Under Water

Under Water

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

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

Saving two birds with one bone

Saving two birds with one bone

My (doctor’s imposed) New Year’s Resolution is to modify my diet.  During a recent check-up, I was given a list of things I should not eat.  It includes everything I consider edible:  caffeine, carbonated beverages, alcohol, milk, chocolate, spicy, fried, fatty, and fast foods.  That pretty much sums up my complete diet.  What else is there?  Mashed potatoes?  No, that has butter and cream.  I’m at a loss.  This diet may help resolve my symptoms, but it will definitely kill two birds with one stone—unfortunately, one of those “birds” is a Robin.

While it’s an efficient method for solving problems, killing two birds with one stone is not necessarily the easiest way to take out a raptor and a wading bird.  But then neither were the pellets that were fired into two of Peace River Wildlife Center’s recent patients.

On November 28, a wood stork was admitted to PRWC with a bloody, drooping wing.  Found next to a roadway, we initially suspected he had been clipped by a car, but x-rays showed what appeared to be a single shotgun pellet in the wing and a broken bone.  The bird was most likely shot out of the air or off of a high perch and fractured his left ulna in two places upon impact with the ground.

A few weeks later, on December 12, a red-shouldered hawk was admitted with a suspected gunshot wound.  Again, x-rays showed a pellet–this time from an air rifle– near an impact fracture.  The left ulna of this bird was also involved, but the nature of the fracture is likely due to the pellet itself.  A high-velocity, focal impact caused the bone to shatter into many fragments.

Birds’ wing bones are similar to those of our forearms.  Both species have two bones, a radius and an ulna, next to each other in that part of the arm or wing.  While the larger bone in a mammal’s arm (or front leg) is the humerus, the ulna is the larger bone in a bird.  Both the hawk and the stork had their larger, ulna fractured in more than one place, but their radius bones were intact.  With little displacement and an internal stabilizing force, the broken bones were treated with a splint.

After a few weeks of stabilization, the bones were fused.  Since birds have to be as lightweight as possible for flight, their bones are hollow.  This gives them one medical advantage over mammals:  The thin bones heal much faster than our solid bones.  After some physical therapy and flight testing, both birds were deemed ready for release. 

For better or worse, the birds were taken back to the areas from which they came.  Since these were singular incidents from two different neighborhoods and two different types of ammunition, the birds are not considered to be at risk of being shot again.  Hopefully, the assailants have learned a valuable lesson and will not repeat these heinous deeds on another animal or escalate the violence to include other people.

Both patients did well in our care at PRWC.  They were both fairly calm in captivity while being handled and medicated on a daily basis.  Unlike some highly anxious birds, these two were able to eat on their own, which not only reduces further stress, but helps immensely with the healing process. 

A good plain of nutrition is the backbone for health.  I know what to feed the birds in our care.  Now, if only I could figure out what to feed myself.

by- Robin Jenkins, DVM

Wood stork x-ray

Wood stork x-ray

The sky is falling!

The sky is falling!

I don’t know if anyone else noticed, but I’m pretty sure the planet tilted on its axis a little more than usual a couple weeks ago.  Or perhaps it was the reverberations of Captain America and Iron Man throwing entire cities at each other.  Whatever the cause, during the past few weeks at Peace River Wildlife Center, we have been inundated with animals falling out of the sky.  While it is not unusual for baby birds to tumble out of their nests at this time of year, we have taken in numerous adult squirrels and birds that have hit the ground right in front of people for no apparent reason.  And, of course, lots and lots of baby birds that have suffered the same fate.

One particular group of gravitationally-challenged avians is our cast of red-shouldered hawk fledglings.  No, they are not starring in Joss Whedon’s next Marvelous movie; a group of hawks or falcons is called a cast.  If they are in flight, the group is referred to as a kettle; and if the kettle happens to be spiraling, that’s called a boil.  Mmm, boiling kettle…now I want a cup of tea.  Try to focus here, people.  We’ve got an article to get through! 

Within a two-week period PRWC admitted ten juvenile red-shouldered hawks that fallen from their nests for various reasons.  Red-shouldered hawks are one of the most commonly seen hawks here in SW Florida.  They are readily distinguished by reddish-brown feathers over their, well, shoulders.  (Don’t you love it when names make sense?) 

As year-round residents of Florida, red-shouldered hawks begin their breeding season in late January.  The eggs hatch after an incubation period of about one month.  The hatchlings grow quickly and within another month’s time, have gone through the downy fluff stage of the nestling, to become fully feathered fledglings.  They will spend another month or two with their parents, becoming fully independent by four months of age.

This rapid progress can be disrupted when the babies do not remain at their nests.  This is why we make every effort to return a displaced bird, especially a raptor, to his nest whenever possible.  Due to habitat destruction, the death of the parent(s), or illness or injury of the nestlings; when nestlings have to be raised in captivity it can delay their maturation by weeks or months.  Luckily for these red-shouldered hawks, the fact that there were so many of them at the same time worked to their advantage. 

Most of those youngsters are now ready for release, and not a moment too soon.  These ravenous raptors have been eating us out of house and home.  When they first arrive, nestlings have to be fed chopped up rodents which we hand-fed to them using bird-shaped puppets with our faces and arms covered, so as not to habituate the birds. 

As the fledglings mature and are ready to start eating on their own, they are moved to an outdoor flight cage, with one of our resident adult hawks as a role model, while she teaches them to eat whole, thawed mice.  With release imminent, it is imperative that the birds be able to feed themselves in the wild.  That means they need to be able to recognize the food they will find in the wild and what to do with it.  With live prey training now under their belts, they are ready to hit the road.  Or, rather, the skies.  And hopefully they will stay aloft this time.

by – Robin Jenkins, DVM

A red-shouldered hawk flies away on release from PRWC

A red-shouldered hawk flies away on release from PRWC