“Beaver’s Little Brother”

A little ‘brother of the beaver’ came into the shelter recently. He was tiny (only eight ounces), needy and fully self-aware that he required help. That’s exactly why a caring human managed to get his hands on a young Muskrat found wandering along the road in Newport. Fearing the infant musky would run into the road, the gentleman pulled his car over and proceeded to walk towards the little one to shoo him away from oncoming traffic, and how the gentleman saw the diminutive ‘eight-ouncer’ in the first place is remarkable. Rather than run away from the good Samaritan, which is normal avoidance behavior in the wild, the infant muskrat literally ran toward him. So, the caring rescuer picked him up, which is what we do with babies who are in distress, human or otherwise. The young Muskrat was alone, confused, scared and hungry. The youngster then took a ride to the Outer Banks Wildlife Shelter. A muskrat is more accurately a ‘cousin’ to the beaver, but “little brothers of the beaver” is what Native Americans named them many years ago. There is a definite resemblance between the beaver and the muskrat, but the muskrat’s long, skinny and nearly hairless tail rather than the ‘paddle’ tail, gives it away! Like a beaver, dark brown muskrats have a pair of musk glands they use to send messages to other muskrats and different species of animals as well. Of course, the “rat” part of their name refers to that long, skinny tail. Our little musky is doing well at the shelter; enjoying his mega amounts of formula (he’s still of nursing age), toying with some solids like vegetables and mud minnows and relishing his swim time in the deep sink. We are currently checking the wildlife rehabilitation communities in our state for another lone muskrat that could join him. They rehab much better in pairs, and we don’t want this little one imprinting on humans. If we allow him to bond with us, his chances of survival in the wild will be nil. Aquatic muskrats are a North Carolina indigenous species, however, the shelter does not admit them often. Muskrats are easier to keep wild than most wildlife because they tend to be skittish, frightful of people and non-aggressive, although they will bite if they perceive danger (and if you are close enough, which of course is unreasonably close if their teeth can make it into your skin!). When given appropriate respect regarding space and interference, muskrats are virtually harmless to humans, and fascinating and entertaining little creatures to watch for anyone who stops to take time to appreciate them. A fluffy, adult muskrat ranges in size from 10-14 inches in length and weighs two to three pounds. Muskrats are excellent swimmers and can stay under water for up to 15 minutes at a time. Their webbed hind feet, great for swimming, are much larger than the front five-toed feet used for digging and manipulating food. They are nocturnal, although often seen during daylight hours working on their house, and spend most of their life in water. They are primarily plant eaters feeding on roots, shoots and leaves but will enjoy frogs, small fish, crayfish, mussels or clams if available. Muskrats are rodents and capable of chewing through almost anything, so a metal enclosure at the shelter is the only way to go as our little one physically develops and matures. And because they are timid, his enclosure will be stocked with leaved limbs, many hiding places and water pans to laze about in. In defense of the chewing “in the wild” muskrat, they seldom invade our residential spaces because they are always close to water, and usually marshy, human uninhabitable wetlands at that. Muskrats do not build lodges like the beaver, although they will occasionally move in with beavers. Instead of lodges they construct free standing houses by piling aquatic vegetation into a hill only a few feet high, then excavate a nest cavity in the center with several chambers and tunnels leading into the water which is quite impressive and masterful engineering. The grassy muskrat residence is called a ‘push-up’ or ‘mound.’ Sometimes they build the mounds around trunks of dead bushes or trees. In contrast to a beaver’s lodge, there is often no structure below the water, but muskrats and beavers are the only mammals that build homes on water. Also, unlike the beaver, the muskrat does not store food for the winter. They need to eat fresh plants every day and maintain a home range of less than one mile from their push-up. Muskrats can breed any time of the year and more than once with pregnancy lasting 25-30 days. The litter size averages four to six and kits are hairless, blind at birth and weigh less than one ounce each. Over time the youngsters are weaned from mother’s milk and often stay with their parents for a year, but when overcrowding develops, the parents, usually Mom, dramatically and sometimes, harshly, encourages her eldest children to move out and build a home of their own. Every time a muskrat is admitted to our shelter, we still reminisce the story of a young muskrat found scratching at the back door of a nursing home in Ontario, Canada during a horrific snow and ice storm. One of the workers let her in and fashioned a warm kennel with food and positioned deep, functional water pans for her necessary water moments in efforts to keep her safe during the wretched and dangerous weather. The question of why she came to the door was never truly answered but a few theories were; the weight of the snow collapsed the push-up or a predator, such as a wolf or mink, tried to dig in, but she was smart, lightning fast and managed to escape. Although the plan at the nursing home was to release her back into the wild in the spring, she became very content with her newly-found caretakers and remained with the residents of the home. Now that’s a true story of “Muskrat Love!” We love them too, even if we are way south of Canada! We don’t see muskrats as often in this area, but we are aware of their importance to our ecological system and how they benefit many wetland species by creating open water areas for waterfowl. They are excellent environmental partners for they are true indicators of environmental quality.

Best Always and let’s bless America (and the world) by living

harmoniously with nature, wildlife and each other. . . . . . . . .

Linda Bergman-Althouse

author of “Save Them All

“Sweet Release!”

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

Release day is the Best—– Always!!!!!

Linda Bergman-Althouse, author of

“Save Them All”

“The Ravishing Ruddy Duck”

KONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERADucks, ducks and more ducks!! We treat many a duck at the Outer Banks Wildlife Shelter in Newport, NC; Mallards, Muskovies, Wood Ducks, Scoters, Scaups, Buffleheads, Megansers and even a rare Canvasback, but the Ruddy Duck, originally from Canada, is a distinct chubby little thing that doesn’t come through our door very often. However, about a month ago, during our major cold snap, a short, wintering brown, male Ruddy with characteristic white cheek patches arrived. He had been observed sitting in a Swansboro resident’s yard without moving for two days. The concerned wildlife enthusiast managed to approach the stubby winged duck, pick him up without much trouble and place him in a box for transport to our shelter. Upon arrival, the Ruddy’s examination proved emaciation was an issue, but no injury or illness was found. Migratory Ruddy Ducks dive to feed on pondweeds, algae and wild celery, as well as the seeds of sedges, smartweeds and grasses. They also eat aquatic insects and their larvae, shellfish and crustaceans. During breeding season they adjust their diet and feed mainly on invertebrates, primarily larvae and pupae while sieving bottom debris during dives. With icy precipitation and freezing temperatures occurring during his rescue, our theory is the little diving duck found it difficult to find food during the unusual cold spell he, as well as we were experiencing and was basically starving. At that point, our shelter become exactly what he needed; protection from the adverse conditions and a “bed & breakfast” where he would be assured enough good food and the opportunity to gain back the bulk the small compact duck had lost. Because it was winter, our Ruddy was not the colorful male with a gleaming chestnut body, sky-blue bill, black capped head and gray-blue feet most people see during Spring and Summer in the prairie regions breeding areas of North America. East coast bays, ponds and marshes in the south will winter 25 per cent of migrating Ruddy Ducks, but males will appear an inconspicuous dull, buff-brown with a darker brown head cap. Blog_RuddyDuck_OWLS2EFemales are always grayish brown with beige rather than white cheek patches, although in winter they appear darker. The average length of a Ruddy Duck is 15 inches and when healthy, weighs about 1- 2 lbs, with males weighing more than females. Their wings are rounded rather than angular and span 21 – 24 inches. During breeding season, which begins in April, the cartoonishly colorful and bold male ruddy will court females by beating their blue bill against their neck hard enough to create a tapping noise and a swirl of bubbles in the water. They are relatively silent ducks until breeding season, but only the male will vocalize with a “chuck-uck-uck-uck-ur-r-r,” which sounds almost like a belch, while displaying for females. They also make popping sounds with their feet while running across the water during flaunting flights. The only vocalizations known for females are hisses when threatened and a nasally noise made to call her brood. Their domed nest, made out of grasses by the female, will be hidden from predators in dense vegetation adjacent to lakes, marshes and ponds, but some nests are made from old nests of other ducks or constructed on muskrat houses or on floating logs. Ruddies will often take up residence in the vicinity of other diving ducks such as Buffleheads and Goldeneyes and are known to interbreed, which causes concern and frustration for some conservationists, especially in other countries like the United Kingdom and Spain. On the average, female Ruddies will not reproduce until they are 2 years old and will lay 4 to 8 eggs (one a day), that are said to be almost 2 inches each in length, which is very large for their size. Incubation is 25-26 days and after hatching, the lone female will feed and protect the young. The youngsters will fledge in 50-55 days. Ruddy ducks spend the majority of their lives in water and are hardly ever seen on land. Their legs are set back further than most ducks, therefore, an upright stance is difficult, but they are great swimmers and divers, and use their stiff tail, that stands straight up, similar to a cute Carolina Wren, as a rudder to maneuver when they swim and dive. Ruddy Duck, Bolsa Chica Ecological Reserve, Huntington Beach, CaliforniaWhen taking off from a lake or pond, Ruddy Ducks are very awkward due to their unusual wing design and must use their legs and wings to “run” across the surface of the water (like a runway) and once in flight, the ruddy duck will beat its wings very fast. Some people say it looks like a huge hummingbird. When threatened by predators, of which they have many, such as raccoons, minks, crows, red-tailed and Swainson’s hawks, great horned owls, foxes, ringed-billed gulls, night herons and humans, they will sink slowly beneath the water or dive with great speed for protection rather than fly. After nesting season, Ruddies will form tight flocks on open water in great numbers for preservation from injury or harm, although habitat destruction, droughts and drainage in their breeding range and exposure to oil spills have recently decreased Ruddy Duck numbers. Their average lifespan in the wild is 2 years with 13 years the record holder. Ruddy Ducks living in zoo environments typically enjoy the longevity of 8 years. Our Ruddy Duck seemed to find pleasure in his stay at our shelter and became chubby once again. Krill, greens and beaucoup meal worms (which were his favorite meals) vanished in his presence, and he was offered as much as he could put away! Once his weight was back to normal and our southern weather turned warm again, he was released in an area where Ruddy Ducks frequent. 2012 Waterfowl Stamp ArtworkBy now, we’re sure he’s on his way north to meet up with a mature Ruddy Duck gal willing to bear his children, and probably at this very moment, like the colors of a rainbow, our little Ruddy is morphing into his strikingly handsome and vibrant summer self!

Happy Spring Everyone!!!  Wildlife babies are already blooming!!!

Linda Bergman-Althouse,  author of “Save Them All

“The Water Witch”

WPBlog_Pied-BilledGrebeFeb2014SubNot often do the volunteers and staff at the Outer Banks Wildlife Shelter in Newport get their hands on a Pied-Billed Grebe, but it happened just a few weeks ago. You see, Grebes are extremely elusive and won’t be found on land unless something has gone wrong. When someone with a compassionate heart found the petite Grebe scooting along the ground, it was thought at the time that the water bird must have a broken leg or two. So, the rescuer scooped him up and transported the short-billed, wide-eyed critter to the shelter. Our examination revealed no injuries to wings or legs and no presence of toxins or illness. Although Grebes rarely fly, when they do, it’s usually at night. So, because the small Grebe is not talking, our educated theory is during flight on a rainy night, an attempted landing on a shiny spot he misidentified as a body of water caused him to belly flop onto wet pavement. Fortunately for him, it was a landing instead of a dive, so although jarring, he survived the mistake but found himself displaced. We decided the best treatment plan would be observation, plenty of good food, water play and Rest & Recuperation so he could recover from the shock and trauma of the predicament he found himself in before we return him to his happy place in the wild. The Pied-Billed Grebe, also known as American dabchick, Devil-diver, Dive-dapper and Water Witch, as well as a few other names, are excellent freshwater swimmers and divers, but they don’t walk very well on land because their feet are far back on their body, similar to the Loon. They can run for a short distance on water, but on land they are not stable and will fall over. PB Grebes are small and stocky with a short neck, compared to other water or marsh birds. They measure between 12 – 15 inches in length and weigh only 9 to 20 ounces. Their wingspan extends from 18 – 24 inches. Their chicken-like bill is short, blunt and light gray. The PB Grebe is mainly brown with a darker brown head and back, which serves as excellent camouflage in the marshes where they live. In the summer the bill sports a black band and their throat area looks much darker, almost black. WPBlog_PiedBillGrebe_Feb2014Sub_edited-1Grebe feathers are dense, soft and waterproof. They have the ability to pull their feathers tight against their body to manage buoyancy as necessary. If danger lurks, they will dive, subtly – no big splash, basically just sink like a gator, up to 20 feet rather than fly to avoid predators. PB Grebes will stay under water for about 30 seconds while moving to a safer location. They often swim low in the water anyway, exposing only their head and neck watching for potential threats. During breeding season, the Pied-Billed Grebe couple, who have courted by singing to each other or together, will use a variety of plant material and twigs to build floating nests on the surface of the water. The nests are built close to shore but far enough away to protect them from a predator attack, which might show up in the form of a dog, cat, raccoon or human. They lay up to two sets of bluish-white eggs each year, numbering 3 to 10 per clutch. Incubation takes about 23 days and both parents oblige, although the female will take over the responsibility toward the end of the incubation period. If the parents have to leave the nest unattended, they will cover all the eggs with nesting material to protect them from predators while they are away. As soon as the youngsters hatch, they are able to swim, although not well and will climb onto a parent’s back for much of their travels until they are skillful enough to dive, hunt and swim like Mom and Pop. Both parents raise the young and will even dive for food with young ones clinging to them. Pied-Billed Grebes prefer to dine on aquatic invertebrates, such as crayfish, snails, leeches and insects but will also feed on small fish, frogs and tadpoles. Their stout, thick bill enables them to crush crustaceans like mussels. They sometimes add plants to their diet, too. An interesting and not well known fact about the “Water Witch” is they have a tendency to eat their own feathers and also feed them to their hatchlings. It’s believed that this odd diet choice assists in the formation of pellets containing indigestible material that can be expelled and to reduce vulnerability to gastric parasites. The greatest threat to the Pied-Billed Grebe is habitat loss. They need wetlands, and wetlands are being lost to draining and filling for residential use. Pied-billed Grebe (Podilymbus podiceps) Morro Bay CA 13 Dec 2010Grebes are shy and very sensitive to disturbances. Even the waves from boats can destroy nests and cause frightened PB Grebes to abandon their nests. Grebes have been declared endangered or threatened in many states, although they haven’t made the list in North Carolina yet. Our Pied-Billed Grebe is a cooperative cutie and doing very well. He will be swimming and diving waters near you soon, and he may even be on the periphery of where you are by the time you are reading this article.

Dive on little Water Witch!! Dive on!

Linda Bergman-Althouse

Author of “Save Them All


Fawn Rehabilitation Grows on the Coast!

When William “Danny” Nicely isn’t helping the staff at The Outer Banks Wildlife Shelter (OWLS) in Newport, NC release a Bald Eagle, he’s tending to his 2010 herd of seventeen fawns. A thirty year veteran of the Marine Patrol for Coastal North Carolina, Danny decided two years ago to do something no one else was doing down east on the coast; rehabilitate fawns. From 2006 to 2008 Dan was the man to call for triage and transport of fawns, but the success rate for those fawns turned out to be bleak to dismal with the majority dying within three weeks of delivery to a rehabber hours inland. Danny theorized at the time and has since come to believe the stress involved in traveling and switching caretakers hindered the fawns’ survival. Encouraged by Herta Henderson, a staff member at OWLS, Danny decided to take the steps required by the NC Wildlife Resources Commission to obtain a primary fawn rehabilitation permit. Away from highways and down a white graveled lane deep in the woods, he had the room to oblige fawns on twelve acres adjacent the Croatan Forest. He was willing to build a barn and pen to accommodate them, definitely motivated and passionate enough to see this through, and his supportive wife, Margaret, was willing to accept this new rehab life and help if needed. During the Wildlife Rehabilitators of North Carolina 2008 Symposium, Danny took the Fawn Rehabilitation Course presented by WRNC Board Member, Beth Knapp-Tyner. His wildlife rehabilitation mentor, Herta, also took the course that day to obtain a secondary fawn rehab permit. Armed with recent accomplishment of the Fawn Rehab Course, an Associate’s Degree in Fish & Wildlife Management from Wayne Community College, and his love for the animal, as well as the recognized rehabilitation need, he submitted the required paperwork and was subsequently granted a primary North Carolina Fawn Rehabilitation Permit. He immediately went to work. His first stop was a visit to his Veterinarian to let him know his permit was now a reality, and he was in business. Danny’s new selfless mission inspired the Veterinarian who encouragingly agreed to provide medical treatment as necessary. Fortunately, taking a fawn to the vet is an easy drive of less than five miles from Danny’s home. Danny waded shallowly into fawn rehab the first two permitted years with only 3 to 5 fawns a year, but in 2010 the number shot up dramatically which could be due to a few reasons he states. “Loss of habitat, mainly. All the development west of the beach areas causes more deer interaction with people, vehicles, dogs and other competing animals. And also because people know I’m here, so they don’t have to call someone farther away.” Danny reports the most wide spread medical problems within his fawn population this year were bouts of diarrhea and deer mange which afflicted five of the fawns, but fawns received due to dog attacks evidence the most serious injuries which usually require sutures, wound care and possibly splints or surgery. He keeps a schedule of four Purina Kid Supplement feedings a day and as the fawns mature, they graduate to grasses, soybeans, apples, goat feed, sweet potatoes and corn. Danny says tending to animals is his most enjoyable hobby, although the work is not easy and never ending. If or when he gets the time, he loves to farm, especially grasses for the deer. While the fawn food prep is continual and cleaning and hauling tiring, Danny is always astonished and rejuvenated when he takes a peek at the social behaviors of the fawns. “It’s amazing to see them interact; how they check out the newcomers and very quickly accept them into their group where they basically foster each other.” When I asked about his favorite fawn rehab experience, he didn’t hesitate saying “All the releases. They’re all my favorites.” Then he went on to talk about his first fawn from Beaufort two years ago. The fawn was lame because he was walking on his ankles with his front hoofs bent under. The fawn was diagnosed with malnutrition, but with Danny’s constant care, the fawn eventually stood up on his hoofs and could soon out run the other fawns in the pen. The recollection of that fawn brought Danny around to talking about Cotton from South River. He couldn’t help but name her because she required more time, attention and babying than most. Bit by a venomous cottonmouth on the end of her nose, her face, nose and mouth were so swollen she could not bottle feed. Pan lapping worked better for her, although other fawns soon surpassed her in size. “She’s grown now and doing fine today but doesn’t wander too far from the barn and pen yet. That snake bite was serious and her condition touch and go, so she’s been with me the longest and will probably stay close by for a while. Of course, one of the goals in fawn rehab is to limit human contact to prevent imprinting, which is always a challenge you have to stay focused on,” Danny states, “especially when you are their sole source of food and care. Blind feedings are my M-O.” Another challenge Danny faces with the fawns is how strong they become as they grow. A few times they escaped the pen by bumping or pushing their weight against the gate or literally running through the fence. They didn’t go far and were easy to round up, but what he’s learned they are capable of caused him to mend and reinforce fencing and the gate to a point that ensures the only way they can get out is if they sprout wings and fly. Danny always utilizes a soft release after opening the gate to their new world in the Croatan Forest, allowing the young deer to return to the barn and pen for supplemental feedings (breakfast and dinner) and safety, if they so choose. “I’m always rethinking my approach and methods to ensure I keep doing it better each year.” When asked how long he sees himself in the biz of fawn rehabbing, he stated “I can’t imagine not doing it. I love it. The satisfaction I feel from seeing them make it is overwhelming. I noticed a couple of my releases in the field across the way this morning. That’s a great feeling.”

Linda Bergman-Althouse
Author of “Save Them All”