Wildlife injuries due to vehicle strikes

February 22, 2024

A Florida softshell turtle and a pied-billed grebe were among the fifty-four animals admitted to the von Arx Wildlife Hospital at the Conservancy of Southwest Florida this past week. Other admissions include a northern gannet, a sanderling, a bald eagle, a common ground dove, an eastern harvest mouse and a yellow-bellied slider.

Florida Softshell Turtle Hit by Car

A Florida softshell turtle was admitted after she was injured by a vehicle strike.

The information provided to the von Arx Wildlife Hospital staff was that the turtle was injured three days prior. Initially, someone moved the turtle out of the road and set her in the grass near the sidewalk. The following day, a different person moved her farther from the sidewalk. It was on the third day that a visitor to the community, who happens to volunteer at the von Arx Wildlife Hospital, saw the turtle and understood the turtle needed medical attention and brought her to the Conservancy for care.

Von Arx Hospital staff perform an exam on a Florida softshell turtle that suffered extensive injuries in a vehicle strike.

The turtle was dull, yet reactive when handled. There were abrasions on her carapace and plastron, bruising on her plastron, dehydrated, both eyes were sunken with the right eye closed, and she had blood in her mouth. Radiographs revealed the turtle had multiple skull fractures. The turtle’s injuries were too severe and humane euthanasia was the only option. While not what anyone hoped for, everyone was grateful the turtle was no longer suffering.

Sadly, the softshell turtle wasn’t the only turtle admitted last week that endured prolonged suffering. An injured gopher tortoise also suffered for several days before being admitted to the von Arx Wildlife Hospital for care. 

People frequently diminish the fact that animals feel pain and suffer. 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. 

Sadly, it is quite common for people to not provide immediate help to an animal in distress because the person was letting “nature take its course.” Being hit by a vehicle, attacked by a dog or cat, hooked and entangled by fishing hooks and line, colliding with a window, struggling to survive in areas where habitat loss and degradation have occurred or suffering from poisoning are not “nature taking its course.” None of these are natural causes of injury and illness. 

If you see an animal that appears to be in distress, please be on the side of caution and show empathy. Please call the von Arx Wildlife Hospital (239.262.2273) for guidance on what to do and how to offer assistance. The von Arx Wildlife Hospital is open seven days a week from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m.

Pied-Billed Grebe Found on the Road

The pied-billed grebe was found on the road on Marco Island late one evening.

Grebes are a diving bird and really aren’t found on land. Many times light reflects, especially during certain weather conditions, creating a mirage. Roads, parking lots and vacant fields can look like an expansive body of water. Grebes mistake the mirage for actual water and end up on roads or parking lots. Since grebes need to “run” and flap across the water to take flight, it is impossible for grebes to take flight when they land on solid ground.

A pied-billed grebe spends time in a water therapy tub in the bird room at the von Arx Wildlife Hospital. The grebe was found injured on Marco Island.

The grebe had minor abrasions on both feet. Its right wing was bloody and wasn’t fully extending. Staff cleaned the grebe’s wounds, administered an antibiotic, pain medication, an anti-fungal, offered a fish diet, and placed the grebe up in a recovery space in the ICU to rest for the night. The grebe ate its diet overnight and was highly reactive the following morning.

Staff set up a water therapy tub for the grebe and moved the bird to a recovery space in the bird room. The grebe requires a special cage set up since they are designed to live on water, not on dry land and is provided extended time in the water therapy tub every day. The grebe is showing daily improvements in its health and strength.

If you encounter an animal that seems out of place or you believe is acting abnormally, please call the wildlife hospital. Hospital staff has extensive knowledge of native wildlife, will assess the situation and determine the appropriate course of action.

Recent Releases

An anhinga, six eastern cottontails, a common grackle, a Florida softshell turtle, a herring gull, a laughing gull, a grey squirrel and a little blue heron were released this past week.

Opportunities to Help

Please check the Conservancy website to view all of the amazing volunteer opportunities at the Conservancy of Southwest Florida. Your volunteer time, donations, and memberships are vital in helping us continue our work to protect Southwest Florida’s water, land, wildlife and future. Support from the community enables the von Arx Wildlife Hospital to continue to help injured, sick and orphaned wildlife.

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.