When the parents unfortunately failed to care for the babies in the new, human-made nest, the eaglets were brought back to FCWR for care. Arthur and I helped with their initial enclosure – complete with a new “nest” – but this was only a very tiny part of their time in the care of FCWR. The eaglets were eventually transferred to a new, large flight chamber, where they learned to fly and all of the other skills they would need to be released back into the wild.
The release at Starved Rock State Park was magical, and I feel so lucky to have been able to attend as a FCWR volunteer. Both babies flew strong from their release site on Plum Island.
In case you missed the release videos, here they are:
If you click through to the older blog posts, you’ll see more photos and video of these beautiful birds. The Mooseheart Eaglets were easily the highlight of my 2011!
Flint Creek Wildlife Rehabilitation is a non-profit, federally licensed rehab organization with locations in Chicago and Barrington, Illinois. You can follow their blog here, follow them on Facebook here, and make donations online here. This post reflects my own experiences as a volunteer with FCWR. Any errors are purely my own, and opinions here do not necessarily reflect those of FCWR.
I am so excited to be able to join my Flint Creek Wildlife Rehabilitation friends next Saturday, November 12th, at Starved Rock State Park for a very special event. Regular blog readers may remember that back in the early summer, a Bald Eagle nest fell to the ground in Mooseheart, Illinois. The two eaglets inside were unharmed, but the parent birds weren’t caring for the baby birds so the eaglets were recovered, checked for injuries and general health, and later placed back into an artificial nest erected by volunteers.
One of the Mooseheart babies on the ground
When the parent eagles unfortunately did not accept the new nest, the eaglets were brought to Flint Creek Wildlife Rehabilitation until they would be old enough to survive in the wild. That date is coming up very soon – next Saturday!! I’m flying up to Chicago to be there for the release and I’m just bursting. I miss my FCWR friends so much!
The event should be spectacular. The release is open to the public, with a $10 minimum suggested donation to help defray the huge costs of building a flight chamber large enough for the eaglets. In case you’re wondering what that flight chamber looks like, FCWR posted the below video of the eaglets. Look at them, aren’t they beautiful!? If you watch closely, you might see an adult Bald Eagle in the chamber with the youngsters. The adult is non-releasable due to a permanent wing injury. He’s serving as a role model for the eaglets.
In preparation for the release, the eaglets were recently banded by a licensed eagle bander from Wisconsin. Scott Strazzante from the Chicago Tribune recorded some of that day’s events, which you can find here and here.
Will I see you at the release? The weather report looks favorable, but please note that for the safety of the birds, the release could be postponed due to inclement weather. If you’d like to see more of the eaglets, FCWR has posted photos on their Facebook page.
The facility is open to the public Saturdays. Like other similar organizations, ARC relies on the hard work of dedicated volunteers. We got to learn about a few of ARC’s education birds from some of those volunteers.
One of the first birds we got to see was a Short-tailed Hawk. This bird isn’t even on my life list so it was great to see this beautiful raptor up close. ARC has two of these birds; I’m not sure which one this is, but I do remember that the bird’s permanent injury is from a gunshot wound.
Next we got to see a Swallow-tailed Kite named Scooter. This is a species I got to see in the wild quite a bit this summer, and it was even our first yard bird (seen from the yard) after moving in to our house in DeBary! I had never seen one on the glove before, though, so this was a very special treat. Scooter in an imprint so she is unable to be released. We learned that Scooter enjoys playing with blades of grass which has earned her the affectionate nickname gardener. I got to see some of this playfulness myself! Note her beautiful dark reddish brown eyes in the video.
We also got to see Mrs. P. up close. Mrs. P. is a five-year-old Barred Owl. She is imprinted on humans and cannot be released into the wild. I took some glamour shots of this beautiful bird.
Another owl, this time the Great Horned Owl Gulliver, got some more glamour shot treatment. Gulliver cannot be released into the wild due to a permanent wing injury she sustained as an owlet.
Some other birds were out in the yard, but we didn’t get to see them on the glove or hear their stories. These include a Bald Eagle, a Barn Owl, and Red-shouldered Hawk named Pierce.
A falconry bird, given up by its falconer, was also in the yard. I think this beauty is a Peregrine-Gyrfalcon hybrid, but I’m not sure.
Finally, we got to see ARC founder Carol McCorkle work on flight training with a young, permanently injured Red-tailed Hawk. This bird has a damaged foot which makes her unreleasable. The bird is fully flighted and was training with Carol on a creance.
The birds were set up under a large open wooden pavilion, with picnic tables across the front to separate the birds and volunteers from visitors. The exterior of the pavilion is roped off around the back, to protect the birds but allow visitors to see them on their perches. It’s a very nice place for visitors and I’m sorry I didn’t manage to take any pictures of the general area as a whole. Next time. 🙂
Besides getting an up-close look at some beautiful birds of prey perched or on the glove, visitors can also see the birds of ARC performing flight demonstrations. We got to see a pair of falconry Harris Hawks free-flying, and I will share some photos of them in a future post.
Last month Arthur and I visited the Marine Science Center in Ponce Inlet. The small center has marine life exhibits and displays. They also have facilities for both turtle and bird rehabilitation.
Welcome to the Marine Science Center!
The main building houses several (mainly aquatic) exhibits with turtles, lobsters, sharks, fish and rays. As you’d expect at such a facility, the aquariums and animal enclosures are accompanied by informative (and impressively comprehensive) signage.
Several displays are devoted to Volusia County’s Artificial Reef Program. Over 40 artificial reefs play host to aquatic life in Volusia County offshore waters. The reefs consist of the remains of ships, airplanes, and barges, large concrete rubble and other discarded construction materials, and specially constructed reef balls.
Map showing some of Volusia’s artificial reefs
If you don’t know about artificial reefs, it may sound like the county is just dumping junk in the ocean. First, the reef material is treated to remove any harmful elements. Within days of the artificial reef material settling on the ocean floor, living organisms begin to inhabit the reef. As the community expands around the growing source of food and shelter, larger, predatory fish begin to visit the reef. In time there is a thriving reef where there was once not much more than water and sand.
Reef balls were used in some of the aquariums
My favorite indoor exhibit was the stingray touch pool, occupied by cownose stingrays, Atlantic stingrays, and a few other species of fish plus some crabs and other organisms.
Stingray Touch Pool
The rays circle the pool and visitors can touch them. One particular cownose stingray was extremely endearing. It would slow down as it approached an outstretched hand, and rise up to the hand to be petted. It was a lot like a head-bump from a cat. You can see this in the final seconds of the video below.
Super-cute scritch-lovin’ cownose stingray in last seconds of clip!
As we were enjoying the marine displays, it was announced there would be a short bird of prey program in the classroom, which was a nice surprise. A volunteer gave a short informal program along with Priscilla, a four-year-old American Kestrel. Priscilla is an imprint, along with four other female nest-mates. They were raised illegally by a member of the public before being brought in to rehabilitation. She and her sisters are all non-releasable ed birds at different licensed facilities.
Priscilla the American Kestrel
Priscilla is not the only education bird at the center. Outside there are several enclosures holding permanent resident marine birds like Brown Pelicans, gulls, and a Black Stork. There are also mews with birds of prey. The resident raptors include a pair of Bald Eagles, Red-shouldered Hawks, a Barred Owl, a Great Horned Owl, a Swallow-tailed Kite, and others.
Enclosures for permanent resident birds
The Mary Keller Seabird Rehabilitation Sanctuary on site has treated over 4500 birds since it opened in 2004. Not only seabirds are taken in; over 140 bird species have been patients. While some education material and rehab information is visible to public visitors, rehab patients and other facilities are not open to the public.
The center also takes care of injured sea, freshwater and terrestrial turtles and part of their turtle hospital facilities, as well as information about the dangers sea turtles face, can be viewed by visitors.
X-rays showing fishing hook ingestion and seashell impaction
Finally, there is a short nature trail and boardwalk that leads to an observation tower. We didn’t see too much on our hot mid-afternoon walk except for a lot of big, beautiful spiders. The historic Ponce de Leon Inlet Lighthouse is visible from the path.
On the boardwalk!
Ponce de Leon Inlet Lighthouse
Volusia County’s Marine Science Center is a great destination for nature lovers who want to learn more about area wildlife, especially marine ecology. I am sure we will be back!
This morning, Arthur and I saw what we first thought was an unfortunate roadkill opossum on the road as we drove through our neighborhood. To our shock, we saw the injured animal was still alive, and struggling to cross the road. What to do?
What would you do if you saw a Mute Swan bleeding by the side of busy highway? Who would you call if you saw a Brown Thrasher lying in the middle of a busy city intersection, dazed from a window strike? If a Great Blue Heron was struck by a car in your neighborhood, would you know what to do?
I was involved in these scenarios and more as a volunteer with FCWR. Being familiar with wildlife rehabilitation in the Chicago area, I knew who to call in case of animal emergencies. But I came across plenty of concerned citizens who were frustrated by the time they got in touch with someone who could help them and their distressed animal. Unfortunately, police departments, emergency services and local governments don’t always know the closest rehabilitation centers. If you start calling random government agencies, you might have to play phone tag, while your injured animal is waiting for urgent care.
If you believe that birders are more observant than the average person, you might also believe that birders are more likely to come across situations like the ones listed above. Judging from emails sent to a few state listservs I’ve followed in the past, birders might be in a better position to find and help injured wildlife, but they don’t always know what to do or who to call. So prepare yourself, and write down some numbers or add them to your phone. Think of all your non-birder friends out there too… who are they going to call when they find an injured bird? It might just be you – so you better be ready. The time you save by being prepared may mean life instead of death for an injured animal.
Now that we’ve moved to a new area, one of the first things I did was look up local wildlife rehabbers and note which species or families they help. I’ve added their contact information to my phone and to Arthur’s phone. I’ve made note of the addresses, too, since cellphone reception isn’t the same everywhere. In our case we’ve noted several that are close to the places we’ll frequently visit. We’ve entered them with the “last name” Wildlife, so we don’t have to remember individual center names and they are all easy to find together in our contacts.
Besides noting contact info for local rehabbers, I spent a few moments looking over the websites of my local groups. Rehab centers are almost always underfunded, and understaffed, relying on the hard work of dedicated volunteers. Becoming familiar with how different local groups work may help me and potential wildlife rescues in the future.
And it helped us help the opossum this morning. We turned the car around and Arthur got on the phone with our closest mammal rehabilitation center and prepared the cardboard animal carrier we keep in the car. I put on a pair of gloves and grabbed a blanket to gather up the injured opossum and transfer it to the carrier. (Besides noting the phone numbers, we take the extra step of keeping a few pieces of equipment in the back of our minivan to recover injured birds or animals.)
Here are some wildlife rehabilitation directory sources. They might not have the most updated information on every listing, so it’s a good idea to be sure the organizations you find are still in operation. Often a simple Google search will give you an idea of the rehabber’s status.
Back in April, Arthur and I visited the Audubon Center for Birds of Prey in Maitland, Florida. The center is part of Audubon of Florida and treats up to 700 injured raptors each year. In addition to rehabilitating birds of prey, the center has non-releasable education birds in their permanent care. The center is open to visitors six days a week.
We took a self-guided tour of the facility, which houses several permanent residents in lovely mews set on nicely groomed grounds.
Raptor mews set on lovely grounds
A volunteer was cleaning a mew belonging to several Red-tailed Hawks. Other mews housed multiple birds of the same species, including Osprey, Great Horned Owl, Barn Owl and others.
A volunteer cleans a mew
Other resident birds were enjoying their time in the “Bird Garden”, visible from the main building. Here we see Picasso the Red-shouldered Hawk in the lower left side of the picture; the Barn Owl in the center is Daisy I believe; the Bald Eagle on the far right is named Francis if I am reading my key correctly.
A view of the “Bird Garden”
From a different vantage point we watched this Bald Eagle enjoying an after-tub sunbath.
A Bald Eagle dries off after a bath
Other, smaller permanent residents were on display inside the enclosed porch of the main building. Here we see (counter-clockwise from bottom right) American Kestrels Olivia and Newton, Merlin Sable, and Eastern Screech Owl Buz peeking out from his box.
Small birds of prey
A young Red-tailed Hawk was sitting in another part of the grounds. Look at the first red tail feathers coming in, replacing the striped juvenile feathers. The young bird also has a light eye (visible to top right of bird’s body) that will become darker as it ages.
Red tail feathers coming in
Birds in rehab are never on public display, but visitors can get an idea of the behind-the-scenes work from the patient list board.
As we toured the grounds, we spoke with one of the volunteers, Sheena. She was kind enough to bring out a couple of birds for us to see up close. First we got to meet Merlin, a male Barred Owl. He was noticeably smaller than my beloved Meepy, but no less beautiful. Merlin is an imprinted bird who is also missing an eye (that’s a very sad story I may share another time).
Merlin the Barred Owl
Next we got to meet Picasso, a Red-shouldered Hawk. Having never seen a Red-shouldered so close, I was fascinated. He was smaller than I would have guessed (typical that the size is surprising!) and simply gorgeous. Picasso has a permanent wing injury and is also unfortunately missing an eye (I caught his “good side” in this picture).
Picasso the Red-shouldered Hawk
We enjoyed our visit to this lovely facility and thank all of the volunteers and especially Sheena for such a warm welcome. I have a feeling this was not our last visit to the Audubon Center for BOP in Maitland…
Yesterday Arthur and I were privileged to be able to release an adult male Baltimore Oriole. The bird was in treatment with Flint Creek Wildlife Rehabilitation for about ten days after suffering a head trauma. The release was done, with permission, at a Lake County Forest Preserve.
A shoe box was used to transport the oriole to the release site. After the lid was lifted, the bird hesitated for only a very brief moment before flying up into a low tree. He spent some time flitting around a small group of trees before finally flying high into a tree far away from us, where we lost sight of him.
This was our first release and it was awesome. It was so wonderful to watch this now-healthy bird flying away, adjusting to his surroundings, and taking off to live the rest of his life. Good luck, oriole!
On the last day of our internship, during the lunch break Dawn had to feed some baby squirrels. I got a chance to feed one of the older babies.
It is important to note that this was done under strict supervision of a licensed wild animal rehabilitator. Untrained members of the public should NEVER EVER (even if you think you can!) feed a baby squirrel – or any other wild animal. If you are a friend to animals, the right thing to do when you find a wild animal in trouble is to get in touch with a licensed rehabber.
Okay, on to the photos!
During feeding time, the squirrels are taken from the incubator and placed in a shoebox for transport.
First Dawn fed the younger babies.
Then I got to feed an older girl. She was hungry, squirmy and precious. I enjoyed every moment!
Many thanks to my classmate Lee for taking the photos of me feeding the squirrel!
The Raptor Internship at Flint Creek Wildlife Rehabilitation is starting to wind down — there’s just two more weeks to go! Week 10’s lecture focus was medical care for raptors. There were two coping demonstrations and then we all got in some handling practice. Three students from the Saturday class joined us, so there were eight of us on Tuesday!
The rehabilitation activities at Flint Creek are on the rise as spring babies get into trouble and need help. The first baby squirrels of the season were in Dawn’s care and we got the chance to see them being fed. Look how tiny!
Around lunchtime, Zen came in for a visit. Zen is FCWR’s Cooper’s Hawk.
Two birds had to be taken from their mews, and we drew cards to see who would get them. My card said “JR” so I went out to get Junior, the Great Horned Owl. I was warned that he might give me some trouble, maybe by hanging from the ceiling or by just flying from perch to perch as I would try to get him on the glove. Well, ‘some trouble’ was an understatement. I stepped into his mew and he hopped up to a high perch. I moved my ladder to him and climbed up to offer my glove. He flew up to the ceiling and hung there like a bat. For a very long time. I would climb up towards him and he’d fly off to another perch. This went on and on for some time, most of it with me looking up at Junior hanging completely upside-down from the ceiling. He was getting tired and so was I.
Finally he flew down to the floor of his mew and I could get one jess in. He was standing on my arm very awkwardly and as I stood up to adjust and get him down onto my glove, he bated. I held tight onto the jess while he flopped around until he was finally hanging prone. I lifted him up and got back to work. I got so hot and sweaty out there trying to get Junior, and when I was done I had to hand him over immediately to Karen, one of FCWR’s volunteers, so he could be brought inside.
I had been outside for so long I think I missed some lecture about coping. Coping is the term for clipping, filing and otherwise reshaping beaks and talons. In the wild, raptors wear down their beaks and talons on natural rough surfaces. Coping is a part of regular maintenance for education raptors.
I was happy to finally sit in my chair, relax, and see what other interns would be doing. Classmate Connie had drawn the ‘hold Meepy’ card, which meant she would hold and control Meepy while she was being coped. Meanwhile classmate Lee stood at the back of the room, holding Meepy. She asked to be relieved and, well, without thinking really I kind of jumped up with my glove to get her, practically before Dawn asked if someone could take her. I figured I would just hold her for a minute before passing her to Connie and Dawn for coping… like some positive reinforcement for me after my ordeal with Junior (because, well, I just love Meepy).
When it was time I brought Meepy up to the front of the room and Dawn thought maybe she could try coping Meepy on the glove. Very, very cool! But then I felt very, very bad for having jumped up to take Meepy in the first place. Meepy’s talons didn’t need any work but her beak did, so Dawn worked on clipping and then filing smooth Meepy’s beautiful Barred Owl beak.
As usual Meepy was a star – she did great! She got a mouse for being so good.
When Meepy was done, it was time to work on Junior. First Dawn put him into position on the table and covered his head. Covering the eyes helps a bird to relax in a stressful situation. Fellow student Kristi then held Junior while Dawn clipped and filed his beak.
Later we took turns walking with birds and then got to hold Old Red, another FCWR Red-tailed Hawk. First I took Meepy for a long walk and then held onto Red before she was put back into her mew.
Big thanks to all of my classmates who were so kind to grab my camera to take photos of me holding Meepy and Old Red. Special thanks to Kristi for sending me pictures of Meepy being coped.
Next week: more on medical care, rehabilitation, and review for the final exam!
Last Tuesday morning during my drive to Flint Creek Wildlife Rehabilitation I saw two American Kestrels. One was diving from a utility wire down to the ground; the other was perched and bobbing its tale as kestrels will do. Little did I know then that later in the day I would hold my first bird on the glove, and it would be a beautiful American Kestrel.
Our instructor, Dawn, brought a carrier into Flint Creek as the class participants were arriving. The patient in the carrier was Phoenix, a remarkable bird that we would later get to see being treated.
The focus for the third week of the Raptor Internship was handling techniques (we earlier covered basics and equipment). We began with a lecture and viewing photos of the basics of proper raptor handling. There is a lot to keep in mind when handling a bird, and all of the proper techniques are practiced in order to keep both the handler and the bird safe at all times.
After the lecture, Flint Creek’s beautiful American Kestrel Darwin was brought into the classroom.
Darwin’s information sign outside his mew at Flint Creek Wildlife Rehabilitation
Dawn demonstrated taking the tethered bird from perch to glove. Then each student took a turn doing the same. We were each able to spend several minutes with him on our glove. Dawn had to talk us through each step but I think we all did very well. I know the other ladies in the class all looked like naturals once Darwin was in place. I was so nervous when it was my turn but both Dawn and Darwin were so patient. It was hard to take my eyes off of him when Darwin was perched on my glove – I was awestruck!
Once the handling practice was over, it was close to noon, which meant it was time for Dawn to take care of Phoenix once again. We got to watch Dawn and her patient through the clinic’s one-way glass as Dawn administered medicine to Phoenix and fed her. I was so moved not only by this exceptional bird’s will to live, but by Dawn’s extreme professionalism in handling the bird. This beautiful bird has a long road ahead in her recovery. Please consider donating to Flint Creek Wildlife Rehabilitation for all of the remarkable work they do.
After lunch the rest of the class time was spent finishing our gloves from the last class and making equipment. We cut jesses, leash extenders and anklets from practice leather. Later I helped condition a few leather jesses in jess grease (kind of messy!) and even got to cut a few jesses using kangaroo leather.
Practice leash extenders, jesses and anklets (left to right)