Birds of prey receive assistance through VCF and the Guardian Animal Medical Center
Dr. MJ Wixsom, Guardian Animal Medical Center, Flatwoods, KY
While we do a lot of wild animal rehabilitation, raptors or birds of prey are what we really focus on saving. These are hawks, owls, ospreys, vultures, falcons and eagles. Of course, we see a lot more red tailed hawks and owls than we do eagles. Because of their night hunting along roads, it is not unusual for us to have barred owls or screech owls at any given time.
Recently, we had a pair of gorgeous great horned owls. Both were hit by a car and were blind. At least, they were found beside the road, so we assume they were hit by a car. The owl’s eyes are larger than their brain. Even though they have a boney ring that helps to stabilize the eye, it is vulnerable to trauma. Often trauma will set up a post retinal bleed, which results in a detached retina and a blind owl. Owls can hear incredibly well (enough to hunt a mouse under snow), and it can be difficult to tell that they are blind. Owls can easily hear the nearly silent rustle of a shirt as a hand moves in front of them. They appear to be seeing, but are really hearing. Unfortunately, to be successfully released, they must see.We also had a beautiful American Kestrel male. The males have a much brighter plumage. This guy was found between two buildings after he broke his collar bone. He probably saw a reflection of the sky and slammed into a large window. A cutout of a hawk on the glass can scare them away from these windows. These injuries usually do well, but require at least three weeks to heal.We also received a bald eagle. It was in Greenup, where it swooped in front of a car. Hunting along the road is not something that a healthy eagle will do, but this one was hunting along Highway 23. Kentucky Fish and Wildlife was called and Officer Preston brought the eagle to our clinic. On physical exam, the left leg was turned out almost 90 degrees. After a quick triage, we stabilized him, treated the nasty flying sheep-sized flies and tube fed some calories and medicines for pain. I assumed the fractured leg was from the car accident, but after we got radiographs, it was obviously an old, improperly healed fracture. He had been hit before and scavenged until the leg was healed at the odd angle.
Although he had a wing span of over six feet and weighed 8.2 pounds, he was too small to be a female. Females can have a wing span of 7.5 feet and weigh in at 14 pounds. Still, he was capable of knocking my head with his wings and was heavy to hold while Austin, Steph, Becky Jo and/or Carly fed him. It was always me holding, but sometimes it would take two to pass a red rubber feeding tube into his craw and feed him. He quickly learned to nip fingers, even when I was holding his head. Holding at the soft commisure of his beak was enough to bruise fingers! But while I am trained and experienced in raptor (and eagle) care, we do not have a flight cage. This meant that this guy got transferred to Louisville to Raptor Rehab of Kentucky. They have donation funding, flight cages and even another eagle for him to be with for his continued care.We also received a baby bat in this week. These tiny creatures are one of my favorites! They are extremely hard to raise, but I keep trying. Unfortunately, I also cry when I fail. That is the bad thing about wildlife rehabilitation, even the best of rehabbers only release about a third of all the animals they take in. Some release more, but blind owls, foot injuries and other marginal releases just starve to death in the wild. I feel that there are things that are worse than death and sometimes pain free death is the best we can do. In the meantime, sometimes, it is quite interesting around here.If you would like to make a tax deductible donation to the Guardian Animal Medical Center to assist Dr. Wixsom in his efforts to rehabilitate injured birds of prey, click here.