Eastern screech owl admitted after foam insulation incident

An eastern screech owl and an eastern spotted skunk were among the 82 animals admitted to the von Arx Wildlife Hospital at the Conservancy of Southwest Florida this past week. Other admissions include a chuck-will’s-widow, a red-bellied woodpecker, a northern gannet, a marsh rabbit and a Florida snapping turtle.

A renter in north Naples brought the eastern screech owl to the von Arx Wildlife Hospital after finding the owl partially coated in spray foam insulation. Dried foam covered areas of the owl’s head, feet, legs and wings leaving her unable to fly.

The owl was extremely stressed and in shock when admitted. A physical exam showed she was at a good weight and, aside from the foam, in good body condition. Most noticeable was the owl had a brood patch, which is a bare area of skin some birds develop on their belly during nesting season. The bare skin helps with egg incubation by allowing the parent bird to provide extra body warmth to eggs and to newly hatched chicks.

Staff saw the brood patch and understood the necessity to remove the foam as expeditiously as possible in order to return the owl to her nest since eggs or babies were relying on her. Wildlife Hospital Volunteer, Tim Thompson, went to the address where the owl was found to locate the nest site.

The results of Tim’s search were distressing. The owl was found at an apartment complex; each building had multiple holes contractors had filled with spray foam. We believe the commotion caused by the work disturbed the owl; as they began injecting the foam, the owl managed to fly from her nest (owl’s often nest in old woodpecker holes typically located in trees but will sometimes use holes in buildings). It is impossible to determine whether she was incubating eggs or had nestlings.

Hospital staff attempted to contact a property manager for the site to educate them on the situation hoping to avoid impacting other active nests but the property manager couldn’t be reached. There was a language barrier with the work crew so our effort to inform them of the situation was also unsuccessful.

The need for a quick release was eliminated knowing the owl’s nest was destroyed. To minimize stress, the owl was sedated later in the day to remove the spray foam from her body and feathers. The owl has been actively bathing and preening to get her feathers back in order and continues to rehabilitate in the bird room.

Breeding and nesting season for a multitude of species has begun in our area. Whether you own property or rent, you can prevent the destruction of active nests by taking simple measures that keep wildlife and their young safe from harm.

Check buildings, trees and lawns before performing maintenance, trimming or mowing. If an outside vendor is hired, make them aware of the need to check for active nests. Federal law protects most bird nests and it is important that people are aware of the laws. The area around an active nest should be avoided until the young animals have grown and left the nest. If you have questions about animals nesting in your yard, call the hospital. We can provide accurate information on the species in question and work to bring a successful resolution to the situation.

The small amount of effort put in to keep an active nest intact results in seeing young animals thrive under their parent’s care. How often do we get to be part of the solution instead of always being the cause of the problem? Wildlife and humans can coexist; it starts with having awareness and empathy for other living creatures.

A motorist noticed the eastern spotted skunk hit by a car on the side of Immokalee Road. The motorist’s only concern was helping the skunk; he pulled over, picked up the skunk and placed it on the floor of his vehicle.

The skunk moved itself under the seat of the car during transport yet, when hospital staff helped get the skunk from the vehicle, the animal was unresponsive. Sadly, the skunk passed away within minutes of arriving at our facility.

The motorist reacted on instinct when he saw the injured skunk and picked up the skunk with his bare hands. Skunks are a high-risk rabies vector species meaning they have the potential to carry the rabies virus. After contacting the Collier County Department of Health, the epidemiologist felt testing was necessary; while we knew the motorist hadn’t been bitten, other risks of possible exposure existed.

Keep a rescue kit containing a ventilated box, towel, gloves and safety glasses in your car; appropriate protective gear protects you from harm and injury while allowing you to safely help an animal in distress. If you have questions or need information about proper rescue strategies, call the wildlife hospital. Staff can provide information to keep you safe.

We are incredibly grateful to the motorist who stopped and offered assistance. Eastern spotted skunks are declining across their range. Biologists with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission are gathering information to learn more about spotted skunks in Florida. Although this skunk did not survive, information on this sighting will contribute to research and may benefit the species as a whole.

Recent Releases

Six double-crested cormorants, fifteen royal terns, a red-shouldered hawk, a great horned owl, two eastern cottontails, a sora, four raccoons, four brown pelicans, a burrowing owl, a Brazilian free-tailed bat, three big brown bats, two mourning doves, a common gallinule and a Florida softshell turtle were released this past week.

Opportunities to Help

Please visit the Conservancy website at www.conservancy.org to view all of the amazing volunteer opportunities at the Conservancy of Southwest Florida. Your volunteer time, donations, and memberships are vital in helping us continue our work to protect Southwest Florida’s water, land, wildlife and future. Currently we need people to join our Critter Courier team; Critter Couriers help rescue and transport injured animals to our facility when members of the public are unable to do so. Critter Couriers are essential to our work; they ensure injured, sick and orphaned wildlife receive prompt medical attention.

Joanna Fitzgerald is director of the von Arx Wildlife Hospital at the Conservancy of Southwest Florida, 1495 Smith Preserve Way, Naples, Florida 34102. Call 239–262–2273 or see conservancy.org.

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Weekly blog from Joanna Fitzgerald, director of the von Arx Wildlife Hospital.

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Conservancy of SWFL

Conservancy of SWFL

Protecting Southwest Florida's unique natural environment and quality of life...now and forever.

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