Hoots, Howls, and Hollers – May 9, 2023
When a Rescue is Actually a Kidnapping…
A big part of what we do every day is address issues regarding the rescue of wildlife in trouble. And, that is as it should be.
To be very clear; however, sometimes a rescue is not a rescue at it all…it is a kidnapping…and that we try to avoid, if at all possible. Let me explain…
Many times during the spring, caring people are enticed into watching the nesting/brooding birds in their yards. One of the most common hotline calls we get is from a homeowner who has had the good fortune of a hummingbird building a nest outside the kitchen window. All of the sudden a chore like doing the dishes has become fun…checking on what the mom hummingbird is doing has become a habit in much the same way that a video cam in an eagle’s nest is, but these are YOUR hummingbirds, and you are doubly invested in their well-being.
Then at some point you don’t see mom snuggled tight on her babes…she is gone… your mind races through possibilities, and concludes that she must have been killed because she has up to this point been the model mom. What do you do? Well, of course, you call Liberty Wildlife. The very wise Hotline volunteer suggests that you keep a close watch to see if the mother stealthily flies in and delivers food to the two babies who now are able to regulate their own temperature. And yes, indeed, there she is, and it becomes clear that there is no longer room in the nest for mom and her two babies. All this time you were fretting about the demise of the mom, she has been sitting on a limb close by monitoring her babes. It would have been so sad for her to watch them being ‘rescued’ by a caring person who thought they were doing the right thing. That is when a rescue isn’t a rescue but an unintended kidnapping.
An incident this past weekend resulted in what I consider to be the kidnapping of some barn owl eggs. Here’s the situation. Tubers/swimmers on the Salt River have been allowed to place ropes up the side of a cliff so that they can climb up and jump into the river. I guess this is a good idea…until the rope became a highway to a barn owl’s nest this spring. Barn owls are cavity nesters, and this mom found what she assumed was a pretty sweet spot to lay her eggs and hopefully raise her young. Now, during breeding season, these creatures are hard wired to breed, nest, incubate and raise babies. They are hard wired to brood, feed and teach their babies how to survive in the world. They are hard wired to do all of this.
Now, granted, sometimes things happen that make this scenario impossible… if the parent owls are killed, or nests are accidentally torn down, etc. Or even, recently, a person threatened to kill a fledgling great horned owl if someone didn’t come move it from her yard…that is, while the parents were watching over it from a palm tree in the next yard. Wisely, our rescue volunteer saved the day for that fledgling, the person, and for the owl parents by relocating it next door to a more hospitable spot.
In some cases, there must be a rescue if a safe resolution can’t be found. Obviously, the best solution is to make the area safe for the mother to do what she must do…complete her annual drive to procreate and send babies into the wild. But best is not always possible.
For the particular mother barn owl on the river, the situation wasn’t going to allow for the best case. Once the owl and her eggs were discovered by the folks on the river, her fate and that of her offspring was caste. A rescue was orchestrated even though experienced people suggested reasonable other alternatives – like temporarily taking down the rope if the area couldn’t be cordoned off…just long enough for the nesting season to complete. As for rescue, sure it was possible to climb up the rope, snag the eggs away from the mother, and take them away to be incubated. Sure, it was possible to raise baby owlets without a parent…but was it the best solution? I think not. Just because you can, doesn’t mean you should.
As wildlife rehabilitators, we have all learned how to do the job…some better than others…but what we really need to do is assess what is best for the baby owl and its parent. Folks out for a good time on the river do not always have to come first.
If I had been in charge, I would have let the mom complete the task nature meant her to do. I would have cut down the rope, cordoned off the area, and explained to the inquisitive public exactly why I was doing it. My guess is that most would completely understand and actually support the effort. They really would want to do what was best. I fear my optimism sounds foolish and, sadly this time, it was wasted because ultimately this momma barn owl ended up the victim of a kidnapping. The eggs were taken.
It’s my hope that sharing stories like these will help all of us understand and appreciate nature, and the natural cycles of the wildlife we share space with. I hope that a community of understanding, compassionate individuals will win the day for future wildlife. And maybe the next nesting owl will get to raise her young the way she was hardwired to.
This Week @ Liberty – May 9, 2023
As I write this, I’m sitting at my desk, in my cool-ish office, in Phoenix, with all the wind and heat and allergies those things entail. While posting this, I’m sitting at a hotel in Santa Barbara, CA, enjoying a beautiful change of scenery, and loving the cooler weather the beach and water offers. In fact, it was twelve years ago my husband and I traveled to Leadbetter Beach, not far from where I sit, and said I do—sans shoes and sunscreen (and yes, we both got burnt that day…totally worth it).
A lot has changed since then. I never imagined I’d one day take a chance and start volunteering with Raptors; which, at that time, was this sort of farfetched dream I never really knew where to start with. So, it goes without saying, I certainly never imagined I’d make the switch from volunteer to staff, either.
But you know what? It’s these amazing, uncertain things in our lives that make them worthwhile. That remind us that even the best laid plans can go awry—and sometimes in the best possible way.
Bert the Northern Bobwhite Quail
I’ve mentioned our Great Horned Owl foster parents a time or two, I know, but there are lots of other foster parents here on site who help us raise orphaned babies coming through our doors. With several Barn Owls, Red-Tailed Hawk and Harris’s Hawks helping to pave the way for young, healthy birds to get back out into the wild, there’s certainly no shortage of love to go around.
Bert, though, is a special kind of foster parent. As a Northern Bob White Quail, they’re usually found in southeastern North America, and tend to gravitate towards fields and forests where they eat mostly seeds and leaves. And when they have babies (which they can have a clutch anywhere between 7-28), they’ll feed the babies insects to get them started.
They are, unfortunately, seeing a sharp decline in numbers; it’s part of the reason it’s legal to own one here in Arizona, though if you’re interested in keeping one, we recommend reaching out to AZ Game and Fish.
Still, Bert is a wonderful father for a lot of different reasons, but mostly, those clutch sizes he’d have in the wild make it easy for him to take on loads of kids (and when we say loads, look at all those little legs beneath his protective wings!).
Don’t worry, we won’t give him so much he can’t handle—for now, he’s doing a great job of keeping these babes safe until they’re ready to head out!
ICU: The Journey here at Liberty Wildlife
Every animal who comes to us has a different story to tell. Sometimes they’re simply orphaned and fledged too early; for passerines and songbirds, this means going into Orphan Care and being tended to by our devoted volunteers until they’re ready for release. For other kids, they go straight to foster parents, and for many more, they must stay inside for their wounds and fractures to be tended to.
Regardless of the story, they all start at the same place; with all of you finding them and caring enough to bring them—or call us to bring them—here. And your first step? The intake window; this is our first line of ‘defense’ here at Liberty Wildlife. We get information from you, identify the animal, and print off an intake form with their number before they move into their next step.
Triage is our second line of ‘defense’. This is where our medical service volunteers assess the animal and decide where they go next (along with that intake form, that’s important!). And for those not going outside, they move into phase three…
ICU is where animals who have wounds are kept in a quiet, safe place to be tended, observed, and fed. Daily Care is responsible for coming in and cleaning enclosures, feeding, and providing fresh water. Medical Service volunteers have several shifts throughout the day where medicine is given, wraps are changed, and physical therapy is provided to those who need it. Of course, our volunteer veterinarians come in several times a week to help make this work, too, with different plans put in place to help these animals get strong again.
It’s a process that’s different for every animal, but so worth the time involved.
What to do if you find a Common Poorwill
Chances are, you’ve walked right by a Poorwill and never even realized they were there. It’s an easy thing to do—their feathers are the perfect camouflage for our rocky, desert terrain. In fact, in the western United States, that’s exactly where they like to be, roosting on the ground among the rocks, scattered bushes and washes. It’s where they hunt from, too; they perch low to find flying insects, and come dawn and dusk (when they’re most active), they’ll take off to grab their prey with quick efficiency.
They also lay their eggs directly on the ground in this same environment, and they’ll do so without making a nest (they might have a bit of scraps, but nothing fancy). Once those babies hatch, they’ll hide out in the cover of those shrubs, waiting for mom or dad to come back with food throughout the night.
This is, in part, a big reason why people bring them to us. Our reaction to finding a bird on the ground, mostly unmoving (especially during the day), is that they’re in danger or in need of help. And sometimes, that’s exactly the case. For Common Poorwills, that’s not always true.
A good rule of thumb for these cute little dudes is to monitor them for a day or two; if they’re babies waiting for mom or dad, the parents should come around at night (and sometimes throughout the day) to feed. If they’re adults, they’ll hunker down during our hot, summer days, and get active once the sun starts to set. Which means if, after a day or two of careful watching, if mom and dad haven’t come back—or, if it’s an adult who hasn’t moved, isn’t flying, or hasn’t eaten—it might be prudent to grab them and bring them here.
You’ll want to be sure to be gentle; though they’re quick flyers, they’re delicate little birds with big, gaping mouths. They might even show them off to you to try and scare you away!
Alas, here we are again! Our numbers are starting to increase here in our hospital, and Public Hours are now officially from 9am-11am on Wednesdays, Saturdays and Sundays. Don’t fret, there’s plenty of things still happening with our animal ambassadors, and plenty of notable mentions to be had!
Without further ado…
Volunteer Chris showing off Rosy the Rosy Boa (2 pictures)
New Medical Service volunteer Nick feeding baby bunnies (1 picture)
Hatchling Mourning Dove drops in (calculator for comparison) (1 picture)
Eurus (Peregrine Falcon) hangs at ANDAZ in Scottsdale (1 picture)
Volunteer Vets grab Hedwig’s attention before another baby is given to her (1 picture)
Laura and Jan fly Lobo the Harris’s Hawk for a field trip (1 picture)
Nestling Grackle’s are something otherworldly (1 picture)
If I haven’t said it before, I’d like to say it now—thank you for reading and supporting us here at Liberty Wildlife. We can’t do what we do without you…so thank you, thank you, thank you!
Until next time!
Posted by Acacia Parker
Public Outreach Coordinator