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good to be with the animals

November 30, 2009

Some shifts, I just don’t feel well.. often stressed by the issues I’ve written about in previous blogs, mental anguish leading to physical symptoms.

But, today, perhaps because I took a bit of a pill before I left, I felt better. I actually enjoyed the company of the animals more and felt closer to them than I usually do.

I get to the center after everyone else, and stay later. This is due to my having difficulty (and to some degree unwillingness) getting to sleep ’til after 3 am. I go to bed late, and sleep late.

Still, there is always something I can do. Some shifts I mostly sit at the computer and do data entry. Lately, the volunteers and AWP workers have been feeding the raptors, but not cleaning their cages much, so I go in and clean, and that is just fine with me. Mostly I like doing that work.

The two hawks (one red shoulder and one red tail) that were in the smaller enclosure have been released. This is good – they were the most dangerous to deal with while cleaning, because there isn’t enough room in there for me to dodge. I have to block them with my arms and duck quick when they fly at me. Last few times I’ve been in there though, they didn’t bother me. However, I am glad they were released – less stressful now, and I’m sure they are happier.

I cleaned out the much more spacious hawk flight cage – no serious incidences, although I did need to stay down a bit. When I walk to the back wall, they don’t like it. 5 of the hawks usually perch on a ledge attached to the back wall about 15 feet above the ground. When I walk toward them, the closer I get, the more antsy they get, and by the time I am almost standing under their back perch, they are flying toward the other end of the cage. They first swoop back and forth across the cage.

There is a little Swainson’s hawk, not fully grown yet, that is used to people, so I can walk right past that one. It usually sits on a saw horse. The larger hawks don’t bother it at all, which I find surprising.

A really cool thing that happened was some red shoulder hawks  that live nearby (not in enclosures, but free) flying above the center making their loud noises. The ceiling of the flight cage is partially just lattice work – and we (the birds and I) can see through it and feel the breeze and hear the sounds of nature. One of the red shoulder hawks inside the cage called to the ones flying outside, and they had a short conversation. That was really neat! Quite loud, but really cool.

One of the big Red Tail Hawks in there ( 6 hawks total – 2 red tails, 2 red shoulders and 2 Swainson’s), the one with the damaged eye that will later be placed in a zoo, is an ornery bird. It flew up on a perch quite near where I was standing, and I raised my arm and kept it poised, and gave the bird the eye, and it moved! I put the zap on the bird! Cool! These birds are respecting me more. Good!

I always like being in the large cage, even when there were 14 hawks in there. That was especially interesting. If they got on perches too close to where I was standing, I would bang my tongs on the end of the perch and they would fly off.

I use long tongs to pick up castings. Castings are soft pellet-shaped things that the raptors spit out. They can’t digest the fur, feathers and bone. I pick up the castings of the hawks and owls,  and put them in a bag, and toss the bag in the trash when I am done. I also use the tongs for self defense.

Once, when there were 14 hawks in the cage, one swooped at me with its feet down. This is not a good sign. Just having its feet pointed downward without the talons extended is better than coming at me claws out, but still, not so good. Basically, it was semi-interested in trying to shred me. I didn’t like that, so when it swooped at me, I dinged the tongs against its feet – not hard enough to hurt, but to make a point – “don’t try it.” That bird didn’t get as close to me again. I’ve had to use the tongs to shove some other hawks away from me – the ones that flew directly at me. I also had to shove them away with the hose I was holding.

The hawks are strange – a few of them have attacked me – they’ve flown right at me, sometimes going for my head, but don’t too hard to hurt me – don’t have their talons out. Only one came at me that way – and that was quite scary! The rest of them that attack me could have hurt me worse, even though I shoved them off. They haven’t dug in with their talons. Strange behaviour. They probably enjoy getting a good scare out of me. They usually only act like that when they are in the much smaller rooms – not enough space to fly and not enough room for me to maneuver. One flap of their wings in those small spaces and they are across the cage and on me.

Right now, in two of the smaller cages are hawks that are too small to be put in with the others. In one room there is a Marsh Hawk – that one is beautiful and pretty mellow. She doesn’t fly at me and never has. I still am careful, of course, but not too worried.

The other small room contains a Cooper’s Hawk which we just got in this past week. I don’t know why this hawk has not been released yet – but then that is the case with most of the hawks. I know 3 of the wild hawks we are housing right now are non-releasable and will go to zoos, but I don’t know about the others.

The Cooper’s Hawk does not appear to be injured or impaired. Cooper’s Hawks are lots smaller and skinnier than red tail or red shoulder hawks (red tails are even bigger than the red shoulders).  The cooper’s hawks are fast, and quite high strung. I crept into that room and stayed down, put my hood over my head, mostly faced the ground, kept one arm up to shield my face. That way, the hawk just flew back and forth above my head several times and didn’t hurt me. After I was done scrubbing out and refilling the big water bowl, and sprayed out the poop, I stood up, and got out of there as fast as possible. Surprisingly, the bird did not nail me in the back as I left. This would not have hurt, since I had several layers on, but it is unsettling.

I also cleaned up after our resident Great Horned Owls. One can fly, and one can’t. The one that can fly seems edgier lately, and has been making me a little nervous. Sometimes even tame animals flip out for apparently no reason, and I do not want to try and defend myself from a pissed off Great Horned Owl in a small enclosure. The hawks play around somewhat when they attack, the owls do not.

I helped take care of the the wild injured Great Horned Owl that was brought in on Wednesday. It isn’t doing well, but that is not surprising, since it was barely alive when brought in. Some bastard had shot it. Some other people found it alive on the ground and brought it in.

Today, I got it out of its indoor hospital cage, and laid it out on the table again, (this one’s a male, by the way.. smaller than the females – this is true of some of the hawks as well – the females being bigger than the males). I held it while one of the supervisors injected it with fluids. I then sat down and held the owl (still a very subdued owl, not struggling – which means it is not healthy – not enough energy to struggle) with my left hand, and used my right hand to open its small beak and put food far enough into its mouth that it could swallow.

In the past, I’ve force-fed another Great Horned Owl, and a Red Tail Hawk. With both those birds, I had to cram the bits of dead mice or duck farther down the birds’ gullets with my fingers or else they would not have been able to swallow. Interesting experience. I really like hands-on work with the wild animals – helping with their treatment instead of just feeding them and cleaning up after them.

I visited with the raven awhile. The ground outside the exhibition building (the one with lots of windows and 4 animal rooms – where the skunk, fox, raven, and burrowing owl usually live) is being worked on by people affiliated with the boy scouts. They are putting in a sprinkler system out there so we will have a lawn instead of just a dusty pasture when the weather gets warmer. The animals don’t like all that activity outside their windows, so they have been placed in other areas.

The raven doesn’t like being moved to another room. It’s as big as his other one, but not the same room. He was acting nervously, just pacing on a perch in back of the room, and making concerned little noises. Ravens have many different vocalizations. I came in and brought him some dead mice, but he stayed put. I talked to him awhile, but certainly didn’t try to pet him – not when he’s nervous. I tried to re-assure him, but that didn’t help much. Still, I enjoyed his company, even if he didn’t enjoy mine a whole lot. At least I tried.

I didn’t do any data entry today. Didn’t feel like it. I talked awhile with the supervisor on duty. She’s only 20, but very smart and mature, and since there wasn’t much other work to do, we chatted awhile. That was good. I am glad to find people worth talking with.

Before I locked up and left the center, I checked on the Great Horned Owl in the hospital cage. He was laying down. Most birds, if they are healthy, do not lay down – not raptors or songbirds – they only lay down when they can’t stand up. They even sleep standing up.

I tried to prop up the owl, but it would not stand, so I laid it down as comfortably as possible. It was breathing heavily, and there was nothing I could do for it. When the bird was brought in, I didn’t think it would survive and thrive – just looked too far gone. It might die tonight, or has already died. That is just how it goes over there. Some animals are brought in too injured – some of these we euthanize right away, others with less serious injuries we treat,  and we try as best we can to save them, but not all recover. So.. that was a sad note to end the shift on, but overall, it was a very good shift indeed.

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