Orphaned Killdeer and 13 Eastern Cottontails

July 13, 2022

Orphaned Killdeer and 13 Eastern Cottontails

A killdeer chick and 13 adult eastern cottontails were among the 89 animals admitted to the von Arx Wildlife Hospital at the Conservancy of Southwest Florida this past week. Other admissions include a Southeastern bat, a fish crow, a barred owl, two brown pelicans, a common gallinule and a yellow-bellied slider.

Orphaned Killdeer

Big Cypress National Preserve Wildlife Technician, Annette Johnson, brought the killdeer chick to the von Arx Wildlife Hospital for care after the attempt to reunite the chick with its parents the night before was unsuccessful.

The young killdeer chick was seen alone in the parking lot at Big Cypress Headquarters. Although adult killdeer are often seen at night foraging under the lights of the parking lot, no adults returned despite the chick’s constant and steady peeping. Annette kept the killdeer chick safe and warm until she could bring it to the von Arx Wildlife Hospital first thing the next morning.

The killdeer was weak, resting on its hocks, eyes closed and felt cool when removed from the transport box. Hospital staff immediately placed the killdeer in a highly warmed animal intensive care unit to rest. The chick was standing when checked on an hour later. Hospital staff hand fed the killdeer chick; the chick took a few bites of food at each feeding.

A newly admitted orphaned killdeer rests in a warmed animal intensive care unit in the wildlife hospital.

The following day the killdeer chick was lying down and looked weaker.

Staff started the chick on an antibiotic and within a couple hours the chick was more alert, responsive and continued to improve. In fact, the chick began eating on its own!

Currently, the killdeer continues to recover in the nursery. The baby is receiving a specialized diet as well as vitamin supplements. Due to the killdeer’s high stress level, handling has been kept to a minimum.

Killdeer, and many other species of wildlife, are extremely fragile and have very specific husbandry requirements needed to ensure they are healthy.

Always call the wildlife hospital (239-262-2273) for guidance if you find an animal you think is in need of help. Hospital staff have a full understanding of normal behavior for a variety of wildlife species and can assess the details of each situation. If it is determined an animal needs assistance, immediately transport the animal to our facility for care.

13 Adult Eastern Cottontails Involved in Vehicle Strike

Of the 13 adult eastern cottontails admitted last week, 12 were injured by vehicle strikes.

None of the 12 was brought to our facility by the people who hit them. The injuries the 13 rabbits sustained were fairly similar – 9 suffered spinal damage and were paralyzed. When they were found and rescued by Good Samaritans, they were seen trying to scramble or drag themselves by their front legs; the lower half of their bodies limp.

Several also sustained fractured legs and still others suffered degloving injuries to their hindquarters. All required humane euthanasia.

Seeing the condition of these rabbits upon admission was heartbreaking. Every single Good Samaritan deserves our thanks for their graciousness and concern for other living creatures. No animal should be left to die slowly on the side of the road. While staff wished the outcome could have been different for each of these rabbits, we are incredibly thankful we were able to humanely end the pain and suffering these creatures were enduring.

Vehicle strikes are a common cause of injury for birds, mammals and reptiles.

Please, if you hit an animal, safely pull over and offer assistance. Never leave an injured animal suffering on the side of the road. Keep in mind that many animals (owls, opossums, raccoons) are nocturnal (active at night) or crepuscular (active at dawn and dusk), like rabbits, deer and foxes.

Reducing your speed and increasing awareness of your surroundings may improve your reaction time and allow you to avoid hitting an animal. Always keep a towel, gloves and box in your car; having rescue equipment available relieves some of the stress involved if you encounter an animal that needs help.

Taking Action

28 gopher tortoises have died on Marco Island since the start of 2022 due to vehicle strikes.

Injured gopher tortoises recovering in the wildlife hospital

Last week several groups took action to mitigate loss of life. Audubon of the Western Everglades Owl Watch and Gopher Tortoise volunteers, Conservancy of SWFL volunteers, Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission’s South Regional Gopher Tortoise Conservation Biologist, the City of Marco Island, Humble Bumble Backyard, Easy Street Handmade, Refined Powder Coating and Media Blast, Sosa’s Lawn Service and concerned citizens worked together to install silt fencing along South Barfield Drive near Hawaii Circle. 

The four property owners involved deserve kudos and recognition for allowing the installation of the fencing – it was a huge accomplishment! Please, continue to drive slow in this area and watch for tortoises and owls along the road. 

Recent Releases

Two Florida box turtles, three striped mud turtles, three Florida softshell turtles, a gopher tortoise, two blue jays, a peninsula cooter, seven northern mockingbirds, a loggerhead shrike, a red-bellied woodpecker, two eastern cottontails, a Florid red-bellied turtle, a yellow bellied-slider and four raccoons were released this past week. 

Releasing the four raccoons was incredibly rewarding since all four had a rough start to their lives.

The litter of three orphaned raccoons arrived after being found on the ground; it is unknown what happened to their mother. The fourth raccoon kit endured an even more harrowing ordeal before it was rescued. 

A motorist on Santa Barbara Boulevard saw two young raccoons attempting to cross the road. A vehicle struck one kit. She stopped, captured the injured kit, called the von Arx Wildlife Hospital to tell us what happened and that she was on her way. During the phone conversation, she mentioned the second kit had made it into the median, but she couldn’t find it.

While speaking with her, a second woman called because she witnessed the whole situation. Hospital staff begged her to stay with the kit in the median until we could send help.

The one kit arrived, but unfortunately, it had passed away from the injuries caused by the vehicle strike.

Hospital staff gathered rescue equipment and went to meet the Good Samaritan still watching the one kit stuck in the median.

While cars were speeding past, the Good Samaritan and the two Conservancy staffers netted the raccoon kit and safely contained it for transport to the von Arx Wildlife Hospital.

After the kit went through quarantine and was determined to be healthy, it joined the litter of three. Two months later, the group was released!

Opportunities to Help

Please visit the Conservancy website to view all of the amazing work done at the Conservancy of Southwest Florida. Consider getting involved and supporting our efforts. Your volunteer time, donations, and memberships are vital in helping us continue our work 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, 1495 Smith Preserve Way, Naples, Florida 34102. Call 239-262-2273 or see conservancy.org.