A Tale of Three Birds

This week has been a busy one at Peace River Wildlife Center.  Baby season has finally slowed down to a trickle of orphan intakes.  We still see the occasional baby dove and squirrel; they seem to breed year round down here.  Some species just don’t go by the book.  It’s as if they don’t even know how to read!  For the most part though, our patients at this time of year are injured.  We have had many broken wings recently, in many different types of birds—from an American coot, to a merlin, to a snowy egret.  The variety of species is a harbinger of the differences in how we treat the injuries and what we expect of the healing process.


The American coot is described as “chicken-like.”  It is normally found in fresh water marshes, widely distributed from North to South America.  It is a clumsy flier, necessitating a long takeoff across the water’s surface.  It is however a good swimmer and diver thanks to its lobulated webbed toes and is an herbivore.  It is usually found in the SW Florida area only during the winter and does not breed here.


The merlin is in the falcon family, thus usually hunts its prey, small birds, on wing during short quick flights.  This species’ breeding grounds are primarily limited to northern US and Southern Canada.  They are seen in SW Florida during migration only.


The snowy egret is a year round resident species in SW Florida.  It feeds on a wide variety of items from earthworms to crustaceans to small fish.  They feed at the edges of both salt and fresh water and in shallow marshes to deeper ocean and lake waters.


A limited diet and ability to access that food source makes the merlin a much more difficult bird to rehabilitate from a broken wing.  When released he needs to have the ability to fly with much more precision than either of the other species mentioned.  He needs to be able to swoop and soar, banking after the smaller birds on which he will feed.  If one wing is fractionally shorter than the other, or the bone has not healed straight, he will not be able to feed himself.


The coot has the disadvantage of not being a strong flier to begin with.  Although he can feed himself if returned to a marshy area, if his limited takeoff ability is further hindered, he may not be able to avoid predators.  His ability to migrate will also be undermined and he will not be able to return to his natural breeding grounds


The snowy egret is at a slight advantage over the other two species.  He is a light bird, an adept flier, with a wide variety of natural habitats and food items.  He definitely has the best chance of a successful release.


We will do all that we can for each of these birds.  Hope for the best, expect the worst.  We have been surprised before by birds we thought would do well and didn’t, and by birds we never thought would fly again that thankfully proved us wrong.  Our credo is, “treat the patient, not the x-ray.”  Sometimes the worst looking injury heals beyond our greatest expectations.


The one thing that makes all of this possible is the generosity of our supporters.  Last year one of the local communities made a generous donation to Peace River Wildlife Center.  That in and of itself isn’t really all that newsworthy, but the manner in which they collected the donations was.  Each year Windmill Village of Punta Gorda sponsors a Christmas Card Project.  Four large wooden “cards” are decorated by resident artists and displayed in their neighborhood.  Each resident can have their name added to a card by donating to one of four charities.  Instead of sending a few cards to select neighbors, residents at the Village spread their cheer to the entire community where they live, saving trees and reducing waste.  And in the true spirit of the season, they give back to the community at large by making generous donations to local charities.  What a great idea!  It is that spirit of cooperation that makes organizations like PRWC able to fulfill their missions.

by–Robin jenkins, DVM

Snowy Egret
Snowy Egret
American Coot
American Coot