Wildlife Clinic is temporarily closed

Unfortunately, our Wildlife Clinic is temporarily closed and not accepting new patients. 

If you have an animal that is contained, contact your local PA wildlife rehabilitation center. The Pennsylvania Association of Wildlife Rehabilitators also maintains a list of wildlife rehabilitators across the state.

Wilderz Wildlife in Willow Grove, the Aark Wildlife Rehabilitation and Education Center in Bucks County, or Tri-State Bird Rescue & Research in Delaware. 

We apologize for the inconvenience.

What to do if

FAQs

Bird Safe Philly: Helping Migrating Birds on their Journey North

A common yellowthroat, one of the many species of migrating birds passing over the city. This one collided with a plate glass window, but happily was only dazed, brought to the Wildlife Clinic, treated, and released– a conservation success story.

It’s migration season and millions of birds are right now pouring over the city of Philadelphia on their way to northern nesting grounds. A river of warblers, flycatchers, shorebirds, hummingbirds, thrushes, and more are heading to their ancestral mating grounds. 

And Bird Safe Philly, a new partnership, hopes to make their travels safer. Birds colliding with plate-glass windows in cities is, sadly, a longstanding issue that the group hopes to address– and mitigate. Two leaders of the Bird Safe Philly effort will be on hand at the Schuylkill Centers’s Earth Day Live event on Thursday, April 21 at 7:00 p.m., a free celebration of the Earth Day holiday.

Leigh Altadonna, president of Wyncote Audubon Society and one of the founders of Bird Safe Philly, joins Chris Strub, the director of the Wildlife Clinic at the Schuylkill Center, at the event. 

The partnership partly grew out of a horrific event on October 2, 2020, when, during the birds’ migration south, poor-visibility weather colluded with confusing big-city lights to cause the death of 1,500 migratory birds in a single night in Philadelphia, resulting in a lot of media attention in Philly and nationwide. Turns out bright lights can confuse birds, who migrate at night, especially when clouds don’t allow them to navigate via stars. 

“I reached out and convened a meeting of key bird people,” Leigh told me last week, “like Audubon Mid-Atlantic, Audubon’s Wyncote and Valley Forge chapters, the Delaware Valley Ornithological Club, probably the oldest bird club in Philly, and the Academy of Natural Sciences. We talked about the need to get on a light’s-out movement in the city.” Leigh was “anointed,” as he said, the coordinator of Bird Safe Philly, convening meetings and working groups, and a partnership was forged.

Lights Out Philly is one of the project’s big successes. Multiple brightly lit skyscrapers– the Cira Centre, the FMC Tower, Liberty Place, many owned by Brandywine Realty Trust– join other well-known buildings like the Convention Center and the Wells Fargo Center in agreeing to turn off their lights during migration season from midnight to 6 a.m. Maybe you’ve noticed this on late-night drives through the city. 

While PECO, a corporate sponsor of the program, hasn’t turned off its iconic crown lights, it has dimmed their intensity and shifted the wavelength. “They’ve agreed to change the light colors,” Leigh told me, “as blue and green are a little better than the other colors. Another big thing PECO did was volunteer to place info about us in their billing; they did a great insert– that was helpful too.”

He continued, “But well over 50% of these birds die from collisions with low-story buildings of four stories or less.” So it’s great that smaller buildings like the American Philosophical Society and Ursinus College have signed on. As a longtime administrator for the Abington School District, he said, “I’d love to see the Philadelphia School District adopt this program, and their buildings turn off their second, third and fourth floors light. They probably comply already in most cases.”

“What is really great,” he offered, “is we have volunteer monitors that go down early in the morning starting at five. They go around and look for bird casualties– ‘bag and tag’ them so to speak. These all go to the Academy of Natural Sciences, and become part of the research effort to get data on size and scope of the issue.”

Since not all of the birds are dead, happily some of them are only dazed, or perhaps suffering from concussions. “We have a cadre of volunteers who transport injured birds to the Wildlife Clinic.” That’s where Chris Strub comes in.

“Chris and his staff have been great,” Leigh offered. “These stunned birds, sitting on the ground, are easy prey for cats, rats, and more. Without intervention, they would likely die. But with the help from the clinic staff, the success rate in healing them has been close to 80%. That’s pretty significant– we really credit the clinic for helping with this.”

About 200 birds come to our clinic annually through the transport program. Chris Strub notes, “It’s really rewarding to actually make a difference in the window-strike story. We don’t have the capacity to go out and get the birds, but we do have the resources to treat them. Now that we are actually getting the birds, we can be part of the initiative, which eliminates a real source of frustration of not being able to go out and get them.

“I have immense respect for all the volunteers and organizers,” Chris continued, “who are walking the streets of Philadelphia in early mornings to find them while also witnessing the number of dead birds. This really inspires me, and brings home that bird conservation is a huge team effort– no one person can do it. It takes partnerships like this to ensure that a lot more of the birds survive and get a chance to further their species.”

Earth Day Live features both Chris and Leigh. In addition, historian Adam Rose, author of “The Genius of Earth Day,” recounts the importance of Earth Day in galvanizing environmental action, and the Center’s land stewardship coordinator Sam Bucciarelli highlights edible native plants you can grow in your garden. The free event is set for Thursday, April 21 at 7:00 p.m. via Zoom; register here.

By: Mike Weilbacher, Executive Director

Liz Ellmann: A Warrior for Wildlife

Liz Ellmann helping a turtle

The Wildlife Clinic at the Schuylkill Center, the city’s only wildlife rehabilitation clinic, is located on Port Royal Avenue in Upper Roxborough and staffed by an extraordinary group of dedicated workers, both employees and volunteers, who handle thousands of injured, sick, and orphaned animals annually. It’s a labor of love.

Separately, the Schuylkill Center this summer unveiled our mudhif, a traditional Iraqi guesthouse built of reeds– the first one ever built outside of Iraq. In memory of this year’s 20th anniversary of 9/11, the Center last weekend offered “Reconciliation: A Healing Encounter,” where veterans, Iraqi immigrants, and the public gathered to heal from the injuries of war and the socio-political unrest in Iraq and adjacent countries.

Our clinic and mudhif came together at Reconciliation, as Liz Ellmann, the clinic’s assistant director and an Army veteran, led nature walks for the event.

Liz, who uses “they” and “them” pronouns, has been with us for almost three years now, one year as a volunteer and intern and the last two as an employee. A resident of Roxborough-Manayunk, “Liz has been a vital part of keeping the clinic going through our tough COVID months,” noted Chris Strub, the clinic’s director. “Their care and compassion for our patients, along with their incredible organizational skills, help keep everyone on track with keeping our patients cared for and our clinic running smoothly.”

For Liz, it has been quite the journey from the Army to a wildlife clinic in Roxborough. “I was in the active Army for eight years,” they told me as we drank coffee outside the mudhif. While stationed mainly in Fort Hood Texas, Liz was deployed to Kuwait, South Korea, and Germany. They were assigned Patriot missiles: “we would place them, fix them, reload them; I was this little person next to a huge canister of missiles.” They were also “armor for my unit, in charge of all the weapons and ammo. I loved it, was good at it, and in South Korea I was asked to lead workshops on this.”

They accompanied a medivac full of injured servicemen from Kuwait to Germany, and was also assigned funeral detail, accompanying coffins on their sad journeys home. “My first one was a 19-year-old kid just married with a newborn kid and only there for two weeks,” Liz shared. “These are your brothers and sisters, you know why they did what they did. They made the ultimate sacrifice, and you can’t take that away from their families.”

But they blew out their knee in Kuwait on their last deployment, “where I had no ligament left and tore my meniscus in half. There were complications from my surgery, giving me bad migraines. I had wanted to stay in and do my 20 years; I had dreams, things I wanted to do, but they could not figure out what was wrong. So I got medically retired out as a sergeant.”

From Ashland, Virginia, Liz grew up in a small town 45 minutes north of Richmond that had “tons of farmland; we had a cornfield in front of the high school.” After the Army, wanting to get back to the East Coast closer to their roots and work on a college degree, they enrolled in Drexel (“what they do with veterans is absolutely amazing”) which brought Liz to Philly. Now armed with a Bachelor’s in psychology and a Master’s in spatial cognition, they were looking for an entry into the psychology field, which isn’t easy. But their wife showed Liz an announcement for an internship at the Wildlife Clinic. “You’ve always loved animals,” she told Liz. They agreed. The internship “really clarified things for me.” Rebecca Michelin, the previous clinic director who first hired Liz, “was huge in helping me figure it out, being an amazing mentor in helping me decide. And this was the right decision.”

“I absolutely want to be doing this, and feel a passion and purpose. I see such a lack of good information and knowledge that our industry”– wildlife rehab– “even exists.” Liz also sees so many well-intentioned people finding an injured animal, or one they assume is orphaned, and doing the wrong thing. “They Google solutions– and Google is like the death of everything. It’s not malicious, people are trying to help, but they end up not helping so much.” Like by taking a baby that one assumes was abandoned away from its parents, when they might have left it alone.

When Liz heard first about the mudhif coming to the Schuylkill Center, “I was so excited. There is such a stigma and stereotype with people from the Middle East; people assume everyone there is an extremist or a terrorist. So the mudhif is a healing point, and everyone has a lot of healing to do, especially veterans, as we have our own issues. To have a place like this, it’s sacred. There needs to be a bridging point not only within the community but with the world. The September 11 event is so important,” they continued. “There needs to be an opening of arms.”

The loss of soldiers last week in Afghanistan is “devastating, just devastating. Once again they’re all kids who made the ultimate sacrifice trying to save innocents. It’s gut wrenching.” To memorialize the loss, Liz has “tied yellow ribbons on my front porch for each of the fallen, and added one for the innocent Afghan people. They feel like we abandoned them– and actually we did.

“At day’s end,” Liz finished, “we all bleed the same blood, and need to protect each other.”

That fierce protectiveness is exactly what the Wildlife Clinic needs in a rehabilitator, someone who will move heaven and earth to save even the tiniest mouse or sparrow. For me, the Schuylkill Center is so proud of Liz’s service to the country, and so honored to have them on our team. Thank you, Liz.

Mike Weilbacher directs the Schuylkill Center for Environmental Education in Upper Roxborough.

Window Strike Season

A towel, some gloves, and a cardboard box are all you need to help rescue window-strike victims like this black-throated blue warbler.

It’s fall migration season- do you have your bird rescue kit ready? 

During the summer, if you come across a bird on the ground that can’t fly, it’s often safe to assume that bird is a baby. But during spring and fall migration, birds that are found on the ground that do not fly away are frequently adult migratory birds that have struck a window or become disoriented and are in need of human help. 

Many migratory birds do most of their travelling at night, when they use the light from the moon and stars, reflections from bodies of water, and even particular sounds to help them navigate their way to their winter grounds down south. Bright lights of urban areas, especially those that extend high into the sky such as skylights and skyscrapers, are particularly dangerous. The most common places to find these birds will be early in the morning on the sidewalk below tall city buildings, but you may find them sitting below the windows of your home and business as well. 

Remember- the head and spinal trauma that can result from colliding with a window at high speed is a medical emergency! Common signs of collision include: looking “puffed up”, squinting eyes, squatting down instead of standing upright, and neurologic signs like trembling or a head tilt. 

Rapid action is so important to the bird’s survival.

Here’s what to do if you find a bird on the ground that you suspect may have hit a window. First, have a “rescue kit” ready so you can act quickly if you see a bird in distress. Keep the following items handy in your car or bag: a paper bag or a small cardboard box with a lid, a tea towel, old t-shirt, or small blanket, and a pair of gloves. They are small things to have, but they can help to save a bird’s life! 

  Be sure to approach the bird slowly and from a safe angle. Even if a bird is stunned, they may still have limited ability to fly so we don’t want them to fly into traffic or back into a window or building again! As soon as you are close enough, drop a small towel or cloth down over top of the bird, completely covering the head and wings. This will help to reduce stress and keep the bird calm. While wearing gloves, pick up the bird in the towel and place them in the paper bag or cardboard box. Fold the top of the bag down and secure it with a paperclip, or close the lid of the box. This is very important- the bird is likely in shock, and needs to be kept as quiet and stress-free as possible during transport. 

As with any injured animal, do not try to give them food or water. A bird with head trauma could drown or choke if they can’t properly hold up their head, and eating improper food items can cause serious medical issues. Keep the bird in a quiet, dark place and transport them to your closest wildlife rehabilitation centre as soon as possible. 

Migratory bird populations are declining all over the world due to climate change, habitat destruction, and human-caused conflicts like window strikes. Keep your eyes open and your rescue kit ready, and be a hero to the birds!

By Rebecca Michelin, CWR | Wildlife Rehabilitation Consultant

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.

 

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.