Saturday, August 8, 2009

Securing Enough Food For the Birds,

( Photo: Lance well into the process of turning a calf into bird food.)

Our blog readers have become accustom to seeing sweet and lovely photos of our patients. Today is a change, but a true representation of another part of what our work entails. Securing enough food for our patients and education birds is a constant effort. Meat rarely comes in neat little packages. More often than not we have to cut up the deer that was hit by a car or in the case above calf that was donated. It is not an easy job for anyone but many of the people here at REGI are vegetarians and all are animal people.

Yesterday I received a phone call from a local farmer that had the difficult chore of putting down a bull calf that became lame. They tried to care for the little one but he never improved and began to suffer obvious pain. She asked if we could use the calf, once dead for food. The answer is as long as he was healthy in every other regard and had not had medication that would remain in his tissue we could and could not live a good life we would. The people were kind enough to bring the calf to us after he had been shot. Our job begins at that point.

( Photo: Lance and Elizabeth remove every bit of usable meat from the calf

It is important to feed predatory birds natural food items. To do anything else would be abuse of their species. Young raptors especially require whole mice and rats for proper bone growth and development. We do use supplements for calcium and other minerals but that approach in limited.

If we use rodents from the public, it is always from people we know and trust. We have to make absolutely sure the sources have no pesticide or any poisons in the areas where the rodents are trapped.

Often people don't understand the rodent poisons they use to kill mice and rats on their property will also kill raptors or other animals that eat that poisoned rodent.

We have a few families that raise mice and rats for fun, then give REGI the overflow. They are our hero's when they come with bags of frozen mice and rats. It is best if they come in already frozen after having been humanely euthanized, because if they don't at least some of those critters end up in cages as pets of our interns or even family members that happen to see them.

When we buy frozen mice and rats from suppliers they are about $1.00/mouse and between $2.00-2.50 for a rat depending on size. Young owls for instance eat between 10-17 mice per might each so you can do the math, see the cost involved and understand why we aer elated with "mouse gifts" from local growers.

While I am at it I should address another issue that is often misunderstood about REGI and our food sources. WE DO NOT EVER FEED PETS to our birds. I am repulsed by the thought and astounded when members of the public call to offer us their cat "Fluffy" for raptor food. It just does not happen here. The other thing I find odd is when people assume we feed our raptors smaller patients. That does not happen either. Our patients are patients no matter what size. We are as enthusiastic about raising baby goldfinches and nuthatches as we are red-tailed hawks of eagles. It is clearly an ethical issue for me and our staff.

So there you have it. Another aspect of what being a wildlife rehabilitator is all about. When I saw the interns hard at work over the calf yesterday I thought the photos and this discussion would be worthwhile. We get so many calls with people that want to be wildlife rehabilitators and only think of the raising little babies part of the work and not the whole picture.

Have a good weekend everyone,
Marge Gibson 2009

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