WildCare March 2010 eNews
I Found a Baby Bird. Now What?
In the next few months, WildCare's Living with Wildlife Hotline (415-456-SAVE) operators will have their hands full answering phone calls about baby birds. Every year hundreds of these tiny featherless creatures fall or are blown from their nests, or are found following an ill-timed tree trimming. Fledglings huddle in the grass, appearing helpless and distressed. The first impulse of the kind-hearted is to take them to our wildlife hospital. Often, however, this well-meant concern results in "over-rescue" also called "kidnapping." Here's what WildCare will be telling callers this spring...
Quick Review of Bird Family Life
Most birds have their own territories. Even if their nest has been destroyed and their babies have disappeared, parent birds will remain in their home territory, often searching for their babies for up to two days.
Nestlings are helpless, featherless or pin-feathered birds that cannot keep themselves warm. An uninjured nestling that is still warm stands the best chance of survival if it can be quickly returned to the nest, where the parent birds will continue to care for it. Birds' sense of smell is not well understood, but it is clear that parent birds will not reject a baby simply because it has been handled by humans. They will even accept and care for orphaned baby birds of the same age and species as their own nestlings.
Fledglings are slightly older birds with feathers and short tails. They can perch, hop or walk. Birds at this age are learning to fly, and may live on the ground for as long as two weeks while developing their flying skills. Unless they are injured, or in immediate danger from humans or other predators, they are best left where they are. A fledgling's parents continue to feed it until it learns to fly and is able to find food. Sometimes this takes a while. Swallows, for example, have to learn to snatch insects from the air in mid-flight. Can you imagine how much practice that takes? Parents will guide their fledglings into bushes at night to hide from predators, but will not come to their babies if you or your pets are nearby.
When to Rescue
There are situations that do require rescue. Naked nestlings generally need immediate care if they cannot be returned quickly to the nest. If you think a fledgling (feathered) baby bird has been abandoned, watch for its parents. Observe the baby continuously for 60-90 minutes from a distance of about 50 feet. Remain quiet, out of sight, and keep children and pets away from the area. Watch carefully; the parents fly in and out quickly.
If you have the bird in a box, check the feces. Clear droppings with white or green bile indicates a baby bird is not being fed and is likely orphaned. Color in the feces indicates that the the baby has eaten recently, and you can put the bird back where it was found.
If the bird shows any of these symptoms, it should be taken to a wildlife hospital for treatment. This is the case especially if the bird has been caught by a cat. Cat bites create puncture wounds, which, if left untreated, become infected very quickly.
How to Rescue
Naked and pin-feathered birds that have fallen from nests should be kept warm while you try to locate the nest. A baby found on its own must be returned to the original nest with its siblings, not placed in a separate location. The parents will only sit on and feed the babies in one nest. Babies sometimes fall or are pushed from the nest for a reason, and weak or unfit nestlings will not be able to successfully compete with their healthier siblings for their parents' attention.
If the nest has been destroyed or you are unable to locate it, the nestling should be kept warm while you bring it to WildCare. Birds can carry parasites, and viral, bacterial and fungal diseases. Be sure to wash your hands thoroughly after handling a bird. If you find a baby bird, please call WildCare's Living with Wildlife Hotline at 415-456-SAVE (7283) for advice on handling safety for you and for the bird.
Temporary Care for Rescued Birds
Raising a wild bird properly takes two to four months of intensive care and specialized diets, so do not attempt to give an injured or orphaned bird food or water or raise it yourself. Nestlings must be fed every 30 minutes from dawn to dark. Skipping any feedings or feeding the wrong diet during this critical period can result in impaired feather growth and metabolic bone disease – irreversible deformities that will show up when the bird is a juvenile. It is extremely difficult to raise a baby bird, and this is one of the reasons it is illegal for unlicensed individuals to keep wild animals – even if they plan to release them. Even veterinarians, unless they themselves are also licensed wildlife rehabilitators, are only permitted to stabilize wildlife for 48 hours until it can be transferred to a licensed wildlife rehabilitation center like WildCare.
An injured baby bird must be kept warm and quiet until it can be taken to a wildlife hospital. A tissue-filled shoebox with holes for air works well. If necessary to keep the baby warm, you can place one end of the box on a heating pad set on low. Be careful not to overheat the baby. Keep children and pets away, and leave the bird alone without handling or unnecessary noises such as conversations, televisions or radios. Bring the baby to WildCare or your closest wildlife rehabilitator (click for a list of wildlife rehabilitators by state) as soon as possible.
Orphan Care at WildCare
When the baby bird arrives at WildCare, hospital staff will perform a careful medical examination, and, if necessary, hydrate it and treat it for injuries. We'll identify what age and type of bird it is, and establish a feeding schedule for it based on its species. If it is very tiny, we will place it in an incubator. When the baby has grown stronger, it will be promoted from the incubator to a box with a heating pad and one or more nestlings of its own species and age. The little "family group" will then graduate to a larger cage, and finally to the outdoor aviary in preparation for release.
Certain species of birds that are easily stressed or require a special diet, like hummingbirds, goldfinches and wrens, especially benefit from expert care in trained volunteer foster homes, where they are subject to less noise and stress than they are in the midst of the activity of WildCare's songbird ward.
The timing of release itself depends upon the progress of the individual bird. When it is fully feathered, has good muscle tone and lung capacity, is able to fly competently, can identify natural wild foods, maintain its weight, and recognize its own species, it is taken to a suitable habitat and released with its "family group."
Use this handy chart to determine whether the fallen baby bird you've found needs to come to WildCare! Click for a printable PDF version.
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Feeding Hungry Owls
Barn Owls alone are not always a total solution to rodent control, but Barn Owls, used with trapping and preventative measures, can be very effective in keeping rodent populations in check. Barn Owls, as part of an Integrated Pest Management (IPM) approach that is non-toxic (rodent poisons can be fatal to owls), can work as a successful, inexpensive solution to rodent overpopulation.
Barn Owls have been used for rodent control very successfully in areas such as vineyards, golf courses, ranches, orchards, farms and parks. They can be useful in urban areas if good hunting habitat is close by, and rodent poisons are not being used in the area. Good habitat for Barn Owls is open terrain that includes grassland, sparsely wooded oak woodland, marshes and farm land. The rolling grassy hills of Marin County provide a wonderful home for these very nocturnal and mysterious owls.
Barn Owls, like other raptors, are opportunistic. They will eat birds, bats, insects, young rabbits, voles, moles, gophers, rats, mice and whatever prey is small enough and readily available. From my experience, and from studies done on owl pellets (undigested bones and fur that have been regurgitated by the owl) about 90% or more of their diet is rodents.
Top of the menu in Marin County are gophers and meadow voles, but in urban areas we have found rats to be a large percentage of the owls' diet. Near wooded areas, a percentage of songbirds were more often found. In vineyards and in farms and orchards, clearly their main food source is gophers and meadow voles.
Gophers are a gardener's nightmare, as most of us know too well. Apart from their serious destruction of crops, rodents can cause extensive damage in many other ways. In vineyards, for example, vines are vulnerable to root damage from gophers. Especially before the vines are mature at five years old, rodent damage can cause huge losses. Meadow voles cause damage above ground, particularly by eating the bark of trees, a real threat to orchards. Gopher holes in pasture land can be responsible for leg injuries in horses and cattle. Gophers are also very destructive to golf course greens.
US Fish and Wildlife calls the Barn Owl the creature most beneficial to man when it comes to rodent control. They are incredible hunters, easy to attract, and being cavity nesters, they take readily to man-made nest boxes. Unlike most raptor species, they are non-territorial, so as many owls can be attracted to an area as there are nesting boxes for them to use and rodents to eat. This is rodent control with the added bonus of perhaps catching a glimpse of these ethereal birds in your neighborhood!
A family of Barn Owls can consume up to 3,000 rodents in a 4-month breeding cycle. Barn Owls have a high metabolism, their appetite is enormous and their hunting skill can supersede their hunger. Monitoring Barn Owl nest boxes each year, WildCare's Hungry Owl Project (HOP) has found large piles of uneaten rodents in some nest boxes, proving that when prey is abundant, they collect more than they can eat.
Once a nest box has been found and established by a male in late winter, he attempts to attract a female to the box using flight displays and clicking sounds. Barn Owls generally mate for life, and a pair will continue to use the same nest box for years to come, raising a family of between five and nine chicks each year and sometimes raising two broods a year. That is a lot of rodent control. One chick alone can eat six or more mice a night. I have read that 48 Barn Owls can consume a staggering 1.3 tons of gophers a year!
Barn Owls are fierce hunters. Using their highly acute hearing, they can hunt in complete darkness by sound alone. It is thought that they can recognize different species of rodent by hearing the unique sound each rodent species makes as it scurries over leaves.
The very distinctive white facial disk of a Barn Owl acts like a satellite dish, directing sound into its sensitive ears. Often seen hovering, about 10 feet above the ground just after the sun has set, the owls are actually listening for prey. All owl species evolved to have very soft feathers, which allow for silent flight and a stealthy approach to an intended victim. Silent flight might also help the owls hear more of the small noises their prey might make in the grass below.
The presence of Barn Owls in an area is a good indication of a healthy environment. The goal of WildCare's Hungry Owl Project is to encourage these beneficial predators, decrease the need for rodent poisons and hopefully restore a more natural balance of predator and prey. Rodenticides and other pesticides like DDT have been used without thought of terrible, and often counterproductive, consequences to their use. The effects of rodent poison on raptors and other predators from secondary poisonings has been devastating.
The Hungry Owl Project works with school students and other volunteers groups to make nesting boxes, which we install to encourage Barn Owls to come and nest in an area where rodents are a problem. Along with attracting the owls, we encourage rodent prevention, rodent exclusion, protection of habitat, and lastly, trapping, if and when necessary.
HOP works with clients to find successful, SAFE, long-term solutions to rodent problems while educating, encouraging stewardship and inspiring community involvement.
In 2009 HOP launched the Vineyard Management Program (VMP). The goal of the VMP is to encourage and maintain a healthy Barn Owl population within vineyards to aid with rodent control. This program includes consultations and recommendations, monitoring the nest boxes each spring, collecting data and giving annual reports, a nest box cleaning and repair service, as well as a box installation service.
The Hungry Owl Project makes and sells Barn Owl boxes as well as nest boxes designed for bluebirds, bats, kestrels and Screech Owls. Visit us online for more information about owls and WildCare's Hungry Owl Project.
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WildCare Family Adventures (Take a Hike!)
Nature Drawing at Las Gallinas Wildlife Ponds
Join Bay Area naturalist and and 2009 Terwilliger Environmental Award winner John Muir Laws and learn the basics of drawing wildlife. We'll learn to draw birds, plants, landscapes and more. All materials will be provided. Meet at the Gallinas Ponds trailhead at the end of Smith Ranch Road at 10am. Click for more information and directions.
All programs are led in both English and Spanish, and are free to the public. If you prefer to caravan from San Rafael, we'll meet at 9:30am at the Canal Alliance at 91 Larkspur Street in San Rafael.
For more information call (415) 453-1000x17 or email Juan-Carlos Solis at email@example.com.
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Kids Helping Wildlife
Register your first and second grade children now for WildCare's 2010 Spring Camp. This year we'll explore ways kids can help our wild neighbors. Campers will examine the effects of an oil spill, and take a close look at the inside of an owl pellet. They'll also meet WildCare's educational wildlife up close.
We'll also (weather permitting) spend Wednesday hiking at China Camp State Park, exploring and playing in one of Marin's beautiful natural habitats.
WildCare camps make it fun to learn how to help native wildlife stay wild and healthy.
To register, contact Anya at (415) 453-1000 x12 or firstname.lastname@example.org or download a registration form from our website at wildcarebayarea.org/springcamp.
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Do I Hear Buzzing?
Honeybees are social insects. Unlike the four to five thousand other species of solitary bees, honey bees store resources, in the form of honey, that allow the hive to survive the winter. A beehive is like a single organism. If it does not grow and divide, it will eventually die off. Swarming is a natural occurrence, and the only way a beehive can propagate. Without swarming, the species would go extinct in short order.
When a honeybee hive successfully survives the winter, the queen begins to expand her brood nest in anticipation of the coming spring bloom with its pollen and nectar flow. The number of bees in the hive increases rapidly and dramatically. When a hive is very successful, the queen and her workers feel crowded and begin to make plans to swarm. Specialized nurse bees respond by raising several new queen cells to replace the old queen, who will leave the hive with the swarm taking half or more of the hive's bees with her. Only one of the newly raised queens will be allowed to survive, mate and take charge of the remaining hive.
A swarm will form just outside the hive mid-day in the spring, primarily in March, April and May. The outgoing bees will circle around the old hive until they are organized to depart – usually landing in a nearby tree, a bush, on the side of a building or tree. There they form a tight cluster around the queen.
A swarm can be as small as a softball or as large as a basketball, containing from 10,000 to 50,000 individual bees. From this cluster the swarm sends out scouts to look for a good location for the bees to make their new home – a hollow in a tree, a utility box, a hole in the side of a house or outbuilding, etc. Often the swarm will move on shortly after the first cluster is formed in an effort to find a new home.
What Should I Do if I See a Swarm?
Don't panic, bees in a swarm are at their most docile. They've gorged on honey before leaving the hive and have no resources or home to defend.
Don't spray the swarm with pesticides or water, and don't try to shoo them off by knocking the cluster from their temporary landing spot.
Do not call an exterminator – it is illegal to exterminate honeybees in California except under special circumstances.
Do contact a knowledgeable beekeeper to capture the swarm if necessary. Contact your local beekeeping club and they will be able to put you in touch with someone who can capture the swarm or make other recommendations, often at no charge. Visit Marin Beekeepers and leave a message regarding a swarm by clicking on the "Contact Us" box. Other clubs in the area provide similar services. Click for their websites:
When reporting a swarm, be sure to confirm you are seeing honeybees and not wasps or yellow jackets. Honeybees are soft and fuzzy looking. Wasps and yellow jackets are shiny and their outer layer is not at all fuzzy. Wasps usually make hanging paper nests, yellow jackets most often make their nests in the ground.
You should also note the size of the cluster, how high above the ground it is, and whether the bees are in a tree or bush or on the side of a structure, etc. If the swarm is on someone else's property, the property owner will need to give permission to capture the swarm.
The most suitable locations for a swarm to take up residence in an urban area are spaces in walls and attics of structures. Honeybees live in cavities, and fill the cavities up with the wax comb in which they raise their young and store pollen and nectar for food. Bees that don't find a new hive may create an open hive in a tree or bush. Open hives seldom survive.
If the bees are coming and going from an opening in a tree or a structure, this is no longer considered a swarm, but rather an established hive. Extracting a hive from a tree or structure is more involved than just capturing a swarm, but still very possible. Structural extractions can be complicated and time-consuming, a fee may be requested.
If you see a buzzing insect going in and out of a hole in the ground or among debris, it most likely is a yellow jacket or a wasp of some kind.
"Bee" Kind to Our Honeybees, We Need Them
The real challenges facing our honeybees are recently imported viruses and the Varoa mite, a parasite from Southeast Asia. Other major stresses on our bees are monocrops and pesticides. Some hives are lost directly to agricultural spraying, others from long-term exposure to pesticides and genetically altered crops.
Some of our bees have been able to survive without the use of strong medications and human intervention. It is these bees that we hope will develop the genetics to survive on their own.
Swarm colonies are considered to have survivor genetics. They have survived the various viruses and parasites that are stressing other bee colonies. Some beekeepers consider these naturally-occurring swarms to be a more desirable way to replace our losses and increase hive numbers than to purchase packaged bees from commercial beekeepers.
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A Sweet Treat(ment) for a Shaggy Coyote
Coyote #0071 was brought in to WildCare on February 18 by Marin Humane Society Field Officer Steve Hill. People in the neighborhood had been watching her for several days and were concerned about an obvious injury on her leg. Officer Hill managed to capture the coyote who was young, covered in fleas and ticks, and had an open, fresh wound on her left front leg. Her fur was wet and dirty, but she was in relatively good condition otherwise.
The wound looked like the result of a bite from another animal, with punctures on opposite sides of the leg. Speculation was that the bite was probably from a domestic dog or another coyote. The only other animal that might inflict such a bite would be a raccoon, and it is doubtful that a raccoon would attack an animal so much larger without provocation.
The coyote was given a topical paraciticide to kill the ticks and fleas, and a fecal exam indicated the presence of roundworms, for which she was treated the following day. The following is typical hospital procedure to treat this animal – with a not-so-typical twist.
Compared to most of the wildlife we treat, coyotes are large carnivores. This young one weighed 18 pounds on admittance. Assistant Director of Animal Care Cindy Dicke and Hospital Manager Livia Stone prepared all their medications and equipment before going into Ward A to capture the canine. Both staff personnel had rabies pre-exposure vaccines, but Cindy still put on heavy welder's gloves and used a thick blanket to pull the frightened animal from the carrier.
Cindy restrained the coyote on a towel on the floor as Livia placed an anaesthesia mask over the canine's muzzle. Within a few moments, the animal began to relax and then went into a light sleep. Working quickly and efficiently, Cindy administered fluids subcutaneously, and Livia injected an antibiotic and pain medications.
Livia then inspected the wound to see if it could be sutured, but the muscle was swollen, and she determined that sutures would not be effective. She cleaned the wound well, and applied a liberal coating of honey before bandaging the limb. While Livia worked, Cindy, wearing surgical gloves now, removed 15-20 more ticks.
Honey for Wounds
Honey was used to treat infected wounds thousands of years before bacteria were discovered to be the cause of infection. The current prevalence of antibiotic-resistant microbial species has led to a re-evaluation of the therapeutic use of ancient remedies, including honey. There are many published reports describing the effectiveness of honey in rapidly clearing infection from wounds, with no adverse effects to slow the healing process; there is even some evidence to suggest that honey may actively promote healing. In laboratory studies, it has been shown to have an antimicrobial action against a broad spectrum of bacteria and fungi.
Cindy put on the heavy gloves again while Livia turned down the anaesthesia and increased the oxygen. Coyote #0071 was monitored during recovery to be sure there were no adverse effects from the gas, and Cindy picked up the drowsy canine and aimed her back into her kennel, where she gladly returned, watching the medical staff warily. The kennel and coyote were moved to a secluded outside enclosure where natural light, quiet and privacy would also help the healing process.
The treatments were repeated the following day and again two days later. The wound was healing well under its protective covering of honey, and the coyote was eating a normal coyote diet of mice, fish, eggs and fruit.
As of March 5, 2010, Coyote #0071 is still in care at WildCare. She is scheduled for an evaluation for release next week. If all goes well, this healthy, beautiful animal will be back out in the wild, her wounds and the "sweet" treatment she received at WildCare only a fading memory.
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Great Gift Ideas for March