Opossums & PU&E!

My two favorite tasks at the Wildlife Center of Virginia during my rehab externship were “ICU mammals” and “PU&E (Pick up and Exercise).”

The reason why I loved ICU – the place where we house very young patients -- was because of all of the baby opossums and squirrels we got to feed. On my first week of my rehab externship, ICU was jam-packed with baby opossums. Being in ICU was an all-day affair. I was trained to tube-feed the opossums and to syringe-feed the squirrels. Tube-feeding the opossums was intimidating at first, because I was just learning how to do it, but now that I’m trained, I do it with ease. It was really cool seeing the opossums come in as tiny little babies that just curl up and sleep in your hand and then watching them progress and grow into big opossums who want nothing to do with you. The baby opossums are definitely my favorite, but you can’t forget about our education opossums -- Bo, Phebe, and Delphine are also my very favorites. Whenever I walk in to feed them they are all up and ready for me to open that door with the FOOD!

I loved PU&E because I got to see the raptors every day and I got to watch them progress through their exercise and conditioning in preparation for release. When the raptors are getting close to release, they start on “mouse school.” Mouse school just helps us make sure that the recovered raptors know how to catch live prey. For mouse school, we put a big black tub in the enclosure and when it is time for the raptor feeding, someone drops off live mice in the tub, and the next day the person on PU&E checks to see if the bird passed or failed. If the mouse school participants pass five days in a row, then they are done with mouse school and are one step closer to being released. If they don’t pass, then they start all over with the five passes. When we exercise the raptors, we check to make sure they have good height, if they are perching with both feet, if they have a wing droop, if they have any missing feathers, if their feet are tucked when they fly, if they fly silently, if they maneuver well and many more things.  There are two days a week that raptors get weighed, Mondays and Thursdays. I loved being on pick up and exercise on Thursdays because I got to handle the birds. When I first arrived at WCV I was trained on how to handle raptors. I was very nervous about handling raptors in the beginning but now I love it. The first raptors I was trained to hold were Eastern Screech-owls (EASO). They are very tiny and very cute! I have handled everything from hawks (such as Red-tailed Hawks (RTHA), Red-shouldered Hawks (RSHA), Cooper’s Hawks (COHA), and Broad-winged Hawks (BWHA)), to falcons (such as Peregrine Falcons (PEFA) and American Kestrels (AMKE)), to owls (such as Barred Owls (BADO) and Great Horned Owls (GHOW)), to Bald Eagles (BAEA), and even Black Vultures.

I have gained a whirlwind of experiences and a love for raptors and baby opossums at the Wildlife Center of Virginia. I am so grateful for such an amazing opportunity, to be a part of this program and to learn and do so many things that I would never have imagined I would be doing. Thank you WCV!!!

--Jessica T.
WCV Class of 2017