Inside the Conservancy Wildlife Clinic: Hard work and determination pay off

An eastern screech owl and a northern cardinal were among the 42 animals admitted to the Conservancy of Southwest Florida Wildlife Rehabilitation Clinic this week. Other admissions included a little blue heron, a black skimmer, a Florida box turtle, a peninsula cooter, nine eastern cottontails and five grey squirrels.

Owl antics

“House sitters” of a vacant home spotted the fledgling eastern screech owl trapped in a lanai, clinging to the lanai screen. They had no idea how the bird became trapped or how long it had been there. It was easily captured and transported to the Conservancy Wildlife Clinic for care.

The owl was alert when admitted, but had small scrapes on its ankles and showed signs of dehydration. We administered oral electrolytes to rehydrate the owl and provided an appropriate rodent-based diet twice daily. A few days later, the owl was released back in the neighborhood where it was found. A Conservancy Wildlife Clinic volunteer checked the vacant home the following day just to make sure the owl did not find its way back to the lanai.

The Conservancy Wildlife Clinic team frequently receives calls about birds trapped in screened lanais. Often times the bird can be easily removed by propping the door open and allowing it time to find its way out. Other times can be more challenging. One method that works well is to take advantage of the fact that birds will perch on patio furniture when trapped. Placing a chair near the open door can lure the bird to the escape route. Many homeowners will have a pool net available so they can net the bird and quickly transport it outside the lanai for an immediate release. If none of these suggestions work, call the Conservancy Wildlife Clinic team for advice.

Curtailing collisions

A female northern cardinal was admitted after striking a window. The bird was found alive under the window, but sadly by the time it took to transport the bird to the Conservancy Wildlife Clinic, it passed away. Window strikes are an extremely common cause of bird injury and mortality. The force of impact can result in immediate death or, as was the case with the cardinal, the bird may die from its injuries a short time later.

The main problem comes from reflective glass. Birds see the reflection of the trees and sky and perceive that as a flight path. There are some ways to reduce the chance of a bird colliding with windows. Shutting blinds and curtains can reduce the reflection birds see from the outside. Decals placed strategically on the outside of windows are also very effective. The decals do not have to be silhouettes of raptors — the key is to space the decals two inches apart horizontally and four inches apart vertically. Call the Conservancy Wildlife Clinic team for more information on websites that illustrate effective methods for bird-proofing windows.

Much appreciated help

A common malady seen at the Conservancy Clinic this time of year is avian pox. Avian pox is a virus spread by mosquitoes and typically causes small, wart-like lesions near birds eyes, beaks and wings. The virus can be very debilitating and is often fatal to the bird. Since mosquitoes are extremely prevalent this time of year, the number of birds admitted suffering from avian pox has increased. Avian pox is species specific to birds and cannot be transmitted to humans — so there is no danger of disease transmission if you help rescue a bird suffering from pox.

Volunteer vets at St. Francis Animal Clinic have used a laser to remove severe pox lesions on several birds admitted to the Conservancy. The lesions required surgical removal because they were located on the birds’ beaks and had become so large it was making it difficult for the birds to see and eat. Using the laser to remove the lesions typically allows the birds to heal faster. Once the lesions are removed, we provide antibiotics, vitamin supplements and supportive care while the birds’ wounds completely heal.

Wildlife releases

Fifteen animals were released this week — three eastern cottontails, a northern water thrush, three black-necked stilts, three American crows, a northern mockingbird, three chimney swifts and two opossums. Other than the adult water thrush, all the other animals were admitted as babies and needed extended time to grow until they were able to fend for themselves.

Two releases were particularly awesome — one was the stilt release. The transformation from long-legged fuzzy chicks to beautifully feathered birds was astounding. The stilts were released in a preserve area where stilts are known to frequent. Although slightly hesitant at first, the three birds slowly worked their way into the marsh grasses along the edge of a pond.

The second highlight was the chimney swift release. The key to a successful swift release was locating a group of wild swifts for “our” three fledglings to join. Conservancy Wildlife Clinic Specialist Jessica Bender was determined to make that happen. Bender staked out areas where baby swifts had been found in previous years. Resident swifts were located and the homeowners in the area were eager to have the swifts released in their yard.

Unfortunately, it was late in the evening and by the time the wild group of swifts was seen flying over, they were headed back to roost for the night. There wasn’t time for Bender to release our three youngsters that evening. Undeterred, Bender headed back to the same location earlier the following evening. Her persistence paid off — the flock of wild swifts was flying directly overhead. As the box was opening one of “our” swifts immediately took flight.

The thrill was immeasurable because the first swift to fly had originally been admitted with a broken leg. The other two swifts needed a bit of coaxing but once they took flight they were gone — quickly assimilated into the group above. This is one of the first times we have successfully raised and released chimney swifts at our facility so the Conservancy Wildlife Clinic team is extremely proud of our efforts. Kudos to everyone!

As a reminder

The Conservancy Wildlife Clinic is a “hospital” where injured animals can rest, heal and recuperate, so it is never open to the public. Our outdoor wildlife viewing area is also temporarily closed to the public while the new Sharon and Dolph von Arx Wildlife Clinic is underway.

Help needed

Our wildlife admission numbers continue to climb this year and we need your help. Please visit the Conservancy website at and become a member or make a donation. Memberships and donations are our primary source of funding which help us continue our work to protect Southwest Florida’s water, land, wildlife and future. We need your support to continue to care for the more than 2,500 we treat each year. If you enjoy reading these articles, I encourage you to please be generous.

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Joanna Fitzgerald is the director of the Conservancy of Southwest Florida Wildlife Rehabilitation Clinic. The clinic is located just off 14th Avenue North and Goodlette-Frank Road in Naples. If you find injured or orphaned wildlife, contact the Wildlife Rehabilitation Center at (239) 262-CARE (2273) 8 a.m. to 9 p.m. seven days a week. Visit for complete information.

© 2011 All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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