Many happy returns to the wild

Many happy returns to the wild

The wildlife that were featured as 2010 Animals of the Month
were

headliners

, those animals that were illuminating success stories of
rehabilitated wildlife during the past year. There were bobcats
Moony and Stanley, helpless, starving orphans when they were found
but feisty, robust wildcats when released.
The wildlife that were featured as 2010 Animals of the Month were “headliners”, those animals that were illuminating success stories of rehabilitated wildlife during the past year. There were bobcats Moony and Stanley, helpless, starving orphans when they were found but feisty, robust wildcats when released. “Dolly”, an unusual dark-morph red-tailed hawk, was already plump when she was found fluttering by a pool unable to fly due to concussion and deep bruising – she rejuvenated after only one week of WERC’s TLC. Two baby jackrabbits were rescued by a gentle search-and-rescue dog while out on a walk with his human buddy. Another not-so-nice dog had a run-in with a gopher snake, biting deeply into the reptile. The wound healed and the snake slithered back to its gopher-pocked home fields. On the other hand, a Botta’s pocket gopher, which had suffered head injuries possibly by a lawn mower, was nursed back to health and joined WERC’s educational animal team as “Digger”.

Not all the animals or their stories may be as unusual or dramatic, but every release is a wondrous and happy occasion. These are some of their stories.

Falcon Finesse

An adorable kestrel fledgling, with gorgeous blue-grey and auburn coloring and sporting the black eye bands of a falcon, had fallen out of his nest in San Martin and was brought to WERC for care. Sometimes erroneously called “sparrow hawks”, kestrels are the smallest falcon in North America. Unlike other falcons such as peregrines and merlins, which prey on other birds, kestrels dine mainly on small rodents and large insects – a real friend to farmers. He was released in August at a large field in Gilroy, where there were lots of grasshoppers, lizards, mice and yes, sparrows. He hovered for a few minutes in the light breeze, getting his bearings and taking a look at his new hunting grounds, then glided off into the wild blue yonder.

Window Whacker

A western scrub jay suffered a severe concussion after hitting a window and fell stunned to the porch. Sometimes, such an incident may be minor and the bird quickly revives and flies away. But there might be unseen or neurological injuries that require the care of a wildlife rehabilitator. Such was the case with this jay. It was very weak and uncoordinated when brought to WERC, where he was placed in intensive care and given rest and recuperation. Several days later, his health and behavior were back to normal. When returned to its Morgan Hill neighborhood park, he flew immediately up onto a tree branch and began calling for his mates to welcome him home again.

Mile-High Club

Because white-throated swifts are aerial foragers, eating “on the fly”, the orphaned nestling could not eat mealworms from a bowl as many other insectivorous birds will do and instead required constant hand-feeding. After it had fledged, the swift transferred to a large outside enclosure where a mini-compost pile was set up to attract flying bugs for the bird to catch and eat. Since swifts don’t perch (instead clinging to vertical surfaces) and don’t walk on the ground, they must be released from a height, over water, where other swifts reside, and before they begin migration. So up the winding road to the bridge at the top of the Anderson Reservoir the small black-and-white bird was driven. With a little nudge, it took wing, soaring smoothly over the boats down below and then – they are one of the fastest flying birds in North America – quickly disappeared from sight.

Bird of a Different Color

A green heron fledgling found wading in a small creek and brought to WERC was another orphaned bird that arrived, also with special feeding requirements. This bird also needed to eat live food before it could be released. However, instead of mealworms and flies, small goldfish provided the sustenance until the young wader could be released at a local pond teeming with nutritious fish, frogs, mollusks and insects. The site is popular with multitudes of water birds, and with humans who come to watch and admire them on bird hikes.

Marsupial Meanderings

A Gilroy resident discovered a couple of opossum babies huddled in a horse trailer on her property. Their mother had been hit by a car and the little critters could be heard crying for her. It was a heart-breaking sound. The first was rescued and brought to WERC, where it was immediately given fluids and warmed up, then treated for a flea infestation. The next day, its sibling was found and brought in, receiving the same TLC. Both were soon weaned from formula and began eating a diet of small rodents, fruit and other natural foods. When they were released at a prime opossum habitat, one immediately ran to the big creek and expertly swam across to the other side, despite having never seen such a large body of water in his life. Though the two had kept each other warm while together in their enclosure at WERC, the sibling took a different route to freedom and waddled off into the nearby blackberry brambles.

Night Vision

A western screech owl was found on ground, desperately trying to escape some feral felines. It was severely underweight and during its exam at WERC, it was discovered that the eye was injured and thought at first to be blind. With antibiotics and a healthy diet, the owl recovered most of its health but staff was unsure of whether it would regain sight in its eye. A blind raptor is not releasable, relying on its binocular vision to accurately hunt and capture prey in the wild. WERC staff took a wait-and-see outlook and happily, several weeks later, the little owl’s optical reflexes had returned. He was released at dusk in a woodsy area of Morgan Hill, ready to find himself a nice rodent for dinner.

Flying Rainbows

Finally, there were multiple iridescent emerald-and-ruby-throated Anna’s hummingbirds and one purple-throated black-chinned hummingbird, which arrived at WERC when they were just the size of a jellybean. They are now gloriously brightening gardens around the South Bay area.

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