A Hitchhiker’s Guide to PRWC
An alert Arcadia Florida resident picked up a hitchhiker last May. While we do not generally encourage this sort of reckless behaviour, we are happy to report a positive outcome for this incident. She found a fuzzy little “sandpiper” chick along the side of a busy road and attempted to hand raise it. After three months she decided she should let the professionals take over and brought the fledgling to Peace River Wildlife Center. The bird turned out to be a black-necked stilt, a species we do not often see here along the coastal waterways of Southwest Florida. They are much more common around the Lake Okeechobee area.
We routinely see a plethora of the “usual suspects” in rehab here at PRWC. Of the approximately 2,000 patients we admit annually, over 60% (1200) of them are in the most common eight species: raccoons, eastern cottontails, eastern grey squirrels, Virginia opossums, mourning doves, northern mockingbirds, common grackles, and gopher tortoises. The remaining 800 individuals are an eclectic collection of over 120 other species.
While we are grateful that we are able to provide care for this unusual youngster, it would have been best for the rescuer to get it to us immediately after having found it. PRWC is much more capable of providing proper nutrition and habitat for a growing bird or mammal to ensure his or her successful eventual release back into the wild. We are also raising two juvenile opossums right now that presented with metabolic bone disease because people found them as infants and were trying to raise them at home on inappropriate diets. The internet is a wonderful source of information. Unfortunately not all of it is accurate. If you want to help raise baby birds and mammals, please do so under the guidance of a trained and licensed rehabilitator.
The black-necked stilt is found in marshy areas and flooded pastures. It is a relatively small bird with very long slender legs which allows it to find select morsels in deeper waters than other wading bird species. It normally eats aquatic invertebrates and fish. The female usually lays up to four eggs in her nest. Nests have been found to contain more than four eggs and it is presumed that more than one female is sharing the nest because of the difference in patterns on the egg shells.
When the last of the eggs in a clutch hatches after an approximate 25 day incubation period, the entire brood will move away from the nest. The precocial hatchling is capable of walking within one to two hours of birth. After only 22 days the baby can make short hopping flights and sustained flight when a mere 30 days old. These amazing birds have a ten year life span in the wild.
Hopefully our little stilt, “Wilt”, will be releasable. He shows signs of delayed progress in his ability to fly, but no obvious physical pathology. Like fellow hitchhiker Arthur Dent, he has already had many adventures and has at least another 42 to look forward to.
by–Robin Jenkins, DVM