“COLD TOES” for Pelicans!!

A cold snap is a comin’! Temperatures are scheduled to drop over the next few weeks, even to the teens, and bad things happen to wildlife when Eastern North Carolina gets that cold. Food will become scarce and frostbite can occur, mainly with our Brown Pelican population. We have seen pelican frostbite cases admitted to the Outer Banks Wildlife Shelter in Newport, NC over the years and sometimes in such great numbers that there’s hardly enough room to house them all! The Brown Pelican is a North American bird of the pelican family, Pelecanidae. It’s a very big seabird found on the Atlantic coast from Nova Scotia to the Amazon in South America. Most people who reside in North Carolina and tourists who visit are very familiar with pelicans. These large fisher-birds have habituated with humans, so we see them everywhere along our beach fronts, docks, fishing areas and find them ever present in our views at waterfront restaurants.The Brown Pelican is known for its oversized bill, sinuous neck, and big, dark body. Juvenile Brown Pelicans are in fact brown with a lighter beige underbelly, but a mature Brown Pelican’s coloring is vastly different. The adult will have a white neck and head with a yellow crest and its body is almost black with dark gray feathers. Flying units of pelicans, young and old, glide with seemingly little effort above the surf along coasts, rising and falling with the graceful movement of the waves. They feed by plunge-diving from high up, using the force of impact to stun small fish before scooping them up in their pouch. We bird watchers enjoy the purposeful antics of this comically elegant bird. With coldness looming, wildlife rehabilitators know that unfortunately, pelicans will do what they generally do in freezing temperatures and that is, nothing. They will stay out of the water and sit very still as they try to deal with the frigid and frosty weather nature has dealt them, which we know is not good to ward off the condition of frostbite. Frostbite is simply tissue damage caused by freezing, so keeping circulation going is one of the keys to prevention. The first body parts affected by decreased blood flow when exposed to extreme cold are those furthest away from your core, pelican or human. With pelicans, the cold will attack its toes and gular pouch first. Frostbite can happen very quickly in severely frigid weather; possibly within five minutes! Pelicans do not have the preventative luxury of layering its clothing or feathering for that matter, to protect the most vulnerable areas of their body from frostbite and no one is offering them a hot cup of tea or cocoa. Frostbite generally affects the top layers of the skin, but when it becomes more advanced, the damage will extend through the muscles and to the bones. When Pelicans are admitted to the shelter with frostbite, it’s because they are found disoriented, unable to walk due to pain in their feet, unable to fish and weak from starvation. Rehabilitating pelicans is a costly situation anytime but when frostbite is present they will require medications, surgical procedures to remove necrotic tissue or bone caused by frostbite and loads of fish for the starving and recovering birds whose rehabilitation stay at the shelter will correlate with the extensiveness of their frostbite. Pelicans can still be released and survive in the wild if their loss is only some webbing between toes or partial toe amputation, but loss of a foot, leg or pouch meets with a grim outcome. At the wildlife shelter we offer our frostbite patients treatment and care to include continuous, never ending clean up, plenty of food and medications they need and the necessary time to heal while we monitor their behaviors, returning skills and potential for a successful release. Most pelicans in our care are easy to get along with for they are friendly, social birds. They seem to be appreciative of the warm, safe haven we provide and the easy food. However, occasionally, we’ll get a pelican with a really bad attitude and a case of “snap-itis,” so we stay clear of that wild bill flailing in the air, because it can pinch pretty darn hard if it catches a human leg or arm, but those are few and far between. Pelicans aren’t the only wildlife who suffer from frostbite when a freeze hits our area. Virginia Opossums are also occasionally affected because they have bare feet and a bare tail. Frostbite is always bad no matter the victim, but most opossums seem to be resourceful enough to find a warmer place to hunker down and ride out the cold than our totally exposed Pelicans. Pelicans can live to be in their forties, which is quite the longevity for an animal in the wild, and we want to help those damaged by frostbite to recover and get back out there to live that potentially long life. So, if you see pelicans staying in one spot too long after an icy, cold snap, there could be some “Cold Toes” going on that require treatment. Our doors are wide open to receive them!!

Stay warm out there and best always,

Linda Bergman-Althouse

author of “Save Them All

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NO GEAR LEFT BEHIND!!!

Blog&FB_2015Aug_IMG_0469_edited-1People love to fish and so do wildlife! The big difference between humans and wildlife is wild animals do not need nets, fishing line, lures, hooks or plastic bags when fishing. Therefore, they leave nothing behind that will harm or kill anyone or anything. Left behind fishing gear kills! Wildlife Rehabilitators at the Outer Banks Wildlife Shelter in Newport know this all too well and cringe every time a seabird, wading bird, grazing bird, mammal or turtle is admitted due to the ingestion or entanglement of fishing litter. It’s so painful for the animal and in many cases renders them unable to eat which leads to starvation. Sometimes the devastation is less obvious and can not been seen without x-rays because the animal has swallowed a hook or lure. This type of injury is so frustrating and heartbreaking to wildlife care givers because it is human-caused and therefore, preventable. Nets, lines, hooks, crab pots, shrimp traps or any other fishing equipment abandoned by a boater or someone fishing on shore is considered derelict gear, which labels a fisherman or woman neglectful and irresponsible. This type of dangerous litter is usually made of plastic and doesn’t decompose in water for possibly hundreds of years. Recently, a mature Red Eared Slider was admitted to our shelter who had tried to swallow not one but two fishing hooks. We managed to carefully remove the three pronged hook with bait still attached from his mouth without too much trouble or damage to tissue, but the long, single pronged hook was so embedded in the roof of his mouth and out the side of his cheek, it required a committee discussion on how best to go about getting that out with minimal damage or killing the turtle. Blog&FB_2015Aug_IMG_6413He may not have been noticed or made his way to us if he had become entangled in the line attached to the hooks. Turtles are air-breathing reptiles. When they are caught underwater on a line or in a net, they will drown because they are unable to reach the surface for air. When an animal is entangled in fishing line that has no give, the line wraps tighter and tighter around a leg, wing or neck constricting the blood flow and functionality of the organs, blood vessels and muscles in that area. A fish hook that an animal desperately tries to remove causes lacerations and tears leading to blood loss, serious infections and limited function in the area affected. Some animals, such as pelicans, live with the discomfort of an imbedded fish hook in their body for long periods of time. We know this because hooks have been found in the backs, underbelly or legs of pelicans during examinations for other conditions such as wing fractures or frost bite. Some seabirds have even been found struggling to free themselves from each other because they have become entangled together by a fishing line or multi-hooked lure that was carelessly discarded by a fisherman. During the birds’ struggle they create even more injury to their legs and wings as well as possible nerve damage. Birds and other wildlife that become entangled will experience strangulation, starvation, amputation and in many cases, death. Entanglement is a slow and vicious killer! Because monofilament fishing line is transparent, it poses serious risk to all life, including human swimmers and divers who encounter it.

Photo by John Althouse

Photo by John Althouse

The negative impact of fishing gear waste is huge. Research tells us that the overall populations of seabirds have declined 69.6 percent, which is a loss of about 230 million birds in 60 years. “Seabirds are particularly good indicators of the health of marine ecosystems and when we see this magnitude of seabird decline, we also see something wrong with marine ecosystems.” This information gives us an idea of the devastating and overwhelming impact humans are having on wildlife and our environment. So for those of us who care, what can we do to improve the quality of life for wildlife and our aquatic environment? Get the word out, first and foremost! Do not accept the very little thought given to snapping a line when a fisherman’s lure is stuck on something. In your travels along beaches and recreational waterways, do the birds and other animals a huge favor by looking around trees and shrubs and notice how much fishing litter is strewn or snagged in vegetation, then carefully remove it and dispose of it properly. If you are the fisherman, always take all line and fishing gear with you when you leave. Blog&FB_2015Aug__Fishing gearRemovedX_edited-1The best way for anglers to reduce hookings and entanglements is to avoid casting near large seabird concentrations. If you are in a boat, move to another area. Most piers are large enough for birds to feed in one area, and anglers to fish in another, or take a break – flocks do not usually remain in one area for long. Using barbless hooks or artificial lures whenever possible can also help. Weight fishing lines to ensure the bait sinks rapidly, before birds can dive for it. Don’t leave fishing lines unattended. Do not feed birds or leave bait exposed because it attracts birds. Take leftover bait home so that birds and other animals don’t get accustomed to free meals. Fish remains are a problem because most seabirds swallow their prey whole. Swallowing parts of fish with exposed bones can cut a pelican’s pouch. Think about starting a program to collect fishing line by constructing and placing collecting bins in the vicinity of your local fishing spots. Please fish responsibly and encourage others to do the same. These are all steps in the right direction for the preservation of our environment and wildlife, as well as public safety. If you encounter an animal that shows signs of entanglement or has been injured in other ways by fishing gear, please call your local wildlife care facility, and they will provide instructions on how to transport the wildlife victim to their center. It’s best not to remove the dangerous fishing gear litter yourself, but to trust the application of a wildlife rehabilitator’s knowledge and skills to ensure damage is not compounded during removal. Let’s do this for our wildlife – they need us!!

BEST ALWAYS,
Linda Bergman-Althouse
author of “Save Them All

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”

Wayward Pelican Returns!

Ralph, the wayward North Carolina Brown Pelican, arrived March 9, 2011 by donated use of a Chevy van, at the Outer Banks Wildlife Shelter, Newport, NC from Nova Scotia, Canada. The theory, and most likely fact, is this young plunge diver was blown off course last year during Hurricane Earl and found himself lost and alone in a maritime province of Canada. It all started, for our shelter, about two months ago when we received a call from Hope Swinimer, animal rescuer who works at ‘Hope for Wildlife’ located in Seaforth, Nova Scotia. She asked if she could return a pelican to North Carolina. It was an unusual request but well received. The story started for Ralph much earlier than that. In September 2010, a brown pelican was spotted sitting on the roof of a strip club called Ralph’s Place in Halifax, Nova Scotia. Knowing pelicans are not found that far north usually, a call was made to Hope by a concerned observer. Hope didn’t know if it would, in fact, be a pelican since she had only seen one other pelican in the flesh in that area and that was many years ago. In addition, misidentifications are known to happen when animals are unfamiliar, but like all wildlife rehabilitators, she packed up rescue equipment large enough to accommodate a pelican. The bird took flight when Swinimer approached and led her on a chase that ended when he knocked himself out by flying into a plate glass window. She scooped him up, and pelican rehabilitation began. He was loopy, underweight and definitely lost. Ralph became his name based upon his landing spot, and Hope became his vigilant caretaker, providing vitamin-spiked herring meals and monitoring his behaviors and weight gain. He waddled around the Canadian rescue barn, flapping his wings and appearing quite content. When he bounced back from emaciation and regained good health, Hope began the process of getting him repatriated to the U.S. Southeast but ran into bureaucratic red tape which extended his stay through the fall and winter. Once the paperwork came through, it was time for a three day road trip for volunteer driver Garry Sowerby, Hope and Ralph. The Canadian rescue and over-the road team and their celebrity passenger, Ralph, were welcomed with arms-wide- open, southern hospitality by the North Carolina OWLS rescue crew and the media.

It was a grand ‘coming-together’ for wildlife rehabilitators of the ‘Outer Banks Wildlife Shelter,’ USA and ‘Hope for Wildlife’ from Canada. Hope and Ralph had bonded over the last six months, which was quite obvious when Ralph, who surprisingly turned out to be a girl, was introduced to her new enclosure. While OWLS volunteer David sprayed water into her food bowl, she ran to Hope and leaned against her leg. “I am going to miss him,” Swinimer said. “He is beautiful, in my eyes. He almost looks prehistoric in some ways.” Check out Ralph(ia)’s video debut at: http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/video/ralph-the-pelicans-new-home/article1937014/

Ralph(ia), is settling in well at the Outer Banks Wildlife Shelter, but it will take time to relearn pelican behaviors since she is young and has not been in another pelican’s presence for the past six months. She is currently being hand-fed fish and encouraged by the presence of fish in her food bowl to begin eating on her own. Since she bonded with a human during her stay in Nova Scotia, human contact is being limited at this point to enable a timely reintroduction to other pelicans which will promote healthy identification behaviors with her own species. Six other pelicans are currently enjoying a rehab stay at the shelter and Ralph(ia) will soon join them, learn pelican social order, get physically fit and eventually return to her old sky and turf of North Carolina.

Linda Bergman-Althouse,
Outer Banks Wildlife Shelter Volunteer
President, Wildlife Rehabilitators
of North Carolina
Author of “Save Them All”