Meet the Purple Gallinule!

Blog&FB_PurpleGallinule3As we ring in a royal New Year, we might as well go purple! This bird may very well be a new one for you. So, let me introduce the rarely seen in this area, Purple Gallinule. The Purple Gallinule, also known as a Water Hen, is a beautifully colored, wetlands bird found mostly in southern Florida and the tropics. American gallinules usually winter in Argentina or Brazil, but singles are known to stray off course occasionally, especially when migrating after breeding season. Purple Gallinules are one of the most frequent American marsh birds to wander and despite appearing very clumsy in flight, can find themselves as far away as South Africa. Who knows how or why that happens? Maybe a visit to see their larger species cousin the Swamp Hen was in order. In North Carolina, the Clapper Rail is close kin. Even knowing their propensity to roam, it was still a surprise to admit an injured Purple Gallinule to the Outer Banks Wildlife Shelter recently and just as unexpected for the Good Samaritan caller to know the identity of the bird she found walking on a road in Emerald Isle. To be totally honest, the transporter did volunteer at our shelter in Newport years ago, before her work schedule became too tight, and we do train them well! A paved road is not natural habitat, so she knew as soon as she saw the gangly but gorgeous bird limping along that the PG was in trouble and quickly theorized the gallinule had probably been clipped by a car. After an examination at the shelter revealed a fractured femur, our evaluation and assessment was the same. Where you would see this magnificent, multi-colored bird of the rail family is walking on top of floating vegetation or awkwardly high stepping through dense shrubs rather than on a roadway. Extensive wetlands with still or slow-moving shallow water, lots of dense marsh cover with plant life buoyed by water describes their habitat best. This slight of weight bird with extremely long toes is capable of standing on floating lily pads without sinking. The unusual Purple Gallinule swims on the surface of water like a duck but walks on those floating plants like a chicken. Although they are called “Purple” G’s, they are such a rainbow of colors, one might think they are more parrot than rail. Purple is the dominant adult color, but you will also see a green back, red triangular bill tipped with yellow, a fleshy plate of light blue on their forehead, white under the tail, bright yellow legs (one of the reasons they are locally known as Yellow-Legged Gallinules) and big yellow, non-webbed feet and long toes which they not only use for sprinting but to hold their food while eating. Blog&FB_PurpleGallinule2Those toes are also capable of the manual dexterity it takes to flip over lily pads to find prey underneath or to climb bushes or trees to find food. Both sexes of adults sport the same stunning plumage and physical appearance. Downy chicks are black and as juveniles, they turn a buffy tan with some dull colorations just starting to vividly bloom. Adults measure 10-15 inches in length, span 20-24 inches across their wings and weigh between 5–10 ounces with females averaging the fuller weight. Gallinules fly only short distances and let their legs dangle rather than hold them straight as an arrow like egrets or herons do. Purple Gallinules are omnivorous, therefore, along with consuming a wide variety of plants, seeds and fruits; insects, frogs, snails, spiders, earthworms, eggs and fish round out their diet. Clambering noisily through marshes and waterside trees while squawking, cackling and using their guttural grunts, the Purple Gallinule will flick its short tail anxiously as it forages for food. With its strong legs and long toes, the PG runs around on open shorelines aggressively in search of provisions (not quite the secretive and stealth hunter his cousin the Clapper Rail is). Purple Gallinules are the most inquisitive of the rail family, almost to the point of being inappropriately curious which can get them into trouble. They appear bold and eager, rather than cautious, when exploring something new in their environment with seemingly no regard for their own safety. Blog&FB_PurpleGallinule1During breeding season, which can be any time in the tropics but only Spring and Summer in North America, both Purple Gallinule parents build their bulky nest, comprised of cattails, grasses and sedges, anchored firmly to floating structures in a marsh at water level or 1 to 3 feet above it. Between 5 and 10 tan eggs with brown spots will be laid and incubated by both parents for 22-25 days. After hatching, the young will be fed by the parents and assisted by other gallinules, sometimes as many as 8. It is believed that these feeding helpers are previous offspring and that the assistance is needed because the parents have a second nest of eggs or hatchlings they must attend to. Juvenile gallinules of less than 10 weeks of age have been known to feed baby chicks. The youngsters start to eat on their own after 7-10 days and are capable of flight around the 9th week. A Purple Gallinule’s longevity is up to 22 years, as long as it can stay alert and outwit boas in the tropics and alligators and turtles in North America. Although this species is not considered globally threatened, their numbers have decreased due to aerial spraying of pesticides and wetland loss in the United States as well as in South and Central America. If you ever come across a brilliantly colored Purple Gallinule that looks a little more like a Disney character than wildlife, you are not hallucinating!! They do exist, but not usually here. The one you are seeing is probably migrating or just in the mood to roam!

HAPPY NEW YEAR, EVERYONE!!!!

Linda Bergman-Althouse       author of “Save Them All

“The Gift of Gannets”

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We don’t see them often and when we do, they are in trouble. The only reasons a Northern Gannet comes ashore will be injury, illness, starvation or blown off course by a storm. When one becomes too weak or unable to fly, it will float on the ocean until the tide carries it to shore. Northern Gannets are the largest indigenous seabird in the North Atlantic with wingspans of 68 – 70 inches and weigh in at 6 – 8 pounds. They spend most of their lives at sea. This magnificent pelagic seabird, that reaches adult maturity in 5 years, is known for its gorgeous pale blue eyes accentuated by a ring of bare, bluish-black skin and contrasting snow white body with black wing tips and is so strikingly beautiful it’s a visual gift. CSMag_Northern Gannet2EGannets are among the world’s most renowned divers, descending from heights of up to 130 feet as they plunge into the ocean at 60 plus miles per hour. 68% of the world’s population of Northern Gannets breeds off the coasts of Great Britain and Scotland, but there will be ‘companies’ of Gannets wintering off North Carolina’s coast with some of our local Solan Geese, which is a name of Scandinavian origin given to Northern Gannets. Some colonies will be as large as 60,000 pairs. Occasionally a Gannet will be admitted to the Outer Banks Wildlife Shelter in Newport and upon receipt of the bird, we know it will be a touch and go situation. Recently that was the case when a Good Samaritan rescued a beached adult Gannet, unable to fly who showed no signs of injury when examined but was only half his expected body weight. Gannets eat any small fish such as sardines, anchovies, haddock, smelt, Atlantic Cod and the young of larger fish species. Squid is also a menu choice for these vertical divers. They dive into the sea as straight as an arrow with wings and feet retracted and tucked tightly against their body. The Gannet has highly developed lungs, secondary nostrils that close and a long, strong sternum protecting their internal organs when impacting with the water. These anatomical features are perfect for the high speed and deep diving they are capable of. Individual Gannets have a subcutaneous fat layer, dense down and tightly overlapping feathers that help them withstand low temperatures. CSMag_Northnern Gannet4EThe reduced blood flow in the webbing on their feet also helps maintain their body temperature when they swim. Their feathers enjoy a higher level of waterproofing than other seabirds that need to dry out between foraging sessions. Northern Gannets produce an impermeable secretion in their sebaceous glands which they spread across their body using their beak or their head. Gannets breed in large colonies along the Atlantic, and boaters have witnessed spectacular displays of plunge-diving for fish by Gannets in the hundreds. Once beneath the water, it uses its wings and feet to swim in pursuit of a meal. They grab food with their long, strong, conical bill and always eat it under water. They never fly with a fish in their bill. Northern Gannets nest offshore, and most often, nests are found tucked into inaccessible cliffs. Some breeding colonies are recorded as being located in the same place for hundreds of years. The cliffs containing gannetries, when seen from a distance, appear to be covered in snow, due to the extraordinary number of nests present. Constructed of compacted mud, seaweed, grasses, feathers and their own waste matte, a Gannet’s nest is definitely a testament to the value of recycling! The males usually collect the materials necessary for nest building. Off the coast of North Carolina, because cliffs are not available, Northern Gannets will nest on islands or flat surfaces, however, they find it more difficult to take off from these locations, requiring them to often cross an area occupied by an adjacent nest which causes stress and aggression from the pair occupying a trespassed nest. Despite bold assertions of the group toward one another, Gannets always nest close together. CSMag_NorthernGannet1EThere are no loners during breeding season. Northern Gannets will lay only one egg rather than 2 or 3 like most seabirds. If two eggs are found in a Gannet’s nest it’s the result of two females laying an egg in the same nest or an egg has been stolen from another nest. Incubation takes 42 to 46 days and occurs under the webbing of their feet, flooded with warming blood. An infant can take up to 36 hours to break through the thick eggshell. At this time, the adult will release the egg from its feet to prevent the egg from breaking under the adult’s massive weight. Northern Gannets learn the hard way in their first breeding year that if they aren’t cautious about that, the chick may die. The warm webbed feet are also used to cover the newborn, which is rarely left alone by the parents. A hatchling will spend about 13 weeks in the nest with the parents where it is fed regurgitated fish and is fiercely monitored to prevent attack or death by Black-Backed Gulls, Herring Gulls, Ravens, Ermine, Red Fox or other Northern Gannets. Nature can be harsh! Fledglings are brown with white wing tips, and they have white spots on their heads and backs. Once a Northern Gannet fledges from its nesting colony and is on the water, it will remain there for as long as two weeks because it has not learned how to take off from a water runway yet. While flying muscles comprise 20% total weight for most seabirds, Northern Gannets’ flying muscles are less than 13% which demands they warm up before they fly and that they calculate and rely on the wind, especially wind produced by the front of a wave. Bobbing in the water is also a safer place for a youngster to be than risk accidently tripping into Gannet breeding ground. They are not sturdy on their feet as land walkers due to the location of their legs so far back on the body. Gannets are swimmers and flyers! The young have a fat reserve, allowing them to go without eating for up to 2 weeks, but don’t worry; the parents are still close by for further fishing and flying training. The maximum lifespan known for a Northern Gannet is 35 years. Adult Gannets are not heavily preyed upon, but when it happens, an eagle, shark or seal is usually the bandit. If you ever get the opportunity to see a Northern Gannet, savor that momentary visual gift because it may never happen again!!

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year Everyone!!

Linda Bergman-Althouse, author of

SAVE THEM ALL

READY TO ENTERTAIN YOU! – Outer Banks Wildlife Shelter — Newport, NC — 20Nov2015

BlogNov2015_IMG_9868It’s that time of year again when we get together to have a good time and renew our commitment or become part of the solution for wildlife care and conservation. The Outer Banks Wildlife Shelter (OWLS) is inviting you all to our annual “Taste of Carteret” Silent Auction on Friday, November 20, 2015 at The Crystal Coast Civic Center in Morehead, City. This occasion is a night you will fondly remember forever!! Yes, there will be good food there. A buffet providing some of the tastiest treats our restaurants of Carteret County have to offer will definitely make it memorable, but there’s more. Live entertainment by Morris Willis, who knows what songs we like to hear, will be on hand to serenade us, which makes some of us want to get up and dance or sing, but there’s more. The silent auction is a competitive and fun way to Christmas shop or take home a few personal items and gift certificates for winning bids. Just ask Kathy K. how much she wanted that muted-green, retro lamp last year! The reasonable bids become great duo-deals because they benefit event guests and our shelter. All the money gained from the local business’s, donated treasures goes directly to help care for injured or orphaned wildlife being rehabilitated at the shelter at 100 Wildlife Way in Newport during the year, which runs in the thousands. Variables such as nastier weather than usual and time of year that could cause a less than smooth baby season will bump up the number of wildlife admitted to the shelter. BlogNov2015_JI7Z1479_PhoenixThe funds raised at this event specifically assist with feeding, transporting, housing and meeting all the medical needs of our patients; mammals, seabirds, songbirds, raptors, reptiles and amphibians! The scrumptious food, the gifts to be won and a first-rate music man is awesome entertainment for sure, but the most pleasurable and adventurous moments of the night will be your visits with our Animal Ambassadors who do such an amazing job representing their species and wild animals in general, as well as being a testament to the important and remarkable things the staff and volunteers do at the shelter for wildlife in distress in our area. Come hear their stories. BlogNov2015_IMG_0248The shelter’s resident birds of prey; Dinah (Barred Owl), Isabeau (Red-tailed Hawk), Phoenix (Peregrine Falcon) will be in attendance. The opportunity to see these magnificent birds up close is a rare and unique treat not shared by many. BlogNov2015_MG_1715_One of our resident opossums would love to meet you, but the three; Isabelle, Peggy and Little Girl, will have to draw straws to see who gets to attend this year! For those of you who get excited about reptiles or amphibs, Blanca and Otis will be making the scene, and who else might be on hand? We’ll know closer to event time! OWLS is a 501c3 non-profit organization committed to promoting and protecting native wildlife. Our cause is dependent upon the generosity of conservation and wildlife enthusiasts who feel as passionate about our mission as we do. Wildlife is important to the heritage, culture and heart of America and its important to preserve it as a legacy for our children. Although you cannot put a value on all the ways that the natural world enriches our lives, there are many tangible benefits to living in a world with strong and healthy ecosystems. We have a stronger economy, diverse food products and advancements in medical research all as a result of wildlife and natural ecosystems. BlogNov2015_Blanca_IMG_0248The value of wild animals in nature has long been recognized, but in recent years, the concept of ecosystem services developed describes a variety of benefits, direct or indirect, large or small. We’ve heard the buzz about bees, but many wild animals such as sea otters, bats and frogs have been recognized as environmentally important for the survival of numerous species, including humans. The Outer Banks Wildlife Shelter is a safe haven for our down east wildlife locals and those passing through during migration who become, orphaned, ill or who suffer injury. Having the means to give these animals their second chance is essential! If you came to our event last year, please come again, we need to catch up! If our biggest night on the town will be new to you, please put us on your calendar (Friday, November 20, 2015, Crystal Coast Civic Center – doors open at 6 pm and dinner is served at 6:30). Call OWLS at 252-240-1200 for tickets today. They are only $35.00 for a most wonderful evening steeped in good works. Bring your friends and relatives! They will thank you for such a marvelous time! If your schedule is too tight and you can’t make it, donations for the shelter or new item contributions for our silent auction will still be appreciated and you can help our wildlife in that way.  If you are in the area or if you just want to jet in for a GREAT, CAUSE RELATED time, hope to see you there!!!!  (Let me know, I’ll pick you up from the airport!!  : )

best always,

Linda Bergman-Althouse

author of “SAVE THEM ALL

“Aerial Beagles”

BLOG_BlackSkimmer31_When the young, underweight shorebird who could not fly was recently admitted to our shelter at 100 Wildlife Way in Newport, the staff became puzzled during the Black Skimmer’s examination when no injury was found. He was obviously thin and lethargic, but we couldn’t find anything else wrong. We can do a lot of remarkable things for wild animals in distress, but we can’t read minds and he wasn’t talking, in English anyway. We hydrated him, introduced a diet of shrimp and silversides, and he started coming around. The juvenile skimmer is putting on weight, becoming more active and continuing to improve. It’s only a guess, but we’re thinking he may not have paid enough attention to his parents’ classes on how to forage and eat on his own. Kids! There are three types of Skimmers, which are a small family of specialized and social shorebirds, found widely in North & South America, Africa and India. Although the global skimmers are closely related, the Black Skimmer is the largest and the only skimmer that resides in North America. Skimmers often roost with gulls and terns along our North Carolina coast. They are called Skimmers due to the way they forage and feed with their uniquely shaped bill. The lower mandible extends well beyond the tip of the upper mandible and that design sets it apart from other shorebirds whose bill is even from base to tip.  A Black Skimmer flies low over water, skimming the surface with its mouth open and submerging the lower, longer bill. When it comes in contact with a potential food item, it will reflexively snap its bill closed, capturing the meal, which would most likely be a silverside, killifish, menhaden, bluefish, sand lance, shrimp or needlefish. BLOG_BlackSkimmerFlyingPairThe food caught will be swallowed during flight or after landing. Although Black Skimmers are a water bird with webbed feet, it is unusual for them to be seen on the water swimming. They are either in the air or on the ground. If you see them on the ground, they often display the unusual habit of lying prone on the sand. This posture, with their bellies flat on the ground and their heads and necks extended in front of them, makes them look like exhausted “hound dogs.” So if you think a skimmer has “kicked the bucket,” take a closer look. It’s probably only resting or some folks refer to that behavior as “loafing.” Although active during the day at low tide, Black Skimmers will do most of their feeding at night. Adult Black Skimmers are easy to identify, even when they are found mingling in groups of gulls and terns. They have predominantly black markings; black back and hooded head and snow white forehead and under belly. Their webbed feet are bright reddish orange, and you can’t miss their most noticeable feature, the also bright reddish orange 2.5 inch uneven bill that is compressed laterally and resembles a knife blade. They have quite the under bite, but it serves them well! Skimmer’s bodies are oddly proportioned, measuring eighteen inches in length with long, narrow wings and extremely short legs. Their wingspan is 3.5 feet, but they weigh in at only a half pound. Skimmers have a light graceful flight, with steady beats of their long wings, and they are so stream lined, bird watchers have described them as “sports cars of the air.” BLOG_BlackSkimmer21Juvenile skimmers by contrast are mottled brown and black on top and off-white underneath. The juvenile also sports an even bill until adulthood development is evident. Skimmers, social birds who are dependent upon sandy coasts and barrier islands, nest in colonies upon beaches, salt marsh islands, dredge spoil islands, lagoons, inlets, sheltered bays, estuaries, sand bars and occasionally on a gravel roof. They prefer the shelter of tucked away water sources rather than open surf. Their nests are built on the ground and often consist of simple scrapes or depressions in the sand. Initial egg laying for skimmers usually occurs between mid-May and early June, but some late arrivals or re-nesting skimmers have been known to make the scene. Eggs are usually laid in every other day intervals and a typical nest contains 3-4 white, buff or blue-green eggs with brown markings. These eggs are often hard for people to see and very camouflaged on the bare sand, usually among shell fragments and scattered grass clumps. Incubation of the eggs requires between 21-26 days, and both parents share incubation and rearing responsibilities. Skimmers are smart birds; they almost always nest near aggressive gull and tern colonies so those equally loud birds can help ward off predators and other disrupters.

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They rely on camouflage or group mobbing to protect their nests. To protect their babies, the parent skimmer will “mob,” or rise up into the air, and attack intruders by swooping low and uttering a sharp, barking call to scare off predators, which includes humans. That’s where the nickname “Aerial Beagle” came from. When they get distressed, they sound like a dog barking overhead. The chicks hatch within about three weeks and start eating regurgitated fish dropped on the sand by their parents. It takes about four weeks until the chicks are ready to fly and another couple of weeks for them to learn to become proficient fliers. Black skimmers are a migratory species, therefore, we see an increased population when Northern skimmers show up in our North Carolina coastal region to winter, unless they head further south, which should be occurring during October. Black Skimmers are classified as threatened and a species of special concern due to habitat loss which has reduced suitable nesting spots. Their nests are also extremely vulnerable to disturbances by humans, domestic dogs, raccoons and predatory birds. So, during breeding season next Spring, please watch your step and keep dogs on leashes while enjoying a walk through the Black Skimmer’s habitat. BLOG_BlackSkimmerPortrait_Hopefully our rehabilitated, young skimmer will be strong enough soon to rejoin his colony in time to possibly make an aerial trek even farther south for the Winter, and we look forward to him visiting his birthplace of North Carolina next year!

Happy Upcoming Holidays, Everyone!!!!

Linda Bergman-Althouse

Author of “Save Them All

Author’s Website http://www.bergman-althouse.com/

 

Another Great White!!

Blog&FB_2-15Sep_GWEgretWFishWhen someone brings up the topic “Great White,” we automatically go there, especially during this beach going season where some aggressive Great Whites have presented themselves in displays of ostentatious and hazardous behaviors! However, there is another Great White that is more pervasive in our coastal area and far less likely to cause any peril or harm. The elegant Great White Egret is an impressive and gorgeous sight to see along our Eastern North Carolina Coast. There are smaller white egrets, such as the Common Egret, but this one is the “greatest” because it is the largest. The Great White Egret is a tall (3.5 feet), brilliantly white, long-legged wading bird with a lengthy, slim neck, an extensive, dagger-like bill and a wingspan of 52 to 67 inches. They fly slowly but powerfully, with only two wing beats per second and can cruise around 25 miles an hour. Gangly and awkward to maneuver, they are definitely a handful to examine at the Outer Banks Wildlife Shelter in Newport. We recently received a call on a Great White who could not fly and was unable to jump a fence when approached by humans. The caller, with the help of her friend, managed to contain the wader in a sheet thrown over him to allow for safe transport. During examination at the shelter, no injury or disease was found. Our theory is while hunting for food, he must have ingested chemicals or other toxins in recent run-off caused by massive rains and became ill and too weak to fly. We are treating him for possible poisoning and with his abundant finger-mullet feedings, as well as large silver sides, he is getting stronger every day. Great White Egrets stand erect and motionless for long periods of time searching or waiting for prey to approach during the hunt in marshes, ponds and tidal flats. They capture your attention like dazzling statues in the distance with their beautiful white plumage that drapes over their back and rump during breeding season. Blog&FB_2015Sep_GWEgret_IMG_1522Also during breeding season, a patch of skin on its face turns a brilliant green. They have skinny black legs with very long toes and a thick yellow-orange bill used to capture fish with one quick and deadly jab. In addition to fish, they eat frogs, reptiles, insects such as dragonflies and grasshoppers and small aquatic animals. When they fly, their slim neck is tucked into a tight S-curve, which is quite different from other marsh birds such as storks, cranes, ibises and spoonbills that extend their necks in flight. Males and females are identical in appearance, although the male is a little larger. They are not normally vocal birds, but when disturbed they will present a low, hoarse croaking sound. They become more vocal during breeding season with higher-pitched croaking and occasional squawks. Great Egrets are found in freshwater and saltwater habitats and can be solitary or colonial. They often roost with other wading birds such as herons and ibises and nest in colonies, usually on islands that are isolated from predators, especially raccoons. Great Whites breed at 2 to 3 years of age, and displays of courtship by males include calling, circular display flights and stretching their neck up with their long, scissor bill pointed skyward. Great White Egrets are monogamous and both parents incubate their pale green-blue, three to four eggs for 23-27 days while sheltered in a platform nest 3 feet wide and 1 foot deep made of sticks and twigs found high in trees along the water, which is a location the male has selected. The eggs will be staggered hatches, meaning all the chicks are at different stages of development during rearing. Both parents feed the young, also white at birth, by regurgitation and youngsters may stumble out of the nest at 3 weeks and be ready to fly at 6-7 weeks. The Great White Egret adapts well to human habitation and is frequently seen near wetlands in urban and suburban areas along the coast. Blog&FB_2015Sep_GWEgret_IMG_1715Unfortunately, Great White Egrets became nearly extinct by 95% in the nineteenth century due to fashion-plume hunters, but the Great Egret is now protected and has bounced back as a conservation success story. As a matter of fact, the plight of the GW Egret sparked restoration conversation many years ago which resulted in the first laws enacted to protect birds. In 1953, the Great White Egret was chosen as the symbol of the National Audubon Society, which was formed partly to prevent the killing of birds, such as the Great Egret, for their feathers. It’s so much more enjoyable and humane to see these snowy white shorebirds adorned with their magnificent plumage than to see those grand and glorious feathers attached to a lady’s hat! Of course, most people won’t see Great White Egrets in their backyard, but to ensure their survivability we can encourage the preservation of suitable wetlands, monitor pollution and pesticide levels, as well as, limit the spread of invasive aquatic plants. Blog&FB_2015Sep_GWEgret_MG_5877Wildlife rehabilitators and conservationists are happy to say the Great White Egret’s outlook is much brighter, and their numbers have increased substantially over the last few decades. They still have to dodge and outwit predators such as raccoons, which we already gave the mean face to earlier in this article but there are also crows and vultures to watch out for and humans who destroy habitat also pose a huge threat to their livelihood. The oldest Great Egret is known to have reached 22 years and 10 months and was banded in Ohio. Our Great White, at the shelter, is cooperating by remaining calm and tolerant and by maintaining a good appetite during his rehabilitation. He should be returning to the wetlands soon, and we’re sure he’ll have quite the story to tell when he meets up again with family and friends!

best always,
Linda Bergman-Althouse
author of “Save Them All

NO GEAR LEFT BEHIND!!!

Blog&FB_2015Aug_IMG_0469_edited-1People love to fish and so do wildlife! The big difference between humans and wildlife is wild animals do not need nets, fishing line, lures, hooks or plastic bags when fishing. Therefore, they leave nothing behind that will harm or kill anyone or anything. Left behind fishing gear kills! Wildlife Rehabilitators at the Outer Banks Wildlife Shelter in Newport know this all too well and cringe every time a seabird, wading bird, grazing bird, mammal or turtle is admitted due to the ingestion or entanglement of fishing litter. It’s so painful for the animal and in many cases renders them unable to eat which leads to starvation. Sometimes the devastation is less obvious and can not been seen without x-rays because the animal has swallowed a hook or lure. This type of injury is so frustrating and heartbreaking to wildlife care givers because it is human-caused and therefore, preventable. Nets, lines, hooks, crab pots, shrimp traps or any other fishing equipment abandoned by a boater or someone fishing on shore is considered derelict gear, which labels a fisherman or woman neglectful and irresponsible. This type of dangerous litter is usually made of plastic and doesn’t decompose in water for possibly hundreds of years. Recently, a mature Red Eared Slider was admitted to our shelter who had tried to swallow not one but two fishing hooks. We managed to carefully remove the three pronged hook with bait still attached from his mouth without too much trouble or damage to tissue, but the long, single pronged hook was so embedded in the roof of his mouth and out the side of his cheek, it required a committee discussion on how best to go about getting that out with minimal damage or killing the turtle. Blog&FB_2015Aug_IMG_6413He may not have been noticed or made his way to us if he had become entangled in the line attached to the hooks. Turtles are air-breathing reptiles. When they are caught underwater on a line or in a net, they will drown because they are unable to reach the surface for air. When an animal is entangled in fishing line that has no give, the line wraps tighter and tighter around a leg, wing or neck constricting the blood flow and functionality of the organs, blood vessels and muscles in that area. A fish hook that an animal desperately tries to remove causes lacerations and tears leading to blood loss, serious infections and limited function in the area affected. Some animals, such as pelicans, live with the discomfort of an imbedded fish hook in their body for long periods of time. We know this because hooks have been found in the backs, underbelly or legs of pelicans during examinations for other conditions such as wing fractures or frost bite. Some seabirds have even been found struggling to free themselves from each other because they have become entangled together by a fishing line or multi-hooked lure that was carelessly discarded by a fisherman. During the birds’ struggle they create even more injury to their legs and wings as well as possible nerve damage. Birds and other wildlife that become entangled will experience strangulation, starvation, amputation and in many cases, death. Entanglement is a slow and vicious killer! Because monofilament fishing line is transparent, it poses serious risk to all life, including human swimmers and divers who encounter it.

Photo by John Althouse

Photo by John Althouse

The negative impact of fishing gear waste is huge. Research tells us that the overall populations of seabirds have declined 69.6 percent, which is a loss of about 230 million birds in 60 years. “Seabirds are particularly good indicators of the health of marine ecosystems and when we see this magnitude of seabird decline, we also see something wrong with marine ecosystems.” This information gives us an idea of the devastating and overwhelming impact humans are having on wildlife and our environment. So for those of us who care, what can we do to improve the quality of life for wildlife and our aquatic environment? Get the word out, first and foremost! Do not accept the very little thought given to snapping a line when a fisherman’s lure is stuck on something. In your travels along beaches and recreational waterways, do the birds and other animals a huge favor by looking around trees and shrubs and notice how much fishing litter is strewn or snagged in vegetation, then carefully remove it and dispose of it properly. If you are the fisherman, always take all line and fishing gear with you when you leave. Blog&FB_2015Aug__Fishing gearRemovedX_edited-1The best way for anglers to reduce hookings and entanglements is to avoid casting near large seabird concentrations. If you are in a boat, move to another area. Most piers are large enough for birds to feed in one area, and anglers to fish in another, or take a break – flocks do not usually remain in one area for long. Using barbless hooks or artificial lures whenever possible can also help. Weight fishing lines to ensure the bait sinks rapidly, before birds can dive for it. Don’t leave fishing lines unattended. Do not feed birds or leave bait exposed because it attracts birds. Take leftover bait home so that birds and other animals don’t get accustomed to free meals. Fish remains are a problem because most seabirds swallow their prey whole. Swallowing parts of fish with exposed bones can cut a pelican’s pouch. Think about starting a program to collect fishing line by constructing and placing collecting bins in the vicinity of your local fishing spots. Please fish responsibly and encourage others to do the same. These are all steps in the right direction for the preservation of our environment and wildlife, as well as public safety. If you encounter an animal that shows signs of entanglement or has been injured in other ways by fishing gear, please call your local wildlife care facility, and they will provide instructions on how to transport the wildlife victim to their center. It’s best not to remove the dangerous fishing gear litter yourself, but to trust the application of a wildlife rehabilitator’s knowledge and skills to ensure damage is not compounded during removal. Let’s do this for our wildlife – they need us!!

BEST ALWAYS,
Linda Bergman-Althouse
author of “Save Them All

PHANTOM of the MARSH!

BLOG_CSMag_ClapperRail_2015JunAThey do like the mud! The coastal saltwater marsh of North Carolina’s easternmost counties is home to one of the most secretive birds you may ever have the lifetime privilege to glimpse. Hearing a raspy chock–chock–chock, a short series of clacking or grunting sounds, might even be an easier discovery than seeing the “thin as a rail,” Clapper Rail. Their rattling call is one of the most common sounds in the marshes, although seeing this wetlands bird who likes to hide in dense cover isn’t easy. One of six rail species found in North Carolina, the gray and brown Clapper Rail, also known as the Marsh Hen, uses its lean body to easily slip through marsh grass while hunting and or escaping predators.BLOG_Clapper-Rail1 They would rather run through the thick mud than fly. Clapper Rails are considered weak flyers because flight has only been observed in low bursts of short distances, where landing shortly after taking off is common. Recently, four youngster Clapper Rails were admitted to the Outer Banks Wildlife Shelter after a gentleman rescued them from the Beaufort Channel. The Good Samaritan and his wife were spending the afternoon on their skiff and happened upon the four being aggressively tossed about by waves mercilessly created by the large boats in the area. He pulled his skiff between the large boats’ busy passage and the four chicks to buffer the challenging waves and waited for nearly 45 minutes, thinking one of the rails’ parents would show up to lead them out of their precarious situation. When that didn’t happen, their rescuer became concerned that because the babies were so tiny, the large boats could unintentionally run them over. He decided to bring them onboard and transport them to our shelter in Newport to ensure their safety. He mentioned they were quite fatigued and might not have lasted much longer. They are definitely too young to be on their own, so his compassionate decision probably saved their lives and afforded them that second chance. Chicken like in appearance, the Clapper Rail has long, unwebbed toes, a lengthy downward curved bill and an upward turned tail with white under tail feathers. They are the largest of the rail species when fully grown, 13 to 16 inches in length with a compact body and long, strong legs. BLOG_clapper%20rail%202Although both are slender, the males are slightly larger than the delicately built females and a wee bit more colorful. Clapper Rails in North Carolina sport a fairly pale, olive brown or gray brown appearance with a subdued rust colored chest. Aquatic life is the Clapper Rail’s diet of choice. They forage for food by walking through wetland vegetation. Most hunting is done at low tide, where they scavenge for crustaceans such as crabs or crayfish, mollusks, snails, aquatic insects and their larvae, small fish or small amphibians such as frogs. They simply pick up food items when spotted or probe in the mud for food with their long bills. They are also known to snatch a snake or two and may occasionally feed on plant matter, mostly seeds, but approximately 80% of their diet is animal-based. Clapper Rails are monogamous and pairing is established and reestablished each year. During courtship displays, the male approaches the female, points his bill down and swings his head from side to side. Another impressive move is to stand erect, neck stretched with bill open. A male has also been known to feed the female. Nesting pairs enhance their bond by blending their clattering until they sound like one bird. Biologists refer to this “as one” initiative as a “duet.” The nesting season occurs from April to June. Nests, built by both the male and female, are cup shaped clumps of vegetation and are often found where ditches or creeks foster the growth of tall and short grasses, as well as, near the upper reaches of high tide or on a bank near water. Common nesting materials are hollow stems of plants and coarse marsh grasses. Occasionally a canopy will be woven over the nest, and often a ramp of plant material leading from the lower ground up to the nest situated in the wetland reeds will be constructed. Generally, nine to 12 eggs are laid, and rails may produce more than one clutch per year. Incubation averages 20 days and is performed by both sexes, as well as raising the young. BLOG_CSMagClapperRail&Babies_2015Jun_The chicks are semi-precocial and able to feed independently shortly after leaving the nest. Young rails are able to fly in nine to 10 weeks and acquire their adult plumage by October of their first year. A group of Clapper Rails are collectively known as an “applause, audience or commercial.” When a Clapper Rail sighting is made it usually occurs when the rail is focused on stalking for prey along the muddy edge of the marsh while twitching its short tail in anticipation of the grab.BLOG_CSMag_ClapperRail_2015JunB_ It may also be seen swimming across a tidal creek. Best viewing opportunities occur at dawn and dusk as the birds leave the thick marsh grass and feed on open mud flats. Their unique behavior, elegant appearance and characteristic shyness make them extremely sought-after sightings, but if you are that eager birder, always put the well being of the bird first. Remember, Clapper Rails would rather never be seen at all. Intentionally startling or flushing birds to get a good view exposes them to predators and may force them to leave nests or young unattended or abandon them altogether. So, never do anything that could hinder the survival of this mysterious phantom of the marsh. If you are lucky enough to see a Clapper Rail in the open, it may be under a bit of stress, so avoid adding to that by giving it a wide berth, and do not allow unleashed pets to approach it. Stay low and stay quiet. The long-term population trend of the Clapper Rail is most severely affected by water pollution, flooding of nests during Spring high tides and the destruction of coastal marsh habitat. Due to the rail’s secretive nature, the difficulty of working in marsh environments and a lack of funding for rail research, basic information regarding life history and yearly population status is limited. Clapper rail populations can best be maintained by preserving their wetland habitat and with strong support for effective protection laws. Our little Clapper Rails are putting away an abundant share of large meal worms as well as, silver sides and growing bigger and stronger every day. When they are ready, they will be returned to the marsh they call home.

Hope everyone is having a HAPPY summer wherever you find yourself to be!!!

Linda S. Bergman-Althouse, author of SAVE THEM ALL