The holiday season represents a time of plenty for many families; big dinners, holiday pastries, warm drinks and spending time with loved ones. In the animal kingdom, this season represents quite the opposite.
Some animals migrate to more prosperous climates, while others bundle up and wait for spring. The wildlife who are determined to stay through the cold use various techniques to combat the harsh elements, one of which is torpor. Some of our biggest and smallest patients in our wildlife hospital utilize torpor to survive through the harder times.
Torpor can be related to “sleep mode” on a computer. It is an energy saving state initiated by lowering the metabolism. Many smaller species will enter a state of torpor daily, for example hummingbirds. Hummingbirds naturally have a high metabolism and body temperature, therefore they expend lots of energy during the day. At night while resting, hummingbirds go into torpor to conserve energy.
As with all torpid states, metabolism slows along with a reduction in breathing rate, heart rate, blood flow and body temperature. A body in torpor could even reach ambient temperature, which in the winter time can be near freezing. Despite these extreme changes, the small hummingbird is still able to wake itself in the morning to begin its day.
If prolonged or extended, the state of torpor is called hibernation. This term usually conjures images of large bears sleeping through subzero temperatures in a warm cave. In actuality, hibernation is not as continuous or even necessary for bears as once believed.
Misconceptions relate torpor and hibernation events to a drop in temperature, but even animals in temperate and tropical climates will hibernate. The true cause for animals to go into a torpor or hibernation is the decrease in food availability.
Bears in zoos, and even some of our bear patients here at PAWS, will not hibernate because food is provided year round. To prompt a bear in captivity to hibernate, caretakers must slowly diminish their meals.
Even the length of hibernation can change, as the animal will only halt its bouts of hibernation when there is food to sustain its survival. Bears in Alaska, who are exposed to harsher, longer winters, will hibernate for longer periods of time than bears in Washington, who experience much milder conditions. Instead of expending energy to find the scarce amount of food in the winter seasons, bears wait for food to regrow and return.
While wildlife is experiencing a torpid state, they are extremely vulnerable and unable to respond to their surroundings. If you do find any wildlife who is unresponsive or gives you cause for concern about its well-being, please call our wildlife hospital at 425.412.4040. Our expert staff will be able to advise you on how to provide the best help for the animal.
In honor of our current patient of the week and the large number of herons that were recently spotted in Edmonds our species spotlight this week focuses on Great Blue Herons.
The Great Blue Herons is the largest heron in North America with a wingspan of 5.5 to 6.5 feet, height around 4 feet and weigh roughly five pounds. They are year-round residents of Washington and can most frequently be seen anywhere there is a wetland.
They are known for their patience; you will often see them standing very still staring into the water for long periods of time. This is how they hunt; they stand very still or move very slowly waiting for prey to swim or fly by. They are carnivorous and mainly eat fish, amphibians, reptiles, small mammals, insects and sometimes even other birds.
Great Blue Herons are solitary except during the breeding season when they typically nest in rookeries with other herons. One of these rookeries you can see in the spring and summer at the Marymoor Park.
Tis the season of giving, and we’re eternally grateful for all of the donations we receive throughout the year. We truly couldn’t do what we do without help from people like you.
Whether it’s their dollars, time or supplies people gift us, every little bit helps. If you’re wondering how you can help us directly care for our animals, we have a wish list of items we use day to day that help us comfort and care for our wild patients as well as our companion animals.
There are some specific items that could help our wildlife hospital staff enrich, feed, medicate and house our patients.
Artificial plants are something we often use in our enclosures, especially in our aviaries. It’s important to make these spaces feel like the outdoors even though the patient may be indoors. In order to make that happen, we use a mix of real and artificial plants. In our Hummingbird aviary, we even place syringes of food inside the artificial flowers to simulate feeding from a real flower. Fake plants also make great perches and cover for birds.
Garden hose reels are another important item we need at the center. As you can imagine, with all of the aquatic species we treat and the daily cleanings these patients require, we have a lot of hoses. The garden hose reels help us keep the hoses organized and off of the ground so that they last longer.
Quick-read digital thermometers are another much-used and much-needed item, and something we use daily. Whether they’ve just been admitted or are in surgery, it’s important to monitor a patients’ temperatures as it aides us in properly treating them.
We create specific diets for specific patients to help aid them in recovery and regain their strength. Items we need include Skippy Natural Creamy Peanut Butter, Nature Made Folic Acid 400 mcg tablets, corn meal, wheat bran, oat bran, thistle seed and dried egg whites. We’re also in need of fresh produce for our over wintering raccoons and other species, including apples, carrots, potatoes, broccoli, pears, zucchini, beets, spinach, cauliflower, squash, melons, pumpkin and peppers.
Please drop off your donations during PAWS’ regular business hours which you can find here. We know our wildlife patients are grateful for your support, and we value you for helping us do what we do best- care for our wildlife patients in need.
October 26 was a special day for our wildlife staff as two healthy, sub-adult Bald Eagles were released back into the wild together after several weeks of rehabilitation and care at PAWS.
This is the first time since 2009 that we’ve released more than one eagle at a time in the same location. It’s also been a record-breaking year for Bald Eagle patients, with 16 admitted to our wildlife hospital.
Both of these eagles came to PAWS too young to survive on their own, and barely old enough to fly. One was brought to us by the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife in August. He was found on Mission Beach unable to fly, covered with feather lice, and unable to move at all upon capture.
It seemed that this eagle was still very young and may have ended up on the ground after his initial flight out of the nest, but with no parents in sight he would not have made it on his own.
During his first couple of weeks in care, he spent a lot of time on the ground in his enclosure acting like a baby eagle. But before long he was up on high perches trying to fly. In mid-September, he was moved into our large flight pen with an adult eagle who was awaiting release, and faired very well in the pen while he gained strength.
The second eagle was transferred to us in late August from a veterinary center in Clinton, WA. He was brought to the vet clinic by animal control after being witnessed sitting on a beach for several days, unable to fly.
Upon his arrival at PAWS, he was found to have some minor feather damage and carpal (wrist) wounds. These carpal wounds would need to start healing before he could be released back to the wild, as they could inhibit his flight. They got worse before they got better, and he went through several bouts of veterinary exams, suturing and intensive care before he was ready to go.
While in care, he wore specialized bumpers on his wounds to protect them from getting bumped in the enclosure. There was risk that the wounds would reopen and we would have to start the whole process over again, delaying his release. These bumpers were so important to his recovery that he wore them until a few minutes before his release.
PAWS staff were on hand to watch them both fly free once more, released along the Skagit River where salmon are plentiful this time of year.
As the days become shorter and the nights become colder, many wildlife species in our area are preparing for winter. For some, that means getting out of town and migrating south, some are getting ready to hibernate, and others are just preparing for the cold and rainy weather ahead.
One of these species is the Raccoon. Although Raccoons do not hibernate, they are less active during extremely cold periods. This time of year they are out and about preparing for the winter, taking advantage of food resources currently available before they become less plentiful.
Raccoon patients in their enclosure at PAWS wildlife hospital
Young of the year are still with mom learning valuable survival skills that will help get them through this winter and others to come.
For those Raccoons who live in a more natural environment, that means learning to forage, evade predators and find suitable dens for sleep during the day.
For urban Raccoons, this may mean learning how to safely navigate our streets and exploit resources that we leave behind.
A Raccoon in their natural environment, where foraging and evading predators is key
Because Raccoons are opportunistic omnivores they can, and will, eat pretty much anything. In urban environments their natural food sources are scarce or not available at all, so they have learned to live off of our trash, pet food, scraps and vegetable gardens.
A Raccoon patient at PAWS enjoys a watermelon
They may even seek shelter under porches, in crawl spaces, or in attics. This can cause negative interactions with us and our pets. If you find signs of Raccoons raiding your garden or living under your porch and would like them to move on, there are a few things you can do:
NEVER intentionally feed raccoons. They are very capable of finding their own food and do not need handouts. In fact, this is a good rule to follow for all wildlife. If raccoons are getting into your garbage, secure trash can lids with rope, chain, bungee cords or weights, or purchase cans that have clamps or other mechanisms to hold lids down.
Do not feed your pets outdoors and be sure to shut pet doors that lead into your home at night. Raccoons have been known to enter people’s homes through dog doors in search of food. If you have to feed domestic animals outside, be sure to pick up all food and water bowls (including leftovers) each night. Also secure any compost containers.
If you enjoy dining al fresco, be sure to clean up BBQ areas.
If you have a Raccoon living in your attic, chimney or under the house you can prevent them accessing these areas by altering the structure slightly. Using metal or plastic spikes and aluminum flashing will prevent them from crawling up the sides of your house.
To prevent Raccoons from getting into your garden try using bright lights, especially those activated by motion, or by creating noise disturbances when the raccoons are present. Building a perimeter fence may also deter them.
The main thing to remember is the Raccoon is just trying to do what it can to survive on the limited resources it can find. They do not want to cause any harm, and avoid conflict when they can.
There are seven species of squirrels that inhabit Washington and PAWS is no stranger to caring for some of these species. We receive hundreds of squirrels every year.
Currently we're caring for more than 75 young squirrels. They begin their care in our small mammal nursery where they are fed by our volunteers. Each squirrel in the nursery has to be fed three to five times a day depending on how old he is. Multiply that by 75 and that calculates to over 225 feedings a day!
Each feeding can take anywhere from 10 to 20 minutes per squirrel depending on how well they drink from the syringe. During the busiest part of baby squirrel season at PAWS, when we are at squirrel capacity, that equates to over 75 hours of volunteer time, on average, per day. Thanks to our stellar volunteers we are able to feed more than one squirrel at once.
A volunteer syringe-feeds a baby squirrel
Some very special squirrel patients we receive almost every year are Northern Flying Squirrels. Typically we receive youngsters who have fallen from their nest cavity at night and are discovered on the ground the next morning.
They are very tricky eaters and are fed by staff only at first until they get the hang of the syringes. They are small, soft, have large eyes and are a favorite among our volunteers. We only receive two to five each year but they leave a lasting impression.
Northern Flying Squirrel patients at PAWS
Here's some information about these inhabitants of the night sky:
They're between 10 and 12 inches long - They are most active at night - They have a membrane that connects their front and back legs called a patagium, which allows them to glide (not fly) between trees - They are omnivores and eat foods including seeds, nuts, fungi, fruit and insects - They prefer coniferous and mixed coniferous forests - They are superb gliders making them escape artists from predators - Their biggest predator is owls, specifically Spotted Owls - They can live up to five years in the wild - Their offspring rely on the female for care for two months
And perhaps the most impressive fact of all... they can glide 80 to 150 feet at once!
The summer season is still in full swing, which makes for a bustling wildlife hospital; we're currently caring for more than 160 patients! This means some of our outdoor enclosures are pretty full, but none more so than our raptor mews.
Nestled among dense trees on our Lynnwood, Washington campus, our raptor mew complex consists of seven enclosures and is connected to an L-shaped flight pen.We are currently housing 18 patients; 17 in the mews and one in the flight pen. Among these patients we have quite the diversity of species.
There's a young Barred Owl who we raised from a small owlet and is waiting for his tail feathers to regrow. We're also caring for a Great Horned Owl who arrived with a severe head tilt and bruised eye lids.
Above: Great Horned Owl (left), Osprey (center) and Red-tailed Hawk (right)
Other patients include an adult Bald Eagle whose primary feathers were completely tattered on his left wing and are re-growing; a young Bald Eagle who is learning to fly and gaining strength as she awaits release; two Ospreys, an adult who got tangled in fishing line after catching an already-caught fish and a juvenile found in someone’s driveway; and, a Red-tailed Hawk who was shot with a BB gun.
But that's not the end of our patient list. Occasionally, we house species other than raptors in our mews. Right now we have 11 Glaucous-winged Gull youngsters in two of the mews.
So, what does a mew consist of? Each of our mews are large to give our patients room to spread their wings and take short flights as they regain strength while in recovery. Some of our patients need more room than others and for them we can open windows between the mews and even between the mews and the flight pen.
Above: Our raptor mew complex at PAWS
We add obstacles our patients must fly around to improve their agility, perches and boxes for our patients to rest on, enrichment to stimulate their senses, and pools for those species who need them.
Over the next few weeks these patients will be released, making room for the next round of patients in need of recovery time in the mews.
We all know that lead is a danger to people. There are laws and regulations to keep it out of our paint, water and food. However did you know that lead can also be a danger to wildlife?
Wildlife can be exposed to lead that is left behind in the environment by people. Things like fishing tackle, bullets and shotgun pellets, paint chips, discarded batteries, pesticides, mining waste, leaded gasoline spills, old pennies or other lead materials that are not disposed of properly are very harmful to wildlife, particularly birds. Waterfowl, raptors, and game birds are the most susceptible species to lead poisoning.
In 2010, this Bald Eagle with lead poisoning was treated at our wildlife hospital.
Lead poisoning is a chronic disease that causes weight loss and emaciation, weakness and lethargy, poor growth and development, blindness, seizures, fewer eggs laid, higher egg mortality, and even death.
On May 21, a Canada Goose found on the side of the road unable to fly was brought to PAWS Wildlife Center. It was determined that he had been shot in the right wing with an air rifle, resulting in a fracture. Radiographs also revealed that there was a lead pellet in his ventriculus (gizzard). Our veterinary team believe it is the same pellet that fractured his wing, and that he swallowed it while preening the pellet from his side.
Our Canada Goose patient had lead poisoning.
After our veterinary team discovered the pellet in his ventriculus, they tested his blood lead level because although he was not showing typical symptoms of lead poisoning, he was not eating on his own. Sure enough, the results showed a lead level of more than 65 mcg/dL which is over six times the level considered safe for humans by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Our Canada Goose patient swims in his pool.
In order for the goose to recover from the lead poisoning, he needed to have the lead pellet removed from his ventriculus and to go through several rounds of chelation. Chelation is a technique used to remove heavy metals from the blood and involves injecting a chelating agent into the bloodstream a few times a day over several days. Our goose patient was injected with the chelating agent twice a day for 19 days. Thanks to Dr. Polly Peterson and her team at VCA Veterinary Specialty Center of Seattle, an endoscopy was performed on June 2 and the pellet was successfully removed.
Once the pellet was removed, the goose’s blood lead level started to go down and we knew the process was working despite the fact that it was very stressful on the goose. After 51 days in care, he was released back into the wild.
We are currently treating more than 250 patients at PAWS Wildlife Center so, needless to say, our staff and volunteers are quite busy. Some of our patients like our Raccoon kits require more long-term care than others.
We are currently caring for 41 young Raccoons. Our first orphan arrived on May 13 and our last on June 26. These youngsters will be in our care until their release this fall. The majority of them are not related and came from different areas in western Washington.
When many of the Raccoon kits arrive, they weigh just over a pound and their eyes are still closed. This is the most vulnerable stage of their lives, and they are kept in an incubator for warmth as they cannot properly regulate their own body temperature. Staff, interns and advanced volunteers spend hours each day tube feeding them and cleaning our two Raccoon nurseries.
After several weeks of care in the nurseries, the kits are weaned and big enough to graduate to an outside enclosure, the Raccoon silos, where they remain until the fall.
In the silos, which are secluded from other patients and from us, they learn to climb and search for food. As you can imagine, Raccoons can make quite a mess, so our interns and volunteers are kept very busy with cleaning all four silos daily. This can take hours because not only does everything have to be cleaned, it must also be disinfected to keep our little patients healthy.
Enrichment is one of the most important things for Raccoons. They are very intelligent and have very sensitive hands. We introduce them to a variety of materials in their enclosures, which keeps them curious and busy and stimulates their senses. They also have pools to play in to beat the heat and natural items such as logs and branches to climb on and search for food. However, the majority of the day is spent sleeping on a specially made platforms above the ground in a pile.
We are currently caring for more than 100 young birds at PAWS Wildlife Center, many of which start out in our Baby Bird Nursery. However, there are some birds who never stretch their wings in the nursery.
Baby Barn Owls
Baby raptors who come to PAWS for care are treated differently from songbirds and other species. Because raptors are with their parents for a lot longer than songbirds and can be easily habituated to people when they are young, we try to reunite them with their parents when we can. Unfortunately, that is not always possible and in these cases they are raised at PAWS.
Like other wildlife we treat, we receive raptors at different stages of development. Some are hatchlings that are just a day or two old, while others are fledglings who left their nest too early and find themselves in harm’s way. Some youngsters get knocked out of their nest by their siblings or a predator, resulting in an injury.
Baby Barred Owl
Currently we are caring for eight young raptors—four Barn Owls, three Barred Owls and a Peregrine Falcon. The youngsters are housed with others of their species if we have more than one. This is very important for their development, as they learn valuable behavioral and social skills from each other which helps them survive in the wild.
Our Peregrine Falcon patient is only scheduled for a short stay with us. He fledged a little too early and is not able to fly just yet. Once his primary feathers are long enough, he will be returned to his nest site to be reunited with his family with the help of the Falcon Research Group. He will then start learning to hunt with his siblings as his parents stay nearby providing food from time to time.
Baby Peregrine Falcon
Our owl patients, however, will stay in our care until they are old enough to return to the wild. Until that time, they will spend their days taking short flights in their enclosures slowly learning to fly. Before they are deemed ready for release, we will ensure that they can catch live prey, which is the most important skill they need to survive on their own.
Once they are ready, they will be taken to a suitable habitat near where they were originally found because it will fulfill all of the requirements that will allow them to be successful in the wild.