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more critters!

November 1, 2009

It is the slow season at the wildlife center. The majority of the animals we help each year are brought in during Spring and Summer, so it is surprising when we get more than 2 in one week during the fall and winter.

My last shift before today was on Wednesday. Today I went in to work, and found 6 animals that had been brought in since Wed. – A great horned owl (this past year, great horned owls were the most common owl species we’ve gotten) a screech owl (rarely get screech owls, and they tend not to survive for long), 2 tame ferrets – ferrets are not indigenous, and are illegal to own as pets in this state (stupid law!) but there is a ferret underground. The ferrets were brought in with a large multi-level cage. Legally, they cannot be adopted by anyone in CA, so they will be given to a ferret rescue group and adopted by people in Nevada, most likely.

We also got two water birds – a coot – which looks a little like a small duck (coots can be pretty mean) and a full-grown Canadian goose. It is rare for us to get Canadian geese, and even more rare to get coots. I helped treat the goose. I had to hold his beak and keep his neck pointed up while another staff member put a tube down its throat to feed it. I never knew this before, but the inside edges of the beaks of Canadian geese are serrated – so I had to be very careful holding its beak so I not only did not hurt the bird, but didn’t cut my fingers on its beak.

The screech owl unfortunately had a collision with a pickup truck. Just about all the injured owls brought in to the center for treatment suffer from collisions with motorists at night. Owls often swoop and fly low, and get hit by cars and trucks. The little screech owl now has a permanently damaged eye, and some head trauma. It is possible to recover from head trauma, but not a damaged eye, so if the owl survives, it will have to stay with us as a permanent resident, or be placed in another nature facility or zoo.  Screech owls that are brought in for treatment usually don’t survive. They are small owls and not as sturdy as barn owls or great horned owls. We have the same problem with burrowing owls – those little guys don’t tend to last long either, even with very good medical treatment.

Besides helping with the goose, I played with the ferrets a bit, cleaned out a small walk-in enclosure containing two hawks – which was scary, but they didn’t attack me today – which was nice. The 6 hawks in the big flight cage didn’t bother me either. There is one red tail hawk in there that is amazingly agile. Most of the roof of the flight cage is wooden lattice work, with a solid section of roof in the back in case it rains. Some of the hawks manage to fly upside down and hang from the lattice work ceiling. The red tail hawk I just mentioned can do complex maneuvers off the ceiling, high perches, and sides of the cage, and can change direction amazingly fast. I have to keep an eye on that one especially.

The little red tail hawk, the one that is used to us, hasn’t grown much yet. That one is safe for us to get close to, but it is still a wild bird, so we don’t try to get close to it, it just doesn’t move away much while we are cleaning the cage. The other two red tail hawks behave themselves and are mellow. There are also 2 red shoulder hawks in there. They are more high-strung and excitable than the red tails, and fly back and forth over my head a bit more often.

There were a lot of leaves that fell from the tree growing through the roof in a nearby cage. These leaves fell through the lattice-work ceiling into the hawk cage, and have been piling up. I went in there with several rakes and a wheelbarrow. The hawks mostly were pretty good while I was raking and cleaning, I am glad to report. It is strange to rake leaves in a large flight cage with 6 predatory birds!

Later, I gave our resident crow and resident raven some dead mice to supplement their diet – they love mice, and also cleaned out some rat cages. We keep live rats and mice to occasionally use as prey for the two snakes we have, and also for the wild raptors. The raptors that have been injured are allowed sufficient time to recover, and before they are released, they are live-prey tested. We put mice in a shallow pit within the flight cage that is usually covered up. We open the pit, put the mice inside, leave the pit open, and check back the next day. If there are no mice left, the hawk or owl is ready to be released.

I do feel somewhat sad feeding these little critters to the snakes and raptors. I’ve had many pet rats and a few pet mice as well. But, that is the way of nature. Predatory animals need prey. That’s what we give them.

I finished the shift by doing more data entry – we are getting close to being caught up with that. We have been entering info from handwritten forms into a computer database – keeping track of the animals – what animals have been brought in, why they were brought to the center, and what happened to them. Some die, some survive and are released. Some are adopted – we get domestic animals brought in some times – rabbits, yellow ducks, turtles. And then we get some animals like the little screech owl, that become permanent residents at the center where I work or at another place.

It was a very good shift today. I am quite glad I did not get attacked by any hawks, and had fun taking care of the animals and seeing the critters that were brought in this past week.

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