Rare patient recovering at von Arx Wildlife Hospital

A northern harrier and two Virginia opossums were among the 96 animals admitted to the von Arx Wildilfe Hospital at the Conservancy of Southwest Florida this past week. Other admissions include a black skimmer, two blue jays, two eastern screech owlets, a marsh rabbit and a gopher tortoise.

The northern harrier was seen lying on its back in the grass on the southern end of Marco Island. After the bird hadn’t moved for several hours, a woman contained the raptor and brought it to the von Arx Wildlife Hospital for care.

The harrier’s head was drooping, it was unable to blink and had reddish green tinged saliva yet it was still using its talons and griping a towel when staff admitted the bird to the hospital. The cause of its condition was unknown.

Upon intake, the harrier was placed on oxygen in an animal intensive care unit after staff applied eye medication to both eyes. When any animal has lost its ability to blink, eye medication must be applied several times throughout the day to prevent ulcers from forming. Once stabilized, staff provided electrolytes and Chinese herbs. This treatment regimen will continue as the harrier recovers. On the fourth day at the hospital, the harrier was standing unaided and was able to hold its head up; staff offered a small amount of solid food for the first time. While the harrier is showing slight improvement each day, its condition is still guarded.

Northern harriers are migratory and a very rare admission to the von Arx Wildlife Hospital; this is only the fourth harrier to be admitted to our facility in the past three decades. Harriers are interesting in that they rely on their hearing as well as their sight when hunting. Harriers even have a facial disk, similar to owls, that helps direct sound waves to their ears.

The woman who rescued the harrier was astute and handled the situation exactly as we would have advised. She saw an animal she believed was in distress, monitored it for a bit of time and when the bird’s behavior didn’t change, she took action. She contained the bird and brought it to the von Arx Wildlife Hospital for care.

Rescuing a debilitated bird is actually very straight forward. Always wear sunglasses to protect your eyes from any bird with a pointy beak and long neck. Use a towel to loosely cover the bird’s body and head. Once the bird’s head is covered, it can’t see what is going on and the darkness will help keep the bird calm. Gently pick up the bird and place it in the box. Remember, the bird is either injured or debilitated and weak giving you the “upper hand” during a rescue.

If you have questions about how to safely rescue and contain an animal, please call the wildlife hospital. We can offer tips that will keep you safe while ensuring you can offer help to an animal in need.

The two young Virginia opossums were found under a porch along with their deceased mother. The homeowners hadn’t realized they were under the porch until they investigated after noticing a foul odor. There were a total of four babies but two evaded capture by escaping out of reach further under the porch.

The opossums were thin and dehydrated when admitted; the homeowner believed the mother opossum had been dead for two or three days. Staff provided electrolytes and offered a diet to the opossums that they eagerly ate.

Two days after being admitted it was noted that one baby had developed a very small scab on its tail. Despite disinfecting the wound, the tail began to swell so that baby was started on a course of an antibiotic. Diagnostic tests revealed both babies had internal parasites for which they received treatment. The youngsters continue to recover in the mammal area of the hospital.

In this situation it was obvious the young opossums were orphaned and needed help; it may not always be so clear if a young animal truly needs rescuing. Please, call the wildlife hospital before taking action if you find an animal and suspect it is an orphan. Mothers of many species of wildlife will leave their young while they are out foraging. We want to ensure an animal is truly orphaned before we intervene.

Recent Releases

Two raccoons, two eastern screech owls, four grey squirrels, a black racer, two common grackles, a mourning dove, a yellow bellied slider, four northern mockingbirds, three marsh rabbits, three eastern cottontails, two gopher tortoises, a common yellow throat, a royal tern a Swainson’s warbler and an osprey were released this past week.

Opportunities to Help

Please visit the Conservancy website at www.conservancy.org and act now to protect native wildlife before it’s too late. Collier County has come to a crossroads and its future hangs in the balance. Without your voice, Collier County is poised to approve new villages that will threaten wildlife and our quality of life.

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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Conservancy of SWFL

Conservancy of SWFL


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