Litter often has unintended consequences

By Joanna Fitzgerald | Director of the von Arx Wildlife Hospital

A burrowing owl and a gopher tortoise were among the 67 animals admitted to the von Arx Wildlife Hospital at the Conservancy of Southwest Florida this past week. Other admissions include a black racer, an eastern screech owl, a red-bellied woodpecker, a yellow-bellied sapsucker and an evening bat.

A gopher tortoise soaks in a shallow water bath as part of his daily treatment plan.

The gopher tortoise was found in Estero after it was seen in the same location for an extended period of time. The tortoise has an old fracture on his shell caused by a previous car strike. The tortoise also has hind leg paresis which could also be a result of the car strike. The tortoise is receiving supportive care while being monitored for any further signs of illness.

A burrowing owl reacts to staff opening its enclosure door to offer a fresh diet.

The burrowing owl was found in a ditch along the side of a road by the Marco Island Police Department. When admitted, the owl showed signs of shock and had a significant wind droop. A full examination showed the owl had a fractured wing and was suffering neurological deficiencies — both problems most likely caused by a vehicle strike.

The owl’s mentation was dull and finally returned to normal responsive behavior after four days of treatment. Handling of the owl is being kept to a minimum to reduce stress and to keep the bird as inactive as possible while the wing fracture heals.

Roads create major hazards for all wildlife. Birds are often struck as they fly across busy roadways as it can take several seconds for a bird to gain enough lift to get up and out of the way of oncoming traffic.

You can help prevent injuries

Reducing your speed can provide you with more response time if you see a bird attempting to take flight along a roadway.

Litter thrown from car windows can attract rodents searching for food. Rodents are prey for a wide variety of birds such as hawks, owls, and eagles. The presence of rodents along roads draws their predators in thereby increasing the chance these predators may be hit by vehicles. Never throw litter from your car, even if it is biodegradable.

Turtles and tortoises are also frequent victims of vehicle strikes. Whether they are crossing roads to find food or appropriate nesting locations, it puts them in harm’s way. If you encounter a turtle attempting to cross the road please safely pull over and offer assistance if possible. If the turtle is uninjured, place it out of danger in the direction it was headed. If the turtle is injured please bring it to the wildlife hospital for immediate medical assistance.

When picking up a turtle it is best to cover its head and body with a towel or t-shirt. The turtle will not like the feel of the towel touching its body so it will be more likely to pull in its head and legs. Never put a turtle directly in a lake or pond, instead place it near the edge of the water.

Misidentification of turtle species is very common and if a land tortoise is put in the water it may drown. Call the staff at the wildlife hospital for guidance if you have any questions. Staff can help provide accurate species identification and if needed, determine an appropriate release site near where the turtle was found.

Recent Releases — 21 Go Home

  • 1 gray catbird
  • 7 eastern cottontails
  • 1 Florida snapping turtle
  • 1 Virginia opossum
  • 1 great horned owl
  • 1 cedar waxwing
  • 2 royal terns
  • 1 mourning dove
  • 5 brown pelicans
  • 1 double crested cormorant

Opportunities to Help

Please visit our website at and learn about the many opportunities there are to get involved.

Volunteers are vital in our efforts to assist native wildlife.

If you are unable to give of your time as a volunteer, become a member or donate.

However you choose to become involved, your support will help the Conservancy continue to protect Southwest Florida’s water, land, wildlife and future.

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