For the last seven years, Wildlife Rehab and Education has been working with biologists Woody Woodrow with the U S Fish and Wildlife Service, Sharon Schmalz Director of the WR&E Wildlife Center and Dr. Ray Telfair a well known ornithologist and former Texas Parks and Wildlife colleague of Woody’s study the movement patterns in Yellow-crowned Night Herons. While these herons are a common sight in our ditches and neighborhoods, biologists don’t know too much about their movement patterns. They are high tree nesters and so banding them in the nest is extremely difficult. Each year WRE typically releases a considerable number of these herons. To Sharon and Woody, this seemed like an opportunity to band some birds and hopefully collect some information about the birds. With the help of Dr. Ray Telfair banding and marking began in 2003. Additional research is being conducted by Dr. Heatley from Texas A&M University’s College of Veterinary Medicine. She is using small blood samples collected from healthy birds to determine normal electrolytes and other blood parameters in these herons. Thus when ill or injured herons are, these values will help rehabilitators, veterinarians and biologists determine appropriate treatment and to diagnose diseases or toxicoses. Before the banding began, Sharon had started to apply hacking techniques used with raptors with the herons. This allowed the birds to transition from a captive state to living without her assistance. When the birds are ready to go, the team bands them with a USFWS number specific aluminum band. In order to track observations of the birds, a nylon flag is also placed with the band above the bird’s wrist (what we think of as their knees). The bands are typically aluminum gray but the [...]
A newly hatched Mississippi Kite is a fearsome sight, despite its poufy white down. The beak leaves absolutely no doubt that this bird is a raptor. Which is a little odd since it grows up to prefer grasshoppers and cicada caught on the wing to mice and rats or rabbits. Only the smallest raptors, such as Screech Owls prefer insects and amphibians to mice and rats. The Kite doesn’t really fit the bill. The Mississippi Kite is a small to medium raptor that is about the size of a Peregrine Falcon. However, the falcon can weigh as much as three times as much. The eating habits aren’t the only slightly odd habit. Mississippi Kites migrate long distances to and from central South America in a groups of 20 – 30 individuals. They also nest near each other as a group. Mississippi Kite arrive at the nesting site as mated pairs. Many raptors don’t migrate and those that do usually don’t do so as a flock. The Mississippi Kite isn’t a well known raptor. People that see them often mistake them for other birds because the Kite’s gray coloring is so different from other more well known raptors. The head and back are a beautiful pearl gray which darkens along the sides and out the wings. The wings are unusually long (up to three feet) and narrow. The undersides of the wings are a lighter gray. The tail is long and a very dark gray or black. Juveniles have dark brown mottling or stripes and dark brown banding on the tail. This group of juveniles look much like more “traditional” raptors because of their brown markings. They have been released from the large flight cage, but [...]
The Wildlife Center continues to receive wildlife that was displaced by the recent rains. Mom has moved her kits to the second most safe place she knows…but because of her natural perfume (skunks always smell a little like…well, skunk) the humans and dogs know she’s moved in. This rarely ends well for either party. An interesting fact - it is actually difficult to get a skunk to spray. They hoard their chemical weapon since they only have four or five sprays at a time and it takes ten days to make more. The big caveat is “unless they are startled”. Skunks are very nearsighted (and a little cross-eyed in appearance) and you have to be dangerously close for them to see you. Given the opportunity to flee they will, however there isn’t a self-respecting dog that won’t make a wild dash to see what smells so “wonderful”. Dogs don’t seem to learn their lesson either. Other wild animals give it wide berth. Skunks have a whole ritual to warn off before spraying. There's no biologic reason for it, but if an animal goes the other way without the skunk having to spray, they get to save ammunition for later. First they arch the back, then begin pounding the front feet - at this point you should be making tracks because next they flip the business end towards you and cut loose. Some will bounce the backend up for better aim, while others actually do a brief handstand. The only known predator of the skunk is the Great Horned Owl. Considering how many Great Horned Owl babies come to the Wildlife Center smelling like skunk, it must be a favorite meal. Skunks are nearsighted and can't [...]
The three armadillo brothers that were raised at the Wildlife Center since they were a couple of days old were taken to a remote site that already has armadillo on it for release. It was wonderful to witness these unusual mammals grow, change and learn. Watching their instinctual behavior emerge gave us confidence that these boys would have the tools they needed to survive at release. The landowner dug a trench to create an artificial den. At the uphill end of the trench, he placed a five-gallon bucket. To the cap of the bucket, he connected a “tunnel” of metal dryer vent. Then everything except the entrance was buried. A low fence was erected to guide the armadillo to the nearby pond. Back-up food was provided. The armadillo had been busy digging around the enclosure, so the fence was removed. The landowner dug up the den one week later check on the health and well-being of the brothers. He discovered that two of the three armadillo was still calling it home. It is thought that the largest of the three was probably foraging nearby or had struck out on his own. It is expected that the remaining two will eventually abandon the artificial den, but it will be there in case they need a place to hide. What a perfect release! It makes all of the work worthwhile.
Over the Thanksgiving week a first year Red Shouldered Hawk flew into a window. The window shattered and the hawk was severely cut. The homeowner gently scooped the bird up and contained it. By the time it got to the Wildlife Center it was in shock. An initial exam showed a gaping hole in its neck which was deep enough slice open its esophagus. The hawk was rushed into surgery where Dr. Brenda Flores skillfully stitched up the inner wound. The external neck wound was cleaned and attended to. The day after surgery the hawk was standing and feeling feisty. He will be gavage fed for several days while his wounds heal. Miraculously its wings are in fine shape and no other injuries were found. He will spend the next several weeks in rehabilitation and it is hoped he will have an end of the year release. This year the WR&E Wildlife Center was honored with the task of rehabilitating many of these amazing creatures. The Houston area experienced a late spring and summer drought that brought many young Red Shoulder fledglings to the Wildlife Center. These birds were hydrated, fed, and flight conditioned. Thanks go to the team efforts of rescuers, caregivers and donor supporters that so many of these awesome birds of prey were given A Place to Grow A Place to Heal A Place to be Wild.
Three animals lay on cold Houston streets on a drizzly gray day in November. All three needed help as their injuries prevented them from moving. Luckily all three were found by caring individuals who brought them to an organization that was ready, willing and able to provide treatment. On November 21, 2009 the first call came in about a Great Horned Owl who had been found on the road. A man and his two children brought the badly hypothermic owl to the WR&E Wildlife Center for care. The magnificent Great Horned Owl was cold, wet and scared. WR&E staff gavage fed warm fluids and pain medication. Intubation continued on an hourly basis. The Great Horned Owl began to stabilize. Several hours later a call came from a gentleman who had found a hawk on the road. With guidance from the Wildlife Center he took a towel and scooped the hawk up and gently laid him in the back of his car and drove it to the Wildlife Center. The hawk turned out to be a gorgeous adult Red Tailed Hawk. It was also badly hypothermic, so WR&E staff administered warm fluids and pain medication. A heat lamp was placed over the bird to speed the warming process. Intubation continued on an hourly basis. Not more than thirty minutes later the third cold wet patient was driven to the Wildlife Center. An adult female Virginia opossum was found injured. An exam revealed deep gashes in her neck. She was also hypothermic and in shock. This animal was warmed and stabilized. Then her wounds were treated. By the end of the day all three animals were dry, warm and taking food. Should they survive, they will still have several weeks of [...]
United States Fish & Wildlife brought a juvenile brown pelican to the Wildlife Rehab & Education Center Thursday November 5, 2009 for evaluation and treatment. The young pelican had been observed near a dock at the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in Galveston and was apparently injured. A thorough exam revealed many complications for the bird. It presented very emaciated and dehydrated. An examination revealed that it had a heavy mite infestation, a treble hook was embedded inside its mouth, and a single large hook was embedded in its neck. The initial exam also revealed an old wing fracture that had not healed properly. Pain medications, antibiotics and fluids were administered. It was treated for the mites and the hooks were removed. Wounds were treated and he was crated to rest. The brown pelican will remain at the Wildlife Center until itis stabilized and healthy again. It was determined that the old wing break made it non-releasable. But the story won't end there. It is planned to transfer the pelican to the Gladys Porter Zoo in Brownsville, Texas to live out its natural life in comfort. WR&E thanks all those who were involved in the rescuing of this magnificent bird.
Three juvenile Cooper’s Hawks were released Saturday October 25, 2009. Two had been rehabilitated from head injuries and the third from a wing injury. The Cooper’s Hawk, Accipiter cooperii, is a medium sized hawk of the goshawk family. Often misidentified as a Sharp-shinned Hawk, the Cooper’s Hawk is slightly larger (21 to 36 inch wingspan) and has a tail that is rounded in appearance. Juveniles start as cream and brown with a brown crown and yellow eyes. As they mature, Cooper’s Hawk develop the characteristic gray back, reddish brown and cream banded chest, black crown and deep red eyes. While Cooper’s Hawks share a diet that is similar to other raptors, they tend to prey on other birds such as pigeon and dove. Their wings are designed for dramatic aerobatics and can be seen flying with quick short strokes with relatively brief glides. They hunt almost entirely by surprise. Until recently, the rehabilitators of WR&E rarely saw baby or juvenile Cooper’s Hawks. Instead, they only saw adults injured during migration. It has been noted that the increase in the number of White Wing Dove (a larger dove than the more common Mourning Dove) has coincided with the increase in baby and juvenile Cooper’s Hawks. This suggests that as prey has increased in the Greater Houston area, the Cooper’s Hawks have followed.
I Made a Difference for That One! The people who bring us orphaned and injured native Texas wildlife and their stories begin to blend together after a time, but what I’ve often noticed is that saving this one animal or this one litter or clutch takes on a life of its own. One that is much bigger that the simple act of kindness in bringing an animal for care and surrendering it to a wildlife rehabilitator for treatment. Deep emotions are frequently revealed when at last someone says “Yes, I can help”. This single act could be a turning point, never to be forgotten; the discovery of an avocation; a cathartic release that even though a loved one had not been spared, the person COULD save this animal. A weight could be lifted that was much greater than most persons would ascribe to the life or death of an animal. Animals whether they are domestic or wild bring to us ways of dealing with emotions that we either didn’t know what to do with or realized that we even had. I’ve heard stories - the man who’s wife of many years died of cancer brought a fluffy yellow duckling to us to save. In some small way he was filling that empty uselessness he felt as she slipped away from him. The man who needed to be needed and in a quirk of fate, even though he wasn’t a big animal lover, began building cages great and small. The 12 year old son that watches all of this and can trot out every speech I’ve ever made, then quietly help me decide that this one can’t be saved and can’t be left to suffer. But [...]
One of the greatest joys for a wildlife animal rehabilator is the successful reunion of a mother and her babies. Lots of books have been written about living in peace with the local wildlife. Even how to foster an environment to encourage wildlife without having them wreck YOUR home and eating all of your landscaping. However, little has been written about how to get the local wildlife out of your house once they have moved in or what to do with a separated youngster. The original call came in about 8 a.m. The condensed version was: “Two raccoons, a very small one and a slightly larger one had fallen though the suspended ceiling of the “basement” and that there was at least one more still “up there”, what am I supposed to do?” They had already called Animal Control and were now afraid that the animals would be destroyed. Luckily for them AND the raccoons, Friendswood Animal Control works closely with the Wildlife Center of Texas. I told them not to worry and to accept the live trap that was on the way. Trapping and relocating an adult raccoon is a death sentence, only 10% will survive the next 6 months. If the raccoon is a female with babies, it is often a death sentence for them as well. Needless to say, relocation was not in the cards for this coon family. The next call went like this; “We caught the smaller of the two and put it in a cat carrier, now what?” Hoping that the live trap would catch the mother, who was still thought to be in the office, I sent them off to buy the supplies necessary to close up the [...]