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off to see the birdies.

September 2, 2009

Yesterday I went off to see the birdies. It was an unusual day out there at the wildlife rehabilitation center.

When I got in I heard wonderful words from the woman in charge .. something like .. “Everything is pretty much done so you can play with the birds all you want!” Excellent! I did some messy work for awhile though.

The predatory birds are usually fed dead mice, until they (the birds, not the mice) can be live-prey-tested. Live mice are put into a shallow pit from which they cannot escape. If the mice are gone the next day, the birds are released. This has worked ok when we have had 3 or 4 hawks in the flight cage, but we have 14 in there now, and have for awhile.

I don’t know who is in charge of the birds being released, but some of the hawks are getting their adult feathers – they are not juveniles anymore and are certainly ready to go, or so it seems to me.

I don’t know how the senior staff are going to live-prey-test the owls. There is no little pit in the owl flight cage in which to put the mice.  I don’t know I don’t know.

What we feed the raptors..

We get many many bags of dead mice from a college , or so I am told. Not sure which college, but they sure go through a lot of mice. I am told all the mice were used in psychology experiments, not medical experiments – this is important because if they were experimented on medically, they’d probably have all sorts of stuff wrong with them, besides just being dead. I don’t know how the mice are killed, but I hope they are killed humanely. Some are bloody, though.

I haul these bags of frozen mice out of the freezer shed, and each cage has a certain allotment – for example – the hawks in the main cage get 50 mice, and the owls in their main cage get 59.  I count out the mice, put them in large flat bowls and then distribute them about each cage. Since it has been quite hot lately, there is no need to thaw the mice before bringing them out. They’ll thaw quick enough in this heat.

The mice are still frozen when I put them out though, and take a bit of time to thaw. The hawks who try eating the mice as soon as I feed them look rather perplexed as they try to rip apart the frozen mice. I have never seen hawks look bemused before.

A Pelican?!

We have a rather unusual temporary guest.. an  inland pelican. I did not know such birds existed in California. In the past, I have only seen pelicans on the coast.

This bird is SILVER – I am told it will eventually turn white.. hmm? I’ve seen white pelicans and brown pelicans, but NOT a silver one. Unfortunately, I did not get a picture of this animal.

The pelican has gotten mean! It really snapped at me yesterday when I put some water in its bowl of food containing dead fish (barely thawed, not rotten) . The pelican will only eat fish if they are in a bowl with water. The bird surprised me! It was docile before. The people in charge are trying to get it transferred to an international bird rescue organization that will hopefully have the resources to locate a pelican flock and turn the pelican loose.

Animal shelters and wildlife centers help each other out. There is a smaller shelter up in the hills east of here that is pretty cool – less animals there and less cages, but there is a deer run (a good size deer pen), and at least one owl species we don’t get down here in the flatlands. I am wondering if they get more ravens as well. Ravens are uncommon down here. I’ve never seen one in the wild in this area.

Buzz the Vulture.

There was a large turkey vulture from that shelter which needed some rehabilitation, so it was brought down here, and put in the main flight cage back when that cage was empty. I had to get that bird to exercise.

I would run back and forth underneath the many high perches, cheering on the vulture, trying to get him to at least fly from perch to perch. I called him “Buzz” since he’s a buzzard. I had to be careful not to get Buzz pissed off though. When he began to seem irritated, I stopped getting him to fly. The reason is this – when vultures get mad they projectile vomit, and what they spit up can cause botulism (which is pronounced “botchilism,” or so I heard). I’m not sure what botulism is except that it is quite nasty, so avoid bothering buzzards!

Other work to do, thoughts on the new building.

Ok.. the worst of the dirty work was cleaning out some HORRIBLY smelly raccoon cages. I don’t know why, but when we first get raccoons, they have to be kept in small quarantine cages before they are allowed to join the many other racoons in much more spacious digs. We have a lot of room for raccoons, and there are over 20 at the center right now.

After that mess, I took a break. And yes, I still had an appetite. Washed up, ate, and drank water and Gatorade. I get dehydrated easily.

Everybody left early. I had the place to myself for the first time ever. It was unusual, and peaceful.

I first went to visit the raven. I was informed that it is not good to chase him around his cage in order to catch him and put him on my glove – especially in the heat. It is quite hot in the enclosures in the new building. I wish it was better ventilated. The new building was constructed with grant money, and has several rooms with large windows so, theoretically the public can see the animals. The raven (see pictures in previous posts) really needs to have his cage located where people are always around. He was moved some time ago to the new building, where he is mostly alone and unhappy. The fox is out there in her room, and living in another room is a tiny owl most people might not notice at all if they walk by.

Even though the new building was constructed with visitors in mind.. having people walk up to the windows and look at the animals.. the coyote run (coyote pen) is just a little ways away, and the staff in charge don’t want people near the coyote run. So.. no one except staff and volunteers are allowed to look at the animals in the new building! No one from the general public is allowed to have a look, even though that is what the building was designed for!!!!

I need to try harder to think of the very positive things and not on the negative really crazy things.

I got to visit with a raven for awhile – that’s good! I wore work gloves while cleaning out his room. He didn’t like that I wore gloves, because usually people wear gloves when coming to get him to take him out of his enclosure. He can be practically impossible to remove from his room. The lady who brings the tame, non-releasable  animals to schools and other events has a way of tricking the raven so she doesn’t have to chase him. I’d like to learn that trick.

Misinformation and Raven Chasing.

One of my responsibilities, as well as the best part of my job (besides standing or crouching down inside the hawk cage and watching the hawks) is handling the animals. Actually, that is the best part – actual contact and communication. But, I can’t get the raven out without chasing him, and if I chase him, he gets upset and could even have a heart attack. It’s too bad. I’d like to hold him.

Another frustrating thing about working there is that I get misinformation – I was earlier told it was normal to have to chase him to handle him. Right…

Turns out, one of the supervisors who has been working at the wildlife center for over a decade gives me a LOT of misinformation. I don’t know if she is doing this on purpose, or  if she is really confused, or.. She is excellent with the animals, but not exactly great with people.

I went against the unreliable supervisor’s advice..  her saying it was ok to chase the raven. I didn’t chase him. I cleaned out his cage some, and talked with him for awhile, trying to get him used to me. I apologized to him for chasing him last week. I did not attempt to pet him, because ravens have sharp, strong beaks.

Visiting the Owls.


I then visited the tiny burrowing owl, who is quite funny because he is very brave and does posturing behaviors to try to scare me out of his room. He is much easier to catch, and very easy to handle.

Then I took out the barn owl, my favorite bird at the center.

He got a little anxious, even though there was no one around. Usually he gets more flustered when there are other people about.  I am hoping he will be alright to be handled during our big event, which is coming up the Saturday after next.

The center closes at 3 pm starting in September, and we have a chainlink fence topped with barbed wire around the property, and a large chainlink gate and bars over the entrance to the center when it is closed, and a large sign posting our hours, but a woman still wanted to drop off a bird, so what could I do – she was about to become really obstinate, so I took the bird. It was a dove. I had to call the boss to ask what to do. She was cool about it, and said to put the bird in an incubator to keep it warm. So I did, and then locked the back door, made sure the parking lot gate (and everything else) was locked up, then went home.

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