Alabama Wildlife Center

The Alabama Wildlife Center provides care for injured and orphaned native wildlife and returns them to the wild while educating the public about Alabama wildlife and awakening concern for the problems they face due to the impact of human development.

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Location: Pelham, Alabama, United States

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Those Amazing Chimney Swifts!

Releasing the last Chimney Swifts of the season is always bittersweet for me. It symbolizes the nearing end of baby bird season (Whew!) and those of us that have worked 12+ hours a day for the past five months to meet the demands of raising baby birds can slow down – a little.

Chimney Swifts are amazing little birds and do just about everything in the air. They feed on the wing by catching thousands of small flying insects every day and even collect nesting materials in the air by snapping small twigs from branch tips. Arriving to North America in March and returning to their winter range in the Amazon Basin of Peru in October and November, Chimney Swifts cover thousands of miles every year. These 5-inch black birds have been clocked at level flight speeds of 145 miles per hour (WOW!).

Originally, Chimney Swifts nested in hollow trees, clinging to the sides of the hollow trunk, and raising their young in shallow, nests of small twigs glued together with the birds’ own saliva. After European settlers began cutting down the forests and eliminating the hollow trees, the Swifts adapted by moving into chimneys instead.

Chimney Swifts are one of the more challenging avian species to raise and care for in captivity. Nestlings and young fledglings are hand-fed every 20-30 minutes. The feeding increments increase to every hour as they grow and, since these birds will not feed on their own in captivity, this hand-feeding schedule must be maintained for a minimum of 12 hours a day until they are ready for release at about 5-6 weeks of age. And these little guys have voracious appetites! Their feathers are very delicate, and improper feeding techniques can cause serious damage to their plumage. As you can imagine, this is quite demanding, and Interns Katie Stubblefield and Ashley Rozelle-Gault, and the Alabama Wildlife Center’s devoted volunteers rose to the challenge.

When they are ready to begin flying, the Chimney Swift fledglings go outside to a special cage in the Solarium. The walls of the spacious cage have horizontally grooved wooden panels that allow the fledglings to perch vertically, since Chimney Swifts are unable to perch on branches like most other birds. The cage is also furnished with a wooden “chimney” box where the young birds can rest and feed as they continue to grow. Because the Swifts have to be hand fed until the day they are released, we have to train them to come back to the chimney box when someone enters the cage to give them their hourly feeding. The young birds quickly learn that even if they are flying around exercising, they must hurry back to the chimney box at feeding time and line up to be fed. (See photo below.)

The last Chimney Swifts of the 2005 baby season were released on September 7th into an existing colony which occupies two chimneys and a roosting tower built especially for Chimney Swifts at our facility. They were greeted and accepted by the colony with “open wings!” Although we’ll miss their cheerful chatter and sooty faces peeking over the edge of their wooden chimney box as we approach at feeding times, we can enjoy watching them swoop and sail effortlessly overhead until migration.

Sandra Allinson
Assistant Rehabilitation Director

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

The Life of an Intern

It's been over a month since I started at the Alabama Wildlife Center, and I have done everything from feeding orphaned baby squirrels to changing the belt in our vacuum cleaner. I have peeled apples for a pot-bellied pig named Cletus (no, he wasn't native wildlife, but we found him a good home); fed blueberries to a baby squirrel that was evacuated from Louisiana during the hurricane; helped capture a very feisty duck ( I had bruises for days); and inhaled more Pinesol fumes than the average housekeeper. All in all, my first month here has been a rewarding one, though I will admit that so far the squirrels are by far my favorite. I can't wait to see what animal comes in next.
-- Jensi McCann
Wildlife Education Intern

Friday, August 19, 2005

Princess Speaks to Me

Ever since I started volunteering at the Wildlife Center, I’ve been amazed at the individuality you see among the species. However, the one that interests me most is Princess, the albino turkey vulture.

Most people wouldn’t think that a vulture could be beautiful, but Princess really is. Her feathers are pure white, and their brilliance sets off the rich hues of rose and mauve in her bald head. She carries herself very regally and sometimes trips around with wings widespread, much like a lady of the court lifting her damask skirts in order to see her feet.

Princess’s haughty personality has emerged since she arrived at the Center in 1994, emaciated and lacerated by the flock that had rejected her because she was different. Since she would need to live with a flock to survive in the wild, she can never be released. Instead, she lives in the splendid setting of Treetop, with staff visiting daily to clean her airy chamber and to leave an offering of thawed, farm-raised rats. She gets four per day, except Wednesday and Saturday, and any leavings are removed at the end of the day.

Princess does enjoy—this may be an exaggeration—the companionship of a black, male
turkey vulture named Logan. She seems to dominate him. As I watched one day, she pecked briefly at her rat, then rushed Logan and took his away from him. She is moody and a little aggressive at times, nipping at the ankles of her caretakers and spreading her wings in a threatening manner. She is also highly intelligent. When staff repeatedly tried to put out of reach a scrub brush she was pecking to pieces, she interpreted it as a game of hide-and-seek.

Anyone observing the security and the luxury of her life would think that Princess is very fortunate, but I wonder sometimes if her occasional belligerence masks an inarticulate frustration.

Native Americans have a myth that the vulture lost a crown of splendid feathers through an act of sacrifice. As the story goes, life on earth was threatened by the nearness of the sun, and a series of creatures tried to move it farther away. All failed until vulture volunteered. It flew up into the heavens on powerful wings and pushed the sun away with its magnificent head. The earth was saved, but vulture was bald forever after.

Naturalists, on the other hand, assume that the vulture actually evolved a bald pate to protect it from infection when it plunges headfirst into carrion. After all, its place in the larger order of things is to clean up the environment and prevent the spread of infection and disease. Its scientific name, cathartes aura means “golden purifier.”

So I wonder sometimes if Princess is moody because she is frustrated. There are strict protocols that govern the management of her diet, but perhaps she yearns for the delicacy of putrifying flesh associated with the clean-up work of her species. Perhaps the remaining rat removed from her table at sundown has simply, to her mind, not reached the peak of flavor she would enjoy if it “ripened” in the wild.

Princess is presumably about eleven years old now, and the typical life span of a turkey vulture is seventeen. In her protected situation, she may live much longer. I like to think that she will and that her story will remind people who visit Treetop to do, on her behalf, some of the environmental clean-up work she can’t.

That’s just me, though. The regal ways of Princess seem to transcend any responsibility for leadership or preaching. Her bearing and a daily ritual suggests that she knows the Native American myth about the vulture’s sacrifice to sustain life on earth. Princess, like all vultures, greets each morning with wings outspread, letting the light dry the dew on her white feathers. Perhaps she is also celebrating that day long ago when the sun was properly positioned in the heavens by a noble ancestor.
Ellen Grinney

Fawn Season--and Fawns--arrive at the Wildlife Center

Fawn season lasts from June until the end of September, and all of a sudden, The Wildlife Center has four to care for. The mothers of all four were killed by cars. The first fawn to arrive on August 7 was over two weeks old. The three others, one on August 9 and two on August 14, were just days old. At this point, the challenge is to get them to nurse from a rack of bottles filled with a formula made to simulate doe’s milk. They also are encouraged to nibble a pelleted feed called “Calf Manna” and to eat some natural browse. The staff is trying to prevent the little creatures from associating food with humans, and it’s a challenge to get them to nurse from the bottle rack. The oldest fawn would initially drink formula only from a dish, and rejected the bottle. When the second fawn arrived and began to be trained to the bottle rack, the first fawn (a little buck, and very competitive) immediately pushed the other fawn out of the way and began drinking from the bottle rack.

The fawns are very endearing with their big eyes, white-spotted coats, and long legs; and they have a very unusual cry that resembles a one-note bleat. As someone pointed out, it reminds you of one of those dog toys that sounds when you turn it upside down. Deer are social creatures and are now grouped two to a stall. In a day or two, the older fawns will go to the Wildlife Center’s Fawn Barn, deep in the woods, where they will live for several weeks. The younger fawns will join them early next week. While the fawns are there, they will continue to be fed from a bottle rack to avoid human contact. Right now they get bottles at 8am, 2pm and 8pm. When they progress to needing just two bottles a day, they will be moved to a 5-acre pen on the property of a Wildlife Center supporter until they are weaned at about 16 weeks of age.* Shortly afterwards, all four young deer will be ready to return to the wild.

*The Center has a deer pen, which is currently in need of repair. Fortunately, Alagasco has generously agreed to make the repairs, but the pen will not be finished in time to accommodate this year’s fawns.
Ellen Grinney

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

Jessie and the Snake


After a long busy day at the Center, I was rushing out of the park to meet Grandmama and my cousins for dinner. Just before I got to the back gate of Oak Mountain State Park, I found a Gray Rat Snake upside down in the middle of the road. I slammed on my brakes, turned the car around and stepped out to inspect the reptile. To my amazement the snake was still alive, but was unable to move his head. His body moved perfectly and had a few minor scrapes, but when he tried to move the upper portion of his body, it just flopped to the side. I picked the Rat Snake up and drove with the snake in one hand and steering wheel in the other and went back to the Center.

After a few days of TLC, we sent the snake, along with a few other snakes we had aquired, to Dr. Alvin Atlas at Riverview Animal Clinic. A week or two passed and we received a call from Riverview telling us that the snakes were ready to come back to the Center, be fed, and be released. The snake came back and to my surprise, he had full movement of his head! We are so lucky to have the services of Dr. Atlas, who is a real expert with all kinds of reptiles. I gave the snake a mouse to enjoy overnight, which he did. The next day after work I took the Rat Snake back to the spot I found him and pulled off the road. I climbed up the hill to the right and clambered through the briars to find the perfect spot. I reached a semi-open area with a few overstory trees and some fallen limbs and dead trees. I released my grasp and allowed the snake to slink into a nice crevice under the bark of a dead tree.
Jessie Leonard
Raptor Intern

Tuesday, August 16, 2005

Broadwing Hawks Released by Wildlife Interns!


Raptor Intern Jessie Leonard and Mammal Intern Catherine Britt released two Broadwing Hawks at Oak Mountain State Park last week. Catherine's young bird remained on her gloved hand long enough for his close-up before taking flight. The young hawk was found on the ground in Oxford when his nest tree was downed by loggers. After receiving a month and a half of TLC at The Wildlife Center, the bird was returned to health and released at one of the Park's lakes.

Jessie's hawk (R) was obviously ready to return to the freedom of the skies! This hawk arrived at the center in an emaciated state. He had damage to his feather follicles and remained at the Center as his feathers began to regrow. He was returned to the wild with his fellow Wildlife Center resident on August 10.

Releasing a wild creature back into its natural environment is the ultimate satisfaction for any rehabilitator. The Wildlife Center Intern Program offers young rehabilitators the opportunity to get this experience first-hand early in their careers.

The Baby Broadwings of 2005

It was about 4:30 in the afternoon when I received a call from The Wildlife Center and was invited to pick up a baby bird at Raglund, about 11 miles southeast of Ashville in St. Clair County, and about 17 miles from my home. The bird was described as definitely a bird of prey, and according to the finder, "possibly an eagle." As to this identification, Anne was skeptical. But not matter, we would bring it in. ("We" here means Pat and me; Pat usually accompanies me on these trips.)

When I contacted the finder, I was told that the bird was in a portable dog kennel at his house. When I got to his house, I found a fledgling raptor with some early feathers on the wings and body, but a round head covered only with white fuzz, looking very like a tennis ball with beak and big black eyes.

It appeard to be in good health and alert and when I reached in to transfer it to the box I had brought, in reared back on its hind legs, stretched itself up, spread its wings wide, and opened its beak, all in the typical threat posture. (Now who taught this little fellow to do that at this age?) But a gentle approach with an open towel subdued him, and he was easily transferred to the box. Whatever its condition, we were to take it in for routine inspection. On the way, we were lead to the exact spot where it was found. It was found sitting in the middle of the road (County 26) about a couple or three miles west of Ragland. Here I looked around for a nest, but saw none. Upon delivery at the Center, the bird was immediately recognized as a baby Broadwing Hawk.

A few days later, I received a call from the Center inviting me to meet Gregg Smith and lead him to the place where the baby Broadwing was found in order to reunite it with its parents. He arrived at our arranged place of rendezvous with a ladder, a laundry basket full of pine needles (to be used as an artificial nest), a recording of a baby hawk's "hunger" call, and of course the bird in a box. When we got to the site, I checked with people in a nearby house to see if any hawks had been spotted in the area. I was told that hawks had been seen flying around the garden area. That was a cleared area of a few acres and a rather large pond about three to four hundred yards beyone the house. I thought that would be a good hunting ground for hawks, but from here to the middle of the road would have been a very long way fo this little fellow to have floundered. Even so, I thought the better part of valor required a search, but I found nothing.

Upon returning to the highway, Gregg announced that he had just found the nest. Very obscure; hidden about half-way up -- 30 or 40 feet -- in the multiple fork of a densely branched pine tree about 30 feet off the road on the downhill side. That it was an active nest and very probably the one we were looking for was evidenced by the silhouette of the head of a baby bird bobbing around in it, but we saw no adults.

We put up the ladder and Gregg tied the basket onto a forked branch, two or three limbs above the ladder and perhaps about 15 feet above the base of the tree. He then pulled up the box, which I had tied to his rope with the bird in it, set the bird in the nest, pulled up the bag of mice and deposited them in the nest. I broke off some sweetgum branches and handed them up, which Gregg wove into the basket for cmmouflage. He then came down and we gathered up our paraphernalia. He started playing the hunger call through the speakers and we walke a short distance away to watch. We waited maybe 10 or 15 minutes, but no parent showed. But when we left, the baby was eating a mouse. A good sign we thought.

Pat and I drove to the nest site a few days later and saw the little hawk standing on the edge of its artificial nest looking very alert and watching us with intense curiosity. We could not see the sibling in its natural nest, nor did we see any adult bird.

A couple of days later I was invited to meet Bryan Jones to receive an injured hawk and continue its journey to the Center. I was aksed if I would be willing to take an orhpan Broadwing baby to the nest where we had returned teh baby a few days before. Well, sure!

I delivered the bird to the Center. After receiving instruction and with the baby bird in a box, with a bag of eight or ten frozen mice, I left the Center. Pat and I arrived at the nest site later that afternoon. A preliminary look revealed the first baby standing on the edge of the basket, watching us as before. His body was much more feathered now in only those few days, and his head was specked brown. "Okay, folks," he seemed to be asking, "what are we up to now?"

So, with as little ruckus as possible, I set up the ladder (which made terrible clanking sounds as it was being extended!), opened the box and placed a small dish towel over the bird, tied the box to one end of my rope, tied the bag of mice to the other end, and tied the middle of the rope to my belt. Then I started up the ladder very slowly and talking very softly to the bird as I went. I perched myself comfortably on a limb with my head just beneath the top of the basket, but with the basket within easy reach. From there, through the web of the basket, I could see the bird standing at the far side and looking back at me.

After orienting the orphan for proper pick-up, I gently removed the towel, picked up the bird and transferred it to the nest. The other bird stepped back, and seemed a bit surprised to see this new occupant, but made no overt signs of aggression toward it, nor retreated from it. I then deposited the mice a few at a time, all the while keeping my head just below the top of the basket and keeping up a gentle conversation with the birds.

When the mice were all deposited, I let down the empty box and mouse bag, and then, looking back at the nest for a final check, I was somewhat startled to see that the older bird had walked ou on the limb away from the nest four or five feet, but appeared to be comfortable there. I climbed down and repacked my gear.

Before leaving, we quietly observed the nests and the older bird had by then moved back into the nest and was eating one of the mice, while the little orphan looked on. We heard the hunger call sounding exactly like the recording Gregg had played three days before and we saw at least one adult and possibly two.

When we revisited the nest a couple of days later, we saw an adult at the upper nest apparently feeding a juvenile. We saw the first (reunited) bird standing on the edge of the basket nest. He was conspicuously larger now, with brown specks on its head and beginning to look very much like the adult hawk he will be. But we were concerned that we could not see our little step-sibling -- until after watching for several minutes, that little white head popped up above the top of the basket as though from a deep sleep and wondering what everybody's looking at. We left with hearts uplifted.

I visited the site one more time two days later. Immediately visible was the little step-sibling standing in the laundry basket nest, his body now mostly brown, but his round head still fuzzy white. Then I saw the older bird standing on the limb, some 10 or 12 feet out from the basket, his body well-feathered, his head still with some white streaks, but now mostly brown.

I saw no activity at the upper nest and searched diligently for a third bird from various angles up and down the road. Eventually -- yes -- there! -- on the limb 15 or even 20 feet from the nest, and at about the same level. I'm convinced, though not absolutely certain, that it was the third juvenile. Its posture and the fuzzy-looking silhouette of the head was convincing. If I am right, and this ws the third juvenile, then I saw no adults, but these birds are obviously well cared for. At my last look, the older bird from the basket nest was hopping about from limb to limb.

Narrative by Gene Addor

Monday, August 01, 2005

Welcome to our new Blog!

Thanks for visiting The Wildlife Center's new blog! Help us keep up-to-date on any wildlife stories you'd like to share. We would especially love to hear of "Mother Knows Best" success stories. The MKB program is part of our "Save Orphaned Wildlife" Campaign. The Center has had great success at reuniting injured baby wildlife with their parents and in the case of orphaned young ones, we sometimes are able to place the babies with foster parents. These baby Kestrels were found in an airport hangar and brought to The Wildlife Center. After a careful examination, it was determined that the babies were in good health -- just in need of their mother's care. Anne Miller, our Executive Director, reunited the pair with their mother the following day.

Be sure to check back with us regularly for updates on news and events from The Wildlife Center!