Though She Be But Little, She Is Fierce.

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An owl sits in a tree, her large round eyes searching for her prey. She sits quietly, patiently. Suddenly she spies a shrew crawling around underneath the leaf litter below. Waiting for the opportune moment, she shifts her weight, launches…and misses. Landing on a nearby branch tries again. She sits, waits, listens…

Chances are when you thought of an owl, you pictured the stoic Great Horned Owl, or the majestic Barn Owl. Few would think of the Northern Pygmy Owl. Compared to a Great Horned Owl length of roughly 20 inches (or around 50 centimeters), the Northern Pygmy Owl stands a whopping 6.5 inches (or 16 cm) with a 12 inch (30 cm) wingspan. One of the smallest owls in North America, adults can weigh around 2.5 ounces (70 grams) which is about the same as ½ cup of fresh blueberries, 3 AAA batteries, or 28 pennies!

Although they are small, Pygmy Owls are ferocious hunters. They will typically feed on small songbirds caught in flight. In addition to songbirds, Pygmy Owls feed on small mammals and insects and have been known to prey on birds up to three times larger than they are including the Northern Flicker or California Quail.

These owls are diurnal, meaning they are active during the day. They lack the asymmetrical placed ears and flattened facial disks that most owls have to help them hear, which may make the Pygmy Owls rely more on their sight. During the evening, when most owls wake, Pygmies are returning to their nests in tree cavities such as those carved by woodpeckers. They are non-migratory birds and stay in the same general location year-round, however, they will move up and down in elevation with the seasons. Winter brings them down to the Corvallis area, and this past winter, Chintimini Wildlife Center saw two Northern Pygmy Owl patients.

The first was a male brought to us in November after being hit by a car. He was in shock, emaciated, and suffering from mild head trauma. He was quite tiny for a male, weighing in at only 48 grams, but after four months in our care, he put on about 20 grams, healed nicely, and was just released last week!

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Our second Pygmy Owl patient this winter was a good sized female who was brought in after being hit by a car. She came to us in great shape, weighing in at 70 grams. She was released at the same location she was found after two weeks of rehabilitation.

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Not the most well-known owls, Northern Pygmy Owls are unique in many ways. I never realized how small owls could be until I began volunteering at Chintimini. I will be keeping an eye out for them, and an ear out for their call during my next hike. Will you?

– Emily Nicholson, CWC Tuesday PM Shift Leader

Owl You Need Is Love

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As the moonlight shines down on the Great Horned Owls, hooting can be heard throughout the nesting site that they occupy. Deep clear tones are vocalized by the male, while higher and huskier tones are demonstrated by the female, who is much quieter than the male. These back and forth calls can last for minutes or hours at a time. You may have even heard these calls recently in your neck of the woods! Breeding season typically begins around January and lasts through February. 

As the Great Horned Owls prepare their nest, they clear out old debris while lining it with a layer of their own downy breast feathers. The nest was built by a previous occupant, most likely an abandoned nest of hawks or crows. Some Great Horned Owls have even been known to nest in small caves, cliff ledges, or artificial nests built by humans!

The female’s role is crucial in ensuring her offsprings’ survival. She rarely leaves the nest during incubation for more than a few minutes at a time. Yet, the male plays an important role as well by offering protection and providing resources for its mate. Like most Great Horned Owls, the pair reconnects each breeding season and will continue to throughout their lifespan.

Over the next month or so, young owlets will begin to hatch. At around six weeks they will explore outside of the nest, walk across limbs, and “practice” flying. By 10-12 weeks they’ll learn to fly. The parents will continue to feed and care for their offspring for months after the young fledge. It is wise to stay away from young owls if you see them – parents guard their nests very closely and are not afraid to attack if they feel their family is being threatened! However, if you happen to find a young fledgling on the ground, please call your local Wildlife Rehabilitation Center right away for assistance. They will be able to determine whether the young owl needs further help. Rehabilitation Centers usually have tree climbers who volunteer their services to reunite raptors with their parents when appropriate.

– Alyssa Tarbox

A Second (err…third?) Chance

Some of our patients have been through such horrendous trauma that we are unsure if they will make it through their first night at the clinic. From gunshot wounds to car collisions to fishhooks and rat poison, it’s a real miracle that some of these patients survive.

These are the stories we never forget. These are the patients that we cheer a little longer for when they’ve made it to the end and are ready to be released back to the wild.

Claudia Benfield, one of Chintimini’s guest bloggers and Friday night shift leader, writes about her experience with a very special Barred Owl:img_7743

“I had an eventful night working with wildlife. We admitted a Barred Owl that had been hit not once, but twice by a car. I am still astounded by that fact.

Hit not once, but twice by a car.

I was expecting to get a patient that had no hope but yet once again, the wildlife laughed at me. When he was brought in, they told me he was quite squirmy. They were right! I took him out of the box and he just about flew away from me! I was really glad to see how active he was. I was thinking that maybe he was going to be in shock.

We wrapped him up in a towel to secure him but he still was very feisty. I felt his wings and found no fractures or open wounds. The only thing I found was a few drops of blood on his beak. Next, we put him in a cage to rest, gave him a few mice and hoped for the best. The owl was mighty lucky to have been hit twice and lived to tell the tale. It is fortunate he was rescued right away by good Samaritans and brought to our rehabilitation center.”

Initially, the Barred Owl was mildly dehydrated but overall appeared in good health despite being struck twice. He was given electrolytes with B-vitamins, an anti-parasitic medication to treat his parasite load, and lots of nutritious food. Within a few days he’d put on some decent weight and was able to fly with perfection. By the fifth day he was given a clean bill of health and was ready to be released!

 

 

Risk Assessment 101: The Call of the Turkey

Volunteers are vital to the success and well-being of our patients here at CWC. Each volunteer has a little something different that they offer to the clinic. Everyone’s experience at CWC is unique and we are grateful when they take the time to tell us, especially in writing! Brent is one of our Assistant Animal Care Staff volunteers. Here he shares about an injured turkey he rescued late last year:

It was late afternoon in mid-November when we received a call of an injured wild turkey just a few miles down the road from Chintimini Wildlife Center. The caller stated that this injured turkey was mobile but unable to fly and had been in the same location since that morning. One of the most difficult situations you can come across when responding to an injured animal call is making the attempt to rescue the animal while it is mobile (able to run and/or fly). Also, it is important to assess how much stress an animal can take in the amount of rescue attempts if you are unsuccessful in the first attempt.

 When I arrived at the location north of HWY 99, I immediately noticed an adult male turkey making his way towards the busy highway.  Once I had found a safe location, I immediately pulled over and threw on my flashers.

After exiting my vehicle I watched as the turkey crept dangerously closer and closer to the highway with a staggering limp.

With a wide berth, I made it to the shoulder of the highway leaving a row of blackberry bushes between the turkey and myself. When he noticed me approaching with a towel in hand he dove into the bushes and hunkered down to avoid capture. At this point, I was able to take a quick moment to focus on all of the possible risks of the rescue while keeping in mind the safety of all bystanders, directly/indirectly involved.

Some possible risks I quickly assessed included: endangering myself, commuters on the highway, bystanders observing the rescue as well as the safety of the injured turkey. With the turkey safely hunkered down in the blackberry bushes, I felt that there would be little chances of anyone being injured as long as I was able to keep myself between the turkey and the dangerous traffic of HWY 99. With the proper gear and clothing donned, I made my way into the blackberry thicket with the towel raised in preparation to quickly cover and secure the turkey at a moments notice. When I made it to about the middle of the thicket, I was able to get a visual on the turkey that was just out of reach. As I crept closer he noticed me and quickly began to retreat in the direction at which he came. I backed out of the thicket as quickly as possible and was able to cut him off before he could make his exit and escape as he turned around and dove back in. So I again went around to the other side of the thicket in order to place myself between the turkey and highway. We repeated this disorderly dance for about 20 minutes until the turkey was able to make it completely out of the thicket before I could make it to the other side in order to scare him back in.

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Now, with the injured animal out in the open I slowly placed myself behind him but allowed him to see me as I moved closer to try to deter him further away from the highway. As we made it to a side road that paralleled the highway I was able to keep him on track along this road until we had a small fence between the highway and us. This new rescue location allowed for a safer approach to capture and rescue. Once the turkey noticed the fence and capture was imminent, he made a quick turn away from the fence and highway and darted across the side road we were on and towards another blackberry thicket. Once the road was clear of oncoming vehicles I made my way across with my eyes focused on the injured.

With the realization of the possibility of our earlier chaotic dance repeating itself and the idea that this turkey may be able to fly to avoid capture I quickly made the decision to go all in for the capture. This move allowed the turkey no time to think so he dove head first into the nearby blackberry thicket to avoid capture, while getting stuck in the thorny briars. With the taste of our battle closely coming to an end I dove into the briars after him, placing a firm grip on each of his thighs. I covered him with a towel and safely removed him to the briars. From there, we made our way back to the vehicle, then ultimately back to Chintimini Wildlife Center to begin his intake exam and rehabilitation process.

After just over a month of rehab this male turkey was able to make a full recovery and was released in the vicinity where he was found with an adult female turkey that was admitted to us at CWC from the same area.

 While being out on a wildlife rescue call you have to be able to make quick and safe decisions by observing your surroundings and the hazardous possible outcomes. By predicting the animal’s response to your attempts at rescue and coming up with a safe plan around these possible responses, a dangerous situation can become less dangerous to all directly/indirectly involved. With all of the hazardous possibilities during this rescue, we all were able to safely walk away from this event and ultimately meet the goal of giving this adult turkey a second chance at life.

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A Tale of Two Mallard Ducks

In early November, we received calls about two injured mallards at a pond located in Albany. The ducks had been recreationally shot with blow darts and were sadly left to suffer. Archell Banta, one of our dedicated volunteers (and a fellow waterfowl lover), was able to capture both ducks and bring them to our clinic.

Assistant Animal Care Staff volunteer Erika Seirup writes about her experience upon admittance of the mallards:

Many of the patients we receive at CWC are injured by humans on accident (such as car or window collisions). This particular case was disheartening to me because it was purposeful cruelty to wildlife.

I have been a volunteer at Chintimini Wildlife Center for 18 months and haven’t seen an intentional injury to wildlife before. I’ve seen animals that’ve been hit by cars, birds that have flown into windows, and orphans in need of care.

This was a deliberate attack on wildlife and it really surprised me.

The first mallard presented with a dart lodged deep within the left side of his body. Upon further examination we were able to determine that it was stuck in his thigh. The dart was approximately three inches long and he is very fortunate it did not go deep enough to puncture any organs.img_7882

The second mallard had been shot in the bill, which also punctured his tongue, pinning it to the roof of his mouth. Mallard ducks are considered “dabbling” ducks (rather than diving ducks) and this type of injury made it impossible for him to properly forage for food.

To eliminate stress and pain, we decided it was best to place the mallards under anesthesia before removing the darts. This way we were able to give a more thorough examination and tend to the wounds without additional stress or accidental harm.

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Both ducks recovered quickly, and after careful observation in our ICU they were able to move to an outdoor enclosure.

Outdoor housing for waterfowl includes a pool for swimming and enrichment that helps to encourage the natural behaviors they will need to survive in the wild.

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After spending only a few weeks in our care, they were released to a quiet pond where they’ll be safe from harassment and free to live their lives.

 

While we are happy to report this as a successful wildlife rehabilitation story, this unfortunately is not an isolated incident. Each year there are multiple reports of dart shootings in other areas of Oregon, and more often than not the perpetrator isn’t caught.

Animals shouldn’t be left to suffer – if you see an injured animal that you think has been illegally shot, please call your local authorities (police, animal control, wildlife rehabilitator or State Fish & Wildlife agency) as soon as possible. For a wildlife rehabilitation center near you, check out this state-by-state listing:

How to Find a Wildlife Rehabilitator

The Art of Waterproofing

Chintimini Wildlife Center clinic volunteer Alyssa Tarbox explains the process of waterproofing:

Have you ever wondered how birds stay afloat?  It occurs mainly because of the interlocking hooks and barbules on birds’ feathers – these help to provide an airtight seal allowing insulation from water and other potentially harmful elements. Additionally, their feathers become water resistant when they apply oils from their preen gland (more formally known as the Uropygial Gland), an oil gland found at the tail base possessed by a majority of birds.  Healthy birds do a pretty good job of keeping themselves water resistant and warm by the continual act of preening. But sometimes birds need a little help from wildlife professionals! If you have ever seen the infamous Dawn oil spill commercials, you are seeing part of the waterproofing process. However, much more work goes into ensuring the bird can return to life in the wild!

What happens if birds aren’t able to waterproof themselves?

Waterproofing cannot be done on a bird that is in critical or poor condition. Before the process can begin, an exam on the bird must be performed to ensure the bird is stable and able to withstand the procedure. At Chintimini Wildlife Center, waterproofing is one of the last steps before release, so it is necessary the bird passes all parts of the exam.

When a patient is ready to be waterproofed, they are first washed in warm, soapy water. The temperature must be continuously monitored to ensure the health and safety of the bird – if the water is not warm enough, the process will not be effective and the bird could quickly become chilled and go into shock.

We use a gradient of concentrations of Dawn dish soap because of its proven effectiveness; it is important to reach every nook and cranny of the bird’s feathers so they can go onto the next step!  

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Photo Credit: Sheri Cochran

In a separate rinsing area, we use a consistent, high pressure stream of warm water to remove any buildup of residue.

Thoroughly rinsing each feather is a time consuming process.

The biggest problem that can occur at this step is trying to “speed up” the process. The goal of waterproofing is to only do it once. It requires taking the time to ensure that all excess residue is completely removed; if not removed it can result in the bird drowning!

When the bird is fully waterproofed, water will run off the feathers instead of penetrating them, leaving beads of water on the bird’s feathered surface. This ensures that the feathers repel water, which allows the bird to dive, swim, and float without sinking.

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Photo Credit: Hawaii Wildlife Center

 

Once the bird is completely free from soap and residue, the clean bird is taken to dry. An area equipped with a protective net-bottomed pen and an appropriate grooming dryer ensures the bird can comfortably dry. At this point, birds will start preening their feathers back into place. Each hook and barb of the feathers will realign into their pattern which helps create a natural waterproof seal.

Once the drying process is complete, our professional Animal Care Staff will determine if the bird requires another waterproofing session or if it is ready to be back on the water!

Glue Trapped

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Photo Credit: The Humane Society of The United States

Glue traps are a common, yet inhumane tool for trapping unwanted “guests” who’ve made their homes in undesirable places. Many people choose this method because of its low cost and ease of use, however glue traps remain to be indiscriminate and trap unintended victims such as bats, birds, snakes, and even pets. Any animal attracted by the bait can become ensnared.

Guest writer and CWC Shift Leader Claudia Benfield writes about her experience with glue traps:

My neighbor called me in an emergency the other night.  They had left a garage door open and a small bird had flown in.  They called me to get it for them.  They had thought that maybe it had flown back out.  I searched again just to make sure.  When I looked up way high on top of one of their cabinets, I saw a small figure struggling.  They were having a lot of problems with rats and had put large glue traps on top of the cabinets in an effort to solve one problem and not cause another.  But this was not going to be the case after all…

My heart just sunk when I saw that a small finch had his entire body on that glue trap.

I immediately grabbed it and when I examined it, I saw that his little face was stuck on it.  I pried his face off and propped it on a stick that would keep it off until I could get him some help.  I didn’t want to pry the rest of his body off in fear that I would do more damage than good.  So off I went in a mad rush into the night, feeling and wanting so much to have a siren to give me a clear and quick path to the clinic.  And don’t you know, this was the night of the big storm that was being predicted.  When I was driving I could see it was getting worse out there and people were slowing down. That always happens doesn’t it? As I drove down the road with the finch on my lap, in a silent car with no radio on to keep the bird’s stress level down, I could feel his struggle to break free whenever I made a turn.  It made me want to rush even more and I just wanted to save him more and more.  Seeing the manner in which he was glued on the trap, I really had little hope for him.

When I finally got to the clinic and halfway parked my car, I ran in and there were three girls waiting for me from the Thursday PM shift.  I just asked them for help and they jumped right in to help.  I told them what the animal care director had told me to do and what medicine would get him off the glue.  They just took over which at this point I was very thankful for.  By this time, I felt like he was a family member that I had to save.  My heart was racing way too much with worry.  Too many invested emotions for me at this point.  I helped a little but they were just so awesome.  The medicine that can get animals off of glue traps is just a miracle in a bottle too.  We sprayed the liquid on him and he came right off.  When I saw that he was free, I breathed a huge sigh of relief.

It was all so amazing.  He still looked rough and had some bruises under his wing but it seemed that he might be able to recover.  Every time that I am convinced that there is no hope for the one that I am saving, it has been the opposite.  Thankfully life always seems to make a fool out of me.  In that case, I can take that any day.  I am now hopeful that maybe my finch may just have another chance.  I am glad that I can hope for another miracle.
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Photo Credit:The Wildlife Center of Virginia

Unfortunately, this is not an isolated case. This is an all-too-common scenario that we as wildlife rehabilitators encounter over and over. But you can help.

What should you do if you find an animal stuck to a glue trap?

  • First, contact your local wildlife rehabilitator! If you need help finding one in your area, check out this state-by-state listing:

How To Find A Wildlife Rehabilitator

  • If you are unable to find immediate help, use caution when handling the animal and only attempt if you are comfortable with the following procedure recommended by The Humane Society:

What Should I Do If I Find An Animal Stuck To A Glue Trap?

  • Lastly, please do not purchase or use glue traps! For more humane ways of approaching wildlife control see this and this.
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Photo Credit: The Wildlife Center of Virginia