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ATW Newsletter, April 2020

Paws 'N Claws

News from All Things Wild Rehabilitation, Inc. 
What's In This Issue:
 
Fly Like the Wind
What's in Your Attic?
One More Time . . . Leave the Fledglings Alone!
Keeping it Safe

"An Unwelcome Guest" (A True Story About a Little Skunk)
 
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Fly Like the Wind


Harold, a red-tailed hawk, wearing training anklets and jesses.
 
In a quiet ceremony last Friday, ATW rehabilitators removed the training anklets from Harold, a red-tailed hawk, and set him free.  
 
Harold came to ATW a year ago with a broken wing that would never heal. Destined to spend his life in a cage as an education bird, Harold defied all the odds. Flying short distances in his outside cage, he slowly increased the distance until he was ready to take on the wild again. Maybe the female hawk who was visiting his cage gave him motivation. Whatever miracle happened, Harold is free again to fly like the wind.

(Three days after Harold's release, we think we saw him and his girlfriend flying overhead.)


ATW rehabilitators removed the symbols of captivity from Harold's legs.
 

Harold sat on the fence post for several minutes soaking in his new freedom.
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What's in Your Attic? 


A nursing mother raccoon with her kits in an attic.
 
Every spring, pregnant female animals look for a place to give birth and keep their babies safe. An attic is a great place where the females find shelter and safety for their soon-to-be newborn babies. Raccoons, squirrels, and ringtails are the most common animals found in people’s attics. Of course, rats and mice make their baby homes there as well.  
 
To secure an attic birthing site, there has to be a way to get into the attic.  Sometimes, the female will find access through a hole in the side of the house and make her way into a wall.  Once inside, the pregnant mom will set about making a nest for her new babies.  The babies will be born blind, helpless, and hungry.
 
Noises in your attic or wall, whether at night or during the day, mean that some mother animal has given birth. You may hear the mother going out to forage for food during the day or night or the hungry babies crying for food. If you are an exceptionally kind-hearted person, you can wait out the visitors. Once the babies are old enough, everyone will leave, although it may take several weeks. Hopefully, by then, you will have figured out where the mother got into your house and close up the hole. See below for instructions on how to tell if everyone has gone.
 
If you are like almost everyone else, you don’t want the disturbance. Your first reaction is to pick up the phone and call an exterminator. Often, for several hundred dollars, the exterminator will set traps, get the mom, take her far away, and send you a bill.  Then, when you think the problem is solved, you will hear the hungry babies crying for food. There are always babies left behind when the mom is trapped and relocated!  Now you have the dilemma of finding the babies and taking them to a wildlife rehabilitator, that is, if they haven't already starved to death.
 

Newborn raccoon in rehabilitation at ATW. After the mom was trapped and relocated by an exterminator, the homeowners found the five babies.
 
There’s a much easier way to get unwanted moms to take their babies and move away, and it doesn’t cost nearly what you would pay an exterminator. Here’s what you do.
 
First, figure out where the mom is getting into the house. Then, get a floodlight on an extension cord and shine it into the space. Raccoons and ringtails are nocturnal and don’t like the 24-hour light. Next, put out rags soaked in ammonia, or better yet, purchase fox or coyote urine in the hunting section at Academy or Amazon. Finally, put a portable radio into the space set to an all-talk station. Between the constant light, the smell of predator urine, and the sound of the human voice, the mother will decide the space is not safe and move her babies. 
 
GIVE THE MOM THREE DAYS TO MOVE HER BABIES. Once they are gone, check to make sure the coast is clear before closing the opening. Sprinkle flour or cornstarch around the entrance and check the next day for footprints. If, after a couple of days, you don’t see any footprints around the opening, you can safely close the hole.
 
Congratulations to you! You have removed the visitors from your home, kept the mom and babies together, and saved a bunch of money.

 
One More Time... Please Leave the Fledglings Alone!
 
*Ring, ring*
 
ATW: All Things Wild
 
Caller: Hello, I am worried about a little bird in our front yard.  I think he has a broken wing because he can’t fly.
 
ATW: Is there blood or a bone sticking out?  Can the bird stand up and move around?
 
Caller: There’s no blood, and the bird is sitting up and moving around.
 
ATW: Does the bird have most of its feathers?
 
Caller: Yes, there are feathers, but the bird can’t fly.  There’s got to be something wrong.
 
ATW: The bird is a fledgling, which means he has left the nest (fledged) and will never return to the nest.  When most baby birds leave the nest, they go to the ground.  It’s a normal part of their development.  At this time, they can’t fly.  They stay on the ground for several days while the parents keep an eye on them from the trees to bring them food and warn them of danger.  This is the time when the young birds learn how to recognize danger, how to find food, and how to fly.  It is an important stage in their development.
 
Caller: But there are cats in the neighborhood, and the bird is in danger. 
 
ATW: We understand your concern, but we cannot take fledglings away from their parents and their natural development because of the possible presence of cats.  Parents will warn the fledglings about the presence of a cat, and the fledglings are really good at hiding.  If we take the bird away from his parents and raise him in a cage, at release, the bird will not know how to recognize danger or how to find food.  It is vital that the parents continue teaching their off-spring.  Leaving the bird alone is in the best interest of the bird.

 If the bird is in imminent danger, it’s OK to pick him up and move him to a safe place, just so long as the parents can find their fledgling.  Remember, the belief about not touching a baby animal is a myth. Touching a baby animal or bird will not deter the parents from caring for their baby.


Here are photos of typical fledglings in this area:


Northern Mockingbird Fledgling


Blue Jay Fledgling


English (House) Sparrow Fledgling


House Finch Fledgling


American Robin Fledgling


Northern Cardinal Fledgling
 
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Keeping it Safe


Linda M., a long-time ATW volunteer, is always willing to tackle a sink full of dirty dishes.
 
During these difficult times, we are doing our best to keep the doors open and continue saving animals. Spring is the time most wild animals, especially the babies, need help. To keep our staff healthy, we are limiting the number of volunteers who come into the center. We also stopped accepting volunteer applications at our web site. One day, and we hope soon, we will be more than happy to welcome back all our volunteers, including new volunteers. We will notify our current volunteers when we are ready to welcome them back to the center and announce in this newsletter when we are accepting volunteer applications at our website. In the meantime, please STAY HOME and take care of yourselves.  And thank you for supporting ATW! (If you have a question about whether you should come in for your volunteer shift, please call Amber at 512-897-0806.)
 

LaRita B., another long-time ATW volunteer, loves the birds and can always be found close to the incubators taking care of orphaned nestlings.
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An Unwelcome Guest
By Lily Alexander 
 
A small condominium complex on the edge of a small town along Lake Travis had unknowingly created an ideal habitat for a skunk mother and her babies. The complex had a lovely open rock wall, which acted partially as a retaining wall and partially as a fence, surrounding the buildings and forming the edge of the parking area. The parking lot was adjacent to an undeveloped woods and grassland area.

Skunks are nocturnal omnivores whose primary diet is insects, but they love to eat and will consume a variety of fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, in addition to rodents, spiders and snakes, pet food, and birdseed. So this small community had created a wonderful place for a skunk mother to have her den. Despite the idyllic environmental conditions, skunk mothers move their babies every few days in order to keep the scent of the den from attracting predators. Sometimes while moving the babies, the mother either drops or leaves a baby behind. It’s nature's way; often the result of illness or problems with the baby skunk, a perceived threat to the mother, or sometimes injury or death of the mother.

In the case of this small community, one baby, who was about 4 weeks old, got left behind. At this age, the eyes are just opening, and the baby is more "toddling" than walking. If curled up, the baby would be a little smaller than a tennis ball. While baby skunks are born with the infamous scent gland inside their anus, they are incapable of "skunking" or spraying anyone until at least 2-3 months old. So while they may sometimes "poot" a little scent, especially if they fall, are scared, or going to the bathroom, they cannot spray. It is also at this age that their teeth are coming in, but they wouldn't have the jaw strength to hurt anything, even with fully formed teeth.

But there is a lot of fear around simply seeing skunks, and this poor little abandoned baby had this whole condominium community scared. So for days, they tried spraying skunk repellant on it, spraying it with the hose, and blocking the opening to the baby's den. All to no avail, this little baby was blind and helpless and aside from its sense of smell identifying the area as the home had no other direction. It also had no food or drink, as the sole nutrition at that age is mother's milk. So, despite efforts to make him leave, he stayed.  

The condominium owners called every agency they could think of to have him removed, but this small town did not have the proper information or manpower to assist them. Finally, after 5 days, the owners called All Things Wild Rehabilitation, and we went to retrieve the baby.

By the time we arrived, nature had moved in to start "recycling.” The baby was covered with maggots, and fleas and ants had started to arrive but thankfully were not yet biting. He could hardly move at that point and was simply lying out in the open. A healthy skunk will not do this and will rarely if ever, be seen during midday. We immediately washed the baby and spent hours de-infesting him, an arduous process.  He received subcutaneous injections of fluids around the clock for approximately 36 hours. He couldn't swallow and didn't remember how to suckle. His gums were white from anemia, and he couldn't maintain his body temperature.

Over time, he gradually started moving more but was acting strangely, which made us think perhaps there was more trauma or other problems, either from dehydration, malnutrition, or something else. After 3 days, he began to respond! After 5 days, aside from being very bony and small for his age and not knowing how to eat normally, he began behaving exactly like a baby skunk should: playful, sweet, curious, vocal, and "stomping" every chance he got. (Stomping is the movement they make with both front feet before they turn their rear end and scent gland towards their attacker!) 

Please pass on the news to those you know that skunks are our allies, not our enemies.  They are much like cats and dogs in terms of intelligence and personality and have as much right to life as any other animal. They also do an incredible job of managing otherwise unwanted pests. Skunks naturally keep to themselves, have poor eyesight, and will try to stay away from the chaos of most residential areas. They do not spray for fun or malice; the spray is their only defense when cornered. They will continue on their way if we and our pets leave them alone and don't leave pet food outside.

At All Things Wild Rehabilitation, we are grateful for the resilience of nature and the indomitable spirit of these amazing animals.  This little fighter, whom we named Pew Bear, will hopefully live out a long and happy life, as he works alongside all of nature to balance this precious and delicate ecosystem of ours.

 

A very sick baby, this was Pew Bear when we found him.


Pew Bear is beginning to recover.

Lily, a talented and devoted wildlife rehabilitator, left us in December 2015 after a brave battle with ovarian cancer. She especially loved skunks and flying squirrels and would always take tiny orphaned rats and mice when no one else would touch them. Surely, she is in heaven caring for helpless animals.  We are sad that she didn’t live to see our beautiful new center open in 2019 but happy we can honor her memory with this lovely story about the little skunk.       
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