Wintery Rehabilitation

Another externship has come and gone for me, and boy, did it fly by! For the past twelve weeks, I completed a second externship with the Wildlife Center of Virginia. Hard to believe it is over, and no baby squirrels!!! Oh well. With both externships, I have had a lot of experience with the daily care of raptors and turtles. However, there was a hidden challenge during my externships -- they were taking place during the winter! While at first that doesn’t sound like much, there are a lot of extra steps one needs to take to perform tasks each day.

Ideally, each day we hose a different set of cages to help keep the enclosures clean and give the animals a sanitary living space. However, we couldn’t always do this during the winter. If the weather during the day was below freezing or close to below freezing we had to hold off on hosing. We didn’t want the water freezing on the perches, making them precarious for the birds/mammals. Another reason for skipping this task was because during the hosing process, the animal stands a chance of getting wet, regardless of how hard we try to avoid them. That would make a miserable day and night for the animal! On the days that we were able to hose, we couldn’t just hang the hoses back up where they belong, because the water inside the hose would freeze. To prevent damage to the hoses, we laid them out flat to drain out all of the water. The nice days that we were able to hose the enclosures were days we also caught up on washing all of our supplies for the next group of animals that would come into the Center – we were busy hosing and disinfecting the kennels, perches, aquariums, and mats that accompany our indoor patients.

During raptor pick-up and exercise, we look for leftover food bits that the birds didn’t eat; then we weigh the leftovers and record the information. Simple enough -- except for when there is fallen leaves or even snow! With some of the past autumn’s fallen leaves still in the enclosures we had to shuffle the leaves aside as we looked on the ground for fallen food. However, when there was snow, this task was almost impossible! Every single time it snowed, the snowfall wasn’t a mere inch or less, but more than two inches every time. Shuffling snow aside to look for food is very difficult.

Another task with pick-up and exercise involved checking the patient’s water. When the water froze, we tried to break up the frozen top layer to show the water underneath. When the water was completely frozen though we had to dump out all of the ice, or replace the dish, and fill it with fresh water. There were a few days when the temperature was so cold we went out one or two times during the day to check on the water tubs to see if they needed to be broken up from ice. On those kinds of days, we plumped up the raptor food with a little bit of extra water to help keep the animals hydrated. When feeding the raptors, we still spread the food out in several spots, but made sure the food was visible or under the covered area of the enclosure so that the snow couldn’t cover it up and hide the food from the animals or us.

When it comes to the “exercise” portion of pick-up and exercise, the snow was a completely new challenge for us and the animals. Several times the screech-owls would see a nice BIG perch they were going to land on (the snow) and were baffled when they went right through it. The humans tried hard not to slip and fall on the really compacted snow-turned-ice. Several times during pick-up and exercise we had to take breaks to warm our fingers and toes, get a drink of water, and get the nerve to head back outside again.

All in all the experience was a lot of fun. As miserable as the conditions were some days, there were days when it was just as great and I will miss working at the Wildlife Center of Virginia. I learned a lot there and hope to maybe come back again someday to see what else I can learn.

--Jon
WCV Class of 2014 

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