Baby Season 2012: Challenges and Growth at ESWC

After months (April, May, June, July, August, September) of 12-hour days (more if you have a baby mammal with night feedings), 7 days a week, baby season is winding down. Volunteers and staff can slow down a little and breathe. We’ve been working hard, making sure that our wild babies can fly, climb, forage, hunt, catch, and dig; that they can survive in the wild. We’ve been teaching cliff swallows to catch insects, robins to forage for worms, and young owls, kestrels and hawks how to catch and kill their prey.

As September ends, we look over our roster of 413 patients admitted to date. Most were birds—67 raptors alone—along with water birds, game birds, corvids and songbirds. Mammal admissions were low: ground squirrels, a few cottontails, woodrats, 2 baby skunks; a beaver and a marmot (first-time species) both died on arrival.

Two Golden Eagles were admitted; one found in late March in the vicinity of the South Barlow cemetery, the second rescued near Black Rock Fish Hatchery in mid-July. The first is an older male, suffering from impact trauma. Because of damaged tail feathers, he is still at the Ojai Raptor Center growing in new ones. The second eagle—just a year old—weighed only 6 pounds. After 10 weeks of eating and conditioning at ORC, she returned to ESWC weighing in at a healthy 12 pounds. Her power and beauty dazzled staff and volunteers as she took to the skies and freedom.

Our earliest babies this year were 3 Great Horned Owls, a coyote, desert woodrats and cottontails. One young owl, rescued from the Bishop Country Club golf course, was found to be healthy and ESWC staff put him back in his nest. The 4-week-old coyote pup was dropped on the side of Hwy. 6 by her mother who had just missed being run over. Two men rescued the youngster and put her away from the road hoping that mom would return. An hour later, mom hadn’t come back so the pup was brought to ESWC.

After consulting with coyote specialists, we attempted a nighttime reunion but without success. The pup was transferred to Sierra Wildlife Rescue to be raised with other coyote pups. Six weeks later, a 12-week-old pup was turned over to ESWC by someone who had attempted to “tame” it. This still-wild coyote also went to SWR. A few weeks later, yet another coyote, a juvenile with a severe concussion, was rescued from Hwy. 120. He recovered and was happily reunited with his family.

Our roll of raptors received includes most species found in our area: Great Horned, Long Eared, Screech, Pygmy, and Barn owls; Golden Eagles; Red-tailed, Red Shouldered, Swainson’s (she was returned to her nest!), Cooper’s and Sharp-shinned hawks; American Kestrels and a Prairie Falcon.
An adult Red-tailed Hawk came in, his throat torn open by barbed wire. Several stitching sessions and 12 weeks of recovery later, we took him home. He flew from the cage into a tall cottonwood. Seconds later, a Red-tail flew into the tree from elsewhere. The two hawks took off into the breeze and began a beautiful aerial dance, diving and wheeling in a magnificent display. We like to think that the once-injured male had reunited with his mate.

While caring for the above, along with chickadees, two striped skunks, chipmunks, Spotted Towhees, a Swainson’s Thrush and Steller Jay, Ruddy Ducks, mallards, grebes (pied-billed, eared and Western), a Blue Grouse, poorwills, nighthawks, hummingbirds (babies and adults), and flickers, we expanded our animal housing thanks to a grant from the Donald and Ruby Branson Foundation. A special pen was built for our education birds, Razzle the Raven and Spirit the Red-tailed Hawk, and a second double-sided pen for housing overflow mammals and birds. Diego Bennett of Rancho Santa Margarita, working with leaders and members of BSA Troop 210,
completed his Eagle Scout project by terracing and installing steps on the Center’s ground—increasing worker safety and adding beauty.

As fall approaches, the last of the babies are being released but injured juveniles and adults continue to arrive. In the midst of a steady flow of young raptors, some suffering from injuries and almost all suffering from some degree of starvation, we admitted a day-old American Coot, our last baby in 2012. This unusual baby is educating and entertaining us through the change of seasons.