Celebrating the wildlife releases of the PAWS Wildlife Center
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by Kevin Mack, PAWS Wildlife Naturalist
There were over 1,100 graduates in the PAWS Wildlife Department Class of 2003. Although all of these 1,100+ individuals were attempting to acquire the same degree (a PhD in freedom), no two "students" followed the exact same course of study. Some earned their degree in a day, while others required several months of hard work. All behaved badly towards the faculty, often attempting to bite, scratch, or run away from them. Luckily, this behavior is encouraged in the PAWS program, and the faculty is well trained to deal with it.
Graduation ceremonies were invariably short and sweet, and no diplomas were handed out. Pomp and Circumstance was not played, as it would have likely frightened the graduates. Most ceremonies were attended by only a few well-wishers, which was for the best since the graduates were eager to get out into the real world, and they had no interest in a big, flashy send off.
Once again, as the coordinator of "graduation ceremonies", I feel that it is appropriate for me to say a few words to this year's graduates. Representing over 150 species, our "student body" is about as diverse as you can get, and some of the graduates may benefit from a little extra advice tailored specifically to them.
Thin and weak, this Long-eared Owl is currently in care at PAWS.
To the northern flying squirrels: Don't let the spilled seed underneath birdfeeders tempt you into coming down to the ground. Outdoor house cats are waiting for you there. That's how several of you got into the PAWS program to begin with.
To the raccoons: Although an unlocked pet door with the smell of food wafting out seems like an open invitation to "come on in", the human that owns the pet door will likely not respond well if you do pop in to say "hi". You will also probably not receive a warm reception if you accept the apparent open invitation to access the attic through that damaged vent or to raise your young in the easily accessed crawlspace beneath the house. One more thing…you will frequently come across large metal or plastic containers full of plastic bags that have food in them. It will appear to you as if someone has left you a free feast. Don't eat it! Humans call that garbage, and although they don't want it (and make little effort to keep it protected), they will get extremely angry if you try to take it.
To the grebes, ducks, gulls, herons, and other water birds: Avoid eating in an area if you can see humans nearby on the shore holding long poles. Any choice morsels you find in such an area are likely to have a nasty, hidden surprise in them. You are also likely to become entangled in thin, but extremely strong thread-like material in these areas. Many of you came to PAWS after finding these things out the hard way.
To the coyotes: I gave this advice to last year's fox and coyote graduates, but it is worth repeating: Outdoor house cats are abundant, try not to eat them. As difficult as it will be for you to distinguish them from naturally occurring prey, the cat's owner will likely still expect you to. Even if you do not eat any cats, prepare to be blamed every time one disappears.
To the songbirds and small mammals: I have the same advice as last year for songbirds and small mammals as well: Outdoor house cats are abundant, try not to get eaten by them.
This Barred Owl is currently being treated at PAWS for injuries that were sustained when she was hit by a car.
To the northern fulmars: There is an aggregation of garbage (mostly plastic) roughly the size of Texas that has collected in a convergence zone in the Pacific Ocean. Avoid the area at all costs.
To pileated woodpecker 03-1131: Remember when you flew into that windowpane and fractured your skull? No? I guess I'm not surprised. Anyway, that window (and every other window in that building) has now been covered with a slightly opaque material that will make it clearly visible to you from now on! You should still use caution, however, as there are millions more windows out there that are still shiny and invisible to your eye.
Lastly, to all of the 2003 "graduates": You have been given the gift of a second chance at life, but you are not indebted to those that gave you this gift. Instead, we are indebted to you. We all had but one hope when you came through our doors…that you would one day be leaving, healthy and complete, to reclaim the freedom that is your birthright. That is exactly what you have done. Thank you all for your strength and perseverance. Your success gives us the inspiration we need to continue with our work.
Wildlife Release tally: December 10th to December 23rd, 2003
Wildlife Release tally: 2003
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