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freethought Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Wed Jun-30-10 08:24 PM
Original message
Something I witnessed today!
One day a week, I hitch a ride with a fellow I know and head on over to a place that cares for, rehabilitates, and provides veterinary care for birds of prey. Owls, hawks, falcons, eagles and the like. What I do there is totally volunteer. One could say it sort of "feeds my soul".
The place has a number of "display" and "presentation" birds, these are birds that have been permanently injured and are unable to fly. Some are "imprints", birds that have been cared for by people and thus have not learned to hunt for themselves and likely never will even though they are perfectly able to fly. Their natural instincts have been supplanted by being feed and cared for regularly, so we keep them here where they are taken to schools and events to educate the public on the conservation of these birds. Some are on display as they would be in a zoo.

There are a number of birds that are called "rehabs", these are wild birds that have been injured and have received treatment for their injuries. The goal is to heal the birds up, feed them up, get them back into flying condition and eventually re-release them back into the wild. We had about 4 re-releases this week. One that came in a few days ago was a juvenile Red-Tailed hawk that had broken a wing, probably on its first flight. We have a full-time vet on staff who examined the bird and worked some of his veterinary magic. The prognosis on the hawk is excellent. The bones will mend and in a few months "she"(this bird is a female) will be released into the world again.

I really like to work at this place. The people are nice and I get to be close to eagles, hawks, and owls. You name it! We even have in the facility an African Marshall Eagle. The bird was brought to the center by the U.S. Customs Service from a raid and is actually evidence in a pending case. The hope is that USCS will let the center keep the bird. The bird is a truly an impressive sight but still nervous, so access to the bird is limited.

Today, however I was witness to something truly sad. In the facility operating room two people were working on a Great Horned Owl. I stood in the doorway not meaning to intrude but they motioned me to come in and said it was fine to watch. The bird was under anasthesia, and was quite "out of it".
Great Horned Owls have a reputation for being incredibly ornery. One person in the room said, without doubt or hesitation, that GHOs are the feistiest raptors there are, and when handled are treated with utmost respect.

I don't know what had happened to the bird. It almost looked as if it had gotten into a fight or gotten near fatally caught up in barbed wire or something. One wing was torn up, literally to the bone and on other parts of the body it was riddled with cuts, scrapes and punctures. To make matters worse, many of the severe wounds had gone unattended for a number of days and had become infected with parasites (I will spare you the gory details) in the summer heat. Aside from that the bird was horridly underweight which would make recovery even less likely. The bird was also described as being from this years hatch of GHOs for it was still wearing some of the downy feathers that adult owls had lost.

The only way to truly save the bird would have been to amputate the entire right wing. But then I found out that there is a law that comes into play in this situation. If a raptor's only feasible treatment is amputate a wing above the elbow of the wing then the bird, by law, must be euthanized. When I asked why this is the person said it has to do with "quality of life" issues for the bird. She explained that when these wild birds lose a wing they never quite learn that they can no longer fly. They may continue to try until they die. I thought about this for a moment. In one of the cages, or "mews" as they are sometimes called, there is a Northern Harrier who had lost a large part of one wing. This bird has been here for a number of years but even now when someone enters the cage to feed it, change water, or clean the mew, the bird still attempt to flee by attempting to fly. The bird always winds up just flipping itself over. It's a sad site to put it mildly. The Harrier is still alive because it and other birds with the same injury have been "grandfathered" from the law. I have seen other raptors at the center do the same. They may not try as much as the Harrier did but when they do try to take wing they usually wind up head-first in the ground or flat on their backs. There are those who believe this is cruel and I can see their point.

The decision was made and the bird was given an injection of phenobarbital. The end came in a few seconds. The senior person in the room said they had only seen a few birds in such bad condition. What we found out soon after was that the people who had initially found the bird actually kept it for a number of days and had become amazed that the bird seemed to be getting used to being around people, almost like a pet! The truth was that the bird was likely plenty frightened the entire time but was becoming weaker and weaker, sicker and sicker and progressively less able to react to anything. One of the attendants said to the people, albeit politely, that they should have called the owl in the same time they initially found it. Had they done that the bird likely could have been treated, rehabilitated and released. They didn't actually realize the extent of the bird's condition until it collapsed and all of sudden the extent of the wounds were exposed for all to see. When they heard this explained the people stormed out of the building in a huff.

It was sad to watch. A day or two could have made all of the difference. I asked if this sort of thing happens often. People who keep an injured bird thinking that the bird is becoming "tame" but in truth is dying. I was told that this sort of things has happened a number of times before but not all that often.

The whole experience was food for thought. Chime in if you like.

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semillama Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Thu Jul-01-10 11:43 AM
Response to Original message
1. Thanks for your volunteer work!
You're really helping out. Very interesting story. The people you describe at the end are all too common - think they are doing something good, and when it's pointed out they actually caused harm, they get offended and leave, instead of evaluating the information and accepting they made a mistake.

Come to think of it, that pretty much describes the ordinary folks who vote Republican when you tell them how their political leaders are actually stabbing them in the back...
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freethought Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Thu Jul-01-10 04:33 PM
Response to Reply #1
2. Thanks!
At least it's not a common thing. The juvenile Red-Tail that was brought in was taken to the center within an hour or so of its discovery. The person who found it actually found the bird used a laundry basket to capture and contain the bird. In time the bird will be fine.

As far is I know the people didn't even ask what to do if they found another one injured or abandoned.

A classic example of good intentions gone quite bad.
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REACTIVATED IN CT Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Sun Jul-11-10 09:49 AM
Response to Original message
3. Thank you for doing this work.
There is a facility like this near me /

I support them financially now but I'm going to put volunteering for them on my to do list for when I retire - hopefully in 2 more years
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freethought Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Mon Jul-12-10 10:44 PM
Response to Reply #3
4. Oh GOD! I wish you hadn't posted that!
I am speaking figuratively of course! I used to live in Maine. Lived in the Portland area for about 5 years. When I saw the picture of the lighthouse, I knew it looked familiar and a second or two later it hit me where it was. One of my favorite spots is a lobster and clam shack up in New Harbor (not far from Damariscotta). I am living in the Charlotte, NC area now and I miss the Northeast something awful and I am looking for the first opportunity to head back up in that direction.

Back to the subject at hand. At the Carolina Raptor Center, where I volunteer,
there are a large number of volunteers. Volunteers actually are the backbone of the organization. The retirees that volunteer are the most valued. First, there is a considerable time and commitment that one undertakes to earn the privilege of actually handling the birds. At the Raptor Center, if want to handle the birds on the glove you have to prove it with time and training. A working adult with or even without children simply does not have the time. Retirees are usually patient and disciplined enough to see the training through to the end. A number of the retiree volunteers at the center are actually husband and wife teams!

Thank you for your financial support of the organization! I truly do hope that you consider volunteering there. Likely they may even have use for your
employment skills.

Good Luck! (GOD! I MISS MAINE!!)
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