Wildlife Clinic April update

Virtual happy hour for Wildlife Clinic staff and volunteers to stay in touch during the lockdown.

Virtual happy hour for Wildlife Clinic staff and volunteers to stay in touch during the lockdown.

While human society undergoes rapid changes and we all make necessary adjustments to our daily routines, local wildlife have been going about their usual spring activities of breeding and nesting. The important work of the Wildlife Clinic must go on and our staff are adapting to our new “normal” as best we can under the challenging current circumstances. 

“We are still coming in everyday to not only provide treatment for the animals that we already had in care when this all started, but we are also taking in more injured wildlife daily,” says rehab assistant Liz Ellmann. 

We are answering calls on our 24-hour wildlife hotline, and we are grateful for everyone that calls in looking for help with injured animals.

It’s true that the wildlife hotline has been ringing non-stop with regular calls about injured and orphaned wildlife, and staff have been doing everything they can to provide accurate and timely responses. We have seen some noticeable changes in the demographics of calls we have received lately; for example, we’ve gotten more than the usual number of reports of nests of squirrels and mice in cars that are sitting idle in driveways. At the same time, the number of baby opossums brought to the clinic that have been orphaned from mothers being struck by vehicles has gone down significantly from previous years since there are fewer cars on the roads as people work more from home.

With social distancing rules in place, the Wildlife Clinic has had to ask our dedicated volunteers to stay home, and only our staff members have been coming in to care for our patients. 

The clinic has had to significantly reduce the number of patients we can accept to ensure we are providing the highest quality of care for as many animals as we can.

We are staying in touch with our volunteers and supporters through social media and online meetings, because we know how much their work at the clinic means to our volunteers- they miss the feeling of contribution and their important connections with the animals.

“We understand that this is hard for everyone, and I personally want to thank everyone that has been so understanding and so willing to do whatever it takes to make sure all the injured and orphaned wildlife get the chance that they deserve.” Liz continued. Assistant director Chris Strub adds, “We have been so grateful for finders who can help us reunite mothers with their babies.  Not only does that help us reduce our numbers so that we can focus on animals who are truly in need, but mother animals know how to raise their babies best, so reuniting is always the first and best option for most young animals.”

The clinic is continuing to look forward, always keeping in mind that spring baby season has only just begun and we have several more months of increased intakes of baby birds and mammals to come. Like many organizations, we are turning to online interactions to substitute in-person activities. While we clearly can’t feed baby squirrels through an online meeting platform, we are producing virtual teaching modules and orientations for volunteers so that when we are given the go-ahead to reopen, we will have an eager crew of helpers ready and able to take on the important tasks of feeding many hungry little mouths.

 As daily life returns to normal, whatever and whenever that may be, one thing will always stay the same- there will be injured, orphaned, and sick wildlife that need our help. And with the continued support of our community, dedicated volunteers, and incredible staff, the Wildlife Clinic at the Schuylkill Center will be there to provide professional, life-saving care to those in need.

 

Finch conjunctivitis requires isolation, too

A recent patient, an American Goldfinch, with conjunctivitis.

A recent patient, an American Goldfinch, with conjunctivitis.

Wildlife rehabilitators are well aware of the potential for disease transmission between humans and wildlife as well as between individual animals- it is a calculated risk we take in the course of our daily work.

For example, we routinely practice isolation and quarantine in the wildlife clinic when we admit an animal with a contagious disease such as finch conjunctivitis, as was the case with this female American goldfinch.  She arrived in early March with both her eyes so swollen and crusted she could hardly see. She needed to be isolated from all our other patients, and we changed gloves every time we treated her or cleaned her cage, and sanitized everything she came in contact with. Since she had to be isolated, we provided as much environmental enrichment for her as we could to keep her stress-free while she recovered. After three weeks of daily treatment, she was in excellent condition and was released in the same area she was originally found. 

We routinely practice isolation and quarantine in the wildlife clinic when we admit an animal with a contagious disease.

Finch conjunctivitis can be transferred by direct contact and from contaminated surfaces. You can help prevent the spread of this disease in wild birds by making sure your bird feeders are properly cleaned; discard old, wet or moldy seed, wash feeders with hot soapy water once a week and sanitize with a 10% bleach solution to help keep your backyard birds healthy.

She was released 3 weeks later in excellent condition.

She was released 3 weeks later in excellent condition.

 

Cooper’s Hawk Rehabilitation

COHA 20-51a

This beautiful juvenile Cooper’s hawk was brought to the Wildlife Clinic in late February after being found on the side of a busy highway. Thanks to the quick actions of a kind rescuer, he was able to receive prompt attention, including treatment for head trauma and surgery to repair a wound on his chest. When he arrived, he was not even able to stand, as shown in the first picture. But after nearly 4 weeks of healing, and some recovery time in our flight cage, he was successfully released on March 17th.

It is because of the quick thinking and prompt actions of kind members of the public that many injured wild animals are able to be successfully treated and returned to the wild. Taking the correct actions quickly is so important because even a short delay in seeking treatment can make a big difference in potential outcomes. If you find an injured animal in need, please don’t wait or try to treat the animal yourself.

Contact our 24-hour wildlife hotline (215-482-7300 x opt 2)

We will be happy to offer advice on the steps to take to give an injured animal the best chance of success.

COHA 20-51

Saying goodbye to our patients

Flying squirrel 19-1849 receiving a feeding

Flying squirrel 19-1849 receiving a feeding

It’s hard to say goodbye to patients who have been with us for a long time, and this flying squirrel was cared for at the Wildlife Clinic for 129 days!

Last November we received 2 baby flying squirrels, both with their eyes still closed. They had been found in an attic, and unfortunately the finder was not willing to attempt to reunite them with their mother. Both babies were thin, dehydrated, and hypothermic on arrival, and sadly one little squirrel didn’t make it. We were able to help this little girl pull through, and she has been with us all winter.

Flying squirrels nest in colonies to share resources and stay warm through the winter. She wasn’t old enough to be released until winter had already set in and we knew she wouldn’t make it on her own, so we waited until spring to return her to the wild. These pictures show flying squirrel 19-1849 receiving a feeding when she first arrived with us, and peeking out of her nest box the day she was soft-released last week.

We wish her the best of luck!

Peaking out of her nest box the day she was soft-released.

Peaking out of her nest box the day she was soft-released.

Wildlife In Winter – When Things get Rough

By Rebecca Michelin, Director of Wildlife Rehabilitation

clinic1With “baby season” for most species beginning in early spring,  juveniles should be mostly self-sufficient by the time the fall and winter rolls around, and be able to sustain themselves through the colder months or to make a long migration south. As they learn to navigate the world without parental support and guidance, the first fall and winter can be brutal on young animals. 

The winter months are the time of year when we see some of the most challenging cases at the Wildlife Clinic, and many times they are a result of young, inexperienced animals who are struggling to figure things out. 

Juvenile predatory birds, like hawks and owls, are common clinic patients as young birds become weak and emaciated if they struggle to feed themselves with their inexpert hunting skills. Prey species like mice and voles are more active during the warmer parts of the day in winter, so predators are more likely to be hunting during those times. In the winter months, rush hour commutes take place during twilight or after dark, reducing visibility and increasing chances of vehicle collisions with wildlife; many raptors rely on carion when their hunts are unsuccessful, and they are attracted to roadkill for an easy meal which makes them more susceptible to being hit by passing cars.

However, a bird of prey on the ground may not necessarily need help, as it is normal for these birds to remain motionless in one spot while resting, digesting a meal, or watching for prey. A hawk or owl on the ground could be injured, or he may have just caught some prey, or have just eaten a large meal and need to rest before flying away.

If you see a bird of prey on the ground or on a low perch, slowly approach the bird (no closer than 10 feet away) and make a note of how they respond as you get closer- do they hop or flutter away, or do they stand still? Look for signs of injury such as blood, a wing or leg held at an odd angle, or heavy breathing. If no signs of injury are visible, simply monitor the bird from a distance. If you see any signs that the bird is sick or hurt, if the bird does not respond at all to your presence, or if the bird does not fly away after 1-2 hours, contact a wildlife rehabilitator immediately for further advice.

While it is never advisable to offer food to injured wild animals, it is especially critical not to feed animals that are underweight or starving. When an animal has gone without food for a long time, their digestive system slows down, their stomach capacity shrinks, and they are unable to process food. Once they reach this point, they need professional help to slowly reintroduce food in a controlled way, or it can be fatal. You can’t tell if an animal has entered starvation mode just by looking at them, so the safest option is to bring them to a rehabilitator for a proper assessment.

Have a question about wildlife?. Questions can be sent by email to wildlife@schuylkillcenter.org. For wildlife emergencies,  call the clinic hotline at 215-482-7300 option x2. 

 

Helping an injured bird

By Rebecca Michelin, Director of Wildlife Rehabilitation

WEB-WarblerYou may have heard the devastating news- a study published this month in the journal Science reports that the total breeding bird population in the continental U.S. and Canada has dropped by 29 percent since 1970.

While there are numerous factors contributing to this decline, human-made alterations to the landscape have certainly played a significant role, and we see the results of this clearly at the Wildlife Clinic at the Schuylkill Center. Since mid-August, the wildlife clinic has treated nearly two dozen birds, from mourning doves and woodpeckers to warblers and vireos, all suffering injuries as a result of collisions with buildings and windows.

The number of window collisions increases drastically in late summer and early fall as many migratory birds make their way down the East coast from their summer breeding grounds.

Exhausted from long miles of travel, birds looking for a safe place to roost can become confused and disoriented by brightly lit buildings, complex city skylines, and clear glass windows. Fledgling and juvenile birds who are just learning to fly are also susceptible to striking windows as they have no prior experience with the many dangers they face.

Glass is just as invisible to humans as it is to birds, but humans have learned to recognize visual cues indicating the presence of glass such as certain shapes, frames, and even dirt or smudges. This is why young children can often be seen bumping into pane glass doors they haven’t yet recognized those cues. These symbols aren’t helpful to birds, however, who don’t recognize glass as a barrier – for many birds, their first encounter with glass is often fatal as they collide head first at full flight speed. If the impact is not immediately deadly, birds will often suffer severe head and spinal trauma or fractures of the neck and shoulders, injuries which they may not be able to recover from, even with treatment.

To help limit bird collisions with windows at your home or business, there are a variety of options available:

• Panels of fine mesh or screen placed over the window helps increase visibility and acts as a cushion to prevent birds hitting the glass.

• Creating patterns on the outside of glass ensures they are visible even with highly reflective windows. Reflective tape or glass paint markers can be used to create horizontal lines no more than 2” apart, or vertical lines a maximum of 4” apart

• UV films and decals can be applied to windows or reflective surfaces which are nearly invisible to humans but are clearly seen by birds

If you see an adult bird sitting on the ground or sidewalk and they do not move when approached, they may have struck a window and be stunned or injured. If the bird appears to be having trouble breathing (gasping, visible chest movement), has a wing or leg held out from the body, is squinting their eyes, or has other visible signs of injury, that bird should be brought to a rehabilitation facility immediately. You can use a small towel or t-shirt to drop over the bird and gently place them in a cardboard box or other secure container. Do not offer food or water, just keep the bird warm, covered, and away from loud noises or other stressors until they can be brought to the nearest rehabber.

Many times, injuries from a window collision may not be immediately visible. In some cases, the bird may appear fine and even be able to flutter a short distance. If in doubt, call the wildlife clinic hotline (215-482-7300 x option 2) or contain the bird as instructed above and bring them to the clinic. Rehabilitators are trained to look for signs of injury that may not be obvious, and we can help ensure that the birds are fully recovered before continuing on their migration journey.

Celebrate Winterfest at the Schuylkill Center

By Mike Weilbacher

This Saturday– Groundhog Day, appropriately enough– the Schuylkill Center celebrates the reopening of our Wildlife Clinic with a family festival marking the day, Winterfest for Wildlife. Held at the Visitor Center on Hagy’s Mill Road and happening from noon to 4 p.m., the event includes nature walks, wildlife talks, face painting, wildlife-themed arts and crafts, storytimes courtesy of the Free Library, a bake sale, and more.

But the event kicks off at noon with a ceremonial ribbon-cutting. Since the Wildlife Clinic itself is typically closed to the general public as it is a hospital for ill and injured patients that need quiet and rest, the event occurs at the Schuylkill Center’s main building, where we’ll string a ribbon across our auditorium to be cut by clinic friends, marking the reopening of the clinic.

The Master of Ceremonies for the ribbon-cutting will be Kathy O’Connell, the award-winning host of WXPN-FM Philadelphia’s “Kid’s Corner,” one of the very few children’s radio shows in the country. Kathy, a long-time friend of the Schuylkill Center, will stay after the ribbon-cutting to meet and greet friends and engage them in wildlife-related activities.

Rebecca Michelin, our Director of Wildlife Rehabilitation, will present a slideshow on urban wildlife, and Ent Natale, an educator on the center’s staff, will lead walks looking for signs of local wildlife. In addition, the Pennsylvania Game Commission will be on hand to mark the day, as they are a key partner in the Wildlife Clinic. In fact, just this week clinic staff released a Cooper’s hawk brought to the facility by the Game Officer. (Since it was brought to us from the Naval Yard, our staff released it back at the Naval Yard.)

Since there are few patients on hand at the moment, small groups of visitors will be given limited-time tours of the Wildlife Clinic; vans will be shutting people back and forth from the Visitor Center to the clinic on Saturday. At Winterfest, visitors will be able to sign up for a slot on a tour at the event. Chris Strub, the clinic’s Assistant Director, will offer these tours while Rebecca presents wildlife talks at the Visitor Center. This will be the only time of the year when we will conduct this kind of tour at the clinic.

Cooper's Hawk

The Cooper’s hawk brought to the Schuylkill Center for rehabilitation by the Pennsylvania Game Commission. After successfully being rehabbed by the clinic’s skilled staff, the bird– a skilled predator of other flying birds– was rebased this week where it was discovered, at the Naval Yard.

It makes perfect sense for Winterfest for Wildlife to occur on Groundhog Day, the only holiday named for a wild animal. While folk legend holds that groundhogs– also called woodchucks– peek out of their burrows and look around that day; if they see their shadows, they scare back into their holes and we have six more weeks of winter. If the weather is overcast and there is no shadow, guess what: early spring. While scientific studies– yes, someone actually studied this– show no correlation between Punxsutawney Phil, the world’s most famous groundhog, and weather patterns, there is a kernel of science embedded here, as male woodchucks have been spotted coming out of hibernation dens in early February to scout for the dens of females, likely getting an early start on the spring mating season.

With temperatures dropping back down into the single digits this week, let’s all guess that Punxsutawney Phil sees his shadow on Saturday– and winter stays. But who knows?

Speaking of spring and baby animals, this is also why the Wildlife Clinic is holding its public coming-out party in February. Gray squirrels will soon be having babies, and one of the annual rites of spring at wildlife clinics across the country is marking that time when people start bringing in baby animals (or calling us about baby animals)– and baby squirrels typically lead the parade, usually starting around Valentine’s Day (though baby squirrel season seems arrive earlier and earlier in the calendar).

So come to the Schuylkill Center at noon on Saturday, help us cut the ribbon and celebrate the re-booting of this critical area facility, the only wildlife rehabilitation center in Philadelphia and one of a very small handful in the entire region. Stay for some baked goodies, enjoy Rebecca talk, take a winter wildlife walk, bring your children or grandchildren for story times and crafts, and enjoy the day.

Then, consider volunteering for the Wildlife Clinic, joining the ever-growing group of great people who will help Rebecca and Chris take care of the thousands of injured, orphaned and baby animals that will soon come pouring into its front door.

Or go to our website, www.schuylkillcenter.org, to find the list of items the clinic is seeking to be donated to help it meet the needs of its wild patients: dog and cat foods, blankets, T-shirts, and more. There’s also an Amazon wish list of supplies you can have sent to us directly. It’s all in the wildlife clinic section of the website.

Spring is coming, in spite of this week’s freezing weather, and the Wildlife Clinic will be heating up along with the weather. We’d love your help in making this happen, by volunteering, by donating, or simply by coming to Winterfest to see what all the excitement is about.

Hope to see you here.

Mike Weilbacher directs the Schuylkill Center for Environmental Education in Upper Roxborough, tweets @SCEEMike, and can be reached at mike@schuylkillcenter.org.

Red-tailed Hawks at the Franklin Institute: The Benjamin Franklin Parkway as Wildlife Habitat

By guest contributor Christian Hunold, Associate Professor, Department of Politics, Drexel University

In the spring of 2012 I stumbled across a community of amateur naturalists who were drawn to Philadelphia’s Benjamin Franklin Parkway not by the museums or the cultural events, but by a pair of red-tailed hawks nesting on a second-story window ledge of the Franklin Institute. Grid Magazine had requested some pictures of the hawks, and so I spent one sunny afternoon in late May photographing the half-grown chicks huddled on the nest at the corner of 21st and Winter Street.

I recall feeling a little bored: where was the fun in shooting urban hawks? How could birds habituated to humans, like the city’s ubiquitous pigeons and geese, be at all interesting? And the noise and stink of the unrelenting traffic assaulting my senses from all sides made me think that Center City was the last place on Earth anyone should be asked to photograph wildlife. The only bright spot was the beautiful early evening light I had to work with: at least my images of the chicks weren’t going to be the worst anyone had ever taken, even if the awkward half downy/half feathered look they were sporting at this age did not scream “charismatic megafauna.”

fledglingsAnother year would pass before my previously separate lives as a wildlife photographer and as a scholar of environmental politics merged around the topic of urban wildlife. May had come around again, and I decided to visit the nest one afternoon. The hawks were once more raising three chicks. This time, I caught a glimpse of one of the adults trailing the Institute’s roofline along 21st Street before it was briefly obscured by the building. Moments later it cleared the roof and, set off against the golden glow of the late afternoon sandstone façade, delivered the bloody remains of a squirrel to the nest. While the other parent fed chunks of meat to the three hungry chicks, the successful hunter flew to a nearby plane tree, where it cleaned its beak and talons.

Now this was not boring! On subsequent outings I got to know the hawks as well as some of the people who watched them. I knew the Franklin Institute’s online “nest cam” had attracted a popular following around the world. But I did not at first appreciate the extent to which the hawks’ travels through the city were being monitored on the ground. The hawk watchers – middle-aged, more women than men – were not so much bird watchers as dyed-in-the-wool hawk fans, intimately familiar with the birds’ daily habits and life histories. I learned they had named the female bird “Mom” and the male “T2,” short for “Tiercel 2” (he was the female’s second mate since the hawks had nested at the Franklin Institute.) When the chicks fledged in June I was there with my camera to document their early forays to nearby trees, buildings, and monuments. I’d gotten hooked.T2_Hunold Continue reading

Baby screech owl eating breakfast

Good Forecast for Ridley the Screech Owl

By Mike Weilbacher, Executive Director

On Monday, May 16, Cecily Tynan, meteorologist at 6ABC’s Action News, was running in Tyler Arboretum when she discovered a young screech owl on the ground, “squawking,” as she called it in a video she posted to Facebook (seen by 80,000 people as of this afternooon), and, clacking its beak at her.

She called the Wildlife Clinic at the Schuylkill Center, listened to the phone machine’s instructions, and smartly threw her outer garment over the owl’s head to calm it down, which is exactly what to do—and brought it to us in a box.

It was promptly assigned case number 0965, the 965th animal brought to the clinic so far this year—we get about 3,300 annually.

Ridley the owlLuckily, its wings were not broken, but it had fallen out of its nest, usually a cavity in a tree, and was severely dehydrated—likely without a mother, it presumably had not eaten in a while, as its food is where it gets its water.

The owl, named Ridley by Cecily, is about a month old, thinks Rick Schubert, the clinic’s director.  It’s still a nestling, not yet having its wing feathers grown in enough to learn to fly. Continue reading

Baby squirrel brother and sister in box

Help our Wildlife Clinic Make it through the Spring

By Mike Weilbacher, Executive Director

There are so many signs of spring.  Here at the Schuylkill Center, skunk cabbage and lesser celandine, the latter a bright yellow flower, are already in bloom.  A pair of bluebirds, the male an impossible shade of blue, examined nesting boxes last week, clearly house hunting, and a pair of Canada geese returned to Fire Pond, likely the same pair that raise their young here every spring.

The running of the toads across Port Royal Avenue is another benchmark here in Roxborough, but the toads have not awakened yet.  Fear not: they are coming soon!

But over at our Wildlife Clinic down Port Royal Avenue, there’s a whole different sign of spring.  In last week’s monsoon, that weirdly warm storm with lightning and thunder (in February!), a pair of baby squirrels, brother and sister, must have gotten knocked out of their nest in the wind, and a good Samaritan brought them to the clinic for the facility’s special TLC.

They were the first baby squirrels of 2016.

Thus, Rick Schubert, the clinic’s gifted director of rehabilitation, was able to pick a volunteer to win the year’s “No Prize,” the annual lottery for predicting when the first baby squirrel comes to the clinic.  And yes, there is “no prize” for winning—just the thrill of victory.

When I visited the clinic last week, Rick was planning on bringing the babies home with him that night after work, as these newborns, eyes not yet open, fur not yet grown in, need constant, round-the-clock feeding. Continue reading