NAPLES — One of the best parts of working at a wildlife rehabilitation clinic is being able to return wildlife back to the wild.
When we successfully return a baby bird or mammal to its parents or its own nest, it is called re-nesting. Along with the 96 animals we are caring for in the wildlife rehabilitation clinic, we had some terrific re-nesting projects this week.
A red-shouldered hawk was admitted at 9 p.m. March 27 after its nest fell into a pond. A wildlife clinic volunteer transported the cold, wet nestling to the clinic for care. The nestling was kept at the clinic for two days to ensure it was healthy.
A plan was set for the re-nesting to take place Monday morning. The homeowner was extremely helpful and showed staff the tree the nest had fallen from and where the parents liked to roost. The parents were not around when staff arrived so a tape recording of a red-shouldered hawk was played to draw the parents into the area.
The nestling was placed out in the open so the parents could see it. It only took about five minutes for the parents to appear but they immediately flew off and stayed away for a while. Finally both parents returned with food in their beaks. Both appeared agitated since the baby was there but still in a basket on the ground.
Our volunteer tree climber, Signature Tree Care owner Ian Orlikoff arrived to place a new nest in the tree. As Ian began to climb, the adult bird flew down to the nestling on the ground and began feeding it a lizard. We kept our distance, but that was the reassurance we needed. The parents were there and ready to resume caring for their baby. Ian did a fantastic job securing the nest to the tree and replacing the baby in the nest. Shortly after Ian was back on the ground, the adult returned with more food for the nestling.
Not to be outdone by our hawk success, wildlife clinic volunteer Tim Thompson headed to North Naples to try and re-nest a nestling Eastern screech owl that also had been admitted on March 27.
Screech owls are cavity nesters and typically use abandoned woodpecker holes for their nest. Tim went to search the tree directly above where the baby was found. He found three holes (about 40 feet high) in the tree and luckily enough, an adult owl was poking its head out of the highest hole, so he knew he had the right spot.
Tim went home to get his extension ladder and the baby owl. At 6:30 Monday night he was able to reunite the baby owl with its two siblings. The babies were in the lowest hole. The adult owl stayed in the highest hole and watched the entire process.
As it turned out, Monday was not the end of the re-nesting success for the week. On the way to re-nest the aforementioned red-shouldered hawk, wildlife clinic staff responded to a call about an immature bald eagle that had fallen from the nest at the Glades Country Club.
The young eagle was easily captured but appeared to have a slight limp. Aside from having some external parasites on its feathers, the bird was in great condition: very alert, active and strong.
On Tuesday morning the young eagle was moved to a large outside flight enclosure at the Conservancy to see how it was using its’ legs. There was no limp when the bird maneuvered around the enclosure. It was flapping and trying to fly but was not strong enough to gain any lift.
Wildlife clinic staff contacted a local photographer who had been watching the nest for several months and it was determined the eaglet at the clinic was the only chick from that nest. To ensure a successful reunion, it became important for us to return the young eagle to the nest as soon as possible.
Again, Ian from Signature Tree Care volunteered to climb the tree and return the baby to the nest. It caused a bit of commotion on the golf course, but everyone involved was extremely helpful.
Ian scaled the tree in minutes and the young eagle was bundled into the transport bag and sent up the tree. As Ian put the bird in the nest it jumped from branch to branch and then flew quite a distance across the golf course. It landed on the ground in some weeds. The eagle was easily recaptured, completely exhausted from its first flight.
At this time both adult bald eagles made their first appearance of the morning and began circling the tree. The eaglet was returned to the transport bag and sent back up the tree. Ian settled the baby in the nest and quickly descended down the tree.
Thankfully the young eagle stayed in the nest. The eaglet needs at least another week in the nest before it is strong enough to fly and maintain height. These successes would not have happened without the help of our dedicated volunteers and caring members of the community.
Wildlife is tenacious and have strong bonds with their offspring. As wildlife rehabilitators we always want to give wildlife the opportunity to raise their young. Many animals withstand incredible disturbances to their nests yet they will still retrieve/return to their young and continue raising them.
People are taught that a bird will reject their young if a person has handled them. This can be true for mammals but birds have a very poor sense of smell and will not reject their young if it is touched by a human. Baby birds are extremely delicate and their feathers are easily damaged so handling should always be kept to a minimum.
Always call the staff at the Conservancy Wildlife Clinic before handling any wild animal so we can advise you on how to keep yourself and the animal safe. 239.262.2273 or visit conservancy.org.
The mission of the Conservancy of Southwest Florida Wildlife Rehabilitation Clinic(WRC) is to rehabilitate injured, orphaned, and sick native wildlife with the goal of releasing healthy animals back into the wild.