Snowbirds and snow birds

This week at Peace River Wildlife Center has been a busy one.  The snowbirds are returning (yay!), and the snow birds are also back (yay and boo.)  While we love to have our seasonal volunteers return to help around PRWC, we are sad to see so many migrating birds admitted as patients.

The number one casualty this week has been grey catbirds crashing into windows.  I’m not sure why they are so over-represented for this particular calamity.  Are they some of the first to migrate?  Do they have poor vision?  Are they just clumsy?  We have admitted 10 grey catbirds that have suffered injuries after flying into windows this week.  Some of them just need a little time to recover from minor head trauma.  Sadly, others do not survive the brain, spinal, and skeletal injuries sustained.

It is estimated more than a billion birds die from collision with glass annually in the US alone.  They may think they can fly through the clear glass or see trees and clouds reflected and not understand the glass is there.  Placing a grid on the outside of your windows with tempera paint or soap is the easiest, most inexpensive way to deter bird strikes. 

There are some wonderful resources to explain why and how birds get injured by flying into windows and glass doors and how we can help.  Check out the website for more details. 

We have also seen other unusual and migratory species this week at PRWC.   Some of them have also hit windows, while others were hit by cars or attacked by cats.  We have had an American redstart, a red-eyed vireo, an indigo bunting, a sedge wren, a belted kingfisher and a hermit thrush.  One of our daily challenges is properly identifying each patient that comes in to us. 

Sometimes it is easy to ID our patient’s species.  We see a lot of repeat customers—as a species, not necessarily individuals.  Although we have seen the same tortoise brought back in a few times because he has an old healed injury that looks so bad it is hard to believe he is living with it, when in fact he is thriving in his home territory despite a large divot in his shell that has granulated over. 

Other recidivists commonly include black vultures.  Quite often vultures can live long, productive lives with a healed broken wing.  We get calls periodically about grounded vultures that don’t have fresh injuries and our advice is to leave them where they are if they do not seem to be suffering or weak. 

While we would never release a bird that can’t fly, if the vulture’s broken wing heals on its own (which is often the case) the bird can live with the deformity.  They are still quite adept at getting up into a tree at night to roost to avoid the few predators they have.  And since they eat carrion, they usually don’t have trouble feeding themselves despite the fact that they are unable to fly.

We routinely see a lot of doves, red-shouldered hawks, mockingbirds, and other native species that live here year-round.  When the migratory birds are flying through the area, we are sometimes temporarily stumped as to the species.  But why does it matter?  There is a huge difference in how we treat and feed different types of birds.  This is why it is especially important that rescuers not feed an injured bird or mammal anything.  It is more damaging to feed the wrong thing than nothing at all.  Even water can be dangerous if it is aspirated by a weak or injured animal.

One of the first indicators for bird identification is the beak.  The size and shape can tell us a lot about what the bird eats—seeds, insects, etc.  The feet can give us a clue as to where they live—fields, marshes, etc.  To properly treat avian patients, we need to positively identify them.  To this end, we have a library of reference materials and have just started playing with a smart phone app—The Cornell Lab Merlin Bird ID.  Simply take a photo of the bird and the app helps identify the species.  We have had pretty good luck with it and a lot of fun confusing it with pictures of Luna, our leucistic eastern screech owl.

I know all our birding friends are thrilled to see so many different species migrating to and through SW Florida.  Areas like Ollie’s Pond, Celery Fields, and even your own back yard are wonderful places to see birds of all different types.  Let’s do everything we can to help these travelers complete their journeys safely.

by- Robin Jenkins, DVM

Red-eyed vireo
Red-eyed vireo
Indigo bunting
Indigo bunting
Hermit thrush
Hermit thrush
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