101 Animals Admitted to the Wildlife Hospital This Past Week

April 29, 2022

The von Arx Wildlife Hospital is part of and located at the Conservancy of Southwest Florida. Open 365 days a year from 8am-8pm. Call 239-262-2273 for wildlife assistance.

A double-crested cormorant and a mourning dove were among the 101 animals admitted to the von Arx Wildlife Hospital at the Conservancy of Southwest Florida this past week. Other admissions include a nestling anhinga, a red-bellied woodpecker, a fish crow, a big brown bat and two gopher tortoises.

Fish Hook and Fish Embedded in Cormorant’s Throat

Late one afternoon, a beach goer called the Conservancy after seeing a double-crested cormorant in distress. The cormorant appeared to be struggling with a large fish stuck in its throat. The beach goer managed to cover the bird in a towel, but was unwilling to bring it to the hospital. Wildlife Hospital Volunteer, Jane Fitzgerald, offered to leave her post at the front desk to retrieve the cormorant. 

Upon admission, staff administered pain medication and a sedative, subcutaneous electrolytes and prepped the bird for surgery to remove the fish.

A radiograph showed a fish and a fish hook in the cormorant’s throat. This is a common injury when a bird goes after an angler’s catch. Our staff vet attempted to remove the fish by backing it out of the cormorant’s throat. The large size and the position of the fish was compromising the cormorant’s airway; which prompted the vet to make an incision in the cormorant’s neck to remove the fish.

Radiograph of cormorant with fish and fish hook embedded

While extracting the fish, it became apparent that the hook was not connected to the fish; rather the bird had been hooked through the neck prior to catching the fish.

The hook was embedded in the cormorant’s neck and twisted through its esophagus; in essence, the esophagus was cinched closed which is why the bird could not swallow the fish. After extracting the fish, the vet clipped and removed the fishhook from the cormorant’s neck. 

Additional pain medication and electrolytes were provided post-surgery as was an antibiotic. The cormorant was placed on supplemental oxygen in an animal intensive care unit to rest for the night. 

The following morning the cormorant was alert and responsive. Later in the afternoon, the cormorant was so active it was moved from the intensive care unit to a recovery space in the bird room! Staff offered a limited amount of smelt that the cormorant eagerly consumed. Each day the cormorant’s condition continues to improve.

Fishing line and hook injuries cause significant damage and death for many species of birds; if not rescued, this cormorant would have suffered an agonizing death from the fish hook stuck in its throat. 

Please, if you are an angler, promote and practice ethical and responsible angling. Learn what equipment is appropriate for the area you intend to fish and use barbless hooks. If shorebirds are foraging where you are fishing, don’t cast your line until the birds fly, swim away or choose a fishing spot that is free of birds.

We understand it can be difficult, but try your best when out fishing to protect the wildlife. If hooked, please call us and we will do all we can to help the bird.

Hook a Bird?

If you hook a bird, do not cut the line. Reel the bird in carefully, but quickly. A bird struggling against a taut line may cause the line to break and allow the bird to fly off entangled in hooks and line. Covering the bird’s head with a towel once it is reeled in will help calm the bird. If the hook isn’t deeply embedded, gently push the hook through the skin until the barb is exposed. Clip the barb off using a wire cutter and back the hook out. Step away and allow the bird time to gain its bearings and fly off. If the hook is deeply embedded, or if the hook has been ingested, contain the bird and bring it to the wildlife hospital for immediate medical attention.

Multiple Admissions Due to Cat Attacks

A fledgling mourning dove was injured after being attacked by an outdoor cat. 6 other birds and 4 rabbits were also admitted last week due to cat attacks.

The damage to all of the cat attack victims was significant; 4 out of the 11 animals did not survive the injuries, the 7 remaining birds and rabbits required antibiotics, pain medication and wound management. 

The dove responded well to its treatment plan yet needed supplemental feedings for several days before beginning to eat on its own. The dove continues to recover in the bird room. 

Injuries to wildlife caused by cat attacks are preventable.

Please do not allow cats to roam outdoors. Spring is the time of year when many animals are raising their young and these helpless babies are easy targets for roaming cats. Even well fed cats have the instinct to hunt. Please, keep cats indoors; so much needless loss of life, pain and suffering is heartbreaking to witness day after day. 

Recent Releases

Two gopher tortoises, a chuck-will’s-widow, a Florida softshell turtle, three eastern cottontails, three grey squirrels, two Virginia opossums, three northern mockingbirds, a marsh rabbit, a great horned owl, a cedar waxwing, an osprey, a mourning dove, a yellow-bellied slider and a royal tern were released this past week. 

Opportunities to Help

Please visit our website and learn about the opportunities on how to get involved.

The facilities team and the wildlife hospital at the Conservancy is looking for volunteers to help with a multitude of projects.

Having an extra set of hands is incredibly helpful; if you have time, we really could use your help. If you are unable to give of your time as a volunteer, become a member or donate. No matter how you choose to become involved, be assured your support allows the Conservancy to continue to protect Southwest Florida’s water, land, wildlife and future. 

Joanna Fitzgerald is Director of the von Arx Wildlife Hospital at the Conservancy of Southwest Florida. Call 239-262-2273 or see conservancy.org.