Wednesday, October 27, 2010

To trap or not to trap, that is the question

A phone call I received today was a rather unique one. The woman had gone to her basement door last night to see what her dog was getting excited about and when she opened it a small creature streaked past her and into the basement. At some point this morning he had found his way upstairs and into a bathroom which is where she trapped it as she made her phone call for advice.

Normally we don’t recommend using the “answer to every problem” live-trap to solve conflicts between people and their wild neighbors. This situation proved difficult however, as the animal was clearly hiding in a room far from the nearest outdoor exit in a house with 2 large dogs.

We determined that the wayward creature was likely a weasel. The plan was to locate a very small live-trap baited with canned cat food and place it in the closed room. In these situations we always advise homeowners to do their best to locate the point of entry and close it if they can (in this case it was a coincidence involving a door so it was an easy solution) and then release the animal to a safe corner of their property. We’ll come back to this story in a moment.

The next call I received was from a woman who had a Virginia Opossum in a live-trap. She had successfully trapped and “relocated” 3 in the past week and wondered if there was something less time-consuming that could relieve her of the midnight garbage raiders. Our conversation was a helpful one; I explained to her that not only was relocating these animals a lot of work for her, but it was also not the best solution – nor legal! After our discussion, she had a number of recommendations that she was going to set out to implement. Because the animals were getting into the trash, other than putting straps, locks or bungee cords on the container, one option was for her to contact her waste disposal company to find out if she could exchange her current receptacle for a clean, new one that didn’t have such a strong odor, or barring that, taking the time to thoroughly clean the one she was using. She was also going to try leaving the lights on in the area the receptacles were kept to force any potential raiders to commit their crimes in the light. Because she was not providing any other food sources (neither her nor her immediate neighbors were feeding birds or other pets outdoors) these few tactics should do the trick.

Opossums are by nature nomadic and they generally only stay in one area if they consistently find food there. They are not picky when it comes to food, but if they can’t find enough they will move on to other areas where they can. Keeping up food and implementing small things that change the landscape that animals are used to or startle them when they least expect it are often all it takes to solve conflicts in a humane manner. Even if being humane isn’t your top priority (why are you reading this blog then?), the safety, hassle and legality of trapping and relocating animals should be.

The second woman thanked me for all of the information and I think that she will have a much better week now. Back to the first caller. Shortly after we talked she had gone to the bathroom to check on the status of her uninvited guest and brought with her a heavy bag and a piece of bologna. When she opened the door he was peering around a corner at her so she instinctively tossed the bologna into the bag and held it in the doorway in front of her. Surprisingly, he was hungry enough to be fooled with her behind the door and voluntarily walked right into the bag to enjoy his feast. She was able to safely bring him to the long grassy area in the back of her property and release him back to his home and duty of controlling the rodent population there.

Two different traps, two different reasons, and at least two happy endings. If you have a friend or a neighbor experiencing conflicts with their wild neighbors and considering using a trap to solve them, suggest that they give their nearest wildlife rehabilitator a call for advise that may be better for both them and the animals.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Canadian Geese in Wisconsin Falls

No, I don’t mean the Dells. Whether you like them or not, Canada Geese are a big part of the fall landscape in southeastern Wisconsin. Large flocks descend on recently harvested corn fields and area lakes and streams. This is also the time of year when caring people will start to notice those unfortunate souls who get left behind.

Just today I answered a half dozen calls each regarding a different goose in similar situations. Our mission to rehabilitate any wild animal native to Wisconsin remains the same regardless of the time of year, but the calls and patients we get in the fall, especially the latter part of the season are some of the most difficult for both the animals as well as the people involved.

Of course each situation is different, but many have the same obstacles to overcome:

  • The goose spends most of its time on water where it is difficult or impossible for a human (or any other predator) to catch him
  • The goose can still run even when she does come out of the water making it easier for her to duck, dive and hide in the bushes where she’s safe from predators (us)
The other reason many of the calls we receive about geese this time of year are difficult is that injuries sustained a few weeks (in some cases even a few months) ago are unlikely to be repairable. If an injury is severe enough to keep a bird from doing what comes natural to it, namely flying, and it goes unnoticed and untreated for too long, the chance that we will be able to re-set it and convince it to heal properly is small. Due to regulations and the inability to survive if done so, we cannot generally just amputate the injured area. Even if we could, the animals overall health is often not good enough to ensure their survival through the process or follow-up care.

If you see a goose, duck or other type of waterfowl that you think needs help please gather the following information before contacting your nearest rehabilitator.

  • Where has the animal been seen most often and how near is it to water
  • What behaviors (holding out or dragging one wing, noticeably limping, unable to balance) are you witnessing that could help us pinpoint the injury
  • How close has a person walking been able to get to the animal before it responds (ie. tries to run away, dives into the water, or perhaps it can’t move at all)
With geese that aren’t yet approachable but are obviously injured the best situation would be for someone frequenting the area to offer up small tidbits of food like cracked corn, rolled oats or bird seed. This lulls the animal into a sense of security and will hopefully give that individual or one of our volunteers a better chance at getting close enough to contain the animal when it is up and away from the water's edge.
If you have any questions about an animal you think needs help always contact your local rehabilitator for advice and guidance.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Rescues Gone Awry Continued

Those of you who are regular readers may recall last week's harrowing tales of rescues gone awry. After being dedicated to the cause for as many years as Lisa’s been, she had lots of stories to share so I wanted to offer a few more.

Turtle Crossing

Driving down Highway 94 west during the summer, I saw a flash of what appeared to be a turtle on the side of the road. A dark olive, almost black color body with a bright yellow throat - Oh no! – a Threatened species, a Blanding’s turtle. By the time I realized what I had seen at 65 miles an hour, I was well past it and had to go to the next exit, take 94 east, exit and go back west. I saw the turtle ahead still on the shoulder, not in the road, thank goodness. I pulled over and jumped out to grab the turtle before it was hit by a car. It was an olive colored canteen with a bright yellow lid, which was popped open, pointing upward. I rescued it anyway. Another time during the summer when turtles were crossing the roads to lay eggs, I was driving and saw a turtle laying on the road. I stopped to rescue it, but it was a piece of car tire. I have also stopped to rescue several snakes that turned out to be car engine belts.

Blandings turtles may be endangered, but nearly all of the reptiles and amphibians native to Wisconsin are experiencing population declines due to loss of habitat and interactions with people (and our vehicles)

Seeing isn’t always believing

Driving to work one morning east on Highway 94, I saw a red-tailed hawk sitting on the west 94 shoulder. Probably hit by a vehicle, it was sitting injured or stunned on the shoulder. I exited east 94, went back west bound. I scanned the shoulders as I drove but did not see any hawk on the shoulder on either side of the road. Maybe it was just stunned and flew away, maybe it was eating roadkill on the shoulder and flew away. I exited west 94 and returned to east 94 to head back to work. As I approached the same spot, the red-tail was back on the shoulder. I looked more carefully at the location, marking landmarks in my mind so I could more accurately pinpoint where the hawk was. Exit east 94, back on west 94. As I approached the spot, I pulled off on the shoulder and put my flashers on. No hawk on the shoulders. Looking further, I spotted the red-tailed hawk sitting on top of a fence post in the far ditch. I walked towards it and it flew off, giving me a haughty stare. From east 94, I could not see the fencepost in the ditch; the optical illusion was that the hawk was standing on the shoulder of the raised highway. So, laughing at myself, but glad the hawk wasn’t hurt, I drove off west 94 once again and head back on east 94 to work.

Our educational Red-tailed Hawk, Raenah, was a victim of a vehicle strike

Guest Blogger LR

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Rescue Mishaps: Not what you'd expect

I’ve done many rescues for the Wildlife In Need Center over the years and most go well, a few crazily wrong, but some turn out altogether not to be quite what they seem. Now that we’re coming to the end of the busy season I thought I would relate some of these adventures.

Decoys gone wild

Driving down Highway 18 east of Wales, on the way to Brandybrook Community Center for a fall volunteer meeting a few years ago, my eye was caught by a white owl sitting on a fence post in a field. Unless it was a rare albino, the only owl we ever see in Wisconsin that is white is a Snowy Owl. We do not normally have Snowy Owl in Wisconsin as they live in the Arctic. But sometimes in winter when there is a cyclical crash in their lemming food populations, Snowy Owls will come further south looking for food. I wanted a closer look to see what that owl was. I turned around, drove back and stopped my car before I got the owl. The owl’s back was facing me and across the ditch and field I could see barbed wire twined around the post and the owls feet appeared to be tangled in the wire. I quietly got out of my car (owls can hear a mouse the distance of a football field so I’m sure it wasn’t quiet to the owl), put on my leather handling gloves and grabbed a towel. I knew I would have to subdue the owl quickly because I did not want it to thrash its feet and shred them on the barbed wire. I crept up behind the owl and was almost ready to throw my towel over it when I stopped. The owl was a plastic Great Horned Owl decoy that was so weathered the paint had worn off leaving the white plastic showing through. The barbed wire was holding it to the post. Obviously it had been there for years and I had driven past many times never noticing it. Some wildlife professional I was to mistake a decoy for a real owl! When I arrived at Brandybrook I related my story to explain my lateness. When I told people that I had stopped for a white owl on a fence post, several said “It’s a decoy!” Apparently I was not the only one fooled by a decoy.

Flightless in the rain

A call came to WINC during a driving rainstorm. Someone had called someone else to report seeing a hawk hit by a car south of Waukesha on Highway 59 between Highway 164 and Highway XX. Because I didn’t talk to the witness I didn’t have an exact location. But I did have extra coverage in the office so off I went to see if I could find the hawk. I drove east on 59 looking on both sides of the road for a hawk in the rain. Then I saw a crumpled mottled gray form laying against the fast lane curb on west-bound 59. I drove to the next intersection, turned around and drove back. I parked on the shoulder, grabbed my gloves and towel, and waited in the pouring rain to dash across two lanes of traffic to grab – a dirty gray t-shirt, filthy from being run over, probably thrown by momentum of a vehicle against the curb in a vaguely hawk-like shape. I did rescue it so no one else would mistake it for an animal. I didn’t know if that is what the person saw or if they had actually seen a real animal hit, so I drove back and forth that section of road four times before heading back to WINC to dry out. Hopefully our hawk friend wasn’t injured and flew off to find someplace dry as well.

Volunteers at last year's basic rescue training class.

During last year's basic rescue training class volunteers wrangle our educational muscovy duck for practice.

-Guest Blogger LR