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Tuesday, February 28, 2012

You've Found an Animal that Needs Help. Now What?

It’s very tempting to think about keeping an animal that needs rescuing. I’d like to warn you that it doesn’t usually end well. While I know of a few people who have raised a wild rabbit or a squirrel, I still don’t think it’s a good idea. For one, it’s illegal in most cases that involve native species, but laws vary from state to state.  It’s also very difficult to feed a baby that’s lost its mother because you just can’t replicate the nourishment it would receive. That’s not to say it can’t be done, but there’s definitely a measure of dedication required.

I tried to raise a baby mockingbird once when I lived in Florida, but it lived for only a week because I wasn’t feeding it right. I also tried to hand feed a baby mouse. It died too. This was before all the exotic animal studies. I had success hand rearing four baby cockatiels and two Patagonian conures using the tried and true methods of the time (over 20 years ago) which included syringe feeding a mixture of baby bird hand-feeding formula and Gerber baby foods. This is good training for anyone who wants the experience of having a newborn because those birds had to be fed every few hours around the clock.

When my neighbor came to let me know he’d just found a nest of baby squirrels under the hood of the car he was working on, I already knew I would have to make some phone calls to find the best place for these four little naked babies. My usual policy, and the main thing we used to tell callers to the animal hospital, is to leave the babies where they were found or return them to their nest so the parents can finish their job. In this case, that wasn’t possible. The car had just been towed from a suburb over thirty miles away and it wasn’t going back. The best option would have been to take the nest back to a safe location near to where the car was parked. I imagined a mother squirrel frantically searching for her babies. The next option was to find a wildlife rehabilitator in my area and ask if they’d be willing to take them. You never want to assume they’ll just open their doors to everything. Most of these non-profit organizations have limits to what they can handle depending on how well funded they are.

Our local American Humane Society happens to have an offshoot program for wildlife so I made an appointment to bring the squirrels to their licensed wildlife rehabber. She was gracious enough to let me come to her property. She could have just asked me to meet her somewhere which I would have totally understood because once somebody knows you care for injured or sick animals, cardboard boxes with of moving surprises tend to show up on your doorstep.

The rehabber seemed to already have a plan for the babies as soon as she got a look at them. I’ve forgotten the details, but she said she would do this and that and then they’d be released onto her property which included several wooded acres. It obviously wasn’t the first time she’d had squirrels. I was thrilled to have the foursome in good hands and offered a donation of $35. I knew it wasn’t much, but she seemed satisfied and even a little surprised. I’ve had to leave stray kittens at county animal shelters a couple of times and I always try to make a donation. I know it will go to good use and, frankly, it helps with my guilt for having to pass on a problem. Even if you can’t offer money, you can at least offer to volunteer (and follow through with it) or purchase something on their Wish List.

So off the squirrels went. I never called to check on them, but she was kind enough to send our family a holiday card and a note that said all the squirrels were successfully released. We’re on the mailing list now and get a newsletter every year that chronicles just a portion of the animals they’ve helped over a year.

On the drive home from dropping off the squirrels, I thought about how easy it would have been to keep one. Heck, I’m an exotic animal keeper and trainer. I should be able to handle a squirrel, right? What fun it would be. Well, I quickly came to my senses realizing even just one would be more than I could handle with all my other animals and family responsibilities. I decided to just be grateful for the opportunity to put them in the hands of the right person. I hope you’ll have the same opportunity when it’s your turn to act as an advocate for an animal in need.

I deposited the squirrels and the nesting material with which they were found into this medium sized Critter Keeper. They had just a little fuzz and their eyes were still closed so I'm guessing they were maybe close to ten days to two weeks old.

This is what those squirrels might have looked like a few weeks later. Here in northern Illinois, we have an abundance of fox squirrels. Some folks think they're pests and thiefs and some, like me, enjoy watching them. This looks like it might be a gray squirrel, also common in neighborhoods and parks in Illinois.

Monday, February 20, 2012

The Best Spray Mister Bottle

In 2010, I needed to provide my new crested gecko with a fine mist on a daily basis so I ordered what I thought would be an appropriate spray bottle made by a reputable reptile supply manufacturer. In the mean time, I was using this tiny spray bottle that my husband pulled from the Wiper Wonder kit he’d received as a gift. It’s basically a tool to clean the inside of a car windshield. The little bottle probably held only two or three ounces of water, but the mist it delivered was perfect so I made it my own until I could find something similar, but bigger.  

I was excited to receive my new mister in the mail, but was just as quickly disappointed. The pump handle was on the top of the bottle and had to be pressed more than a two dozen times before I felt any pressure. Then, when I depressed the trigger, a heavy spray came out along with lots of dripping. This is not what I would consider a fine mist and the dripping was messy and annoying. I tried filling the bottle more, filling the bottle less and then I just got irritated with everything having to do with the bottle. It was too big. It was cumbersome. It was hard to pump. It was ugly. It would be a pain to send back. I let my favorite reptile supplier, Pangea, know it wasn’t what I was hoping for and they said to just send it back and they would pay shipping. Awesome.

I went back to the little tiny spray bottle I’d been using, but had to refill it every other day. It also took quite a bit of effort to get out the amount of mist I needed.  When I went to clean my girlfriend’s bird boarding room, which I do every couple of months, I shared my dilemma with her. She didn’t hesitate. She reached into a cabinet and handed me a bottle saying, “Try this.”

I did try it and it was perfect. It’s called Mist’r Wizard and it’s made by Pet Bird Xpress. It can be found on several Internet sites, but the cheapest price I found was at You simply fill it, pump the bottom plunger just three or four times and press down on the trigger on top. The fine mist sprays continually for a good 10 to 15 seconds. This bottle was designed with birds in mind, but it’s great for anything that needs a fine, gentle mist. It’s the perfect product for our needs so I hope it works for you too.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

The Third Time Trickle Flew Away

For some reason, I just didn’t think Trickle was gone for good this time, even after learning he’d been out in the world for over an hour. I arrived home from work when my husband told me a bird got out while he was bringing in the salt for the softener.  He had the door propped open and Trickle just flew right out. The timing was just weirdly right for this mishap. Trickle had flown up from the basement which happens very rarely. Our daughter had retrieved him on her finger (Remember, he’s the tamest) and was carrying him back to his cage when Bret walked in with two salt bags. This spooked Trickle and he flew right out the open door and through the garage.

Once receiving this news, I dropped my purse and lunch bag on the garage floor and turned around to go right back out. I started walking around the neighborhood and whistling. It was another unusually warm March day that sometimes occurs in the Chicago area. The days were getting longer. The sun was still above the horizon and it seemed every kid in the neighborhood was outdoors contributing to the noise level. My first thought was that Trickle flew to the edge of the neighborhood over the open farm fields to the east. I ventured out a ways before returning to the neighborhood south of our house. I kept walking and whistling, but soon started thinking the bird had flown far, far away and maybe I should just go home and start dinner.

Then it happened. About three blocks from home, I heard a loud, short whistle. I looked to the sky and spotted him flying above the houses as if he’d done it every day. He must have been resting while I was looking because he was so loud I would have surely heard him earlier. I ran toward the area in which he was flying, but it kept changing and I kept running in different directions. People were out and about and I wondered if they were noticing this 40 something year-old woman dressed in jeans and a black vinyl jacket, looking to the sky, running one way and then the other while whistling and calling “Trickle! Trickle!” I put my arm out for him to land on, but he just kept flying and whistling, flying and whistling. I was nobody to that bird. I felt truly ignored as he skimmed the air no closer than about ten feet above my head.

This went on for about twenty minutes. I watched him fly large circles around the neighborhood without ever landing. I was hoping he’d get tired and I could just pick him up off the ground as he rested, but he flew and flew. The whistling stopped as quickly as it began. By this time, several neighbors were looking out for him as I walked around more and whistled more. A half hour went by with no sign of him and I became worried. The sun was setting and it would be a cold night or maybe he’d land in a yard where a dog would pounce on him.
After more silence, he was up again. Thank goodness! He flew far to the west, above the trees along a creek that runs about a hundred or so yards out of the neighborhood. I couldn’t believe it. He looked like he’d been doing this all his life. Since he seemed so sure of himself, it became obvious that he wasn’t going to just fly back to us. I asked the husband to bring Trickle’s cage mate, Weston, out in a cage. I had in mind the little traveling cage we use for vet appointments and such, but soon enough, here comes my husband driving his little Ford Focus with Trickle and Weston’s big cage in the front seat. Unfortunately, Weston wasn’t making a peep (probably traumatized by the abrupt change of scenery) and Trickle was nowhere to be seen.  It was getting colder so I suggested he close the car window for now.         

As he slowly drove off, I heard Trickle whistle in the distance. The husband saw him coming our way and opened the window again. Weston heard Trickle too and replied with a loud whistle. The two birds went back and forth, but Trickle kept flying. We quickly took the cage out of the car and set it on the nearest driveway. As the birds continued to call to each other, Trickle slowly circled above, making smaller and smaller circles until he landed on the winter worn lawn about ten feet from the cage. I crouched a little low and approached him with my hand out. Fighting the urge to just grab him, I instead put my two fingers out for him to climb upon. He stepped right up and then I quickly pulled him to my chest to keep him close.
I was about to open the cage door to deposit him in, but stopped myself. If I opened that door, there was a slight chance that Weston would fly out and then we’d have two birds on the loose.  I chose to hold Trickle close in my cupped hands and began walking home, cutting through a yard or two.  He was quiet and still and I was so very grateful for his return.

Of course, the first thing I did when we got home was trim his wings. He didn’t seem any worse for the wear. He didn’t even look tired. We were all so relieved to have him safe and sound. Darkness overtook the neighborhood just after we got the birds settled at home. We had gotten so very lucky once again. I vowed to be more careful because this absolutely could not happen again.

This is the best photo I could find of a tiel in flight, though it appears to be a model. You can see they have excellent flying capabilites with a long, narrow wingspan and long, pointed tail feathers for good maneuverability, not unlike the flight features of some small falcons.