2021 Year in Review: Kelsey Pleasants, Wildlife Rehabilitation Supervisor

It’s time to look back on 2021! Check our blog between Christmas and New Year’s for a variety of stories and memories of 2021 from the staff and volunteers of the Wildlife Center of Virginia.

One of my favorite parts of being a wildlife rehabilitator is how creative you get to be. There is so much room in this field to try new things, solve problems you didn’t expect, and improve your patient’s care. Each day is like a new brainteaser or riddle you have to decipher and there is so much satisfaction when you finally succeed.

One of my favorite creative outlets in rehabilitation is enclosure and habitat set up. It’s so easy to slap down newspaper and a perch in a crate and call it a day – but where is the fun in that? Not to mention, patients in this setting are hospitalized and are very stressed! I always tell my students to think about how they feel if they’ve ever been in a hospital room – it’s barren, cold, and too bright. None of your favorite things are there, none of your comforts. It all feels foreign. That’s what our patients are experiencing in our care and the least we can do for them is to deck out their enclosure setup so that it mimics what they know and recognize, thereby reducing their stress levels.

We had a couple of longer-term woodpecker patients this year – a Red-bellied Woodpecker and a Northern Flicker. Neither bird was eating well while indoors, so when they were moved outdoors I wanted to be sure they had great enclosures to hopefully encourage self-feeding. Overall, it’s simple to do – lots of logs, varying branches, natural browse. Equally as important as the setup is presenting food they recognize and will be encouraged to eat.

Our Red-bellied Woodpecker was offered a variety of items (including fruit, insects, and suet) layered together inside syringe tubes. The syringe tubes were then secured to the logs so the woodpecker could easily access them as he would when hammering for bugs on tree trunks. This bird, previously not eating, loved the food offered in syringe tubes. He quickly developed a voracious appetite and was able to be released.


Northern Flickers are ground-foraging woodpeckers, making them unique compared to the other species we see. Despite offering food on the ground for this bird, he still wouldn’t self-feed and was losing weight. I ended up pouring a big bucket of dirt inside his enclosure and we tried pouring his insects onto the dirt pile so they’d bury themselves. And, it worked! Within a day, the Flicker was foraging in the dirt pile for insects.

Nothing beats the satisfaction of figuring out what works for each individual patient in order to reduce stress and encourage self-feeding. Stress reduction and nutrition are the two main pieces toward successful rehabilitation and release – our ultimate goal for each animal. Every year I look forward to the challenges I’m presented with and figuring out creative ways to overcome them so I can continue to serve Virginia’s wildlife!

-- Kelsey Pleasants, Wildlife Rehabilitation Supervisor

Check out all of our year-in-review posts!

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