Wild Life Line Volunteer Recap!

The opportunity to volunteer at the Wildlife Medical Clinic is one of the unique experiences offered to veterinary students at the University of Illinois College of Veterinary Medicine. Whether students have minimal wildlife handling experience or years of wildlife rehab under their belts, Illinois veterinary students are encouraged to volunteer in this hands-on clinical environment. However, not every veterinary school has this kind of opportunity available. Because of this, the Wildlife Medical Clinic has developed a conference for veterinary students interested in wildlife medicine called Wild-Life-Line.

The conference was held during the last weekend of March and welcomed veterinary students from all over the United States to Champaign-Urbana. The curriculum included two days of both didactic and hands-on training. Participants were taught a multitude of things including species identification, physical exam skills, triage and bandaging, anesthesia, and case management. Throughout each of the activities, students were able to work one on one with WMC doctors and students to ensure they were getting the most out of their experience.

Ria Sari and Brittany Senecal, both second-year veterinary students, were two of the many students who volunteered their weekend to help teach other students about wildlife medicine. We asked them a few questions about their experiences:

1. What made you want to volunteer for the Wild-Life-Line Conference?

Ria: I attended a similar event at Purdue, and I wanted to see how our staff went about this kind of event in comparison to the Purdue staff. I also have an interest in teaching at some point in my future and want to get as much exposure to teaching and mentoring as possible.

Brittany: I like being involved in the wildlife clinic in general, and events like Wild-Life-Line allow the clinic to keep running while also training a lot of students how to handle and treat critters that might otherwise not have a chance. So, having volunteers is important to keep those aspects going.

2. What was your favorite experience from volunteering that weekend?

Ria: I really enjoyed helping with the wet labs. I think it was a great opportunity to practice teaching the same skills I will be teaching my wildlife team next year as a team leader. It was also an incredible opportunity to showcase the value of the WMC to our students. As a second-year veterinary student, I was able to teach 3rd and 4th-year students skills they had never done before, but that I had already performed on live patients. It was also a great chance to test my own skills and knowledge, as I got to see how many questions or skills I could teach before needing the support of one of our clinicians.

Brittany: I liked meeting the students from other schools! Several had minimal wildlife experience, so it was great to talk about doing something with a cadaver, and then tell a story on how it’s applicable from a real case we’ve had in the clinic.

3. How did the conference participants feel about each of the activities?

Ria: At first it was a slight challenge, especially for those students who were 3rd and 4th-year veterinary students. Those students did not seem to want to ask me questions. It was only after I kept asking if they needed help and was able to successfully answer questions did the students begin to ask me questions. There were still a handful of students that would not ask me questions and only waited for a clinician. The majority of the students were very open to being taught and were very friendly!

Brittany: I was particularly excited about meeting the students from UNL (University of Nebraska-Lincoln)! My undergrad was in western Nebraska, so I know a few people who have gone through that program. I also feel a lot of the 2+2 programs get forgotten in the conferences, so it was awesome to see them here. They had some wildlife experience, so it was cool to exchange stories on cases we’ve had.

Day in the Life of a Saw-whet Owl

Northern saw-whet owls are small but tough owls that live in Illinois. They’re brown, white, and tan, and are about the size of a robin. Like many owls, they are rarely spotted by the casual observer, as they spend most of their days hidden. Let’s follow a male saw-whet owl and his family through the day.

  • 3 pm – While many of us are getting home from work or school, saw-whet owls are still hiding in their trees. These owls are known to nest in forests, but they take advantage of whatever their surroundings are. Some Northern saw-whet owls can live near the coast of lakes and rivers too. Their preferred nest would be a hole in a tree hidden behind branches and leaves. This male owl has a family; his mate has just laid 5 eggs!
  • 10 pm – Northern saw-whet owls are up and about at this time. We are likely to find our guy perching on a low branch, waiting for the perfect meal to wander by. Since the males hunt while their mate incubates eggs, this owl is working hard to bring home food. Although small and deceptively cute, these owls are exceptional hunters. Their favorite foods are wild mice, voles, and, on occasion, insects! Even though we might think of wild mice as pests, many different types of owls rely on them to feed themselves and their families. The use of rodenticides (agents that poison rodents such as mice or rats) can poison and even kill animals that eat mice, like owls.
  • 1 am – Northern saw-whet owls are tough, but there are predators all around! Larger birds of prey hunt the Northern saw-whet owl as he hunts for his own food. This owl would stay alert while hunting throughout the night to make sure that he doesn’t become someone else’s snack.
  • 4 am – As people start to wake up, our owl is faced with yet another challenge: cars. Sometimes raptors get focused on their prey and make mistakes, such as putting themselves in the path of a car or running headfirst into a window. If you find a bird you think may be injured, please do your best to safely bring them into the Wildlife Medical Clinic or to a licensed wildlife rehabilitator.
  • 10 am – Our owl is now hidden well behind some foliage, getting some well-earned rest after a long night of hunting. Northern saw-whet owls camouflage with their surroundings so well, people may not know they are there.

Thanks for taking a brief journey through the life of a Northern saw-whet owl! Respecting the environment is important, as these owls rely on their environment for food and shelter. Forests are a habitat for critters like voles and mice, which are important food sources for owls and their young. Abundant trees also give Northern saw-whet owls plenty of places to hide from predators. If you’d like to know what you can do to help protect these owls and other wildlife, please consult the “Living with Wildlife in Illinois” website (https://extension.illinois.edu/wildlife/prevent.cfm). And of course, if you’re ever concerned about injured wildlife, don’t hesitate to contact the Wildlife Medical Clinic.

Special recognition to the Cornell All About Birds – Northern Saw-whet Owl website, a great source used for information on Saw-whet Owls in this article. (https://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/Northern_Saw-whet_Owl/id)


Not Good Target Practice

Recently, a Canada goose presented to the Wildlife Medical Clinic after potentially being shot (illegally if outside of waterfowl hunting season). Sure enough, a small wound was found under the right leg and one mall metal pellet was palpated. This pellet was removed, and otherwise, the goose appeared bright and active (and of course, hissing). The goose was given an injectable, long-acting pain medication as well as an oral antibiotic. We wanted to start with a broad-spectrum antibiotic to cover any possibilities considering we didn’t know what could be in the wound. The final drug started was an oral non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug.

The next day the goose was placed under general anesthesia for radiographs (X-rays) to check for internal damage from the gunshot – often there is more than one pellets involved. Low and behold, two other pellets were found! The goose also suffered a wing and pelvic fracture (see pictures below), either from being shot or from falling while flying. To stabilize the wing, a bandage called a figure-8 wrap was placed. Luckily, the fracture was just of the ulna and not the radius as well, so no surgery was needed. The pelvis was still aligned appropriately and the goose was walking normally, so no further intervention was needed.

After a week in care, the goose was obviously feeling better and becoming quite rambunctious. It enjoyed its tub time so much that the bandage around the wing kept getting soaked and falling off. It was decided that a tape splint would work well for this patient!

Unfortunately, this was not the goose’s only problem. The gunshot wound found on the initial exam re-opened and some blood-tinged fluid was found. On further examination (under anesthesia), it was found that the gunshot injury tracked about 10 cm (nearly 4 inches) towards this goose’s head, traveling underneath the keel (sternum). This large pocket was cleaned and packed with honey and bandaging material. Honey is an amazing, natural topical therapy for potentially infected wounds. Not only does the high sugar content limit the ability of microbes to grow, but honey also produces hydrogen peroxide, a potent antibacterial agent, when broken down.

Bloodwork also revealed that the goose was indeed fighting off an infection. Despite this finding and the concerning appearance of the wound, a culture revealed that the antibiotic originally chosen was appropriate; it just needed more time to work.

Weeks of medical care and bandaging paid off! By three weeks, the wound was almost completely healed and it was time to recheck the ulnar and pelvic fractures. Both appeared to be healing well so the bandage around the wing was removed (see recheck X-ray below).

Weeks of medical care and bandaging paid off! On recheck radiographs, both fractures appeared to be healing well.

Because the wing was bandaged for an extended period of time, the wrist and elbow joints had become quite stiff. Physical therapy, including range of motion exercises and laser therapy, were used to help the goose regain appropriate function. Once we were confident that the wing was strong enough, the goose was released to a local pond with other geese. After weeks of care, it was more than ready to return to the wild!

Written by Sarah Reeves, second-year veterinary student.