Phyllis and Larry Hale, who provide terrific volunteer help for Rowena Wildlife Clinic, report on their experiences last winter.
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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.
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.
As employees of Mt. Hood Meadows were on the ski slopes doing their jobs earlier this month, one of them spotted a nearly frozen Barn Owl in the snow. Meadows staffer Carrie Sidwell picked up the poor bird and skied down the slope with it in her arms!
The owl was transferred to Rowena Wildlife Clinic where rehabilitator Carol Rodrick began first response protocols, including putting it in an incubator to warm up. Although the bird did not appear injured, it was so cold and thin she was afraid it wouldn’t survive the night. But by morning it was standing up in the incubator and looking at her!
The ski staff understandably wanted to know why the owl was at such a high elevation, especially at this time of year: It’s probably because of Hood River County’s recent weather. It has been an exceptionally long, cold and snowy winter. And in its quest for food and warmth, the owl may have caught a warm updraft that swept it to the ski slope. Fortunately, the ski crew was in the right place at the right time!
The crew named the bird Cutty and it continues to be cared for at the clinic. Carol says she is “guardedly hopeful” that Cutty will recover.
“Thanks to Carrie, Wes and Nick,” Carol said in a Facebook posting, “for picking up the Barn Owl and transporting it to the clinic. We depend upon people like you to look out for our injured wild friends.”
Visit Cornell University’s All About Birds website to learn more about Barn Owls.
At first blush, feeding songbirds in winter sounds like nothing but a positive activity.
But I’ve heard the concern that if you start feeding songbirds in winter on a regular basis, you’re dooming them if you suddenly leave on vacation for a few weeks – after they’ve been “spoiled” by their human-supplied meals.
Another worry is that regular feeding of songbirds in winter may ultimately weaken them. Two studies in Europe and the U.K. have found that songbirds fed all winter produce fewer eggs, have fewer chicks fledge – and those that do have lower survival rates. This article in Cool Green Science explores some possible reasons. But because these findings were the result of only two studies, more research obviously needs to be done.
Regarding leaving your birds for a frolic in the tropics, you can go guilt-free if you can coax a neighbor or friend to feed while you’re gone. Or if that’s not possible, gradually taper off the amount of food you’re putting out before you go. And according to the Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology, birds have adapted to changes in food sources and usually quickly revert to foraging in the wild.
If you want to know more about feeding birds in winter view Cornell’s “Bird Notes” publication on Winter Bird Feeding.
The update identifies which habitats and non-game species have the greatest need for conservation, how they should be managed and how such management can be funded.
It lists nearly 300 species thought to be in decline in the state, including 58 bird and 29 mammalian species. Fish, amphibians, reptiles, invertebrates and plant species are also included.
Bird species include:
Find out more about the Oregon Conservation Strategy.
By Tracie Hornung
Dr. Jean Cypher and volunteers of Rowena Wildlife Center recently traveled to Salem to attend the one-day Third Biennial Wildlife Rehabilitation Conference, sponsored by the Oregon Dept. of Fish and Wildlife.
Highlights included cutting-edge speakers in the wildlife health and rehabilitation community. Staff members, volunteers and students involved with wildlife rehabilitation centers in Oregon and Washington attended.
It’s always fun being in a room full of “animal people” and this conference was no exception. And it was encouraging to see a broad range of ages – from experts who have been working with wildlife for decades to young students and volunteers just starting out in the field.
A whole lot of information was packed into the eight-hour conference. Physical rehabilitation, pain management, behavior, and recent research pertaining to birds and mammals were among the many topics. But I found the three most interesting were on positive reinforcement training by Cascade Raptor Center, black bear rehabilitation at PAWS Wildlife Center in Washington state, and the ODFW presentation on white-nose syndrome in bats. Bat researchers are trying to find the answer to why white-nose syndrome “jumped” across the continental U.S. from Minnesota to Washington, where the syndrome was found this spring. See the ODFW press release.
Other topics at the conference were:
This conference was a worthwhile experience for wildlife rehabilitators, and it’s great that the state clearly values and encourages the work of independent rehabilitation centers.
By Tracie Hornung
Now that spring is here, one of the volunteers at the clinic says she hears chain saws in her neighborhood and worries that wildlife habitat will be destroyed in the process . . . which, of course, can spell doom for the animal — and possible offspring — whose home has suddenly disappeared.
In fact, that’s just what happened in the volunteers’ neighborhood. A tree trimmer cut down a tree containing the nest of a Western Gray Squirrel and one of the infant squirrels died. She notes that the clinic receives bird nests from felled trees every year, too.
Although you should wait until fall or winter to cut down trees to prevent destroying nests, you don’t have to curtail your other spring cleaning efforts as long as you use techniques that won’t harm your wild animal neighbors. Check out this “cheat sheet” by The Humane Society on how to do so.
by Jean Cypher, DVM
Avian influenza is an interesting ecological and cultural story: The virus has been around for millennia, apparently co-evolving with waterfowl, which carry and shed it, but exhibiting very few symptoms. Technology improved enough to detect it in the 1980s, when we suspected that it was being passed between Asian poultry, pigs and migrating birds. Then the latter passed a strain of the virus to seals off the U.S. West Coast, causing mass mortality.
Today the virus has been identified as a single-strand RNA virus (the kind that tends to mutate a lot) with 144 permutations or strains of the virus. It is found mostly found in dabbling ducks, and sometimes in other aquatic birds.
Things got interesting late last year because wild ducks brought the H5N2 and H5N8 strains of the virus south on their fall migration.
A couple of strains have shown up in poultry, causing death often in less than 48 hours. The viral strains that are deadly for poultry are called “highly pathogenic avian influenza” HPAI (as opposed to LPAI). These strains aren’t causing disease in humans.
Things got interesting late last year because wild ducks brought the H5N2 and H5N8 strains of the virus south on their fall migration. This January, chickens and guinea fowl in backyard flocks in southern British Columbia started dying – and then in Winston, Oregon, then on the Oregon/Idaho border, and then at a commercial poultry operation in California. Those outbreaks had to be controlled by killing all the poultry (144,000 at one commercial poultry facility). In the meantime, several Idaho gyrfalcons fed duck meat from an Oregon hunter caused the falconer’s gyrfalcons, as well as a wildlife rehabilitator’s great horned owl, to die.
The strains causing problems here were traced to Southeast Asia. Wild ducks took them north and mixed with birds in the Siberian and Pacific flyways. The strains were also carried 10,000 miles west to northern Europe in the summer of 2014. There is a lot of mixing of birds between all the flyways.
The virus dies quickly when exposed to sun and air. But it can live for weeks in cool, moist habitat. So muddy shores of northern ponds are good sources of infection. Waterfowl shed it in the feces, although it is also in the meat and organs, causing predatory birds to get sick. Poultry usually catch it by exposure to duck droppings. Poultry pass it to one another by coughing and sneezing.
Thirty countries have instituted some kind of embargo, regional or nationwide, of U.S. poultry. Those countries won’t lift their trade embargoes unless we follow international protocol for containing and eradicating the disease in domestic flocks. So if a backyard flock gets infected, all the poultry and domestic ducks are killed, even though the latter would probably survive. The birds most at risk are free-range poultry that have access to water where wild ducks congregate or where wild ducks are flying into chicken yards to panhandle some free food.
When birds migrate along the Pacific Flyway, some move far north-to-south, and many move just a bit: Arctic to Canada, or Canada to Oregon. Most of the sampling information comes from swabs of hunter-killed wild ducks. Since hunting season occurs only during the fall migration, we don’t know if the birds overwintering to the south of Oregon, which will return to us this spring, may also be carrying the disease. So there may or may not be outbreaks among poultry this spring. The virus may spread east across the U.S. or these variants could just peter out in the wild population.
Unfortunately, this development is a game-changer for how people live with free-range chickens and other poultry and wild waterfowl on the West Coast. Until further notice, it’s not safe for anyone who raises chickens to let their birds be exposed to wild duck feces and it’s not safe for falconers to hunt their birds on ducks.
By Tracie Hornung
A local landowner, who cut down a tree containing a Northern Saw-whet Owl nest, brought in two chicks this spring to Rowena Wildlife Clinic. Although he made the mistake of chopping down a tree during nesting season, he did the right thing by searching for the contents of the nest and for the owl parents.
When he couldn’t find the parents he took the baby birds to RWC. (Since the typical clutch size is four to seven eggs, there may well have been more chicks or eggs that he did not find.) Dr. Jean Cypher put them in an incubator for the first week, and a hack box for the next two weeks as she fed and cared for them.
Then the hack box was transferred to a tree on the edge of a forest, a perfect environment for the chicks. They would be safe inside, and be able to see out as they got used to the world they would soon enter, with its varying temperatures, sights and sounds.
A volunteer fed them each a dead mouse every dusk and dawn. Every three days she changed their bedding, as they cowered in fear in the back of the box while she worked. She said they were “very docile, quiet and curious. Sometimes they would cluck at me.”
As they grew bigger they grew bolder. And it became apparent that one was female and one male; female owls are typically larger than males. During their last week in the hack box the birds started flapping their wings, lunging at the door and even hanging on it. The volunteer said, “It was like they were wondering, ‘Is she going to open it?’”
The volunteer could tell the female was ready for release. But she wasn’t sure the male was, and she didn’t want to open the door until she was sure they could both fly and perch safely. So instead of taking the risk of opening the door for the every-three-day bedding change, the volunteer waited five days.
On the fifth day she opened the door slightly. The owls hesitated. The volunteer said she thought to herself that they must not be ready for release yet, but she opened the door a little wider. Suddenly the female exploded out of the box, flying over her head and landing gracefully on a branch 10 feet away. For another five minutes the two birds stared at each other, one on the branch and the other still in the hack box. Then the male flew out, too, also landing successfully on the same branch. The two followed each other up to the end of the branch and back down, over and over.
For the rest of the day and the following day they perched in the tree above the hack box. On the third day the volunteer said she couldn’t see them but she heard them calling from another grove of fir trees. She continued to leave mice out for them in case they weren’t ready to do their own hunting. She did that for a week, but the young owls never took them. Dr. Cypher told her if they had been hungry – and not hunting on their own – they would have taken the mice. So it is highly probable that sister and brother Saw-whet are now out exploring the world successfully on their own.
Northern Saw-whet Owl Fast Facts:
A Northern Saw-whet is a tiny owl with a catlike face, oversized head, and bright yellow eyes. Saw-whets are one of the most common owls in forests across northern North America (and across the U.S. in winter). They are highly nocturnal and seldom seen. Their high-pitched too-too-too call is a common evening sound in evergreen mountain forests from January through May.
For more information, visit the Cornell Lab of Orinithology website.