Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Providing Sanctuary

“I just installed my new clothes washer and now I have a frog in my basement. How do I tell if it is a native species and if so, what should I do with it?”

You may or may not know this, but there are animals who migrate to Wisconsin that aren’t South American birds. Whether they arrive via tropical houseplant, new appliance, or even hitching a ride on our own vehicles; these animals usually migrate here unintentionally. Although not extremely common, be aware when bringing foreign items into your home that this may be the case. Most importantly, if you find a reptile or amphibian that you suspect might be an immigrant, even if it appears to look like a native species, always contact a local rehabilitator, conservation warden, reptile or other wildlife specialist before releasing it. If the animal is not from this area it may not be able to adapt and will suffer, or worse yet, it may learn to adapt which can ultimately lead to serious consequences for competing native species.

More often however, the frogs and salamanders people find in their basements are native and have come in via much more common ways like our sump-pump wells. This frog was unfortunate enough to have been discovered on a, albeit seasonably warm, still cold, November day. By then the ground was too cold and the time too short for any amphibian to successfully prepare for hibernation. These situations turn out best if a rehabilitator or knowledgeable reptile specialist can “over-winter” the animal and properly release it when the temperatures are warmer. Last year we ended up over-wintering several young snakes and a frog. It is only December and this year we already have 2 frogs and a snake looking at a warm cozy winter with us. These little guys need lots of protein to stay healthy through the winter so if you would like to sponsor either of them by making a donation for their care please contact us.

If you are looking for more information about amphibians and reptiles in the Midwest you can also consult with the Midwest Partners in Amphibian and Reptile Conservation at

Monday, December 21, 2009

Help us help wildlife

Did you know that the Wildlife In Need Center publishes an amazing calendar each year to promote the work its doing to help our wild Wisconsin neighbors?

I know that the primary goal of this blog is about helping wildlife and educating you about how you can help wildlife too. That is why I want to let you know that by purchasing a calendar for yourself or possibly for a loved one, YOU are helping to spread the word about how to help our wild neighbors too! This is our 15th year of providing care and we have chosen to feature some of the amazing stories we’ve seen in recent years. From the barred owl whose ground-breaking surgery, therapy, rehabilitation and release would have cost over $15,000 if were not for the generous donations of time and materials from our volunteer veterinarians, local specialists and volunteers to the tiniest physical therapy patient we’ve ever had in an infant 13-line ground squirrel. You can use your credit card and have your order shipped to you by calling someone in our office (262-968-5075) 7 days a week (except for Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Years days) or you can stop by anytime to see it for yourself. 2010 calendars are only $15 each and even if the high quality paper, binding and printing don't sell you, the amazing photos and stories will. Thank you for caring and we wish you and yours all the best in the coming year!

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Do you know anything about elephants?

“Do you know anything about elephants? No, I don’t want you to think that I have seen an elephant in my yard, but I’ve called you guys on so many other things and you seem to be very knowledgeable.”

The caller went on to describe the situation which she needed clarified and ultimately said that since she wasn’t currently in a position to look the information up herself, she knew exactly who to call.

Her question was regarding a conversation she had with a friend claiming that a baby elephant weighed in at an extremely high amount and was walking after only a few days. Although I don’t know a lot about elephants I could relate to her that a number of large mammals are able to stand and walk very shortly after birth like deer, horses and cattle and that an elephant would likely fall into that same category of animals. In nature, every species fills its own niche and every animal is an individual, but they also have a lot in common –both with each other and with ourselves- if you take the time to think about them. We don’t often get calls out of our realm like these, but we are always happy to help when it comes to people who care about our fellow creatures as we do.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Fowl me once…

This specific story was actually from a year or two ago, but we inevitably get calls like this several times each winter. The caller was sure he had been watching a duck that was frozen in the ice near some reeds on the lake abutting his property. The Wildlife In Need Center does not have drivers on staff to rescue animals, we rely on the public and volunteers to bring animals to our center to provide care for them. We do our best to get volunteers when there is an animal in need, but sending a volunteer into water, even if it is frozen, is something we will not do for everyone's safety.

Several calls came into the office with no update on the duck and it was clear that there would be no convincing the gentleman that this was anything but an animal emergency. Eventually the individual ventured out onto the frozen water himself (which we absolutely never recommend). After a short trip, this gentleman called back, admittedly sheepish, and confirmed that indeed the “duck” had been an expensive decoy that must have gotten blown into the reeds or unearthed from the snow due to recent winds that week.

We absolutely want to help each and every animal, and ducks and geese could conceivably get frozen in the ice, but it almost never happens. They may choose to go to the middle of a frozen lake because they know they are safe from a number of predators out there and those that may still pose a threat can be seen from a distance. They often pull their feet up underneath themselves to keep warm when they are on the ice. We recommend if you see a bird on the frozen water that you suspect is hurt or stuck to first try these steps:

  • Try to get a closer look. If it is safe, walk to the water’s edge, or if that’s not close enough, track down a pair of binoculars or telescope to obtain a better picture of what you are looking at.

  • If you are unable to get a closer look, or if you do and are certain it is still potentially an animal in need, find some small stones or preferably a tennis ball or other softer item. Stand close to the shoreline and gently toss/roll/skip the item/s towards the animal. Aim to the side so that you don’t accidentally hit them though! This usually gets them to move so you can see they are free.

    If these techniques lead you to believe that this is an animal in need and that there is something wrong, contact your local rehabilitation center or humane society to alert them to the situation and discuss what options and next steps are available.

    We were very appreciative of this gentleman’s concern as well as his efforts to rescue this defenseless animal, but most of all we are happy to know that this story turned out to have a happy ending - because it was not a duck in need of our assistance.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

"Bad" Raccoons

“We have had problems with some ‘bad’ raccoons. They have been getting into the dumpster for our residential living unit and when employees leave at night they are on the porch sometimes and they don’t run away.”

Okay, although raccoons are notorious for being mischievous and opportunistic, I didn’t realize they had begun to form gangs. That said, I explained to her that because raccoons are so smart, part of the reason they have been exhibiting these behaviors is because the employees and residents of her building have allowed them to do so.

The first thing I recommended to her was to evaluate any possible food sources. The dumpster is an obvious target so I suggested they talk with management for the building and perhaps their waste disposal company as well, to look at fencing or locking options that would prevent or limit the access these raccoons have to the garbage within. If this were an individual residence, often the best solution is to put off putting the garbage out until shortly before it is to be taken away, but as this situation wouldn’t allow for this type of set-up we have to be creative. Sometimes just requesting a replacement dumpster with new lids and a clean exterior that cuts down on the smells attracting the raccoons is all that is needed.

Additionally, I explained that the most logical explanation for these animals hanging out around the buildings, aside from the plentiful food source, is that they simply feel comfortable there. Much of the year, especially in the colder months, raccoons live fairly solitary lives and usually only find themselves living in close proximity to other raccoons in urban settings which offer up much more varied and abundant food sources. This could also be a group of juveniles or a family whose kits were born unusually late in the season, but their behaviors were not uncommon to those that we hear of regularly. The fact remains that when the individuals within the building saw these raccoons on the porch – likely looking for food scraps – night after night, choose to stay inside rather than scare them off by turning on lights, making noise, or even just opening the door, they unwittingly made the culprits feel more at home. I explained that they could also try placing ammonia or synthetic predator urine scents in and around the frequented areas to make them feel uneasy as an added incentive to the other strategies to be implemented.

The final thing I suggested was that she speak with the other people who regularly encounter these animals and try to share with them the information I gave her. My philosophy is that once you understand how to live with your wild neighbors, you will begin to understand how to live without them – in your space that is. The raccoons weren’t the problem, the abundant and easily accessible food source coupled with areas where the animals felt safe made for an ideal habitat, urbanity aside. This is why we never recommend relocating animals. Not only is it almost never actually as humane as you would like to think (a large portion of animals that are relocated do not survive for any number of reasons in addition to the law prohibiting the release of wild animals without permission), it is almost never successful as most situations fall into the same category as the one I’ve just been describing. Once the “perpetrators” are removed, the territory is then left open for others to claim and the cycle will inevitably continue.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Disoriented coot admitted to rehabilitation center

It’s not a duck, a crane or a pigeon was the description of a bird found lying, presumably injured, in the road near someone’s home. Upon arrival we too were stumped, but 2 minutes into our bird books confirmed our suspicions that what had arrived was a duck-like bird commonly referred to as an American Coot.

Our coot wasn’t really drunk, he may have been hit by a passing car however, which causes head trauma and the characteristics of being inebriated. The phrases “old coot” and “bald as a coot” actually originate from the 1430’s. According to, John Lyndgate’s Chronicle of Troy refers to someone being “as balde as is a coot.” This idea of the coot being bald actually comes from white markings on the foreheads of many males. To direct one of these phrases to a person in today’s terminology often implies, according to the free, you believe they are a foolish person, especially an older man. As best we could tell from our research, this is where the “baldness” comes into play. If anyone else knows originations or meanings of the phrase I’d be interested to know.

At this point the coot is in guarded care. He/she (I don’t know yet) has a pretty severe fracture in one wing and they think they feel scar tissue which means that the fracture likely did not happen just this morning. We are waiting to hear back from one of our volunteer veterinarians to get it in for an x-ray. Even if it is a repairable fracture, with scar tissue already forming, time is not on our side. We’ve rarely seen these birds here at the Center so keep your fingers crossed for the little guy/gal.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

The Turkey's were released

“The turkey’s that were released last week are still in the area. They come each morning closer to the house as we put water and a little food out for them. They come back again in the afternoon to check and see what’s left, but they spend the rest of their time scouring our land for bugs and seeds. It has taken them the whole week to gain the confidence to reach the outer edges of the property, but they seem to be getting braver each day and they are fitting into the landscape quite nicely.”

M. D. -WINC Member and release site registrant.

We do our best to keep as many young animals with their families each year as possible, but inevitably, summer is our busiest time of year as we raise hundreds of ducks, raccoons, squirrels, birds, cottontails and even some turkeys. Because these animals are being given a second chance at life at the Wildlife In Need Center and often a new family as well, they don’t have a territory to return to like our adult patients do. These animals rely on the goodness of the people in our release site program. Individuals who have property they either own or manage can fill out a form from our office or our website in which they detail the natural aspects of their property. Release sites need not be huge or even strictly rural, but urban lots and small suburban yards won’t do. All release sites are checked out by a staff member to verify that it is good habitat for the desired species. Releasing an animal on an ideal release site can be as important to its survival as the care it receives in our rehabilitation hospital. If you are interested in becoming a release site for the Wildlife In Need Center please visit our website or call us for more information.

And on the topic of releases: We were recently forwarded this wonderful story about a fellow rehabilitator and a succesful release of 4 sandhill cranes. The great thing is that two of these individuals came from the Wildlife In Need Center! Transferring patients between centers gives each animal a better chance to access the things that they need, whether it is a larger flight aviary, surgical care or a foster parent. You can find out more in future posts, by checking our website, or by giving us a call.

If the above link doesn't work, copy and paste this address into your browser window.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Foxes Away!

The caller had a fox that had been “hanging around” his yard and wanted to know what could be done about it. What was really going on was that a fox had been passing through his yard several times a week throughout the past several months. Since this was not the time of year that there would possibly be pups or a den involved this is what I told him:

The reality is that foxes have adapted well to urban life all across the country and even in other parts of the world; coyotes, raccoons and skunks too. Since he had never witnessed the fox hunting in his own yard, nor had he noticed any signs of a den in the area it is most likely that two areas of this fox’s territory happened to fall on either side of this neighborhood.

But what about his dog and children? Foxes, and most wild animals for that matter, don’t want to have anything to do with humans or our pets. Aside from playful fox kits, they usually don’t want to expend any more energy than is necessary to procure their next meal. Since they are omnivorous, this could range from some berries under a mulberry tree to an occasional cottontail, but rarely anything larger. Unless we interfere with their natural behaviors by trying to habituate them or by taking risks that put vulnerable pets in tempting situations, the average person will never have a bad experience with an animal like this.

When incidents do occur between dogs or cats and wild animals it can turn out badly. We get hundreds of animals into the Center each year that have been rescued from the jaws of Fluffy or Fido. When larger animals are involved such as foxes, the situation usually involves a dog or cat trying to protect its own territory. This is why I always urge people to consider this fact with regards to their pets’ safety: if an animal is small enough that you would be concerned about an animal like a fox or a raccoon it shouldn’t be left alone, period. In my opinion, this also applies to every pet we take responsibility for. Additionally, cats who are let outside reportedly kill millions of songbirds each year regardless of how much they are fed. All pets will ultimately live longer, healthier lives if they are kept indoors or allowed outdoors only in safe, supervised situations. Most pet dogs and cats are more likely to have an incident with another dog or cat in their lifetime than with a wild animal that causes harm to them if we do our best to keep these guidelines in mind. While it is rare, there have been reports of foxes learning to live in harmony with outdoor cats and one gentleman even called to report that his dog had apparently befriended their local fox and he was having the hardest time trying to convince him to do otherwise!

As far as children go: it is our responsibility as adults to teach them respect for wildlife. This doesn’t mean that they should fear their wild neighbors. With development drawing more wildlife into the urban realm, now more than ever, we need to teach the kind of understanding that will help our children to protect the earth and all of its inhabitants into the future.

Most people will never be able to get close enough to a wild animal in a normal, respectful situation to be at risk of injury unless that animal is severely injured or ill. If a wild animal appears to be showing signs of being sick or injured, teach your children that the first thing to do is to go tell an adult. The best thing that adult can do is remove the children from the situation; then go back and assess the situation from a safe distance before or while they contact the Wildlife In Need Center or another wildlife specialist. These professionals can help to determine what may be at issue and whether or not action needs to be taken.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Opossum, where art thou opossum?

I overheard this one, but can guess what the circumstances were. An opossum, babies in tow, had found her way into a garage, or perhaps underneath someone's deck.

The best thing to do is leave her alone. Opossum's, our only North American Marsupial, are nomadic by nature and do not nest, even when they have young. They do however, take advantage of opportunities like open garage doors, open decking or even unused dog kennels, when morning comes and they need someplace safe to spend the day.

If letting her be is not an option try these tips.

· Leave a radio on - put it to a talk station, it only needs to be at a moderate level because the goal is to make her believe there are people nearby even when there aren’t.

· Turn the lights on - other than when the food is so scarce they are forced to come out during the day, opossums prefer the cover of darkness, so turning on a light will help to decrease their comfort level.

· Take up any and all food sources - opossums are scavengers and they actually provide a valuable (if grotesque) service. Any bird feeders, fruit trees, garbage, un-cleaned grills, outdoor pet food or pretty much anything else that is edible should be cleaned up, brought inside or placed into an airtight container to prevent from attracting them.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Let a sleeping raccoon lie

It was 3PM when I received a call from a gentleman. “When I got into work this morning there was a raccoon in the dumpster. We've tried to get it to leave, but I think it must be stuck or injured because it hasn't left yet.”

Dumpsters may not seem like nice places for most of us, but for urban raccoons they provide a number of life's essentials. Dumpsters not only provide a cozy dark place to hide out during the day, they are often filled with a veritable buffet as well. In the spring and summer months mothers may also see them as ideal places to stash their young while out foraging or perhaps snoozing in a nearby location. (We all need a break sometimes).

The likely reason this raccoon has not left yet is due to the fact that it is terrified that the awesome hideout it found turned out not to be so private. Given the tools it would need in the off chance that it was trapped (ie. A board for it to climb out on or a box or other object that it could jump up onto to reach the lid of the dumpster) it will likely leave on its own once the sun sets and everyone goes home, leaving him to feel much safer in making a decision to leave the area.

To ensure a visitor of this variety does not return, or in the case of finding young in a dumpster, try the following:

1. Place a portable radio, on a talk radio station, on the ground near the dumpster before leaving for the evening (the radio can be wrapped in a plastic bag to protect it from the weather).

2. Soak a rag in ammonia and place it in an empty can or yogurt cup. Place this either in the dumpster or just outside of it. Hopefully the scent will fool the raccoon into thinking that a predator has been in the area marking its territory. In a pinch you can try other offensive odors such as mothballs. For maximum effect try purchasing synthetic fox or coyote urine. Make sure you look for the synthetic varieties, as the means of procuring non-synthetic versions are often in-humane. You can find these at garden centers and hunting supply stores.

3. Leave the lids open. If there is a possibility of severe weather try leaving only one side open. The open lids will make the raccoon feel vulnerable and it will be less likely to return to a location that makes it feel that way.

4. IF you feel that the animal is trapped – if the dumpster was recently emptied and they may have fallen in for example – place a stick or pallet in at an angle that they may climb up in order to free themselves. You could also place a box or larger item in the dumpster that the raccoon will be able to climb on top of to leap to freedom.

In the case of young, it may take mom a couple of days to transport them all to a new nest, give her time and respect. If the animal is obviously injured or if you have other concerns, contact our office between 9AM and 5PM seven days a week for guidance.

And while on the topic of raccoons; and paying homage to those few brave blogging rehabilitators who have been at this for a lot longer than us... This is a sad situation, and unfortunately one that is not uncommon for all rehabilitators at some point and in some fashion or another.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

One Day in the Wild-life

Do you ever wonder what the phone calls are like here at WINC? Did you even know that we answered a variety of questions ranging from the natural history of various Wisconsin animals to animal emergencies over the phone 7 days a week?

"This blog is dedicated to all of those people who make each day in the Wildlife In Need Center office interesting, exciting, frustrating, wonderful, awful, helpful, sad, happy, amazing, crazy and rewarding."

Our hope is that by publishing the answers to these questions we can help more people, and more animals, who are dealing with the same or similar situations. Enjoy!