The Hawk that isn't a Hawk

The life history of the Common Nighthawk is so tightly tied to our own that it is amazing how successfully they fly “under the radar”. They have adapted so completely to our urbanization of their environment there is not a grocery store or shopping mall that isn’t patrolled by these voracious insect eaters. Normally crepuscular in habit (feeding at dawn and dusk), they swarm parking lot security lights at all hours. Nighthawks belong to the Nightjar family which includes Whip-poor-will and Chuck-will’s-widow. The family is called  Caprimulgidae from the Latin caper which means goat and mulgeo to milk or suck.  There is a legend that these birds sucked milk from goat in the night but they actually were feeding on flying insects stirred up by the goats.  Another legend has them sucking the blood of goats. Biting insects attack the goats causing them to bleed. The innocent Nighthawks were eating the insects preying on the goats. Common Nighthawk eat and drink “on the wing”, which means that they snatch insects in flight and skim calm lakes and creeks for water. The tiny beak belies the astounding gape of these birds. Unlike many birds that eat on the wing and use the beak to manipulate the prey before swallowing, the Nighthawk simply sweeps the air like a butterfly net scooping up everything in its path. Considered to be strictly ground nesters, the flat gravel covered roofs provide uniquely predator proof nesting sites. In the “wild” these birds rest on the ground where they blend perfectly into the leaf-litter. When startled, they bounce relatively short distances and try to hide again. Like the Whale Shark, which is neither a shark or a whale, the Nighthawk doesn’t exclusively [...]

Home Sweet Home

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.

Busy as a Beaver

Busy as a Beaver Cyndi Bohannon Beavers (Castor canadensis) alter their environment to fit their needs to a greater degree than any other animal besides man. Their conversion of densely wooded streambeds to wetlands and finally to nutrient  rich meadows is an ecologic miracle.  Whether you consider the beaver to be an engineering genius or a tenacious pest that is ruining a beautifully wooded stream depends on exactly where the beaver “is being busy”. Known to the American Indians as “sacred center”, beavers create rich habitat that act as a cradle for biodiversity. Wetlands provide habitat for almost half of all endangered species and their biodiversity is rivaled only by rainforests. Wetlands sponge up flood water, prevent erosion by slowing the progress of flowing water and raise the water table. Wetlands also act as earth’s kidneys to purify the water by providing natural “settling ponds” where bacteria can break down toxins and remove excess nitrogen from the system. Beaver vary in weight and size based on their habitat with the larger, heavier individuals living in colder climates. On average the beaver is 20 – 60 pounds and has a body length of 30 to 40 inches long and a tail length of 10 – 13 inches.  Pairs mate for life during their third year and can live twenty or more years. They have a single litter per year which consist of two to four kits (up to six have been documented) that weigh about a pound each after a gestation of 110 to 120 days. Kits are born with open eyes and begin swimming within weeks of birth. Beaver families consist of the mated pair, the yearling kits and the current litters. The yearlings babysit [...]

Life of a Wildlife Rehabber

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 [...]

Great Blue Heron

  Twisting in the Wind Margaret Pickell This spring, the greater Houston area experienced two violent thunderstorms that made us wonder if it was time to start building arks. It was during one of these three inch an hour storms that homeowners noticed a Great Blue Heron (Ardea herodias) was tangled by a stretchy rope to the tree it was roosting in. The largest heron in North America, it stands 36 to 55 inches tall, has a wingspan of 66 to 79 inches and weights 4 ½ to 8 pounds. Usually ill-tempered when handled, the wickedly sharp bill is thrust without notice in defense. The homeowners called The Wildlife Center of Texas and several volunteers braved torrential rain, wind and lightening to evaluate the situation. The Wildlife Center doesn’t have the resources to respond to most wildlife calls, but occasionally a case is so extreme and retrieval so dangerous that volunteers feel compelled. The Great Blue Heron’s predicament turned out to be much more horrible and gut-wrenching in person. The rope was wrapped around the heron’s beak and neck. Starving to death while being perched high in a tree was bad enough, but the wind was blowing it off of its perch. Unable to reach the heron, rescuers watched helplessly as the wind and rain blew the heron from its perch, dangled by its neck, fought an exhausting battle to scrabble back onto its perch only to be blown down again. The homeowners and volunteers brainstormed (pun intended) possible rescue scenarios but the heron couldn’t be reached by climbing or by ladder. Undaunted, the homeowners hit the phones and called a friend who owns Prono Cranes. He willing to come to the heron’s aid. To [...]

Pileated Woodpecker

  CenterPoint once again steps in to help our feathered friends.  Last year David McAden, WR&E volunteer and CenterPoint Energy employee contacted CenterPoint to help WR&E successfully re-nest two baby great horned owls the  story was chronicled in the Summer 2008 newsletter. This spring, David called the Wildlife Center concerning a pair of Pileated Woodpeckers (Dryocopus pileatus) who had drilled completely through a power pole in the Dickinson/Santa Fe area. The largest woodpecker in the area, once seen, it can not be confused with any other bird. As large as a crow, the bright red crest crowns a handsome shiny black bird with white wing linings. The top bill is black and the lower bill is a medium tan (horn) colored. The pole was seriously weakened by several excavations that fully penetrated the pole. The weight of the lines put it in danger of snapping.  CenterPoint agreed to preserve the woodpecker’s home. A new concrete pole was erected and the power lines transferred.  The male and female woodpeckers were last seen enjoying their home while the sturdy new pole was doing its job.  It is very rewarding to see companies peacefully coexisting with our native wildlife.

Wildlife ER Summer 2009

Patient 09-100203. Our executive director, Sharon Schmalz was at the Wildlife Center when she received a call from a train engineer in Beaumont.  He told her a small owl had been riding on a the stairs on the engine of his train and wouldn’t (couldn’t) fly away. As Sharon talked with the gentleman it was determined he would be coming right by the Wildlife Center on tracks that ran through Houston.  He called back when he arrived in Houston and Sharon jumped over the fence behind the Houston SPCA and rescued the little Screech Owl. The train blew its whistle, as it chugged away and the Screech Owl came to the Wildlife Center for a couple of weeks of supportive care to bring it up to a healthy weight.  It was released several weeks later after time in a big flight cage to build muscle tone.   Patient 09-100533. came to us after crashing into a window at the VA Hospital.  The very large Red-tailed Hawk had some minor wing damage and was of poor body weight.  He spent many weeks at the Wildlife Center under the watchful eye of several veterinarians.  He began to put on weight and soon the soft tissue damage was healed.  After several weeks of flight therapy in an off-site flight cage to strengthen this wings, he was released to once again soar over the skies of Houston.     Patient 09-100146 was the prize trophy of a neighborhood cat.  The little Eastern Grey squirrel had several puncture marks and was scared to death.  After a complete exam the little guy’s wounds were treated and he was hand fed for several weeks. On April 14th he was released with six [...]

Bull Frog

Jumping for a Second Chance Unlike Mark Twain’s, Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County, this frog couldn’t hop, much less jump. Barbara House, a WR&E permitted rehabilitator found an injured Bull frog (Rana catesbeiana) in the street near her house.  At the WR&E Wildlife Center,  veterinarian Brenda Flores did an extensive exam. X-rays revealed a broken back leg. Dr. Flores collaborated with veterinarians at the Houston Zoo to repair the break.   During surgery, a small pin was placed inside the bone to realign the broken ends and to stabilize it while it healed. Back at the Wildlife Center, several weeks of supportive care allowed the break to heal. Mr. Frog was a gorgeous specimen, as big as a woman’s hand with muscular legs that were as long as the body. His silky skin was olive green with brown spotting. Bull frogs are nocturnal and usually stay in vegetation at the water’s edge.  This particular Bull frog had strayed from the water on a dark rainy night. We’ll never know if he left the security of home in search of food, a mate or was fleeing predators, but luckily for him Barbara and her dog found him before it was too late. He was a great eater and quickly gained weight. At first he was kept in a small aquarium to minimize movement to allow the break to knit. Later, he was moved to a larger enclosure to encourage exercise that would restore strength to his legs. On a warm July evening he was set free in a pasture pond where he could be heard croaking his thanks well into the night.  Bull frogs breed from February to October so maybe by next spring there will [...]

Great Horned Owl

  When in need IMPROVISE!   By Margaret Pickell  One cool night in late January a resident pair of Great Horned Owls circled the Cole Creek development searching for the ideal place to raise their future babies.  They were having a tough time because so many trees had been cleared  to build human homes. This left the birds looking in a neighborhood.  The pair settled on a huge pile of pine needles on the roof of a welcoming homeowner.  Mother owl sat on the eggs waiting for them to hatch.  Two big fuzzy babies hatched from their eggs and so the arduous task of finding food began for the parents.  When the babies were about 4 weeks old a heavy rain storm pelted the roof as strong winds began to blow.  One baby was blown from the high roof, the other baby stoically made its way up to the peak of the roof and over the top where it was protected by an air vent.  Mother owl tried to feed both babies but several days later the one on the ground began to get weaker.  A neighbor called the WR&E Wildlife Center and after many questions it was determined it would be best to bring the little fellow in for an exam and possible return to the nest.   The young owlet was brought in on March 22.  It was checked over by our volunteer Veterinarian, Dr. Brenda Flores.  No broken wings or bones were found.  The owlet was very thin and dehydrated.  The Wildlife Center staff and volunteers nursed the little guy back to health and after a week he was checked again and it was determined he would be able to be re-nested.  During [...]

Operation Rescue

  OPERATION RESCUE Hundreds of orphaned and live trapped opossums and raccoons are brought to the center by the general public and animal welfare organizations each year. With neighborhood expansions, many of these youngest opossums are found on or around dead mothers in our roadways or brought to owner’s doorsteps by family pets. Raccoons often invade attics and garages to find safe nesting sites. Mistakenly, homeowners often live trap and relocate Mom only to find a litter of helpless infants days later. Our rescue program is a growing endeavor. ‘Rewarding’ is a term used to define our ongoing work in this area, but it costs resources, money, gas, and land use. Several opportunities are available for our communities to assist. Items such as gas cards or money for supplies, transport and release would be welcomed due to the numbers and distances necessary to travel to remote sites. Ultimately, having release opportunities on private or corporate land would enable the relocated wildlife to have a fresh start in natural surroundings. ‘Letter of permission’ from the landowner will be required for land use. If you can help in Operation Rescue in any way it would be greatly appreciated. In the event you are able to assist in this endeavor, please feel free to contact the wildlife center at 713-861-9453 or email us We look forward to hearing from you.

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