Same old story–mostly

“Have you tried turning it off and then back on again?” 

I’m sure the on-call technicians for computer services get tired of hearing the same problem and giving the same advice over and over.  The rehabbers at Peace River Wildlife Center have a similar challenge.  Most of the calls we get at PRWC are pretty basic.  If the caller is willing and able to follow our advice, the situation can usually be resolved quickly and to the benefit of both the caller and the animal.

“There was a bird or squirrel nest in the branch we cut off a tree.”  “There were screech owls or woodpeckers nesting inside a dead palm we cut down.”  “There were baby bats in the dead palm fronds we trimmed.”  “       We patched a hole on our soffit and then found a family of raccoons living in our attic.”  “There is a nest of baby bunnies in our dog yard.”

Our mantra is simple:  Put the babies back.  Whenever possible, we try to reunite the babies with their parents.  Wild animals always do a better job raising their offspring than we can.  In the event that mom has been killed or cannot be located, we do the best we can to raise the babies and get them back out into the wild—but there is no substitute for a mother’s love, attention, and education.

Whenever possible, take nesting seasons into consideration when doing household maintenance and yard work.  Spring and summer are when most birds and mammals are raising their young.  If you must trim, patch, remove, etc. please check for animals first before firing up the chainsaw, nail gun, or machete.

That being said, we do get some unique stories occasionally.  This week it was a pileated woodpecker who was admitted after having had quite an adventure.  The people that brought her in said she had flown into a spider web on their lanai, then fallen into the pool, and when they tried to release her outside, she got tangled in Spanish moss.  We certainly don’t hear that story every day! 

The pileated woodpecker is one of the largest woodpeckers in North America with a body length of up to 19 inches and a wingspan of almost 30 inches.  It is readily identifiable by its large blackish body, white stripes along the sides of its head, and a shock of bright red plumage at the crest, from which its name derives.  The female has a red crest starting just above her forehead, while the male’s crest goes from the top of the beak to the nape of his neck.  He also has a red “mustache” at the edges of his bill.

The long, strong, chisel-like bill is proficient at drilling into dead and dying trees.  The pileated makes distinctive rectangular-shaped holes in rotting wood, up to a foot in length.  It has been known to cut a smaller tree in half with its aggressive pecking after ants and other woodboring insects. 

These large excavations can attract other species as feeding and nesting sites.  In this way, the pileated is considered a keystone species—one that has a disproportionately large effect on its environment relative to its abundance.  Other woodpeckers and songbirds often feed at the site of a pileated excavation.  Screech owls, wood ducks, and other cavity nesters, even small mammals, will use the site for breeding purposes.

The pileated’s appetite for woodboring insects can help control forest beetle populations that could be detrimental to the health of woodlands.  And its proficiency at tearing apart rotting wood helps to accelerate decomposition and nutrient recycling, helping to make the forests even healthier for new growth.

Our young female woodpecker patient appeared to be a little neurological upon admission.  She had suffered mild head trauma trying to get out of the lanai.  She was frantic and uncoordinated when admitted, but soon calmed down.  After a couple days of rest and symptomatic treatment, she was stronger and able to fly again. 

She was taken back to the area from which she came for release.  Her parents will still be in the area, since pileated pairs maintain their territory throughout the year.  The young are cared for through autumn of their birth year, before striking out for a new territory to call their own.

While our little girl is old enough to fly and feed herself, she definitely needs some guidance from her parents.  A video of her recent escapades would have looked like an audition reel for a revamp of the “I Love Lucy” show, redhead and all.  We have dubbed her “Grace” and hope she can stay out of trouble.

by- Robin Jenkins, DVM