Wednesday, a family in Richmond saw an emaciated Barred Owl trying to drink from their pool. Upon closer inspection, they noticed that the owl's leg was caught in a steel-jaw leg-hold trap. A call to the Wildlife Center gave them the instructions they needed to safely capture and transport the owl. Veterinarians examined the owl and two of the four toes are badly mangled. Rehabilitation will be two fold; the owl's physical emaciation must be addressed so that the immune system with the aid of antibiotics and daily cleaning can battle any infection and heal the wounds. Click on the photo to see the video.
The Wildlife Center has shifted to its Spring/Summer operating hours and is now open Monday through Friday 9:00-6:00 and weekends 9:00-4:00pm. Sunday was the first full day of spring and it is quite appropriate that a baby Great Horned owl became the 1000th intake of the year. Raptor babies, especially Great Horned Owls are usually one of the first babies to make their appearance each year. This year we were several weeks into baby squirrels before the Great Horned owlets began showing up at intake. This month has kept the Center staff, veterinarians, and volunteers very busy treating and feeding hundreds of squirrels and opossums. The squirrels seemed to fall out of nests when strong winds blew through in March. The Center is also caring for over a hundred little baby opossums who were kept alive by the protection of a mother's pouch, when moms were run over by vehicles. While we are sad the moms did not make it, their heritage is carried on by these resilient little ones. Caring volunteers not only provide these orphans food and shelter, but do so in a manner that keeps them wild so they have the best chance at survival when they are returned to the wild. Baby doves are beginning to show up at the Wildlife Center. They will soon be followed by songbirds and Killdeer. Hopefully, the squirrel and opossum babies will have eased off before the birds hit their peak. A young female bobcat was brought to the Wildlife Center who was hit by a car. She has a severe head injury. Wildlife Center veterinarians checked the bobcat out and she was found to have an eye injury as well as several check bone fractures. She is on medications and is [...]
The grass is growing, the trees are budding and the flowers are blooming. Spring has sprung and the Wildlife Center is full of baby squirrels, opossums and rabbits. Momma rabbits while very skittish know that humans will not prey on their babies and will often build nests against or near habitations. The good news is that rabbits wean at four to five weeks of age, so even if a nest is discovered, the babies will be on their own before you know it. Even if you have dogs, they usually won’t find the nest until the babies are almost weaning age. The size of a rabbit that is ready to wean is about the size of a woman’s closed fist. The reason is that there isn’t much of a scent to attract the dogs or cats until the babies are older. Momma rabbits ensure that animals aren’t attracted to her scent. She intentionally spends as little time in the nest as possible. One of the saddest intakes is a litter of bunnies that have been hit by a lawnmower or string trimmer. So, to prevent experiencing this trauma be sure to walk an area before beginning work. Use the handle of a broom to gently sweep through the grass to see if there is a nest present. The nest will look like a clump of dead grass. Once found, the nest can be protected from family pets with an upturned box. Cut a door in the side to allow the mother access and place some weight on it to keep the dog from nosing off the box. If you are concerned that the mother isn’t returning to her nest, place a few small, lightweight twigs [...]
Scaup are an interesting species of diving duck, two scaup species live in North America the Greater Scaup (Aythya marila) prefers salt water while the Lesser Scaup (Aythya affinis) prefers freshwater. The Lesser Scaup is one of the most abundant and widespread of the diving ducks in North America. The males are easily differentiated because of differences in coloration and conformation. The differences between the females are less dramatic and they are usually identified by the males within the flock. The Scaup can be easily be identified by its rich brown plumage especially the female’s head which looks like velvet, the males exhibit a sheen or iridescence of purple (Lesser) or greenish (Greater). The head is more wedge shaped and the bill is dark slate to dark brown with gray highlights. An unusual white ring of feathers encircle the base of the bill. Without the aid of breeding plumage and the benefit of seeing both sexes telling the difference between female Greater and Lesser can be tricky. Size doesn’t help much since the Greater Scaup is only slightly larger than the Lesser, so this could be a big Lesser or a small Great. The white wing patch is usually longer in the Greater, but again we are out of breeding season, so while the smaller wing patch points to the Lesser, it isn’t definitive. The Greater tend to have a cheek patch of white which varies between almost nonexistent to prominent. This bird doesn’t have a cheek patch, so that argues for the Lesser. Both species winter on the upper Texas Gulf Coast, but the Lesser Scaup winters in much greater numbers. So statistically, the bird recovering at the Wildlife Center is probably a Lesser [...]
Thanks again this year to the 2011 ExxonMobil Community Summer Jobs Program and the 2011 Shell Non-profit Internship Program for awarding the WR&E Wildlife Center grants to hire two college interns for eight weeks this summer! The interns will work with wildlife and learn about non-profit organizations…and help us care for those 7000 wild animals we receive every year. Thanks ExxonMobil and Shell!
Opossum may be aesthetically challenged, but they are probably the single most important wild animal to your backyard ecology. They have remained unchanged since the time of the dinosaur. Why? Because the physiologic model is perfect for its ecologic niche and it doesn’t need to evolve to something better. So what niche does it fill? Sanitation engineer. We’ll never know if the opossum is grateful we are so messy or if they scurry around feeling harassed and under-appreciated. Either way, there is no doubt the lowly opossum should be welcomed with open arms. Why? O let me list the ways. Let’s start out with all the things they eat that we don’t want to share our back yard with. The Opossum are an omnivore leaning towards carnivore and will eat almost anything. They are the only mammal that routinely dines on snakes, including poisonous snakes. Because of their slower metabolism, they are not as susceptible to the venom. They also eat beetles, ants, grasshoppers, grubs, earthworms, lizards, geckos, frogs and fresh carrion. They do not dig up the yard or eat your newly planted flowers, but they will eat the pests that will destroy your grass, kill your bushes and eat your flowers. The animal responsible for turning over trash cans, dragging them half-way across the yard and prying open the lid is the raccoon, not the innocent opossum you see munching away in it the next morning. I’m not suggesting opossums are blameless for they are not above crawling into trash cans (from which they can’t escape) and accidentally turning them over. Don’t be alarmed if you find a opossum in your trashcan, simply tip the can on its side and leave for 10 – [...]
The Eastern Screech Owl is at heart a very lazy hunter. Why sweat the big stuff when then world is filled with big juicy cockroaches and crickets. Life is so easy most of the year that when Houston experiences bitterly cold weather, the Screech Owls suffer as all of their prey scurry to hide in warmer cracks and crevices. During these stretches of cold weather the Wildlife Center receives unusually large numbers of adults in emaciated condition. We have had Screech Owls brought to us by car, bicycle, bus, police car, train (a track runs close to the Wildlife Center) and now by ambulance. The off-duty EMS team noticed the tiny bird on the side of the street. They wrapped it in a warming blanket and brought it to the Wildlife Center. It had suffered a head injury and was very emaciated. Prognosis is good. The Eastern Screech Owl is one of the smallest owls in the United States. Fully grown adults stand about 8 inches tall and are often mistaken for baby Great Horned Owl. As with most owls, the female is larger than the male. They come in 2 color morphs (types) gray and rufus (red). The color isn’t based on sex, location or diet. Sometimes a gray morph will pair bond with a red morph. These little owls rely on camouflage (feather color and pattern blend into the surroundings) to escape detection. The gray Screeches tend to hang out in hardwood trees like oak and the rufus tend to hang out in evergreen trees like pine and cedar. When they feel threatened they stand as tall and skinny as possible so they look like a broken of limb instead of a bird. [...]
Enough cannot be said about the danger that mono-filament fishing line, hooks and lures pose to wildlife. Animals come to the Wildlife Center of Texas tangled, hooked and injured so frequently we have a trophy board for all of the hooks and lures that have been successfully removed. This White Pelican was rescued from an island. It was ensnared in fishing line and hooks and found to have numerous injuries. Daily hydrotherapy is helping to heal a badly injured foot. The upper Gulf Coast is home to two very different species of pelican, the White Pelican (Pelecanus erythrorhynchos) is a winter visitor while the Brown Pelican (Pelecanus occidrntalis) is a year round resident. In some ways, the two species are more different than they are alike. The most obvious difference is the size and coloration. The White Pelican can weigh up to twenty pounds while the Brown is usually ten to twelve. Both species are gregarious and the whites nest in especially large colonies. If you see one pelican loafing on the pier or floating on the water, there will almost always be several more nearby. The brown is marine, but is rarely seen far offshore, even when migrating. The white is almost exclusively an inland bird that prefers freshwater. When asked how the pelican hunts, the almost universal answer will be that they dive from great heights head first into the water to emerge with a pouch full of fish. Of the seven species of pelican ONLY the BROWN PELICAN fishes in this fashion. They can dive from fifty feet and survive by entering in a streamlined fashion. The entire breast provides shock protection for the rest of the body. To the touch, the [...]
Texas is home to two different types of box turtles, the Ornate Box Turtle (Terrapene ornate ornate) and the Eastern or Three-toed Box Turtle (Terrapene carolina triunguis), A sub-species of the ornate turtle lives in Trans-Pecos west to eastern Arizona and south into Mexico is called the Western Ornate Turtle (Terrapene ornata luteola). Since those are so rare, we’ll concentrate on the Three-toed and the Ornate Box Turtles. We’ll get into the differences in a minute, but their decline in number as alerted Texas Parks and Wildlife. Box turtles used to be so plentiful that a mile of country road would yield one or more of these ponderously moving reptiles. These days a sighting is a special occasion. In fact, the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department would like your help tracking box turtles. The following link provides printable forms, on-line forms, contact phone numbers and brief descriptions of what you are looking for. It is urged that you make a report whenever you come across a box turtle. http://www.tpwd.state.tx.us/learning/texas_nature_trackers/box_turtle_survey/ Box Turtles don’t cleanly fit into any of the three common “classifications” of turtle that were discussed in the Texas Tortoise article. Box turtles spend all of their life-cycle on land, but are not tortoises. The Latin name Terrapene places them in the terrapin group even though they spend no time in the water. Unlike all other turtles, the plastron of the Box Turtle is hinged allowing the turtle draw its head had front legs in behind its protection. When a box turtle brings itself into its shell, only the tips of the front claws, an edge of the back feet and perhaps a peek of tail can be seen.The protection is so good [...]
The Brown Creeper is a small songbird who calls the greater Houston area home during the fall and winter. This bird is so well camouflaged that it can creep up and down tree trunks looking for insects without being noticed. Unlike woodpeckers who have powerful excavating bills, the Brown Creeper uses its slender curved bill to slip insects out of crevices. It props its long tail against the tree to stabilize itself. There are a couple of other small birds that forage along tree trunks, so look for these differences. The Brown Creeper is cloaked in finely streaked shades of brown and cream. The nuthatch is not streaked and its back and wings are shades of pale gray to a rich blue gray AND it forages head down. The Black-and-White Warbler is hard to miss since it is boldly striped black and white.