Not Just For The Glamour of The Job

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It might be easy to think of wildlife rehabilitation as a “glamorous” job. Who wouldn’t want to take care of cute, orphaned squirrels? Or tiny, hungry raccoon kits? Photos of fuzzy, eyes-closed baby mammals being cuddled by humans pop up on social media from time to time – or maybe you’ve come across videos of spotted fawns being bottle-fed by someone. What you don’t get to see, is what we really do (or don’t do!) For instance, we don’t cuddle with wild animals, no matter how cute they are, because our job as rehabilitators is to prepare them for survival in the wild once they are released. An animal that is habituated to humans, or imprinted to them, is at greater risk of death in the wild and cannot be released.

You also don’t get to see the hard work that goes on behind the scenes. Diet preparation is not for the faint of heart, especially when it comes to preparing diets for our carnivore patients. And what goes in, must eventually come out, right? There is plenty of smelly poop to clean up multiple times a day. It is a sun-up to sun-down job. And most importantly, there are licensing and permitting laws that must be adhered to.

Friday PM Shift Leader, Claudia Benfield, writes about some of her less-than-glamorous experiences working with wildlife patients:

I wanted to write about different facets of what rehabilitating wildlife can be like…one week I was holding a baby squirrel in my hands during its examination. It was so tiny, it fit exactly in my hands. It had fly larvae in its mouth and we had to get them all out. The larvae were about the size of the head of a pin. I kept the squirrel warm in my hands while it made sweet sounds.  It was so precious, my heart could have burst. (But guys. Fly larvae.)

I have fed countless baby birds.  It is always so much fun when you open the door and all of their little heads pop up and they open their mouths ready to have their next meal. My favorite are the crows. They are so smart and so cute when they are young. They have such great personalities – but we must not be too friendly with them so they don’t imprint on us. But inside my heart and mind, I am bonding with them and enjoying helping them out.

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Now we get to the not-so-glamorous part of this job.  In the recent months we have been able to release all of the orphaned raccoons that we were caring for over the spring and summer.  We had three enclosures of them and two were now empty. When this happens someone has to do the final clean up and sanitization. It just so happened that my shift was to do this clean up.  I had another volunteer help me out. I would like for you to keep in mind that all of our dedicated volunteers work hard to maintain a clean environment while they are there. And still, since they are wild animals they always manage to keep their enclosures very well “lived in.”

But oh, the final clean up.  It is a very nasty job. I can’t help but notice that even then, they keep their messes to one spot in the enclosure.  They are clean animals in their own way but they belong in the wild for a reason. They really do need to be free where they can maintain their own homes as they like them to be. This night of clean up, there was hay everywhere, hammocks, logs and dog houses to be taken out for clean up so that the enclosure could be pressure washed later.  Everything was wet and soggy. There is also a drain for the water which was all clogged up that we needed to get cleaned out. (I am sure you can imagine what was clogging the drain…) Some of it seeped into my glove as I worked to unclog it.  At one point I stepped back and into the drain with my left foot and got that wet and nasty too. At that point, I really wanted to go home and get a brillo pad and shower in boiling water!

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I have cleaned Bald Eagle enclosures as well; it’s a not-so-fun part of the job but it is still an honor just to be able to be in the same area as they are. So in short, yes we do get to feed and hold some very cool animals at times.  But the work is hard and we must deal with some really yucky stuff. It is all worth it to us though because in the end, if we get to see them be free once again, that is what this work is all about.  So this work of rehabilitating wildlife is not just for the glamour of it.

Even though it can be very hard work, it is also the most rewarding work that there is…

– Claudia Benfield, Friday PM Shift Leader

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Wildlife Rehabilitation Internship Experience

Now that our summer internships have come to an end and the interns have had time to reflect on their experiences, some of them have offered to write about their time spent at CWC. Our first blog post is written by Cassidy West. After completing her internship, she went on to become a Shift Leader volunteer for our Sunday PM crew! We’re so happy to have her on board and are excited to share her thoughts with you.

Intern, Cassidy West
Summer 2018 Wildlife Intern, Cassidy West

Where do I begin to describe my experience as an intern at a wildlife center? I guess from the beginning. When I first found out that I was getting the opportunity to begin this internship I literally jumped for joy. I was beyond excited that I got accepted and would be able to pursue a passion that I have had since a young age. As the day grew closer to begin, I started to feel the nervousness, and it was amplified even more after my first day. I felt so clueless and confused in every situation, terrified to make a mistake. The next day got easier, and the day after that even easier, and so on. When I finally hit a groove of comfortability, that’s when my love for the wildlife center really grew. I was able to ask questions, in any setting, and was shown proper ways to perform wildlife rehabilitation. I learned skills quickly and efficiently, and was able to practice different techniques with amazing guide and care.

I didn’t feel like the typical intern that you hear about in stories. I wasn’t shoved to the back and forced to do all the dirty work no one wanted to do (only every now and then). I was guided, and felt very taken under the wing by Mary and the rest of rehabilitation staff. They were always very patient and understanding, and never once made me feel dumb for not knowing how to tube feed, prepare diets, or even catch a bird. It was with their patience that I learned, and I mean really learned. I learned more about animal care in three months than I have in two years at college while pursuing a bachelors degree in Zoology. I definitely made some mistakes, but I learned from all of them.

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Cassidy, tong-feeding two newly-hatched Barn Owlets

The whole vibe of the wildlife center is a busy relaxed feel; an oxymoron I know, but there is no better way to describe it than with an oxymoron. It’s a place where animals are given second chances, life and death happen daily (oxymoron as well). A close friend of mine asked me one afternoon after finishing a shift at the wildlife center if it was hard to see the animals be humanely put down. This was something I was worried about when I started. I love animals and always cry in movies when they die, or anything of the sort. But this was something entirely different – I told them no, the hardest part is when you’re not given the chance to help them cross that big ol’ rainbow bridge. I’d much rather see an animal brought in and be put to rest in a nice cozy blanket and room, than die alone and cold, in a box or the outdoors. This was a huge epiphany and learning experience for me.

It was such a fast paced environment that you could never sit down, and I loved it. Nothing speaks to me more than a hard day of work. There’s something to be said about being able to stay busy all day. And the wildlife center, in the peak of summer, is the best place to be to stay busy. I remember feeding raccoons for the first time, and everyone warning me how scary it can be, and it’s “okay” if I didn’t want to. I was prepared for the screaming they warned me about, but when I entered the room they were being rehabilitated in I couldn’t help but laugh. Around twenty-five raccoons in different cages were climbing ALL OVER the cage. It was the cutest and funniest thing I could have ever seen, and their little yells of excitement to get food had me smiling ear to ear. It was in that moment I knew I was pursuing the right profession.

Although, a close second would be feeding the flying squirrels. I discovered at this internship that flying squirrels are my favorite animals.

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Cassidy, Bottle-feeding a baby Raccoon

Overall, this internship has been one of the most amazing experiences of my life. I could not be more thankful to the Chintimini Wildlife Center for giving me the opportunity to learn and pursue a lifelong passion. I learned much more about saving animals and wildlife rehabilitation than I ever thought I would have. It’s all tools that will be helpful in the future, but I think the thing Chintimini taught me best was:

Those who wish to pet and baby wildlife love them, but those who respect their natures and wish to let them live their natural lives, love them more.”

-Edwin Way Teale

 

The Dea Enigma

Dea is a Red-tailed Hawk ambassador for our Raptor Education Program. One of her handlers, an REP volunteer named Erin, wrote a poem about Dea. We’d like to share it with you!

Enigma, by definition, means “a person or thing that is mysterious, puzzling, or difficult to understand.” A paradox. A riddle. A mystery. 

Dea Tuesday

The Dea Enigma

5 years and childhood dreams.

I’m finally here, officially a trainee.

“I love you,” I tell her.

She bites me.

 

It’s not what I expected,

But I’d have it no other way.

This bird is in my life,

And she’s here to stay.

 

It’s a rotation of faces,

A thousand questions too –

The visitors all change,

But Dea is true.

 

Her presence may be steady

But her matter is not.

She’s as moody as the wind blows,

And as fussy as I am besot.

 

“Station,” I cue.

I’ve lost her attention.

“Station?” I plead.

She’s abandoned her ascension.

 

And so it’s quail and rat,

A cycle of training.

She gets her enrichment,

And I continue begging.

 

She’s a good bird,

She’s the best!

Handlers have their favorites,

And our scars can attest.

 

Some enjoy vultures

And some prefer others.

But when I hit the mews

It’s a red tail I garner.

 

When working with birds

Lay down all stigma.

For when you’re handling Dea,

You’re handling an enigma.

-Erin Sackett received_2003548976345018

 

Getting Skunked

The thought of a skunk might elicit an immediate response for most people – plug your nose! But is that really all there is to it? Some of what we think we know about skunks stems from what we see portrayed in the media. Or perhaps you’ve experienced an unlucky encounter with a skunk who felt threatened and sprayed you (or your pet!)

You might be surprised to learn that skunks are relatively mild-tempered and do not tend to spray unless they feel threatened – and even then, they give us ample warning beforehand.

Have you ever wondered how we handle caring for skunks at our rehabilitation center? Our Wednesday PM shift leader, Cherie MacDougall, tells us about a time when she brought orphaned skunk kits to the clinic. Along the way, she’s learned a lot about skunks!

“I had only been volunteering for Chintimini Wildlife Center for a few months when I answered a call for help.  A litter of Striped skunks had been orphaned and a local homeowner was able to safely and humanely trap them.  I arrived on the scene with images of cartoon skunks and tubs of tomato juice running through my head.  Exiting my vehicle, I cautiously sniffed the air expecting the pungent, overwhelming, distinctive smell of skunk.  To my surprise all I smelled was a faint rotten egg odor.  I would later learn that skunks produce their infamous smell from a highly specialized anal scent gland that develops as the skunk matures.  Following my nose and the homeowner’s directions I found the skunk kits. They were immediately identifiable by their black fur, white stripes, and bushy tails.

As I carefully reached in with gloved hands, my real education about skunks began. Nothing had prepared me for how cute skunk kits are!  A few weeks old, each kit weighed about half a pound and could fit in my hand.  Tiny and fierce they instinctively used their defensive tactics and faced me directly, arching their backs, fluffing their thick fur, sticking their tails straight into the air like tiny exclamation marks, and thumping the ground with their paws. A few even pointed their tails at me and did their best to spray.  Luckily their scent glands were not fully developed!  Undeterred, I collected the tiny mammals and drove them to the wildlife center for an exam and proper care.

Striped skunks, a primarily nocturnal animal, are omnivores and eat a highly varied diet.  They forage for plant matter, eggs, and insects.  With their excellent digging skills they are also expert hunters of small vertebrates like mice and rats.  About the size of a house cat, the Striped skunk is a valuable partner in the farmer’s constant battle against harmful agricultural pests like insects and rodents.

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Over the course of a few months, the six skunk kits grew quickly into large, sleek, adults who retained their fear and caution of humans.  As the kits got older, their scent glands began to become more developed.  The young skunks needed to be fed, watered, and have their enclosure cleaned twice a day as Chintimini staff closely monitored and assessed each animal’s growth and development. Striped skunks will only spray when threatened and after a defensive display. They can release a large cloud of scent or release a well-aimed stream that is accurate up to a distance of six feet.  Each feeding became an exercise in slow, cautious movements. As long as the skunks didn’t feel threatened we volunteers were able to avoid any unfortunate encounters.

Since my experience with the Striped skunk kits, I have had the pleasure of caring for many more skunks over the past few years.  I continue to learn more with each patient.  For example, Striped skunks are not the only species of skunk found in Oregon.  Less common is the Western spotted skunk. Although similar in appearance to the Striped skunk, the Spotted skunk is smaller and has white spots on its forehead and under its ears.  When spraying, the Western spotted skunk will often stand on its front legs when “aiming” at their predator.

When the skunks were full grown and capable of surviving in the wild, Chintimini staff released them in suitable habitat near where they were originally found. Once small and helpless, these amazing mammals were getting another shot at living the life they were born to.  If you ever come across a skunk in the wild, the best thing to do is stop and back very slowly away without making any sudden movements.  As long as the skunk doesn’t feel threatened, the shy animal will be happy to go its separate way without spraying.

As always, if you see an orphaned or injured animal please call Chintimini Wildlife Center at (541) 745-5324.

Cherie MacDougall

Wednesday PM shift leader

Volunteer since 2015

Source: https://www.britannica.com/animal/skunk

Volunteer “Level 2” Training

Every year we host multiple “Level 2” trainings for our volunteers. This provides them the opportunity to expand on their responsibilities in the clinic and learn more about what staff does to handle specific injuries that they might not get to experience as a Level 1 trained volunteer.

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Level 1 volunteers are essential to the consistent flow of our daily tasks and routines. They keep laundry hosed down, clean, dried, and folded. They bleach, wash, and put away dishes. They prepare specialized diets, clean cages, and weigh our patients. They are oftentimes the “face” of the clinic when they greet the public during animal admissions.

It isn’t glamorous by any means, but it is completely necessary in order to provide the high quality care our patients need by preparing clean bedding, dishes, and fresh diets every single day.

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Some volunteers choose to remain at the Level 1 position for the duration of their volunteer experience. Others choose to expand their skills by opting to attend our continuing education courses. Level 2 training sessions are 2 – 2 1/2 hours long and are held at least twice a year.

Wondering what new skills volunteers get to learn?

  • How to perform a basic exam: Volunteers learn how to properly fill out preliminary exam notes, check basic vital stats (For example, is the animal warm? Does it have obvious injuries? Is it dehydrated/emaciated?) Each patient will still receive a comprehensive exam by our staff, but this initial exam gives us a quick look at how urgent each case is and what appropriate steps need to be taken upon arrival. 
  • How to tube feed critical patients: Each species has very specific dietary requirements. But what do we feed our critical patients who are unable to eat on their own? Some patients require tube feeding, which is a skill that requires a careful hand and an attentive volunteer. This skill is not something that is taught only once, it requires a lot of observation and practice.
  • How to give subcutaneous fluids to birds: We assume that most patients are at least somewhat dehydrated by the time they are found and brought to the clinic. Volunteers learn how to carefully administer sterile electrolyte fluids such as  Lactated Ringer’s Solution to dehydrated avian patients.
  • How to wrap a broken wing: Wing wraps can be crucial to the recovery of a broken wing. A wing wrap, when done correctly, immobilizes the fracture and allows for proper healing without being cumbersome. A bird with an improperly healed fracture will usually be unable to fly and therefore cannot be released. Practice, practice, practice! We want our volunteers to have ample opportunity to practice this skill, as it can be a “use it or lose it” ability. Fractured wings sometimes need more medical attention than a wing wrap alone. Each patient with a fracture receives an x-ray and a treatment plan, which sometimes includes surgical pinning.

If this sounds like something that interests you, please join us in our mission! We can never have too many volunteers, and with busy season just beginning – we welcome you to attend an orientation and sign up to volunteer with us.

To volunteer at Chintimini Wildlife Center, contact our Volunteer Coordinator, Kathi Franklin at volunteer@chintiminiwildlifecenter.org

– Erika Seirup, Animal Care Assistant

Rescue: Bald Eagle #18-0371

Most of the time, our patients are brought to us in a small shoe box or a little crate. Songbirds, small mammals, and even owls are usually scooped up by a caring passerby and brought to us, ready for examination and treatment. Sometimes we get calls for extra help. There are some patients that require a search party of sorts, or need a skilled restrainer for a safe capture. This is the story of one of our most recent Bald Eagle patients, and how he came to arrive at our Center.

Claudia Benfield, who is trained in eagle restraint and is a dedicated volunteer at Chintimini Wildlife Center, writes about the adventure she and her husband had while they attempted (and succeeded!) to rescue a Bald Eagle:

“Finally. After patiently waiting for six years, I got to rescue a Bald Eagle. This was my first eagle rescue and I am so thankful to have had the help of my husband, Tim. It was through some awesome teamwork that we were able to rescue the young Bald Eagle.

I got the call that there was an injured eagle in Halsey, OR. I was told I would have to ride a four wheeler in order to get to where the eagle was located. I really didn’t want to believe that one…I did invite my husband to help ensure we would successfully rescue this eagle. We rushed over to Halsey and rode about a mile off the pavement on the back of a four wheeler to where the eagle was.  At one point the terrain was so rough that we had to get off the four wheeler and walk! When we arrived at the site we found that the eagle was down a 10-15 foot embankment on Lake Creek. Of course, a creek… then the real adventure began.

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Right away, Tim went down the embankment to try to get to the eagle. The eagle on the other hand, had something else in mind.  Even though he was very weak and had been in the same spot for over a day, this eagle would not easily be caught despite his injuries.  As Tim got closer, the eagle started hopping away. Tim followed him down the creek, having to make his way through some very tall brush and even falling into “stinging nettles.” Ouch! Those really hurt! I felt so bad for my husband.  Meanwhile, I was running around trying to find a more accessible path to head off and corner the eagle with Tim on the other side. I did find a path but the water was too deep and the eagle was getting really far downstream. The farmer offered to drive me on the four wheeler to the other side of the creek, about another mile around. By the time I got to the other side, Tim had cornered the eagle against a dam of some type. There they were, eagle partially in the water trying to rest on a small branch and my husband – waist deep in murky water and thick mud right next to him. I immediately took off my socks and shoes and started going in the creek too. I was up to my knees in seconds and knew that this was not a good choice. I figured if my husband was up to his waist, I would be up to my neck in mud and water with an eagle in my arms.

I got out and ran over to the other side of the dam and got on top of it.  All I could think of was, “there’s going to be a hole somewhere that I will fall through”… I took a few steps feeling for weak spots on the dam but didn’t find anything. We were able to get a towel on top of the eagle to make sure he wouldn’t get away again. The towel was sopping wet in seconds. With the eagle sinking from the weight and my husband getting deeper in the mud, he carefully and quickly lifted the heavy eagle up to me on top of the dam. My training instantly took over and I quickly grabbed the eagle – wet towel and all.  It was when I turned around with the eagle secure in my arms that I took one step and found that hole. Down I went! I was now through the dam, eagle inches away from my face and my feet in a dam built by who-knows-what other wildlife. So many thoughts rushed through my head: from hoping the eagle wouldn’t tear my face off to thoughts of “please don’t let there be a nutria or beaver to bite my foot off.” I was also hoping my fall didn’t further injure the eagle (it didn’t). I don’t know how he did it, but my husband was out of the water in seconds and was pulling me up and out in an instant. He didn’t even lose a shoe! So now we were all safe – muddy and stinky, but in one piece and with a rescued eagle in tow. It is always astounding at how these injured eagles still have so much strength! It takes all of my strength to keep control of eagles, even when they are sick. This eagle was very spunky even though he had been out on the embankment of the creek for over a day.

Now we had to think of how to get the eagle back to civilization…

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One of the farmers had a four wheeler with a small trailer on the back. So , I got on the trailer and my husband had to push me (with the eagle in my arms) to the back of the trailer so we wouldn’t tip. On we went, with a spunky Bald Eagle on top of me, on this rough terrain and back to the car where I had a cage waiting.  When we arrived to the car, my husband had to pull me off of the trailer too… By this time we had gotten the wet towel off of the eagle and had a sheet over him to lessen his stress. After I put him in the cage, I could see his relief. First, at not being in my arms anymore and second, just being somewhere he could finally rest – alone. I did cover the cage in a sheet to keep him quiet in the dark which he seemed to like. It was such a harrowing ordeal for the eagle that I even felt the need to wait about 10 minutes before I took him on the ride to the clinic which was maybe 30 to 40 minutes away.

When I got to the clinic, it was more obvious how very stinky we both were from the murky water. I did get to hold him again as the Animal Care Director examined his injuries and wrapped his wing. X-rays would need to be taken the next day in order to see the extent of the damages to his body. There was a point during the examination where I could feel how very tired we both were. As I sat with him, at moments I almost felt like I could even fall asleep with this eagle in my arms. Even though I relaxed a bit, I still knew that he could let me know he was not happy in an instant! I never forget they are wild animals, that’s for sure. It just felt good to relax with a Bald Eagle in my arms for once. Not many can say they’ve done that. But afterwards, my arms were so weak from holding the eagle for so long that it was hard for me to hold my phone up for awhile! This is how strong they are – I just can’t imagine how strong they are when they are completely healthy!

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When we were done with the rescue, we looked up to see there was even a rainbow after the rescue was completed…”

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Patient Update: We are sad to report that Bald Eagle patient #18-0371 had to be humanely euthanized, as his injuries were determined to be too severe for a successful recovery. It is a bittersweet ending to an adventurous rescue – we never like to have to euthanize, however we are grateful for the ability to be able to relieve suffering. We thank Claudia and her husband Tim for their whole-hearted commitment to the well-being of the eagle.

Re-nesting Owlets

Have you ever wondered what happens when our clinic receives a baby owl?

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Baby owls fall from their nests for a variety of reasons, and oftentimes the finder isn’t sure if the baby is injured or orphaned. They bring us the owlet for evaluation, just to be safe. We check for injuries and assess their hydration and overall condition. If the owl needs rehabilitation, we have very specific criteria we follow to ensure the babies do not imprint on humans and can be released back to the wild once they are grown. Fortunately, more often than not the baby is healthy and uninjured, and after a feeding is able to be re-united with its parents. We do this by re-nesting; it is quite an adventure! Here, you can read Mark’s behind-the-scenes info (Mark is one of our main tree climbers).

“Spring is here and the time approaches where we start getting calls about juvenile owls found down on the ground. Whether they’ve fallen from branches, been blown out of their nest, or the nest has fallen apart, we retrieve them and evaluate for good health. We then try to return them either to their nest, or to a nearby spot in a “basket nest.” We have had a number of Barn Owls, which can be re-nested with a ladder because they usually nest inside barns. We may even get a hawk or two. But for the most part, the re-nestings involve Great Horned owlets.

Great Horned Owls (sometimes referred to as GHOW or GHO in the bird world) usually take over existing nests and don’t seem to be too particular about them. I have encountered situations where the old ‘nest’ has nothing left to it but the bottom. Often, I can locate an adult and be sure that I am in the right vicinity, but am unable to locate the actual nest. In those cases, I haul up a basket about 2′ in diameter and I latch it to a secure spot, preferably with a couple of branches supporting it, and about 60′ or so up the tree. I line the basket with leaves, twigs, and moss, and place the juvenile into it. If I haven’t actually seen an adult present during this process, I will ask the person who found the owl to keep an eye on the nest and let us know ASAP whether or not they have spotted an adult taking care of the juvenile. I have personally been surprised by how many landowners actually do keep track of who is nesting up in the trees on their property.

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In our experience, the key to most successful re-nestings is getting the owlet back up the tree as soon as possible. If the baby is gone, the adults will not stick around long, unless there is a sibling in the nest.  We usually do not have that information in advance, so promptness is vital. We endeavor to re-nest within 24 hours of the juvenile being found. This will give the baby its best chance of rejoining its parents and being cared for. That being the case, it is vitally important that if you do encounter a juvenile on the ground, please notify us at Chintimini Wildlife Center right away and we can work together to try to ensure the health and continuation of our wildlife population.”

Mark Meyer, In-house Tree Climber at CWC