Well its been a real Killdeer season this year! Above is Sweetie, a baby raised by Kim F, here in Central Oregon and transferred to me to join my crew. These inland shorebirds come in mainly because they fall into storm drains, their parents are killed on highways, or dog or cat grabs them.
They come in tiny usually, under 6 grams and sized about that of a quarter with legs. They take special settings and care, are easily stressed, and require a lot of attention. IF they survive past a week or few days and are housed and cared for appropriately, they can grow to be released.
These two little ones came in after being found in a storm drain (someone heard the peeping). After not finding either parent, they came to us. The little black specs are flightless fruit flies, one of the many bugs they have to eat. Insects are the main diet for these guys, there is no gaping for a hand-made diet and I have never seen them eat dog food!
Fly larvae, white mealworms, waxworms, and baby crickets are what they need to survive...and A LOT of those. These have to be fed a particular way to avoid calcium deficiencies and other nutritional issues. All of the bugs we rehabbers feed are not nutritionally balanced and must be supplemented in specific ways, otherwise long-term issues will result. Many of these would not be seen before release, but only after. For example, without the right amount of calcium to phosphorus as a juvenile, a bird could grow up to be unable to fully calcify and egg, with that egg potentially breaking inside the bird and killing the bird. Leg and wing fractures also occur once in the while in birds raised with poor nutrition.
As baby birds grow, whether song, shore, or water, they all must be transferred to increasingly larger enclosures that fit their particular needs for feeding, enrichment, safety, and physical development.
Shorebirds require enclosures that protect, but also encourage muscle development in their feet and legs. Thus, these little ones moved into a larger setting, but are still on soft cloth.
After a bit, they all go into a 'shorebird box' or other much larger enclosure that for us in Central Oregon is still inside since our nights can be in the 30s. The box is not a box per se, but a large, wood structure that I can put pea gravel or sand in for their feet and they can run and even take small hopper jumps in. They grow in their for another bit, till finally they have the feathering to stay warm and can go outside in the shorebird aviary.
I had another intake of 3 more Killdeer just a bit older that were able to go out to the aviary sooner than my little ones.
This is the outdoor aviary, which is 12 x 16, and large enough for them to fly. The habitat is set up to allow them to learn to navigate high desert landscapes, which for them is shrubs, dirt, and grasses. They are found in all sorts of habitats, and while shore birds, they do frequent water, they also look for their bugs in other wide open spaces.
You can see the little mound of pea gravel in the center, Killdeer like to see around them, so this gives them an idea of a view. The walls are not completely enclosed so they can see their surroundings.
Anyhooo.....this is Killdeer rehab....Hard, expensive, and very time intensive....but sooo worth it. If you love shorebirds, make sure to support your local shorebird rehab expert, they need it!
Fishing lures and line are the bane of the waterbird's existence. Other than getting shot and loss of habitat (wetlands), fishing lure/line injuries are a top reason why these birds die...most are never seen, and suffer a painful, slow death by starvation and hypothermia.
Luna is a common loon, the OR fish and game worked hard to catch her for over 2 weeks - if the bird can swim or dive or fly still it is very hard to catch them. It was a hard task and the biologists were caring people who really wanted to help this beautiful girl out. A big thank you goes to them.
They got the fishing line off of her, which was wrapped around her wing, around her tongue and down her throat. X rays showed that no more line was left in her stomach, which can often be the case with injuries like this.
Like most of these injured water birds, she came in hypothermic and emaciated. In this condition, rehab is very tentative as getting the bird warm and eating again can be difficult. Luna was quite lethargic, as the picture with her vet shows...you would NEVER want to be this close to a healthy loon's bill!!! They use those weapons to stab and aim for the eyes. but in Luna's case, she was so very tired she just sat there. Of course I was not far away!
She checked out fair, the wing injury is in her patagium (the thin skin on the forward part of a bird's wing and also some bruising. Her tongue has some dying tissue in it (necrosis) but is already growing back (bird tongues are amazing!). After hydration, warmth, and rest, we got her on some good slurry and easy to digest recipes. Slowly she has regained her energy and her attitude.
Starvation results in these birds being unable to keep their temps up, they get cold fast and too low a temp can kill them. So warming and feeding is critical, after hydration. Luna got to swim in her therapy pool from the start, just a little at a time. Now she is on the pool all day, with just short breaks for nutrition and check ups. Her pool has recirculating, filtered water - a KEY to rehabbing water birds since loss of waterproofing happens easily and a lot in captivity. Protecting that, her feet, and her keel is critical.
ote the green 'donut' she is sitting on, this protects their keels which can wind up with sores if their weight is not kept off it. Secondary injuries are often why waterbirds don't make it in rehab.
I will blog on keel sores next! Stay tuned.
Luna is getting better, wish her luck and if you want to help her out...please consider making a donation, she needs fish!
Can you guess what this little cutie is? Actually, he or she is not that little. About the size of a football, and heavy. She is an American Coot (Fulica americana). The males and females have identical plumage, an expert can tell the difference by their vocalizations.
Like some other water-associated birds, the coot can get way-laid by a storm and wind up where he or she should not be. So it was with this one. She was in excellent condition though, quite fat, strong, and anxious to get away from me. But, like grebes and other water type birds, she could not take off from the ground, she needed a running start - on water!
After a one night bed & breakfast (which she turned down), off she went to the nearest group of other coots and open water.
Some interesting facts about the coot:
1) they are not ducks - in fact they are a type of rail, a rail is a type of marsh bird and eats almost only vegetation. Usually you would have to look hard for a rail, but coots are pretty gregarious. They live on freshwater lakes around marshy, wetland like habitats. They need the vegetation at the edges of these water bodies to eat, though you will find them out in deeper water too (unlike other rails).
2) Check out those green and huge feet! This bird is a swimmer, like the grebe, loon, and merganser. It is a heavy bird for that reason, to be able to sink down in the water and swim. Their wings, while larger in proportion than a grebes to body size, are still not strong enough for a land take-off. They must have a good bit of water - and not a pond mind you - a lake.
Those fantastic feet are lobed and large to paddle their way all around under and on top of water.
Check out this cool bird online at the Cornell Laboratory website and impress your friends when you see one in the wild by saying, "Did you know that is not a duck? Its a rail....!"
I got a call Christmas day from a couple,Chente and Melina, vacationing on the Florida panhandle. They had found a horned grebe quite a ways up a beach and chosen to rescue the bird. Their story follows in the next post. This is one of those situations in which knowing what the best action to take is quite difficult. In this case, they made the decision to take the bird with them in hopes that they could find help for it.
Birds who winter near or on the sea do get on the beach - gulls, shorebirds, crows, pelicans. But how do you know if the bird sitting on the beach is in peril or not? How do you know what to do with a bird that seems in distress? Take it back to the water? Rescue it? Leave it?
In some cases, the bird will look beat up, full of sand, and barely alive. Rescue is the right and obvious choice. In others, the bird might have just come up on the beach and its situation is less clear. Birds are excellent at faking injury; predatory birds and animals look for the injured.
There are some bird species whose presence on a beach should cause immediate concern: sea ducks (pretty much any of them), loons, grebes (any), puffins (any alcids), murres -- pretty much any of the birds that live on the sea either year-round or winters. All of these are categorized as "water" birds or "sea" birds - what they have in common is that they all live the majority of their lives on water. The common beach-goers - gulls, shorebirds, some songbirds, and the corvid family and raptors/eagles - while living near water, are not water birds.
There are freshwater birds as well and some of these (loons, grebes, some cormorants) live part of the year on sea water and the other part on lakes and rivers. The pelican is the water bird that does visit the beach and is an exception to this rule. Note too that surf scoters are named right - they are nature's surfers and ride the waves looking for what the water churns up to eat. Any other bird being tossed around in surf is not a good thing.
Water birds have unique anatomies that allow them to literally float on water year round. Loons and grebes are so water-attached that they even build their nests on reeds floating on the edges of lakes, their babies ride on their backs to stay dry and warm for the first 2 weeks.
So, how can these birds live like this? How do they stay warm and dry?
The feather is one of the world's most amazing anatomical structures. As we all know, down is super warm, and waterbirds have a lot of it. The other feathers work like skin-diving suits, physically preventing water from getting onto the skin of the bird. They do this through microscopic barbs that hook together like Velcro. A fully waterproof bird's feathers will shed water and be completely dry immediately after full submersion in water. In rehab, one of the most extraordinary processes to watch is to see a bird's feathers go from wet to dry as the bird preens or is washed (do not attempt to waterproof a bird, it requires expert knowledge, do not attempt this yourself).
Back to our Horned Grebe:
The little Horned Grebe was most likely not waterproof. Any kind of contamination (pollution, a seeping wound from an injury,serious physical disarray of feathers like from surf) can impair waterproofing. I cannot know what this little bird ran into as I was not there to examine her, but clearly she was cold. When water - even "warm" water like in Florida - gets on the skin of a bird, it begins to drain heat from the bird. Eventually, the bird will get more and more wet, and colder, until the bird knows she or he has to get out of the water. Once the outer flight feathers are too wet, the bird can no longer fly, and has to waddle up onto the shore. First, she has to go through the surf where she gets more debris and sand in her feathers, and thus wetter and colder. Our little grebe likely needed a good bath.
Our story ends well: the little horned grebe was taken to the Pensacola Wildlife Sanctuary. The full story will be continued in my next post - stay tuned!
What Can You Do?
Chente and Melina followed their gut feelings about our little grebe. And they made a wise choice in picking that bird up. They no doubt saved that bird's life as she would have been either killed by another animal or died from starvation.
Here are some questions you can ask if you find a bird on the beach:
1) What kind of bird is she or he? Chente and Melina got on their smart phones and identified their bird as a horned grebe. If you find you have a true water bird, and they are not general beach goers...then you can assume you need to rescue.
2) What is the bird's condition? Is she or he filthy, like they took a bath in sand? Rescue. Oiled, greasy, dirty, unkempt, etc. Rescue.
2.b). Is the bird injured? Obvious broken wing? Leg dragging? Wing dragging? Blood? Rescue
3). Can the bird walk? Is the bird trying to get away, and if so, how is it walking? Does it try to stand up and waddle a few inches or feet then fall back down? That is likely a grebe or loon, their feet are placed to far back on their bodies to keep them upright for anymore than a few feet at a time. If another bird acts like this, it is injured. In either case - Rescue.
4). When you walk away and stop looking at it, does the bird drop his head back down and "rest"? Does it look exhausted? Watch a gull, how it sits on the sand, alert, clean. How does your bird look generally?
While we want and need to respect wildlife, and they are truly magicians in terms of what they go through to stay alive, we still need to be aware. Intervening when its not necessary is not good, we can accidentally "kidnap" babies from their parents, disrupt their ability to migrate, etc etc....but to not act when a bird is truly in distress, is to resign the bird to death.
With just a bit of observation, a smart phone, a quick phone call....Chente and Melina saved this bird. You can too.
My next post will be Melina's story about exactly what happened. She offers an excellent example of how to rescue a horned grebe on a beach...on a holiday!
May the birds be with you.
This beautiful loon was found in the middle of Hwy 97, a few days into our first serious dump of snow and cold snap. He (or she) clearly face-planted into the hwy as the tip of his bill is damaged. We are assessing as to weather he can be rehabilitated.
Water birds like loons, grebes, and mergansers not only need their sharp bill to catch (or spear) fish, but to preen and maintain their waterproofing. You can see in this picture that his waterproofing is compromised - there is a small nickle sized darker spot just under his chin...this is a spot where clearly he has lost his waterproofing. Likely he got some debris(perhaps blood from the injury) here. This is an avenue to hyperthermia were he to be released with this.
Weather can force a bird down for various reasons - sometimes because of poor physical condition (parasite loads or just lack of enough food to develop the muscle mass for the whole migratory trip), but sometimes simply from really bad weather. Loon and grebes can mistake our wet pavement for rivers...seems odd, but visibility can be hindered in bad weather, as we all know.
Please if you see a bird on the snow, in a road, or just acting strange...or in a location that seems odd...give us a call. Unless a bird is a crow or a songbird actively eating seeds under a tree or hopping around on snow...consider that bird in distress. Birds do not sit in the snow (unless they are ptarmagin!) generally....No shorebird should ever be in the snow...and no water birds.
I believe this bird to be a common loon.
Hard to believe, but this is a treble hook fishing lure - right where Grace has been feeding. Unbelievable. It must have washed up in the last day as I scour the bottom of the river when I drop her food. Luckily I found it before she did.
Found out that it is legal for fisher folks to be able to any kind of lure in the downtown river section. Which means anyone who wades or swims into the river or feeds on the bottom of the river is at risk for getting these stuck in them. The one that got Grace was much larger than this one, but still a lure like this is going to get eaten by some bird eventually.
When swallowed, fishing lines and lures are death sentences for birds. 22% of brown pelicans taken in by the International Bird Rescue have line or lure injuries. Lures can be swallowed whole by larger birds like herons, egrets, or other fish eaters. They get impaled into webbed feet, stuck into necks and wings, and impaled into tongues.
Grace was a lucky bird - many people saw her and called a variety of folks. I cringe to think of the likely thousands who perish under the water, wound up in line, and drowning without anyone ever knowing or seeing them. This is a real risk for the fish eaters or swim through the water like bullets - your mergansers, grebes (horned, eared, pied-billed, westerns, clarks), fresh water cormorants, and loons.
Conscientious fisher folks use barbless hooks, hooks that biodegrade, and do all they can not to cut their lines. No lure biodegrades fast, but eventually they will rust out. The one I found was very rusty, but still have sharp points, enough to hook a bird. So the bird would have had a rusty lure stuck in its tongue. I used to fish...as a longtime Alaskan it is kinda in our blood to eat fish. But I don't now.
Trout have extraordinarily sensitive mouths, way more sensitive than humans. They live through their mouths - feeling their food and picking out what they want. So imagine the pain - yes fish have pain studies show - of getting a lure hooked into your lips and then because you have a bony structure and the hook cannot just pull out, you are forced to fight for your life, getting pulled all over the place by hook in the most sensitive part of your body. Projecting? You bet. Fish have feelings. So do birds.
The antiquated and unsophisticated philosophy of Descarte and Bacon which founded our ridiculous notions that animals could not feel is as old, as it is...well old.
Anyway, back to Grace.
Here are some current shots of her....showing off her impressive beauty, and that of the Deschutes River.
Grace still needs help. If you know someone who lives near the 1st St rapids, please email me. No kids please. Note: We do not want her to get used to this and be a pest, or a poorly fed bird, so this is a temporary situation. Thanks.
Grace has now been back on the river for a week. She is hanging in there fairly well. She keeps showing some improvement every day.
She took a very energetic bath a couple of days ago, fully submersing each side of her body in the river and moving about washing herself. After who knows how long with a lure in her mouth and being out of water for two weeks other than a kiddee pool, she was feeling pretty dirty and needing to get all her feathering back into place and clean. That was a great sign.
While the warm weather is not great for skiers (sorry!), it has been just what Grace needed to continue her recuperation. She was released earlier than I or her vet would have liked, but her other choice was being taken to another much larger facility in WA or CA. Anyway, she seems to be improving.
She is still a bit tired and more sedate than a really healthy swan, shown by her standing on the sides of the river and not being out on the water or feeding in the water. She also shows some signs of needing to continue her cleaning, shown by her standing above the water on the edges of the river. None of this is surprising what she has gone through; her rehabilitation will take a bit more time. We can all imagine what we might feel like had we had that kind of injury, we wouldn't be all that spunky either.
I and a few volunteers continue to feed her. She needs a particular diet, and I provide this to those who want to help Grace. She will continue to be fed until she shows signs that she is fully up and running. We are trying to get another swan relocated so that she does not have to deal with an aggressive male swan. While he is not hurting her outright, he - and his 2 buddies - are keeping her away from the rest of the river, south of where she is now. ODFW wants to move this guy as he is a baby of the other local swan there, and they do want him mating with her or his sister. We are hoping that once he is gone, Grace can team up with the other girls.
Grace needs to be left alone as much as possible so that she can have peace and rest. She is still healing. She also has a special diet, but if you would like to help feed her, just email me and I can set you up with the correct food for her.
Grace is a sweet, gentle gal. With lots of love, time, and support she should pull through just fine.
I wanted to give a great big THANK YOU! to those folks who donated for Gracee's care here at Grebe Acres.
We really appreciate the help with a bird that we rarely get and were not really set up for. Your donations went for her foods, appropriate flooring, medical care out here in Sisters, pool set up, heater, and a variety of other things that go into caring for such a large, magnificent bird.
While Grebe Acres usually gets smaller water or shore birds, like grebes and killdeer - as well as an assortment of songbirds - we are now set up for a swan. Though ideally we could use a much larger floating pool for such a bird or others like her who need a big stock tank. But I will need help with that.
I could really use volunteers and a handyperson. If you would like to volunteer to watch or even feed Grace please let me know. I could really use the help - she is now a 1/2 hour away from me.
Also, if you know someone who knows pond pumps, please contact me as I need a volunteer to set up a stock tank in case she has to come back into rehab.
Thanks so much to those who followed this story and also contributed to Grebe Acres. It was very much needed and appreciated.
I will continue to post on Gracee
Grace was released a couple of days ago near the first street rapids, at a home she regularly visited prior to her injury. She seems to be doing ok, though I did not think this was the best solution for her. In the end though, since I do not full say in her rehabilitation - the State of Oregon does - I gave my best recommendations and this was the choice made.
Grace spent 14 days in rehabilitation, which is actually way too long. Most facilities that rehab these birds like to treat them and immediately or nearly immediately release. Foot injuries, lung infections, and loss of waterproofing can result from too long in captivity. Grace was showing both foot problems and the beginnings of waterproofing issues (you can see her neck feathers looking pretty raged in this picture). However, it was the opinion of the vet, Dr. Cooney, that she stay up to 3 weeks in rehab due to the extent of her injuries.
However, when her feet developed sores, Simon Wray of ODFW chose to release her and see if she couldn't finish up her rehab on her own. I had suggested she go to another facility that has fully fenced ponds and was in a warmer part of the NW.
What Grace needed most - and needs now - is to be off her feet and get her plumage back into shape. Swans - and many other water birds, like grebes and loons - are not designed to spend many hours on their feet. The joints of the toes tend to swell after not too long in rehab, and then once even mildly swollen they develop basically bed sores...initially minor abrasions.
To avoid this - if you are going to keep a swan for longer than a week - you have to swim them. To do this a large stock tank is necessary, one large enough for them to extend their wings so that when they bath, they can then flap their wings while in the pool. Watch a swan bath and flap and you will see these big birds needs space! With a smaller stock pond you risk the bird hitting the sides with their primaries, and then you have other issues.
Sadly, while Grace had a 16x20 foot aviary, my stock tanks are meant for grebes and were too small. For me to get a large stock tank into my aviary, I would have had to dismantle one side of it...an 8 ft round object was not going to fit through the vestibule. The other option was to buy a very large dog pen to surround the tank with, a very expensive choice. Had Simon not chosen the release I would have considered this.
However, we are right now at $600 of out of pocket expenses. To set up my songbird aviary for a swan, I had to buy about $300 worth of anti-fatigue matting and astroturf to cover my usually sand substrate. For her bathing pool, I specially ordered a large kiddie pool and got a sump pump to drain it. The pool was drained and cleaned 2 times a day. Grace also got a under body heater large enough for her - they use these for large dogs. And then she ate very good food - Mazuri Waterfowl Maintenance.
Hay cannot be used for waterfowl due to it harboring aspergillosis and other fungal type spores. So I use blankets...however, with any towels or blankets you are risking contamination with soap. It is near impossible to get soap fully out of a towel (wash one, then put it in a tub and you will be shocked at how much soap floats out!). When I work with water birds, all towels are washed with little soap and rinsed 3 times. Blankets are just hosed down. Once the bird is gone then I sterilize with Ammonia (the only thing that kills the parasite eggs some of these birds have).
Grace is not being hassled much by the other swans, other than to have her food eaten by them (making feeding her more expensive for me unfortunately). She is not wanting to be in the water too much, which indicates she may be cold - a waterproofing issue. However, her plumage looks remarkably better just after 2 days. (Birds preen way less in rehab, so they start looking bedraggled). But Grace is looking good except for her neck.
So, I am not sure what is next. Grace seems to be sitting a lot to me. But there are a couple of volunteers who are trying to keep tabs on her. If you want to visit her, just go to the small dock just off of Division St near the rapids, look up toward the right and you will likely see her sitting in someone's yard.
Grace is doing great. She had a lot of old dead tissue in her mouth removed on Tuesday, and is back to eating a lot and bathing again. Here you can see she likes to make a mess of her pool fairly quickly after us cleaning it. I am still trying to get her to eat the "good stuff" - Mazuri waterfowl feed which is meant for birds like her and so much better than bread or corn (which are just full of sugar). But she shuns it.
She has little time left with me, ODFW is deciding what they would like to do with her and when. A decision that I am glad is not in my hands but those who know best. She has a lot of support with our local fish and wildlife professionals. She is a lucky bird, she has many advocates.
Here are some pictures of her tongue now after a couple days post tissue removal (debridement). Look at that clean, pink tongue. Thanks to Dr. Cooney for cleaning her up. Grace has had lots of other support too from my network of waterfowl rehab experts around the country that I have been consulting with. In particular, IBRRC, Michele Goodman, and Dr. Miller.
Grace is my first swan and I really was not set up for her. I have ideas on what I would do differently now though. She's been a good sport though thankfully, a sweet bird. Though any bird with a 7 foot wing span who has quite a strike with that huge wing is both intimidating and can hurt you. So, though she has been "sweet" she is a challenge, specially if you have to catch her 2x a day to medicate her.
Grace will get rid of this remaining tissue fairly soon. It will likely just get removed naturally as she eats. Her feet are iffy and she needs to get off of them. Swans more than anything need to be on water and in rehab if they are not able to swim in a large pond or stock tank, they will develop foot issues quickly. In fact for most water birds (grebes, loons, merganzers, and many ducks) captivity injuries make up the the main reasons these birds become unreleasable.
It is often better to just let the bird heal on its own after some minimal treatment than letting the bird languish in rehab. Few places who do these birds now even keep swans, most just treat and release. Grace was somewhat different due to the extent of her injuries.
Foot injuries are most likely as birds that are not adjusted to bearing weight on their feet for long periods (like Canada Geese do in comparison), wind up with the toe joint swelling. These then become hot spots - like bed sores - and then can become abraded and raw. Infection can ensue. Release is wisest at that point as continued weight bearing will make it worse. There is only one thing the bird needs to do - swim.
Their feet - as most water birds - will dry out from not being water nearly 24/7. They can also get keel (chest bone) injuries from bearing weight on their chests. When in water, the body is fully buoyant and supported. Waterproofing is next to go, if not sooner. Waterproofing is about the proper structure and alignment of the feathers. In rehab they preen less simply from stress.
Well that was likely more than you ever wanted to know about rehabbing swans! My apologies.
Will let you know what happens next soon.
I am an avian rehabilitator who loves birds. I focus mainly on song, shore, and water birds. There are so many of these phenomenal and beautiful winged jewels on our planet, whom we often take for granted. Most impacts to birds are human related or caused, from windows to habitat loss to climate changes to cat predation. One third of our bird species in NA are in peril, by 2050 if not sooner it will be 50%. It will truly be a planetary loss as their extinctions continue to increase.