“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”

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

The Wandering Ibis

American_White_IbisEWhen a Good Samaritan delivered a juvenile American White Ibis to the Outer Banks Wildlife Shelter in Newport a few weeks ago, she was an odd and pathetic sight for sure. She was missing all feathering from her abraded head and face, and her right eye was swollen and bulging, although her limbs were intact with no injuries found. Not a pretty sight, but what did make her attractive to our staff was her cooperative and pleasant demeanor. Her young age probably attributed to that. We aren’t sure what happened to rough her up in the way she sported, but we and possibly, she, knew medical attention was warranted. She tolerates the application of medicine to her injuries and enjoys spending time in the deep sink catching small fish. She eats very well, which is a good sign. Ibis5XEAug2013The long-legged wader is coming along, but time will tell if she’ll make a full recovery. This little wader is associated with a group comprised of egrets, herons, spoonbills, storks and flamingos. Although a diverse bird group, they are united by their slender, long legs that enable them to wade for food. Found in a variety of habitats, they prefer shallow coastal marshes, wetlands and swamps, but also frequent muddy pools, flooded fields and even wet lawns. Ibises and spoonbills are the most closely related of the wader group, but there is a striking difference in bill shape. Both are odd looking birds because their bill is enormous compared to the tiny head it’s attached too. The Ibis bill is down-curved and pointy on the end while spoonbills have straight bills that broaden at the end. Ibises use their bills to probe in mud to catch prey, while spoonbills move their bill side to side in the water to find food. The tactile, non-visual nature of the Ibis’ probing for food means it catches prey that are too slow to evade the Ibis once located by its bill. The Ibis diet consists primarily of small aquatic prey such as insects and small fish, but will also dine on frogs, snails, marine worms and snakes. Crayfish are its preferred food in many regions; however, adjustments are made according to habitat and prey abundance. American White Ibises that feed in swamps focus on crabs, but fish are a more energy-rich food source. At night Ibises roost with other marsh wader species in trees that are near and often overhanging water. In breeding season, American White Ibises travel further to forage in freshwater wetlands rather than nearby saltwater areas where fiddler crabs are often the food choice. This species is known to wander, and has been sighted, sometimes in small flocks, in states far out of its usual range, which is south of Virginia and west to Texas. The Ibis is a medium-sized bird with an overall white plumage, bright red-orange bill, long legs and toes and black wing tips that are rarely visible unless in flight. However, juveniles are variations of brown, including the bill, with white feathered underparts. In non-breeding season the down-curved bill and long legs are bright red-orange as an adult, but during breeding season the bill turns a deep pink and their legs purple-red. Males are significantly larger and have longer bills than females. Their wingspan measures 35 to 41 inches. They can soar to 3,300 feet; however, more commonly they stay within the 200 to 350 feet range. During the breeding season, which begins in its third year, the American White Ibis gathers in huge colonies known to number 30,000, near water. _LT_3599CSEPairs are predominantly monogamous and both parents care for the young, although some males have been known to wander, engaging in ‘affairs’ with other females to increase their reproductive success. Males also have a bad habit of stealing food from unmated females and juveniles during the breeding season. Nesting begins as soon as suitable foraging and nesting habitat is available. The female selects the site, usually in the branches of a tree or shrub, close to and often over water, and builds the nest, and males assist by bringing nest material. One to five eggs are typically laid, with two or three being the most common. The eggs are matt, pale blue-green in color with brown splotches. A field study reveals on an average day, adult American White Ibises spend 10 hours looking for food, 45 minutes flying and 13 hours resting, roosting and attending to nests or young. Much of the time roosting is spent preening, biting and working their feathers with their long bills, as well as rubbing the oil from glands on the sides of their head onto their back. The American White Ibis is known to be territorial, defending the nest against intruders such as the Fish Crow, Boat-tailed Grackle, Gull, Black-crowned Night Heron, Opossum, Vultures, Rat Snake or Raccoon which make the list of the most common predators of Ibis eggs or young and account for about a 44% loss every breeding season. That lengthy list of predators and loss tell us it’s not easy being an Ibis! Nest attentiveness by the parents, high nest densities and that long bill used to pinch, squeeze and hold a potential predator’s head are their best defensive tactics. Kind of think that last one would only work with bird predators or maybe the snake! High Tides have also been the cause of egg disappearance or nest disruption. The longevity of the Ibis has been recorded as approximately 20 years in captivity and although life is definitely risky for the Ibis in the wild, a wild bird has been picked up 16 years and 4 months after being banded. Think they named that one Lucky!

Have a great Autumn Everyone!!!
Linda Bergman-Althouse
Author of
Save Them All

Gator Country!

CSMag_AlligatorLogMar2013Some of the calls we receive at the Outer Banks Wildlife Shelter in Newport, NC require attention a little beyond our realm of expertise.  Such is the case when a call comes in to relocate an alligator that has just shown up in the parking lot of a shopping mall and happens to be a 10-12 foot 400 pounder with a bite force of 1500 pounds per square inch at that!   Although we, wildlife rehabilitators, aren’t “hands on” with a gator, and they definitely won’t fit into our largest kennel cab, we know who to call.  Wildlife Control Officers directed by the North Carolina Wildlife  Resources Commission and local police departments consider an alligator out of water and wandering around in a residential area a critical danger and respond with a great sense of urgency.CSMag_IMG_1930GatorMar13 The alligator pictured, although extremely annoyed, was successfully relocated to a gator friendly area without injury to himself or the wildlife professionals involved in his capture and transport.  The question that surfaces is “Why was he out of the water, away from his habitat and among humans in the first place?”  We have lots of alligators in our fresh water streams, canals, ponds, lakes, marshes, swamps, and tidal estuaries of eastern North Carolina, and that’s usually where they stay until people start feeding them.  It’s against the law and the fine can be as high as $200, but intentional feeding still happens; bread, chips, sandwiches, chicken bones. Some feeding is unintentional, like cleaning fish and throwing the remains in the water.  Alligators are carnivorous, and they are opportunists. They eat whatever is available – fish, other alligators, turtles, waterfowl, cats, dogs, small livestock, humans. Meat’s meat and food is food as far as the gator knows.  North Carolina gators only eat during the spring, summer and early fall when temperatures are above 70 degrees Fahrenheit. They grow slower than alligators that live in warmer climates. In fact, North Carolina is the farthest north that the American Alligator can live.  Alligators are large, dangerous animals that can easily lose their fear of people, giving them the classification among biologists as “charismatic megafauna.”  North Carolina wildlife officials warn people not to feed alligators, which are common around waterways also frequented by tourists, especially in the southeastern part of our state.  Almost all human attacks come as a result of illegal feeding.  Although alligators have made a strong comeback after being hunted nearly to extinction in the 1900s, they remain listed as a threatened species.  Sometimes an alligator is confused with its closest cousin, the crocodile.  Our alligators have a short, blunt, rounded snout while crocodiles have a long, pointed snout. Cold-blooded alligators, the largest reptiles in North America, have overlapping jaws with darker coloration than the crocodile and are less tolerant of seawater, although they have been known to take a dip in the ocean.  Unlike alligators, crocodiles do not live in North Carolina.  Alligators are diurnal and nocturnal, meaning they are active both day and night. They dig large holes into the earth and make dens that provide protection and a place to rest during very hot or cold days. The “doorways” to these dens are usually accessed under water.   They are commonly seen on river banks, basking in the sun during the spring and summer.  Alligators may be spotted in the water by watching for eyes, a head or snout protruding from the water’s surface. CSMagAlligator_Mar2013  Social animals, alligators often gather with other gators during mating season. The alligator begins courtship in April and breeding goes on until May or early June. The female lays her eggs, about 30, in a nest she constructs of vegetation. The decaying organic material serves to heat the eggs. The nest is about two feet high and five feet in diameter. The white eggs, only a bit larger than chicken eggs, take about 65 days to hatch. The hatchlings are about 9 inches long and sport yellow bands around their bodies.  The young alligators leave the nest in early fall, but the mother keeps a close watch over them for up to two years. During the first six years of an alligator’s life, it will grow up to a foot each year.CSMag_BabyGatorsMar2013 Male alligators normally grow to be 11 to 12 feet long. Females grow to around 8 feet long. The longest alligator ever recorded was a male over 19 feet long! The average lifespan of the alligator is 30-50 years, with the maximum most likely occurring in captivity.  In North Carolina hunting or killing an alligator is illegal and only state wildlife officials can remove problem gators.  They can become aggressive if they feel threatened, especially when defending their nest or young and will attack humans, so do not approach them and by all means, DO NOT FEED THEM.  Alligators have been around since the dinosaur days, so they will make do in the wild without an individual yielding to the temptation to picnic with them or any other human interference!  There are no recorded human deaths in North Carolina due to alligator attack, so let’s keep it that way!

best to you always & be safe,

Linda Bergman-Althouse,   author of  “Save Them All

The Loon Still Sings

On their migratory journey south during late fall and winter, beautiful Common Loons, one of the oldest, most primitive of birds known, fly singly or in groups from Canada and the Northeastern United States in search of warmer waters along the Atlantic or the Gulf Coast. When one shows up at the Outer Banks Wildlife Shelter at 100 Wildlife Way in Newport, because someone found it beached or on the ground, the staff and volunteers at the shelter know it’s more than likely a very bad and probably lethal situation. We pray for a fishing gear injury because we consider that a blessing in a Loon’s case. Untangling line, removing hooks and treating wounds, we can definitely do something about. It’s also not too bad if a migrating Common Loon accidentally lands, softly, on a wet highway or parking lot, mistaking it for a river or lake. A loon may also get stranded on a small pond. In either of those situations, the Loon doesn’t have enough open water for a long take-off because they need a running start, sometimes as much as 400 yards, paddling furiously through the water to take flight. Their legs are placed far back on their bodies which are very good for swimming but does not enable them to walk on land, only awkward scooting by thrusting its chest forward a few inches and dragging both legs back underneath their body. So, most people think they’ve come upon an injured bird when they see the Loon can’t stand up or move about on land. The worst diagnosis, and unfortunately the most common with Loon admits, is mercury or lead poisoning. Loons born in the Northeast are exposed to large quantities of methylmercury, the form of mercury toxic to living things. These birds are particularly vulnerable to environmental poisoning for many reasons. They are long-lived, up to 30 years, and they spend their lives in the water, feeding mostly on fish, but also crustaceans, frogs, and aquatic insects. Loons are divers and can dive up to 250 feet, and a typical foraging dive lasts about 40 seconds. They are large, aquatic birds, with wing spans approaching four feet, which are relatively small in comparison to their thick bodies. A Loon is heavy and dense because their bones are not hollow like most other birds. The portly waterfowl’s white belly stays submerged when swimming and then propels itself with its feet underwater to spot and catch fish. It swallows most of its prey before surfacing. The loon has sharp, rearward-pointing projections on the roof of its mouth and tongue that helps keep a firm hold on slippery fish. Loons spend most of their life on and in the water, only wriggling ashore to mate, incubate eggs, potty and occasionally escape a storm.
As with most birds, the males are much more colorful with a dark head and red eyes, a greenish-black throat band and distinctive white spots on their back and sides. The females are more muted gray with pale mottling but share the white belly. Loons mate for life and typically produce two eggs each year. Incubation takes about 28 days, and the parents share nest duty. During the first week, chicks may crawl onto the back of a parent which is paddling along on the water’s surface. Chicks stay very close to the parents for the first three weeks, and respond immediately to calls warning of raptorial birds (or airplanes) flying overhead by scrambling under an adult’s wing. The chicks grow very rapidly and are nearly the size of the adults within four to six weeks. They also begin to demonstrate their independence by seeking their own food, diving, and exercising their wing muscles. The youngsters retain their dull grey back plumage during that time, although the belly turns white. Some people describe the Loon’s call as eerie or an unearthly tremolo cry, but to me, they sing a beautiful song that awakens a sense of wilderness. Rather than a cry or wail, it’s more like a melancholy yodel. You always know when a loon is present at our shelter, they sing even in captivity, unlike other animals that tend to go silent in the unnatural environment of close human presence, a building or kennel cab. Although difficult to describe, it’s impossible to forget their sound. Depending upon the reason they are being treated, their song can sound happy or sad, but that’s totally a human’s assessment based on knowing the odds, otherwise, it would always be a soothing melody to me. In cases of toxic poisoning, the best we can do is make them comfortable with frequent tub baths and extra padding to lessen chest compression when kenneled, give the Loons time to build up their strength with healthy fish feedings and monitor their weight. We also flush them with fluids to try to rid the gut of mercury buildup, which may not help much if the mercury has already metastasized to organs and body tissues. If they manage to maintain weight or even better, put on weight, we will joyfully and eagerly release them to continue their journey. If, despite ravenously feeding on their own, they rapidly lose weight, it is apparent they are starving from malabsorption caused by chemical poisoning and sadly, will not make it. It’s a tough reality faced by all who work at the shelter, but we manage to approach each treatment plan in an optimistic and positive manner. By providing the best care we can and with a few fingers crossed, we hopefully think this one will make it and in rare, very rare instances, one will.

Keep singing,
Linda Bergman-Althouse
Author of
“Save Them All”
now available as ebook
at Amazon.com

Wild and Merry!

Every wild release is a time to celebrate at the Outer Banks Wildlife Shelter (OWLS). When months of care, monitoring and mentoring of wild animals pay off and animals are eventually ready to go their merry way into natural habitats where they can enjoy the lives they were meant to live, it is a time for jubilant high-fives all around. It’s truly a team effort by OWLS wildlife rehabilitators, volunteers and donors that helps get the hawks, eagles, owls, pelicans, marsh birds, cottontails, squirrels, opossums, songbirds, muskrats, ducks, geese, turtles and all the other birds and critters that pass through our clinic door at 100 Wildlife Way in Newport, back to tip-top condition and capable of living in the wild again.
Each wild animal admitted to our care goes through a process of diagnosis and identification of illness or injury that entails a thorough physical examination, x-rays if necessary and laboratory work. We gather as much information as possible on the nature of injury to include the situation and location where the animal was found. After diagnosis, we begin appropriate treatment according to the individual needs of each species of wildlife. The initial treatment is extremely significant and instrumental to a successful rehab outcome. We also consider the stress the animal is trying to manage and remember that this may be the first encounter with humans for this animal coming from the wild.
At the end of medical treatment, to prepare for release, each animal patient is transferred to a pre-release enclosure that mimics life in its native habitat and our monitoring continues. Here, the animal is able to prepare for challenges it will face upon release. Practicing skills such as flight, hunting and life around other animals is crucial for survival following any animal’s release into the wild. During this time, we also research and determine an optimal release site, which is chosen according to the natural environment typical for a specific animal and, if possible, the site where it was found if deemed not to be a perilous location. The timing of release will be determined according to the lifestyle of the animal, daily active hours and months of migration.
In the past few months, releases for our shelter have been sweet, joyful and numerous. A mature Bald Eagle downed by pneumonia is flying free again in Pender County. A young Red-tailed Hawk lacking hunting skills and suffering from starvation recovered to a full figured gal who now knows how to feed herself in the wild. Two sibling Barred Owl babies from Jacksonville that refused to stay in their nest as rambunctious youngins and who were no match for predators on the ground were raised by our resident Barred Owl, Dinah, and released in a wooded area of Onslow County. Pelicans, admitted with fishing gear injuries recovered from lacerations and infections with the help of administered antibiotics, have rejoined their flight crews to skim ocean waves again. Parking lot Ring-billed and Laughing Gulls, clipped by cars or suffering from malnutrition as a result of eating a steady diet of popcorn, bread or Cheetos, are now feeling the wind flow through their wings as they stand guard on dock poles after supervised R&R and a healthy diet of fish. Hundreds of helpless baby squirrels orphaned after the most recent hurricane became fast and furious releases that will continue to amuse us and dwell in trees everywhere. Young, misguided flying squirrels, who had moved into someone’s attic, were added to a robust colony after spending a short time at OWLS. Even a Sora, a small, very secretive marsh bird, hardly anyone ever sees, was returned to the marsh after a brief stay with us for a concussion. Although, a tiny Least Sandpiper could not be released due to a shoulder injury that never healed to 100% function, we did find a home for her with the Boston Aquarium. And there were many more! We’re never sure what’s going through their minds when they take flight, skedaddle into the brush or waddle toward a waterway on release day, but we’d like to think they’re celebrating too and appreciative of their second chance even if they found wildlife rehabilitators somewhat annoying or irritating during their stay in ICU for treatment or while encouraging them to practice their skills, even when they didn’t want to, in their pre-release enclosure, readying themselves for the big “I’m free” day.
Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays to everyone! In this wonderful season, I wish you all the warm and special memories your heart can hold!

Linda Bergman-Althouse
Author of “Save Them All”

Henderson Hawk!

Calls started coming into the Outer Banks Wildlife Shelter in Newport weeks before the young Red-tailed Hawk was finally captured and admitted for care. The reports were all very similar. “I see this hawk sitting on the ground, for hours at a time, in the grassy area by a small stream right next to our building on Henderson Drive in Jacksonville. I can almost walk right up to it.” With each call, someone was dispatched to check out the situation. I went a few times and managed to get very close to the bird, who then flew away quite capably up and over the tree tops. The thought at the time was, she’s just hunting for snakes or toads along the stream. The business owners in the area and their employees enjoyed seeing the bird everyday and affectionately referred to their big bird as ‘Henderson Hawk.’ A day came when an employee called stating she was standing right next to the hawk, took a picture with her smart phone and sent it to me. It was, in fact a young Red-tailed Hawk, and standing next to one in the wild is highly unusual and potentially dangerous. I high-tailed it over to Henderson Drive and was able to walk up to the hawk, pick her up and place her in a kennel cab for transport to our shelter with no resistance, from the hawk anyway. People from the surrounding buildings emerged and walked rather hurriedly toward my car. “What are you doing with our bird or where are you taking our bird?” I explained to them that “it is not normal for me or anyone to be able to walk up to a hawk, let alone, pick it up. There has to be something wrong that needs to be diagnosed and treated,” I explained. They all understood and wanted what was best for “their bird.”
After a thorough examination at the Outer Banks Wildlife Shelter, the first year Red-tailed Hawk was found to be severely dehydrated and suffering from malnutrition. She was essentially starving. She should have weighed between 1100 – 1500 grams and was only 600. As you can tell from her ‘in the wild’ perched on a rock picture, her head was not well rounded, her eyes dull and sunken, and her emaciated chest could barely support her heavy, drooping wings. The theory is, she had not developed appropriate hunting skills. Mortality among first year hawks is around seventy percent and lacking hunting skills is one of the main reasons for that high percentage. In an outside, rehabilitation enclosure at our shelter, she is getting healthy and looking quite stunning with her fuller figure and intense, bright eyes.

Red-tailed Hawks are classified as Buteos, which are the largest of hawks. With a wing span of up to 56 inches, they are broad-winged and broad-tailed soaring hawks. They get their name from the rounded, rich, russet red tail they sport. A young hawk’s tail will be brown with dark color bands until they molt in their second year. They are carnivores and belong to the category of birds known as raptors. Their eyesight is eight times as powerful as a human’s, making it easy to spot their lunch of small rodents, rabbits, snakes or lizards, which comprises the bulk of their diet, from the air. RTH’s are opportunistic hunters and will snag just about any little critter moving on the ground with those sharp and deadly talons they use as weapons if hungry enough. In some areas of the country they are referred to as “Chicken Hawks.” When you hear a hoarse and raspy two to three second scream way overhead, it could very well be a Red-tailed Hawk letting you know she’s defending her territory or nest that may be close by.
Henderson Hawk is doing quite well at our shelter, has achieved her normal weight and is demonstrating behaviors indicative of the aggressive Red-tailed Hawk she is meant to be. She will be attending flight and hunting school in our large flight cage soon. When she graduates, she will be released to the wild, but she won’t be returning to the people and traffic concentrated area of Henderson Drive. Since Red-tailed Hawks are birds of open country, she will enjoy the wide open spaces of fields and woods one of her caretakers, whose last name is, coincidentally, Henderson, has planned for her.
Linda Bergman-Althouse
Author of “Save Them All”

Turtles On The Move!

Turtles are more complicated than they look, and getting to know each species of turtle that calls North Carolina home is a challenge for staff and volunteers at the Outer Banks Wildlife Shelter (OWLS) in Newport, NC. Turtles come in different shapes (although they all resemble a circle), sizes, coloring, capabilities and live in a variety of habitats. They represent the oldest of all living reptiles, and have undergone little change since their beginnings early in the Triassic period of history. You’ll find turtles throughout North Carolina, from the Coastal Plain to our mountains in the west. Overall, twenty species of turtles, belonging to six different families inhabit North Carolina. Five of these species are sea turtles and one (the Eastern Box Turtle) is terrestrial which means lives primarily on land. The rest are semi-aquatic, inhabiting North Carolina’s ponds, wetlands, and other water bodies. We leave the rehabilitation efforts of sea turtles like Loggerheads and Kemp Ridley’s to the Karen Beasley Sea Turtle and Rehab Center crew at North Topsail. They care for the guys and girls who need to eventually get back to the ocean. Our focus is land and semi-aquatic turtles; Box, Yellowbelly Sliders, River Cooters, Bog, Painted, Mud, Spotted, Musk and the Common Snapping Turtle or often referred to as an Alligator Turtle.
Turtles are admitted to the shelter for a variety of reasons. We’ve seen them injured by fishing gear, litter, lawn mowers, by a dog that held it a little too tightly in his jaws, suffering from upper respiratory infections due to environmental pollutants such as pesticides and quite often, hit by a car. The greatest threat to turtles is habitat loss, particularly destruction and degradation of aquatic habitats. The destruction of terrestrial habitat surrounding wetlands and ponds which is required for nesting, and hibernation for some species, poses significant threats, forcing turtles on the move to find new habitat.
Sadly, thousands of turtles are crushed every year by cars on North Carolina’s roads and highways, which brings us to the question of the day regarding turtles and those who care about them. How do you move a turtle out of the road? The first thing you want to do is safely position your car on the side of the road, (with your hazard lights blinking) to ensure you do not put yourself or others at risk while you rescue the turtle. It would be great if you just happened to have a pair of work or rubber gloves in the car but most people don’t. (Just wash your hands after handling the turtle because they can carry salmonella like most other animals, including pet cats and dogs.) Gently pick up a turtle and move it out of harm’s way, in the direction he or she was heading. What you shouldn’t do is pick up a turtle and move it to what you, as a human, deem to be a safe spot. They always have a good turtle reason why they are heading in the direction they are going. This time of year is turtle crossing time because mates need to be found and eggs need to be laid. If it is a sizeable turtle, especially a snapping turtle, you can use a stick, shovel or broom to push it off the road. Never put your hands or feet near a snapping turtle. A snapper has a neck the length you wouldn’t believe and will be able to reach some part of you. Their vice-grip jaws can cause serious injury. Also, never pick up a turtle by the tail. That hold could easily damage their vertebrae. BUT above all, when moving a turtle from potential disaster in the road, please be CAREFUL and DO NOT put your life at risk. Turtle moving only applies when you are driving down a road where YOU CAN stop and move about safely.
You might be wondering why they cross the road in the first place. It doesn’t seem smart when you consider turtle speed versus vehicular speed. They can’t truly make a serious run for it when they finally do see an approaching automobile. Turtles genuinely need to cross the road because, quite simply, they were here before the road was and ancestral mapping is instinctual. So, a turtle trying to cross the road is not heading in the wrong direction. Her instincts are telling her where to go. They cross the road, moving from one body of water to another to find mates, expand territory, find nesting sites, and lay eggs, sometimes pausing to bask on the warm asphalt along the way. Most turtles day-tripping out into traffic are females heading for that predetermined nesting site. Turtles mature slowly, unable to lay eggs before age ten and can live fifty or more years.
Although 2011 is touted “Year of the Rabbit” by the Chinese, conservationists internationally designated 2011 as “Year of the Turtle” due to the fact that many turtle species are now under threat from a range of man-made problems. Turtles are disappearing from our planet faster than any other group of animal, so let’s do what we can to salvage our turtle heritage, wherever we are. Our careful stewardship can help preserve them.

Linda Bergman-Althouse
Author of “Save Them All”

Barred Owls Down!

Not every wild animal in distress is brought to the Outer Banks Wildlife Shelter in Newport, NC and that, in some instances, is a very good thing. Field work occasionally happens for the volunteers and staff who work there. Let’s take at look at the example that occurred last month. A gentleman called stating a baby owl was on the ground in his yard, close to the base of a tree, and he could see the Mother Owl on a branch in a neighboring tree. This was late in the evening and action had to be taken before dogs, cats or wild night time predators were out and about. We headed to the residence around seven with enough equipment to create a makeshift nest (a basket) and hoist the baby back up the tree so Mom could continue to care for him until ready to fledge. The white ball of fluff was easy to spot on the dark tree trunk and definitely not capable of flying his way out of this mess.
Although, his Mom, a very large Barred Owl, was still monitoring the situation and would surely try to fend off possible attackers, how long she could keep that up and how successful she would be averting a disastrous outcome were in question. The solution was hardly simple, but none the less, we had to get the baby as high up the tree as possible. The tree was extremely tall and there were no limbs for the first thirty to forty feet from the ground. We agreed that roping a basket and throwing the weighted, loose end of the rope over a limb close to the trunk was the best way to hoist the new nest carrying the baby owl up the tree and out of harm’s way. Getting the basket ready to hoist was a little tricky but proved to be the easiest part of the mission. Momma Owl did not object as we placed the infant Barred Owl in the basket lined with twigs and grasses, however, something soon started stirring at the end of a limb overhead. At first, I thought it might be the adult owl coming in for a closer look at what we were doing, which made me a little nervous because I forgot my hardhat. It was dark now so I used my flashlight to scan the rustling area of the tree and found another baby Barred Owl hanging upside down by one foot.
His talons had grabbed a wad of leaves during his fall that he clutched for dear life, because he could not pull himself back up. We held a sheet under the baby and waited for the fall. A half hour later, we began thinking he might just be able to hang there all night. Every time he moved, struggled or spun, his talons, thankfully, tore the leaves just a little. In another fifteen minutes, the leaves finally tore through, and he tumbled through the air and into the sheet positioned for a soft landing. That baby owl was placed securely in the basket with his sibling and hoisted up the tree about fifty feet.
Mom watched the whole rescue operation play out and never displayed any aggression. We tied off the rope at the base of the tree and headed for home, a little tired, but proud we had been able to keep the family together. Early the next morning I went to the “Barred Owls down” residence to ensure our rescue efforts had been effective, and the babies were still safe. They weren’t. Both infant owls were out of the basket, and at that moment, one was on the ground, puffed up and facing off two neighbor dogs. I scooped them up and placed them in a kennel cab. Although at this age they are considered “branchers” and can crawl around in a tree by using their beak and talons, they were not sticking with the program by staying in the tree. They now had to go to the wildlife shelter. It happens that way sometimes. We set up the best case scenario for the family to stay together, but they just don’t cooperate. Owl parents usually care for their young for at least four months, but unfortunately risk factors made this particular case impossible. The babies are doing fine at the Outer Banks Wildlife Shelter, enjoying a safe haven and growing fast. Our permanent resident Barred Owl, Dinah, is fostering the two rambunctious youngsters.

Linda Bergman-Althouse
Wildlife Rehabilitator
Author of “Save Them All”
President, Wildlife Rehabilitators
of North Carolina, Inc. (WRNC)

Squirrels of The Night

It’s quite common for most of us to see hefty balls of gray fluff with excited bushy tails zip across yards in search of a spot to bury a morsel of food in a location they may or may not remember later. Eastern gray squirrels might also be seen scampering up trees throughout the day to eat dogwood berries, Bradford Pear fruit or munch on a pine cone, but it’s rare to possibly never, that we have the opportunity to see a Southern Flying Squirrel, also called Flyers, in the wild. They are the oldest and smallest living line of modern squirrels, and in contrast to Eastern Grays, they are nocturnal. So, when we head for bed, their day (or night) is just getting started. When an adult Flyer or babies are admitted to The Outer Banks Wildlife Shelter (OWLS) in Newport, NC, it is a very big deal! Our fourth SFS, which is an unusual influx this year, was recently admitted by a gentleman who’s cat did a “bad thing,” but luckily the infant was unharmed. The female pup checked in fully furred but with eyes still closed and only 24 grams. She won’t be releasable until she reaches 70-80 grams and is capable of eating on her own. They are tiny, only grow to one fourth the size of an adult Eastern Gray and are too cute for words, as you can see! Fortunately, this infant will thrive on formula we also use for Eastern Grays and will gradually be introduced to nuts, berries, veggies, seeds, mushrooms, flowers and bark. As SFS’s are the only carnivorous member of the squirrel family, we will also add insects and mealworms to her diet. Flying Squirrels have also been known to eat bird eggs and carrion in the wild, but that won’t happen at the shelter. And so is the way of the wild, even if they are cute and tiny! Flyers don’t really fly, they very gracefully, glide. They have a furry membrane called a patagium that extends between the front and rear legs, which they use like Batman’s cape, to glide through the air. The flap of skin on each side of their body enables them to parachute from tree to tree. They use their flat and furry tail like a rudder, controlling their direction, allowing them to make 90 to 180 degree turns in the air. They are so beloved in the western part of the state that artificial trees were erected along the roads’ shoulders to help flying squirrels glide across a highway that exceeded their gliding ability without the aid of alternative trunks and limbs on which to land.
Southern Flying Squirrels prefer mixed forests that provide old trees with cavities for nesting to include abandoned woodpecker holes, but have also been known to nest in bluebird boxes, stacked cordwood piles, build a nest in a tree crotch just as the Eastern Grays and even move into an attic or two. We have two adult SFSs rooming with us at the shelter now because they chose someone’s attic in which to live. They don’t hibernate and are active year round. So, if our southern winter temperatures dip too low for their thin fur coat, many flying squirrels will commune in one nest to keep warm. The average number is ten to twenty, but fifty Flyer aggregations have been recorded. They can also enter a state of torpor (state of physical inactivity) to withstand frigid temperatures. Like Eastern Gray Squirrels, Southern Flying Squirrels produce two litters of two to seven infants a year. Young are born without fur or any capabilities of their own. Fur grows in by seven days and their eyes don’t open until they are twenty five plus days. The parents leave their young sixty-five days after they are born, but they don’t become fully independent until about four months old. As adults, they spend a lot of time on the ground foraging at night, so they must be on the alert for the many predators that can do them in, and the list is long: owls, raccoons, coyotes, bobcats, snakes, weasels and the common house cat, which tops the list as the most devastating predator of flying squirrels. They are very graceful in flight but extremely vulnerable on the ground. Their home range may be up to twenty-five square miles for females and double that for males. Flying Squirrels hear better than other squirrel species because, for their size, they possess a very large ear cavity. That feature helps them detect the movement of predators at night. They make a few different sounds, such as a loud and sharp “tseep,” which is considered an alarm or caution call to other flying squirrels. As for the chittering and “chucke” vocalizations, no one is really sure, but the snorting sound is associated with the act of challenging a lower ranking flying squirrel of the same sex. As most animals do, they too have a hierarchy. Ah oh, gotta go. Another Southern Flying Squirrel just checked in. She’s different in color, amber as opposed to steely gray and only 22 grams!

Hope you are having a wonderful “almost” Summer!
Linda Bergman-Althouse
Author of “Save Them All”