Thursday, May 13, 2010

Recollections of a Wild Bird Rehabilitator

The shrieks of my youngest daughter brought me running into the kitchen. The look on her face said it all. I knew what was coming as I saw her with the refrigerator door open: " You do know this is the most disgusting thing in the world don't you? You promised me you would not do this and here they are again! " 

I attempted to get in a " yes, but...." as her finger pointed to the object of her wrath, an assortment of thawing rodents and slivers of beef heart in a zip lock bag.  

This was lunch for the Mississippi Kites anxiously  waiting  for the delicacies that so repulsed my vegetarian daughter. 

I dump the rodents on to a disposable plate to thaw outside by the door and began filling bowls with beef heart. After a sprinkling of calcium powder, a pinch of avian vitamins and a swoosh of the spoon I am out the door. The kites greet me with their frantic whistling and within seconds the bowl is encompassed by 15 bobbing heads.

A squawking from the aviary led me to check on the songbirds. I can always count on the blue jays to let me know when the meal worms bowl is empty. So it is back to the kitchen to cut up grapes and scoop up a few hundred meal worms that are quickly scattered over the grapes. The last bowl is filled with soaked Science Diet and breakfast is served to the blue jays, mockingbirds, kingbird's, sparrows and doves that occupied my aviary.

Since that day, the escape hatch portion of the aviary door was opened and I has the privilege and pleasure to see each bird released for a second chance at life.

As I watched the newly released Mississippi Kites soaring in the sky, riding high on the thermals I feel I have a glimpse into natures soul. I then remember them as they once were: tiny featherless infants, some barely alive when rescuers bring them to my door. This is why I work for free. This is my pay check.

If you live in Texas as I do and need help in dealing with a wildlife issue or help in locating a wildlife rehabber in your town, click here

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Help! I Found a Baby Rabbit

The bunnies look so helpless in the little depression in the lawn. They are so tiny and you keep going out and checking throughout the day and still no mother in sight. Surly, she would be there sitting with her babies if she were alive. So the best thing to do is bring them in and try to bottle-feed or maybe find a wildlife rehabber. Wrong…wrong…wrong!

Actually, rabbit mothers nurse their babies for about 5 minutes a day. The milk is very rich and the babies fill up to capacity within minutes. Mother rabbits do not sit on the babies to keep them warm. This is not because they are bad mothers. It is because they do not want to draw attention to the babies so they leave, which gives the impression that the babies have been abandoned.

If you come across a nest of bunnies and the mother is nowhere in sight, please DO NOT disturb them! By removing them from the nest you are greatly reducing their chances of survival. In fact, I would say you are sealing their fate of a premature death. Studies with rabbits in rehabilitation centers show there is a 90% mortality rate with orphaned baby rabbits in human care. This number increases if the rabbits are very young and their eyes still closed. They are extremely hard to "save". There is no substitute for the enzymes and cofactors in their mother's milk. Often they die a slow painful death from the formula literally putrefying in their little tummies.

If you have reason to believe the mother is not there. The following test will help you determine if that is the case. That evening take flour and use it to make a large, wide circle around the nest. Then leave the nest alone until the next morning. Check to see if there are rabbit tracks going through the flour to and from the nest. If there are, either the mother is returning to the nest or the babies are old enough to venture from the nest and eat on their own. Now just leave them alone. Even if this means mowing around a small patch in the yard for a short time.

As the babies age and are about the size of a tennis ball they will begin to wonder around and forage on grass. They still stay with mom and may go back to the nest. Do not rescue a baby the size of a tennis ball. It is not lost, it is just growing up and needs a safe place to learn. The best advise it just keep you dogs and cats out of the area until the rabbits move on.
That said, there are times when you know your dog has killed the mother. Sadly, this happens a lot. If this is the case, you need to put them in warm box with a soft cloth inside. Place the box away from pets and children. Wild baby rabbits are unlike any other species. They can literally drop dead from fear. The sound of your voice, your sent, the noises in your home are all terrifying to a baby rabbit. Fear and compromise an already undeveloped immune system and cause death even later on.
As a wildlife rehabilitator I am always researching protocols to increase my success rate with all species but especially the cottontails. At this point I have 10 infant rabbits in my care, all with eyes still closed. The first 5 came in when they were just 2 days old. I am using a new protocol with my babies this year and I am excited about the results so far. I am incorporating Dr. Ohhira Probiotics into their formula. Although I have used probiotics before,these are unique in their composition and are manufactured for human consumption. I have lost only one baby thus far and am hopeful they may survive. Though, with bunnies with eyes still closed, things can change in instant. In addition, I will be using cecotropes into their diet since Blanca & Emy Aaron have graciously allowed me to borrow their beloved pet rabbit to provide the babies with life saving cecotropes. For this I am so gratful!

I will be posting my exact protocol from the first day the new babies arrived with photos and video soon.  

For emergency care of baby rabbits:

Warm goat milk or Zoologic Milk Matrix ( available online) formula, so it is warm to the touch, but not hot.

Hold baby upright. Using a small syringe, such a 1ml insulin syringe (needle removed) or eyedropper, slowly release formula into the side of the mouth. Newborn, hairless bunnies will need about a half milliliter of warm formula every two to three hours. Bunnies with their eyes tightly closed and ears flat to their head, but fully furred, will eat approximately approximately 2 ml per feeding. The amount increases as their size and weight increase. Generally, you want to feed until the stomach feels full and round, but not tight or hard.

Immediately after feeding, stimulate the bunny to eliminate waste. This can be accomplished by gently rubbing its genitals with a moist Q-tip. This imitates the way the mother would lick the baby to stimulate elimination.

If you have access to a healthy, adult rabbit, borrow some cecotropes (night droppings.) These nutrient-rich, soft stools are eaten by rabbits directly from their anus, and babies gain much nutrition from eating the cecotropes of their mothers. You can offer cecotropes to bunnies as their eyes are about to open.


After the babies eyes open, beging putting the a jar lid filled with formula in the box. They leaern to self fed very early. At 3 to 4 weeks of age, begin introducing solid food,  such as baby rabbit pellets, dandylion greens. Gradually reduce bottle feeding once the rabbit is on solid foods.

 If you would like to contact me about a baby rabbit or other orphaned wildlife email me at