Sunday, July 29, 2012

RELEASE OF THE WEEK: A cormorant is released from St. Francis Wild Bird Hospital into the Connecticut River after healing from a ruptured trachea due to flying into a power line.


by Catherine Greenleaf


There's no doubt that one of the great pleasures of living in New Hampshire is enjoying the beautiful birds that grace our wooded backyards each spring and summer. Along with that comes the other enjoyable activity of setting up bird feeders and watching the birds eat. However, you want to be sure you're not creating what bird experts refer to as "The Death Triangle" when it comes to caring for your feathered backyard friends.

The Death Triangle is created when you place a birdfeeder in close proximity to the windows of your house or the sliding glass doors of your back deck. A busy birdfeeder can create chaos and commotion for the birds in the yard. Picture your average airport with several dozen planes all trying to land in the same general area. The scenario is similar for birds. Each bird is trying to land on the feeder, grab some food, and then get away safely without colliding with another bird.

The smaller the triangle, that is, the shorter the distance between your windows, the feeder, and the bird's flight pattern, the more likely you are to unwittingly create The Death Triangle. Within this hazardous triangle birds are more likely to fly straight into glass, resulting in injury and death. The Cornell Lab of Ornithology claims one billion birds die from window strikes each year.

When a bird looks at a window or sliding glass door they often see a reflection of blue sky and white clouds or the wooded landscape behind them and they treat that area as open air space to fly through.
Double-paned windows cause more bird deaths than single paned because a single pane often has enough "bounce" to partially soften the blow of a bird strike. This is particularly true with pre-1977 safety glazing. A double-paned window usually causes death due to a broken neck because the inside pane acts as a strut to support the outside pane. Sadly, a broken neck is a condition a wildlife rehabilitator like myself cannot fix. Single-paned windows often cause a concussion, which is an injury I can treat with blood-clotting medications and anti-inflammatories, provided the bird is brought to me straight away.

When it comes to bird strikes on glass, it's important to look at the bigger picture. Most species of birds, and this includes songbirds, woodpeckers, hawks and owls, require two parents to safely raise a nestful of young ones. During mating and nesting season, one bird goes off in search of food while the other sits on the newly hatched babies to keep them warm and protected. If one parent bird, while searching for food, dies flying into a window, then unfortunately, not just one bird dies but five or more birds. This is because it is a near impossible task for one parent bird to successfully feed young every 15-20 minutes from sun up until sun down, sit on them to keep them warm and dry, feed herself, and also protect the babies from predators. Often the result is the hatchlings die of starvation or hypothermia due to exposure to rain and cold. Or they are eaten by predators while the parent is flying around frantically looking for food for her hatchlings and herself.

Research shows a bird feeder should be at least 30 feet away from any windows or sliding glass doors. Forty to fifty feet would be ideal. However, this can be problematic, since many homeowners build decks onto the backs of their houses or install large picture windows with the express purpose of installing feeders so birds can be observed up close.

What's required is a compromise. If you are willing to observe the birds from a farther distance, you will be rewarded with an abundance of healthy and safe birds in your yard. No one likes to hear the awful "thwonk!" of a bird hitting glass. And no one enjoys searching the bushes or deck for unconscious Hummingbirds or dead Cedar Waxwings.

Each spring, I offer free consultations to bird-loving homeowners in Grafton and Coos counties. I come out to peoples' homes and together we brainstorm solutions for reducing the number of window strikes.

A few weeks ago, I visited a woman's home in Canaan, N.H. She asked me to come over and help her figure out a way to prevent birds from hitting her windows. She was retired and had just purchased the house the year before and was clearly distraught. When I arrived, she took me to her living room at the back of the house, and there I stood before a set of huge picture windows. These windows looked out onto a deck that was positioned directly over a dense woodland area with a stream. It was prime habitat for wildlife. And it was one of the worst Death Triangles I had ever seen. I turned my back to the windows to talk to the woman, and heard a "thwonk!"

"There's another one," she said sadly, taking a shoebox out onto the deck so she could scoop up yet another dead songbird. I followed her out and saw she was starting to cry. "This is the third one today," she said. She told me she would have never bought the house had she known the windows were such a problem. She said she had been so excited to buy the house because it had been designed by a New England architect renowned for his modern contemporaries with enormous picture windows for viewing wildlife. The situation was clearly breaking her heart. I gently touched her on the arm and said, "You know, you don't have to live with this madness."

Together we removed all the bird feeders from the deck and repositioned them on poles in her front yard next to the driveway. She said she was willing to observe the birds while sitting outdoors in her favorite lawn chair. Then we moved all the numerous potted plants and trees she had sitting against the windows inside of the livingroom. When birds can see houseplants it gives them the impression there is more outdoors beyond the glass. This is why so many birds die flying into greenhouses.

I explained her other options: she could cover the picture windows with a transparent film that would allow her to see out but appear opaque from the outside. She could tautly mount 5/8-inch mesh across the storm window frames so the birds would bounce off. She could place a large plastic bobble-headed Great Horned Owl on the railing of her back deck. She could affix extra-large decals depicting the black silhouette of a dive-bombing predator on the outside of each of the windows. (If you try this, go with at least a dozen decals. Just a few aren’t going to do the job). Songbirds are constantly checking in their peripheral vision for owls, hawks and falcons, and will gladly avoid any area with even the smallest hint of a predator. If you’re desperate and short on cash, take a bar of Ivory soap and streak the windows to break up the reflection or apply vertical tape strips.

Birds also are totally unnerved by the movement of colorful mylar spinners and sun catchers, as well as the tinkling sound of glass wind chimes or the clanking of cowbells. We also discussed other bird-safe, although more costly options, like installing an electronically operated awning over the deck to prevent reflection and block access to the "repeat offender" windows as well as outdoor shutters.

Of course, with a house plopped down in the middle of pristine wildlife habitat, it may not be possible to completely eliminate all window strikes, but the frequency can be substantially reduced with a few simple measures.

With just a slight adjustment to her property, this woman was able to recapture her love and enjoyment of birds. Sometimes when it comes to compromise, when you give just a little, you get a whole lot.

Catherine Greenleaf is a state licensed and federally permitted wildlife rehabilitator and director of St. Francis Wild Bird Hospital in Lyme, NH. The NH Fish & Game Department would like to remind readers that only a licensed and permitted wildlife rehabilitator is allowed to treat and keep wildlife.

Copyright 2014

Sunday, May 13, 2012


by Catherine Greenleaf

You know it's springtime in New Hampshire when the phone at the bird hospital starts ringing non-stop! Spring is the time of year when bird parents are busy laying their eggs, brooding over their nests, hatching their young and flying frantically back and forth looking for food to feed their tiny nestlings.

And it is also the time for problems for bird families: high winds can blow nests to the ground or blow little ones out of the trees. The unwitting tree cutter can fell a tree, sending an entire bird family crashing to the ground. Predators can enter a nest, scattering young ones and separating them from their protective parents.

The little Great Horned Owl nestling in the photo above just arrived at the hospital last week. He fell 60 feet from his nest at the top of a very tall pine tree. Miraculously, he suffered no fractures to his wings or legs, but he had been on the ground with no food for several days and was extremely dehydrated and  emaciated. He is doing much better now and is gaining a lot of weight. He is now in the company of two other Great Horned Owl nestlings and two surrogate adult Great Horneds who are permanent education birds due to disabling injuries.

They are all one big, happy, healthy blended family!

Copyright 2014

Thursday, April 26, 2012

PHOTO CAPTION: Catherine Greenleaf checks the heart rate of an injured brown pelican at a Florida wildlife rehabilitation center.

Reprinted with permission from The Bridge Weekly Sho-Case

Diary of a Wildlife Rehabilitator

By Catherine Greenleaf

I’ve just returned to New Hampshire after six weeks in the Florida Everglades. There is truly no other place like it on Earth. I am always left nearly breathless by the sheer wildness and untamed beauty of the area.

The Everglades, the second largest wetlands area in the world, stretches southward from massive Lake Okeechobee for 100 miles across a limestone shelf all the way to Florida Bay at the bottom of the state.

As Marjory Stoneman Douglas, guardian of the Everglades, wrote in her famous book, River of Grass, these interconnecting sawgrass marshes are part of a unique and complex ecosystem that also include tropical hardwood hammocks, cypress swamps, pine rockland, the estuarine mangrove forests of the Ten Thousand Islands region and the Florida Bay itself.

While the Everglades originally consisted of 5 million acres, development and agriculture have taken their toll. However, two million acres are now protected for the public to enjoy.

The area is Nirvana for bird lovers. I couldn’t look up at the sky without seeing roseate spoonbills, anhingas, great white herons, limpkins, purple gallinules, snowy egrets, wood storks, white ibis, cormorants, black skimmers, ospreys, and, of course, brown pelicans. I often saw a dozen or more roseate spoonbills roosting on the branches of a single tree.

This year, I decided to stay in an old fishing cabin on Chokoloskee Island, right at the edge of the Fakahatchee Strand Preserve near Everglades City. Everglades City, a favorite of fishermen, is a quaint little hamlet with one gas station, a post office and a supermarket. Each day it was 80 degrees and sunny with blue sky as far as you could see. The underneath of my cabin was sealed in hardware cloth to prevent snakes from making their way up through the floorboards. There was a sign posted at the front office requesting guests to watch where they travel at night because of Florida panthers.

Driving up and down Rte. 41, I came upon various roadside stands beckoning me to pay $20 to have my photo taken holding an alligator. I also passed the occasional crab shanty with walls that slanted decidedly in one direction thanks to the latest hurricane. Then, of course, there was the Skunk Ape Museum, which exhibits evidence of the existence of the ever-elusive “Bigfoot of the Everglades.” But for the most part it was just mile after mile of unbroken and beautiful wildness.

When I’m in Florida I remain on-call to help out fellow wildlife rehabilitators. Over the last 10 years, I’ve logged many hours working with Florida’s bird species. Rehabbing in Florida is like working in a M.A.S.H. unit. You treat “incoming wounded” all day long and far into the night. Rehabilitators in Florida have drop-off cages at the entrances to their facilities. Injured birds are dropped off by caring rescuers at all hours of the night. These rehabbers in the Sunshine State are always relieved to get some help, and often I will also agree to work a night shift so someone can go home and get some sleep.

Why the constant influx of injured and sick birds? Florida becomes mighty crowded during winter tourist season and there are many collisions between human snowbirds and wild birds.

When I’m down there I treat birds hit by cars, RVs, and jetskis. They come in with injuries from boat propellers as well as starvation because they have become entangled in monofilament fishing line left behind by fishermen and cannot free themselves to feed or fly. I have treated ospreys clipped by aircraft at local airports and military bases, drowning hawks pulled out of swimming pools, and birds poisoned after eating fish tainted by oil spills and bilge dumping from pleasure yachts. Sad to say, I see more than my share of birds intentionally injured by college students during the spring break period.

One species that comes in for rehab quite a bit is the brown pelican. I am always amused by the look of a pelican -- at once prehistoric with his large, long head, leathery pouch and 5-foot wingspan -- but also comical because of the clown-like way he waddles when walking on the ground.

The pelican is a real moocher, and will follow boats in order to grab bait fish. So it was no surprise one day when a fisherman walked into the rehab center where I was working holding a big cardboard box with a very weak pelican inside.

I placed the pelican on the examining table and opened his mouth. I couldn’t believe it. Jammed inside his pouch and throat were at least a half dozen good-sized fish. But for some reason he seemed unable to swallow them. I felt along his keel. There was no fat on him. He was nothing but bone. This bird had a mouthful of food and yet was starving to death.

I tried removing the fish in his throat. I had removed five of the six fish when I felt some resistance from the last one. I swung the overhead light around and carefully aimed it into the long tunnel that is a pelican’s throat. There in the bright light I could make out the metal barb of a large fishing hook sticking out of the flesh of the bird’s throat. The hook was deeply embedded and there was quite a bacterial infection brewing at the site. I put the bird under anesthesia and pulled out my needle-nosed wire cutters. I clipped the hook at the curve. I slowly backed out the barb to avoid internal hemorrhaging and was just about to pull it up when I noticed two more barbs. He had swallowed a titanium treble hook! If there had been a “Moocher of the Year” award, this pelican would certainly have won.

Most fishermen are good-natured and if they snag a pelican on their line they will slowly reel the bird in and gently remove the hook as I described above. But for some reason in this case the fisherman opted to just cut the line, creating a perilous situation for the bird.

I injected Moocher with blood-clotting medications for safety’s sake, dosed him with some heavy-duty antibiotics and put a tube down his throat filled with special avian electrolyte fluids to help revive him. A few weeks of R & R out in the back cages with the other recuperating pelicans did the trick, and Moocher  was released back into the wild so he could do what he does best – steal from fishermen!

Catherine Greenleaf is a state licensed and federally permitted wildlife rehabilitator and director of St. Francis Wild Bird Hospital in Lyme, NH. The NH Fish & Game Department would like to remind readers that only a licensed and permitted wildlife rehabilitator is allowed to treat and keep wildlife.

Copyright 2014

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Rehoming Raptors -- The New Methods

by Catherine Greenleaf

What does the term "rehoming raptors" mean? Rehoming raptors is a practice that more and more wildlife rehabilitators are adopting each year. This practice involves getting a nestling raptor back into its nest with its parents as quickly as possible. Many rehabilitators often receive phone calls about nestling hawks, owls, ospreys, kestrels or eaglets being found on the ground after having fallen out of the nest.

Nestlings can fall out of the nest for several reasons: a tornado or microburst can knock down the tree where the nest is situated; a lumberjack may fell a tree, not knowing there is a nest cavity of baby birds present; an animal predator may kill and eat most of the sibling nestlings but leave one alive; a nestling can accidentally tumble out if the nest is too shallow; and there are even cases of siblicide, in which the oldest sibling pushes its younger siblings over the edge to reduce competition for food.

For years, the only option was to pick up the nestling and bring it to the rehabilitator's facility, where it was raised for weeks or months with other nestlings who had undergone similar nest disruptions, until it could be released back into the wild. This often involved the use of a surrogate adult bird already in captivity, to act as a parent.

However, in recent years, rehabilitators have developed a system for putting the nestling hawk, owl or eaglet safely back in the nest with its parents. New methods have also been developed for repairing a broken nest that is still intact or replacing it with a new nest.

This allows the nestling to go back to its parents, who without question are the best suited to feed and raise their young. Your average raptor parents spends months teaching their young how to hunt and feed. This training is crucial to the survival of the nestlings in their first year.

The ability to rehome is beneficial in many ways. First, the bird goes back to its natural habitat; second, the risk of imprinting on humans is dramatically reduced; and three, rehoming nestlings frees up space in already over-crowded rehabilitation facilities.

I will just add here: only a wildlife rehabilitator can legally rehome nestling raptors. If you are a homeowner in New Hampshire and have found nestling raptors on the ground, call me at 795-4850 as soon as you are able!

If you are a wildlife rehabilitator thinking about trying rehoming, please be sure to take some classes and educate yourself. It is not an easy task, but is very rewarding when successfully done.

This year, I will be attempting to rehome as many raptor nestlings as feasibly possible. More on this fascinating subject as the season progresses!

Copyright 2014

Friday, March 9, 2012

Director of St. Francis Wild Bird Hospital Receives CSI Training

by Catherine Greenleaf

There is no question that if you pursue a career in wildlife rehabilitation, you will eventually encounter situations in which animals are brought to you who have been neglected, abused, tortured and killed by human beings. Sadly, it's just inevitable.

And if you want the criminals involved brought to justice, it is imperative that as a rehabilitator you become trained in wildlife forensic techniques. In this way you can help ensure that federal investigators from the U.S. Fish & Wildlife department will be able to identify the criminals, make the arrests and successfully prosecute them.

There had been several cases of severe abuse over the last few years that compelled me to apply for this training. These cases involved the shooting deaths of Broadwing Hawks and Northern Goshawks, which involved both guns and arrows from high-powered bows.

Now that I am trained in wildlife forensics, I have learned exactly what to do when I receive a bird at my facility who shows signs of foul play. Most importantly, I have been instructed in what NOT to do, since it is very easy to alter or damage evidence. The handling of evidence is absolutely critical in pursuing a successful conviction in court.

During my training, which was given by Fish & Wildlife officials, I was taught how to differentiate wounds from handguns, rifles, BB guns, shotguns and bows and arrows; how to identify the caliber of bullets used by examining entry and exit wounds; how to measure the distance and angle of the shooting by calculating trajectory of the bullet or arrow; how to remove and store DNA evidence; how to examine and gather gunpowder residue; how to properly document findings; and how to present oneself as an expert witness in federal and state court cases involving cruelty to wildlife.

Working side-by-side with Fish & Wildlife investigators in the crime lab, I learned firsthand of the many challenges involved in removing and preserving evidence. It was fascinating to be able to look over actual evidence for upcoming criminal trials and to hear the details of each individual case they were working on.

I am now in the process of building my own CSI kit, which is a bag containing everything I will need to properly remove and store evidence for possible prosecution. This is a kit I will be bringing with me to every rescue site, in case I encounter criminal activity involving wildlife.

More on this subject, as 2012 progresses, since I usually receive at least a half dozen birds a year who are injured/killed under questionable circumstances.

Copyright 2014

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Another Record Year for St. Francis Wild Bird Hospital!

Each year, the number of injured and orphaned birds coming into St. Francis Wild Bird Hospital goes up. But this year was a banner year -- with 162 birds!

Of course, as the number of patients being admitted goes up, the greater the need for volunteers to help us out. During 2011, we were very fortunate to have the assistance of a great many skilled and talented volunteers.

Volunteers drove to pick up injured birds, collected donations from citizens, organized supplies, helped with facility cleaning, and the feeding and care of our recuperating feathered friends.

If you are wondering if you can do something to help birds in the Grafton County area, please call us at (603) 795-4850. We are always looking for people interested in the biology and behavior of our state's beautiful birds.

Thanks to all who helped out in 2011 -- Happy New Year!

Catherine Greenleaf,
St. Francis Wild Bird Hospital