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wood rats, rabbits, birds, and snakes at the wildlife center

December 3, 2009

It is exactly 1 am at this very moment. I just finished feeding 12 baby wood rats. No, I am not at the wildlife center at this late hour. These animals are the first I have been able to take with me for home care. Some volunteers and all those on paid staff do lots of home care. Some take home birds, and also rodents and other mammals. One of my supervisors even had a fawn living in her room with her for a little while after shift.

I’ve asked to take animals home in the past to care for, but I don’t have that much seniority, or as much experience as some others on staff, so I haven’t had a chance to do this yet.

What does home care involve and why is it done? Usually, the animals brought home are quite young. These are abandoned or orphaned animals that are brought into the center and require more feeding than would be provided during the hours we humans are at the center. For example, these rats need to be fed 4 times daily, at 4 hour intervals. They need to be taken home to make sure they get all their meals. After the animals reach a certain age when they can eat out of a bowl or dish and feed themselves when they want to, they are brought back to the center. There the animals reside until they are old enough to be released.

I am feeding these tiny wood rats with a plastic syringe equipped with a rubber tip. I am feeding them formula, but I don’t know what the formula is made of. I wasn’t told what was in it, just how to mix the powder and the water to make the liquid for the rats, and how to feed them – make sure they don’t choke and so forth.

I just looked up “wood rat” on Wikipedia (I LOVE that site!). Wood rats are also called pack rats, and the most common species is the bushy tailed wood rat. I don’t know if that is the type of wood rat that I have. Their tails don’t look bushy now – maybe they are too young to have bushy tails, or perhaps they are another type of wood rat.

These rats have an affinity for shiny objects. Let’s say a pack rat is carrying a bit of food or some other beneficial item back to its little den, and sees a coin or a small piece of jewelry.. it will drop whatever it was carrying and pick up the shiny thing and bring it home with it.

I had previously heard of pack rats, but not wood rats. I am surprised by the diversity of critters that are brought in! A couple weeks ago I learned that we have mice called “deer mice” living in the area. One of the other people on staff is feeding deer mice. They are even tinier than the little buggers I’m feeding!

Can I keep any of these wood rats? Nope. That would be against the law. It is illegal to possess any native wildlife except for rehabilitation purposes, or, in some cases, a person has a special permit. I can only keep these little guys for as long as necessary to get them off the bottle – it is estimated this will take a week or so.

It takes almost a half an hour to feed them.. actually, sometimes longer. If they are awake and frisky, it might take a little while just to get one interested in the bottle. Usually though, they are hungry and go for the formula right away. Some eat (well, drink) more than others.

I am trying to get over my worry that they will get too hungry during the night and die. This is unlikely. They need to be fed 4 times at 4 hour increments, not every 4 hours – big difference there. I worry waaaay too much!

It’s fun though, feeding these cute little rats, who have had their eyes open for only a day or so. I think they were brought into the center 2 days ago. Someone else has been feeding them up to now.

I released my first mammal on Monday. In the past, I’ve released several hawks, but never any mammals. I was under the misapprehension that rodents carry rabies. Turns out this is not true. Rabbits, rats, mice, and squirrels are not rabies vectors – if they somehow get rabies from another animal, they die quite quickly. So, even though I have not had the preventive rabies vaccines, I can work hands on with some mammals.

The animal I released on Monday was a cotton tail rabbit, which I took home Sunday night. I leave the center at around 5 pm – and these days it is already getting dark at that time. It was too dark to release the rabbit where the head boss wanted the rabbit released. She suggested a nature area aways away from where the center is located, and also at least a 20 min. drive from my house.

I drove out to the specified area, only to find it closed for another month.. so, I drove to another place I thought the cotton tail might like. That nature area was closed as well! This one, by the way, is located outside another town.. even farther from where I live. I had another idea.. another spot outside a town even farther East.. I headed over there, and encountered my third gate.. wonderful.

I kept driving, even East of that town, and found a nice little spot with a pond and some undergrowth for the rabbit to hide in. I let it out of its container. Instead of running in the direction I pointed it toward, it turned around and hid under my car. I tried to get it to move, and bent down repeatedly and walked around my car, getting on my hands and knees here and there, trying to get the rabbit to move. It finally did, and I headed home. This was a bizarre and frustrating experience.

I asked my supervisor today (well, by the calendar, I mean yesterday – Wednesday) if I could have just released the cotton tail rabbit in any random orchard, and she said, “yeah,” and I said, “.. that’s what I thought.” Oh well, live and learn.

Bird news..

The Great Horned Owl that was apparently near death on Sunday did die. I don’t know what day it passed on, though. It had almost no visible injuries, just what appeared to one of the folks in charge to be a small gunshot wound. After the owl died, a necropsy was performed (a post-mortem done on animals is called “necropsy,” not “autopsy.” I don’t know why). It turns out the owl had serious internal injuries, and was likely hit by a car.

Many of the owls brought into the center are hit by cars. Screech Owls, Barn Owls, Great Horned Owls.. these birds swoop low at night and unfortunately fly across country roads. Their injuries are not always fatal, but often are. The few Burrowing Owls brought in are usually not victims of collisions, though, as far as I know. Burrowing Owls are very small and fly very low over high grassy areas. The ones we treat are more often mauled by cats or other animals than hit by cars.

Some birds were released today. I think they were a Red Tail Hawk, a Red Shoulder Hawk, and a Cooper’s Hawk. I am especially pleased the Cooper’s Hawk was released. They are small but fast and can be mean.

One of the hawks came down with avian pox, which can be spread by insects, such as mosquitoes. This unfortunate bird was then put into a smaller enclosure, so as not to infect the other hawks. This Red Tail Hawk is a non-releasable animal because it sustained some permanent damage to one of its eyes. It will eventually be placed in a zoo. I hope it will have plenty of room there.

We now have only 3 hawks in the main flight cage – 2 young Swainson’s Hawks, and a rather fidgety Red Shoulder Hawk that needs to grow in its tail feathers before it can fly properly and be released. Surprisingly, both the Swainson’s Hawks are mellow. I had read they were more uptight than Red Tail or Red Shoulder Hawks. Concerning the birds we have, the opposite is true.

Besides cleaning out the raptor rooms, I also sprayed out the songbird cages. Almost always, the songbird cages are done earlier in the day, and I never get a chance to clean them, since I arrive later than everybody else. This was a nice change today.. especially after I cleaned up the cage with the lone Red Tail in it. And that bird behaved itself! It didn’t fly at me, just stayed put, yay!

It is our slow season right now, and not all the songbird cages are occupied, and those that are just have one or two birds in them.  Our resident raven is in one of these rooms, because his main room is in a separate building, and there is sprinkler work being done out there, and that upsets the animals some – people walking around, digging holes, putting in pipes, so the animals from that building have been put in other locations. The raven is still uptight being in this other room, even though it is just as spacious. He still paces on a back perch and doesn’t feel settled.

In an adjoining cage are a crow that can’t fly yet due to needing to grow in more feathers, and a magpie that can fly but perhaps not quite good enough yet. Next to that one is a room with a dove. Doves can fly pretty quick. Some years back, I was cleaning out the dove room, which housed ten or more doves, and one flew right out at me and tried to escape. I pushed it away with my hand – firmly enough to get it to change direction, but gently enough not to hurt it.. it sure was fast!

In the two other occupied songbird rooms, there are a kingfisher, and a finch. It sure is nice to clean up in a cage where the bird is not dangerous! I like cleaning up the raptor cages, but get nervous sometimes.

We have many raccoons at the center. I don’t know their exact number, since I don’t work with them directly. That’s a job for the people who’ve already been vaccinated with the preventive rabies shots – which make them immune to rabies. It turns out a few of the raccoons came down with parvo. I don’t know much about parvo at all, except that it is a disease mammals get, and is fairly common in city pounds. It can spread through the dog and cat populations quickly in those places.

My supervisor said parvo is spread by flies – that’s how the raccoons got it. The raccoons currently at the center have been living there for awhile, and I think at least some of them are ready to be released. I am guessing that is why they were examined today. All the animals are carefully scrutinized before being let out into the wild again. Two of the younger raccoons had to be removed from the large raccoon area and placed in a smaller room. I hope all of them get better. I really like watching them once in awhile (from behind a door – I can look through a small cut-out high in one of the doors that is too small for the raccoons to get through). However, it is getting near time for them to be free again.

A snake was brought in today. We rarely get snakes. A woman walked right in with the snake – a gopher snake – in her hand. I was sitting in the lobby on a counter, halfway through a microwavable meal of shrimp etouffe, and was quite startled to see this snake-bearing woman. I took the snake from her, but forgot to have her fill out the intake paperwork – we have a form we use to get the names and addresses and other contact info from the people who bring in animals, and the rest of each form gets filled in by the person who examines the animal, and the one who signs off after the animal dies, is transferred, adopted (some domestic animals are brought in to us, and later adopted) or released.

The snake was run over by a car, but didn’t seem to be too hurt.. I handed it to my supervisor. She examined it, and put it in a tank on top of a heating pad. The snake seemed to perk up a little. I don’t know if it will survive or not, but its injury was not severe enough to put it down right away. I don’t know how a snake could be run over by a car and not be too bad off.. maybe it was run over by some lunatic kid on a bicycle?

Well, it is 1:45 am now, and my fingers are getting tired. It’s a good thing that’s pretty much all the animal news I have for you today.

Thanks for reading.

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