Rain-Soaked Patients at WildCare

Rain-Soaked Patients at WildCare

Relentless heavy rain takes its toll on wildlife!

If we all feel a little tired of being damp after 11+ days of storms, imagine being outside, wearing only feathers or fur! Of course wild animals have adapted to survive winter storms, but sometimes even the best-prepared need help. Fortunately, WildCare is here to give it!

The rescuers of this Northern Spotted Owl saw him at 11am in the morning, sitting on a dead rat. They assumed he had caught the rat and would soon enjoy his meal, so they left him alone. 

Several hours of pounding rain later, they saw the sodden owl still in the same position on the ground with the rat uneaten, and realized the bird was likely injured or ill. He had probably found the dead rat (possibly a victim of rat poison) and, being too cold, weak and emaciated to eat it, just stayed there getting wetter and more chilled. The rescuers called our Hotline 415-456-7283, and brought the owl to WildCare.

Unfortunately, due to concerns about the contagiousness of avian influenza (HPAI) between bird patients, intakes like this one have to happen in our outdoor quarantine area... which leaks like a sieve! The video below shows WildCare's Medical Team doing the initial examination of the owl.

In order to have an intake and quarantine space outdoors to prevent bringing a HPAI-positive bird into the Wildlife Hospital, WildCare's Medical Staff converted an empty cage to a makeshift medical room.

This enclosure is wrapped in tarps to keep potential airborne pathogens from getting in (learn more about the dangers of HPAI to birds here).

When our team first set it up during the summer months, we assumed this set-up would be temporary. However, as we have continued to admit avian influenza victims to WildCare, we have had to continue our quarantine procedures.

This "temporary" set-up is proving to be quite untenable! In the video, you can see the amount of rainwater leaking through the roof and pooling on the tables and floors. Due to the amount of standing water we had to remove the extension cords that were powering desk lamps, hence the use of headlamps by staff. 

The pouring rain makes diagnosis difficult, but the initial examination found that, although the owl was dangerously emaciated, he showed no signs or symptoms of avian influenza. Our team brought him into the Wildlife Hospital and treated him for hypothermia.

It took Medical Staff half an hour just to get the owl's body temperature up to normal, which needed to happen before any more extensive evaluations could occur. Once he was more stable, we quickly ran blood work which confirmed his emaciation status, and took x-rays, two basic diagnostics that can help direct us to an immediate treatment plan.

The x-rays showed that the bird had no fractures, which is good news, but it only adds to the mystery of what might have happened to this bird to get him to this state. Based on his condition, we can determine that he has been ill or injured for a while.

This owl had been through a lot, so the team gave him fluids and tube-fed him a special slurry formulated for emaciated carnivore patients, and then set him up in an oxygen incubator to continue his recovery.

Animals that have underlying health issues, or young animals trying to survive their first winter, are the ones most likely to succumb to wet and cold. Based on his level of emaciation, we assume that an underlying condition weakened this owl, making him especially vulnerable.

After a day or two of fluids and tube-feedings, once the owl is stronger, we will do more thorough diagnostic tests to see if we can determine what brought him down and how we can best treat him to give him a second chance at life in the wild.

This owl is probably not the only raptor we'll admit due to the storms.

In general, owls and other birds of prey struggle during nonstop rain like this. The fluffy feathers on an owl's wings that allow him to fly silently are not as waterproof as other feathers, so owls can get wet, which makes flying, and especially flying silently, more challenging. Heavy rain also muffles the sounds made by prey, making hunting by ear more difficult.

The sheer number of storms, and the relentlessness of the rain has probably taken a toll on many birds of prey.

Gophers washed out of their burrows

The storms have also taken their toll on the animals that are hunted by birds of prey!

This gopher patient, like the three others we've admitted into care this week, was found on a sidewalk, soaking wet and hypothermic. He likely got washed out of his burrow due to the astonishing amount of rain we've received in the past two weeks.

Our team warmed him up, and then gave him fluids to help him recover. This patient is eating well and should make a full recovery. You can watch him digging in his enclosure in the video below.

We'll release him back to his home territory once we get more than a few hours' break in the rain!

How do burrowing animals like gophers survive atmospheric river storms?

A normal amount of rainfall, or even a heavy storm or two, offers few problems for animals like Pocket Gophers.

Burrowing animals will plug their entrance holes with dirt when it rains, and they dig their tunnels downwards and then up to prevent water from pouring directly into their burrows. They may even build in sumps in their burrows, creating low areas that capture water to keep the rest of the living space safe and dry. Burrowing animals are excellent engineers, and they prefer to dig and live areas with good drainage, often choosing sloped ground that encourages water run-off.

However, prolonged rain that thoroughly saturates the ground will overwhelm these engineering adaptations, and flooding can be very dangerous to these animals. Being washed out of his tunnel system can not only thoroughly chill and even drown a burrowing animal like a gopher, it puts him in plain sight for any predator to find.

Photo by Lisa Woldin

Especially during breaks in the storms, WildCare encourages you to keep an eye out for animals struggling with the wet conditions!

Be sure to call our Hotline at 415-456-7283 if you see an animal in distress.

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