Wildlife prospers when people work together

September 2, 2021

A double-crested cormorant and twelve black-bellied whistling ducklings were among the eighty-four animals admitted to the von Arx Wildlife Hospital at the Conservancy of Southwest Florida this past week. Other admissions include two gopher tortoises, a red rat snake, an ovenbird, an osprey, a common ground dove, a ruddy turnstone and six grey squirrels.

Two calls came in back to back from beachgoers on south Marco Island. The first caller reported seeing a bird on the beach in distress. Hospital staff provided the caller with directions on how to safely use a towel to cover the bird and contain it in a ventilated box for transport to the von Arx Wildlife Hospital. The phone rang immediately after that call ended; another Marco Island beachgoer was describing the situation with the same injured bird. Staff asked the second caller to help the first caller with the rescue, which she courageously did. The two people worked together to contain the cormorant in a box and the second caller drove the bird to our facility.  

The injured bird was a double-crested cormorant that had injuries consistent with a boat propeller strike. The cormorant’s mentation was dull and its body was cool to the touch. The cormorant’s left leg had a deep, three inch gash near the hip joint. The leg was bleeding, muscle tissue and bone were exposed and the leg was fractured at the hip. The injuries were too severe to rehabilitate, which led the team to humane euthanasia.

The second situation to occur this week also involved strangers working together to help an animal in need. While on a walk with her children near a neighborhood preserve, an injured bird was found on the ground. After calling the hospital for guidance, she went home to grab a basket to contain the bird. A jogger called the hospital a few moments later with reports of the same injured bird and asked for assistance. The hospital staff asked the jogger to stay with the bird until the woman returned. Together, the jogger and the family contained the bird in the basket. Unfortunately, the bird passed away before they could transport it to the von Arx Wildlife Hospital.

It was uplifting to see multiple situations where strangers worked together to help animals in need. All too often people’s differences are highlighted, but in these two situations people worked together to mitigate the pain and suffering of the wild animals needing help. 

Wild animal rescues can be daunting for those who are inexperienced. While it isn’t always necessary, it is often very helpful when people work together on a rescue. Please, if you see an animal in distress and are unsure of how to safely help, call the staff at the von Arx Wildlife Hospital. Staff will provide guidance and safety tips that will allow you to successfully contain the animal in a box. Asking a friend, neighbor, or maybe even an equally concerned stranger for help may make an impossible situation possible and allow an animal to get the help it needs. 

Twelve black-bellied whistling ducklings were also among the admitted this week. The twelve ducklings were alert and vocal when found at Palmetto Elementary School. Residents in the area of Golden Gate Estates saw the adults and ducklings two days prior, but no one had information on how the ducklings ended up at the school separated from their parents.

The ducklings received physical exams upon admission and were settled into a recovery enclosure in the bird room. Staff offered the ducklings a specialized diet that they eagerly ate. Several days into their care, two of the ducklings looked weak when trying to stand. The two were separated from the group, received supplemental medication and vitamins and were placed in an animal intensive care unit to rest overnight. The following day the ducklings were looking stronger. Additional food items were added to the ducklings’ diet to ensure the unique requirements needed for proper growth that occurs in the first months of life were being met. Staff also divided the brood of twelve ducklings into two groups of six in order to better track each ducklings’ health and progress. The ducklings are thriving and will be cared for at the Conservancy until they are old enough to fend for themselves.

Keep in mind it is still breeding and nesting season for many species of wildlife in our area. Along with the ducklings, we continue to admit nestling squirrels, rabbits and mourning doves. Please make sure you check or ask your landscaper to check trees, yards and flowerbeds before trimming and clearing. If there is an active nest, avoid trimming until the babies no longer need the nest for protection. Staff at the wildlife hospital has extensive knowledge about the nesting habits of native wildlife. Call before taking any action if you encounter an active nest so staff can ensure the safety of the animals involved.

Recent Releases

A gopher tortoise, two laughing gulls, two Virginia opossums, five mottled ducks, an eastern screech owl, a blue jay, two northern mockingbirds, two eastern cottontails and a yellow-bellied slider were released this past week.

Opportunities to Help

Please visit our website at www.conservancy.org and learn about opportunities to get involved. 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.