Sunday, September 15, 2013

Busy Baby Bird Feeders

Summer time means an influx of baby birds. WINC has seen robins, finches, sparrows, woodpeckers, catbirds, cowbirds, grackles, starlings, wrens, red-winged blackbirds, cardinals, and many other bird species come in to live in the Avian Nursery. Many of these young birds need to be fed every 30 minutes! For this reason, children 12 and over (adults, too!) can volunteer once a week to come in and feed the baby birds. It’s a very fun and interesting task for kids and parents alike. A wide variety of birds come through the bird room, and Baby Bird Feeders get to learn about different species and see them grow. Baby Bird Feeders (BBF’s) are a huge help to all volunteers, interns and staff. They are an essential part of keeping animal care at the center running smoothly.
Fledgling House Finches
Our Avian Nursery consists of two-three incubators, eight medium reptariums, and 4 large reptariums in which the birds are housed. The rehabilitation process is different for each bird, but generally, infant birds will start out in the incubator where they are kept warm and cozy in handmade nests. Nestlings in the incubators are fed every 30 minutes because they have very fast metabolisms and digest their food quickly. When the birds grow to the fledgling stage, ignoring their nests, exploring their space, and even eating a bit on their own, they no longer need to be incubated. At this stage in life, wild fledglings would be leaving the nest and starting to learn how to fly. Birds at this stage are often brought into the center because they were found on the ground without their mothers and thought to be abandoned or orphaned. While this does happen, it is not necessarily true. Fledglings are becoming more independent and may venture from their mothers for periods of time. The fledglings in WINC’s Avian Nursery are moved to the tiers where they are still hand fed multiple times a day, but also encouraged to eat on their own.  They remain in this stage for a few weeks while they grow, interact with each other, and learn to be a bird. Older and bigger birds are put in the large reptariums, where they have lots of room to hop around and do some flying. They are mostly self-feeding and are only hand-fed every 3-4 hours. The final step of avian rehabilitation is the move to outdoor caging where they have room to fly, bathe, and browse for their own food. Baby Bird Feeders are a tremendous help to the center. Caring for these birds is a difficult and time-consuming task, but is very rewarding!               
I got the chance to interview two of our BBFs, Pat Kupka and Alison Huebner, a college sophomore. These ladies have been coming to WINC once a week since May to help out in the baby bird room.
 “My favorite thing about working in the Avian Nursery is getting to interact with wildlife. I would definitely recommend the Baby Bird Feeding Program to others, especially those looking for a project to do with their kids. It gives them a skill” said Pat.
Nest of Black-capped Chickadees

Alison says the hardest part about being a BBF was taking care of a large number of birds with different diets for each type, but she also said she learned a lot about how to feed and handle birds.
Fledgling Barn Swallows

Being a Baby Bird Feeder is an awesome experience which can help people of all ages learn and refine lots of skills like time management and prioritizing, but also handling and feeding wildlife!
 If you or your child would like to be a Baby Bird Feeder next summer, you can apply by visiting our website and to learn more about the summer program followthe link below:


Tuesday, August 20, 2013

WINC Becomes a Turtle Nursery

All sorts of animals are admitted to WINC over the summer—large and small, adult and infant, mammal, bird, and reptile. Among the wide variety of animals cared for at WINC, one of the most abundant is—surprisingly—turtle eggs. We currently have in our incubators over 100 eggs from snappers and painted turtles. Some were recovered from turtles that were deceased upon arrival, but some were laid at the Wildlife In Need Center! One such case is that of a snapping turtle with an interesting story.
WINC is currently caring for a female snapping turtle, which came to us in June after being hit by a car. When she arrived at WINC staff palpated her and discovered she had eggs! Her injuries were serious, but before we put her through surgery to repair her shell, we wanted her to lay her eggs.  After an appointment with our vet we realized she was close to lying because on her radiograph we saw that the first eggs were working their way out. She was given a room to herself with a pool and a large pan of dirt for her to lay her eggs in. After days of waiting, she had still not laid. 
Radiograph showing the 40 eggs the female Snapping Turtle was carrying.
Eventually, Staff had to induce lying by administering a shot of oxytocin into the muscle of the turtle to start the lying process. It was hoped she would make her way to the pan of dirt to lay her eggs, but she had different plans. The turtle floated in the water to lay her eggs while staff member Mandy Feavel had to standby to collect them all as she laid them. In total, there were 40 eggs. They are now reaching the end of their 6-8 week incubation period and are expected to hatch sometime in August.
Even more snapping turtle eggs were recovered by a female who was deceased upon arrival. She had been struck by a car, but staff and interns were able to pull out her eggs—all 63 of them! Over 100 Snapping Turtle eggs join several buckets of Painted Turtle eggs, which are all being incubated in the ICU.
A total of 63 Snapping Turtle eggs from one female.
 One bucket of painted turtle eggs has just hatched on August 6th and the rest are expected soon! The newborn turtles will be monitored for a few days while they finishing absorbing their yolk sac, then they will be released. Baby turtles are independent of their mother upon hatching, so they can be released as soon as possible.
Painted Turtle hatching.
Upon hatching, baby turtles look almost exactly like adults. Besides the obvious size difference, they are also born with two morphological features which distinguish them from full grown turtles. First, most young oviparous (egg-laying) species are born with a caruncle, or egg tooth, which aids in hatching. This is a small, hard point on the tip of their “snout” used to pip the egg shell. The caruncle will be shed within a few weeks. Turtles can also be born with part of the yolk sac still attached to their umbilicus. The yolk sac is mostly absorbed in the egg, but sometimes hatching occurs before this process is finished. The yolk sac should be absorbed in about 3 days.
Snapping Turtle Hatchling saying "Hello" to the world for the first time.
The incubation process is very important for the survival of the baby turtles.  An incubator keeps the eggs at a controlled temperature for long periods of time. Reptile Medicine and Surgery by Mader states three requirements for a good incubator: they should be well-insulated, heat should be evenly dispersed, and the heat should be controlled with a reliable thermostat. They also need to be kept in a moist dirt substrate to allow oxygen flow, moisture, and an even temperature. Many factors affect the health and viability of the developing turtles, so it is important they are undisturbed and kept in constant ideal conditions.

In the wild, eggs can take anywhere from 9 to 15 weeks to hatch, depending on temperature. Higher temperatures cause faster development and therefore earlier hatching. Since our eggs are incubated at a constant warm temperature, we expect a gestation period of about 8-10 weeks. The hatching process is not quick; it can take 24 to 48 hours! Once the first turtles of a clutch hatch, the rest should be expected within a few days. If incubation goes well, we will have over 100 turtles hatching within the next few weeks—how exciting!

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Mammal Nursery Filled with 13-lined Ground Squirrels

It was a very exciting day when 12 infant thirteen-lined ground squirrels were admitted to the Wildlife In Need Center back in June. Twelve tiny squirrels, still with their eyes closed, formed a squirming ball under a blanket. Each ground squirrel was hand-fed formula six times a day, a lengthy but enjoyable task. Over time, the squirrels’ eyes began to open and they began moving around their container, exploring and playing. Soon, more and more thirteen-lined ground squirrels started coming into WINC, adding up to twenty-five at one point.
The thirteen-lined ground squirrel, also known as the striped gopher, is a small rodent with 13 alternating brown and white stripes running down its back. Within the brown stripes are rows of white dots, giving this ground squirrel a very interesting and beautiful pattern. The stripes are good camouflage in short grass prairie settings. Adult thirteen-lined ground squirrels can range from 7 to 11 inches in length. They are active during the day, especially in warm weather. They are solitary or slightly colonial, grouping together in suitable habitats. Ground squirrels live in burrows 1-2 feet underground and 15-20 feet long. Scattered short burrows are also dug and used for hiding. An interesting thing about the thirteen-lined ground squirrel is the high-pitched trill they make when threatened or communicating with others. Those not accustomed to the sound may mistake it for a bird’s call. The Latin name for the thirteen-lined ground squirrel is Spermophilus tridecemlineatus, tridecemlineatus meaning “thirteen lines” and Spermophilus meaning “seed lover”. At WINC, our ground squirrels are given fruits, veggies, rodent blocks, peanuts, sunflower seeds, and a mix of other seeds. In the wild, they will also caterpillars, grasshoppers and

crickets. This squirrel can be harmful to gardeners by digging burrows and eating the growing veggies, but it can also be beneficial by eating the seeds of weeds and consuming harmful insects.
The rehabilitation process for thirteen-lined ground squirrels starts with them being formula fed with a syringe while they are eyes-closed infants. They are offered solid food once their eyes open, but are continued to be syringe fed until fully weaned onto solid foods. When they are independent and eating lots of solid food, they are moved to outdoor caging. After about 2 weeks outside getting exercise and acclimated to the weather, the ground squirrels can be released.

                When our original 12 squirrels were big enough, we moved them to a large aquarium lined with dirt to mimic their natural habitat. They enjoyed digging in the dirt and huddled in cardboard tubes. These squirrels which were once tiny, blind babies are now much bigger and much more active, running around and playing with each other, and occasionally peeking out and making their trill call. After being in the dirt tank for a couple of weeks, this group was moved to an outdoor enclosure where they have more room to explore, and the dirt tank was inhabited by the 11 remaining ground squirrels. These 11 stayed inside for another week, then were moved outside next to the original 12. Now the 3 smallest ground squirrels are in the dirt tank and will be moved outside when they are 8-10 weeks old. All ground squirrels should be released around 12 weeks of age, after at least 2 weeks of acclimation to the outdoors. We have very much enjoyed seeing these animals grow and change and are excited for release!

Thursday, July 25, 2013

A Gift of Clover for Our Cottontails

Recently the Wildlife In Need Center's mammal nursery has been filled with infant and juvenile Eastern cottontails—24 of them to be exact. Twice a day, the summer interns have a “bunny party” as they sit down and individually feed each cottontail. Each of the Cottontails grows bigger everyday; they are also getting quite resistant to being handled. Cottontails are naturally a high-stressed species in captivity, so we take precautions to assure the bunnies stay calm and safe, such as wrapping them into a ‘bunny burrito’ with a washcloth while feeding to keep them secure. They like to jump, so wrapping them reduces risk of injury. While Cottontails are in the nursery the interns must also work as quietly as they can to reduce stress.

Infant cottontails are brought in for many reasons. Some people find a bunny nest on their property, see no mother, and bring the bunnies in under the suspicion that they are abandoned. Other times, a pet dog or cat may get into a nest and injure some of the cottontails. We have many young rabbits brought into the center, especially in the months of June and July. This year, 153 Eastern Cottontails were admitted in June alone!

The rehabilitation process begins with the infant cottontails in a container with lots of fleece blankets and a heating pad. They are tube-fed warm formula twice a day, the frequency they are fed by their mother in the wild. When they reach about 2 weeks, they are moved to a larger enclosure with a hut to hide in and lots of hay and greens to eat. The weaning process is begun as the bunnies eat more solid food and need less formula. At 3 weeks, they are usually fully weaned and very active. Their fur has become very thick and fluffy and they act wild. At 4-5 weeks, they are ready for release.

The Eastern Cottontail is the most common rabbit in the majority of the U.S. They are primarily nocturnal, but can also be seen at dawn and dusk. Though fairly small, Eastern Cottontails can leap 10-15 feet! A unique thing that distinguishes them from squirrels and other rodents is that instead of using their front paws to eat, they eat on all fours, using their nose to adjust their food. Cottontails cannot sit on their hind legs, except to briefly reach for food above their heads. For this reason, they cannot extend their front paws for the length of the eating process. Regardless, the bunnies at WINC have a healthy appetite, consuming cups and cups of leafy greens and timothy hay every day.
Staff had something very neat happened recently involving a child from our surrounding community. Last week our door bell rang after office hours and it was a boy who had hand-picked clovers for our nursery of cottontails. He asked our staff member how long his container of about 2-3 cups of clover would last in our nursery. When he was told they would be gone in a day because we currently had so many bunnies and they love clover so much, he came back about a hour later with an entire garbage bag full of them! It was SO sweet of him and the Cottontails LOVED them. (Thank you for hand-picking those clovers for the cottontails in our care).

Once the cottontails reach 4-6 weeks old and are between 120-200 grams, they will be taken to release sites and set free to live on their own. Release sites are chosen from a list of willing people with appropriate property. Areas of land with lots of growing natural greens that have no pesticides or other harmful chemicals used on them are our ideal release sites. We are very excited for the cottontails to be released… it is very rewarding to see an animal raised from infancy finally returned to its natural habitat.
Update: 17 cottontails were released on 7/21/13. Our remaining 7 rabbits are reaching release age and should be getting back to the wild soon.