Hurricane Idalia causes harm to native wildlife

September 7, 2023

The von Arx Wildlife Hospital is part of and located at the Conservancy of Southwest Florida. We are open 365 days a year from 8am to 7pm. Please call 239-262-2273 for wildlife assistance or bring animal to our hospital at 1495 Smith Preserve Way in Naples, FL.

A grey squirrel and a sooty tern were among the fifty-eight animals admitted to the von Arx Wildlife Hospital at the Conservancy of Southwest Florida this past week. Other admissions include an ovenbird, a common ground dove, a black vulture, a marsh rabbit and a peninsula cooter.

Young Squirrel in the Road

The grey squirrel was admitted the day before Hurricane Idalia passed closest to Naples. Naples was experiencing high winds and rain bands.

A Good Samaritan biked to the Conservancy from the Lake Park neighborhood after finding the squirrel in the road. The weather was squally and after arriving at the Conservancy, the squirrel’s rescuer had to wait for a heavy rain band to pass through before biking home. The empathy exhibited by the man who biked to our hospital during tropical storm conditions to ensure the baby squirrel received care left staff in awe. Helping a nestling squirrel during tropical storm conditions isn’t something everyone would do. His effort and kindness was truly extraordinary. 

The nestling squirrel was so young her eyes were still closed.

The nestling had labored breathing and restlessness – both indications of pain. Staff administered pain medication and the squirrel was put on supplemental oxygen in a warmed animal intensive care unit. Once the pain medications took effect and her condition had stabilized, staff offered the squirrel electrolytes thus beginning the process of gradually introducing squirrel milk replacement formula to the nestling.

Due to the squirrel’s young age, she requires multiple feedings throughout the day and night. Staff will place the nestling squirrel with another squirrel of similar age once she is strong enough so she can grow up with a “littermate”.

People frequently diminish and misunderstand the animals cared for at our facility typically endure significant pain and suffering. Hiding pain is a behavior animals developed long ago in the evolutionary process to protect themselves from predators when injured or sick.

Animals appear stoic when in pain as a matter of survival. Stoicism doesn’t mean animals aren’t experiencing pain.

Please, if you see an animal you believe is sick, injured or orphaned, take a moment to imagine what you would do in a similar situation. Call von Arx Wildlife Hospital staff to ensure the animal receives the necessary care it requires.

Sooty Tern Weak from Storm

The sooty tern was found two days after Hurricane Idalia passed Naples. 

Sooty terns are a true seabird, flying over tropical oceans their entire lives only coming to land when nesting. This tern was found in the road in a community east of the interstate in North Naples, a victim of Hurricane Idalia.

Sooty tern with von Arx Wildlife staff member

The tern was emaciated, weak, dull and unable to stand. Staff was aggressive with a treatment plan knowing the bird had withstood extreme conditions but sadly, the bird passed away within hours of being admitted.

A second sooty tern, a black-bellied plover and two sandwich terns were also admitted several days after the storm, all were in extremely poor condition and none survived.

Hurricanes affect native wildlife in a multitude of ways. Flooding and high winds displace animals and damage nests. It is likely that the birds admitted after Hurricane Idalia were caught up in the severe weather and high winds for days and were carried/blown off course.

By the time the birds ended up on land, they had suffered tremendously.

Hurricane Idalia closed schools and businesses in communities along the coast, but the von Arx Wildlife Hospital was open normal operating hours with no interruptions.

More severe storms may knock out power and cell phone service, but please know hospital staff will ride-out the storm onsite when able and will always return to work as soon as possible after a storm passes. Hurricanes typically bring an influx of animals in need of assistance, therefore, the von Arx Wildlife Hospital will always resume operations as soon as threats posed by dangerous weather have passed. 

If you find an injured or displaced animal, contain the animal in a quiet, dark, warm area of your home. Do not attempt to offer food or water. Bring it to the von Arx Wildlife Hospital as soon as it is safe to be on the roads. Immediate professional care is incredibly important, especially if an animal has withstood the effects of a hurricane. The sooner a sick, injured or orphaned animal receives medical attention, the less suffering the animal endures and the chance the animal will make a full recovery increases exponentially. 

Recent Releases

A mourning dove, a yellow-bellied slider, a peninsula cooter, a white ibis, two ovenbirds, a northern mockingbird, an eastern screech owl, a Virginia opossum, a Florida softshell turtle, a blue jay and a burrowing owl were released this past week.

Opportunities to Help

There are many ways to get involved and support the Conservancy. Become a volunteer and member, donate, and visit our website. Learn about the Conservancy’s work 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