“Catchin’ Flies”

Blog_GreatCrestedFCXESeldom seen but always appreciated are Great Crested Flycatchers who perch high and wait diligently while bobbing their heads in all directions in search of summer insects that vulnerably flit among foliage. Flycatchers may drop or crash into a bush to seize a bug but usually feed high by catching their prey on the wing. They are also capable of stopping abruptly in midflight to hover over an insect covered leaf or tree limb, picking them off like . . . . . well, you know. As their name suggests, Great Crested Flycatchers are primarily insectivores and one would think that flies are their staple food source, but flies make up only a small percentage of its diet. GCFs prefer butterflies, moths, spiders, beetles, grasshoppers, crickets, katydids, bees, wasps and sometimes small lizards. Blog_GreatCrestedFCXXEWhen admitted to the Outer Banks Wildlife Shelter in Newport, usually as nestlings who have been displaced by bad weather or predator nest attack, their diet will consist of meal worms mainly, which is a great protein substitute for what they might grab and go in the wild. They also enjoy small portions of fruits and berries which they consume whole, and the pits or seeds are regurgitated later, occasionally quite a few at one time. They are usually very cooperative birds in the nursery who eagerly snatch meal worms from tweezers when offered, and their vocalizations are quite soothing compared to the shrillness of baby Cardinals or Mockingbirds! Flycatchers sing a fairly low-pitched, three-part song of “wheerreep, whee” and end with a soft, low “churr.” They also have an alarm sound, like most birds do when stressed, that is a series of a fast and higher pitched “huit, huit, huit.” Great Crested Flycatchers are reddish-brown-gray above, with a brownish-gray head, gray throat and breast, and bright to subdued lemon-lime belly. The brown upperparts are highlighted by rufous-orange flashes in the primary and tail feathers. The black bill, which is fairly wide at the base and flanked by black whiskers, sports a bit of pale color as an adult. Blog_GreatCrestedFCPerchedEThey have a powerful build for a medium size song bird with broad shoulders and a large head with a crest that is not prominent and somewhat underwhelming compared to that of a Blue Jay. GCF’s do not display sexual dimorphism like Cardinals, Bluebirds and House Finches do. The male and female GCF look the same in color and size, so it’s easier to tell the girls from the boys by observing their behaviors rather than their physical appearance. Adult Great Crested Flycatchers are about the size of an American Robin and usually measure between 6.7 – 8.3 inches in length with a wingspan around 13 inches and weigh in between .95 – 1.41 ounces. Although slight in weight, the GCF is a mighty insect predator! Flycatchers don’t seem to be too romantic when it comes to finding a mate. Courtship and the mating ritual may only involve a tenacious male swooping after a female in and among the trees until she finally gives up the chase. So, they are not flashy and over the top with courtship displays but what they do counts because they are monogamous throughout breeding season and for years to come. Great Crested Flycatchers live in woodlots and open woodland, particularly among deciduous trees. Nesting occurs mid-April and the nest site is usually a hole in a tree, either a natural cavity or an old woodpecker hole found 20-50′ above the ground. Blog_GreatCrestedFC3EGreat Crested Flycatchers are the only Eastern flycatchers who nest in cavities, but they may also choose man-made sites such as birdhouses, nest boxes, drainpipes or hollow fence posts. Both sexes help build their nest, although it has been observed that the female constructs the majority of the nest while the male stands watch. They carry in large amounts of material to bring the nest level up close to the entrance of the cavity. The nest foundation is made of grass, weeds, strips of bark, animal fur, rootlets, moss, feathers or other debris and lined with finer materials. GCF’s have the odd habit of weaving in or lining their nest with pieces of shed snakeskin, and sometimes they add onion skins or pieces of litter such as clear plastic wrappers. The male defends the couple’s nesting territory with loud calls and if that doesn’t work, he may have to fight other males. Great Crested Flycatchers lay a single clutch of 4-6 creamy white to pale buff eggs, marked with splotches of brown, olive and lavender, per breeding season. The eggs are incubated for about two weeks by the female only. Both parents will bring food for the hatchlings for the next 12 – 18 days. Around 18-20 days after hatching is about the time the youngsters experience their first flight. Blog_GCF_4L5A0613E Nestlings rarely return to breed near where they were born, but once yearlings have chosen a breeding area, they often return to that same area year after year. The Great Crested Flycatcher is a bird of the treetops. It spends very little time on the ground and does not hop or walk. It prefers to fly from place to place close to the ground rather than walk. So, if you are trying to locate one based upon their distinctive, rolling call, you should probably look up! Great Crested Flycatchers live along the edges between habitats, so they don’t need big stretches of unbroken forest canopy to thrive. This is a rare occasion when logging and development practices that increase forest fragmentation actually work to a bird’s advantage, rather than in sharp contrast to other birds that dwell deep within the forest. Although GCF’s breed in most regions of the United States, they are migratory birds who, when the temperatures drop in Autumn, head south to Florida and Cuba, as well as, Mexico and South America. The oldest recorded Great Crested Flycatcher was at least 14 years, 11 months old when it was found in Vermont way back in 1967. It had been banded in New Jersey in 1953. Blog_GreatCrestedFC2EThese little birds can be around for quite a long time barring troublesome hawks who give them the stink eye and loss of habitat or insect food sources. Insects procreate in crazy numbers, especially pesky flies!! It’s a good feeling to know that these ‘great’ little Flycatchers are out their making our world a better place!

 

Best Always,

Linda Bergman-Althouse

author of “Save Them All

 

“Not So Cuckoo!”

A_CSMag_Yellow-billedCuckooBBEYellow-billed Cuckoos aren’t really that cuckoo!! That statement is quite evident when we find that a Momma Cuckoo has chosen another bird species’ nest to lay an egg or two. In this bizarre way, Cuckoos are propagating, but another set of parents will do the hard work necessary to raise an “odd bird” that is sometimes, much larger than their own nestlings. Recently, a Yellow-billed Cuckoo fledgling was admitted to the Outer Banks Wildlife Shelter in Newport who appeared to be cat or hawk attacked. The more interesting than sad part of this story is the fact that when the Good Samaritan rescuer found the Cuckoo, it was still on its feet, on the ground and being fed by Mom and Dad Robins. The only explanation to that scene is the young Cuckoo hatched in a Robin’s nest. Upon admittance to the shelter, a large gaping hole was found in his neck area during examination. Other than that, he was alert, healthy, still eating well and after ensuring the injured area was cleaned and remained clean the wound managed to close and heal itself within a week. Of course, we, at the shelter focused on everything we could to make sure the YBC remained healthy, but we have to thank the Robin parents for what they did to get him to the hardy condition he was in before the attack, which helped him survive something so traumatic. Our YBC is doing very well, eating so many meal worms it’s difficult to keep count and his vocal chattering roll is quite a pleasant addition to the bird sounds in the nursery. A_CSMag_DSC_0153-267x400EYellow-billed Cuckoo infants will grow into fairly large, long and slim birds. Right now his slightly down-curved bill is all black, but it will turn mostly yellow as he matures and is almost as long as his head. When fully feathered, they will have a very long tail, dark in color on top, but black with white oval spots underneath. Their wings appear pointed and swept back in flight as they fly in a straight path using sharp wing beats with only a slight pause between them. Yellow-billed Cuckoos are warm brown above and whitish below. Their charcoal gray face sports yellow eye-rings as an adult. In flight, the outer part of their wings will flash brownish red. Their coloring allows them to sit well hidden in woodlands that offer gaps and clearings as they wait for prey such as caterpillars (their fave), cicadas, beetles, crickets, grasshoppers, katydids and other flying insects to come into view. YBC’s will wreck havoc on webworm infestations. In one sitting, a Yellow-billed Cuckoo can put away 100 webworms or tent caterpillars. So in that way, they are environmental partners who keep insect numbers down and save trees! They may also feast on small lizards, frogs, eggs of other birds, and berries such as elderberries, black berries and small fruits. During winter, with the absence of insect prey, fruit and seeds become a larger part of their diet.CSMag -YBCuckoo9E They are slow, methodical hunters who hang out in treetops that line water sources. Yellow-billed Cuckoos are easy to hear, if you know their distinctive call, but very hard to spot. People have referred to the Yellow-billed Cuckoo as a “Rain Crow” because they are often heard on extremely hot days, and it’s imagined by humans that the Cuckoo is calling for rain. In courtship, the male feeds the female. Their chosen nest site is in a tree, shrub, or vines and usually 4-10′ above the ground, sometimes up to 20′ or higher. In the east, Yellow-billed Cuckoos nest in oaks, beech, hawthorn and ash. The small, loosely-made platform of twigs and stems, with a thin lining of grass, pine needles, leaves and other materials constitutes the nest which is made by both male and female. Cuckoos lay 1-5 pale bluish green eggs and remember, not always in their own nest! When they do incubate their own, it will take 9-14 days and the infants will be fed by both parents. After hatching, they can fly in about 3 weeks. The Yellow-billed Cuckoos’ status is listed as “Threatened” due to a general decline in their numbers occurring in the last few decades. The cause of decline is attributed to vast habitat loss and the rise and fall of insect outbreaks, which is their food source. As long-distance, nocturnal migrants, Yellow-billed Cuckoos are also vulnerable to collisions with tall buildings, cell towers, radio antennas, wind turbines and other structures. Although approximately 84% of the world’s Yellow-billed Cuckoos breed in the United Sates, in the western states, sightings of YBC’s have become very rare. A_CSMag_yellowbilledcuckoo2EGenerally shy and elusive, the Yellow-billed Cuckoo can be easily overlooked, but its calls are usually loud and often provide the best evidence to their presence. The next time you are taking a walk or doing a little bird watching in Carteret County, listen for that nearly eight second chatter of “ka-ka-ka-ka-ka-kow-kow-kowlp-kowlp-kowlp-kowlp” followed by a soft cooing, then a “kow, kow, kow.” It just might be “one in the same” released Yellow-billed Cuckoo who spent some rehabilitation time with us at the shelter. Don’t forget to throw him an appreciative wave, while thanking him for eating those pesky insects that are more than an annoyance and definitely unwanted in your neck of the woods.

best always,

Linda Bergman-Althouse

Author of “Save Them All

“Big Owl Babies!”

Blog_GHOWL_B_Jun2016Some of the biggest babies wildlife rehabilitators at the Outer Banks Wildlife Shelter in Newport are raising this season are Great Horned Owls. We have admitted four to date and unfortunately, we were unable this year to return any to their Momma as a successful re-nest. Like many bird babies, Great Horned Owls, make a move to do some things before they are truly ready and find themselves on the ground instead of remaining in the safety of their nest, high in the air and away from danger and predators. Great Horned Owls are one of the earliest spring nesting birds. Eggs may be laid in January or February through April. They use abandoned stick nests of a hawk or heron or crow, but also nest in rock alcoves, hollows of trees, abandoned buildings, or sometimes on the ground. Mated pairs are monogamous and defend their territories with vigorous hooting, barking, chuckling, growling, hissing, screeching, screaming or by clacking its beak. Generally 2-3 white eggs are laid. Both the male and female incubate the eggs for 30-35 days. The young are fed by both parents who fiercely defend their nest against intruders. If a young owl falls out of the nest prematurely, the adults will feed the bird on the ground, however, if a human finds an owl youngster in a precarious situation, they usually choose to transport the young one to the shelter for safety reasons. Such was the case when an infant Great Horned Owl was found on the ground at the port city harbor in Morehead City. Although the fluffy one had pressed himself against one of the huge, bulk shipping containers, it was apparent that his parents and he would be dodging quite a few pieces of heavy equipment and vehicular traffic, if in fact he and they could! The good Samaritans monitoring his plight could not take that risk and brought him to the shelter. It’s the general consensus that he may have fallen from a nesting area untypically constructed on the top of a crane. Another baby Great Horned was found nesting aboard a boat taken out of storage that was well under way. Blog_GHOWL_Jun2016_DSC00037Infant GHO’s arrive as huge balls of fluffy feathers with big round, yellow eyes and exceptionally large, feet with sharp taloned toes that they eventually grow into. Great Horned Owls are fierce and powerful predators who usually hunt at night by listening for sounds that betray their prey’s presence, and they have such strong talons that when clenched, it takes the force of about 30 pounds to open them. That is a deadly grip. They hunt using their incredible hearing and a “perch and pounce” method. Great horned owls eat a wide variety of prey, both small and large. Cottontails seem to be a prominent food, but they will take squirrels, shrews, jackrabbits, muskrats, mice, weasels, skunks, gophers, snakes, domestic cats, bats, beetles, scorpions, frogs, grasshoppers and a wide variety of birds, from small juncos and sparrows to crows, wild ducks, geese, pheasants and even other owls. If you ever hear an agitated group of cawing American Crows, they may be mobbing a Great Horned Owl. Crows will gather to harass a Great Horned Owl for hours. The crows have good reason because the Great Horned Owl is their most dangerous predator. It seems that the world is one big buffet to a Great Horned Owl. After an owl has eaten, its stomach forms a pellet of fur, feathers, exoskeletons, and bones that they cannot digest. The owl then “upchucks” this pellet. Our shelter keeps these pellets on hand for the teachers in our area who request them for their science classes. Students can dissect them and identify what the owl has been eating. At the shelter, the little-big babies’ diet will consist of rats and mice until release. Fortunately, Artemis, our non-releasable, adult Great Horned Owl resident doesn’t mind fostering the owlets and teaching them what they need to know to be the best owls they can be! Blog_GHOWL_A_Jun2016As adults, Great Horned Owls are large birds weighing 3 to 4 pounds, standing 18-25″ tall with a wingspan of 36-60 inches. Males and females are similar in appearance, except the female is the larger of the two. The plumage of the Great Horned Owl varies regionally, from pale to dark. In general, they have brown body plumage covered with darker brown spots and white throat feathers that contrast with the dark cross-barred under parts. The white feathers stand out like a collar against the darker underside feathers. Some great horned owls may be very pale underneath, but still the white collar stands out. The Great Horned Owls facial disk may have orange or grayish feathers, and whiter feathers that form a V between the yellow eyes with black pupils. Contrary to popular belief, owls cannot turn their heads completely around, but they can rotate their heads 270 degrees, thanks to extra vertebra in their necks. Their eyes are fixed in their sockets, so they can’t move their eyes up or down or side to side. Owls have to move their whole head to compensate for the fixed eyes. Their ear tufts are large and set far apart on the head. Just like a dog, Great Horned Owls use these ear tufts or “horns” to convey body language, indicating their mood. When they are irritated the tufts lie flat and when they are inquisitive the tufts stand upright. So, those “horns” or “ears” are not really ears at all! These feather tufts are also part of the owl’s camouflage. They can make the owl look like part of a tree. The owl’s real ears are slits on either side of its head, just behind the facial disks. Blog_GHOWL_C_Jun2016For identification, four good field marks for the great horned owl are: size, eye color, ear tufts and the white collar. Their call is a series of deep hoots, from 3 to 8 notes long, and sounds like – “Whose Awake, Me Too,” with the “Me Too” part descending in tone. Like a coyote howl, the call of the great horned owl is a classic sound of the wild and can be heard from far away. When nesting pairs of Great Horned Owls call, the female has the higher pitched voice. Great Horned Owls can be found all over the United States and most of Canada, and southward to Central and South America to the Straits of Magellan. They are one of the most widespread species of owls. They mostly reside year round in their territories, but owls from far north move southward in fall or winter. The Great Horned Owls’ main enemy is man. Many owls die in collisions with automobiles or power lines. Mice and other rodents that have been exposed to pesticides may also be fatal to Great Horned Owls. If they can stay clear of perilous situations humans create, they usually live to be 12 – 15 years of age. The oldest Great Horned Owl on record is said to have been nearly 30 years old and from Ohio. There is so much to know and learn about Great Horned Owls, and it’s all amazing! They are gorgeous, incredible and magnificent raptors, but as magical and Harry Potter like as they are, remember the Great Horned Owl’s prowess as a predator and if they are present in your area, please keep your puppies and kitties inside!

best always,

Linda Bergman-Althouse

Author of “Save Them All

“The Tiniest Need Our Help!!”

Blog_CSMag_BabyBirds_The incubators are filling up at the Outer Banks Wildlife Shelter (OWLS) in Newport, NC because the tiniest need our help! Baby birds aren’t the cutest little critters to come through the doors of the shelter, but they are the most fragile and definitely will not make it on their own if abandoned or displaced. If they are newborns, we might not be able to make the call on what they are until they develop a little more because many baby birds start life looking quite similar and the smaller the bird species the more similar they look at birth; a skin blob of a body with no feathers, a limp neck trying to hold up a tiny head with a beak that shoots straight up to let Mom or Dad know when it’s hungry. When we admit newborn birds, we might even refer to them as UBBs (unidentified baby birds) until we hear a sound we recognize, the shape and coloring of their beak becomes more pronounced or they start to feather. Then we will know for sure!Blog_CSMag_BabyBird_
Larger song bird babies are easier to identify. When the nursery is full of baby birds, it becomes a full time job for baby bird feeders because these little creatures eat every 30 minutes because their metabolism is so fast and they develop much more quickly than mammals do. Also keep in mind, their meals don’t stop, this is seven days a week! Most people outside the shelter probably do not have the time to devote to this strict feeding schedule. If you add “day olds” or newborns to the mix, the feeding schedule for them is adjusted to every 15 minutes! We also need three shifts (morning, afternoon and evening until the sun goes down) to get the job done because that’s the way their parents would do it! There is no down time for the nursery workers. By the time you finish one round of feeding, it’s time to start all over again. Along with feeding, of course, is cleaning, because just like human babies, baby birds spend all their time eating, sleeping and pooping. Mom and Dad would be cleaning their nest area continually, so wildlife rehabilitators will do that as well. Recently, a nest of five House Finches were displaced when their nest gourd fell apart and the babies found themselves on the ground, four infant Carolina Wrens were discovered in a propane tank, a featherless baby Grackle was found sitting in the road (how that happened is anybody’s guess) and two Nuthatch babies were sighted inside a screen door with no Mom around. When you don’t see how it happened, it’s all speculation and pure wonderment on our part. There will be more baby bird calls and more to join the nursery this summer. Blog_CSMag_I7Z1049__Of course, when someone calls the shelter to tell us they have found baby birds on the ground or their nest is in a dangerous or precarious location, we initially give instructions on how to re-nest the little ones because that would be best for the whole bird family, but when that is impossible, we ask them to bring the youngins in for the care and safety they will need to survive. Wildlife rehabilitators are so important in the equation of raising and giving songbirds the second chance that they definitely deserve because, quite frankly, it’s usually human interference that displaces the little ones and causes a perilous situation for birds that are so important to our ecosystem, and as we are all aware, songbird numbers are on the decline. Blog_BabyBirds In NestWildlife rehabilitators are well trained and licensed, so they possess the “know-how” to provide appropriate species specific diets and habitat, as well as, anticipate and monitor species unique behaviors that when evaluated will let us know when bird youngsters are ready to spend the time needed in an outside enclosure to perfect perching, flight and eating on their own, which is one step away from a wild release. The Outer Banks Wildlife Shelter raises them all! We are not bias on which species to accept. Need is the key word!!! So, in our nursery in any given Spring, we house the tiniest of our feathered friends from Hummingbirds (although rare) to Finches, Wrens, Nuthatches, Titmouse, Warblers and Sparrows and the larger songbirds (who are usually the easier babies to raise because one: they are bigger and two: aren’t as ‘flitty.’) Larger nursery birds would include Eastern Blue Birds, Northern Mockingbirds, Robins, Blue Jays, Brown Thrashers, Cardinals, Gray Cat Birds, Starlings, Grackles, Boat Tailed Grackles, Chimney Swifts, Purple Martins, Fly Catchers, Barn Swallows, Red-Winged Blackbirds and the biggest nursery babies; a variety of Wood Peckers or Flickers, Mourning Doves and Pigeons. They are all so different, and they all have special needs!Blog_CSMag_I7Z1054__ Some are bugs and worm eaters (and we go through thousands of meal worms per week!), while others prefer seeds and berries, then again, some are omnivores and will include all the choices in their diet, but yes, we proudly raise them all!

Please enjoy your Memorial Day and always remember the reason this day has been set aside to be honored by those of us who owe so much to sacrifices made by others.

Best Always,

Linda Bergman-Althouse

author of “Save Them All

“Sweet Release!”

Blog_BarredOwlRelease_IMG_1091EWhen a Carteret County gentleman, on his way to work in January, straddled what he thought was road kill with his tires, he was shocked to see a lifted and outstretched wing in his rearview mirror, basically motioning, “Hey, I’m still alive here.” Dale stopped immediately and returned to find an adult Barred Owl in fact, alive, in the middle of the road! He placed the injured owl in his car and took him home to get assistance from his wife. She was surprised to see her husband walk in the house with a large owl under his arm, but it certainly wasn’t a challenge to find a kennel cab to place the owl in since their extended family includes five Pugs. It did not look good for the Barred Owl because he appeared weak, could not stand and who knew what internal injuries he may have suffered as a result of a collision with an automobile. She placed him in the pet carrier, believing he probably would not make it. Imagine her surprise when she checked on him a while later and he, although leaning against the carrier, was on his feet! At that point, the “great” Samaritan, Lori, figured the owl had a chance and transported him to the Outer Banks Wildlife Shelter in Newport, NC. An examination found no broken bones, lacerations or puncture wounds, but a concussion was quite evident due to his inability to stay steady on his feet. He received medicinal therapy to diminish brain swelling caused as a result of impact and to prevent any permanent neurological damage. When providing treatment, timing is critical when dealing with any injury but especially a head injury. Day after day he continued to improve and despite taking his sweet time, he eventually became his wild Barred Owl self again. He cooperatively ate well, packed on some weight and passed hunting school with flying colors. Then the day arrived that all wildlife rehabilitators look forward to; Release Day! Honestly, there is no better day at the shelter! Coordination with the family who found and brought him to the shelter for the care he urgently needed made it possible to release the Barred Owl back to his home area which is filled with tall trees and wide fields. Blog_FullSizeRender_EThe family was thrilled to participate in his “Sweet Release,” and it became a joyous family and wildlife rehabilitator affair. Everyone stood back, away from his enclosure, giving him a wide birth to leave in any direction he wanted to go. After the door opened, he sat for a bit and peeked out before taking wing to open sky. Blog_BarredOwlRelease6EIt didn’t take long for him to be completely out of sight. Releases are usually quick, and you dare not blink or you’ll miss it. Very seldom does a wild animal look back during release, for they are doing what they were made to do – avoid us! It’s an emotional few seconds for those taking part in a wildlife release for so many reasons and yes, there are tears. It’s always heart-warming for compassionate rescuers, who had put their day on hold to help an animal in distress, to see that because they cared enough to ensure the animal was taken to those who could help, a magnificent wild animal received a second chance at life. Wildlife Rehabilitators get a little weepy too because we know how tedious the animal’s care has been and how hard an animal has to fight to recover in captivity. Blog_FullSizeRender2_E_They have to stay “wild-strong” and want to recover as much as we want them to, although despite our most heroic efforts, a second chance doesn’t always come. Releases are Graduation Day whether rehabilitation has taken only a few weeks or many months. The compassion, efforts and strengths of everyone involved, to include the animal itself, has come full circle. Release is definitely a time to celebrate, whether it’s a very quiet moment between only the animal and rehabber or with others looking on. Our shelter says “Thank You” to all rescuers who stop in the middle of their plans during the day or night to take the necessary time required to intervene when an animal is obviously suffering. Wildlife rehabilitation is truly a joint effort that relies on the public’s eyes, ears and compassion because it would be impossible for the shelter staff to do what they do, if it wasn’t for kind, caring and generous rescuers like Lori & Dale of Peletier, NC.  Blog_BarredOwlRelease_4L5A5529EIf you aren’t familiar with Barred Owls, they are large, stocky nocturnal raptors with forward facing, soulful brown eyes and a hawk-like beak. They have no ear tufts like Great Horned Owls, which makes them look very round in appearance. Owls in general have binocular vision and their eyes are fixed in their sockets, so they must turn their entire head to change views, but turning is no problem. They can turn their head 135 degrees in either direction. Basically, they can look behind their own shoulders. They have very acute senses of hearing and sight. The feather pattern of the Barred Owl’s gorgeous brown and white striped plumage allows them to fly soundlessly with their four foot wingspan. Barred Owls have strong, yellow feet with sharp dark talons that look like the tips have been dipped in black ink. When you’re out for a night walk or sitting on your deck enjoying the stars and hear a call in the distance that almost sounds like someone is saying “Who cooks for you, who cooks for you all,” you have just identified a Barred Owl!

Release day is the Best—– Always!!!!!

Linda Bergman-Althouse, author of

“Save Them All”

“The Earliest Babies!”

A_CSMAG_2016Feb_OWLSSquirrelsXE
Squirrels! It’s always infant squirrels and usually Eastern Grays, who arrive on the baby train first at the Outer Banks Wildlife Shelter in Newport, NC. That train pulled in on February 5th this year and the babies onboard still had their umbilical cords attached. Late January and early February, they are brand new to the world and out there in the trees with Momma Squirrel doing her best to keep them fed, safe and warm in the dead of winter. Gray squirrel litters, which occur in the Spring and Fall, number between three and five infants, and as newborns they are commonly referred to as pinkies because they are born pink and hairless. Within one week their skin turns gray because fur is developing under their skin. The first sign of hair emerges as little whiskers. Flaps of skin open and become ears the third week of life. Their eyes don’t usually open until they are between four and five weeks old. These little ones generally stay in the trees quiet and unassuming until Mom allows them to venture outside the nest unless something bad happens that Momma cannot control. It could be Mother Nature playing queen of the mountain with a tornado or hurricane that topples a tree where squirrels reside. Even if the tree is not damaged and remains intact, high winds could cause the nest to fail, expelling squirrel babies. Most Mother squirrels have back up nests when the need arises to move their litters. Predators such as cats, crows, snakes or raptors can attack the nest or sometimes it’s another adult squirrel exerting dominance that causes infant squirrels to tumble to the ground. If you find a baby squirrel on the ground, it’s best to look around (under pine needles and leaves) while stepping very carefully to ensure there are no more displaced infants needing your help. A_CSMAG_IMG_7908XEFido or your cat, LuLu, may also bring a baby squirrel home uninjured, so it’s best to try to reunite the baby(s) with Mother because sometimes healthy young squirrels found on the ground or transported by your pet are not orphans. They simply need help being returned to their mother, and if you monitor the situation to ensure the youngin’ is not in danger, you’ll witness the mother squirrel “rescuing” the fallen healthy baby by carrying the infant with her mouth by their scruff back to the nest. Even when the baby looks too big for Mom to handle, she will manage. There are those occasions, unfortunately, when Mom doesn’t make it back to the nest due to meeting her demise by predator, automobile or some freak accident. Let’s assess the situation first. If the baby you’ve found is bleeding, covered with fly eggs (they look like grains of rice) or ant bites, extremely cold and crying nonstop (their alarm sound is like a shrill whistle and when you hear it, you’ll never forget it!) or presents with puncture wounds, the infant squirrel is more than likely orphaned. When a baby squirrel loses its mother, it is in desperate trouble because squirrel infants are totally dependent upon Mom. A baby squirrel has the best chance of survival when it is cared for by its mother, however, when Mom is removed from the equation, foster Moms, such as wildlife rehabilitators, are their next best option. If you find you truly have a case that supports orphan status, you will have to step in and take over for Mom to save this baby’s life. Get a shoebox or box about a foot square or a large Tupperware container (without the lid on) or another small suitable container. Place some soft fabric at the bottom but not towels as they can get their claws stuck in the loops and end up twisting legs trying to free themselves. Put on some leather gloves (they probably don’t have teeth yet but just to be safe). If they are pinkies, there’s no need for gloves and don’t worry about the fabric used, just choose a soft one. Gently pick up the baby and place it in the container. Put the container on a heating pad on its lowest setting and choose a dark and quiet area in your home (a closed door bathroom or closet is good) to house the little one. Then, contact your nearest wildlife rehabilitator or wildlife shelter for transport instructions. If you do not have a heating pad, place a plastic bottle filled with warm water and wrapped in a dish towel in the box. Make sure the lid is on tight and the water is not too hot. Do not attempt to feed the infant squirrel, and keep the baby or babies away from any other living beings such as dogs, cats, parrots, children or larger humans. A_CSMAG_IMG_7909EIf, at dusk, you find a cold baby that exhibits no conditions requiring medical attention, it would be best to keep the little one in that dark and quiet area on the lowest set heating pad, as stated earlier, over night. Most Mothers will be settled in for the night at dusk anyway to ensure her litter remains quiet and safe from predators. The next morning, place the baby at the base of a tree close to where it was found and earnestly monitor a reuniting attempt with Mom (1 to 2 hours). Most of us have heard the old tale that has become a widespread misconception that wildlife Moms will not accept the baby back if it emits human scent, but that IS NOT TRUE! She will just be happy to have her baby back. If the reunite does not happen the next day, you will need to give the infant its best chance of survival with a licensed wildlife rehabilitator who will most likely have other young squirrels to litter-mate with your rescued squirrel. If the young squirrel you found or who found you by running up to you is eyes opened and fully furred with a bushy tail, he or she needs to be taken to the wildlife shelter right away. Juvenile squirrels will not be running up to you unless they are in trouble, mainly orphaned. The juvie needs to be with other squirrels to ensure behaviors required to survive in the wild are learned. All wildlife, including squirrels, have developmental, nutritional, housing and handling requirements that are species specific and must be met if the animal has any chance of survival, and it’s important to keep in mind that raising a wild animal in captivity is illegal in North Carolina unless you have a state permit. Squirrels are weaned between six and seven weeks of age, but will continue to nurse until ten to twelve weeks. A_CSMag_2016SquirrelInfantEWildlife rehabilitators also follow the same developmental process by extending syringe feedings of formula until the juvenile weans and will continue to provide squirrel formula in a dish to be lapped along with offering a variety of fruits, vegetables, seeds and nuts until they are behaviorally capable and ready for release. Yes, they are cute and it’s tempting, but squirrels need other squirrels to be raised properly and to live the longest and best squirrel life possible!

best always and Happy Spring!!

Linda Bergman-Althouse, author of

SAVE THEM ALL!

 

“For The Love of Birds!”

A_CSMag_SparrowAtWindow_BlogMany of us enjoy watching wildlife in our yards, especially gorgeous songbirds that frequent our feeders and birdbaths. Some we might even feel like we know, we see them so often! Our hearts go out to these tiny and fragile creatures who seem so capable in their efforts to thrive and outwit danger. Unfortunately, because wild birds are maneuvering around our homes or businesses while flitting from trees to feeders they occasionally fly smack dab into a window and are knocked unconscious, possibly injured or tragically die. That ‘glass smack’ is always a horrible sound for those of us who have come to recognize it. For birds, glass windows are worse than invisible because they reflect foliage or the sky, making them inviting places to fly into. Glass does not discriminate. It will take the fit as well as the unfit of a species. Most birds will crash into windows during the day when they mistake the reflection for landscape. At night, bird collisions also happen when nocturnal migrants hit lighted windows that appear in their airspace. Sometimes, although not as serious and far less likely to cause injury, birds, such as American Robins, Northern Cardinals and Towhees, will attack its reflection while defending its breeding territory. A_CSMag_CardinalatWindow_BlogAt the Outer Banks Wildlife Shelter in Newport, we receive calls from people throughout the year who’ve experienced a ‘bird smack’ and aren’t sure what to do because “the bird is just lying there.” Fortunately, there are some procedures to follow that just might save a life. It’s very hard to tell whether a bird has been knocked out or has died on impact, but it’s best to proceed as though you are the emergency medical technician willing to give that little bird his second chance and a shot at recovery. It’s true, no matter what you do, you might lose a few, but to the one you save, it will mean everything! The first thing you must do is gently place the bird in a box that blocks all incoming light (a shoe box is a good size) lined with a washcloth or dish towel to ensure the bird is removed from external stimuli and predator danger. If the bird is only stunned and continues to lie there, cats or wildlife could very well take advantage of its immobility. The cloths will be used for traction rather than allowing the bird to nervously sliding around in the box when it comes to. The box should have a lid with breathing holes in it. Take the box inside and place it somewhere dark, quiet and warm such as a closet or bathroom. Darkness helps calm the bird, lower its heart rate and lead to a faster recovery. When a bird is unconscious and has not passed, it still has sustained head trauma and will need that safe and tranquil place to relax. About every 20 minutes check the box by listening for movement from within the box. Please refrain from interacting with the bird, which is very stressful for the injured bird and can compromise any chance of recovery. It’s also not a good idea to open the box inside. If the bird has recovered, it will zoom out of the box and be inside your home, which is another problem entirely. Once you hear movement, take the box outside to remove the lid. A_CSMag_IMG_0185_Blog If the birdie flies away immediately, you should pat yourself on the back for giving that little life the valuable time needed to recover from a traumatic incident and return to the wild and his family. If the bird appears unable to fly due to injury, please contact your nearest wildlife rehabilitation center for transport instructions. Keep in mind, it is illegal to keep a wild bird in your possession indefinitely, however, you may keep it for a couple of hours to allow it to recover from a potentially fatal concussion. None of us want these glass strikes to happen, but when humans coexist with wildlife the stage is set for these unpleasant and sometimes, tragic incidents. You may be thinking, what can we do to decrease or prevent these extremely dreadful occurrences? Awareness of what could happen is powerful, because that propels us toward making changes in our environment that can make a big difference in how often these “glass smacks” occur. Moving a feeder is a consideration. If your feeder is moved closer to the window, birds won’t be able to pick up enough velocity to hurt themselves if they fly into it. If the feeder is quite far away, the bird will be more likely to recognize that the window is not part of their natural environment. Ideally you should place your feeder either less than 3 feet from the window or more than 30 feet from it. A_CSMag_LT_0152_BlogInstalling curtains or blinds (white is best) will obstruct a reflection that, otherwise, could draw them in. Another idea is to place decals on your window no more than 2 inches apart horizontally and 4 inches apart vertically or vertical tape strips no more than 4 inches apart, but that means you won’t be seeing much out that window! Bug screens have been touted as very effective in reducing the reflectivity of glass and if a bird does ignore the screen, it will serve as a cushion if hit and reduce the chance of injury. Wind chimes or wind socks near the glass can also deter birds from coming near the window. Some folks have even smeared soap on their window to fog any reflection which is a little messy, but if it works, why not? There are other products such as one-way transparent film that appears opaque and ultraviolet technology that only birds can see when applied to glass and are said, although pricey, to be quite effective. If you have suffered through the sadness of a songbird losing its life after hitting your window, try any of these methods. It can only help!
A_CSMag_LT_2887_Blog_edited-1According to the Bird Conservation Network more than 100 million North American birds die every year from window collisions, but “For the Love of Birds,” we can all do our part in reducing that huge number just by caring and making a few changes. Our wild birds entertain us year round for a mere handful of millet and sunflower seeds. To nurture our appreciation and love for our feathered little friends, let’s coexist in a responsible way by helping to keep their airspace safe and ‘glass smack’ free. Only after ensuring we’ve checked the box on some of these preventative methods, can we puff our chest and say “Not gonna happen, Not on my watch!”

Happy Bird Watching and Best Always!!!

Linda Bergman-Althouse, author of

Save Them All