Thursday, November 28, 2013

Happy Thanksgiving

I just wanted to take this opportunity to thank everyone who helped make 2013 one of the most successful years ever at St. Francis Wild Bird Hospital.

We had a very high volume of birds come in, just under 200 (with still another month to go before the year has ended), and the facility is now in the process of being scrubbed down and sanitized in preparation for 2014.

A great many thanks goes to Those Guys Of Lyme, the intrepid group of volunteers from Lyme, N.H., and their wonderful gift of a raptor enclosure, which members built themselves. As we expand and grow, we are in great need of cages, and we are most grateful for this brand-new mew designed for adult raptors.

Also, many thanks to all of the loyal volunteers who come back every year to feed the multitudes of baby birds that we get in during late spring and early summer. Your help is always appreciated.

A very Happy Thanksgiving to everyone!

Catherine Greenleaf,

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Clues to a bird's past

by Catherine Greenleaf

When a wild bird comes in for rehabilitation, is it possible to glean some clue as to the bird's past? After all, bird patients can't talk, and we are often forced to play Sherlock Holmes when it comes to figuring out how and why they were injured.

There is one clue that can speak volumes about a bird's history. This clue is called a stress bar. When a bird is deprived of food, that lack of proper nutrition shows up in the structure of the feathers. A lack of proper vitamins and nutrients produces a gap, or nearly transparent space, in the barbules of the feathers, and the result is what you see in the photo above.

This is a feather from a juvenile crow. I have placed it against a roll of white paper towels to make the bars more obvious. You can read the stress bars almost like you would read the rings inside a tree. This bird enjoyed a great amount of nutritious food from the moment he hatched from the egg. The base of the feather is a healthy, dark black, with no gaps or streaking. (Feathers develop from their base) Then as several weeks progress, you can start to see stress bars forming.

This suggests several possibilities:  either one or both adult parents went missing or were killed, could no longer feed their hatchlings and the young nestling crow suffered from starvation and extreme emaciation. The other possibility is the little guy was forcibly pushed out of the nest by jealous siblings competing for food, an event that in rehabilitation is referred to as siblicide.

The other possibility, and the most likely, is that this young crow was removed from the nest by a human, and then brought home and kept as a pet. Or the youngster was found on the ground, at the base of a tree where the nest is located, and carried home. Each year, I get several young crows brought to me by families who admit they thought the baby crow was cute and they had decided to keep him and raise him. However, once a crow gets to the juvenile stage and starts landing on people's heads and pecking with their sharp beak and demanding food at all hours of the day and night, I am asked if there is anything I can do to help. I encounter the same scenario with fledgling ravens.

I say this is the most likely scenario because the other situations usually result in death from starvation or predation. Since the crows that do survive are often fed a diet of Cheerios and Ritz crackers, it often takes 6-8 weeks of rehabilitation to reverse a young crow's nutritional deficiencies. What most often happens is the crow molts the defective feathers and grows in a whole new set, which can take at least 4-6 weeks. What this means is the crow will be with me in rehabilitation for a total of 12-14 weeks on average before being released back into the wild.

Copyright 2014

Friday, April 26, 2013

Pelican Mythology

Some Mythology and Folklore Concerning The Pelican


by Catherine Greenleaf

The pelican is a strange combination. She looks prehistoric with her large head, leathery pouch and five-foot wingspan. Yet she also appears rather comical with her clown-like walk as she waddles on the ground. Believe it or not, this bird has ancient ties harkening back to the Egyptians, Peruvians, and the early Christians.

In Christian mythology, the pelican is a central figure. The early Christians revered the pelican as a feminine symbol of Christ. This is because the pelican has always been portrayed in old lore as the only bird willing to sacrifice herself for her young. The pelican was said to pierce its own breast with her beak in order to feed blood to her starving hatchlings.

As a result, the early Christians likened the pelican mother’s selfless sacrifice with the sacrifice made by Jesus allowing himself to be crucified. Especially connected to the pelican is the moment when a guard pierces Christ in the side with a spear to make him bleed. This notion of shedding one’s own blood for the benefit of all humankind has forever linked the pelican with the Crucifixion and the Resurrection.

Many early Christian altars featured paintings of a mother pelican piercing her breast to feed her youngsters and an engraving of the pelican mother is featured on the first page in the original version of the King James Bible.

The ancient peoples of Peru believed the pelican to be a great Protector of their children. In fact, to this day a place considered safe for children to cross the street is still referred to as a “pelican crossing.”

The Egyptians were convinced the pelican was the guide of the departed to the Underworld and mistreatment of the pelican was said to result in a person being stuck between the world of the living and the world of the dead indefinitely, an early foreshadowing of Christian Purgatory.

Elizabeth I of England was so taken with the idea of female self-sacrifice, she had the symbol of a pelican embroidered into the bodice of her gowns, and proclaimed herself the one true Mother of the Church of England. Many English knights featured the pelican on their coat of arms as a show of solidarity to the Queen.

Contrary to popular belief, pelicans do not go blind from diving for fish. Pelicans have nicitating lids protecting their eyes. This second set of eyelids is made of a clear membrane that allows them to see while diving and protects the eyes from pressure, water and debris. This so-called “second sight” resulted in fishermen revering the pelican for centuries, despite their tendency to mooch bait fish. Fishermen, to this day, watch the pelican’s behavior closely to tell if storms are coming. There are still fishermen in Florida who say: “When the pelicans clear out, a storm is about.”

Pelicans use their keen eyesight to hunt for small fish. They are not accustomed to swallowing larger-sized fish and can, in fact, choke to death. Sadly, there are many fatalities that result when fishermen feed pelicans filleted fish carcasses. The pelicans may eagerly devour these carcasses at filleting stations, but the bones become lodged in the birds’ throats and they die a slow and agonizing death of starvation over several days or weeks because they cannot get any more food down into their stomachs. If this is a problem in your area, ask the Florida Fish & Wildlife Commission for a PVC carcass shute for your dock.

Current statistics show that 80 percent of all pelicans in Florida will at some point become entrapped in monofilament fishing line discarded in the water by fishermen. Fishing line entanglement causes strangulation, lacerations, systemic infections and amputation of legs and wings. Disposing of spent fishing line properly, out of the water, will save the lives of many, many pelicans.

Copyright 2014

A Big Thank You!

As we embark upon another season of bird rescue and rehabilitation, I wanted to make sure I said thank you to all of the volunteers who made 2012 a big success.

We took in and treated a whopping 178 birds in 2012. Among some of the unusual birds was a juvenile hummingbird with an eye injury from a cat, and a Bald Eagle felled by a systemic infection due to an old injury that apparently never quite healed.

As we grow ever closer to 200 birds a year (gulp!) we have made every effort to expand our physical facilities to accommodate the influx of winged patients. Volunteers built and installed a new indoor raptor enclosure, and several new pools were installed for injured aquatic birds, like loons.

As all of you know, there is no way I could possibly do this work alone. I am so grateful for your continued support, and look forward to a great 2013!

Catherine Greenleaf,
St. Francis Wild Bird Hospital