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Cozy Quarters for All Birds

Our First Case of Frostbite

Last November 16th, a local Western Screech Owl came to The Bird Rescue Center after being trapped inside a residence just down the street from us. While trying to escape, he struck a window, resulting in injuries. He sought refuge at one point by perching on the delicate glass vase shown in this photo, making his rescue even more difficult.

Fortunately, Supervisor Cynthia was able to secure him and bring him in without any further incident.


His initial assessment confirmed he had bruising on the roof of his mouth and his whole tongue, both of which are consistent with impact trauma. He also had some swelling and bruising on his right shoulder.


Thankfully no fractures or other injuries were found, however, because of his species, he had to be placed in quarantine and monitored for HPAI, the deadly avian flu we continue to see regularly.

With medications for pain on board, things steadily improved for this little one and after completing his quarantine, he was moved to an outdoor enclosure.


Once outside, we felt confident his release was imminent until a routine recheck exam on December 9th turned up something odd on his toes. We ruled out the most likely causes: parasites, microfiber entanglement, or pressure sores from captivity and artificial surfaces. At a loss, we called in our veterinarian of record, Dr. David Rupiper, for his expert assessment. His diagnosis: Frostbite!

To the best of my knowledge, BRC has never had a case of frostbite. In fact, when I have attended national avian conferences, (as I will again in March), I have always been thankful for our California climate after being regaled with stories about severe frostbite from colleagues in colder climates.

Despite the slim chances of frostbite in our area, we always provide natural enrichment materials for our patients to help support them in combating the elements once they move into outdoor mews. In this case, we knew the temperatures were dipping into the low 30's at night so we outfitted our little owl's accommodations with many cozy hiding spots including multiple enclosed nest boxes with extra bedding materials for insulation. We also padded the mew with natural brush for added protection. Though this bird would have been in similar conditions in the wild, we were devastated to find he had sustained minor frostbite on the toes of both feet while with us.



Luckily, we caught the frostbite very early, before any significant damage was done. However, treatment was still needed, which meant a delay in our planned release for this little firecracker of an owl.

We immediately moved our patient back indoors to one of our largest, new indoor enclosures. He was set-up with supplemental heat and started on a vasodilator medication to promote blood flow and healing to his digits. We also resumed pain medications and added an antibiotic to fight against secondary infections. Each morning during medication rounds, we checked his toes for progress and adjusted treatment as needed. We even provided a foot soak to soften the frostbite scabs and prevent constriction. Each day saw improvement—we were finally getting this little guy back on the path to release.

Fortunately, our patient was equally determined to get back out to the wild! After about three weeks we were able to begin tapering off medications, gradually reduced the use of supplemental heat, and eventually moved him back to another heavily-enriched outdoor mew where we could monitor him for signs of relapse. We also wanted to get past the thunderstorms and heavy rains that were hitting the area. During this time, we regularly evaluated him to ensure he had full and proper function in all his digits. After passing live prey testing with flying colors, we determined our little owl had made a full recovery. We are happy to report he was released by staff member Danielle on January 16th. What a journey!

 

Cozy Quarters for All!

Each winter, our Education Team assesses the condition and needs of all our Ambassador birds.

With an average age of 17 years, they are living 2-3 times longer in captivity than their counterparts in the wild. Our oldest, in comparison to the average lifespan for her species, is our Barn Owl, Garbo. She turns 19 this year. Not bad for a bird who, in the wild, would have an average lifespan of 3-5 years!


As many of us can attest to though, with age comes ailments like arthritis, which is especially bothersome in cold winter weather. And it's no different for our Ambassadors!



We monitor how the birds are feeling by their attitude, movements, and appetite. Our staff and volunteers work with them daily so even the slightest change in behavior is perceptible. Our oldest birds all have cozy hutches installed with heated elements, but because we are now seeing overnight temperatures frequently dip down into the 20's, and after experiencing our first ever case of frostbite in a small, but otherwise healthy Western Screech Owl (WESO), we are paying even more attention to this new potential threat. We recently installed heated enclosures for our two smallest Ambassadors Comet and Pippin, who are also WESOs. Now, even when the heating elements are not turned on, Comet and Pippin enjoy their new mini-McMansions!


We've created more installations and, to help buffer against wind gusts, we installed protective walls. We are now investigating heating options for all the birds we care for, including heated perches. We are determined to provide all of them the best life possible in return for their valuable assistance in our education programs. As they age and our local climate experiences more and more extreme conditions, this means adapting their housing to provide even better shelter and warmth to lessen the impact of conditions associated with aging.



In anticipation of baby bird season starting April 1st and chilly temperatures continuing throughout spring, we need to replace our old heating elements and purchase additional new items like heated perches for both our Ambassador birds and hospital patients.



 
Help Prevent Further Spread

The best way to protect yourself, your pets and domestic birds is to discourage having wild birds congregate at backyard feeders and birdbaths. By removing feeders and covering birdbaths, they will be less likely to spend time in your yards.


If you have poultry or waterbirds (chickens, turkeys, ducks or geese), here are some ways to protect them and prevent the disease from spreading:

• Have a dedicated set of clothes and shoes that you ONLY wear when interacting with your birds. These clothes, and especially shoes, should not be worn outside of the areas where your birds are, as they can both harbor and spread the virus. Change shoes when leaving housing enclosures to avoid cross contamination.

• After each use, wash these clothes with bleach and disinfect shoes with a bleach solution to kill the virus before it can spread to other areas of your property. Bleach needs a contact time of 10 minutes to be truly effective.

• Wear protective gloves whenever feeding, cleaning or caring for your birds.

• Face masks are advised whenever you are in close contact with your birds or in their enclosures.

• Wash your hands thoroughly and frequently, especially before and after entering the enclosure.

• Disinfect all perches, feed containers and water bowls using a diluted bleach solution daily.

• Where and when possible, cover enclosures or housing with a solid or impermeable material to prevent contamination from feces of wild birds flying or roosting above.

If you suspect the virus is present in your domestic birds, consult your primary veterinarian immediately.

• Have a dedicated set of clothes and shoes that you ONLY wear when interacting with your birds. These clothes, and especially shoes, should not be worn outside of the areas where your birds are, as they can both harbor and spread the virus. Change shoes when leaving housing enclosures to avoid cross contamination.

• After each use, wash these clothes with bleach and disinfect shoes with a bleach solution to kill the virus before it can spread to other areas of your property. Bleach needs a contact time of 10 minutes to be truly effective.

• Wear protective gloves whenever feeding, cleaning or caring for your birds.

• Face masks are advised whenever you are in close contact with your birds or in their enclosures.

• Wash your hands thoroughly and frequently, especially before and after entering the enclosure.

• Disinfect all perches, feed containers and water bowls using a diluted bleach solution daily.

• Where and when possible, cover enclosures or housing with a solid or impermeable material to prevent contamination from feces of wild birds flying or roosting above.

If you suspect the virus is present in your domestic birds, consult your primary veterinarian immediately.

 
Changes in BRC Protocols In light of this new threat, we are implementing some new protocols to protect all the birds in our care. Please help us by adhering to the following procedures:

• Call before bringing in any bird. You may be directed to an alternate entrance.

• If you find a bird in need of care, either text or email a picture prior to arriving. A texting number or email will be provided during your phone call.

We will endeavor to provide the same high level of service we always have during this difficult time. Please be patient and understanding of the extra workload, stress and strain this disease is having on our staff and volunteers.

Additional guidelines:

• Do not leave a bird outside our facility during non-business hours. If you are keeping a bird overnight, be sure it is in an isolated, contained, warm area away from any pets.

• Use a disposable container whenever possible, or mark the container with your name and contact information so we can return it to you at a later date.

• We are unable to accept any dead birds. The bodies should be incinerated or buried at least 4' deep after being covered with a layer of lime.

We continue to accept all native wild birds according the guidelines above.

Depending on the progression of this epidemic, we may have to require specific windows of time for dropping off species that are most likely to carry the virus. We will keep you updated as we learn more about the impact in our area.

We will remain closed for Open Houses during this time and may need to reschedule upcoming events for the safety of our Ambassador birds.

The situation is in flux. As we determine the severity and scope of HPAI in our area, we will keep you thoroughly informed. If the virus in Sonoma County follows a similar trajectory to what has taken place in other parts of the country, it will be serious at its outset and then subside within one to two months.



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