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.
As spring turns into summer, things are really picking up at PAWS Wildlife Center. With over 200 patients currently being treated and over 140 released in May, our staff and volunteers are extremely busy preparing diets, cleaning and treating patients. This is the time of year when we start to get in more baby birds, specifically corvids; we currently have 10 youngsters.
Corvidae is a family of larger passerines (songbirds) that includes crows, ravens, jays, nutcrackers, and magpies. The most common species in this family in the Seattle area are American Crows and Steller’s Jays.
Corvids may seem like run-of-the-mill birds, but when it comes to intelligence they are at the top of their class. Corvids are considered to not only be the most intelligent birds but also some of the most intelligent animals in the world. They demonstrate self-awareness and tool making abilities, and crows can even recognize individual human faces. They have the ability to adapt quickly to changing circumstances, which has allowed them to successfully live among humans in more urban settings.
A corvid species that we frequently receive at PAWS is the Steller’s Jay. Each year we care for a mix of adults and babies, and already this year we have received over 20.
Named after naturalist Georg Steller, they are sometimes called Blue Jays, although they are quite different from their eastern cousins. They do indeed have a blue body, but their head is black with a triangular crest. They also do not have white markings on their wings and tail like Blue Jays have.
Here is some more information about this common Western Washington corvid.
Wingspan is 17.3 inches and weight ranges from 3.5 to 4.9 ounces.
Nest in conifer trees.
Clutch size is two to six eggs.
Generalist foragers, eating insects, nuts, berries, eggs, small animals and nestlings.
Very social and vocal.
Frequently can be seen hopping around.
Steller’s Jays use mud to build their nests.
They will rob other birds’ nests.
They are an excellent mimics; they can imitate the sounds of other birds, squirrels, cats, dogs, chickens and some mechanical objects.
The oldest recorded Steller’s Jay on record was at least 16 years old.
During the first week of May, with the help of Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife’s (WDFW) Karelian bear dog team and black bear biologists, we said goodbye to our nine American Black Bears who wintered over at PAWS Wildlife Center.
You may remember that we received nine bear cubs between August and January. All were from different areas in Washington but all were in the same predicament—orphaned and too young to survive on their own.
It has been several years since we have had this many black bear cubs at one time at PAWS, and our rehabilitation staff worked hard all winter long, spending hours each day cleaning, feeding and preparing enrichment items for them.
As for the bears, they spent a lot of their winter sleeping together in a big black tub, play fighting, searching their enclosures for food and lounging on hammocks specially made by the Boy Scouts.
On the morning of May 2, WDFW bear biologists and several of the Karelian Bear Dog officers arrived at PAWS to help us anesthetize the first group of bears for their pre-release exams, to take measurements, and to place them in the culvert traps they would be released from high up in the Cascades. Five bears were to be released on May 3 and the remaining four on May 4.
On the morning of May 3, PAWS joined a caravan of four WDFW trucks to take the first five bears to their release site. We were also joined by three additional officers and their Karelian bear dogs.
In Washington, black bear releases are conducted using Karelian Bear Dogs who are specially trained to work with bears. They scare and chase the bears as they leave the trap. This is one more reminder that humans are bad and that they should stay away.
These releases are also a useful training tool for newcomers to the Karelian bear dog team like Jax, who is just over a year old. Jax is normally stationed near Spokane but made the trip to western Washington with his officer to not only watch the adult dogs work but to join them. The May 4 release was the first release during which Jax was let off of his leash and able to run with the seasoned bear dogs. It was a special day for Officer Keith Kirsch, who has had Jax and has been training him since he was only a few months old.
The bears were released one culvert trap at a time, and within 10 minutes they had all disappeared into the wilderness. Our job for the day, however, was not quite complete. We returned to PAWS to conduct pre-release exams on the remaining four bears and get them settled into culvert traps for their release the following morning.
By 11 a.m. on May 4, all nine bears were back in the wild to once again be functioning members of the Washington black bear population.
This video was taken during the bear release. In it, you can hear the Karelian Bear Dogs in the background. If you can't see it here, you can watch it on YouTube.
The baby season has officially started at PAWS Wildlife Center. We have already received and released two Anna’s Hummingbird fledglings and we are currently caring for 40 Mallard ducklings, three raccoon kits, a killdeer chick and four hatchling Dark-eyed Juncos, just to name a few.
Baby season, which typically lasts from March through August, is the busiest time at PAWS. During this time we care for over 3,000 orphaned and injured wild animals, 2,000 of which are babies; our rehabilitator staff doubles, with seasonal rehabbers joining the team; the number of volunteers doubles; we have visiting veterinarian students; and our 12 or so interns will be starting soon.
Baby season kicked off this year on March 16 with the arrival of a five-pound baby black bear. She was kidnapped from her den and although state wildlife officers attempted to reunite her with her mother it was too late; the mother had moved on after being disturbed at her den site.
Two baby Anna's Hummingbirds being fed at PAWS Wildlife Center
This is the tenth bear in our care and she is secluded from the other nine who are roughly 10 times her size. Currently she is about the size of a toddler, has brown fur and a prominent white blaze on her chest that looks something like a bib.
Despite being on her own, she keeps herself quite busy exploring her enclosure to find treasures the rehabilitation team has hidden for her. These can be anything from stuffed toys hiding in a pine tree to a bowling ball in her “dogloo.” Recently she even had a hula hoop hanging from the ceiling, which she spent time twirling around with her feet and biting. All of these items serve as enrichment to keep her mind stimulated, and even though she doesn’t know it, they also call upon her natural instincts to act like a bear.
A baby American Black Bear plays with enrichment items in her enclosure at PAWS Wildlife Center.
This little bear will be spending more than a year with us. Hopefully she will soon have a companion that is closer in size, but until then the stuffed toys are a good substitute.
Spring is breeding season for most wildlife species that live in Washington, and this is not lost on Bald Eagles. The beginning of April is when the first eaglets hatch in Western Washington.
Adults start competing for territory and building nests during the winter. This is a crucial time for individuals, as they need to be healthy and strong to defend their territory against other eagles. Unfortunately for some, these territory disputes don’t end happily.
Currently we are treating an adult male Bald Eagle at PAWS Wildlife Center who was brought to us in early March. He is suffering from a large soft tissue wound just above his bill that is very deep and thought to have been the result of a territorial dispute he did not win. For several days he was seen on a beach unable to fly very well before being caught and brought to PAWS for medical treatment. He is currently being housed in our large flight pen to build his wing strength back up, undergoing rounds of weekly wound management, and is on antibiotics to ward off infection.
We are also currently treating a second Bald Eagle who may have been hit by a vehicle, resulting in a broken right wing. He too is going through weekly rounds of wound management and on antibiotics.
As our two eagle patients regain their strength and continue to heal let me introduce you to the Bald Eagle.
Large raptor with a heavy body, large head and long hooked bill.
Immature Bald Eagles are all brown and their heads and tails are not completely white until they are 4 to 6 years old.
Wingspan is 6.6 feet and weighs 6.5 to 13 pounds.
Nests in trees and on cliff sides.
Clutch size is one to three eggs.
Carnivorous bird eating fish, birds, reptiles, invertebrates and carrion.
Powerful flier, soaring, gliding, and flapping over long distances.
Typically solitary but will congregate by the hundreds at communal roosts and feeding sites.
Rather than hunting their own fish, Bald Eagles will often harass ospreys until they drop their prey.
The largest Bald Eagle nest was almost 9 feet in diameter and 18 feet tall.
Immature Bald Eagles spend their first four years exploring vast territories and can fly hundreds of miles per day.
Bald Eagles are known to play with inanimate objects such as plastic bottles and sticks. One observer watched as six Bald Eagles passed sticks to each other in midair.
The oldest recorded Bald Eagle on record was at least 38 years old.