Schuylkill Wildlife Rehab

For love of birds

By Michele Wellard, Manager of Wildlife Rehabilitation

Somehow, I’ve become one of only two licensed wildlife rehabilators in four counties, including Philadelphia, Montgomery, Delaware and Chester. How did I get here?

In the late 1990s and early 2000s, living in London, England, I worked in social services. Although I loved my social services work, something was missing, and also, I was obsessed by birds. More than once I was caught by a boss with an injured pigeon on my desk, waiting for me to drop it off at a rehabber on my way home. On weekends, I’d go to Blackheath, a huge field, and feed the crows the scraps my mother-in-law had saved up for me.  One time at work, I left a group session of unemployed adults I was teaching, to run outside and pick up a crow who had been hit by a car while I watched from the window.

When my British husband and I moved to the USA in 2007, we settled in Manayunk, in Northwest Philadelphia. Soon after, many people I met in the neighborhood said the same thing to me – “You love birds? You love animals? You should check out the Wildlife Clinic at the Schuylkill Center! You should go volunteer!”

My husband and I became members of the Schuylkill Center, and soon started attending events. We attended the “Owl Prowl”, an event that shows off our clinic’s owls. At the Owl Prowl, I saw the Director, Rick Schubert, and some of his volunteers and, more importantly, I met Loki, an Eastern Screech Owl. Loki was an education ambassador– which is what we call the animals who live permanently at our clinic and who come out for educational programs. I fell in love.  I was transfixed by his wide eyes, beautiful feathers, and gentle countenance.   At the end of the program, I rushed to the volunteers and begged: “How can I volunteer? How can I get involved?” They gave me info on the next clinic volunteer orientation; I attended, and became a volunteer. To volunteer at the clinic, no experience is necessary; only a desire to work hard, learn, and get dirty, and abide by the clinic rules. I was certainly ready for that.

When I started feeding baby birds, and helping the rehab director with injured animals, I knew I had found my home. And I was in the right place at the right time: soon after I became a volunteer, the clinic was looking for an assistant rehabilitator, a position I was delighted to get. During apprenticeship model of training, I worked under the director’s tutelage and also his permits, while he taught me everything I need to know: medicines, biology, nutrition, anatomy, housing and husbandry, and helping people who bring animals to the clinic.

To help Rick run the clinic most effectively, and once I had enough experience, we decided it was appropriate for me to pursue the knowledge and credentials of the Wildlife Rehabilitation licensing system, so that I could work at the clinic with my own license. To become a licensed rehabilitator in Pennsylvania, one must have at least two years’ experience, have a person who already holds the license as a sponsor, and have a veterinarian sponsor.  We have several volunteer veterinarians at the clinic with whom we work closely, and one of them gladly wrote my letters of recommendation.

In 2010, I drove to Reading, Pennsylvania to take my first wildlife rehabilitator licensing exam  – Passerine, which covers passerines (songbirds) and waterfowl. To pass this exam, I needed to know biology, anatomy, diseases, drug dosages, medical math, fluid therapy, nutrition and calorie calculation, and all the technical aspects of raising baby birds. When I passed my written exam, I sat for an oral interview with the members of the Game Commission’s council for wildlife rehabilitation. They grilled me on all aspects of rehabilitation, and our facilities and procedures, and granted me my first license.  Two years later, I took the exam to get my qualification to rehabilitate raptors.

Loki, the screech owl who was my inspiration, is still at the clinic, but he is growing old, and we describe him now as “Educator Emeritus”. He’s retired from education programs and will have a home at the clinic for the rest of his life.  But I will still always credit that owl with giving me the spark and motivation to pursue this career, and finally, in my 40s, to find the life’s work I was always meant to be doing. I have now been working in rehabilitation for almost 10 years, and I can’t imagine ever doing anything else. It’s my life blood.

Michele and Loki then and now

 

Wildlife clinic peregrine falcon

Wildlife clinic at 30: 80,000 wild animals later

Baby redtail hawk with parent puppet

By Anna Lehr Mueser, Manager of Communications & Digital Strategy

In an unassuming building on Port Royal Avenue, our Wildlife Clinic treats over 3,000 animals each year, from hundreds of baby squirrels to injured raptors like peregrine falcons and red-tailed hawks. In this building life-saving treatments save opossums, mend broken wings on Canada geese, suture the shells of turtles hit while crossing the road, and nourish tiny mammals brought in when they are too young to feed for themselves. This year, our clinic celebrates its 30th anniversary. 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

Five signs that you might be a wildlife rehabber

By Rick Schubert, Wildlife Clinic Director

Baby squirrel nursing at wildlife clinic

1. The first aid kit in your car contains squirrel nipples and Esbilac.

Fridge with milk labeled by species - opossum, eastern cottontail, grey squirrel, and racoon

2. The milk bottles in your fridge are labeled according to species.

Nictitating membrane on closeup of a bird's eye

3. Your best friend has a nictitating membrane.

Eagle ready to be released from the wildlife clinic

4. You yell “go eagles” and you’re not talking about football.

Goose

5. You’ve been on a wild goose chase.  Literally.

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

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SCH Academy Kindergarten partners with the Schuylkill Center

By guest contributor Caitlin Sweeney, Kindergarten Teacher, Springside Chestnut Hill Academy

Springside Chestnut Hill Academy offers a variety of unique programs and student opportunities through The Sands Center for Entrepreneurial Leadership (CEL). CEL teaches entrepreneurial skills to prepare students for the ever-changing world ahead of them. Entrepreneurial skills are developed by channeling a child’s natural desire to learn by doing. Children are asked to look both locally and globally to solve problems by applying design thinking, collaboration, and financial literacy skills, as well as new media technologies.

1949f3f1-35a2-48f1-896d-eea0ee4f0dbcKindergarten’s CEL project this year was paired with our annual Animals in Winter unit. For this unit, each girl becomes the expert on a local wild animal, researching her animal and eventually teaching the class all she knows. Looking locally, we were thrilled to partner with the Schuylkill Center, one of the first urban environmental education centers in the country.  Working with a community partner helps the girls develop empathy by solving a problem based on another person’s needs, or in this case, perhaps an animal’s needs. Kindergarten brainstormed a list of questions we wanted to ask the Schuylkill Center, questions that would help us learn more about the Center’s work and its potential needs. We asked our questions, via Skype, to Michele, a rehabber at the center. This interview session generated terrific information and served as a guide for our projects. Following the interview, kindergarten identified three areas in which we might assist the Schuylkill Center:

  1. Help calm and provide stimuli to the hurt animals.
  2. Help the staff stay clean while working at the center.
  3. Help the Center educate the community about their mission.

50cef060-c0d4-452d-ac5b-a6f0933aef74A few girls decided to design toys and made blankets and pillows for injured animals. Girls also painted wallpaper for the cages, to bring a sense of the outdoors inside. A team of girls designed a retractable sponge to help the staff clean cages. Another group made an easy to dispose of basket to assist in animal cleanup. One group of girls also thought of a new way to drop off animals at the Center at nighttime. And finally, in order to help the Schuylkill Center educate the community about their work, a group created T-shirts with instructions for taking a wild animal to the Center and set up a collection site here at school for donations of food, towels, and blankets. This group made announcements at our assemblies and hung up posters to make our SCH community aware of the good work being done by the Schuylkill Center.

Our work with the Schuylkill Center became part of our everyday lives in kindergarten. The girls acted out the roles of rehabbers in the dramatic play area and built their own version of the Schuylkill Center in the block area. When learning becomes synonymous with play in kindergarten, you know a meaningful connection has been made. When our students have opportunities to connect to the real world, solving real problems, it enriches the learning experience, creating purposeful and reflective learners. As teachers, we emphasized the process of this project over the final product, posing guiding questions of “why” and “how” and “what next?” For the girls, the opportunity to return again and again to their work over an extended period of time encouraged reflection and the idea of pushing forward in the face of failure. Upon reflection, girls said, “I liked this project because it was fun to make things for animals.” “It feels good when people help you so I liked helping the Schuylkill Center.”

The kindergarten team would like to offer a huge thank you to the Schuylkill Center for partnering with us and enhancing our curriculum.

Springside Chestnut Hill Academy (SCH) is an independent school in Chestnut Hill with a unique model distinguished by single-sex education for the lower grades (Pre-K through 8) followed by a coed Upper School.  

Barn Swallows on the Wing

By Anna Lehr Mueser, Public Relations Manager

This summer our wildlife clinic enjoyed treating a number of young barn swallows.  These graceful birds, iridescent blue on their backs and wings, live almost their entire lives on the wing, explains wildlife rehabilitator Michele Wellard.  Once released, the barn swallows in the clinic’s care will take to the skies, landing only in their nests.  Several groups of baby barn swallows were brought into the wildlife clinic on July 31, likely from several nests.  The babies had fallen from the nest and the people who brought them in explained that they were unable to reach the nest (high in a barn) to return them.  The swallow you see here has damage to his left wing .  While the siblings and foster siblings with whom this swallow was cared for at the clinic were released at the end of August, this one isn’t ready to fly yet.  Without his flight, this swallow won’t be able to live in the wild, so we’re keeping him until his wing feathers grow back.

 

 

Rehabilitator Michele Wellard holds two baby robins.

Bird is the word at the wildlife clinic

By Anna Lehr Mueser, Public Relations Manager

When we say the baby birds have been pouring into our clinic, we mean it.  Earlier in May we were receiving as many as 40 patients a day at the clinic.  So, we wanted to share a few of the baby birds we’ve been caring for:

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Cedar waxwing recovered, 1

Drunk Cedar Waxwing at the Wildlife Clinic

By Michele Wellard, Assistant Wildlife Rehabilitator

The woman who brought the waxwing in said he seemed “tame.” He just sat on her finger and wouldn’t move, and that’s what prompted her to call the clinic.  She was convinced the bird had been raised by humans. When she brought him to me, perched on her finger, I thought he had a sort of ‘faraway’ look about him – like he wasn’t entirely present.  There was just sort of an odd affect about him. Additionally, he also was in absolutely PERFECT feather, and he was in great body condition – upon palpating his breast muscle I could feel that he was almost fat, suggesting he’s been  having no trouble finding winter berries, and maybe even overindulged a bit.  This was a healthy looking bird.

His odd behavior continued the rest of the day and into the next – this dreamy look, like he was a million miles away in his head.  Having read many times about this species’ proclivity for drunkenness, I looked up videos of drunk waxwings on youtube, and those depicted behaved just like this one – just being very still and being able to be handled easily.  You might be surprised to learn that this is common.  Since these birds are huge berry eaters, and some berries at this time in the year have fermented as they sit on the bush, drunk waxwings are an interesting occurrence.

Cedar waxwing recoveredThese symptoms are also connected with head trauma in wild birds, so that was also a possibility. But given his behavior, we didn’t think that was the case.  He was much, much more ‘still’ than other concussed birds I’ve treated, and there was just something odd about the way he looked. Sure enough, after two days in the ‘drunk tank’ – after some anti-inflammatories, lots of fluids,  and lots of free berries and worms from us, he started acting like a wild bird, completely scared of us and fluttering around and flying just like a normal wild bird.  Sometimes birds like this fly into windows, or get stepped on, so he could have really been injured. I’m glad the woman was concerned enough to bring him to us.

Here we are releasing him:

Update, December 11, 2014, on where the waxwing was released:

During the winter, waxwings spend all their time in large flocks, but this one was found all alone. Therefore, we could not find his original flock. Also, he was found in the city, with no nearby source of food. We didn’t know where he had come from before he fell to the ground.   So, we had to decide where to let him go where he had the best chance of finding 1) appropriate food (berries) and 2.) other Waxwings. To do this, we looked on the e-bird website, where bird watchers report up-to-the-minute bird sightings. According to e-bird, the most recent sighting of a large flock of waxwings in the Philadelphia area was the day before the release, in Houston Meadow,  which also happens to have many plants and bushes with berries still on them.  So we decided that was the waxwing’s best chance of finding food and flockmates.

Blue Jay, after week 2 (1)

Clinic Case Study: Raising a Baby Blue Jay

By Michele Wellard, Assistant Wildlife Rehabilitator

On May 13, this baby blue jay, likely having fallen from his nest, was brought into the Wildlife Clinic. The people who found him couldn’t locate the nest to return him, and so they brought him to the clinic. Over the last few weeks, this little blue jay has had many people involved in his care, from dedicated volunteers to our wildlife rehabilitators. Raising a songbird baby can be a real challenge, with a particular diet, a special nest to ensure his legs grow straight, and regular feedings until he’s old enough to feed himself. At the clinic we are careful to make sure the blue jay does not become tame or imprinted, so he can be released into the wild once he’s old enough.

BLue Jay, week 1 (1)These photos show the little blue jay, just two or three days old, upon admission to the clinic. Songbirds like him are born naked, blind, and helpless, and with a strong urge to “gape” (i.e. beg for food). How did we know he was a bluejay? There are several clues. His dark skin is different from other baby birds, who are often more pink. He has absolutely no fuzz on him, whereas other songbird hatchlings sometimes do. The color around his beak is pink – many songbird babies have yellow “lips” called the gape flange. The gape flange, together with the beak color inside the bird’s mouth indicate to the parents exactly where to deposit the food.

By the second week of his life, you can see many changes starting to the blue jay’s appearance, as he grows at a rapid rate. He is fed every half an hour from sun up to sundown by clinic staff and volunteers, just as his parents would. He is fed insects, a mush called “songbird diet” and some berries. You’ll see that he has become “fuzzy” in places (right), and his wing feathers are starting to develop. At this point they are still “blood feathers” (they have a blood supply to nourish the developing feather) and look like little sticks. Tiny spurts of the beginnings of feathers are beginning to emerge from his head. He has almost doubled in weight and has gotten much bigger.

After the second week, our little patient is starting to look more like a bird, particularly a blue jay. He has gotten some real feathers and is looking distinctively fluffy. He can hold his head upright when at rest, and those blood feathers are starting to sheath of the coating and open up at the tips. He’s also starting to get the beginning of that famous jaunty blue jay crest.

By the third week, our little bird is becoming unmistakably a blue jay.  His wing feathers are opening more, showing a variety of white and blue. The feathers on his face are also coming in, creating his distinctive facial markings. At this stage he is still a “nestling,” too young to leave the nest.  However, he is starting to have an urge to open his wings and flap a bit.  He can’t perch yet, but should be doing so soon. Then he will be moved to a small mesh cage, with a training perch to strengthen his feet and leg muscles and give him experience perching and hopping.

On May 29, the blue jay took his first flight, fluttering for a few seconds before landing on the ground.  He’s learning to perch in his small mesh indoor aviary. He will go into an outdoor aviary in early June, and be released in late June.

Blue Jay, June 12By June 12, the blue jay has moved to a larger indoor aviary.  He’s sharing space with several slightly younger blue jays now, enabling them to for social bonds and care for each other.  He’s also beginning to chase crickets and meal worms.