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ATW Newsletter, August 2020

Paws 'N Claws

News from All Things Wild Rehabilitation, Inc. 
What's in this issue:

Raising Baby Broadwings
Tortoise Times Two
Here They Come Again
Meet the Girls
Sneak Peek
Donate to Support All Things Wild Rehabilitation!
Raising Baby Broadwings
by Maya Higa
 
In mid-June 2020, two baby hawks were brought into the rehabilitation center after falling out of their nests. Although they came from separate locations, they were similar in age. The male was about 5 weeks old and the female was about 6 weeks old. Both still had some fluffy down feathers and were not yet considered hard-penned.  Hard-penned is a term used to describe birds when all of their juvenile plumage has grown in, and they have moved past their down-feather phase. 
 
At first, there was a great deal of confusion as to what species of hawk the babies were because it is difficult to tell before they are in full juvenile plumage. Several staff members guessed that they were red-tailed and red-shouldered hawks, but eventually, we concluded that both birds were broad-winged hawks.

 
 
6-week-old female broad-winged hawk
 
Broad-winged hawks are in the Buteo family, similar to red-tailed hawks, but they are much smaller in size. They range from ½ lb to a little over 1 lb while red-tailed hawks range from 1½ lbs to over 3 lbs. Broadwings are stocky, determined birds, and, for what they lack in size, they do not lack in heart. Unlike red-tails and most other raptors we find in Texas, broad-winged hawks migrate in the thousands to Central and South America during the winter. These migrating flocks also called “kettles,” have led people to describe sightings along the flyway, such as in Veracruz or Panama, as like seeing a “river of raptors” flying over.
 

5-week-old male broad-winged hawk. The hole at the base of the tongue is the glottis or entrance to the lungs.
 
With experience as a falconer and as a rehabilitator for birds of prey, I took the two babies home with me the night they were brought in. The most important aspect of their care at the beginning stages was to avoid imprinting.  Imprinted hawks have difficulty pursuing live prey, avoiding dangerous human activity, mating, migrating and locating adequate shelter and water resources. If these birds imprinted, it would mean they would be much less likely to succeed in the wild or that they would need to be kept in captivity as surrogates or educational ambassadors for All Things Wild. Neither of these outcomes is ideal for a wild bird.  
 
To avoid imprinting, both birds were fed through a cardboard box with a slit cut into it using tongs and a bird puppet. This ensured that the birds would not see human skin or faces during feeding so that they would not learn to associate humans as their food source. They were both fed a diet of mice, rats, and quail. A varied diet is important for healthy raptors.  The hawks were never handled except when necessary for daily care and weighing.  Each bird’s weight was monitored and recorded daily. Weight management is essential for raptors as quick declines in weight can be detrimental, especially in a developing bird.
 

To prevent imprinting, the baby hawks were fed in a box using a puppet and tongs.

Once the birds were perching, they began a routine of eating frozen/thawed prey off of training perches only. After a week of this and careful weight monitoring, the birds began flight training. This process began with equipping the birds with anklets and jesses for handling and safety while outdoors.  The birds each also had a leash for handling and a creance.  A creance is a long cord used for tethering a raptor during training in falconry. It functions similarly to a kite string.  The creance was used to ensure that the birds did not take off and release themselves before they were ready.  However, the length of the creance also gave the birds the ability to feel less claustrophobic than they would with leash handling alone.  

For training sessions, two perches were set out: one with a perched bird and the other with frozen/thawed prey. This meant that the birds had to jump from the first to the second perch to eat. Over the course of about 6 weeks, the distance between the perches was increased to about 35 feet. This distance showed that the birds were both capable of steady flight and helped to maintain their muscle condition while they were developing.

 

The hawks practice flying by going from perch to perch for food.  The female is flying about 35 feet.
 
Once flying consistently, the birds moved to live prey training. A live prey tank is a space where prey is placed in the bottom of a structure or container with perching material lining the edges. This way, inexperienced birds can look into the tank, view prey, and strategize how to pursue it without the risk of losing it. To start, the birds were presented with rat pups in a live prey tank. After several successful kills, the birds began taking adult mice as prey. Once both birds were confidently pursuing prey, they were deemed releasable.  
 

Wearing anklets, jesses, and leashes, the two hawks relax after a training session.

On August 8, I removed the training anklets and released the hawks.  Wild and free, they will join the annual hawk migration to Central and South America this fall. 
 

 
About the authorMaya Higa is a 22-year -old recent graduate from California Polytechnic State University-San Luis Obispo. She completed her falconry apprenticeship in June 2020. Her passions are conservation and bird of prey rehabilitation with a focus on public education. Maya is an intern at All Things Wild Rehabilitation for the Summer of 2020. 
 

Wild and free!
 
For more information on broad-winged hawks, click here
Tortoise Times Two


The little Texas Tortoise likes to hang out with the big Sulcata.
 
The staff at ATW love all kinds of reptiles but especially two tortoises who arrived separately but have become good friends.  The big guy, a Sulcata Tortoise from Africa, was seen crossing a busy road by a person driving by.  He stopped his truck to turn around and rescue the tortoise, and by that time, another car had run over the tortoise.  He brought the wounded tortoise to All Things Wild.  Since the tortoise is not from this continent and was not microchipped, the tortoise has found a home with ATW.  His name is Speedimus Minimus or Speedy for short.  His carapace is slowly healing, and he seems quite happy sharing a habitat with Gopher.
 
Gopher is a native tortoise.  He was given to a woman by someone who gave the tortoise to her as a pet.  Reading up on the Texas Tortoise, the woman realized that these tortoises are listed as a threatened species in Texas and cannot be kept as pets.  Further, they can only be released in their home territory, and having no idea where the tortoise came from, she brought the tortoise to us to be cared for by the experienced ATW staff.
 
Gopher, our name for the Texas Tortoise, lives happily alongside Speedy.  They are often found cuddling up with each other, to the extent that their shells will allow.  We are in the process of building an outside enclosure for them.  If you are interested in donating to help us build a tortoise habitat, please contact Amber at the ATW center 512-897-0806.

 

The Texas Tortoise is listed as threatened in Texas and cannot be kept as a pet. Photo S. Puetz

For more information on Sulcata Tortoises click here
and for more information on Texas Tortoises click here
Learning to Value Our Critters
 
Milam County, east of Williamson County, has an active chapter of Texas Master Naturalists who provide education, outreach and service for natural resources in the county.  When it came to the attention of the members of the El Camino Real Chapter that many of the native wild animals in Milam County are considered pests, they swung into action and created a great brochure designed to show how wildlife benefits us all.
 
The framers of the brochure asked All Things Wild to partner in creating the brochure, and we were happy to help with such a wonderful and needed endeavor.  During their research, the master naturalists learned some new things and gained an even greater appreciation for wildlife.  For example, they learned that both opossums and skunks are immune to snake venom and will eat venomous snakes.  Another myth fell when they discovered that raccoons do not wash their food but rather wet things to gather sensory information with their paws about what they are about to eat.  
 
Although the brochure will not be printed for a couple of weeks, we are fortunate to have an electronic version to show everyone (see below). Once printed, the brochure will be available at community libraries and chambers of commerce throughout Milan County as well at the All Things Wild Rehabilitation Center in Georgetown.  We hope you read the brochure and learn something of value about the wonderous wild animals who live among all of us.
 
(Credit for hard work on the brochure goes to Donna Lewis, Cindy Bolch, Julie Lame, Bobby Allcorn, Mike Conner, Carla Conner, Penelope Conner, and Joyce Conner.)
 
For information on becoming a Texas Master Naturalist click here.
 

Here They Come Again!
 
The squirrel enclosure at All Things Wild is empty.  The last of the juvenile squirrels were released to the wild in June.  Rehabilitators and volunteers have turned their attention to other species of orphans, like skunks, opossums, and raccoons, when... here they come again!
 
Eastern fox squirrels in our area have two litters a year of 4-6 babies.  The first orphaned babies arrive in rehabilitation as early as February, with the second bunch of orphans starting to arrive in late July.  The female squirrels nest in tree cavities or build big leaf nests in the very top of trees as much as 30 feet above the ground.  If not blown out during storms, the babies can fall out of the nest while blindly crawling around searching for mom, who may be away foraging for food.  Fortunately, the young bones are like rubber, and they survive the falls with only nicks and scratches.  The lucky ones are found on the ground by a kind person; however, too often the tiny babies are picked up by predators and become meals.  Sometimes, if picked up by a dog or cat, the babies are brought to their humans, hopefully still alive and not too injured from being carried in a mouth.
  
If the nest location is known, the warm baby can be placed in a shoebox on a soft cloth at the base of the tree.  The baby squirrel cry for help is a penetrating squeak that will alert mom that her baby needs to be retrieved.  If no humans can be seen, mom squirrel will descend from the nest and will carry her baby back by the scruff of the neck.  Babies should not be allowed to get cold and never be left outside overnight.  If the mother fails to retrieve her baby in about 4 hours, the baby should be taken to a wildlife rehabilitator.
 

Newborn squirrels, only a few days old.
 
All rodent babies look similar although they vary in size with squirrels being the largest.  Squirrels have black claws, whereas rat and mice claws are white. 
 
We rely heavily on our trained volunteers to take these babies home because they require warmth and 24-hour care with at least five feedings a day.  Baby squirrels are great suckers and can empty a syringe of formula quickly.  They also need to be stimulated to urinate which we do with a tissue.  In the wild, the mother licks the babies’ genitalia to get them to urinate and ingests the urine.  To allow them to freely urinate in the nest would make the nest unbelievably stinky and attract predators.

The smaller squirrel is a few days old while the other baby is about 3 weeks.
 
Squirrels are born with both their ears and eyes closed.  As they develop, the ears open first at about 2 weeks followed by the eyes at about 4 weeks.  By 4 weeks when the eyes are open, the babies begin moving around and eventually become interested in solid food.  But that’s a story for another newsletter. 
 
The eyes begin opening at about 4 weeks of age.
 
For more information on squirrels in Texas, click here.
Meet the Girls


 
Cricket and Mojang (Mo-Mo) came to us as tiny orphaned raccoon babies.  We soon discovered that Cricket is blind in one eye, and Mojang damaged her paw on a cage that resulted in a digit being amputated.  Neither can be released to the wild, so they have been drafted as our first two Ambassador Raccoons.  They will be available to visit schools, troops, and clubs whenever it is safe again to offer in-person education programs.  In the meantime, they are really cute on Zoom.  
 
If you are interested in a virtual education program for your group, please email allthingswildrehab@gmail.com. We would appreciate a minimum donation of $25 for a program.

 
Sneak Peak


An orphaned ringtail sneaks a peek from under his hide box.
 
It’s official!  All Things Wild will host the Basic Wildlife Rehabilitation course presented by instructors from the International Wildlife Rehabilitation Council (IWRC) on February 20-21, 2021. 

The 2-day course includes a textbook and is designed for not only new wildlife rehabilitators but also more seasoned rehabilitators needing a refresher class.  In addition to a half-day lab, lecture topics include basic anatomy and physiology, fluid therapy, handling, and physical restraint, stress and basic shock cycle, initial care and physical examination, standards for housing, zoonoses, euthanasia and release criteria.

Course materials and registration will be available in November but circle your calendars now. Fingers crossed that the virus will be under control, and we will be able to have a rewarding in-class experience by late February. 

 
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