Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Dear Deer,

We all care about our fellow creatures and we want to help them; whether it’s by providing a food source, shelter, or simply looking the other way when the new hideout they they’ve found happens to be right below our bathroom window.

We get calls from concerned individuals all year long about deer who have unfortunately been injured. Whether they were hit by vehicles, or escaped a hunter or coyote, they are such large and graceful animals that it is difficult not to be disturbed by the sight of one limping or struggling. If the animal can still move about, even if it’s only on three legs, the best thing to do is leave it alone. If you really want to help, provide it a safe place to spend a few hours recuperating undisturbed by keeping the area free and clear of any kids and pets. Because deer suffer from capture myopia the risks involved in attempting to contain and rehabilitate an adult deer are very great and the chance of success is minimal.

Some things to note about deer as we move into the warm spring and summer months:

  • The Department of Natural Resources has issued regulations for the feeding of animals, in particular, white-tailed deer. Even if you don’t agree, the reasons for the law were designed to ultimately help spare large portions of the population from contracting chronic wasting disease. For more information visit
  • If you see a fawn sitting alone resist the urge to interfere. Mother deer will frequently leave their fawns for several hours at a time as they are not strong enough to keep up with her as she forages. Unless the baby is showing obvious signs of distress you can be certain that the mother will return, perhaps closer to dusk when she feels it is safe to do so.

Please watch for future posts regarding answers to questions about deer.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Badger, Badger, Badger...

Last night at 2am I was bottle feeding a baby badger and it was one of the most special moments in my life.

Wednesday, April 14 WINC received a phone call from a county highway worker in Jefferson County who had seen a dead adult badger and a dead baby badger in the road. The baby was small enough to still be nursing, so I went to the scene to look for the set (badger burrow) in case any more babies would venture out looking for their mother. Badgers have 1-3 kits so there was a chance there were orphans out there needing help. I walked the area roads and found 2 sets, both newly dug. Badgers dig big holes with a huge earth mound outside. No need to camouflage their home like woodchucks or ground squirrels. No one is going into a badger burrow! Unfortunately the signs were unclear and I didn’t see any babies.

I decided to stop by each of the neighbors’ houses and either talked to people or left notes explaining the situation with the badgers and asking if they saw any more babies or knew where other sets were to please call us. I spent the better part of 3 days watching the sets but saw no activity and started to believe there was a chance that there was only one baby.
Since the sets were new, mom may have been moving the babies and the other babies were at the old set, which I had yet to find. I continued to drive by before and after work but saw no signs of animals.

On Tuesday, April 20 WINC received a call that a baby had been seen near one of the sets. It had been nearly a week since the dead mother had been called in. I felt sick. What terrible shape the poor baby must be in. I thought to myself, “how could I have missed it? I should have tried harder.”

I put aside bills, deposits and banquet work and within 10 minutes was on the road. At the scene, I sat in the ditch next to the set – a kennel cab at my side, long leather handling gloves on, and a net lying in the grass above the burrow. About every 5 minutes a vehicle would drive by. Many of the people stopped to ask what I was doing. Talking doesn’t help lure scared babies out into the open so I was as short as possible with them. I watched the burrow for 15 minutes, then thought “I really hope that another adult badger hasn’t taken this burrow over.” I didn’t think it would appreciate coming out and finding a human sitting a foot from his door step. Then I heard some grunting and growling and out popped a little badger head! I waited, trying to stay calm and relaxed, then a car drove by and it went back in the hole. Another couple of minutes passed, grunting and growling, then it came ½ way out and laid in the sun. It was mouthing at a grass tuft and nibbling on some nearby rocks. Then another car came by and she was gone. Finally it came out far enough, again preceeded by growls and grunts, about 8” long and tottering on weak little legs. It took 3 tries with the net before I finally netted it, dragged it to me, scruffed it, and popped it in my kennel cab. I was saying thank you to the universe that I caught it! The baby was not so happy; sounding like a very angry panther in the kennel cab.

It screeched and hissed, growled and huffed for about 15 minutes. I hoped that these calls would lure any other babies out of the set. It has been my experience over the years that this is a good tactic for catching orphaned woodchucks. But no signs of sound or movement materialized.
Once the badger was here, Animal Care staff examined her and found her uninjured and in surprisingly good shape, although dehydrated and thin. Sub-cue (injected under the skin) fluids were given and oral rehydrating solution was offered in a baby bottle. She caught on quite quickly although she made a few faces at the fruit flavoring – what, no mouse flavoring?
She needed more fluids, both oral and sub-cue thru the night which led to me taking her home over night. What a privilege to see and help such a rare animal. And what a balm to my sad heart over her mother and sibling’s death.

By morning I was in love – ok, really the moment I first saw her little head peek from the hole I was a goner. But later this morning she was off with our volunteer Rick to Pine View Wildlife Rehab in Ozaukee County. They have more experience and better caging for a badger. And maybe they will get another baby from somewhere else yet this season to keep her company. Even though we’ll miss her and the opportunity to care for such an extraordinary animal, it’s the best thing for her that she goes. We make this choice often with animals when we know of other rehabbers or centers who are better equipped or skilled, and they often do the same for us too! But those special minutes in the night caring for her will always be with me.
-Guest Blogger LR

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

“My Dog Found a Nest of Baby Bunnies”

In the last week I have heard this statement from nearly 40% of the calls that have come in to the Center. And it’s not a surprise. It’s spring and cottontails like residential yards; that means we get calls like this all summer long.

Cottontails, which is what native wild “bunnies” are called in this area, are rarely ever actually orphaned. Here are several reasons why people believe them to be orphaned and why they contact the Center.

  • They haven’t witnessed the mother going to the nest.

- A mother cottontail tends to only visit her litter at dusk and at dawn. She especially won’t visit when she knows it isn’t safe. Beyond these feeding times she stays away and watches from a distance. There are several reasons for this, but we’ll leave that discussion for another day.

  • The (insert type of family pet here) has gotten into the nest and/or children have discovered the infants. People believe that the mother will abandon the rabbits now that they smell like humans (and perhaps the dog as well).

- Once she has put the energy into creating a nest, giving birth and caring for those infants, it is highly unlikely that she will not return just because people have visited while she was away. The mother may be suspicious, but as long as the nest area remains safe and accessible at dusk and at dawn then she should continue to return.

- IF – an infant is injured, call a licensed rehabilitator as soon as possible; if it has severe injuries or it has been exposed to a cat it should be brought in as soon as possible so that it can get the medical help it needs.

If these small, helpless creatures can continue to receive care from their mother they stand the best chance of survival. Even the most experienced rehabilitators, no matter how hard thy try, can’t fully replicate the diet and care they would get in the wild. These sweet little creatures are actually old enough to be on their own by 4 weeks of age, so they will be moving on in a hurry and the area can be treated to discourage the mother from re-using it again.

If a pet in the yard is an issue, try putting a laundry basket or empty milk crate out during the day. Bring it inside in the evening so that the mother can access the nest at dusk and again at dawn, then bring it back out again in the morning. Some people have even had success by putting some tent stakes around the basket, or a big rock on top to keep it in place. If this isn’t enough perhaps a small garden fence or temporary fencing will keep pets out during the daytime hours.

Once the nest is repaired:
· Replace the dried grasses, twigs and hair that were protecting the creatures inside.
· Place a string in a pattern over the top of these materials (I prefer a spiral pattern myself).
· Monitor the area daily to determine if the pattern has been disturbed due to the mother tending to the nest.

If you still have questions contact a rehabilitator or wildlife specialist. Do not feed infant cottontails; you can cause more harm than good and they can very easily become over-stressed if handled too much and feeding an improper diet can make things even worse.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

The Answer is Blowing in the Wind

Whether March arrives like a lion or a lamb, it’s the month for baby owls. It’s the blowing of the spring winds, which tests the durability of any Great Horned owl nest. You see, Great Horned owls don’t construct their own nests, they move into nests that are already made; built by other raptors, squirrels and crows. Add a full grown parent and two or three owlets and a nest that is old and already weak is bound to give way eventually.

This is where the Center comes to into the picture. First a baby owl will be found on the ground and brought into the Center. Animal Care staff will do a physical exam on the owl to ensure that it is in good condition. In the meantime, another staff member will visit the rescue site on a “reconnaissance” mission, looking for signs of the old nest, any other members of the family, food remnants, pellets or whitewash. And if they’re lucky, they will see one or both parents in the immediate area.

Once the old nest is located a new site nearby is chosen. The new nest will be constructed of a wicker laundry basket, lined with boughs and secured to the tree with bungee cords. A new nest can last in a tree, three to four years before having to be replaced. Next, the Center will contact one of our tree-climbing volunteers. The tree climbing volunteers are equipped with ropes, harnesses and spikes, exactly like the equipment used by tree trimmers and utility repairmen.

Arrangements will be made with the homeowner to return to their property with the owlet and to place the new nest in the tree. Once there, the owlets are placed inside a container that the tree climber will carry or pull up through the tree until it reaches the new nest. The tree climber will carefully remove the baby owlet(s) from the carrier and place them gently into the nest. All the while, the spotter below will be assisting the climber and searching the nearby trees for the parents.

It’s important that at least one of the parents returns to the nest site within 24 hours of the re-nest, as the owlets need to be fed regularly when they are young. Property owners are asked to watch for parents visiting the nest in the early dawn and late afternoon to evening and report back to the Center their observations. It’s from their information that we know a successful reunion has been made. To date, WINC has received six owlets, five owls in one day alone!

-Guest Blogger KF