Pumpkins for Wildlife!

Who doesn’t love pumpkins, especially this time of year? Humans hunt for their favorite ‘size and shape’ pumpkins to decorate or display for the holidays, carve into master pieces for Halloween and cook into scrumptious donuts, pies, muffins, sweetbreads, pancakes, and you name it. It’s pumpkin everything! Most people don’t think about wildlife loving this fruit or is it a vegetable (the debate rages on) as much as humans do, but it’s true! From bats and birds to bears, if a pumpkin is nearby, they are going to eat it. Pumpkins are tempting treats most wildlife can’t and won’t resist. Pumpkin flesh is full of water, so it’s as refreshing as it is tasty. Our wild animal patients and residents at the Outer Banks Wildlife Shelter in Newport will soon be munching pumpkin because some pumpkin loving people ‘over-pumpkin’ and need some place to take all those perishable, post-holiday pumpkins. After Halloween or Thanksgiving is officially over, many wildlife enthusiasts will dismantle their Jack-O-Lanterns or whole pumpkins by breaking them into pieces to put in their woods or yards for their own wildlife visitors and bring the rest to us! They know the wildlife in our care will benefit from the addition of this nutritious food source to their diets and through the enrichment of exploration. At the shelter, we’re known to hollow out pumpkins, save the seeds for the birds and squirrels, and fill them with foods for our vultures, opossums and fox. All the animals seem to enjoy maneuvering the big orange ball and taking it apart to get to the hearty and scrumptious morsels inside. They also do not pass up munching the tasty pumpkin! If you decide to put pumpkins out for wildlife, it’s best to cut them in half or better yet, break them into pieces to ensure squirrels or smaller animals won’t get stuck inside, especially if temperatures drop to freezing. That doesn’t happen often in eastern North Carolina, but it has, and pumpkin flesh freezes to fur! We also don’t want a deer’s head stuck in a pumpkin. That has happened, too. Please don’t feel too badly if critters start munching on your holiday decorations earlier than you’d like them to. They, especially squirrels, are known to do that, even if the pumpkins aren’t carved yet. These gnawing experts will start the carving process themselves! If you have squirrels in your area that get into the Halloween Spirit early and are notorious for carving their own pumpkins, just don’t put them out to early, and that will remedy that. Keep in mind that they don’t know that’s your pumpkin and that you’re trying to make a seasonal statement. You’re basically putting out food for wild animals. So let’s see, who is going to visit you if you put your pumpkins out; deer, rabbits, squirrels, bats, groundhogs, seed eating birds, opossums, raccoons, fox, snakes, porcupine, skunks, if you’re creek or river side or close to marsh lands – otters or beavers, and if you are in bear territory, BEARS (so, if that’s the case, best not put the pumpkins out or at least wait until brown and black bears are entering their winter dormancy, which is usually just after Halloween passes). Okay, let’s take bears out of the equation. If you don’t have bears and your pumpkins are still fresh and not moldy, recycle your pumpkins by making a ‘Snack-O-Lantern’ for your wildlife, because they will love all that pumpkinliciousness! When in season, Zoos around the world provide their resident animals pumpkins for enrichment and special treats, too. From tiny fish and weasels, large Chimpanzees and Red Pandas to huge Hippos and Rhinos, pumpkins provide great excitement for zoo and sanctuary residents. Research states that a whopping 39 million pounds of pumpkins are thrown away after Halloween! That’s about the weight of 1,500 double decker buses! So, instead of trashing your pumpkins, please use them to help wildlife. Humans, who anticipate the set up of seas of orange splendor, go crazy at pumpkin-patch time, but remember animals like them, too! So, what you can’t use at your house or in your neighborhood after the holiday, take them to a wildlife shelter near you, and the staff will present them to some adorable wild ones who will make good use of them. If a pumpkin unfortunately succumbs to mold before you can use it as food for wildlife, bury that one in your garden or yard or add to a compost pile. Pumpkins quickly break down in the soil and worms and insects will be all over the pumpkin yumminess. Then, all the birds and animals that eat worms and insects will be all over them. It’s the whole “Circle of Life” thing. Pumpkins are extremely popular with such a wide range of animals and insects that it would be a shame to let them go to waste. Enjoy the happy, orange season and hope to see you at the wildlife shelter soon, with pumpkins!

best always & Happy Halloween,

Linda Bergman-Althouse

author of “SAVE THEM ALL”


“Heat Waves Affect Wildlife”

  With the onset of scorching heat waves, summertime can become a deadly season for all living things. We are very aware of the negative impact extreme heat has on vulnerable human beings in our communities, but we might be in the dark when it comes to knowing what harm may be going on with wildlife that is experiencing near-lethal temperatures that lead to drought and loss of food. June and July topped out with record high temperatures, and we never know when they will hit again! The Outer Banks Wildlife Shelter in Newport has admitted a few distressed wildlife due to dehydration which symptomized with staggering, loss of balance and confusion. Good Samaritans were able to recognize that something was wrong and that those cottontails, squirrels and birds needed help. Heat Waves have become the new normal and will impact not only our human communities, but all animals and our entire ecosystem. The same things that can happen to humans in sweltering heat happens to wildlife as well; dehydration, heat exhaustion and heat stroke. Hot weather may cause natural water sources to dry up, meaning birds and other wildlife will be left without anything to drink, but we can help them by providing safe, alternative water sources. Turning your outside spaces into temporary homes for nature is doable with actions like freshening and topping off your birdbath daily or creating a make-shift pond from a washtub or putting down a saucer filled with water. These three simple acts could offer a vital lifeline to some of our favorite backyard critters that will be fighting against decline. Some people hang a “drip jug” over their bird bath, which is a basic plastic milk jug filled with water with a tiny hole in the bottom. The birds hear the dripping, and the sound attracts them for a cool bath and a drink. Leave shallow dishes, which are safer for smaller animals who could drown in deeper containers, in areas where animals are protected from predators. That means keeping your pets away from this area so the animals can drink undisturbed. A few more tips on providing life-saving water are: always clean the receptacles daily to prevent the spread of disease, don’t place the water to close to bushes or trees to minimize predation but do utilize a shaded area to keep the temperature of the water down and keep the water source away from any feeding areas to prevent the water from getting mucky. Along with the clean drinking water you are providing, birds will also be able to bathe which is vital to keeping their feathers in good condition for flight. Regularly watering your plants and gardens will be a lifeline for butterflies and bees. If your plants die, so will the butterflies and their buzzin’ buddies. If your ground area is drying and rules in your community limit grass watering, birds like Robins, Blackbirds and your turtles and frogs will not be able to access earthworms that will tunnel deeper into the ground for safety. A great substitute for earthworms is canned dog or cat food provided on a flat plate in your yard. Or if you agree with the birds that worms are best, meal worms from the pet store or bait shop can carry them through the hot times. We usually see birds and squirrels coming to our feeders and water sources during the day, but in the evening and during the night other wildlife such as opossums, raccoons or fox will visit our makeshift habitat for water and whatever they can find to stay alive during a searing heat wave. Keep in mind that summer is Baby Season, so wildlife Moms and Dads will be doing what they need to do and wherever they need to do it to stay alive so they can continue to care for their offspring. They might even bring their youngsters into your safe haven for food and drink. For those of you with pools in your backyard, you might consider covering the pool or providing an island or incline for animals to crawl out if need be. Hot animals trying to beat the heat or quench their thirst can drown in pools so taking away that access or providing an exit can save lives. Please keep an eye out for heat stressed wildlife. If you spot any critters who look like they’re struggling, call the Outer Banks Wildlife Shelter in Newport or your own local wildlife organization for help. Be particularly mindful at dusk and at night as many nocturnal animals will be more active during this time. Prepare an emergency kit to keep in your car including water, a blanket/towel and a box. Put a few local wildlife rescue contacts in your phone so you can call for advice if you need it. If you do come across a wild animal who is visibly distressed, wrap them loosely and place them in a cardboard box and place the box in a dark, quiet and cool place. If your distressed wildlife is categorized as a rabies vector species (raccoon, fox or bat), do not touch or pick it up and call a wildlife rehabilitation shelter immediately. This is for the animal’s safety, as well as your own. Also, DO NOT wrap heat stressed animals in wet towels or submerge in water — this can kill them. Just like us, many wild creatures can live for extended periods of time without food but… just like us, they need water. Remember, when you sit back and relax with a tall, ice-cold drink, often to enjoy the sunny weather, our backyard birds and other wildlife might not be having such a good time. Heat waves produce a very negative impact on animals, even mortality. Most humans have a variety of ways to cope with a heat wave, but animals don’t have those luxuries of running water, air-conditioning or places to escape the sweltering environment. So, let’s help our feathered, furred, scaled or shelled friends in any way we can, including offering them a cold one! Water, of course! Cheers!

best always,

Linda Bergman-Althouse

author of “Save Them All

“Baby BOOM!!

Blog_SquirrelLitterTis’ the season, but not for Christmas carols, twinkling lights or sugar cookies! This season is what wildlife rehabilitators affectionately refer to as “Baby Season,” while we display frozen smiles and ready ourselves for months of nonstop feeding, cleaning and loss of sleep. We wish all wildlife babies could be raised by their Mommas, but circumstances such as severe weather, felled trees, precarious nest locations and predators prevent that from happening. So, the next best chance at survival for these little orphans or displaced babies is tapping a wildlife rehabilitator’s expert knowledge of care for a variety of wild species, as well as their compassion and stamina to ensure all little furries and feathers will eventually live their life wild as intended. That is exactly the focus when wild infants are brought to our care at the Outer Banks Wildlife Shelter in Newport! We know when the Bradford Pear, Cherry, Dogwood trees and Azaleas begin to floral in explosions of color, wild babies are a blooming too. Our first baby arrivals this year were infant squirrels, who lost their home after a tree was cut down. Squirrels are fairly cooperative babies to raise, although they quickly grow into frantic little teenagers whose next developmental stage will be acclimating to the outside in an enclosure designed for that purpose. That’s like graduation from middle school for these crazy little furry folks! Neonate opossums came onboard shortly after our fast and furious tree climbers. BlogMay2015_Opossum_BabiesToo bad Mom couldn’t raise them, but luckily, a timely Good Samaritan happened upon the scene to rescue five tiny possums who survived a car accident that killed their mother and siblings. Opossums show up in much larger litters than squirrels; 5 – 12 rather than 3 or 4, and baby possies won’t suckle formula from a syringe. They have to be tubed to get the nourishment they need, which means a skilled wildlife rehabilitator must thread a tiny, flexible tube down the baby’s esophagus and into its tummy to deliver the formula. When you have 30 or more infant possums that are too young to lap from a dish, that task tends to be quite time consuming, and they don’t eat just once a day, actually, every 3 to 4 hours! When the temperatures warmed up enough for folks to start working in their yards and dogs and cats began discovering nesting areas, infant Eastern cottontails arrived. Bunnies, although cute as furry buttons, are not the easiest or most cooperative babies to care for because they become highly stressed during captivity. Blog_Baby CottontailsXFortunately, cottontails develop and mature faster than squirrels and opossums, and although still small, are ready for independence four to five weeks from birth. Last week, our first baby bird nestlings, which happened to be three Carolina Wrens, were carried through the admit door for safety because the rescuer’s cat had located their nest. BlogMay2015_They are hardy and putting away a massive number of mealworms that are hand fed to each wren every 30 minutes. (The babies in this image are Mockingbirds, who were more cooperative about getting their picture taken!) We receive many calls from nature loving folks who discover wild babies in precarious situations to include believing the babies are abandoned and want to know what to do. So, if you are the next person who makes a wild baby discovery, this is our guidance: If Mom is truly not around to care for and protect the infant(s) and chances are the infant(s) will die if left in the elements, without food and protection, as well as, exposed to predators, wild or otherwise, an intervention is necessary. After noting exactly where you found the animal(s) place the babies in a breathable cardboard box with a lid or in a paper bag and move them to a dark, warm and quiet area of your home. The area where you found them is important because some babies might not be truly orphaned, so the opportunity to return them to their mother may still exist, as is the case with many cottontails. Don’t keep the little wild ones in your home any longer than necessary due to state and federal laws regarding wildlife. Do not re-handle or allow children or pets to come in contact with the young wildlife you have rescued. Next step is to get them to a wildlife rehabilitator by checking online to find one in or close to your area. All babies need to stay warm, and wildlife babies are no different. If you are unable to get them to the rehabilitator right away and they are not fully feathered or furred, a heating pad on the lowest setting, placed under the box will prevent hypothermia. If you don’t have a heating pad, a plastic bottle or zip-lock plastic bag filled with warm water can be placed in a corner of the box. The babies will naturally move toward the warmth as needed. Ensure the bottle cap is tight and the zip-lock bag is sealed. Do not feed the babies. Feeding anything to a dehydrated or cold animal will probably kill it. Also the wrong formula can cause death. Every animal species has their own unique diet and an unlicensed member of the public is not expected to have that knowledge, so no one should feel badly about not knowing how to care for the possum or bunny they found. Also keep in mind that it is illegal to keep a wild animal at your home if you do not possess the appropriate Federal or State permit to do so. Wild animals are not toys or pets and should be treated with the befitting respect they deserve. When transporting the babies to the wildlife center or an individual wildlife rehabilitator do not check on them as you drive or hold them on your lap. Wildlife is unpredictable, even babies, so your attempts to check them or hold them could become a dangerous situation while driving. A trained and licensed wildlife rehabilitator will have the means and know-how to provide the best chance of survival and ultimately, a wild life for the animals you were so caring and compassionate enough to save. You can feel very good about getting them where they need to be to ensure they receive their much appreciated and precious second chance.

Happy Spring Baby Season!!

Linda Bergman-Althouse, author of

Save Them All


Wild Babies Amongst Us

_LT_0664FB“ALL ABOARD for the Baby Train!” We have officially shifted into the busiest time of the year at the Outer Banks Wildlife Shelter (OWLS) in Newport. Wildlife babies of all shapes, sizes and species are making their way to the care of wildlife rehabilitators everywhere, and our shelter is no exception. It all started a month ago when a couple of baby squirrels were admitted after being found on the ground after a storm went through the area. Then, a litter of baby opossums, weighing only 20 something grams each was brought to us after their Mom was hit by a car. Once the baby train started chugging, it just gained speed and the number of admits grew large. An infant Barred Owl is on board after being found on the ground in the same place we have picked up baby Barred Owls for the past three years. We always see the Mother in a tree close by and although it’s sad to remove the little one, especially with her looking on, we know the ball of fluff will not make it if she remains on the ground. We find solace in thinking Mom may boot them out of the nest because she’s stressed or tired and knows someone will show up to take over with their care. I mean . . . three years in a row, really? By the way, the little girl is doing great and started eating on her own the first day. We’re having quite the influx of Eastern Cottontail admits for a variety of reasons such as a dog or cat discovering the nest site, but mainly as a result of those engaged in yard work. BlogIMG_0407May2013It is Spring, and that’s what humans do! If you come across a nest of bunnies in the wild and mother is nowhere to be seen, please DO NOT disturb them if they are not in eminent danger … this is normal. You will not see the mom as mom will only come back in the middle of the night to feed her babies. Mother rabbits only nurse their babies for approximately five minutes twice a day. By removing them from the nest you greatly reduce their chances of survival. So, if you do pick up a baby before thinking it through, please put it back. Infant cottontails are the most difficult of all furry wildlife orphans to rehab because they are ever alert to danger and subject to fatally overstressing. Holding baby bunnies can easily cause them to succumb to heart failure. Cottontails will still care for their babies even if they have been touched by human hands. We recommend putting a string around their nest area and checking back a few times to see if the string is mussed. If the babies still look plump and healthy, Mom is taking care of them, as it should be. In four weeks or less they’ll be out on their own. In rare situations where you know the bunnies are orphaned, such as evidence momma rabbit has been killed by another animal or found in the road, that is definitely the time to get the babies to a skilled wildlife rehabilitator, trained to provide appropriate care to ensure their best chance of survival. Speaking of more babies, our brooders are full of Mallard, Muscovy and Wood ducklings who found themselves alone, confused and separated from their Mother and siblings as a result of whatever the crisis was at the moment. FBBrooderDucklings_May2013We can only speculate. Baby birds are now heading into the shelter as well. First in was a House Finch, all by her lonesome and found on the ground. Breeding season for birds gets started a little later than mammals, but when it happens, it is full on! The environment can be very hard on baby birds just trying to make their way into the world. The reasons are many; from numerous wild or domestic predators wanting to dine on them or the ‘incredible edible egg’ to humans who find their presence annoying (that one is hard to figure out from a wildlife rehabilitator’s perspective). Baby birds are brought to the shelter daily throughout spring and summer and care for baby birds is quite time consuming. There is no down time between feedings because baby birds, especially songbirds, eat every thirty minutes or less, depending upon their size when admitted to the shelter. By the time a wildlife rehabilitator at OWLS has made the bird nursery feeding rounds, it’s time to start the process all over again. And because birds eat from sun up to sun down, the shelter adds a third shift of volunteer personnel to cover evening hours until the sun dips beneath the horizon. So the bottom line for OWLS this time of year . . . We are very, very busy, but as wildlife rehabilitators, we don’t mind working earnestly to ensure all baby critters in peril get their second chance! Please watch out for the Wild Babies Amongst Us.

Happy Sunny Days Everyone!

Linda Bergman-Althouse
Author of “Save them All

The Bunny Trail

Infant bunnies, whether Eastern Cottontails or Marsh Rabbits, are different than most babies admitted to our shelter. One would think that a baby is a baby and as long as they are healthy, uninjured and fellow mammals they would be similar to a baby squirrel or an opossum to raise, but that’s not the case. They are so, so unique because . . . they just are, for reasons I’ll explain. A baby bunny arrives at the Outer Banks Wildlife Shelter (OWLS) in Newport for usually one of the following reasons; “I was mowing grass and accidentally rolled over a cottontail nest. Some of the babies are still alive,” or “My cat came home with a baby bunny and presented it to me as a gift,” or “My kids just brought a little rabbit home. What should I do?” More often we hear, “I found a nest of baby bunnies and their mother seems to have abandoned them.” We initially discuss the potential to return the bunnies to Mom, who might very well be in the nest area frantically looking for them, but if we decide that option is not possible, we immediately contact one of OWLS’ specialty cottontail rehabilitators to take on the task of personally raising them. Infant cottontails are the most difficult of all furry wildlife orphans to rehab because they are ever alert to danger and subject to fatally overstressing. Baby rabbits will always win the “too cute” award, so its natural people want to hold them, but that unnatural closeness can be a death sentence for the bunny. They are easily stressed by handling and noise, even the volume of your voice, can cause them heart failure. Raising bunnies is a major commitment in time and dedication and their environment must remain consistent and routine to minimize stress. A wildlife rehabilitator must gain their trust to get them to eat, manage their stress and deal with their sensitive digestive system. If one, calm, pleasant and nurturing person is caring for them, they will feel comfortable with that specific touch and will, in turn, calm down, relax and thrive. That’s always our hope, and the strategy has proven successful. Bunnies are attuned to the personality of their caregiver, and harmony is important to them. Too many things can go wrong when a number of people are on a rotating schedule to care for rabbit infants. Improper temperature, inconsistent pressure while being handled, poor diets, over feeding, bad sanitation and noisy, stressful environments can all do in a baby cottontail. Their feeding formula must be precisely on point to establish normal rabbit flora (bacteria) in their gut and intestinal tract to enable proper digestion. There are also special dietary supplements wildlife rehabilitators are aware of and that can be provided, such as cecotropes, to ensure cottontails ingest essential protective organisms. Although baby bunnies mature much faster than other wildlife and are ready to head into the wild in about four to five weeks from birth, we still can’t rush the developmental process and all steps of appropriate care must be taken to ensure their survivability. Bottom line, cottontails are fussy, as well as, fuzzy little beings who want what they want or nothing. There’s a lot to know about rehabilitating infant bunnies and they need all the knowing we’ve got! Cottontails are born with no fur and their eyes closed. Their ears are also sealed at birth. There are usually 4 to 6 babies per litter, weighing 30-35 grams at birth. At two weeks, with eyes and ears now open, cottontails in the wild begin leaving the nest for short adventures. It is also the time they start chewing greens. They will weigh between 80 and 100 grams at this age. At three weeks, they will be weaned and leave the nest to find food, but will remain in the area and return to their nest at night. Between four and five weeks, weighing in at 150+ grams and about the size of a tennis ball, they will look like a small version of Mom with ears standing straight up from their head and alert, wide eyes. Marsh Rabbits are typically smaller than Easterns, darker in color and are found in brackish and freshwater marshes rather than open grassy areas with shrubs for cover that the cottontails generally choose. Both are prey animals, so they must be fast and furious to live the longest life possible. Wildlife Rehabilitators ensure baby bunnies are raised to hone appropriate avoidance behaviors and their jumping, zig-zagging, escape skills. If you come across a nest of bunnies in the wild and mother is nowhere to be seen, please DO NOT disturb them if they are not in eminent danger … this is normal. You will not see the mom as mom will only come back in the middle of the night to feed her babies. Mother rabbits only nurse their babies for approximately five minutes twice a day. By removing them from the nest you will greatly reduce their chances of survival. So, if you do pick up a baby before thinking it through, please put it back. Rabbits will still care for their babies even if they have been touched by human hands. In a rare situation where you know the bunnies are orphaned, such as evidence momma rabbit has been killed by another animal or found in the road, you need to get the babies to a skilled wildlife rehabilitator, trained to provide appropriate care to ensure their best chance of survival. We’ve been traveling the bunny trail for a long time.

Linda Bergman-Althouse
Wildlife Rehabilitator
Author of “Save Them All”