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Wildlife Rehabilitation Humour(The lighter side of wildlife rehabilitation: What we talk about when we are pulling our hair out in the Spring!)
May reading this help all of us to "lighten up" when we are so busy with 142 little mouths to feed, 38 wings to re-wrap, and 25 birds to tube feed... all in the next 30 minutes! (Oh, and don't forget those phone calls!!)
The following items were written by wildlife rehabilitators and those involved in the field, and relate to the exciting and very demanding profession of wildlife rehabilitation.
For those non-rehabbers reading the this, hopefully it will give you a little insight into the sometimes amusing things we run into in our work with injured wildlife and the people that bring them to us for care.
An "Unusual" Species of Snake
This March I received a call from an elderly lady about a green snake hanging in a tree in her front yard. This snake had been there for a few days and she was concerned that the neighborhood kids would bother it. I asked her if it was still alive since it is very unusual for a snake to be in a tree for several days. She said it was...in fact she maintained that it moved some and actually "hissed" at her when she inspected it by poking it with her broom. And she insisted on someone coming out to check on this snake.
At this point, this lady had spent a lot of time on the phone to track me down, so I felt obligated to send someone out. I sent one of my assistants out to check on the snake and move it to a safer spot or bring it in if indicated.
My assistant did successfully rescue the snake and identified it as the "rubber" variety. The lady was very embarrassed, however she still wanted it "off the property." Maybe she thought it might hiss at her again??? It never occurred to me that the neighborhood kids might have actually left this in this lady's tree. Oh well...the snake is now resting comfortably in my assistants home...we decided that we needed to keep this snake. This is just too good of a story.
Hope you all had a good chuckle! This is a reminder that the general public many times cannot accurately evaluate a situation. In fact, they can drastically distort the facts. I have thought about this a lot. I am now much more careful not to believe everything I hear on the phone, but to have the situation evaluated by a trained individual if there is any question.
Animal "Sounds" In Ducts
This reminds me of the elderly widow who called us about an animal stuck in her heating and air conditioning ducts. When Ron got there she was standing over the floor vent. When she heard this kind of 'chirping' sound, she would stomp her foot on the vent and the noise would stop.
This 'animal' had been there for days.
Ron looked above his head where there was a smoke detector and removed the batteries. This took care of the 'animal'.
The lady was very embarrassed but happy to have someone put a new battery in her smoke detector!
Feeding a Falcon
We get our share of funny stories also. We had one last week, that really had us upset, then laughing. The local pet store called to say someone was in and said that they had a falcon, but they didn't know what kind it was, they had it for several weeks, and they knew that it had to have mouse hair, but they didn't want to feed it a live mouse, and could they just comb off some mouse hair and give it to the bird! Well, they of course would not leave their name, but assured them that they would be back and the pet store employee encouraged them to call us. A few days later the woman showed up with her "falcon", it was a chicken! And she, I hope, has learned a lesson of why not to keep an animal without calling.
"The bigger the box, the smaller the bird"
Corollary to Richrod's Law:
"The smaller the box, the bigger the bird"
"I've had a Hummingbird brought in to me in a refrigerator box, and a Loon in a shoebox!"
Wildlife Rehabilitation Song
(to the tune of "An Occasional Man")
I have a permit, that says I'm able.
possums, song birds, annnnnnd....
I'm gonna transport.
I have to.
adore 'em, annnnd....
I've got a husband, house, three kids, and
I work. But that won't stop me, still you'll find me
where I lurk
Along the highways.
rubber gloves, clean rag, annnnnd....
Then the work gets heavy, I get tired and
long for bed.
that must be fed
So I keep going hour by hour, till I've used up
every ounce of power.
Mannnn.... There's something wrong with my plan.
My house is dirty; dishes piled up in the sink!
it's too late too run and jump for cover.
annnnnd.... I got a hole in my plan.
I gotta rethink my plan.
It left no time for a man!
Description vs. Reality
In the interest of rehabbing the rehabbers, as we wind down for the season, how about some stories about the description vs. the reality of what is brought in to us?
For example, four calls today were for "regular brown birds." Those translated to 1 grackle, 1 starling, 1 dove, and 1 cowbird. Our usual rule of thumb for a "baby owl" is to take a carrier for a screech owl. Of course, that puts you up the creek without a paddle when it really is a great-horned owl!
A "big duck" is a often a goose, and a "goose" is a swan. "Huge bird" usually means it's larger than a sparrow. A "bat" in the chimney is a swift, and a "golden eagle hit by a car" is a red-tail hawk on a rat on the freeway shoulder. And one of my all time favorites... the "pregnant pigeon". The caller was emphatic that we couldn't just leave the poor thing to have her baby on the sidewalk! (It was a pouter pigeon, banded).
A little girl and her mother brought in a "baby vulture" which turned out to be a baby pigeon. I explained what they had and even showed them our educational vulture so they could see the difference. The little girl, about 6, just kept nodding. When I was finished with my little speech, she said, "Maybe he's a pigeon now... but when he grows up, he's going to be a vulture!"
The "Humorous" Life of a Rehabber
My friend Linda had an escaped 4 inch opossum downstairs and couldn't locate it. Her son suggested turning off the lights, getting out his remote control car with headlights, and said "Mom, if I run the car back and forth in the den, he's bound to run out in front of it, and then you can catch him!"
Or how about the maid next door who was impressed with all the baby animals we had. Her only comment was, "It's great what you do, but I just don't understand how you get them babies away from their mommas!"
Or.... how to get welders gloves for free:
A boy about ten years old found a nest with an egg in it that had been blown out of a tree during a storm. He was on his way to school and during the day the egg hatched. His mother called one of our volunteers, but it was pretty late at night and they were quite a distance away. So, the volunteer gave her instructions about keeping it warm and how doves put their head in the parent's mouth to eat. The boy was supposed to call the volunteer the next day but did not. There was no answer at the boy's house when the volunteer tried to call. She figured the little bird probably died.
Later that evening, the boy called and wanted to bring the bird over. He had kept the bird going by taking oatmeal his mom made and stuffing it in a little toy "Jaws" shark he had. One of those soft rubbery hollow ones that they sell at Disneyland. He put the oatmeal in the shark and then the baby dove instinctively put his head into Jaws, and viola... everything apparently seemed natural to him. Cool, huh?! This was a teeny tiny newly hatched Inca dove about the size of a Jelly Belly jelly bean.
We have volunteers that quake in their boots at the thought of trying to feed something so tiny. But this little kid had thought this up all by himself after hearing how baby doves eat. There is hope out there! This happened two weeks ago and the little dove is starting to feather out and is doing fine. Of course, we might wind up with an Inca dove that wants to terrorize small towns along the Eastern seaboard!
We see many people who bring in animals that are not what they think they are! How about the "really rare parrot" (really a hatchling pigeon)... or the chipmunk (neonate rabbit)... or the Gila monster in the damp scrap wood bin (damp scrap wood).
And then there's my all time favorite:
"I have a question about my turtle."
"What kind of turtle is it?"
"No, I mean what kind of turtle is it? Is it a box or an aquatic turtle?
"I don't know - it's brown."
Oh, yes, and then there was the early Sunday morning when I was doing California Condor observation at the L.A. zoo prior to the test releases back into the wild. Security put through a call to me at the "Condor Hilton" from a guy who claimed there was a condor flying around his house (actually, a turkey vulture)
What Is It?
This year, my favorite mis-ID was a "blue grouse that followed my children home" which turned out to be a friendly young gray chicken... "Lady, it looks like a chicken to me!"
A few years ago, a woman called me up to tell me she had raised a peregrine falcon chick, and she knew she would be in big trouble if the Game Department found out. She asked me to please come over and take the bird so she wouldn't be arrested. I asked her for a description. First it was downy and pale, then gray, etc. When I got there, I stepped in the room and said, "Where is it?" She replied "You're looking right at it!" It was a nice hefty young pigeon! She kept insisting the bird was a falcon. Her "raptor" survived because she had included oatmeal with the raw meat! One of the many "raptor pigeons" we have around here
I advise those folks with "baby gulls" to check the toes for webs. And our local rehab joke is about "Seagles" and "Eagulls"... sometimes these misidentifications lead to real trouble as the public try to deal with feeding something: infant swallows fed bread, etc. My favorite diet for swallows (which they survived on for a week!) was the "Spam and egg" diet. Just watch out for those swallows when you're dining alfresco!
"Is it bigger than a breadbox?"
And that is totally another story!
We've had a turkey vulture "as big as a medium sized dog" that turned out to be a pigeon; two swans that turned out to be peking ducks, and a large hamster that was actually a pocket gopher.
Too many calls come in about "city birds", "regular birds", or "those birds that fly around outside". Grackles are either "cackles" or crows. Baby pigeons are often mistaken for ducklings although one woman was certain they were orphaned herons. Sparrows are "little wrens". One lady left a message that she had a baby Saguaro that she was keeping warm and trying to feed soaked dog food. We listed to the message about ten times trying to catch what she was saying since a Saguaro is a cactus. When we called her, she said "You know... a Saguaro... it's our state bird!" She meant a Cactus Wren. For awhile there we were all getting excited about the possibility of becoming cactus rehabbers.... low maintenance, no stress... just make sure you don't sit on your patient!
We also had a very new volunteer (no longer with us) that brought me a "grackle" that turned out to be a tiny Gamble's quail. I still haven't figured that one out. Oh, and another woman called about this big "thing" that swam up into her yard from the lake and she made it sound like the Loch Ness monster. Some sort of mutated goose that was huffing and puffing. Of course, it was a big male muscovy duck, but it really freaked her out. She thought it might eat her little poodle!
We get an assortment of calls about "pregnant" birds and also have people who insist that a duck has laid a clutch of 12-14 eggs in their yard overnight. Way too many people still believe that if you touch a baby bird, the human scent will make the mother reject it; or that birds carry rabies. Sometimes it can drive you crazy, but then there are the really good people you come across and that offset the "ignorant" people that are out there.
Rules For Interpreting Animal ID's by Laypeople
On the subject of animal ID by lay folks having their first encounter of the wild kind, we have several rules of thumb at my center:
The larger the box that they bring in... the smaller the bird. (Ever see a bushtit in a packing crate?)
The converse is also true. (How about a heron in a shoe box?)
A "baby red-tailed hawk" is ALWAYS a kestrel. (Ok... nothing is ever always... once in awhile it is a robin.)
"It has a broken wing and can't fly." (Next stop if you open that box...the skylights of the entry hall.)
The more inappropriate the diet for that animal, the more likely that it has been fed that for the past four days.
Every single human being who walks through our door with a broken, bleeding, orphaned, terrified, and often mis-identified wild creature has come there out of love.
Humorous Animal "Histories" by the public
As part of the intake procedure in our organization, we ask for a routine basic history of the animal or bird turned over to us. We ask where they found it, how long they have had it, did they feed it, etc. Some of the histories given are quite amusing:
History of Animal:
You stop every 15 minutes while grocery shopping to feed the things temporarily residing in your purse that you picked up on your way to the grocery store.
You stop traffic on a 4-lane highway to retrieve an animal while your spouse pretends they don't know you.
There is more frozen animal food in your freezer than human food.
You "react" every time you see a cardboard box.
You assume every phone call you receive (at work OR at home) is about a injured/orphaned animal and respond accordingly.
You have Bactrim and milk replacer in your refrigerator at home at all times.
You don't think it's strange at all to have dead animals in your freezer at home.
Your family picture includes one or more wild animals in it.
You buy cat toys and they aren't for your cat, but for your 'coons.
You are known as the local "vet" for everything that was once known as "almost roadkill".
A Sunday dinner is preluded by a call to pick up a "little deer right around the corner" and you find out it weighs more than you do!
More than 5 species of animals eat out of the same bowl.
Children sing "Old McDonald Had A Farm", and they are referring to you... and they make sounds of raccoons and raptors when singing.
Your neighbor calls and they want you to come and get your raccoon out of their tree.
You plan your vacation around the "birthing" season.
The pictures of your releases outnumber the pictures of your children.
Your email letter is misspelled because an animal fell on your keyboard, and you apologize for it.
You have to explain to the long distance operator that the number dialled was accidentally dialled by your raccoon and you don't wish to be charged for it.
The name "Grubco" no longer makes you giggle.
You can't understand why your friend screamed when she found a few mealworms in your hairbrush.
You say, "Yes, they poop on me"... before anyone asks.
You're in the mall, and all you catch are the words "The Bird Lady".
You're happy when you get a gift certificate for earthworms.
You cut bait, but you don't fish.
You've washed a few smelt accidently in your Maytag.
You have a different mental picture than everyone else when you hear the words "Some loon is in my parking space!"
Feathers in your hair are not a fashion statement.
Safeway gives you a quiz on exactly why you want raw ground beef heart.
You buy more babyfood than anyone else in town, and you don't have any children.
You use the word "Goatsucker" and you're not being insulting.
You buy cat food by the case and you don't own a cat.
Your linen closet contains more than five heating pads.
You know what happens when you try to thaw a mouse in the microwave.
Friends arrive for dinner and bring roadkills that they picked up on the way over.
There's a car hit dead dog in the middle of the road and everyone is standing around in shock and you get out of your car and say,"It's alright, I'm used to this. Let me give you a hand."
Overnight guests cannot stay in the guestrooms because there are ducklings in the tubs and incubators in the rooms.
Your children go to get something out of the refrigerator and you say "Don't disturb the bat!"
Are you a rehabilitator or
In making a fashion statement, how do you accessorize your wardrobe most often?
1. Gold jewelry
2. Costume jewelry
3. Fecal matter
You're lunching at your favourite restaurant. The topics of conversation lean heavily toward:
1. Fashion, Wall Street, and aerobic tapes
2. Kids, crabgrass, and recipes
3. Maggot removal and crop bloat
Your refrigerator contains:
1. A bottle of vintage chardonnay, brie, and pate
2. A liter of Pepsi, cheese dip, and Baco-bits
3. KMR formula and mealworms
Your freezer contains:
1. A quart of Haagen-Dazs
2. Frozen Milky-Way bars
3. A bag of dead mice and an ice-cube tray full or Passerine II Diet
Your favourite catalog shows up in the mail. You can't wait to curl up with the latest issue of:
1. L.L. Bean
2. Sear's and Roebuck
3. Omaha Vaccine and Supply
You fantasize about:
1. A new Porsche
2. A new couch
3. Larger cages
Your dream vacation would have you checking out:
3. Release sites
A married man had only one complaint: his wife was always nursing sick birds. One February evening, he came home to find a raven with a splint on its wing sitting in his favourite chair. On the dining room table, instead of dinner, there was a feverish eagle pecking at an aspirin. In the kitchen, his wife was comforting a shivering little wren she found out in the snow.
The furious husband strode over to where his wife was towelling down the cold little bird. "I can't take it any more! We've got to get rid of all of these #(@ birds!"
The wife held up her hand and cut him off in mid-sentence. "Please, Dear, no cuss words in front of the chilled wren."
To submit your humorous stories, send an email to: TWLRID @ gmail.com
NOTE: All stories are copyrighted to their respective authors and may NOT be used with the express written permission of those authors and the TWRID website owner.