few weeks to months is difficult enough under the best of circumstances, but kicking them out into a tropical storm is terrifying for them and for us.
Osprey healing from a fall from the nest on a blustery day
So, on a recent decent day, I found myself putting over 220 miles on my car, booting out all the releases I could. I went from Punta Gorda Isles to Charlotte Harbour to Murdock to Nocatee to Arcadia to Naples, releasing red-shouldered hawks, osprey, gopher tortoises, and song birds. The Grateful Dead have had shorter tours than that. FYI, that is roughly the same distance between Punta Gorda and Key West or Freeport, Bahamas—lovely destinations for a weekend getaway (traveling as the crows flies; your mileage may vary depending on how adamant you are about staying on paved roads, or roads at all for that matter.)
While some headway was made, I spent most of an entire day on the road. My next book will be a compendium of road etiquette. Use your turn signal, be polite and conscientious on the road, do not use your flashers in the rain, learn how to navigate a traffic circle and a four-way stop. I’m actually thinking of changing professions. I want to be a traffic officer so I can shoot people who don’t obey traffic laws (at least the ones I think are important.) That’s a thing, right? Can I at least shoot out their tires? This is why I don’t drive any more than absolutely necessary. I was road-raging long before road rage was cool.
Of course, by the time I got back to PRWC we had admitted 18 more patients to replace the 23 I had released. And so it goes. Not to mention, I had spent all of the good weather doing work-related chores. When I finally got home and tried to mow my back yard, I got two whole passes done before it started raining on me again. I’m going to need better weather or taller pets—my dachshunds are getting lost in the tall weeds of their dog yard. Now that I have mastered rain-making, maybe I will work on stopping the grass growing at precisely 2.5 inches using the power of positive thought. And maybe get that pet goat.
by- Robin Jenkins, DVM
It is definitely spring. Peace River Wildlife Center is being inundated by birds suffering from DBS. In all honesty, they don’t actually suffer from it as much as we do. DBS is Dumb Baby Syndrome. It is the equivalent of adolescent children getting into trouble by making poor life choices.
For instance, a girl-child might cut a turn short at the gas station and scrape the entire side of her car along the concrete pillar next to the gas pump. Not naming any names, but…true story. This is like when a fledgling bird prances around on the edge of her nest and falls out of the tree. The paint job can be buffed out and the bird can usually be placed back in her nest or on a near-by branch. No real harm done.
Sometimes the escapades are of a more serious nature. PRWC got an osprey in recently that had fallen from his nest. Unfortunately for this fledgling, his nest was atop a tall pole in the middle of a parking lot. Luckily, he didn’t get hurt, but we were reluctant to put him back in that nest. With no branches to slow another fall, he might not get so lucky if he were to fall a second time.
Reconnaissance of the nest area showed the parents still there taking care of another fledgling. That fledgling was flying to and from the nest, perching on neighboring sailboat masts (every boat owners dream!) The siblings usually start flying within a few days of each other, so we decided to keep “Geronimo” until he was able to fly well enough to avoid falling again.
Since the parents usually supplement the feeding of their offspring for a month or two in the vicinity of the nest, we were confident that we could return the fledgling osprey to his family in the week it would take him to become a stronger flyer. The diet of ospreys is 99% live fish, unique for hawks in North America. To facilitate catching and holding their prey, osprey have barbs on the pads of their feet and a reversible toe, resulting in two toes at the front and two at the back of the foot while grasping a fish. While catching fish is instinctual for the young osprey, there is a learning curve.
To say our young osprey guest was less than thrilled with the accommodations we offered him is putting it mildly. Every time we entered his area, he would throw himself on his back and stab at us with his considerable talons. We even placed him in a habitat with an adult osprey that had been in rehab for a couple months and had become relatively calm around us. Instead of the adult being a soothing influence on the juvenile, the opposite happened. The adult started getting wacky again.
I believe the scientific term for ospreys’ histrionics is freakazoid. That may or may not be an actual scientific term, but I believe it. Daily checks on the ospreys to clean and feed, resulted in proof that both could finally fly. After a day or two they discovered that a more effective home defense system than lying on their backs was to present talons aerially. They were both showing off their ability to hover, which is a remarkably effective way to snag fish from shallow water and a good way to get kicked out of a rehabilitation facility.
Geronimo was taken back to his family and when he was finally wrestled out of the transportation kennel, he flew off high and strong. Talking him into folding his wings to get out of the kennel door was a lengthy “conversation.” But once he was out, he did not hesitate to take off.
His adult roommate was also released after a longer-than-intended stay at PRWC. She was transferred from a wildlife rehab facility in Hampton Bays, NY this winter. She had been in rehab there and when it was time to release her, it was too late in the migratory season. Florida is one of the few places were ospreys live year-round.
The osprey was shipped to PRWC via Delta Dash for release here, but she proved not ready. No persistent injuries were apparent, but she seemed unable to fly high or hover. Maybe her babysitting duties were the kick in the pants she needed to encourage her to get back out in the real world. Maybe she thought she would spend the rest of her life lazing around eating fish off of a silver platter and when she realized we were going to put her to work, she decided to get un-retired very quickly. Sort of like when the adolescent grand-kids come to visit. Is that why so many grandparents are working these days? To avoid having to take care of those kids and their poor life choices?
by- Robin Jenkins, DVM