Bone Breakers

CS_LT_0031CCX_edited-1Sometimes mistaken for an Eagle, the Osprey is a large fish eating bird commonly found along the coast and near freshwater lakes and is the second most widely distributed raptor species in the world behind the Peregrine Falcon.  The Osprey is found everywhere on earth except Antarctica.  It’s not often that Ospreys are admitted to the Outer Banks Wildlife Shelter in Newport because they usually manage to stay above the fray and out of the way of humans.  However, when it does happen, it’s usually a human interference incident, which was the case when two infants were admitted to the shelter a while back.  Their nest, aboard a Virginia boat, was not discovered until the Captain docked in North Carolina. Although adult Ospreys do not handle captivity well, a youngster’s demands focus on food, development and protection which our shelter is very experienced in providing.  Ospreys are brown on top with a bright white underside, dark specks on the wings, and dark bands on the tail feathers. The head is white with a dark mask across yellow eyes, reaching to the sides of the neck. Their beak is black, with a bluish fleshy upper mandible membrane, and their feet are white with black talons. Its toes are of equal length and the talons rounded, rather than grooved, which is something they have in common with owls, including their outer reversible toes.  It is a large raptor, reaching more than two feet in length and 71 inches across the wings.  Male and female Ospreys are very similar in appearance, but the male has a slimmer body and narrower wings. CS_I7Z8422Their wings and legs have adapted over time to enjoy and exhibit great joint flexibility. An example of this limberness occurs when flying towards a bright light such as the sun. They are able to bend the joint in their wing to shield their eyes from the light to aid safety while flying.  In flight, the Osprey’s arched wings and drooping “hands,” give it a gull-like appearance. Their call is a series of dainty chirps described as cheep, cheep or yewk, yewk, but if disturbed by activity near the nest, the call becomes more of a sharp and frenzied whistle, cheereek!   Ospreys have picked up a number of nicknames over the years.  You may have heard them referred to as Sea Hawks, Fish Eagles or Fish Hawks which all come from inferences of keen eyesight, agility, timing, strong talons and expertise in catching fish.  The names have also been attributed because they choose nesting sites near bodies of water that can provide an adequate food supply.  The bird’s common name, Osprey, is derived from the Latin word ossifragus, meaning “a bone breaker.”  Fish make up 99 percent of their diet, so these feathered, aerial bone breakers certainly handle dietary fish bones better than humans do. Occasionally, the Osprey may prey on rodents, rabbits, amphibians, other birds and small reptiles.  Ospreys have vision well adapted to detecting underwater objects from the air. A meal is first sighted when the Osprey is above the water up to 130 feet. The bird hovers momentarily and then plunges feet first into the water.  On occasion, an Osprey will immerse entirely in the water, which is a rare behavior for raptors. With those reversible outer toes, sharp spicules on the underside of the toes, closable nostrils to keep out water during dives and backwards-facing scales on the talons which act as barbs to help hold its catch, they are well suited to be awesome fisher birds. While in flight, the Osprey will orient its catch headfirst to ease wind resistance. Ospreys reach sexual maturity and begin breeding around the age of three to four, usually mate for life and return to the same nesting site every year. CS_IMG_8676_CS_X The nest is a large pile of sticks, driftwood and seaweed built in forks of trees, rocky outcrops, utility poles, artificial platforms provided by preservationists or found on a small offshore island.  The female lays two to four eggs within a month and relies on the size of the nest to conserve heat, but both parents help to incubate. The eggs are whitish with splotches of reddish-brown and are incubated for about five weeks before hatching. Newly hatched chicks weigh in at 1.8 to 2.1 ounces and will fledge in 8 to 10 weeks.  Once the young are hatched, the male Osprey takes responsibility for providing food. When food is scarce, the first chicks to hatch are most likely to survive.  These large, rangy hawks have adapted well around humans and have rebounded in numbers following the 1970’s ban on the pesticide DDT, although still considered a threatened species.The typical lifespan is 7 to 10 years, though individuals can age 20 to 25 years. The oldest recorded wild Osprey lived in Europe and is estimated as reaching the age of thirty. In North America, Bald Eagles are the only major predators of Osprey eggs and juveniles.   However, the more common predation by an Eagle is stealing the Osprey’s catch rather than a family member. Eagles often force Ospreys to drop fish they have caught and steal them in midair.  Watching Osprey tending to their nest and offspring is a wonderful way to spend a morning or afternoon; another way to safely enjoy our coastal wildlife!  Bring your binoculars!

Happy Summer Everyone! 

Linda Bergman-Althouse,

author of  “Save Them All”      

www.bergman-althouse.com

 

 

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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

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

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”

Apple A Day – NOT!


The old adage “An apple a day, keeps the doctor away,” still holds true according to TV’s Dr. Oz. Although he agrees, he adds “helps – keep the doctor away.” I’m up for that! I like apples, what’s NOT to like about a crisp, refreshing apple. They are low in calories and fat, contain complex sugars and chock full of good stuff like vitamins, minerals and flavonoids believed to help prevent growth of cancer cells, promote hair growth, improve lung function, boost heart health, increase bone density, aid digestion and slow the aging process. HEY! I’ll take a bushel of apples right now! The apple is considered one of the most valuable fruits throughout the world. So, I do NOT have a problem with the apple, it’s just where the apple or remains of the apple ends up, as well as our popcorn, cheetos, bread, chips, pretzels, fries and even, ice cream! Many animals are scavengers and have learned to take advantage of human littering, wastefulness and recreational handouts. The Ring-Billed Gull pictured should be scavenging for fish, insects and small rodents close to a large body of water, but he and his kind now like to hang out where we humans shop and play because people have a bad habit of tossing food on the ground. These feathery guys and girls know this. Generations of gulls have been conditioned over the years to expect movie popcorn strewn in the parking lot, a hefty helping of fries at Hardees, small children, encouraged by adults, throwing bread into the air at a park, 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! Pretty soon, we will see them smoking! 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. We have made the gull’s task of filling their belly too darn easy which has caused many gulls to abandon their normal feeding instincts. Gulls can spend all day eating low-nutrition, snack food, get a one-sided diet and may get sick, die or become malnourished which atrophies their feather shafts, grounding them (unable to fly). 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 very specific kinds of digestive bacteria. Human food ingestion causes the wrong type of bacteria to become dominate in their stomachs, rendering the seabird 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 (as well as other wild animals) 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. Half of our product offerings aren’t good for us either! That parking lot apple may be the most nutritional choice the gull made 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!). Maybe we should get really serious about it, like the Brits!

Linda Bergman-Althouse
Wildlife Rehabilitator &
author of
“Save Them All”
http://www.bergman-althouse.com
http://www.owlsonline.squarespace.com

Tiny Dancer

Litters of orphaned opossums come and go at the shelter without much fanfare, just lots of feeding to get them up to weight and ensuring they eventually eat on their own before heading out into the wild with their siblings. The needs infant opossums have when attached to a teet in Mom’s pouch are very similar to a human baby growing in their Mother’s womb. They are not ready for the outside world until the critical time period elapses, allowing sufficient physical development to enable them to exist on the outside. When we get opossums (usually due to Mom being hit by a car, unfortunately) at thirty grams or more, although still premature births, their chances for survival with assistance from an attending wildlife rehabilitator are pretty darn good, barring any injuries sustained during the family trauma. SO, when opossums are brought in or picked up that weigh twenty grams or less and have injuries to boot, their odds of survival go way down. That’s what happened on Wednesday, April 7th. I got the call that a Momma Opossum was “down” in someone’s yard close to the Library and although, she had passed, there were survivors, four out of eight infants to be exact. The man handed them to me in a tiny box, which fit them perfectly, because they were tiny, too. The scale in my triage digitally flashed 20 grams for the first weigh in – then another at 20, and yet another at 20 and the last one, 22 grams. After warming them and cleaning all the debris and dried fluids from their fragile skin, they, all girls, evidenced serious bruising and a couple were missing digits on their back feet. It would take a miracle (or 2 grams) if any survived. You guessed it, the only one to make it in those first few days outside Mom’s pouch was the little girl weighing in at 22 grams with all digits intact, but her skin was so fragile and peeled constantly. What little hair she did have was falling out. Great pains were taken to provide enough humidity for her skin condition and mineral oil, as well as, lanolin was applied to her skin until finally, the flaking stopped and hair started growing in again. When the hair started growing, so did the rest of her. I couldn’t help but name her Tiny Dancer, although we wildlife rehabilitators try our best not to name any animal we will be releasing to the wild. Tiny Dancer was always moving, she’s never quit moving. It was like she was saying to me, “I can make it,” and the flailing of tiny legs while eating from a syringe was her unspoken message, “See, I’m strong, just give me your time, please.” Today, she is 218 grams (7.7 ounces) of fluff and attitude, and I couldn’t be more proud of her. She is the sole survivor of her litter and I’m not ashamed to say, “I love this possum,” but fortunately, she doesn’t love me back. She nips my fingers with her many tiny teeth, hisses occasionally and is always trying to get away from me, which is exactly the way this little marsupial should be. She still has quite a bit of growing to meet the two pound requirement for release, but she’s on her way! I’ve been waiting for another opossum to check into the wildlife shelter that is about her size, so she won’t be alone, but so far, they have been too small or too large. Until then, it’s Tiny Dancer and me!

(Tiny Dancer spends most of her time sleeping in the bandana hammock at the top of her cage.)

Linda Bergman-Althouse
author of
“Save Them All”
http://www.bergman-althouse.com
http://www.owlsonline.squarespace.com