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.

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.



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.

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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.


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.

Saving Animals: The Coolest Thing We Do

By Mike Weilbacher, Executive Director

The Schuylkill Center does a lot of exceptionally cool things: we teach thousands of people, protect hundreds of acres of habitat.

But just maybe the coolest thing we do is save animals. Lots and lots of animals.

Yesterday, WMMR’s Pierre Robert was given the honor of releasing a snapping turtle—a remarkably ancient predator—into the Schuylkill River, the same turtle he brought to our Wildlife Clinic almost 14 months ago. After 14 months of TLC—at great cost to the center—the world is richer by one turtle.

Pierre and Thomas Share a Parting Moment Together

But consider the animals still at the center today: about 55 opossums, 20 raccoons, 20 baby cottontail rabbits, 20 baby robins and rock doves each, 10 screech owls, a dozen mallard ducks, six red-tailed hawks, 2 vultures, and an entire rainbow of additional animals from scarlet tanager to blue jay. In all, more than 260 critters are crowded into our clinic, all getting the extraordinary attention of rehabbers Rick Schubert and Michele Wellard and their team of 70 volunteers.

All of these animals are brought here to us by people like my next door neighbor, who found a baby mourning dove on her deck, its wing bleeding from a fall out of it’s nest, or my neighbor across the street, who found a baby sparrow on their porch Sunday, called me in distress, and, with great relief, brought it to the clinic.

Or people like Pierre Robert, who saw a turtle crossing Conshohocken State Road in Gladwyne, a street where traffic moves fast. He had the presence to stop traffic—and bring it to us.

Here’s how important, no, vital, our clinic is: last week, we housed first a baby peregrine falcon that fell out of City Hall’s nest, and then a baby peregrine found dazed and confused on a Center City street (but that had hatched on a nest on the Walt Whitman bridge), and then the red-tailed hawk that had fallen out of the Franklin Institute’s nest, breaking its leg on the fall to the sidewalk. Three of Philadelphia’s most famous birds, in our clinic.

Peregrines, the world’s fastest birds, are highly endangered species, by the way.

That’s the clinic, a hard-working staff tirelessly taking in and repairing thousands of animals, maybe 15 or even 20 new ones every single day this time of year, as babies fall out of nests and mother opossums are hit by cars, leaving babies to fend for themselves.

Ironically, the day Pierre Robert released the turtle he nicknamed Thomas into the Schuylkill, guess what was brought into the clinic? A whoppingly large 40-pound snapping turtle. Just another day in the clinic.

If you agree that this is just about the coolest thing we do, please join me in supporting our campaign for the clinic by making a contribution online or by mail..

I post this early in the morning, and 20 more animals will find their way to our safe haven today. Won’t you help them? Thanks so much.