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.

Baby starling

Four sounds from early May

By Anna Lehr Mueser, Public Relations Manager

This week the forests and fields are alive with sounds, all manner of animals calling out and leafy trees rustling in the breeze.  This is also the time of year when our Wildlife Rehabilitation Clinic is brimming with baby animals of all sorts. So, here are four samples of what May sounds like at the Schuylkill Center.

blossoms beside the pondToads, singing in afternoon sunlight.  A basin in this field fills with water most of the year, creating a nice habitat for toads and other amphibians.  Around the field and basin are vines, grasses, and flowering trees.

 

Baby starling

At the Wildlife Rehabilitation Clinic, baby starlings call out for their meal.  This time of year, the clinic is teeming with baby animals – sparrows, catbirds, owls, squirrels.

 

Forest

In the forest around our main building, songbirds call through the trees.  There are lots of birds in this recording, can you name any of them?

 

 

Black-eyed susan seedlingsMelissa Nase, Manager of Land Stewardship, transplants tiny Rudbeckia, black-eyed Susan seedlings in the Native Plant Nursery.  These seedlings were grown from seeds collected here at the Schuylkill Center.

Baby Squirrels eating from syringe

Baby Squirrels in November: Unusual Wildlife at the Clinic

By Rick Schubert, Director of Rehabilitation, the Wildlife Clinic

Baby Squirrels eating

Anyone who has worked on a farm in a temperate climate knows that winter is no time to take a break; wintertime is a race against the clock, reorganizing, repairing, cleaning, planning, and preparing for the upcoming busy season.  Wildlife rehabilitation is no different.  Although we take in injured adult wild animals 12 months a year, our business spikes in the spring, summer, and fall with the addition of orphaned and displaced neonates.  Usually, winter is a slower time for wildlife patient intakes, but it’s a critical period to spend getting ready for the onslaught that spring will bring.

In recent years, this trend has been shifting at the Schuylkill Center.  We’ve noticed an uptick in the number of patients we get between November and March, as well as more unusual cases overall.  It seems clear that, as weather patterns change, seasonal disruptions emerge in our wildlife populations.

Continue reading

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From tailess to tail in a matter of hours…

“Imping” a Cooper’s hawk’s damaged tail

Last week the staff of the wildlife clinic did something remarkable, especially for those of us who make our living working at a desk.  They rebuilt a bird’s tail.

The bird in question, a Cooper’s hawk, was brought into the clinic in February with multiple injuries, including head trauma and a severely damaged tail.  The clinic nursed the bird for several weeks as it recovered from a concussion and regained its strength.  The bird’s tail feathers, however, were still in tatters, preventing proper flight.  As I learned from our clinic director, Rick Schubert, “a bird’s tail is its steering and its brakes. Without it, there’s no control.”

Waiting for new feathers to grow in could have necessitated months of captivity, putting an unhealthy amount of stress on the bird.  So instead, the clinic decided to fix the tail and send the hawk on his way.

Using a millennia-old falconer’s technique known as imping, the clinic grafted new tail feathers onto the hawk’s badly damaged tail. According to rehabber Michele Wellard, it’s not unusual to replace one or two feathers this way.  The wonder of this operation was its scope: the bird’s tail was practically destroyed, requiring a dozen new feathers.

Imping is an intricate procedure, as each replacement feather must match the original in size, type and placement, as well as the angle and positioning of the feather.  Before beginning work on the live bird, clinic staffers carefully examined, sorted and laid out all the donor feathers with labels indicating their designated position on the bird’s tail.

feathers

replacement feathers are sorted and labeled

Next, the tips are cut off of the donor feathers and patient’s torn feathers are cut down almost to the base, exposing the hollow interior of each feather.

Finally, Rick used small bamboo skewers and epoxy to attach the new feathers to the old. For each feather, one end of the skewer is glued into the donor feather; the other end is then slid into the base of the existing feather until the two feather tips meet.   When done correctly, the skewer is completely hidden inside the hollow feathers and everything works as good as new.

completed tail

a new tail

The hawk was sedated and hooded during the procedure, to reduce its stress.  Afterwards, “it looked a little confused at first,” says Michele, but it soon took to its new tail.  After a few days of practice flights, the hawk was successfully released back into the wild.

For the whole story, check out this piece from WHYY’s NewsWorks: Roxborough’s Schuylkill Center helps injured hawk take flight.

Naomi Leach, Marketing and PR Coordinator

Those cute little baby bunnies and birds are tougher than you think…

“Baby animals fall out of trees all the time. But that doesn’t necessarily mean they need rescuing.” — Wildlife rehabber and clinic director, Rick Schubert

Spring is our wildlife  clinic’s busy season, as the wildlife baby boom hits, and people bring in baby birds that have fallen from nests or bunnies seemingly abandoned in their backyard. Out of the over 12,000 phone calls the clinic handles in a year, hundreds involve questions or concerns about baby animals being orphaned. That’s more spring babies than our clinic– or most similar clinics, I’d imagine– can treat onsite.  The good news is, many of these “orphans” really don’t need human help.

“The rehab and medical work we do here in the clinic may get all the attention,” says clinic director Rick Schubert, “but most of our work is done on the phone.” When taking a call, it’s important to ask the right questions: exactly where was the animal found, how long has it been there, has it been handled or fed, what’s its physical condition, etc. With this information, the clinic can determine whether or not the animal really does need clinic care and, if necessary, walk the caller through safe handling and transport.

The phone calls are also a critical opportunity for education and outreach. According to Schubert, “it’s much easier to prevent a problem than to correct the situation later, in the clinic.”

Many baby animals that you might think are orphaned, for instance, really aren’t, and would be better off left alone. But what if you’ve already picked it up, perhaps to check for injuries, or just out of an instinctive desire to care for it? Simply put it back where you found it and let the mother do her job.

“The idea that, once you’ve touched a wild baby animal the mother will reject it,is a myth,” declares Rick. “No wild animal will reject healthy offspring just because a human has touched it.”

(The key word there is “healthy.” Some animals will reject sick offspring, and even kick them out of the nest.)

Schubert considers the triage and education aspects of these phone calls so important that he rarely lets clinic volunteers answer the phone. That’s a job he reserves for himself and assistant rehabber Michele Wellard. He estimates that he spends an average of four hours a day on the phone. And while it may not be glamorous, that’s okay with him, because he can accomplish more good in less time.

So next time you find an “orphaned” squirrel, rabbit or bird in your yard—or any wildlife in distress— don’t hesitate to pick up the phone and call your local wildlife clinic for advice before you act. That’s what they’re there for.

A Thanksgiving Tale

The wildlife clinic is caring for this sick turkey

By Naomi Leach, Marketing and PR Coordinator

As the gobble, gobble holiday approaches, at least one turkey has reason to give thanks, to the staff at the Schuylkill Center’s Wildlife Rehab Clinic, who are working hard to save its life.  The turkey was brought into the clinic Wednesday injured and very sick.  Clinic staff are working to rehydrate and feed the emaciated bird and evaluate its condition, with the hope of eventually releasing it back into the wild.

The story began with a call to the clinic by a woman who found what she believed to be a turkey vulture lying hurt on the side of the road in Eagleville. The clinic staff provided instructions on how to safely contain and transport the animal to the shelter in a cardboard box. When the woman arrived at the clinic, it turned out that the animal in the box was not a turkey vulture, but an actual turkey.

The turkey’s coloring and behavior indicate that it is most likely a wild bird, “But it’s impossible to be sure,” says our clinic director Rick Schubert, “especially considering the time of year.”

At this point, the bird’s prognosis is uncertain.  It has some sort of infection. Rick thinnks it may be avian pox virus.  The clinic’s veterinarians and  colleagues at other rehab centers are helping Rick diagnosis it.  If it is a serious case of the virus, the bird might not make it.  For now, however, the bird is being given frequent fluid therapy and antibiotics.

(NOTE: Avian pox virus cannot be transmitted to humans or other mammals. It only affects birds.)

Everyone here at SCEE is keeping their fingers crossed that this turkey, for one, makes it through the Thanksgiving holiday alive and well.

Thanks to The Roxborough Review for running a story on the turkey.  You can check it out at: montgomerynews.com.