Animal Stories

Owl Banding and Release, Summer 2016


This owl came to Wild at Heart as a fledgling on June 10th from Timmins, ON. As a fledgling, it did not have its adult flight feathers in, strong flight muscles, or strong hunting skills. The owl was moved to a large flight cage where it could practice hunting and flying with very minimal contact from our restricted animal care interns to prevent imprinting. Before raptors are released at WAH, we band them (pictured) to track where they migrate to. On August 10th, 2016 this owl was driven back to Timmins where it will grow stronger in the wild as a top predator.


Fawn (Odocoileus virginianus) Feeding

Orphaned Porcupette

Porcupine, Erethizon dorsatum

This porcupine arrived from the Sheguiandah First Nation on May 12th. The rescuer suspected the mother was hit and killed by a car. We have been raising the porcupine on species-specific formula, while transitioning to solid foods like fruits, vegetables, and rodent block. She is now in an outside pen where she has less contact with people and can practice climbing branches, trunks, and through containers, preparing her for life in the wild.


Injured Adult Snapping Turtle Update

Snapping Turtle, Chelydra serpentina

13701075_1041713185905997_6346630903040168330_oThis snapping turtle came in on June 10th after it was found hit by a car near Azilda. It had sustained an open wound on its carapace (shell). To treat the wound, we have13734934_1041712249239424_8930079837761469286_o been flushing the wound with a disinfectant (Proviodine) daily. Over time, the wound has closed so we can now scrub it to prevent an infection. We also noticed the turtle has parasites on its skin, which were removed and treated. We are optimistic that this turtle will be able to be released this year in time to hibernate over the winter.

Red Fox, Vulpes vulpes

This fox came in February 2016 with a severe case of sarcoptic mange. This is a very common disease caused by the mite Sarcoptes scabiei. Mites burrow into the outer layer of the skin to form tunnels. In these they leave eggs, faeces, shed shell, and digestive secretions which causes severe skin irritation.

Symptoms of mange include: extreme hair and weight loss, red blotchy skin, a ‘hunchback’ appearance when standing and walking, frequent scratching, and an overall dull and confused demeanor. To treat mange, foxes are given two doses of medication, 2 weeks apart. You can see the drastic improvement in the fox from the pictures below. All foxes are under restricted access at Wild At Heart to prevent them becoming at all tame to humans.

Did you know? Foxes are smaller than most members of the Canidae family, which includes wolves, coyotes, jackals. They are omnivores and generally do not live in packs. Foxes rely on their incredible hearing to alert them to the presence of rodents.

Short-tailed Weasel, Mustela erminea

Did You Know? Short-tailed weasels live about 4 to 6 years. They often will kill all of the prey they encounter and save it to ensure that they have food during the harsh times of the year. Weasels have the same hunting and killing tactics as a jaguar.


A Bit About Me: This weasel was found in March 2016 in someone’s kitchen and suffered from minor head trauma. The weasel chews on many different enrichment toys in his cage – he is always busy! To clean his cage we put on thick, leather gloves that go all the way past your elbow to protect us from his bite. The weasel is usually fed mice and canned cat food that is measured based on his weight.

Herring Gull, Larus argentatus

Fun Fact: Herring Gulls are the most familiar gulls (often called just ‘seagulls’) in the North Atlantic. Herring Gulls prefer to drink freshwater, but can drink salty seawater when necessary – they have a special gland located over the eyes, which allows them to discrete the salt that would otherwise dehydrate them!

This herring gull was brought in December 2015 because it was unable to fly. One wing had an old break, and the beak, feet, and wrists had wounds. The wounds were treated with antibacterial cream, and the gull was provided with a variety of soft surfaces to help prevent the development of more sores on the feet. The gull was also given padded boots to wear (as seen in the picture below). Eating fish and lots of fresh fruits and veggies, this gull is recovering quickly, and is often seen enjoying a bath.

Snowy Owl, Bubo scandiacus

This snowy owl came to us from Blind River on January 30, 2016, and was released March 4th by the rescuer. When determining if a raptor is ready to be released, we:
1. Check the bird is flight-ready and has been self-feeding well.

2. Release the animal within 15 km of where it was found so they know where resources and shelter can be found, and are adapted to the local environment and any pathogens.

3. Make sure the weather for the release day is good.

4. Band the raptor (as seen on the right) so people can go online and report the migration routes and successful release of the bird.

Bald Eagle, Haliaeetus leucocephalus

Massage a Bald Eagle?

At the end of February 2016, Wild at Heart admitted an injured bald eagle. As you can see in the picture, this eagle is quite large and is probably a female (they are 1/3 larger than males). She was caught in a snare on Manitoulin Island and suffered a fairly serious injury to her right wing with a lot of damage to her patagium. The patagium is the leading (front) edge of a bird’s wing between the shoulder and wrist. When extended, marks on this part of the wing can be useful for identification particularly for birds of prey or raptors – hawks, eagles, etc. The patagium is thin and flexible, giving birds better aerodynamic flight and allowing them a high degree of control over their maneuverability.

She was radiographed at Walden Animal Hospital and thankfully had no evidence of bone fractures. However, injuries to the patagium can be very serious and during healing, the tissues and ligaments can contract and form scar tissue which could interfere with flight. Raptors need to be very accurate in their flight in order to capture their prey while flying at full speed. Less than perfect flight can result in starvation and death.

Researchers in Spain have just completed a study on this type of injury and have discovered that they could get good results by the following protocol: hot water massage followed by Z massage (massage along the long axis of the ligamentous structure on the front lead of the wing by massaging the tissue in a perpendicular fashion to the long axis) (seen on left). This is then followed by extension and flexion of the wing and finally stretching the wing (seen on right).

Finally, we applied honey to the injured skin (it has been found that honey often outperforms other medical ointments to treat infection). These procedures are all attempted to help decrease any chance of contracture and shortening of these tissues during healing. So yes, eagles can benefit from a massage. If held firmly with her head covered, she was quite resigned to having this procedure done. But beware, her talons could go right through your hand in a split second.

After this type of care for a couple of weeks, we will transfer her to another center in southern Ontario where she can relearn the fine points of flight in a 100 foot long flight cage. We hope to have a flight cage one day but they are expensive and we will need to save our dollars for a while.

Bald Eagle Physiotherapy

Mallard duck, Anas platyrhynchos

A bit about me: Brought in all the way from Timmins in December 2015, this duck was unable to fully extent its wings when flying. It had small injuries to its wing, but no fractures. Once the wounds had healed, our interns began physio on the left wing under the direction of a veterinarian volunteering their time. The video below shows one of interns doing the physiotherapy with the goal of extending the range of motion, which has been successful thus far. In the spring, we will look to release this duck within 15 kilometres of where it was found. This ensures an animal is returning to an area it is adapted to – conditions, food, and immunity to diseases in the area. Wild At Heart strives to release all animals within 15 kilometres of where they are found and when it is safe to do so.