Orphans. The word conjures a host of images, mostly Victorian, of wide-eyed children dressed in rags begging on streets or, empty bowl in hand, pleading for more; of row on row of narrow beds, each filled with a child praying for a good family. These are Hollywood images, as unrealistic in their portrayal of real orphans as television is in its presentation of detectives or living in New York City. They’re the only ones I know, though. The human kind, anyway.
But there are other kinds of orphans.
This year we’ve handled the usual: squirrels, opossums, vultures, swifts, starlings, sparrows and more, all either passing through our hands up to Nature’s Nursery or down to us from there for release or fostering. At present, we’re hosting two: a black squirrel and a Virginia opossum.
The opossum was one of six found on their dead mother (she was hit by a car). While we’re not certain how long the little ones were out there clinging to her corpse, it’s likely that it was quite a while. All six were slow and skinny and dotted with fly eggs. The worst part of such a case is that the young continue to feed from their mother and after she has died, the milk that sustained becomes corrupted, poisoned. Five of the six died. On the up side, the one that survived is strong and growing and shows no sign of becoming attached to the people fostering him. Just the opposite, in fact. He hisses and growls when we approach, bites when we lift him out to clean his temporary digs. He’s been here about a month and we expect that he’ll need to stay another before moving on and out there, on the Quarry.
The black squirrel is a new arrival, an intake from a Lima man who found him outside his apartment. After doing everything he could to reunite the little squirrel with his mother, James called us. This squirrel, like the opossum, is strong and a good eater. We’re providing a temporary safe haven for him. Tomorrow he’ll make the trip north to Nature’s Nursery where they have several other juvenile black squirrels.
Sunset from The Quarry Farm.
This has been a strange year, a difficult year, in some respects. An overabundance of spring rain gave way to summer drought and a flurry of fierce storms. The storms, in particular, have proven hard on the living and arguably hardest on the birds. Strong winds shredded trees and the nests to which they offered insufficient protection. For many wildlife rehabbers in the area, the storms brought a rain of orphaned and abandoned birds. This past weekend, Natalie Miller, education and rehabilitation specialist with Nature’s Nursery, brought two of these foundlings to The Quarry Farm. The birds were chimney swifts and they are a welcome addition to the fauna here.
One of two chimney swifts brought to Red Fox Cabin for release.
Chimney swifts (http://www.chimneyswifts.org/) are insectivores. Incredibly fast flyers, hence their name, they wheel about as sunset approaches, snatching meals of flying insects. And, again as their name suggests, they nest in chimneys, such as the one at Red Fox Cabin. Finding established populations of chimney swifts is becoming increasingly difficult. Abandoned or rarely used chimneys, the kinds of places where swifts can set up house unmolested, are rare. So it was worth the hour-long trip south to release these birds here, where others of their kind can help them learn the skills they’ll need to survive.
Red Fox Cabin
We took both birds out to the cabin just about mid-evening. Although there was no immediate sign of the resident swifts, they’re a common sight here. As it turns out, we only released one of the birds (the video of that release accompanies this post; don’t blink or you’ll miss it). As the released bird swept up and over the tree line along the road, five of the Red Fox Cabin swifts flew in from over the quarry and herded the newest member of their flock away from the soy bean field and back to The Quarry Farm. As for the second swift, it still needs a little more care, a bit more time to grow, before it’s ready for release. For now, it’s in the capable hands of Rita Seitz, and probably will be for at least another week. When the time comes for it to join the others, we’ll be sure to let you know.