Fragile and Misunderstood Fawns

Fawns have arrived at the Outer Banks Wildlife Shelter on Wildlife Way in Newport in larger numbers than past years. One mistake people make is assuming that an alone fawn was abandoned by its mother and they end up, basically, kidnapping the poor little thing. Mother deer will leave their fawn for hours while they go off to feed nearby. The fawn’s mother will do this so predators won’t see a vulnerable fawn when they see her. The mother returns hours later, and the fawn is fed and cared for. So… if you see a fawn alone in the woods or treeline near a meadow do not assume it is abandoned. A fawn’s best chance at survival lies in being raised by its mom. Fawns nurse three to four times daily, usually for less than 30 minutes at a time, but otherwise the doe keeps her distance. This helps reduce the chance she will attract a predator to her fawn. The fawn’s protective coloration, lack of scent, and ability to remain motionless all help to avoid detection by predators and people.
If a fawn is seen lying upright, eyes wide open, but flattened to the ground, do not touch it. This is a fawn’s camouflage position to blend in with its surroundings. When the fawn is picked up it will hold its legs tight against its body with its head forward. Sometimes, although its legs aren’t broken, the fawn will allow its body to become limp and dangle in your hands. Put the baby down, walk away and leave it alone. This fawn is too small to follow the doe for the long distance she must travel to find enough food to make milk for her baby. The milk is very rich and will sustain the fawn for the many hours it spends alone. The doe will return only when there are no humans nearby. You may be curious, but refrain from sitting and waiting for her to return. If you have removed the fawn from its resting spot take it back at once and walk away. The doe will be searching for her fawn, and when she finds it she will accept it and provide better care than any human can. Humans cannot teach the fawn the skills it needs to survive in the wild. Also, humans, other than wildlife rehabilitators, do not have the correct diet to properly nourish a wild animal. Please leave it alone and allow it to retain its wildness and natural fear of humans. This is the greatest gift we can give it. If an uninjured fawn is seen on the road or beside the road, do not put it in your car. Place it off the road about 20 feet and leave the area. The fawn would not be there if the doe was not nearby. You will not see her, but she’s there, somewhere, watching. She will return for the fawn and accept her baby, even if it has been touched by human hands, as soon as the human disturbance is gone. So, don’t linger in the area.
If a fawn is obviously ill, lying on its side, kicking or crying – pick it up and place it in a quiet place. A light cloth placed over the fawn’s head will sometimes calm it. Keep it away from pets and all human activity. Petting the fawn, talking to it or holding it provides no comfort. This cute little creature is a wild animal; therefore human voices, odor and touch will only add to the stress of the situation and cause additional harm, compounding the pre-existing illness or injury. When a fawn seems calm it may very well be in shock. If the weather is cold, a blanket may be placed over its body to keep it from becoming chilled. In hot weather keep the fawn in a cool location but out of drafts. Please don’t feed the fawn anything other than water. Baby formula, cow’s milk, feed store mixes, pet store domestic animal formulas and soy products will cause diarrhea, dehydration and death. Call a wildlife shelter in your area at once for help.
Lately, we have admitted fawns with conditions such as diarrhea or mange, wounds that are not healing properly, injuries caused by dog or fox attacks and those legitimately orphaned as a result of vehicle collisions. We love dogs, too, but please leash your dog for walks during deer breeding season if those walks occur in wooded and meadow areas. Now, the fox, well . . . not much we can do about that encounter. If no evidence exists that Mom has died by being hit by a vehicle or any other means, we or the “fawn-napper” will return it to the spot where it was found. Mom is frantically looking for her baby, so the sooner the better. We assign our youngest fawns, injured or orphaned, to one fawn licensed rehabilitator to ensure they experience very limited contact with humans. Once they gain strength and can nurse on their own, the blind feeding method will be utilized. The BFM will consist of formula in bottles resting in a frame mounted to the wall of the fawn enclosure as depicted in the image accompanying this article. Fawns are fragile and their situations misunderstood at times, but with appropriate care and treatment required, we watch them grown into the majestic and beautiful adults they are meant to become, but they are – A WHOLE LOT OF WORK!! Fawn rehabilitators are specially trained to rehabilitate injured or orphaned white-tailed deer fawns and licensed by the state with a Primary North Carolina Fawn Rehabilitation Permit. They are also authorized to temporarily hold fawn deer for release back into the wild. Anyone found holding and raising deer without credentials are subject to heavy fines and tragically, the innocent deer in their possession euthanized and no one wants that to happen. Please don’t hesitate to call on us or a wildlife rehabilitator in your area if you come across a fawn in distress. They are such little dears.

Have a happy and safe summer!

Linda Bergman-Althouse
author of “Save Them All

Wingin’ it in the Nursery!

All the counter space, incubators and playpens are full of baby birds of all sizes and species in the infant nursery at the Outer Banks Wildlife Shelter in Newport. It’s Spring and everyone is doing what they do when the weather turns warm. Momma and Papa birds discovered safe and out of the way places to nest and raise their offspring, and humans are getting outside in the nice weather to plug holes in their siding, clean their soffit areas, mow the grass and remove dead or nuisance trees they feel are threatening their homes. And that’s when the conflict begins. Displaced nestlings are admitted to the shelter routinely because their parents chose a homestead not agreeable with the resident homeowners. Quite often we can convince the homeowners to wait only four weeks to make home repairs or take that tree down because the newborns will be fledging by then and on their way into big sky, but quite often, we can’t and agree to take in the newly orphaned. There are other instances when an onlooker sees what’s going on and rushes in to rescue the baby birds so they will not be harmed and delivers them to us to finish the job their dedicated bird parents started.
A few weeks ago, Black-capped Chickadee newborns were evicted by maintenance workers at an apartment complex much to the dismay of the residents, and the list of ousted baby birds begins. Nesting Starlings were removed from spaces created when a house lost siding during a storm and Carolina Wrens from a cozy squeeze of space on top a lawn mower after a snake tried to take out the whole wren family, but that was a necessary removal for the greater good. House Sparrows were extracted from a roof’s eaves, Robins and Mockingbirds from nests in bushes too close to the ground (homeowners worried about free-roaming cats) and Mourning Doves from a hanging plant above a deck. Occasionally flighty youngsters, such as our quivery Cardinal babies get too full of themselves and tumble out of the nest. In the cases of rambunctious little ones that stretch their stubby wings and lanky stick legs, then go “whoa – oops, where am I,” hopefully an empathic and sympathetic human comes along to help them out. Unfortunately, most humans don’t know that they can put the infant back into the nest if found and still intact, and Mom will be happy her baby was returned. For many years, based on teachings as a child, I thought the mother bird would not accept the baby if it was touched by human hands; the scent would linger, and the baby would be rejected. The theory turned out not to be true. Other than the vulture, some seabirds and parrots, birds have little use for the sense of smell. Odors disperse in the wind quickly. They do possess olfactory glands, but they’re not well developed. Same goes for taste. Humans have nearly 9,000 taste buds, but songbirds have fewer than 50. Most backyard birds rely on sight, touch and hearing, which are senses that are highly developed. Okay, back to nesting; of course, trees are a very traditional choice for nesting, whether the nest is anchored in bobbing limbs or in a cavity, which is very popular for woodpeckers, flycatchers, nuthatches, screech owls and other omnivores. Recently, Tufted Titmice were admitted to the shelter after a tree was cut down. When you nest in a tree cavity, most of the time you won’t be noticed until after the tree is down (fortunately the babies survived the potentially hazardous thump). Nuthatches were also brought to the shelter about the same time for the same reason. Ideally for wildlife rehabilitators and the wildlife infants, no one would remove a tree until after “Baby Season,” but not everyone is aware of the consequences of tree removal until after the crisis presents itself. Then, based on the trauma incurred during the tree felling, it’s a 50-50 shot at a positive outcome. Luck definitely plays a card. Birds recognize no human presence, little activity and stillness as opportunity to nest, and they get busy doing what they do in the Spring before we do. So, we shouldn’t be surprised when we find a nest in our BBQ grill, on the boat, in a car that hasn’t been driven in a while, in signage at the store or in the cradle of a warm stop light. Birds have lost the majority of their habitat in urban and residential areas and are forced to adjust to our environment. They are doing the best they can. We only ask that you be sensitive to these little feathered folks and give them the time needed to raise their young until they fledge, unless they are in a dangerous, life threatening situation. If that is the case, please bring them to a wildlife rehabilitator, and they will take it from there. We appreciate the caring, time and effort you give to bring in the little tweeters found in harm’s way.

Linda Bergman-Althouse
Author of
“Save Them All” (Amazon)

Please, Don’t Feed Me!


Laughing, Ring-billed, Herring and Black-backed Gulls get a bad rap. Many people refer to them as nasty because they have a tendency to congregate and hang out with people, which can get a little messy. People also call them Seagulls, which is a misnomer, because there really is no such bird. They’re all gulls of a different variety. Gulls are admitted to the Outer Banks Wildlife Shelter (OWLS) routinely because these smart seabirds, who seem to understand human behavior, and heavily people populated areas don’t bode well, especially for the gull. Possibly a fishing gear injury or a car clip brings them in, but more than likely their bad human diet takes away their ability to fly. The wildlife rehabilitators at OWLS understand who they are and also, what humans have encouraged them to do, and we respect them the same as any other wildlife admitted for our care. They are usually easy to work with, save the occasional biter and don’t get stressed by our presence. Generations of gulls have been conditioned over the years to expect movie popcorn strewn in a parking lot, a hefty helping of fries at fast food joints, small children, encouraged by adults, throwing bread into the air at parks, fast food bags that are fun to open along the highway and an outstretched hand filled with snacks connected to a human’s body wishfully attempting to bond with this wild bird. Gulls get so used to relating humans to food presence they will swoop down and aggressively annoy just about anyone for a morsel of anything! When they get in trouble or more specifically injured or downed because they spend all day eating low-nutrition, snack food which produces a one-sided diet, they may get sick or become malnourished which atrophies their feather shafts, rendering them unable to fly. That’s when someone can walk right up to one and put it in a box for delivery to our shelter. No one should be able to pick up a high flyer like a gull. Their feathers are extremely important. Of course, we know they need feathers to fly, but those feathers also serve as a temperature regulator, protect them from wind, moisture and sun, trap air to help them float, become nesting material and fish eaters, like gulls, eat some of their feathers to line their digestive area to protect sensitive membranes from sharp fish bones. Most animals, including gulls, have evolved with very specific natural diets and have unique kinds of digestive bacteria. Human food ingestion causes the wrong type of bacteria to become dominate in their stomachs, which can cause them to be no longer capable of digesting their natural foods. They can end up starving to death even with stomachs full of what they should have been eating all along. It is absolutely essential to the health and well-being of gulls that they not be fed by humans intentionally or indirectly through littering. Some people think they are just supplementing the gull’s diet with their generous but uneducated offerings, when in fact they are altering and very possibly ending their lives. Not feeding them will allow the gulls to find natural food sources, which provide better nutrition than food intended for human consumption. A parking lot apple core may be the best nutritional choice a gull makes in weeks, although he probably dodged traffic to get it, but it’s not enough to keep him healthy and alive. Please think twice about throwing down that French fry or cheese puff for a gull to gobble. If we all made the decision to withhold the junk food, we might just cause the gulls to leave our asphalt jungle and return to big water, and in essence, save their lives (and the finish on our cars!). Gulls are great problem solvers like crows and opportunistic scavengers who eat alive or dead fish, garbage, field mice, earthworms, insects, eggs, well . . just about anything. They are not that picky. Gulls are predators by nature and nature enables them to live within their resources without human snack foods. All Gulls are essential in maintaining ecological balance and are found everywhere in the world. Some folks get intimated by them because they are immensely sociable within their breed and tend to travel and forage for food anywhere in large numbers, especially in areas where humans are known to feed them. People have created this abnormal gull behavior through a very simple rewards system, so we really shouldn’t complain about maneuvering around them at our shopping malls, the seabird poop on our cars or the relentless squawking they seem to enjoy. Their communication system causes gulls to be very noisy birds, but they get along well with each other and very rarely fight. The Laughing Gull is a very common summer resident (less so in winter) along the coast, but is rarely seen far inland. It is a small but handsome gull, with a styling ebony head, dark red bill, and white crescents above and below the eyes. In summer, it’s the only gull you’re likely to see with a black head. In winter, the color fades to a whitish gray. The Ring-billed Gulls are larger than Laughing Gulls and as the name implies, has a dark ring on the tip of their yellow bills. They’re common year-round residents of North Carolina, but especially in the winter. Ring-bills are the gulls likely to scavenge for scraps at McDonald’s or in a garbage dump. They’re also the tag alongs behind tractors as they plow the coastal plain fields. Herring Gulls are larger than Ring-billed gulls and are the most common of all our gulls. They have a white head and chest, gray back, and black wing tips. Their legs are pinkish and their yellowish bills have a red spot on the lower mandible. Herring Gulls are more common in winter, but you can also easily find them during summer. Like Ring-billed Gulls, unfortunately, Herring Gulls are fond of hanging out at landfills. The last of the commonly observed gulls (and my favorite) is the great Black-backed Gull which, as the name suggests, has a black back. We have one at the shelter now that I call “Big Baby Boy.” Not only is the Black-backed the largest gull in our state, it’s the largest gull anywhere. It lives year-round along the coast, but is especially common in the winter. Gulls have a lifespan of about 8 to 10 years (if we quit feeding them junk food). So, unless you visit the waterfront and just happen to be carrying a plastic bag filled with small fish, please do not feed them. It takes way too many months of care, nutritious food and clean-up at the shelter to allow their feathers the time needed to recover to flight capability after a steady diet of bread, crackers or cheese puffs.

Linda Bergman-Althouse
Author of “Save Them All”

The Loon Still Sings

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

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

Wild and Merry!

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

Linda Bergman-Althouse
Author of “Save Them All”

Henderson Hawk!

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

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

Barred Owls Down!


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

Linda Bergman-Althouse
Wildlife Rehabilitator
Author of “Save Them All”
http://www.bergman-althouse.com
President, Wildlife Rehabilitators
of North Carolina, Inc. (WRNC)