Author Archives: RWCBlogger

On Turkey Vultures

turkey vulture

Turkey vulture (Cathartes aura)
Courtesy National Park Service /Brad Sutton

by Tracie Hornung

I watched the turkey vulture swerve and bank above the highway, and thought of my friend who cringed when I recently mentioned the species. I had forgotten, until then, that her reaction is quite common.

I imagine it’s that bald red head, looking as if it had just emerged from the bloodied mass of a carcass. (It may have.) Or the silhouette against the sky of sharp wings that appear torn and scraggly. A living, breathing, soaring symbol of death and decay.

But I was surprised when I got to know a couple of turkey vulture teenagers at Rowena Wildlife Clinic. It’s true -– up close they still aren’t beautiful. But the first time I encountered them, I was touched to realize they were shy and not the slightest bit aggressive. In fact, they scampered away as I brought their meal of dead rodents into their enclosure.

In time, they grew to accept my presence but stayed cautious. That’s their innate personality; raptor experts know them to be gentle, but elusive birds. Their only real defense is to vomit a lump of foul-smelling semi-digested meat, which deters most creatures. Fortunately, the teenage vultures at the rehab clinic were never threatened enough by me to do that, but I’m glad they always remained wary.

Once when my husband and I were driving a narrow road through a forest, I commented how sad it was that all the birds in the area, even those away from the road, immediately flew off. But smart, or course. They were, rightly, just working on surviving.

So whenever I see a turkey vulture soaring in a thermal, I don’t see a symbol of death and decay. I see a bird going about the business of being a bird.

For more about turkey vultures visit Cornell University’s All About Birds website.

How to help RWC: Oregon wildlife news

How you can help Rowena Wildlife Clinic

This is the clinic’s busiest time of year. The seasonal combination of newborn wildlife and increased human beings outside means that more animals are injured and found.

bald eagle

Young recovering bald eagle at Rowena Wildlife Clinic. Photo by Tracie Hornung

How can you help? First, if you find an animal in need please call the clinic first. And, after calling, if there is any way possible you can deliver the animal to the clinic that will help the clinic immensely. Volunteers, who all have other jobs and commitments, are sometimes hard pressed to make the time to retrieve the animal. The volunteer you speak to on the phone will be happy to explain how you can safely pick up and deliver the animal. See this link on our website to learn more.

And, of course, as a nonprofit organization, the clinic can always use donations. If you would like to contribute to help save injured wildlife, please visit our Donate page. If you choose to donate online, you don’t need a Paypal account to do so.

Harsh winter took heavy toll on wildlife in Oregon, western U.S.

Wildlife suffered higher than normal losses this winter in severe weather across the western United States, where the toll included the deaths of all known fawns in one Wyoming deer herd and dozens of endangered bighorn sheep in California.

Wildlife managers in Colorado, Utah, Idaho, Oregon and Washington also reported higher losses of animals in the wake of one of the coldest and snowiest winters in decades. Parts of the Rockies saw snowfall as late as mid-June.

See the rest of the story in the Oregonian.

Money for wildlife trapping reinstated in Oregon state budget committee

Despite looking for ways to cut  costs, Oregon’s legislative budget writers support spending nearly $1 million over the next two years to pay the state’s share of a program that helps fund wildlife trappers in dozens of counties across the state.

See the rest of the story in the Oregonian.

Disturbing graphic shows number of government wildlife kills in U.S.

Big game animals are killed in Oregon more than any state. See the graphic in the Oregonian.

Tests show no lead: recent bald eagle patient has chance at recovery

Bald Eagle

One of RWC’s recent bald eagle patients. Photo by Ron Kikel.

by Tracie Hornung

Rowena Wildlife Clinic recently got some good news: An injured bald eagle found this week in Hood River, Oregon, is not suffering from lead shot poisoning! See the story of its rescue in the Hood River News, written before tests showed the bird is free of lead.

However, bald eagles and other raptors are still not safe, especially since the new head of the Interior Department, Ryan Zinke, on his first day on the job signed an order to roll back a policy that would have kept lead out of wildlife refuges.

The policy Zinke reversed would have phased out lead ammunition and fishing tackle from national wildlife refuges by 2022. Lead is a powerful neurotoxin that persists in water and soil for years.

Birds are especially vulnerable to lead poisoning. Birds of prey eat animal carcasses that contain lead shot fragments — making lead poisoning an enormous threat for iconic species like bald eagles and California condors. And ducks and waterfowl rooting around the bottom of wetlands accidentally eat discarded lead.

Rowena Wildlife Clinic has often seen the effects of lead poisoning in raptors. In fact, just last winter, despite her best efforts Dr. Cypher lost a bald eagle to lead poisoning. Although no one could say with certainty how the eagle came to ingest the lead, it was a stark reminder that lead poisoning is an ever-present threat to wildlife.

Many hunters and fishers appreciate the necessity of protecting wildlife from lead. But others who complain that ammunition made of other metals cost too much compared to lead shot have won over politicians currently in office.

However, it isn’t just wildlife that suffer from lead poisoning. Humans who eat animals killed with lead shot are vulnerable, too, especially since it has a propensity to shatter into minute fragments. See this video from the Tulsa World

A recent study found that children are even more susceptible to lifelong problems related to lead poisoning, including lower IQ, poor muscle coordination and damage to the nervous system, including kidneys, and/or hearing. See Kids’ Health for more information.

If we can’t convince politicians that wildlife are worth saving from the effects of lead, perhaps they will be more sympathetic to the human threat.

Columbia Gorge Discovery Center offers Earth Day presentation on non-lead hunting

Oregon Zoo’s Non-Lead Hunting Education director, Leland Brown, will present a program from 1 p.m. to 2 p.m. April 22 at the Discovery Center in The Dalles, Oregon, titled “Non-lead Hunting: Continuing a Tradition of Conservation.” Get more info here.

Sharing buttons

From your humble webmaster–still trying to find a nice, simple way to share these posts to Facebook and other social media.  Unfortunately. . .the buttons don’t show up when I “preview” the post, so I’m going to see if they show when I actually post something.  Sorry to spam your inbox!  Someday, though, when I have this working right, we’ll be able to increase the visibility of the blog and hence the Clinic.  Be patient with me–no way to test except to test.  And yayy, it’s working!  So share all these great posts by Tracie, and maybe we’ll get a few more people signed up for the blog.  Let me know if you have any trouble with the share buttons–or anything else on the blog.



New Subscribe-by-Email option

As of today, you can subscribe to the Clinic’s blog posts.  You’ll receive an email each morning after a new post–we’ll try not to spam your inbox with too many emails!  To subscribe, just enter your email address in the block to the right.  You’ll receive a confirmation email; click on the link to verify and you’re set!  If you want to unsubscribe, it’s easy–there’s also a block for that.  But we hope you won’t.  🙂

Long-term raven patient recovers

By Tracie Hornung

Common_ravenRowena Wildlife Clinic received a raven last summer, still with blue eyes – an indicator that it was a juvenile. It had fledged with a non-functional, flaccid left wing. The clinic vet, Dr. Jean Cypher, thought the problem could have been the result of nerve damage, possibly a nest injury.

The teenage raven spent the fall and winter in the comfort of a clinic aviary, eating well, slowly regaining the use of its wing, and growing into a beautiful and healthy adult.  The bird improved to the point that it could fly back and forth in the 50-foot flight pen. Over the last few months it began, as is typical of ravens, to destroy the aviary apparently just for fun. The raven enlarged all the holes around tree branches, pecked and peeled away the Coroplast ™, and hollowed out grooves in plywood.

Ravens in the nearby woods were obviously aware that one of their own was living in the aviary and frequently called out to the captive. Early this spring, when Dr. Cypher determined that the young adult was ready to be released, she opened the door of the aviary to let the bird leave whenever it was ready. It frequently hopped out, surveyed the scene awhile, then returned inside.

Its newly acquired raven friends repeatedly called out to the bird. Still, day after day for three weeks, the raven didn’t budge. Who knows what it was thinking. But because ravens are among the smartest birds, it might have been using that time to watch those noisy, big, black birds and deciding if it was safe to leave its secure home and join them.

Finally, the raven made its decision – and took wing! For a week there was no sight of it. But then the raven returned. Dr. Cypher says she thinks it hasn’t figured out too well how to find food yet.

“He seems pretty eager to return for a rat handout or a bit of dog chow. Glad he’s hanging around if he needs a little boost.”


The raven species that occupies a vast year-round range in North America is known as the Common Raven. However, other than its proliferation, it is anything but common.

It is the brain in that species that I find most fascinating. (Although their beauty and impressive wingspan – almost 47 inches – are nothing to sneeze at.)

Cornell University’s All About Birds website notes that ravens are able to put together cause and effect, citing a study done in Wyoming.  During hunting season the sound of a gunshot drew ravens to investigate a presumed carcass, whereas the birds ignored sounds that are just as loud but harmless, such as an airhorn or a car door slamming.

Ravens’ intelligence, combined with their predatory nature, makes them extremely dangerous to other species – and even their own. (Dr. Jean is caring for another raven that was the victim of assault by other ravens. During one of the last snowfalls of winter, the raven was found nearly dead under several other ravens. They had pecked out its left eye, and the victim was thin, and had bruising and small scratches all over. Dr. Cypher says she wonders if the birds were food-stressed in the late winter, and were getting ready to kill and eat the victim. She continues to care for the raven, which is understandably a shy fellow. It’s only now starting to hop around the clinic, and its prognosis is uncertain. )

Much like wolves and orcas, ravens work together to hunt, alerting each other to prey or distracting a parent while the other raven nabs its egg or baby. Decreases in the populations of vulnerable species such as desert tortoises, Marbled Murrelets, Least Terns and sage grouse are attributed in part to increases in raven populations. (The Idaho Times-News recently reported on a controversial Idaho state plan to poison ravens to reduce the number of sage grouse kills.)

No doubt the imbalance in raven populations derives, as in most cases of species imbalances, to an overall ecosystem problem. For whatever reasons their population numbers are strong, ravens are considered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) a species of least concern.

So the good news is that for the foreseeable future we don’t have to worry, when we wander through the forest, of losing sight of ravens or the aural rapture of hearing one or more of their 30 different calls. To hear some of them now, visit All About Birds.