Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Fall Fowl

Much like our feathered friend, Daphne, water and shore birds who are unable to migrate due to injury - or being domestic! - are going to become more obviously in need as the weather cools and the healthy animals begin to head south.
 Whether you like them or not, Geese and ducks 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 due to injuries they may be suffering from.

Waterfowl poses a number of diffculties that we don't face with other types of animals. The saying goes around WINC, "they don't call them wild goose chases for nothing." Of course each situation is different, but many have the same obstacles to overcome:
  • The bird spends most of its time on water where it is difficult or impossible for a human (or any other predator) to catch him.
  • The bird 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 bird can still fly even though they have a debilitating leg or foot injury. They will often stay in the water which supports their weight, only coming up on land for brief periods.
The reason many of the calls we receive about waterfowl this time of year are difficult is that injuries sustained a few weeks (in some cases even a few months) ago are oftentimes unrepairable. 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 coax 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 either. Even if we could amputate, the animal's overall health is often not good enough to ensure their survival through the process or follow-up care; and permanent placement is difficult to find if the injury area will require ongoing medical attention or care.

If you see a goose, duck or other type of water or shore bird 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 (not a vehicle) 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 birds 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.

With many waterfowl species coming into season for licensed hunting please be careful when attempting to assist a bird in need. When in any area where hunting could potentially occur, always be on alert and be sure to wear bright clothing so that any potential hunters in the vicinity can see you too. If you have any questions about an animal you think needs help always contact your local rehabilitator for advice and guidance.

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