The Wildlife Clinic: A Virtual Tour

Our Wildlife Clinic treats thousands of injured, orphaned, and sick animals every year.  Join us for a virtual behind-the-scenes tour with our Wildlife Rehabilitation team with Director Chris Strub  and Assistant Director Liz Ellmann. Our clinic, the only one in Philadelphia, has handled over 150 different species, everything from tiny hummingbirds to massive snapping turtles. Chris and Liz will answer all your questions about how you can champion wildlife and rehabilitation in the region.

Weathering the Storm: How wild weather affects wildlife

Fallen tree limbs and storm damage got you down? If the recent inclement weather and severe storms are having an impact on your neighborhood, imagine what they are doing to the homes and shelters of our smaller wild neighbors!

From downed trees and flooding to high winds and extreme heat, wildlife is feeling the effects of severe weather patterns just as much as humans. The consequences of these storms are clearly seen in the number of animals admitted to the wildlife clinic which are often 4-5 times higher following stormy weather than would be seen on a typical day. Here are some ways you can support your local wildlife before, during, and after severe weather hits.

High winds:

The same soft wood that makes dead trees and boughs appealing to cavity nesting animals like woodpeckers, screech owls, squirrels, and many others, also means those trees are much more likely to fall or be damaged by heavy winds. Installing secure nest boxes on the sides of sturdy living trees gives wildlife a safe place to shelter no matter what weather comes their way.

High temperatures:

Increasing temperatures are hard for wildlife to bear, especially in urban areas where scalding pavement and lack of grassy or shaded areas can make their lives miserable and even dangerous. Plant native trees and shrubs in your yard or neighborhood to provide essential shade and shelter. Bird baths or dishes of water will be readily used by many birds and mammals in the heat of summer and are a great way to safely observe wildlife from home. Just make sure baths are in a semi-sheltered area, are no more than 1-2 inches deep, and are cleaned and filled with fresh water daily to prevent the spread of disease.

Flooding:

Flooding is especially dangerous to mammals and birds who make their nest, den, or burrow on the ground. Baby cottontails are a frequent victim of flooding, as their nests are only shallow depressions in the grass and quickly fill with water in heavy rain. If you know a downpour is in the forecast you can protect rabbit nests by sheltering them with an upside-down wheelbarrow, umbrella, or other covering that will still allow access by the mother. If the nest starts to fill with water, act quickly! Remove the babies from the nest, gently dry them off with a towel and place them in a cardboard box with a heating pad to stay warm. Do not try to feed them but call a wildlife rehabilitator right away for advice on how to reunite them with their mother once the rain stops.

Even if a nest is destroyed by flooding or is blown out of a tree in a storm, it is often possible to reunite the babies with their parents. Keep the displaced animals warm and safe in a cardboard box and call the wildlife clinic for guidance- we can give you instructions for making a replacement nest and reuniting lost babies with mothers. Orphaned birds and mammals quickly become dehydrated during the heat of the day so rapid intervention is important to their survival, and if the babies show any signs of injury they will need professional medical care as soon as possible. Call 215-483-7300x option 2 for assistance with injured or displaced wildlife- we respond to all emergency calls during open hours within 30 minutes or less. For non-emergency wildlife questions, email us at wildlife@schuylkillcenter.org.

By Rebecca Michelin, Wildlife Rehabilitation Consultant

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.

 

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.

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.

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.

 

 

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 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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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.