The Case of the Common Grackle

An example of a Common Grackle fledging

Guest post by second year veterinary student, Megan Stuart.

On a hot summer’s day in late May, a Common Grackle was found on a driveway in Springfield, Illinois and brought to the Wildlife Clinic as a healthy fledgling. Common Grackles are large blackbirds that have adapted well to city and surburban habitats, and are resourceful omnivores: in agricultural fields they’ll follow plows to pick out insects and mice, near marshes they will pick leeches off of turtles and wade into water to catch small fish, raid smaller birds’ nests to eat eggs and live birds, and can even use a special beak adaptation to saw into acorns and eat the insides! Adult Common Grackle males have brightly iridescent feathers of blue, purple, and bronze, but young Common Grackles do not show any sign of sexual dimorphism (distinct difference in size or appearance between the sexes of an animal in addition to difference between the sexual organs themselves), so volunteers are unsure of this fledgling’s sex.

The small fledgling received nestling care as often as possible for the first few days in the clinic to supports his growing body and nutritional needs – in some cases, volunteers will check on these young ones nearly 10 times per day! Once he had grown some more, he received little balls of food 5 times a day, and was promoted to mealworms once he showed signs of eating on his own. Since he was caged alone, the fledgling was given a mirror to encourage self-recognition, which he sat by all day and was even spotted playing with his reflection!

Towards the end of the Grackle’s stay, a fledgling American Robin came into the Wildlife Medical Clinic, and was placed in the cage so the grackle could have a feathered companion. Soon after, he was consistently eating mealworms on his own, and so the fledgling was transferred to a local, licensed wildlife rehabilitator to grow a little more before being released. All of the volunteers enjoyed working with adorable fledgling, who never turned down the opportunity to eat! He went from 48.8 grams to 89 grams while in the Wildlife Medical Clinic at the University of Illinois.

Summer at the WMC: Red-Tailed Hawk

Working in a wildlife clinic on a daily basis is an adventure, as you never know what you will be presented with. We take everything from a litter of baby bunnies to an emergency hit-by-car raccoon, so we always have to be prepared. The summer is a busy season. It is always bustling in the clinic and there are constant opportunities to try new things and to learn.

Interns are in the clinic almost every day, giving us the opportunity to follow cases from intake to the resolution of symptoms. It is one of the most rewarding feelings to get to release a patient you have worked with, which is exactly what I got to do for a juvenile red tailed hawk that came in this June.

The young hawk presented on June 5th with no obvious musculoskeletal abnormalities, but was very thin and dehydrated. Blood was drawn for diagnostic purposes, and showed that the patient had an active inflammatory process. He was offered food, but was not eating on his own. Due to the fact that he was so thin, we decided to tube feed him a liquid carnivore diet to make sure he could get the nutritional support that he needed. When volunteers tried to pass a feeding tube down his esophagus, they noticed that there was a mass in the back of the throat that made the tube difficult to pass and probably prevented the hawk from being able to swallow on his own.

There are a few things that can cause masses and plaques in the oral cavities of birds, and with a swab of the area, we were able to narrow it down. Our hawk had trichomoniasis, an infection caused by a small protozoan parasite. We started him on Metronidazole to help kill the parasites. The mass dislodged and was removed several days later, but our patient was still not eating on his own.

On June 21st, he was anesthetized for an endoscopy, which allowed us to get a good look at what was going on in his esophagus. There were open sores that were infected with different bacterial species, so the area was then treated like a wound. We gave him an anti-inflammatory medication, an antibiotic, a pain medication, and a medication to protect the ulcerated tissue from further damage.

Our hawk gained weight and started to become more lively. He would vocalize when bored or hungry, so volunteers had to come up with creative ways to keep him entertained. His mice were hidden in various items like kongs or hand made newspaper hides so that he would have to forage for food as a form of environmental enrichment.

Finally, on July 10th, our patient was ready to go back into the wild. He was eating on his own and gaining weight, and his throat looked great with no new evidence of infection and no return of his plaques. It was a warm, sunny evening, and with a little coaxing, our hawk flew away across a field and landed in a nearby clearing.

Katelyn Bagg, third-year veterinary student and one of the clinic’s full-time summer interns

 

A Barred Owl’s Bird’s-Eye View

Alissa Mones, VM17

As a student who has volunteered in the Wildlife Medical Clinic as both a team member and a team leader, I have seen several cases pass through our clinic. One particular patient stands out in my mind, because it was my first case as a team leader. A fledgling barred owl presented to the WMC in early April with an avulsion (traumatic detachment) of both the top and lower eyelid of his left eye. Upon further examination with the University of Illinois ophthalmology service, an abscess was also present in the affected eye. We had discussed removal of the eye, since owls are still releasable if they only have one functional eye. As it turns out, owls rely mainly on their keen sense of hearing to hunt at night instead of vision. We decided to try to save the effected eye rather than remove it in order to give the owl the absolute best prognosis for release. The next day, the ophthalmologists performed surgery to attach the eyelids. Our team immediately started aggressive treatment with topical anti-inflammatory and antibiotic eye drops 4x daily. The owl also received systemic anti-inflammatories and antibiotics, as well as fluid therapy. Another challenge to this patient’s treatment plan was the need to feed him twice daily while reducing our interactions to prevent imprinting. Young birds are considered imprinted when they become comfortable around humans, and willingly approach us for food. This is an undesirable trait for wildlife, because we never want to encourage interaction between humans and animals in the wild, for the safety of all. To avoid imprinting, our team used feeding puppets to feed the patient as well as to administer medications. Two weeks later, we had another consult with ophthalmology – this time they said the abscess had cleared up, and that the patient appeared to have vision in that eye! Our team was excited to see how our diligence and persistence in caring for this animal became a success. The patient was released in June of last summer, making all of our hard work worthwhile.

Check out these videos of the patient during feeding and tracking the camera before release:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=L8dv7mBvAu8

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jU6E0qMsbrY