A rare admission and rabbit nests

November 4, 2021

Three eastern cottontail rabbit nestlings and a sharp-shinned hawk were among the fifty-nine animals admitted to the von Arx Wildlife Hospital at the Conservancy of Southwest Florida this past week. Other admissions include a brown pelican, two brown thrashers, a yellow-billed cuckoo, an anhinga, a marsh rabbit and a Florida softshell turtle.

The Migrating Sharp-Shinned Hawks

The sharp-shinned hawk was admitted to the von Arx Wildlife Hospital after being found on a sidewalk in Bonita Springs.

The hawk was in fair condition, aware of its surroundings and was defensive yet ataxic (having trouble balancing). His symptoms indicated neurological trauma. The location where the hawk was found suggested a vehicle strike was the probable cause of injury.

Hospital staff administered pain medications and placed the diminutive hawk on oxygen in an animal intensive care unit. Due to the critical nature of the hawk’s condition, the hawk was monitored closely.

Unfortunately, the medications were not working on him as expected. Our staff vet continued to assess the hawk and provided additional medications yet the hawk’s neurological deficits worsened.

The trauma was too significant and euthanasia was the only humane treatment option. 

Sharp-shinned hawks are a rare admission and only seen in our area during migration.

Other Migrating Birds

Along with the sharp-shinned hawk many other migratory species of birds were admitted last week. Four palm warblers, two yellow-throated warblers, two Swainson’s thrushes, a scarlet tanager, a black-and-white-warbler and a common yellowthroat were also admitted after injury. 

Many threats are causing migratory bird populations to decline significantly. Please take actions that will protect these species when they are overwintering or passing through our area.

  • Monitor your pets, especially cats, if they are allowed outdoors.
  • Plant native plants.
  • Be sure birds are protected from large expansive glass windows.
  • Visit American Bird Conservancy for more information on actions you can take to protect migratory birds. 

Rabbit Nests on the Playgrounds

The three eastern cottontails’ nest was discovered on the playground at the NCH Bear’s Den Childcare Center.

A woman associated with the preschool brought the nestlings to the hospital. The nestlings were under a day old and in perfect health. All three were full of milk meaning the mother had recently fed her babies at their nest.

Keeping young animals with their mother is always our goal so our hospital staff contacted the preschool.

Many questions were asked to fully assess the situation on the playground. Initially it seemed that re-nesting the three rabbit kits wasn’t going to work because the preschool staff felt it wasn’t possible to keep the nestlings safe.

After some discussion, Bear’s Den Childcare Center staff member, Brittany Feroce, agreed to help with a simple plan to keep the babies with their mother. 

Eastern cottontail rabbits are different from many species of wildlife because the mother rabbit only returns to the nest twice a day, typically at dawn and dusk, to feed and care for her babies.

Hospital staff agreed to check with Brittany every day to ensure the nestling rabbits were ok and the plan was working. If the babies were in danger, they would be brought to the von Arx Wildlife Hospital for care. 

An update from Brittany the following day brought news hospital staff hadn’t anticipated. Instead of removing the babies from the nest, Brittany was able to have the area around the rabbit nest roped off to keep the preschool children away.

Cooperation such as this is rare and we are incredibly grateful to Brittany and everyone at Bear’s Den Childcare Center for allowing the mother rabbit the time needed to raise her young. 

Coincidentally, a woman arrived at the von Arx Wildlife Hospital the same day with two young cottontail rabbits found on a playground at a Fort Myers school.

The rabbit kits were over two weeks old and close to the age where they are leaving the nest. Since it was a Friday, we asked if the babies could be returned to the nest for the weekend. Hospital staff believed that the kits only needed a day or two before they would venture out of the nest.

The woman agreed to retrieve the babies and bring them back to the hospital Monday morning before the children returned to school if the kits hadn’t dispersed.

The woman called the hospital to let us know our assessment was accurate. The two young rabbits did leave the nest as we hoped.

The hospital staff appreciates everyone who was involved in these two situations. It was amazing seeing others understand the importance of keeping the kits with their mothers and taking steps to ensure their safety.

Often times, people are negative and unwilling to help, even when little effort is involved. Young animals growing up in the wild with their parents provides babies the time to learn skills needed to survive and there’s absolutely no substitute for the care a mother provides to her offspring.

If you encounter a wildlife situation, please call the wildlife hospital | 239-262-2273

These two situations could have ended unsuccessfully if the people involved hadn’t called the wildlife hospital for accurate information and instructions on how to properly assist the nestling rabbits.

Recent Releases

Five eastern cottontails, an American redstart and three grey squirrels were released this past week.

Opportunities to Help

Please visit our website to learn about opportunities to get involved. We are desperately in need of volunteers who are interested in joining our horticulture team.

If you are unable to give your time as a volunteer, become a member or donate. Your support will help the Conservancy continue to protect Southwest Florida’s water, land, wildlife and future. 

Joanna Fitzgerald is the Director of the von Arx Wildlife Hospital at the Conservancy of Southwest Florida, 1495 Smith Preserve Way, Naples, Florida 34102. Call 239-262-2273 or see conservancy.org.