“Ballerina Birds!”

Big Bird has landed!! An elegant and exotic Mute Swan found grounded in Morehead City unable to stand, appearing sickly and underweight has been admitted to The Outer Banks Wildlife Shelter in Newport. With no injuries evident during examination, the staff has theorized toxicity and is flushing her system to rid her of possible poisons or lead ingestion. Time will tell if our efforts will win the race against organ damage. She is still weak, but is eating very well, which is always a good sign. The admission of a Mute Swan is atypical to the shelter because they are not native here. They are common place in Europe and Asia and a few were imported to northern regions of the United States during the 18th century. Their American population has grown in the last few years and although rare to see Mute Swans this far south, it is believed that because they are not migratory, developers or land owners are bringing them in to decorate ponds and lakes. Probably not the best thing to do, but it is happening. If a few have made it here on their own, that is a major feat for one of the heaviest flying birds on the planet! Male Mute Swans, known as Cobs, typically weigh between 23 to 27 pounds, and females weigh in at a little less. The only waterfowl heavier than the Mute Swan is the Trumpeter Swan. The beautiful, adult Mute Swan can tower four feet high, cover 56 to 62 inches of length in ground space and their wing span is an impressive 79 to 94 inches! Their bill is vibrant orange with a black base and sports a bulging black knob on the base. A Mute Swan is easily recognizable with its long neck curved into an S and its snowy-white plumage. Sometimes under-feathering presents in orange or brown, but that is stain caused by iron and tannins in the water. These gorgeous, giant water birds are written into fairy tales, romanticized because a pair of Swans, who mate for life, create a “lover’s heart” as their heads touch when they greet or during mating and are represented in ballets during dance. As a child, this author always referred to beautiful swans as ‘Ballerina Birds’ after experiencing “Swan Lake.” Mute Swans feed on aquatic plants, exclusively on submerged aquatic vegetation, such as read head grass and widgeon grass, as well as, fish, frogs and insects. It is estimated that the adult male Mute Swan eats up to nine pounds of aquatic vegetation every day and for that reason alone, their presence is controversial. That voracious appetite can easily disturb local ecosystems and displace native wildlife species. They feed on underwater plants by plunging their long neck into the water. Our Mute Swan at the shelter is currently putting away quite the haul of greens and trout chow. Mute Swans nest on large mounds they build in the middle of a shallow lake or pond. They reuse the same nest each year, restoring or rebuilding as needed. Male and female swans share the care of the nest. Although Mute Swans appear very statuesque and dignified, they are strongly territorial and become fiercely aggressive when defending their nest. They have been known to attack people who venture into their nesting area by biting and jabbing with the bony spurs on their wings. So, if you catch a glimpse of a Mute Swan and choose to go bold by moving in to get a closer look, be careful. If you hear a hissing or grunting sound and see the Swan’s wings half raised, that is a threat display, and they will be coming after you! The Female Mute Swan, called the Pen, lays four to eight greenish brown eggs and the hatchlings, called cygnets, are ash gray-brown born within 35 to 38 days. Their bill is grayish rather than orange for the first year. Once the cygnets fledge, it is not uncommon to see the whole family looking for food. In approximately three months after hatching they are adult size but do not match adult coloring. Within 6 to 7 months the youngsters develop the famous white plumage and the long neck that helps them reach through the water to snatch the aquatic food they enjoy. The young start pairing at age one and become sexually mature at age two but usually don’t reproduce until age three or four. Mute Swans spend most of their time floating on the water, and in our area you may find them in city park ponds, rivers, lakes, coastal bays, wetlands, marshes, streams, slow flowing areas, large fresh water areas and estuaries. Although they do grunt when making a threat, they are generally silent waterfowl. The most familiar sound associated with the Mute Swan is the ‘whooshing’ of their wings in flight because it takes extreme effort to take off from the water. Adult Mute Swans don’t have many natural enemies, other than the Fox, who have been known to attack, but because the Mute Swan is so big, fierce and agile for a bird that size, the fox doesn’t always win! There are threats greater to the swan than predators. Pollution, lead poisoning, swallowing discarded fishing hooks and fishing line entanglements are extremely dangerous encounters for Mute Swans. Also, if they take flight, collisions with overhead power lines have been known to occur. Their longevity in the wild is only five to six years but in domestication, up to 25 years. Please keep in mind that it is unlawful for anyone to release Mute Swans into the public waters of North Carolina, but they can be maintained on privately controlled waters that do not have access to public waters, but then you must ensure the Mute Swans understand that they must stay put, and therein lies the challenge. We are working hard to help our big, beautiful girl recover so she can return to her Mute Swan mate, as well as, goose and swan friends in her neighborhood pond that does not reach public NC water!

best always and Happy Easter!,

Linda Bergman-Althouse

author of “Save Them All

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“THEY ARE HERE!”

blog_armadilloxxeThe state small mammal of Texas has been heading our way for a few years now and by observation accounts to the North Carolina Wildlife Commission, some have made it! Armadillos were spotted in South Carolina in the late 1990’s, and word was they would not get as far as North Carolina because our winters are too cold for them to tolerate. Well, SURPRISE! This nocturnal, omnivorous mammal covered in bony plates has dumfounded biologists. The animal considered not intelligent enough to avoid traffic has made its way up U.S. Highway 17 along the coast into the Tar Heel state, and witnesses have observed an armadillo leaping three to four feet straight up in the air to avoid an oncoming car. There are different species of armadillo, but the one moving into our area is the Nine-banded Armadillo. They have also been found in mountain counties in far western North Carolina, which begs us to think, if they can live in high elevations like the Smokies, they can live anywhere. There is debate on their method of arrival, though. Are they being transported, deliberately or not, or are they waddling their way here? The biggest deterrent for the presence of armadillos is weather because the animals can’t endure prolonged cold and frozen soil, but our mild winters as of late have opened the door for Nine-Banded Armadillo travel. Their presence is well established in Texas, Oklahoma, Louisiana, Arkansas, Mississippi, Alabama and Florida, and it was always believed the “armored” brownish-gray animal the size of an opossum or housecat could only thrive in warm, wetland habitats and preferably the arid landscape of Texas, but now we know, it ain’t so! Even farther north, Illinois and Indiana, are experiencing the arrival of the NB Armadillo. Maybe the weather isn’t as important as the abundance of fresh water, forests, bugs and critters to eat, although frozen ground makes foraging for grubs almost impossible. Armadillos need to be able to forage steadily. Since they are coming and some are already here, the staff at the Outer Banks Wildlife Shelter in Newport need to become knowledgeable on the topic of Armadillo rehabilitation and how to raise orphaned Armadillos, so we have taken on the task to learn everything we can about the new wildlife coming our way. As with all wildlife, the need to wear our personal protective equipment (PPE) will be required to ensure anything zoonotic will not be passed from animal to human. This pre-historic and exotic looking little creature with a bulbous snout that we are now learning about has been given quite a few nick-names; Texas Turkey, Armored Pig, Possum on a Half Shell, Hoover Hog, Rabbit Turtle which is a name given them by the ancient Aztecs, and they are also described as a “Platypus in a conquistador helmet.” blog_armadilloxyeThe Nine-banded Armadillo weighs between 5 and 14 pounds and is 25 – 42 inches long, including the tail. They have short legs, but can move rather quickly. Their body is covered by nonoverlapping scales that are connected by flexible bands of skin. The shell or armor covers the back, sides, head, tail and outer sides of the legs. Their underbelly protection is comprised of thick skin and coarse hair, and they have long, shovel like claws for digging. We now know the Armadillo is a very adaptable animal that primarily feeds on invertebrates such as insects, snails and earthworms. They forage for meals while making snorting noises by thrusting their snouts into loose soil and leaves and frantically dig to surface grubs, beetles, carrion with maggots, ants, termites and those juicy worms, which their sensitive noses can detect through eight inches of soil. They are amazing in their uniqueness! Although the NBA can’t roll itself into a ball as other armadillos, such as the Three-banded can, it will inflate its intestines to float or dog-paddle across a river or it may choose to hold its breath for up to six minutes while sinking into the water and running underwater across the riverbed. Their teeth are similar to those of sloths and anteaters; all small molars, no incisors and no enamel. Armadillos live in eight-inch entranced burrows that can be seven feet deep and 25 feet long. They will mark their territory with urine, feces and excretions from scent glands found on their feet, nose and eyelids. If there is a territorial dispute, a bit of kicking and chasing will usually end it. Breeding takes place during July and August producing a litter of four optimally. As reptilian as an Armadillo may look, they are mammals and will nurse the infants for about three months before the youngsters begin foraging for food with Mom. They will stay with Mom, the sole provider, for six months to a year. NBA’s will be sexually mature at one year and will reproduce every year throughout their 12-15 year lifespan. That’s a lot of babies and could be one of the reasons for the species expansion north! Although Armadillos can wreck havoc with gardens and root systems while they forage or create elaborate burrows, on the positive side, they eat pesky bugs, create habitats for other wildlife and are known to bring more song birds to an area because birds, such as warblers, will follow and hang out with Armadillos. The birds will capitalize on the NBA’s unearthing of insects and invertebrates to supplement their own nutritional needs. Not many animals mess with Armadillos in the wild, so they have few real predators, but although it’s not easy, alligators and panthers have been known to partake in an adult NBA or two. Infant Nine-banded Armadillos are at risk of predation by bobcats, coyotes and hawks. But of course, the greatest threat for an Armadillo has treaded tires and rolls in the form of trucks, cars and motorcycles. Like opossums, the NBA, has the unfortunate tendency to stare at approaching headlights, so although armadillos can jump, it’s not always high or fast enough to win the vehicular battle. blog_armadilloxyzeThese solitary, dinosaur era animals may look a little funny or downright odd, but they are survivors and have been around for 50 million years!! Ok, so they’re not cute balls of fluff. They still need protection, cover, water and loose soil for stirring up some food, and North Carolina has all of that. We used to say, “They Are Coming!” but now we know “They Are Here!

BEST ALWAYS,

Linda Bergman-Althouse

Author of “Save Them All

“Night Gliders”

a_blog_sfs_x“It’s a bird! No . . it’s a bat!” It could very well be that both guesses are wrong. The diminutive night flyer, gliding from tree to tree on folds of outstretched skin is the most common mammal never seen by humans in North Carolina, so it is easily misidentified. The Southern Flying Squirrel is a small rodent with big saucer like eyes that occupies habitat similar to his larger cousins, the gray squirrel and the fox squirrel, however this itty-bitty squirrel is nocturnal, becoming active and feeding only at night while foraging on the ground. It weighs no more than 2 to 3 oz. and measures from 8 1/2 in. to 9 7/8 in., including a 3 to 4-inch tail. The Southern Flying Squirrel is the smallest of North Carolina’s 5 tree squirrel species. Its fur is a ravishing reddish brown or gray, although its belly is colored a creamy white. The most distinctive feature it sports is the cape of loose skin that stretches from its wrists to its ankles and forms a membrane, called the patagium, with which it is capable of gliding. The membrane is bordered in black. When the squirrel stretches its legs to their fullest extent, the membrane opens and supports the animal on glides of considerable distance. Although it is called a “flying” squirrel, it actually jumps and parachutes rather than flies! It’s amazing to catch a visual of them in “flight.” a_blog_squirrelflyingeThe gliding membrane billows up, and by varying the tension on the patagium and using its tail as a rudder (like the tail on a kite), the SFS can direct its glide around branches and other obstacles with remarkable agility, although it cannot gain altitude during a glide. However, it can make a sudden 90-degree angle turn in the direction of its glide. That fluffy little “multi-purpose” tail is also used for communication and thermal regulation. Although the distance they glide is usually short, the longest flight on record was measured at around 200 feet. The flying squirrel lands hind feet first, head up and scampers to the side of the tree to avoid detection. The Southern Flying Squirrel is one of two flying squirrels found in North America— the other one is the Northern Flying Squirrel. While both are found in North Carolina, the Northern FS is rare and found only at higher elevations in the western part of our state. Although a fairly quiet animal, flying squirrels can produce birdlike chirping sounds, but some of their vocalizations are not audible to the human ear. Preferred habitats for Southern Flying Squirrels include hardwood and mixed pine-hardwood forests. They require older trees with cavities that provide 11/2 to 2 in. in diameter entrances for roosting and nesting, and in winter these adorable squirrels readily gather in surprisingly large numbers. Tree cavities have been found with as many as 50 roosting squirrels. Because of their need for tree cavity habitats, they are a natural competitor for woodpeckers’ homes, and even though they are quite cute, they’ve been known to bully an endangered Red-Cockaded Woodpecker from its nesting cavity and take over the residence. Bluebird boxes are also quite attractive to flying squirrels. Wildlife rehabilitators at the Outer Banks Wildlife Shelter in Newport get involved in the rescue and rehabilitation of this delightful, tiny squirrel when the little one chooses a cavity precariously close to a residence or possibly, even manages to enter a house. It’s not uncommon for Southern Flying Squirrels to find a cavity somewhere on a residential structure and make their way into an attic or a wall to find a perfect and safe dwelling to nest and raise babies, which some folks object to. Sometimes a tree is cut down before realizing it is home to nesting or roosting flyers. Tree cutters bring the homeless little gliders to the shelter to ensure they are cared for and raised properly for eventual release back into the wild, giving them that second chance we at the shelter are known for. When they are admitted, usually due to displacement rather than injury, we attempt to replicate their omnivorous natural diet as best we can. If very young, shelter staff will provide syringe formula until they are ready for solid foods such as meal worms, fruits, berries, flower blossoms, vegetables, seeds and nuts.a_blog_flying-squirrel-009e Nesting and breeding usually occurs twice a year; January-February and June-July. A typical nest will be lined with finely chewed bark, especially cedar bark in the east and grasses. Lichen, moss and even feathers will provide a soft bed. More than one nest is constructed as a necessary Plan B in the wild, because Mom will need to move her infants if the nest is disturbed by natural elements such as damaging weather or predator presence such as owls, hawks, snakes, bobcats, coyotes, raccoons, weasels, foxes and the common house or feral cat (which is the most prevalent and lethal danger posed to them). The average litter produces one to three young that weigh in at less than a quarter ounce each. The youngsters will open their eyes at four weeks and stay with Mom until she births her next litter. Although SFS are mammals and babies will nurse for about a month, they will be gliding and eating on their own by eight weeks. Unfortunately, Mom is on her own during this time, as males do not assist with the rearing of babies. It will take about a year for the youngin’s to mature before reproducing. Life expectancy for these cute little rodents is up to 13 years in captivity, but not more than 4 or 5 years in the wild.a_blog_sfs_ Flying squirrels are the oldest living line of “modern” squirrels, and fossil records date back over 30 million years. SFS are a nongame species and although not listed as endangered, we should still be mindful that their presence gives humans a better quality of life. Those cutie-patooties glide through the night feeding on a variety of insects and big ‘ole bugs that would surely be annoying to us during the day! So, if you find Southern Flying Squirrels have moved into your home or they are now homeless due to a tree ‘fell,’ please contact your nearest wildlife rehabilitation center or wildlife control officer for assistance, not just because they are cute, but because we need to protect and relocate our environmental partners!

best always,

Linda Bergman-Althouse

author of “Save Them All