Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Science, Education, and Tools for Monitoring in Wildlife Rehabilitation- What can we learn from our Patients?

The beginning of my career as a wildlife rehabilitator has been such an incredible journey: full of ups and downs, success and failures, and a steep learning curve.  Patients come to our doors critically injured, young, sick or dying, and the staff and volunteers Dane County Humane Society’s Four Lakes Wildlife Center that take the time to save these creatures are some of the most dedicated, passionate, and caring people that I know.  Many would agree that there is an astonishing sense of personal fulfillment in recognizing that our team is helping these wild animals by relieving pain and suffering, giving them a safe environment for healing or for growing on to adulthood.  Even grappling through the reality of numerous deaths and euthanasia, I couldn’t imagine myself working in a different occupational field. 
Jackie Edmunds with Red-tailed Hawk (1)
On the other hand, it took me a few years to realize that a major component of wildlife rehabilitation was missing: research.  It is true that there is much science behind rehabilitation, and certainly in education.  Various rehabilitation clinics own and present educational animals so that the public may learn more about local species – proper identification, habitat use, life histories, feeding styles, and more.  It is absolutely amazing to see a wild animal up-close, and it therefore encourages a greater appreciation for nature, and to some degree, tolerance.  As for science, there are vast numbers of studies that have focused on wildlife veterinary medicine, wildlife ecology, rehabilitation methods, and more – each of these subjects are intermeshed in the rehabilitation world, every one of them as important as the next.

When it comes to research within wildlife rehabilitation, however, specialists in our field come up short.  Specifically, there are far too few rehabilitators that ask the simple question: “how well does our patient perform after release?”  Release is the most exciting part of our job – we may spend weeks, months, or even years of effort devoted to a single animal, and our goal is to bring them back to full health to perform in the wild as if they had never been received by our facility in the first place.  How many rehabilitators know how to answer that one question?  Currently, we assume “happily-ever-after” in most cases.  Therefore, this question is something that I want to spend the rest of my life learning and teaching about. 

Bird banding is one tool that has been used to assess survivorship in rehabilitated patients.  I have been lucky enough to volunteer with local bird banders in Wisconsin (a huge thank you goes out to Dr. Mara McDonald of Biocore Prairie), and I have personally started banding released songbirds from FLWC this fall in hopes to obtain a few band recoveries.  Unfortunately, simple metal bands often achieve less than 1% on returns, there is much error in individual sightings upon retrieval, and dating the true time of death of an animal is difficult to determine.  Other options yielding better results are available to banders, some of which I would like to share with everyone today.

I have a unique opportunity to perform a different kind of banding research at FLWC conjunctionally as a 2013 Conservation Biology and Sustainable Development Master’s degree student in the Nelson Institute for Environmental Studies at UW-Madison (under the direction of Dr. Mark Berres).  My goal is to use GPS units, rather than just metal bands, to track our birds post-release. Red-tailed Hawks will be used as our model species in order to determine survival rates, alterations in migration and breeding behavior, assessing whether or not particular veterinary procedures affect survivorship, and comparing the of costs associated with wildlife rehabilitation to the percent of post-release mortality.

                                    GPS unit on a Golden Eagle (2)

Using GPS data to obtain knowledge on the fate of treated and released individuals will not only provide veterinarians and rehabilitators with the ability to objectively evaluate the effectiveness of specific procedures that are used in rehabilitation, but also allow for generating better criteria on the likelihood of long-term survivorship. For example, this project has the capability to help clarify the survivability, adaptability, and reintegrative success of the following common rehabilitation cases: 

·         Treatment and release of emaciated individuals

·         Treatment and release of digit amputees or patients displaying ocular trauma

·         Treatment and release of individuals with confirmed West Nile Virus or other diseases

·         Treatment and release of individuals requiring pinning or splinting of broken bones

Secondly, this project aims at assessing how individuals integrate back into their original environments.  In most cases, it is not possible to determine if a specific raptor admitted to FLWC is a local bird or a migrant.  GPS data can be used to track movements of rehabilitated birds and offer auxiliary insight into aspects of avian population ecology that we may not know about.  This information could be important for the continued well-being of this species!

Furthermore, Red-tailed Hawks are highly visible and iconic birds.  They are keystone predators in ecological systems, and ever more often they occupy nests in urban landscapes where locals can enjoy the sight of them.  FLWC admits many Red-tailed Hawks based on the simple fact that, being so close to humans, anthropogenic injuries are high within this species.  Compassionate and attentive finders bring birds to us to save their lives, and I would like to give back in such a way that benefits both the birds and the people who bring them to us.

Red-tailed Hawk (3)
In saying all of this, GPS units are a wonderful tool to use, but they are also incredibly expensive.  FLWC has a goal to raise at least $40,000 by May of 2014 to purchase 10 of these items.  Our volunteers already contribute their own time and money towards our rehabilitation efforts, and for that I owe them so much.  I know that there are hundreds of raptor rehabilitation centers in the United States that could benefit from wildlife rehabilitation research such as this, and my hope is that there are just as many generous people in the world interested in Red-tailed Hawks as I am. 

For more information or to make a donation to help with this important research, please visit Dane County Humane Society's Four Lakes Wildlife Center's website

Can you provide funding to support raptor rehabilitation and research? Make a Donation: select "Other" and enter "Raptor Monitoring"

Post: Jackie Edmunds, Wildlife Rehabilitation Coordinator
(1) Brooke Lewis, Wildlife Rehabilitation Supervisor
(2) Peggy Riemer, Waupaca County
(3) Susan Savage, FLWC wildlife caretaker volunteer

Monday, November 4, 2013

Tree Squirrels of Wisconsin

There are five kinds of tree squirrels in Wisconsin; Eastern Gray Squirrel, Fox Squirrel, Red Squirrel, and finally the Northern and Southern Flying Squirrels. Tree squirrels are rodents that feast on fruit, bird feeder seeds, pine seeds, nuts, fungi, vegetables, beetles, bugs, and will gnaw on antlers and other food sources to gain vitamins and minerals like calcium. Recently at Four Lakes Wildlife Center, we admitted a young red squirrel. Many volunteers have noticed our surplus of gray squirrels, but general lack of any other variety. Hopefully this post can help clarify a few of the differences between our Wisconsin squirrels.

First of all, it is worth noting that there are more gray squirrels in Wisconsin than any other type of squirrel. This helps to explain why a rehab facility has a high number of gray squirrels at any given time. In general, an adult gray squirrel will:

·         Be 18-21 inches long (including a 8-10 inch tail)

·         Weigh 400-800 grams (no size differences between genders)

·         Have a grey coat which varies in tone

·         Have white tips on the hairs of their tail

·         Have a white tuft behind their ears

·         Have white chin, throat, and/or belly
Gray Squirrel (1)

Interestingly, gray squirrels have different color phases. In other words, a squirrel could be black in color rather than gray, yet it is be the same species. The mutation of a black squirrel occurs in 1 out of every 10,000 gray squirrels and is caused by increased pigmentation or “melanism.” Black squirrels are more common in the most northern areas of their distribution likely because the color black is able to absorb the warmth of the sun more effectively than the color grey. Even though black-colored, gray squirrels are more rarely seen, black squirrels are actually genetically dominant. Those that are familiar with basic concepts in genetics realize that dominance in a gene does not warrant dominance in the population. An explanation for the lack of black squirrels is the ease in which to spot them. When early settlers started moving West, they turned forests into cropland and began hunting squirrels to stop them from eating the crops. The black squirrels were easier to see and kill by both humans and predators, so the gray squirrels began to dominate the gene pool and are now more common.

The fox squirrel is frequently mistaken for a large gray squirrel, when in fact it is a different species. Gray squirrels heavily populate Wisconsin, however fox squirrels are still rather common. Data concerning their population size is not reliable since fox squirrels and gray squirrels are too frequently mistaken for one another. An adult fox squirrel will:

·         Be 20-22 inches long

·         Weigh 650-900 grams (no size differences between sex)

·         Have a rusty brown coat

·         Have blacked tipped (rather than white tipped) hairs on their tail

·         Have shorter/rounder ears than gray squirrels

·         Are more common in southern and rural areas of Wisconsin

Fox Squirrel (2)

The red squirrel prefers the northern part of the state and had previously been known to go only as far south as Sauk County. This data is a little outdated; however, finding a red squirrel around the Madison area is still very rare. An adult red squirrel:

·         Is smaller than the gray or fox squirrel at 11-14 inches long (4-6 inch tail)

·         Weighs 190-280 grams

·         Has a white eye ring

·         Reddish coat and darker red/cinnamon tail

·         Usually has blacked tipped hairs

·         A black line on each sides separates a white underbelly from the red coat, especially during summertime

·       Color mutations are much more rare in red squirrels than in gray or fox squirrels

Red Squirrel (3)

In comparison to the other two squirrels, a red squirrels diet consists of more pine seeds. This is probably because red squirrels are more common in the northern, pine-inhabited parts of the state. The red squirrel has also been known to drink sap from the trees. Although smaller, these squirrels are known to be much more chatty and aggressive than gray squirrels.

The northern and southern flying squirrels inhabit where their name implies. The southern flying squirrel does occupy most of the southern part of the state, while the northern flying squirrel does not go much further than the top third of Wisconsin. They are both small in comparison to other tree squirrels, yet the northern flying squirrel is larger than the southern. Both flying squirrels have a patagium, or a flap of skin between the front and back legs. This is how they get the name “flying squirrel,” because their flap helps them to glide gracefully from a higher tree branch to a lower one. Conversely, they are rather awkward travellers on the ground. An adult northern flying squirrel is:

·         110-230 grams

·         10-12 inches including the tail length of 4.3-5.9 inches

·         Very silky fur that is cinnamon in color

·         Grey belly fur with white tips on the hairs

·         Has a patagium to help glide in the air

·         Has proportionally large eyes

·         Is exclusively nocturnal (unlike other tree squirrels that are diurnal)

·         Has only one litter per year

Northern Flying Squirrel (4)

The same is true for an adult southern flying squirrel, aside from a few differences including:

·         Has fully white underbelly fur

·         Is 8-10 inches long

·         Weighs 70-100grams

·         Has about 2 litters per year

Southern Flying Squirrel (5)

 As previously mentioned, gray squirrels are the most abundant squirrel species in Wisconsin. Sightings are more frequent due to their behavior and adaptation towards urban locations. Other tree squirrels, especially the red squirrel and the northern flying squirrel, are not as common this far south in Wisconsin. Most squirrel species have similar breeding times, litter sizes, and diet. Flying squirrels are probably the most unique species considering their gliding abilities as well as their nocturnal behaviors. Nonetheless, it is possible that any of the five tree squirrel species above could end up at our facility, so it is important to realize these differences in order to properly identify each species care and needs.

Post: Alyssa Gohr, FLWC Intern
(1)  Alyssa Gohr
(2) http://www.utdallas.edu/~assmann/POLC/polc_053108.html
(3)  Alyssa Gohr
(4)  http://morozit.ca/projects/morningside/wildlife.htm
(5)  http://www.nenature.com/SouthernFlyingSquirrelPhoto.htm



Monday, February 25, 2013

Juvenile Bald Eagle at Home in Maryland

Shortly after her arrival at FLWC
For the past six months, FLWC staff and volunteers have been caring for a juvenile bald eagle that came from Prairie du Chien near the Mississippi River. A resident of the area had been watching her on the ground with what appeared to be a leg or wing injury. She had also been drinking from a chlorinated pool which could cause medical issues if she persisted to drink from this source. When she arrived at FLWC, she was very dehydrated and thin.  FLWC staff and volunteers rehydrated her and fed her an easily digestible liquid diet via a feeding tube several times a day. She improved quickly and progressed to eating foods on her own. Also in our care at the same time was an adult male bald eagle with whom she was able to share a flight cage with after gaining some weight and strength. It was a great benefit to both birds to have one of their own species to share the space with.

Adult male on left, juvenile on the right.  Bald eagles don't get their fully white heads until 5 years of age.
After some time in our largest flight cage, we noticed she had some difficulty accurately landing on her perches after flight. We did some further evaluations and found she had a significant visual impairment in her left eye. Eagles rely on their keen eyesight to hunt for food and with this loss of vision, she would never be able to be released back to the wild.

At that point, we began looking for placement for her in a licensed educational facility that was approved by the United States Fish and Wildlife Service. We received several inquires from facilities across the country that were interested in taking her in. After speaking with the enthusiastic and caring staff at Nanjemoy Creek Environmental Education Center in Nanjemoy, Maryland, it was apparent that they would be a great fit for her. The center in Maryland had recently lost a 30+ year old female bald eagle due to health issues and was looking for another bird to become their educational ambassador.

Once all the paperwork was complete, we began to look at transportation options for getting her from Wisconsin to Maryland.  Pilots N Paws was contacted by the Maryland center to see if they could help.  Pilots N Paws is non-profit organization that helps facilitate transportation of rescue and shelter animals by pilots and airplane owners that are willing to donate their services. Members of the group showed interest in helping right away but given the time of year, it took several weeks of planning and coordination to find a time where the weather was good all the way from Wisconsin to Maryland to make the transport safe for everyone. 

The day before her big trip
The eagles journey took place in two legs - the first pilot flew her from Janesville, Wisconsin to Zanesville, Ohio, and a second pilot took her the rest of the way to Maryland.  On Saturday morning, FLWC volunteers, Amy Streff and her husband, and John Kraak drove her from Madison to Janesville to catch her first flight at 11 am.  Here are some photos from her journey.

Getting her ready for her journey - left to right - intern Kassie Brown, volunteer John Kraak, and FLWC staff Jackie Edmunds.  They placed a tail guard and carpal bumpers on her to protect her from damaging her tail feathers and wings  during the long trip.
All ready to go
Arriving in Janesville

Pilot Mike Greene (middle),  and FLWC volunteers Amy Streff (second from right) and John Kraak (far right)

John delivering the final paperwork to Mike before heading out

Arrival in Ohio - half way there.

The hand-off in Ohio between pilot Mike Greene (right) who flew Wisconsin to Ohio, and Wes Hughes (left), who took the second leg of the trip.
By 7 pm, we had received news that she had arrived safely at her final destination.  While we would have preferred for her to be released to live freely in the wild, we are grateful that she has a permanent home where she can work to represent her species and help create a love and respect for them with the youth of Maryland.

At her final destination with her new handler, Environmental Education Instructor Mike Callahan, who is also an apprentice falconer.
You can read more about her journey in a newspaper article by Southern Maryland Newspapers. We'd like to thank Paula and Mike at Nanjemoy Creek Environmental Education Center for their efforts in coordinating the transportation and for giving this girl a place to call home.  We would also like to thank pilots Mike Greene and Wes Hughes for generously donating their time and talent to get her to Maryland safely.

Post:  Brooke Lewis, Wildlife Rehabilitation Supervisor
Photos: Brooke Lewis, Mike Callahan, John Kraak, Mike Greene

Thursday, January 31, 2013

Pleased to Make Your Acquaintance, Miss Arctic Visitor!

Redpoll 13-0027 (1)
On the morning of January 21st a shoebox containing an unidentified bird was dropped off at the Four Lakes Wildlife Center. A concerned citizen had found the bird hopping around his feeder and noticed that the winged-creature was unable to exercise its right to flight! Worried for its safety, the man carefully captured and carried the bird to us where she could at least be protected from the elements in her grounded condition.

After admitting the bird as our 27th patient of the year, we peaked into the box and were surprised to find a redpoll. Somewhat rare to these parts, redpolls are a group within the finch family and are classified into three species: Arctic, Common, and Lesser redpoll. We quickly took to the books for field markers in order to distinguish between the three different classifications. After a little research and some general observations about our patient, we concluded that this was one of two redpolls – the most likely candidate, the Common Redpoll, Acanthis flammea, or more rarely, the Hoary Redpoll, Carduelis hornemanni. Almost identical plumages and similar vocals make these birds very difficult to tell apart, even to the experienced birder, but I decided to do some research on Hoary Redpolls to share with FLWC blog readers.
Hoary Redpoll (2)
Common Redpoll (3)
According to Reader’s Digest: Book of North American Birds (1990), the Hoary Redpoll is the songbird best adapted to extreme cold. The species nests in low trees and shrubs within coniferous forests and along sheltered river banks in Canada’s Northern-most territories. Because of the redpoll’s remote breeding grounds, little is known about their population size – interestingly, even our species classification system (i.e. separating the three types by color and shading) is approximate.

For researchers and bird-enthusiasts, redpolls are closely associated with birch trees due to their preference for birch seed. Since these birds breed and typically winter so far north they require more calorie-dense foods,  such as birch seed, which their bodies can burn to withstand arctic temperatures. Additionally, redpolls have a unique pocket along their esophagus where they can store seeds just before dark; the seeds are then digested during the night keeping the bird warm and alive.

 Sadly, our redpoll, whether Common or Hoary, died a day after her admittance – the precise reason we are uncertain. Despite the unfortunate outcome, we were thrilled to work with such a unique species.. Even a Common Redpoll is not as common in Wisconsin as one would think, and it is only the straggler Hoary Redpoll that occasionally flocks with a group of Commons that will find itself so far south. For this reason, we were pleased to make the acquaintance – if only briefly - of our arctic visitor.

Post:  Kassie Brown, FLWC intern
Online Sources:

Photo Credit:
(1) Brooke Lewis, Wildlife Rehabilitation Supervisor
via photopinhttp://photopin.com">photopin> cchttp://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/2.0/">cc>


Wednesday, January 2, 2013

This holiday season we can all be thankful for…knowledge on rabies prevention!

     As the season turns to winter, the influx of patients at Dane County Humane Society’s Four Lakes Wildlife Center slows down to a trickle.  However, a flurry of excitement occurred when we received a call about an injured fox in Oxford, Wisconsin.  It was reported that this fox was hit by a car; however, upon exam, no trauma to the body was able to be observed. There was no blood, nor any broken bones yet the animal was having seizures and acting very strange.  These symptoms indicated a few possible diagnoses: canine distemper, severe trauma or rabies.  Due to the poor neurologic condition, recurring seizures and the risk of rabies, the fox was humanely euthanized. The fox was tested for the rabies virus and it came back negative.

Despite a negative test result for rabies, the fox still had shown clinical signs that were consistent with an animal with the rabies virus. Many people are afraid of rabies or have heard horror stories about it.  I would like to clear the air by providing clinical information and simple preventative measures to keep one safe and rabies-free.  It is truly not something to be afraid of as long as you are armed with knowledge!

First, rabies is a virus that infects the central nervous system.  Symptoms of the virus include fever, headache, nausea, weakness, muscle aches, insomnia, anxiety, seizures, confusion, paralysis, excitation, hallucination, foaming at the mouth, trouble swallowing, hydrophobia and eventual death.  To contract the virus, one must come into contact with an animal with rabies.  In the state of Wisconsin, the most commonly affected wild animals, called the rabies reservoir, are skunks.  Bats are also implicated in Wisconsin.  In other areas of the country, the primary rabies reservoir animal varies.  In some areas raccoon, coyote and fox rabies are more prevalent than skunk rabies.  All mammals are susceptible to the virus and cases of other wild mammals with the virus have been documented including woodchucks and squirrels.

The rabies virus most commonly enters the body through infected saliva when bitten.  It has also been documented to enter through fluids from other mucous membranes like the eyes, nose, and mouth, although this type of transmission is rare.  The incubation period, in other words the time from being bitten to showing signs of the disease, can vary from weeks to months.  During the incubation period, an animal cannot pass the virus on to another animal or person.  Once symptoms are present, the animal is able to spread the disease and commonly dies within 7 days.

To protect oneself from rabies, the first and most obvious preventative measure is to avoid being bitten. If the nature of one’s job or recreational activities puts them in situations where this is more likely (wildlife rehabilitation!) then further preventative measures should to be taken.  Getting a series of rabies pre-exposure shots should be completed. This is a sequence of three shots given over a couple of weeks.  If you are bitten by a rabies vector species, as is the case with any animal bite, it is important to thoroughly wash the wound out immediately.  Consulting with your medical doctor right away to discuss the risk is advised.

Depending on the animal, the trend of rabies in local wildlife, the nature of the exposure and whether the animal can be tested for the virus, the doctor may decide to administer rabies shots.  This is called post-exposure prophylaxis and is intended to prevent rabies infection. If you have had the pre-exposure vaccines, there are two post exposure shots.  If you have not had the rabies pre-exposure shots and are exposed to the virus, then the post-exposure prophylaxis will be increased to five shots.  In all situations, DO NOT delay going to see a doctor.  Possible contraction of rabies is not an emergency but it should be dealt with quickly.  Treatment must begin before the onset of any symptoms to be successful.  Once symptoms of the virus are present, the disease is nearly always fatal.

In conclusion, the biggest take home point of this entire post is that RABIES IN PEOPLE IS PREVENTABLE…as long as you take the appropriate preventative measures! While very dangerous, this virus can be easily avoided.  Now armed with this knowledge you can let go of any fear you may have had about rabies and live life!  For more information visit the CDC’s website at http://www.cdc.gov/rabies/index.html.

Post: Laura Martinelli, FLWC Intern