Tuesday, November 3, 2009

1st Annual Bird Day at Fairchild

The Miami Science Museum's Falcon Batchelor Bird of Prey Center participated in Fairchild Tropical Garden's first annual bird day. There was a full line up of speakers and bird walks including other exhibitors and vendors. Visitors were very enthusiastic about the presence of the birds and asked very thoughtful and intelligent questions about our resident raptors.

Mr. Pepe, our red shouldered hawk is always a favorite of mine to take to events such as this one. The admiration by the bird enthusiasts was very well received by him. He is an outstanding educational ambassador and sits quietly while people take his picture and inspect him closely. Sadly, it is because he was raised by humans that he makes such an outstanding educational bird. He is not without fault however, and cannot be housed with other birds because of his dangerous aggression towards his own kind. He is also unpredictable with the wildlife staff at times because of his hormonal urges. Clearly, this bird belongs in the wild but cannot be released because of these behavioral issues.
Screech-o is an eastern screech owl. Also an imprint, he is unable to be released because of his behavioral inadequacies. He is also prone to show unhealthy aggression towards other screech owls. He is one of our most popular educational birds and the foundation of any good bird of prey program. He gives us a chance to show children and adults that birds come in all sizes and small doesn't always mean baby.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Out With the Old, In With the New

Well, here it is, the last one from the migration season 2008-2009. This cooper's hawk became an extended case for us due to a highly contagious protozoan infection which resulted in a lengthy stay in isolation in a small hospital cage. Due to the high strung personality of this type of hawk, she broke most of her flight feathers, rendering her unreleasable. It is a challenge to manage these types of cases because the longer they stay in captivity, the greater the odds that they will sustain even more injuries that may render them unreleasable. This extended stay in captivity that results in a release is an especially big reason to celebrate. Those that know and work with cooper's hawks can appreciate this on a deeply personal level. So while the reader
may shrug and say oh, another cooper's hawk release, we celebrate each victory as each one of these feisty warriors is truly a challenge and a beauty to behold!

The 2009-2010 migration finally brought us our first peregrine. He sustained a fracture to his left wing and has a really good prognosis. We will remove his bandage this weekend and allow him to move the wing a bit so as not to cause any stiffness or retraction of tendons. We are considering ourselves extremely fortunate as he is quite calm and we anticipate that we should see him out of our center sometime in November.
The weather has been quite hot this year averaging in the upper 80s to low 90s every day. Too hot for fall, and too hot I think for migrating birds. The turkey vultures have arrived but the rest are slow to come south, or maybe just avoided us altogether?

Monday, October 12, 2009

Bird Profile- Brother the Peregrine

Since we are in anticipation of the impending yearly fall migration, I thought I'd share a photo of our resident peregrine falcon Brother who resides at the Miami Science Museum's Falcon Batchelor Bird of Prey Center. As evidenced by the photo above, Brother suffers from a prior injury to his left wing rendering him unable to be released back into the wild.

Every year peregrine falcons make the annual journey from their spring/summer homes in the Arctic tundra of Canada down into South America. These amazing migratory routes bring them straight down through the heart of downtown Miami. While it may seem strange, peregrines are frequently seen in the heart of many downtown areas of Atlanta, Philadelphia, Chicago, and multiple other locales across the country.

An interesting blog to follow can be found here http://frgroup.frg.org/2009/09/2009-southern-cross-peregrine-migration.html. The Southern Cross peregrine project actively monitors migrating falcons every year giving enthusiasts such as myself a day by day snapshot into how much ground these birds cover in a day and what I find most interesting: how some birds will follow the same routes year after year which follow one route down and another back, completing a full circle almost.

Brother was one of those typical first year falcons that did not complete his journey as many first year fledglings do not. It is an estimate that 75% of our peregrine patients are 1st year raptors. The migration is a perilous journey and one can only imagine how many near misses and perils are faced by the time these birds make it to Miami.

Hopefully this year will be a good one and we will return them all back to their journey. In the meantime, I sit with Brother and we both look up awaiting their arrival.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Spectacular Bald Eagle Release

We were thrilled to successfully release an American Bald Eagle Tuesday Sept 22, 2009. This i
s only the second one that I have treated since my employ for the past 6 years at the Miami
Science Museum. It is a first year juvenile and missing the trademark white head feathers of the adult bird. They will grow in at around its 4th-5th year.
This bird was sighted on a golf course eating what seemed to be a duck early in the morning a week before. Later that day, the finder Daniela Ruiz reported seeing it in the lake struggling. By the time Florida Fish and Wildlife officer Miranda arrived, it was floating motionless in the water.
Our director, Greta Mealey received the bird that night and administered emergency care. The next morning, the bird was alive, alert, and to say the least, very feisty. We believe that it was perhaps exhausted, waterlogged and perhaps a little hypothermic after its struggle to get out of the water. It may have encountered a toxin or some sort of trauma. It was most definitely in shock and would have died without the intervention of all parties involved.
The bird stayed with us for a week as the blood values were a little questionable and we wanted to make sure that it was as healthy as possible. In addition, it was eating well and seemed to be
calm and unstressed once introduced to our flight enclosure. Periodically we administered more fluids and monitored the weight. Finally this eagle was ready to spread its wings once again.
I don't think I need to point out the smiles on every one's faces. We were all very excited.

The day of release was a special event and the finder and officer were both in attendance as well as some media, family members of the finder, and a couple of friends and associates from the Museum. Brian Mealey, of the Institute of Wildlife Sciences placed a federal band on the eagle's leg and it was placed on the ground about 100 feet from the place first seen. See for yourself, as words cannot describe this. What a great time to post a video!

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Some Stories Never Get Old

This posting is a bit late as I have been having some problems with posting pictures. I couldn't bear telling this story without the pictures. I am also happy to share this behind the scenes photo that shows how we hold birds (not more than 30 minutes) in preparation for release.

The hood keeps the bird, a cooper's hawk calm by keeping the vision dark. Hawks are very visual, so taking away sight goes a long way towards preventing them from intense stress or hurting themselves or their feathers which would jeopardize the release. Coincidentally, this bird remained with us for a very long time because of feather damage incurred while quarantined because of an infectious disease. Cooper's hawks are very high strung birds and will frequently fling themselves around their enclosure in a frantic attempt to escape. We were thrilled that we
were able to nurture this bird back to health and then provide a safe enclosure in which
the bird could grow feathers again and regain strength which allowed for her release. The towel restrains movement and prevents the panic response that sometimes ensues when a bird is left hooded in a cage. They remain quite calm and able to breathe.

When we schedule a public release, we like to have the bird ready ahead of time in case of any unforeseen circumstances. We also transport birds in this manner sometimes as well. Rolling a towel around them and securing the velcro band helps to restrict their activity. When unable to move, most animals tend to calm down (notice I said most). I like to explain the rationale behind our restraint of the birds because people tend to react very violently when they see an image like this, but when learning the rationale, they understand and become very intrigued how this actually works. Same principle works with cattle, horses, and other animals that would respond in panic situations.

So I happily said a little prayer and we sent this cooper's hawk on her way, just in time for the fall migration. The honor of release went to Justin, our herpetologist who has yet to release a bird. He was, understandably so, very excited about his first release. Way to go Justin! And way to go Cooper!

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Beautiful People and No Deeds Too Small

This blog entry really was a gift to me as it sort of materialized instantly in my head as I curiously peered at the guy who had stopped in the middle of the road to save a turtle from sure death on the horrifically brutal roads of South Florida. I couldn't help but smile as I watched him in my rear view mirror as the turtle fought to get away from him as the guy struggled awkwardly to pick it up (I think he was a little scared). It occurred to me that the flip side of the story I wrote about last was the numerous people that every day, take time out of their busy lives just to help animals.
The latest individual named Matt was one who had found a duck shortly after it had been hit by a car. It was bleeding from the mouth and nose and appeared to have a leg injury. He was frantic as I spoke to him on the phone and I told him yes, bring it right away. He hung up the phone and was on our doorstep quick enough that I am sure he broke all speed limits and perhaps a couple of other traffic laws to get there. We treated the duck with emergency medication and fluid and
kept our fingers crossed, there were no other injuries. This man called not only later that day, but the next, and the next checking up on his duck. I am happy to report that the duck not only made it, but had no serious injuries that prevented it from being transferred to the duck specialist, who now fields all the calls from Matt! So he was infinitely grateful for the life of the duck. He had brought another bird to us in the past that unfortunately did not make it, and thankfully he didn't give up trying to help these animals, or else that duck might have died on the side of the road as many animals do. There are so many of these stories, not just in my world, but from other rescuers as well. There is a legion of peregrine falcon fans in Duluth MN that await the spring nesting season eagerly every year. I joined their webgroup to keep up with the drama, but was absolutely amazed at the dedication of these people in not only reporting the goings on of the peregrine family, but coming together to report finding young birds on the ground or in distress. Seems that the whole community has become wildlife rescuers!
Homeless people are frequent rescuers, which by the way always touches my heart when someone who has nothing will do everything they can to help an animal in distress. People bring them on the train, on bikes, and even on motorcycles if they need to.
Then there are the others who offer invaluable support for our operation. Whenever in need all we have to do is say the word and they are there. This is by no means a comprehensive list but a few of the very special people who contribute their time and services to us.

Dr. Lorraine Karpinski has brought such a great depth to our rehabilitation's veterinary services at the Miami Science Museum's bird of prey center. She not only consults with us on all cases that involve injuries to the eye, but also performs surgery to restore sight to birds that would otherwise have no life otherwise. We are proud that she is an important part of our team that gives of her valuable skills and time.

This is Tatiana, one of our longest volunteers. It takes dedicated people like her to get us through those crazy days when nothing seems to go right to have someone who is ready to lend that extra hand to try and make it just a little bit easier. Possibly, more important, these individuals share their enthusiasm and curiosity, keeping the job fresh and reminding us every day why we wanted to do this for a living, despite all the ups and downs. They become over time, invaluable, and inevitably our friends.

Sometimes friends come from the strangest places. Jeff from Miami Animal Removal showed up at our door on Christmas Eve 3 years ago (I think) bringing with him an injured broadwing hawk. Jeff was one of those individuals that I liked right away as he has a very calm, very pleasant demeanor. Over the years Jeff passes through our doors regularly, sometimes bringing animals he has rescued on his job, sometimes bringing animals that we have asked him to rescue. Other times, he plays wildlife taxi, ferrying raccoons down to a meeting place for the raccoon rehabilitator close to his home. Jeff is always available to help us for difficult rescues or in a crisis. I like to think of him as the ace up my sleeve!

And last, but certainly not least, the members of the Venom One unit of the Miami Dade Fire Rescue. The have become a huge part of our operation, a huge safety net if you will. They have logged several hundred miles picking up injured wildlife and transporting to our location. They also support us in our special events such as snake day.

Unfortunately we are in danger of losing their services as the Mayor and commissioners of Miami Dade County see fit to cut the county budget and to sacrifice services such as these. Meanwhile the mayor gives double digit percentage raises to his inner circle much to the bewilderment and anger of the taxpayers. To lose the Venom One Unit would be a tragic and critical loss to the community and most certainly to the rehabilitation program at our facility.

In closing, there are too many others, some which can be named, Nelson, Gisella, and others that cannot but their faces and memories are forever burned in my mind. As long as there is an animal in need of help, there will be someone to care, gives me hope to carry on my journey and make a little difference in my corner of the world.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

The Evil Men Do- When Compassion Goes Too Far

All over the country (and world) people in their everyday lives stop for just a moment to notice some unfortunate incident affecting some poor animal causing it to suffer and possibly die. It is in the course of my business as a wildlife rehabilitator that I come into contact with these caring individuals on a daily basis. Usually these individuals have simply found these animals and brought them to us right away for care. Other times they may have fed something inappropriate overnight or for a couple of days and it is something that the animal can overcome with proper diet and medical care. In extreme cases, people keep animals for a week, or two, or four and the results can be catastrophic for the animal. What comes immediately to mind is baby animals that have been raised by humans and are so acclimated to their human caregivers that socialization with other animals may be difficult or impossible, resulting in either a permanently captive animal or euthanasia if dangerous due to lack of fear of humans. Other circumstances may involve an injured animal that is kept too long and allowed to heal improperly, or a baby animal that is fed the wrong diet for too long and is in the throes of death when brought to us.

The delay of a couple days will always bring the reminder from me of the importance of immediate care and bringing the animal in right away. Those who keep the animal longer or bring it in dying will get a harsher explanation from me as to the serious consequences of their actions. They will often get confused or angry when I tell them what they've done might cost the animal its life , but more often they will get upset and begin to cry when they realize the seriousness of their mistake. I have been criticized by others for this approach of what I see as "tough love," as not rewarding them emotionally for "doing the right thing." But I believe that by sugar coating the reality of the situation, you do no justice for the animal that will end up paying with its life and this person may walk away believing they did such a great job that why not do it again? So red-eyed and sniffling the individual usually walks away armed with the knowledge that will prevent them from making this mistake again and they will more than likely share this story with someone in the future, possibly preventing them from making this mistake.

So now since you have a little background info of my perspective on "good intentions gone bad," you may understand my outrage a little more deeply at what I am about to share with you. On Saturday, I caught an episode of Animal Planet's "Untamed and Uncut," a reality based show that shocks and horrifies viewers with actual violent footage of animal "accidents" from around the world. It's not my favorite show, but I keep the TV on as background when I am doing this or that around the house. They got my attention when they announced the next story would show how the rescue of a great horned owl in Arkansas played out. I stopped to watch the story unfold as a family found a great horned owl that had been captured in a steel trap and suffered a mangled and broken leg as a result of this heartless trapping method. The family, videotaping their every move, showed how they were able to secure the owl and pry the trap off. They then proceeded to debate whether or not they should put it out of its misery. They proclaimed rather triumphantly that they intended to "help" this bird and proceeded to cut its leg off with wire cutters. They were satisfied that they had done a good thing since the bird made no protest or show of pain. They then poured hydrogen peroxide and alcohol over the remaining stump as a precaution. What came next, I could not believe. They simply let it go!

Horrified. Shocked. Appalled. Saddened. All of these emotions hit me at once and are still swirling around in my head as I think of this poor bird flying off, dehydrated, in probable shock, and likely infected by the bacteria of a wound that was not fresh by the looks of it. The proud amputator proclaimed that now the bird had to work twice as hard to feed himself now that he only had one of his weapons. The guy even knew that! Wonder if he knew that if the bird survived the infection of his wound and debilitated state that he was likely to get an infection in the other foot as one legged birds are known to do?

So given my position stated in the beginning, I'm sure that you, the reader can imagine what type of conversation I would love to have with these people. That conversation is so important so these people won't go around bragging about this deed and what a wonderful thing they did. One can only hope that at some point, someone pointed out to them, uh maybe you should have taken it to a vet first? Yes, I hope they second guessed their decision at some point.

My deeper anger is directed at Animal Planet. I wrote them first letting them know how irresponsible the airing of this story was. That it was first and foremost, ILLEGAL. Rehabilitators like myself are not allowed to release birds with one leg and must be considered carefully on a case by case basis to keep them in captivity because of the propensity of the other foot becoming lame. It is for the same reason that horses with 3 legs are not typically saved. The other thing that Animal Planet is guilty of is glorifying an act that was clearly the wrong decision. Some producer felt that the wow factor was more important and spinning it this way was acceptable programming. It was in my opinion a morally reprehensible decision to air this story, and it was my suggestion to Animal Planet that they will examine these stories a little more closely before airing them.

I am really not that surprised, but I feel that enough is enough and I hope that people will speak out and let them know that they do not approve of this sort of irresponsible programming that ignores not only the law, but the codes of common sense that an animal that has just lost an entire limb needs medical attention by a trained professional, something that should be inherently obvious. Here's the web address if you have a quick moment to let Animal Planet know that you do not approve of this sort of irresponsible content: http://extweb.discovery.com/viewerrelations. The show is called "Uncut and Untamed" and aired Saturday August 29th.

Meanwhile I commend and applaud all of you that do take the time out of your busy lives to help animals. Don't stop trying, but just remember that like us, they need the care of a trained professional. You took the time to care, now take that extra step to find them the help they need.