Give Orphaned and Injured Wildlife a Second Chance

by Rockfish Wildlife Sanctuary, Inc.
Give Orphaned and Injured Wildlife a Second Chance
Give Orphaned and Injured Wildlife a Second Chance
Give Orphaned and Injured Wildlife a Second Chance
Give Orphaned and Injured Wildlife a Second Chance
Give Orphaned and Injured Wildlife a Second Chance
Give Orphaned and Injured Wildlife a Second Chance
Give Orphaned and Injured Wildlife a Second Chance
Give Orphaned and Injured Wildlife a Second Chance
Give Orphaned and Injured Wildlife a Second Chance
Give Orphaned and Injured Wildlife a Second Chance
Bat Enclosure
Bat Enclosure

It has been a busy baby season at Rockfish. In fact, we’ve already broken our record number of patients (841 and counting) We’ve seen our fair share of critters, from Killdeer to Barn Owls to plenty of raccoons and Virginia opossums. That being said, we did have some especially exciting new patients at RWS this summer: big brown bats! Bats are fascinating flyers, but we have never had the ability to rehabilitate them due to our lack of a bat flight enclosure. Bats require a highly specialized enclosure to accommodate their unique adaptations and behaviors. The space must be octagonal or circular, with fine mesh walls and soft hanging obstacles to allow them to safely practice flying, roosting, and occasionally falling - especially when pups are clumsily figuring out this whole “flying” thing. We were lucky to have our proposal for a bat flight enclosure funded by the Arthur L. and Elaine V. Johnson Foundation in late 2019. We excavated a footprint and built the enclosure’s platform. Spring 2020 then rolled around, and we all know what that means: Covid. Unfortunately, the pandemic put a pause in our batty plans. Bat rehabilitation in Virginia was prohibited as we were not yet sure how transmissible Covid would be between humans and our bat populations.


Flash forward to early summer 2021 when that ban was reversed – just weeks before pup season would normally start in the wild - our first pup patients were coming to RWS. Our rehab staff and summer interns got to work in our nursery, feeding our young pups every three to four hours around the clock – yep, that included overnight as well. Once they began to grow teeth, we introduced a mealworm “smoothie” to their diets. While we much prefer a mixed berry smoothie, making mealworm smoothies allowed our bat patients to get acquainted with their primary food source in the wild: insects. Bottoms up! Soon our pups were practicing flapping and needed an upgrade. Director Brie to the rescue! She brought in an old camping tent which we pitched in our nursery. We attached heat pads to the outside of the tent and suspended soft fleeces inside so our pups could crawl, climb, and hang upside down. It worked out perfectly. As Director Brie said, “This is what happens when you regularly camp and backpack but don’t regularly rehab bats.” Our pups were soon were completely eating on their own in their tent enclosure and ready to head outdoors. We put the finishing touches on our new flight enclosure just in time. The structure was designed for bat rehabilitation from the bottom up – from its round shape to the springy turf lining the floor to the pool noodles hanging from the ceiling to act as soft obstacles mid-flight. Lastly, we installed two UV lights on the ceiling to attract bugs for the bats to hunt. Two years and one global pandemic later, our orphaned bat pups had a new home where they could practice flying and foraging safely before being released back to the wild. The bats quickly learned that hunting for themselves was way more fun than a bunch of humans giving them food by hand. Ironically, one of the best parts of wildlife rehabilitation is when your patients want nothing to do with you anymore. We even stuck around after dark one night to see them in action and to assess their hunting ability. They did not disappoint – our once tiny, helpless orphaned pups deftly navigated the nighttime air and used echolocation to catch flying insects in their enclosure. After a month of living in our brand new enclosure, our inaugural bat patients were ready for release. We let them go using the release doors built into their enclosure.

From mealworm smoothies to pup tents to pool noodles, bat rehabilitation has been quite a wonderful and successful adventure at RWS this summer. We look forward to rehabilitating bats for many years to come!

First Arrivals!
First Arrivals!

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Fledgling Killdeer
Fledgling Killdeer

As our country begins to return to normal, the animal intakes at Rockfish Wildlife Sanctuary have returned with a bang this spring! As of right now, we are 100 intakes ahead of our patient load this time last year. Luckily, our stellar volunteers and interns are also returning to help manage the feeding and care. Every one of our 52 outdoor enclosures is currently being used. In other words, we are busy!
Fox kits, opossums, and raccoons make up the bulk of our usual patients and so far, this year is no exception. The unusual patients this year have come in the form of baby birds, from both the sizes we've seen and the variety of species as well. Our most unusual patient arrived at the Sanctuary looking like a cotton ball on sticks. It was a baby killdeer! It has grown up quickly to be one fast little squeaky toy (because their call reminds us of a typical dog toy) and has already been released into the wild. Upon its release at a quiet riverbank, the killdeer came out of its carrying crate, looked around, and immediately started eating. It was a heartwarming sight that made all the effort to raise it so, so rewarding.
Another unusual bird that arrived came in as triplets. Three hatchling woodpeckers were delivered to us after the tree they were inside of was cut down for a construction project. The woodpeckers arrived being listed as red-headed but we think - and time and feather growth will tell for sure - that they are red-bellied. Woodpecker nomenclature can be confusing because both red-headed and red-bellied have some red on their head. Red-headed woodpeckers have a completely red head as if they were wearing a red hoodie, while red-bellied woodpeckers have a red stripe along the top of their head as if it were a red mohawk. Both have zygodactyl feet, where two toes point forwards and two toes point backward. Those unusual feet make them excellent at climbing and hanging, so we house them in small wooden enclosures. That way they get some “hanging out” practice even before they leave our nursery. But they also require some other housing specifics, including zero cloths or towels. Why? Because woodpeckers have barbed tongues, designed for pulling bugs out from trees. Their tongues could easily get caught on any fabric. Ouch! As a result, we only house woodpeckers on newspapers, paper towels, or tissues. This is just another example of how an animal’s natural history and unique physical adaptations inform its needs in rehabilitative care.
Our third unusual bird species also arrived at the sanctuary in a group of three - baby barn owlets! This is the second year in a row that we have the honor of raising this beautiful species. One thing we learned about them last year, was that they are voracious mouse-eaters. They can go through 18 mice per day, which gives you just a glimpse of the rodent control that they provide in the wild!
While these unusual babies keep all of us at the sanctuary entertained and entranced, they also put a strain on our budget - between the extra use of paper goods and extra mouse usage, we can use extra support as well!

Redheaded Woodpeckers
Redheaded Woodpeckers
Barn Owlets
Barn Owlets

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Box Turtle Spa Day
Box Turtle Spa Day
Winter in the sanctuary is generally a time to catch our breath, especially given the summer of COVID-19 and a lack of volunteers to help with the season's babies! This year, the curveballs kept coming, along with the many lists of enclosures to fix, repair, and clean to prepare for spring baby season. In one unexpected turn of events, we transformed our nursery into a "Reptile Room" to take in some overflow injured woodland box turtles that needed an overwintering space. Nine turtles have spent the winter in our spa, where they enjoy thrice-weekly hydrating baths and gourmet meals (raspberries in winter!) while awaiting their upcoming summer release.
When not attending to our turtle guests, other projects included constructing a multi-level snake enclosure for our education ambassador, Teeny Nagini. Teeny is an eastern ratsnake, and he measures in at a whopping 7 feet long! It was time for him to upgrade from the enclosure he had arrived into a more spacious and enriching environment. Teeny's new home is about four times the size of his old home. It features a variety of new, exciting substrates for him to slither across as well as four separate "floors." But there are no elevators here - Teeny gets to use a custom-built wooden climbing gym to explore the many levels of his new space. We’re pretty sure we saw Teeny smile when he moved in!
Our next big project is to repair and expand our three existing fox enclosures. Our fox enclosures have weathered many busy baby seasons with us, but they're showing signs of age. Whether it's warped doors, ripped wire mesh, or over-loved enrichment features, these enclosures could use some TLC. In fact, tending to these fox enclosures is our biggest priority going into the rest of winter here at RWS. That's because red fox kits seem to be arriving sooner and sooner every year. Last season's very first baby was a tiny 100-gram red fox kit that arrived at the end of February! Foxes grow fast and spend little time in the nursery, so they are moved to enclosures relatively quickly. We can have over fifteen fox patients in rehabilitative care at a time, and they each need plenty of space to grow up in and explore with their littermates. Considering that we are one of the only facilities that rehabilitate foxes in Virginia, we are anticipating yet another season filled with fox patients. Thus, we are hoping to build another enclosure before the baby season hits. Our goal is to raise $2500, which will be matched by a generous anonymous donor. This will allow construction to begin before our baby season kicks off. Anything you can do to help will be greatly appreciated by staff and foxes!
New Snake Enclosure
New Snake Enclosure
Spring Fox Kit
Spring Fox Kit
Overwintering/recovering from mange fox
Overwintering/recovering from mange fox
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Face covering used when feeding the owlets
Face covering used when feeding the owlets

I remember my mother saying that to me constantly growing up (reminding me to close the door), and it was the first thought that came to me when our barn owlet patients arrived this summer. My second thought was, “Wow, barn owls are not the most attractive of all the babies we get to care for and rehabilitate!” But they sure grew to be some of the most amazing and beautiful creatures we’ve ever seen. Our owlets arrived after a nearby resident awoke to find them simply sitting in her fireplace one morning. They’d likely fallen down her chimney. Because re-nesting was not an option (no parent was seen), the owlets were brought to us so we could become their surrogate parents. Feeding and caring for these little guys required a bit of extra effort to prevent them from becoming habituated to humans. Their nursery set-up was covered so that they had no views of the daily activity happening around them, and we were totally silent to avoid them getting accustomed to human voices. At feeding times, our staff would completely cover their faces to avoid any human “imprinting.” To achieve this, we wore two surgical facemasks with a slight gap that allowed us to see down between them. We wore this goofy get-up to feed them their daily quota of chopped up mouse bits – which was a LOT of mice for a growing owl! The four of them averaged between fifteen and twenty mice per day for about six weeks, with their feeding schedule starting at six times per day and decreasing to three as they graduated from our nursery into a flight enclosure. That’s a long time to work with your whole face covered! After just about two months, our owlets were nearly fully-fledged owls. It was time for their final pre-release test: “Mouse School.” That’s where we introduce live mice to a raptor patient’s flight enclosure to make sure they can successfully hunt and catch their food before they are released back into the wild. All four of our owls passed with flying colors! After two and half months of care at RWS, we successfully released them on private properties where there were unused barn structures – this was a necessity since barn owl feathers are not very waterproof. They are now out soaring in the wild world as they were meant to be, and we were proud and excited to care for barn owlets at RWS for the first time in our center’s history. So no, while I don't live in a barn, I'm really glad these owls do!

owlets upon arrival
owlets upon arrival
Owlets prior to release.
Owlets prior to release.
Owls at Release!
Owls at Release!

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Barn Owlet
Barn Owlet

The sanctuary's 400th guest of the season arrived in conjunction with the arrival of summer! Baby birds and fledglings have taken over the nursery, replacing the foxes, squirrels, opossums, and raccoons of this crazy spring. The feeding timer now goes off every 30 minutes and has begun to rule the day, dictating the timing of everything else. The biggest surprise of the season so far has been the arrival of 6 baby barn owlets - not a species we see a lot! And while the adults are simply gorgeous, the owlets give new meaning to the adage "a face only a mother could love" :) yet they grow fluffier and cuter each day. Our raccoon babies have grown as well and have left the nursery, moving into either transition hutches or larger enclosures in the woods. With over 30 raccoon babies (so far!) to house and care for, our late spring project was to place new concrete floors in the outdoor enclosures - almost 8000lbs of concrete was hauled, mixed, and placed in the enclosures! Moving the raccoons to the outdoor enclosures leaves room in the nursery for the skunks that have begun to arrive. Our spring squirrel and opossum guests continue to grow and have been mostly released back into the wild. Watching them go is the reward for the long days of cleaning poop, feeding, and caring for them!

With Covid-19 causing our volunteer support base to be suspended it has been a challenging season in so many new ways. But we have adapted well and continue to provide care to all the babies that come our way - for while the human world has changed greatly, the animal world continues as always and still needs our help. Please help us help them.

Concrete enclosure floor
Concrete enclosure floor
Baby Skunks
Baby Skunks

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Organization Information

Rockfish Wildlife Sanctuary, Inc.

Location: Charlottesville, VA - USA
Website:
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Project Leader:
Jeff Wilbur
Shipman, VA United States
$16,118 raised of $50,000 goal
 
323 donations
$33,882 to go
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