“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

“Otters Just Wanna Have Fun!”

Blog2015Mar_American River Otter2Full of fun, grace and beauty one might describe North American River Otters who have, over the years, been restored throughout North Carolina to their former population glory. It’s a sheer pity that these gorgeous creatures nearly became extinct in the early 1900’s due to exploitation and greed surrounding the fur trade. Otters in swampy, marshes found in our coastal regions had a better chance at survival though, because food was plenty and the wetlands areas were inaccessible to hunters and trappers. Although secretive animals, sightings are reported by outdoor enthusiasts who say given the opportunity to observe otters in the wild they became awestruck and captivated by their behaviors. Most enjoyable to watch is the spirited otters’ expression of fun as they revel in sliding down mud hills into the river or skidding across snow like they are riding a skimmer board. And boy do they like to play and frolic! Reported as some of the most playful wild animals, young otters love to wrestle and chase each other, and both activities are good training for survival skills; agility, endurance and the raw power they need as an adult otter. At the Outer Banks Wildlife Shelter in Newport, we have only experienced one admit of a river otter in many years. He was a youngster found alone and unable to fend for himself. It was important to maintain his wild side while being raised at the shelter, so important that a staff member posted a sign for everyone to see: “Do Not Speak to the Otter.” He was adorable but also wild and meant to stay wild; therefore, we were very careful in preventing our little otter from habituating with humans. He had many vocalizations, and we came to know when he was hungry and when he needed attention. Otters are very social animals, so the goal was to pack on some weight, ensure expert swimming accomplishments, teach him to hunt and ready him to colonize with other otters. The North American River Otter is a carnivore mammal that belongs to the Mustelidae family, along with weasels and minks. They look very similar to a weasel, only much, much larger, weighing up to 30 lbs and measuring nearly 4 feet in length. Otters have characteristic elongated and streamlined bodies with stout and sturdy legs. Their waterproof fur is a sleek, dense dark brown with a light tan underbelly, and their face is adorned with a cute oval and blunt snout. River Otters have a thick neck, a long furry and thick tail, extensive whiskers used for detecting vibrations indicating the proximity of prey, and their eyes and ears are found high on their head to aid in surface swimming. Blog2015Mar_River Otter3They can go deep in the water as well, a depth of 60 feet has been recorded, and they can stay under for up to eight minutes. Otters have that nictitating membrane that covers and protects their eyes while swimming under-water. Their feet have five toes with nonretractable claws and webbing between each toe which helps them maneuver in a variety of marine and fresh-water habitats ranging from slow moving coastal streams to rapidly running mountain streams. On land, frisky otters can leap and run almost as effectively as they swim and have been clocked as fast as 18 mph. Generally nocturnal, otters are semi-aquatic predators who feed on fish, crayfish, crabs, rodents, birds, eggs and amphibians such as frogs. Although they need to be near water, which provides most of their food source, they spend two-thirds of their time on land. They live in dens with many tunnel openings along the river bank or they may take up residence in a convenient log jam, thick cover vegetation or any natural cavity they find. Although the fun-loving otter is not known as a fighter, it will charge or scratch those who invade their feces marked territory. They communicate with each other by whistling, growling, chuckling or screaming. Their scent glands near the base of their tail also produce a form of communication by allowing them to mark scent a musky odor, fencing off their home range. Otters live in bands of 5 to 10 adults with spring breeding season pups. Otters become sexually mature within two years, although many males do not mate until they are 5 to 7 years of age, but when they do, they are promiscuous and will breed with a number of females during breeding season. Pups are born in the spring after “delayed implantation” which means the female may have been impregnated almost a year before. Three to six, fully furred pups are born weighing 4 to 6 ounces and will nurse from Mom for only three months but usually remain with her for almost a year. Blog2015Mar_River OtterThe male is not considered part of the family and does not help with pup rearing. It might be that “cheating” thing! All Otters must be wary of predators such as bobcats, coyotes or fox, domestic dogs, black bear, large raptors such as eagles, alligators and man (intentional or unintentional). Although, they mainly escape predation through their agility in the water, they aren’t quite as quick and maneuverable on land. North American River Otters are, themselves, important predators who help maintain a healthy, aquatic ecosystem by eating “trash” fish that compete with more economically desirable game fish, and the presence of otters generally does not affect humans in any adverse way. An otter’s life expectancy in the wild is 8 to 9 years, although in captivity, a record high of 21 years is reported. When our young otter of years ago was ready for the move from our rehabilitative intensive care in the shelter facility to the great outdoors, we moved him into the reinforced pelican enclosure (in the absence of pelicans at the time), which accommodated him with a grand pool and ground cover. His otter skills developed rapidly, and although his weight was up, he fished on his own and displayed Olympic swimmer moves, he seemed lonely and sad, so we urgently made arrangements to transport him to a rehabilitator’s home in Merrimon, NC along the river where otter presence was known. We set up his makeshift den close to the house where our volunteer, Heather, could keep an eye on his comings and goings and provide supplement food. Routinely, she watched him go to the river to eat and play, then return to his otter apartment daily, but within a few weeks, she started to see him less and less. Blog2015Mar_342174_640Our theory is; he eventually found others of his own kind down the water way, and because he was so darned cute, we’re almost certain our otter has had a positive impact in helping to repopulate the North American River Otters in our coastal region. You go boy, and hope you’re still having fun!

Linda Bergman-Althouse

Author of “Save Them All”

Happy Spring Everyone!!!!!!!

“Your Place Ermine?”

FB_BLOG_weasel_19Jan2015Cute as buttons is the best way to describe the smallest North American carnivores, the Least and Short-tailed Weasels. Weasels belong to the animal family biologists call Mustelidae, which translates to “mouse stealers” and includes 64 species worldwide. So you will find skunks, minks, badgers, the powerful wolverine, martens, black footed ferrets and the largest of the lot, the sea otter in this group. Short-tailed Weasels, also called Ermine, look very similar to the Long-tailed Weasel, except for the variation in size. Short-tailed Weasels are only half the body length of a Long-tailed and, of course, the tail is much shorter, although their tails share the same characteristic black tip. Weasels don’t like to be seen, so in our rehabilitation world at the Outer Banks Wildlife Shelter in Newport, we understand they want to hide and are extremely effective escape artists. That means securing their enclosures beyond their problem solving skills is a must. Our last Short-tailed Weasel admit came in as an infant found abandoned in a North Carolina “Hill” town, Snow or Pink, don’t recall off hand. What a cutie–patootie! Although not old enough to be on her own, she was a capable little weasel who was ready for solid food. Although weasels are mammals, they nurse for only a very short time before needing meat in their diet. Short-tailed Weasels sport brown fur on top, white fur on their belly and white feet. With their long, slender bodies, long necks, short legs and rather flattish head, they are designed exclusively as hunters and mouse harvesting machines! Short-tailed Weasels weigh about 7 ounces fully grown with bodies 7 to 13 inches long. Males grow larger than females. They are slinky with no expression of shoulders or hips. FB_BLOG_IMG_0203_19Jan2015When you see them in action, they exude graceful agility as they move about doing all that they do; play, swim, climb, run, hunt, court and raise their kits. They have keenly developed senses of sight, hearing and smell, keeping them acutely aware and attentive to their surroundings. Short-tailed Weasels are found in a variety of habitats but primarily near wet sites such as swamps, marshes and especially where brushy thickets reach a waterline. Other habitats include woodlands, brushy areas, stream banks and the borders of forests and fields. They usually nest in hollow trees or stumps, rotting logs, underground burrows, stone walls and mole runs. Dens are also found in abandoned burrows made by other mammals, rock crevices or in spaces among tree roots; one individual weasel may use multiple dens. They are known to tolerate close proximity to humans, but like most predators, they rely on skills of stealth and surprise for their very survival and will almost always see us before we see them. For relatively small creatures, Short-tailed Weasels are courageous and fierce predators, and although they feed primarily on mice and rats, they are known to take on other prey that can be ten times larger than themselves, such as rabbits. Their fierceness led to them being referred to as a “Stoat,” which is of Belgic or Dutch origin, meaning pushy and bold. As strict carnivores, Short-tailed Weasels eat no plant food of any kind. They have high metabolic rates and require 40 percent of their body weight in food daily and up to 70 percent for lactating females. Short-tailed Weasels live alone except to mate. Though it can be more than 9 months between the time they mate and the female births 4 to 12 closed eyed and ears sealed young, weasels are not truly pregnant until March, and their litter is born about 6 weeks later in late April or early May. This reproductive process is called delayed implantation and many wild mammals have this same adaptation. It allows the animals to mate in the fall when they are more active rather than trying to find each other in late winter. Within 2 months of life, kits have been taught to kill their own prey. The crazy, physical games played among siblings help develop strategies and tactics they will need to catch prey. They must be alert, fast and able to turn on a dime to hunt effectively. FB_BLOG_weasel_19Jan2015XDespite their small size and short legs, Ermine develop endurance and stamina during play that allow them to outrun prey that becomes fatigued. Although they are most active at night, they can be out any time of day. Short-tailed Weasels communicate among themselves through body language and with visual, sound and scent cues. Adults will trill, whine, hiss and squeal, while kits utter chirping noises. They also communicate by using scent glands that can produce a pungent musky odor. Females emit this attractive scent when they are ready to mate. Some folks associate weasels with being trouble makers, because they are capable of making quite a ruckus in a chicken coop if humans render their chickens accessible at night, but please remember all the good they do in the way of controlling our mouse and rat populations. All weasels have an important role to play in maintaining a healthy ecosystem.FB_BLOG_IMG_0208_19Jan2015 The longevity of a Short-tailed Weasel is not long at all. Only a small percentage of kits make it to their first birthday. Predators abound for this cute little racer. They need to outrun and hide from owls, large snakes, coyotes, foxes, falcons, hawks and humans. If they do survive that first year, they may live for several years. In captivity the record life span has been registered at 8 years. Short-tailed Weasels are so secretive that we don’t know a lot about them, and there is certainly more to be learned. It was a thrill for the volunteers and staff at the Outer Banks Wildlife Shelter in Newport, NC to raise our tiny stoat and learn as much as we could from everything she had to teach us. Hopefully, she is still out in the wild living her little weasel life and staying out of trouble!


Linda Bergman-Althouse

author of “Save Them All

“More Fierce Than Merry!”

BlogDec2014_MockerAlthough the Northern Mockingbird, the only mockingbird found in North America, has a repertoire of 200 songs and is capable of singing over 1,000 songs an hour we, wildlife rehabilitators, don’t perceive that ability as a demonstration of happy or merry as one generally would, especially during the caroling season. Mockingbirds are made to mimic all birds they hear, as well as other interesting sounds. So when infant or juvenile mockingbirds are admitted to the Outer Banks Wildlife Shelter in Newport, NC during baby season, we’re not always sure who we’re hearing when we walk into the nursery. Mockingbirds are renowned for their mimicking ability, as reflected by the meaning of its Latin scientific name Mimus polyglottos, ‘many-tongued mimic.’ Behind every song is intent and purpose. As an infant, songs are meant to proclaim “feed me, feed me” time. Their favorite mimic in our nursery is of a Northern Cardinal; a high pitched, shrill sound (almost headache producing) that definitely gets our attention. They must be thinking that piercing sensation will put them in the feeding line first. BlogDec2014_mockbabiesMockingbirds can even imitate sounds such as squeaky gates, sirens, pianos and barking dogs so well that professionals engaged in acoustical analysis cannot tell the difference between them and the real thing. Males and females, who reach sexual maturity after their first birthday, sing both day and night as an essential part of mating, making their presence known, denouncing trespassers in their territory, attacking potential predators and menacing or mobbing anything or anyone, to include humans, they perceive a threat. The bird you see perched conspicuously on high vegetation, fences, eaves, telephone wires, a rooftop or on your mail box is probably a Northern Mockingbird on sentry duty, ready to fiercely swoop and flagrantly harass other birds, animals or people in defense of their self-assigned boundaries. Even on the ground, they will stretch their legs tall, extend their wings while hopping and prancing around an intruder in attempts to scare it away. BlogDec2014_MockerWings
If a predator persists, mockingbirds will summon other mockingbirds from neighboring territories by vocalizing distinct alarms, calling them to join forces in attack mode. These birds are absolutely unafraid and will assault large, dangerous targets such as hawks and capable cats. They should feel no need to apologize for their aggressive behaviors, though. They need to be fierce given the long list of predators they must routinely deal with such as Sharp-Shinned Hawks, Screech Owls, Great Horned Owls, squirrels and snakes, just to name a few. You might think a bird predisposed with unabashed ferocity might be pretty big, but nope, they are medium-sized songbirds and a bit more slender than thrashers who are their closest living relatives. Males are slightly larger than females and their average wingspan is 12 to 14 inches. Most Northern Mockingbirds have a gray or white underbelly and exhibit white wing bars. They have small heads, a long, thin dark bill with a hint of a downward curve and long legs. Their wings are short, rounded and broad, making the tail seem particularly long in flight. The Northern Mockingbird is an omnivore, meaning it eats insects and fruits. The birds’ diet consists of a variety of insects, spiders, earthworms, berries, fruits, seeds and sometimes lizards. BlogDec2014_MockingbirdLunchXTheir favorite insects include butterflies, beetles, ants, bees, wasps and grasshoppers. Mockingbirds drink from puddles, river and lake edges, or dew and rain droplets found on plants. Adult mockingbirds also drink sap from cuts on recently pruned trees. Their diet heavily consists of more animal prey during the breeding season, but takes an extreme shift to fruits during fall and winter. The habitat they prefer is usually open areas, forest edges, grass lands for foraging, but they have adapted well to residential living. Northern Mockingbirds visit feeding stations, especially in winter where they dine on fruit, mealworms and suet. They often bully other birds away from feeding areas, even if it contains foods they do not like. They don’t share well. Mockingbird nests, constructed in bushes or trees usually 3 to 10 feet off the ground, consist of dead twigs shaped like an open cup, lined with grasses, small roots, leaves and sometimes bits of trash, plastic, aluminum foil and shredded cigarette butts which are not the best materials to choose, but they are resourceful recyclers. The male constructs the twig foundation while the female stands watch, then they switch duties and the female fashions the lining. In a breeding season, the Northern Mockingbird lays an average of 3-5 eggs. They are light blue or greenish in color, speckled with brown dots and hatch after 11 to 14 days of incubation. Both the parents will feed their little brood, and after about 10 to 15 days of life, the offspring become independent. You may see youngins still begging in the trees for food because it’s hard for a child to give up that free ride, and the parents will accommodate for a while, but soon tough love will encourage self-sufficiency. As they raise young and feed on insects, they’re paying attention and remembering everything that comes near their territory. Northern Mockingbird (Mimus polyglottos) with a blue sky backgroundThe mockingbird has the remarkable ability to tell the difference between individual humans, even after only 60 seconds of contact, despite changes of clothing. The Northern Mockingbird is known for its intelligence and is much smarter than bird experts previously thought. They rank right up there with the natural capacity and genius of the American Crow. These songbirds also recognize their specific breeding spots and return to areas in which they had greatest success in previous years. Although the Northern Mockingbird’s lifespan in the wild is 8 years, the 1800’s took them to near extinction because people, who valued their exceptional vocal talent, captured them for pets. When kidnapping them became illegal their numbers recovered significantly. The Northern Mockingbird, also called an American Nightingale, is the third popular state bird behind the Northern Cardinal and Western Meadowlark. In light of what we now know about this impressive and boldly assertive songbird, it might be easier to understand when all that fussing starts next Spring. Although it might sound merry at first, that bird is strictly talking business. Northern Mockingbirds need to do what needs to be done to keep us and any other threat moving along and away from their family. Isn’t that what we all do?

Happy New Year Everyone!!!!

Linda Bergman-Althouse

author of “Save Them All

Happy Hummer!

BlogSep2014_LP1A9605XI hope everyone has been enjoying the increased number of Hummingbirds visiting our coastal region this season. The wild Hummingbirds at the Outer Banks Wildlife Shelter in Newport can’t get enough of the sweet nectar substitute we provide them in our extra wide, bottom feeder that we replenish constantly to accommodate their demands and keep them happy! We love their presence and are used to them buzzing around us at 30 miles per hour while we clean kennel cabs and hose out soaking pools on the deck, but with the welcomed co-habitation comes a duty on our part to keep the hummingbird feeder clean. Many people don’t think about that as they generously supplement a wild bird’s diet with feeders stationed at homes or businesses, but neglecting maintenance could unintentionally and unknowingly put the lives of the birds we love to watch so much in danger. Hanging a hummingbird feeder means assuming a certain amount of responsibility for the well-being of a fragile and trusting animal who weighs less than a nickel. If you are not prepared to follow a rigorous maintenance routine to rid the feeder of life threatening bacteria or mold, you should consider planting a hummingbird garden instead. BlogSep2014_LP1A9413XClean your feeder thoroughly at least once a month or as necessary. If the sugar solution in your feeder turns cloudy, it’s spoiled and needs to be replaced. This can happen in as little as two days depending upon hot and humid weather. It’s best not to use soap as soap residue is hard to remove, and hummingbirds don’t like the taste of soap. Who does? Use a solution of 1/4 cup bleach to one gallon of water. Soak the feeder in this solution for about an hour, then clean with a scrub or bottle brush. Rinse well with hot running water and refill with store bought hummingbird nectar or a 4 parts tap or well water to 1 part sugar solution is just as good, if not better. All they really need from our feeders is the quick energy they get from ordinary white cane sugar. It’s fuel for chasing the bugs that make up a huge portion of their natural diet, and the sugar causes no known health problems in hummingbirds, as long as the sugar does not exceed the 1 to 4 parts ratio. It’s tough on their liver if you bump up the sugar.  BlogSep2014X__LT_1141USEIf you are concerned about any remaining traces of bleach after cleaning, it will be neutralized by reacting with the fresh syrup. There’s also no need to air dry the feeder before refilling. Although bleach is a very effective disinfectant, you can use white vinegar if you don’t like bleach. Some people have chosen to bolster their homemade nectar with additives such as honey, Jell-O, brown sugar, fruit or red food coloring. They DO NOT need any of that, so DO NOT do that! Honey ferments rapidly when diluted with water and can kill hummingbirds. The effects of food coloring have not been scientifically tested, but there are reports, although unverified, that red dye can cause tumors in hummingbirds, so why take the chance? Besides, it’s not necessary to color the water to attract birds to your feeder. Hummingbirds will feed 5–10 times per hour for 30-60 seconds during daylight hours. There is also the debate as to whether to provide a feeder with or without a perch. Hummingbirds always live on the edge of their energy limits, so why not provide a feeder with a circular perch to save calories. Hovering is more tiring and uses way more calories, so that tiny bar to rest on will be appreciated. It’s interesting to note that the flight muscles of a hummingbird make up 25% of their total weight compared to only 5% pectoral weight in humans. Also, although their heart is only 2.5% of their total body weight, that happy wee heart beats about 250 times per minute at rest and 1,220 per minute while flying. Some attitudinal hummingbirds don’t like to share their feeder with other hummingbirds and will furiously run them off, demanding a “take your turn when I’m not around” process of feeding. Hummingbirds also don’t enjoy the presence of ants, bees or wasps, which are other opportunistic feeders, another reason to check your feeder often. Bees or wasps will crawl inside and be unable to get back out, die and decompose in the liquid. That process will turn the sugar solution rancid and unappealing to the hummers. To keep bees and wasps away, choose hummingbird feeders that are not decorated with yellow flowers, plastic or painted on. It has been tested and proven that these insects are attracted to the color yellow and bees, especially, will communicate with each other about the discovery of nectar sources. If you wake up each day noticing your hummingbird feeder is bone dry, even though you know you just filled it the day before, you may be experiencing nocturnal visitors such as raccoons or bats who love the sweet stuff too. If you bring your feeder in at night, just remember hummingbirds start feeding about 45 minutes before sunrise, and they will need a boost of energy after a long cool night. It won’t be long before most of our hummingbirds will be on their way to winter in Central America or on a Caribbean island, however, some will remain with us and challenge our mild winter. Mammals develop a thicker coat for winter, but these tiny, tropical birds will depend upon a hibernation-like state known as torpor during cold spells to conserve energy, so we need to keep our little forward, downward, upward and even, upside-down flyers happy and healthy by timely attending to their feeder no matter what time of year. Those who do migrate will return to our area March through May, so keep an eye out, get those feeders ready and continue to maintain them throughout their stay. A hummingbird’s life span, if they make it past the first uncertain year, is five to ten years, so your returnees may have been part of your wildlife family for years and look forward to meeting up with you again! BlogSep2014_7Z2048XX_edited-1Hummingbirds are a joy to most people and with your choice to provide them a few supplemental calories, they will choose your yard to guard against unwanted insects. Happy for us and Happy for them!!!



author of

Save Them All

Linda Bergman-Althouse


Dancing With Wrens

Blog_Carolina_Wren_XTiny but mighty is an accurate description of Carolina Wrens. We’ve admitted a ton of these little flyers this baby season at the Outer Banks Wildlife Shelter in Newport, and if there is one bird we wildlife rehabilitators need to up our athleticism with, it’s the Carolina Wren. They may be some of the smallest, featherless, blind and helpless babies when they arrive in the nursery, but they develop quickly and become fast and furious. Carolina Wrens don’t need much of an opening to dart out of a playpen after graduating from the incubator, and they will capitalize on any opportunity. Then, the dance begins. They are faster than we are, more agile and very good at hiding in the slimmest of crevices. They don’t make it easy on us like our heavier Robin or Blue Jay babies who sit in the open after trying their wings and wait for the human pickup and return drill. Sometimes it takes hours to find an escaped, cinnamon colored Carolina Wren who is quick to give us a grumpy ‘keep your distance’ look while squinting those big round eyes adorned with a white brow stripe. Seasoned rehabilitators have developed some pretty quick dance moves to ensure any possible escape is thwarted thereby preventing those long, unwanted searches. This small but chunky bird with a round body, very little neck and long tail that is snootily cocked upward can deliver an amazing number of decibels for its size. When they are hungry, we know it. They are loud! But if they don’t want to be found, you won’t hear a peep. These babies grow into adulthood within 4 weeks of birth, weighing only .6 to .8 ounces with a length measurement of 4 to 5.5 inches. So basically, they still look like babies, but they are extremely competent, diligent and capable. Their wingspan is around 11 inches. When the babies are 12 to 14 days old in the wild, they leave the nest, but their parents still feed them for another couple weeks. Blog_Carolina Wren 4_XInsects and spiders make up the bulk of a Carolina Wren’s diet, so they put away a huge amount of mealworms at the shelter while they grow in our care. Common foods in the wild include caterpillars, moths, stick bugs, leafhoppers, beetles, grasshoppers, crickets and cockroaches. Their bill is pointed and curved, which is engineered perfectly to turn over decaying vegetation and to hammer and shake apart large bugs. Carolina Wrens will occasionally eat lizards, frogs or small snakes. They also consume a small amount of plant matter, such as fruit pulp and poison ivy. They move into shrubby, wooded residential areas, overgrown farmland, dilapidated buildings and brushy suburban yards. Unlike migratory birds, Carolina Wrens stay in their chosen territory year round. Male and female Carolina Wrens build their nest together. Pairs mate for life and will usually remain in each other’s company all year long. Their bulky 3 to 9 inches long and 3 to 6 inches wide nest is cup-shaped, usually domed, with a side entrance and often a woven extension resembling a porch or entrance ramp. It’s loosely constructed with a variety of materials such as bark strips, dried grasses, dead leaves, moss, pine needles, hair, feathers, straw, shed snakeskin, paper and even plastic or string, in which the latter two are not safe nesting materials. The female lines the nest’s inner bowl with the comfiest of her chosen nest components and may add more elements after incubation begins. The nest they build is grand and accommodates 4 to 7 eggs, white with brown speckles, which are incubated for 12 to 16 days and ultimately, their rambunctious nestlings as well. So lack of quality nest structure is not the reason why our shelter ends up with so many Carolina Wrens every year. It’s WHERE they build a nest that becomes problematic, which could be anywhere!!! They build in flowerpots, mailboxes, propane-tank covers, door wreaths, old coat pockets (or even a pocket in clothing hanging on the line), boots, garage door openers, on lawn mowers (if they have been sitting too long), helmets, cinder blocks and vents on a boat. Anywhere a cavity can accommodate them, they move in. When calls to the shelter begin with “I have a nest of wrens in my hanging plant or under the rake in my wheel barrel,” we always advise the caller to wait them out if possible. The wrens will be on their way in just a few weeks, and you will have enjoyed the privilege of hosting a family of bug zapping environmental partners. This year, a Carolina Wren family nested in this author’s kayak. Blog_CarolinaWrenNest_XFour little ones were discovered while Momma and Daddy Wrens looked on from the fence. The decision was made to land lock the boat until the wren children fledged! They are still seen flitting around the yard together defending their territory by aggressively scolding and chasing off intruders. Besides vigilantly standing guard and being the first birds to send up the alarm with chidingly shrill notes when a predator is in the area, Carolina Wrens also love to sing happy songs. Males and females are constantly vocalizing, however males only will produce the creation of song, singing rain or shine from dawn to dusk and up to 3,000 times a day. So, as long as they are singing the songs, let’s take time to do the happy dance with them (it just might be the most enjoyable part of your day)!!

best always and keep on dancin’!

Linda Bergman-Althouse

Author of “Save Them All

It’s a Murder!

Crow,_American_XXEECrows, members of the Corvidae family, live everywhere in the world except Antarctica and are part of myths and legends in many global societies including American culture. The stories range from comedies to horror and curiously, a flock of crows is referred to as a murder. A folktale explains the reference because it is said that crows will gather to decide the capital fate of another crow guilty of wrong doing. If you’ve heard crows are smart, there’s a whole lot of truth in that because they are among the most intelligent animals on the planet. Many studies and observations support their awesome problem solving skills as well as a few other behaviors also very human like such as recall, memory, gossiping and holding grudges. Researchers in Seattle spent many years banding crows, which the crows were not too happy about, and the humans found that crows never forgot a face. And remember they do, for a very, very long time. Even crows that were never banded would scold and dive-bomb human banders because, it is believed, the bandees “told” the other crows about this horribly unwanted and anxiety producing activity humans engage in and were advised to be wary of certain people and those who associate with them. It is reported that crow assaults and “mobbings” went on for years in that area. Wildlife rehabilitators experience first-hand the savviness and intelligence of the crow. When American Crows or Fish Crows (the smaller of the two), which are the only two crows indigenous to North Carolina, are admitted to the Outer Banks Wildlife Shelter in Newport for treatment, we take precaution to ensure fasteners on their enclosures will be difficult and hopefully, impossible for the crow to figure out. That prevents us from having to look all over the building to find him or her. We also provide enrichment tools and toys because they can get bored in captivity which may cause them to become depressed, and that is not good for recovery. Sometimes we put food inside containers so they have to work to get it out. They enjoy a varied omnivorous diet, so we give them lots of food choices; insects, fish, earthworms, fruits, eggs, vegetables and nuts. In the wild, you may see them dining on frogs, snakes, mice, berries, carrion such as road-kill or even garbage. An adult crow needs about 11 ounces of food daily, so they are adaptable and consummate opportunists. As scavengers they often associate with other hunting animals to take advantage of unguarded or abandoned prey carcasses. When you think about it, humans are some of those hunting animals who exploit the environment and tend to leave waste behind, so it’s only natural to find crows wherever you find people. In the way of description, there’s not much to tell that you don’t already know. They are black, all black; feathers, beak, legs, feet, talons, even their tongue is blue-black in color. Some people consider this big, black bird scary while others describe them as elegant. They measure 16-21 inches in length and the tail takes up 40% of that measurement. Their wingspan extends 33 to 39 inches. Males tend to be larger than females. The flight of the American Crow is swift but prolonged and performed at great heights, although they are also very comfortable on the ground. Its gait, while on the ground, is lofty and graceful, with the progression being a calm and composed walk, although it occasionally hops when excited. Crow,_American_ECrows are very social, caring creatures and have tight-knit families. Older crow siblings take on the responsibility of care for younger siblings. They roost in huge numbers, in the thousands in some areas, to protect themselves from enemies like Red-Tailed Hawks, Great Horned Owls and raccoons. Crows also, amazingly, use at least 250 different calls; however, the sound we are most familiar with is the rapid caaw-caaw-caaw. That call is unmistakable. Their distress call brings other crows to their aid, as crows will defend unrelated crows. Crows are monogamous, mate for life and raise their young for up to five years. Their nests are formed externally of dry sticks, interwoven with grasses, and plastered with mud or clay while lined with roots and feathers. They lay four to six eggs of pale green spotted with purplish-grey and brownish-green. In our region they may raise two broods a season but further north, seldom more than one. Both sexes incubate, and their parental care and mutual attachment are not surpassed by any other bird. The average life span of the American Crow in the wild is 7–8 years, but captive birds are known to have lived up to 30 years. There’s a lot to admire about the crow. The crow is extremely courageous when encountering any of its winged enemies and appears to find pleasure in outwitting and teasing them. They also are known to use tools just like humans, chimpanzees and elephants do. When contending with unfamiliar tools, they use common sense to come up with ways to make them work. Studies show crows work together to protect their flock, hunt and have been observed overtly sharing food. A crow family can eat 40,000 grubs, caterpillars, ants, worms and other insects in one nesting season. That’s a lot of insects gardeners and farmers consider troublesome. These great environmental citizens also transport, distribute and store seeds, thus propagating forest renewal. Their habit of eating carrion makes them part of nature’s cleanup crew. So let’s give crows the “props” they deserve for being impressive environmental partners. Crows might have a scary reputation, but the most frightening thing might be how much they know about us and how little we know about them!

Best Always,

Linda Bergman-Althouse

author of, “Save Them All”


Wild Friends From The North

BLOG_CS_IMG_009_June2013Yes, they are everywhere, but how well do we really know them? Canada Geese have become so adapted to living among us, they display a few behaviors humans don’t care for and therefore, get a bum rap. They are known to be a little pushy or downright aggressive when we humans get too close to their goslings, but that’s just their way of being protective parents. They also have a tendency to mess up our ‘so called’ human areas with their droppings. Maybe they wouldn’t if they could help it, but they can’t. It’s that whole involuntary elimination thing that all birds (except the ostrich) have, and birds poo every 12-15 minutes. Geese are just much bigger birds and like to hang out in groups. So those reasons, of course, contribute to the number of ‘nasties’ left in a parking lot, on a sidewalk or golf course. Border Collies or Australian Shepherds could make quick work of keeping them out of a ‘No Geese Zone’ if necessary with no harm, no fowl. When Canada Geese (not “Canadian” as many people refer to them) are admitted to the Outer Banks Wildlife Shelter in Newport its always due to injuries incurred as a result of human interference, be it intentional or unintentional. Geese are hit by cars and when that happens, it usually means two geese will be coming to the clinic because geese mate for life and the uninjured mate will not leave the other’s side. BLOG_CS_IMG_029_Jun3013Uninjured mates wait patiently by our pond while shelter admits are treated and until eventually released. Rehabilitators at our shelter have removed fishing line that could possibly amputate a leg or prevent flight if left unattended. We have even extracted an arrow shot right through a goose that fortunately, missed all vital organs. The goose abuse stories are endless and always bring on a tear jerk reaction to those of us who care about and treat these majestic birds. Each Canada Goose has its own unique shelter story, personality, and we never forget them as they pass through our care and facility. Most people know what they look like and that the honking sound coming from the V formation overhead is a flock of geese, but did you know that they can cover 1,500 miles in just 24 hours with a good tail wind. BLOG_CS_MG_0065_Jun2013And yes, they are the tall, stately birds with the long black neck and head with white chinstrap and brownish-gray, robust body who cover ground with a sophisticated and royal gait. Canada geese are adaptable to many habitats and can thrive by grazing wherever grasses, grains or berries are available. They mate at three years of age and nest in areas surrounded by or close to water. Retention ponds in heavily populated areas have recently become popular sites to nest and raise their young. Other nest sites include planter boxes and nesting structures provided specifically for geese. They line their bowl-shaped nest with grass, leaves and goose down. A pair of geese may return to the same nest site year after year. Normally six to ten eggs are laid in the nest in the Spring and are incubated by the female goose while the gander, the male, stands guard nearby. The female leaves the nest only briefly each day to feed. Eggs hatch after 25 to 30 days of incubation. The young can walk, swim and feed within 24 hours. At the shelter we have enjoyed the return of mated pairs and some of their offspring for many years now. We feel privileged to watch the goslings grow. Adult geese are often seen leading their goslings in a line, usually with one parent in the front and the other at the back.BLOG_CS_IMG_064_Jun2013 Ever on the alert, they will attack or chase away by hissing, biting and wing slapping anything from a small bird to a human if they perceive that presence threatens their children. Although geese are known to be hostile toward unfamiliar geese, during breeding season they tend to assemble their dependent young in groups called crèches and care for them communally to provide more protection. The goslings are able to fly at about ten weeks and will remain with their family group for about one year. The average life span of a Canada goose is 10-25 years. There are reports of geese living to be 30 plus years in the wild. Predators of Canada geese and their eggs include humans, coyotes, raccoons, skunks, bobcats, and foxes, as well as gulls, eagles, crows, ravens and magpies. Canada Geese are protected by the Migratory Bird Treaty Act which prevents anyone from intentionally killing or taking any geese or goslings without a valid permit issued by U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, pursuant to Federal Regulations. There is so much more to know and learn about our wild friends from the North. Please take time to get to know them and, from a distance, say ‘Hello’ or wave to some Canada Geese and their goslings today!

Wishing everyone a wonderful summer!

Linda Bergman-Althouse
Wildlife Rehabilitator
& author of  “Save Them All

Yard Angels

We definitely get our share of opossums admitted to the Outer Banks Wildlife Shelter in Newport, NC, be it injured adults or orphaned babies. Although an adult opossum may be harder and heavier to handle, what’s not to love about a “Mickey-Mouse” baby possum? Recently, quite a number of sweet baby possums have made their way to the shelter in the arms of Good Samaritans. The Virginia Opossum, Didelphis Virginiana, is one of the more familiar and widespread mammals in the United States, found coast to coast, up into Canada and down into Costa Rica, in fields, thick forests, open woods, brushy wastelands, marshes, parks, residential areas and in the alleys of our large cities. They are generally lumped together in the public’s mind with raccoons, squirrels, rabbits and other wildlife, but an opossum is fundamentally a different breed of animal as singular in its evolutionary history as it is solitary in its habits. Opossums, which have been around since the dinosaur days, socialize only during breeding season.
The Virginia Opossum is the only marsupial (pouched mammal) found in the United States. They are commonly found in residential neighborhoods if cover is available. They are very adaptable and will homestead just about anywhere they find a food source. Omnivorous opossums eat a wide variety of foods, including: fruits, berries, insects, crayfish, small mammals, bird eggs, young birds, frogs, earthworms, snakes, lizards, mussels and tadpoles. Occasionally, they will raid poultry yards or gardens to feed on an egg or vegetables and fruits. However, they are more beneficial to humans than not because they feed on many types of yard nuisances, too, such as moles, voles, shrews, insects, snails, slugs and other invertebrates. Having a “Yard Angel” on your property, visiting your garden perhaps, shouldn’t be a problem. This non-aggressive and nondestructive animal will not dig up yards, attack or threaten pets or dig burrows. Opossums are opportunity eaters though, so accessible garbage, the spillover of pet food on your deck, or dead animals in the area will be gone by morning if your Yard Angel is on duty. The description of an opossum differs from person to person. Some perceive them as homely or ugly, but we wildlife rehabilitators at the shelter, think they’re beautiful, every last one of them! Regardless of personal perception, the physical facts cannot be debated or discounted. Virginia Opossums are medium-sized mammals, about the size of a large housecat, ranging from 6 to 13 lbs with a body length of 12-20 inches and a tail length up to 15 inches. They usually have whitish-gray fur, but sometimes can be blackish-gray. They have furless, black ears (hence, the “Mickey-Mouse” reference earlier) and a long naked tail. The opossum’s tail is prehensile, which means it can grab onto branches for balance and stability, but doesn’t usually hang by it. The head and throat of Virginia Opossums are white. They also have short legs, and the females have the pouch. Breeding season for opossums starts in late winter. Females will have two or three litters each year and each litter will be up to 13 young. Baby opossums are born much more quickly than other mammals. When they are born, they are about the size of a Honey Bee. Each embryonic baby will carefully crawl up its mother’s body to enter her pouch. Here, it will attach itself to a teat and feed. Baby opossums stay in their mother’s pouch for two months. Once they leave the pouch, they will stay awhile longer, clinging to her back as she wanders. A couple other descriptive factoids include their 50 very sharp teeth which is more than any land mammal, their unusual resistance to the venom of poisonous snakes, and they are extremely unlikely to acquire rabies.
The Opossum has many behavioral adaptations it uses to survive. They are most noted for feigning death or “playing possum” as a last resort when threatened. This reaction seems to be involuntary, and triggered by extreme fear. Opossums, when under serious threat, initially respond ferociously by hissing, screeching, growling, belching and showing its teeth. When those strategies don’t deter the threat they just fall over like a fainting goat and enter a near coma that can last up to four hours. It lies on its side, mouth and eyes open, tongue hanging out and emits a putrid, green fluid from its anus that effectively repels predators. Nasty, I know, but a possum’s gotta do what a possum’s gotta do! Despite these very effective survival methods, Opossums, like most marsupials, have unusually short life spans for their size and metabolic rate. The Virginia Opossum has a maximum life span in the wild of only about two years. Even in captivity, opossums live only about four years. So it’s very sad at the shelter when we lose one of our program possums due to longevity. They are environmentally beneficial and wonderful wildlife to get to know, and school children love to see our program opossum’s cute face, especially when eating grapes! Too cute!

Happy Fall, Everyone!!!

Linda Bergman-Althouse
Author of Save Them All

Born Ready!

One would not expect to hear the inclusion of brown and black wings when describing a deer, and mentioning they are capable of breaking into rapid overhead flight just like other birds just sounds crazy, but a killdeer isn’t exactly a deer. It’s a bird, a medium sized plover with a cute round head, short bill and large dark eyes ringed bright red. They are especially slender with lanky legs and have a long, pointy tail with exceptionally long wings for their diminutive size. Their white chest is barred with two black bands, and the brown face is marked with black and white patches. They received the name Killdeer because one of their many calls is said to be a high pitched sound resembling kill- deer. The infants are small, bright-eyed, fluffy replicas of their parents, miniatures so to speak. I’m sure all Killdeer parents consider their children “mini-me’s.” Although referred to as shorebirds, they often choose to live far from water such as on a golf course, an athletic field, a residential driveway, a parking lot or you may find them nesting on a gravel-covered roof. So the killdeer is considered one of the least water associated of all shorebirds. They nest in open areas, mainly on the ground and usually in gravel with no traditional nest structure that would stand out, which is extremely precarious when humans are walking and driving about. There is a method to this madness, though. Their 3 to 4 eggs are speckled, allowing them to blend nicely in a slight depression among the stones. Becoming incognito avoids attention by predatory animals who rely mainly on sight for hunting. We get quite a few calls at the Outer Banks Wildlife Shelter in Newport this time of year from people who see infant killdeer on the ground and insist the birds are too small to be on their own and something must have happened to their mother. After confirming they are killdeer, we advise the caller to let them be, as killdeer are precocial, which means they are able to move about, as well as, forage for food such as insects right after hatching. When hunting, these tawny birds (even the babies) run across the ground in spurts, stopping with a jolt every so often to see if they’ve startled up any insect prey. Due to an extra two-week stay in the egg over altricial birds, they are born ready, eyes open, eager to follow their parents immediately, much like ducklings or quail and closer to independence than most baby birds. If you come upon baby killdeer, know that Mom is watching and if you get too close to her babies she will enter the scene feigning injury by using her famous “broken wing act” to distract you (the predator) from her nesting territory. Recently, we received a call from someone aboard the Marine Base in Jacksonville who said two baby birds were stuck in a storm drain, beneath the grate. Fortunately, the drain area was dry. I thought it unusual for two baby birds to fall into a drain together and asked her to describe the birds to me. While talking on the phone, another Good Samaritan happened upon the site and reached into the grate and took each of them out and placed them in the grass. The caller was hesitant to touch them for fear the parents would not reclaim them if human scent was present. I assured her that would not be a problem because most birds’ sense of smell is not as highly developed as other senses, and they will be happy just to get their offspring back. After discerning they were killdeer from the lady’s description, I advised them to step away from the infants to encourage Mom to recover her kids and as expected, Momma rushed from hiding and started flapping around on the ground while shrieking her distress call. The baby waders scurried to a bush, and their Mom soon followed. Keeping tabs on these frantic, squealing little babies who scatter in all directions to forage or when scared is a tough job for Killdeer parents, but both Mom and Dad stay after them constantly. Occasionally, there is a need for our shelter to take in a Killdeer infant or two when evidence indicates there are no parents to provide the training and protection they need, but we’re on top of what’s required to raise them for their second chance in the wild; simulated habitat shielded from human contact, proper diet and time to grow. Watch out for those little guys and girls for they may be running around in a driveway or parking lot near you!!

Linda Bergman-ALthouse
Author of “Save Them All