Celebrating the wildlife releases of the PAWS Wildlife Center
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by Kevin Mack, PAWS Wildlife Naturalist
On Saturday, June 7th I found myself doing something I almost never do- releasing an animal in relatively close proximity to a crowd of people. Animal releases are usually very private affairs, involving only one or two people and occurring in a secluded area. The goal is always to make the transition back to the wild as stress free as possible. Keeping the stress level down is a little more challenging when many people are present, but it is entirely possible with good planning and clear instructions to the audience. And in the case of the June 7th release, this was no ordinary group of spectators. The group of 100 or so people that were standing quietly in the Discovery Park clearing had gathered to participate in Earth Share of Washington’s Day in the Park event. Soon they (and I) would be picking up litter on the beach, removing invasive plants, and taking part in trail maintenance. Before they did any of these things, however, they would get a chance to see one of the park’s residents returning home.
Pileated Woodpecker 03-1131 arrived at the PAWS Wildlife Center on May 17th. She had struck a window at the Discovery Park Visitor Center. The window had been fitted with several decals to cue birds in to the danger, but the sun must have been striking the glass at just the right angle to create a mirrored effect that rendered the decals invisible.
A skull X-ray of Pileated Woodpecker 03-1131 clearly shows a severe fracture. It also clearly illustrates how dangerous windows can be to birds.
The Pileated Woodpecker’s X-rays revealed a serious fracture at the back of her skull. Woodpeckers have reinforced skulls that help them to cope with the forces that are encountered while they hammer away on wood. It’s impossible to know for certain, but it may be that the Pileated Woodpecker’s injuries would have been even more severe had it not been for this feature of her anatomy. Even with her reinforced skull, the woodpecker was still nearly killed, and she required supportive care for several days before her neurological symptoms resolved.
Nearly immediately after recovering from her head trauma, the woodpecker resumed her normal behavior pattern. Even with a fractured skull, she eagerly pecked at the dead wood that was provided to her. She showed no sign of discomfort or ill affects from the activity, so it was not discouraged by the staff. She quickly graduated to a larger, outdoor cage to continue her recuperation. On June 2nd, follow-up X-rays were taken to assess how well the woodpecker’s skull fracture was healing. The results were very good, and the bird was placed into a flight pen that was designed specifically for woodpeckers to condition herself for release. By June 7th she was strong and ready to go.
A Coyote pup, newly admitted to the PAWS Wildlife center, receives an eye exam from Dr. John Huckabee, DVM.
As soon as Darrell opened the door, the woodpecker hopped out and took flight. As she appeared, I saw a sea of faces at the bottom of the hill light up. I expected the woodpecker to make a beeline for the trees in front of her, but she had other plans. She gained altitude and then flew in a wide circle around the entranced spectators. I could see excitement on 100 different faces, and I faintly heard the involuntary vocal reactions that emanate from a crowd that is witnessing something amazing. Although the circular flight was likely the woodpecker’s way of getting her bearings, from my vantage point on the hill top, it looked as if she was putting on a show for the crowd. After completing one full circle, the bird picked a destination and disappeared into the branches of a large fir about 50 yards away.
As the bird disappeared, the crowd’s silence broke. Some people applauded and others discussed what they had just seen. A few people asked jokingly if I had trained the woodpecker to do that. Everyone seemed energized and ready to get to work. In a world that is full of discouraging news about animals and the environment, it was extremely encouraging to see such a large group of people become visibly excited about the recovery and freedom of a single bird. It was even more encouraging after the release to see this group of people pitch in to clean up and improve the area in which that bird lives.
The PAWS Wildlife Department is an active member of Earth Share of Washington (ESW). ESW is an alliance of 60 environmental organizations - locally, nationally, and internationally. ESW partners with businesses and government agencies to encourage employees to give to the environment at work through payroll giving campaigns, volunteer projects and involvement in their annual Day in the Park event. To learn more about Earth Share of Washington visit: www.esw.org
Wildlife Release tally: May 28th to June 10th, 2003
Wildlife Release tally: 2003
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