Wednesday, January 31, 2018

On keeping unreleasable wildlife

Quality of Life,  by Katherine McKeever

What can we say about "quality of life" for wildlife that has not been said, over and over, by many tongues? The problem is not in finding other words to describe its meaning, the problem is that the meaning itself is not endorsed by the actions of so many wildlife handlers. Why is this? Is it because they have not yet succeeded in putting aside their own emotions and beliefs, clearing their thoughts of everything except a rational look at the quality of life available to the creature in hand?

What gives quality of life to wildlife: the fact of being at liberty, however briefly and precariously, the ability to make all the choices, the fulfilling of an evolutionary role. And also the restoration of freedom when it was almost lost forever. But what about the ones that are permanently maimed? Ah yes, what about them? Is euthanasia the only answer? No, but it is usually the best answer. Euthanasia can be an end to pain and terror, a compassionate and moral alternative to a captive life so diminished in quality that its maintenance is really an act of cruelty. And when permanent damages makes freedom suicidal, and release irresponsible, the chances for a life of quality in captivity are narrowed to the very expensive for the very few. Here is an example of what should be provided, in order to justify the life maintenance of a damaged wild creature - a creature that was born free and will remember freedom all its life, a creature that will never be tame. Let us suppose it is an owl, unable to fly.

Can you provide it with an enclosure as long and as high as it should have had when it could fly? It will need the same size for its psychological health. It will need high branches and a way to climb up to them, where it will feel safe. It will need arboreal pathways to other parts of the cage, both high and low. It must be able to choose between thick branches and thin ones, sheltered and exposed roosts, sun and shade, cavities and open platforms.

It must have a wide, shallow, non-sloping pool and a log or a rock beside it for ablutions. It needs a lifelong diet of the natural prey items of the species. It needs the opportunity for companionship with another if its own kind (preferably of the opposite sex) but also the ability to be alone in its own space. It needs to be left alone by humans. It needs every possible choice that you can think of to give it, even if you can never give it the one thing it never stops waiting for.

If you can do all these things, then you will have reduced stress (the biggest killer of them all) to the point where your bird will never get sick, never need medication, and may even make babies as it lives on to its potential life-span. And then you will be able to say truly that you gave it a life of quality.

But first, there is something you should know, even if it breaks your heart. For all your long hours, and physical effort, and the expense, and the arguments with others over your priorities, and even your genuine affection for this creature you have come to love, there will be one thing missing from its life. And if you leave the cage door open, it will opt for that one thing above all the others that were provided, and it will walk out of the door to freedom and its death. Because this is the way of all wildlife.

(Kitt Chubb, regarding goals and ethics of wildlife rehabilitators)

“....To emphasize compassion.  The best treatment is the least painful and frightening with the least handling and least exposure to us, and when we can do no more, to give a peaceful death.  Our human fear of dying must not be responsible for poor-quality life in our unreleasable captives.  "Oh, he's quite happy!" is a blinded, illogical, self preserving attitude towards a permanently crippled prisoner.  Here is a captive whose world is the wild, and is denied it; whose design is flight, now impossible; whose skills and satisfaction in the hunt are renounced; whose enemy is homo sapiens, now confined at close quarters daily; whose urge is to soar, court, nest, migrate, are gone forever.  If their eyes could weep, our eyes would be opened.  The hard truth is: a bird in a cage is a prisoner forever, and we are the jailers."

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Eyes in the Skies A Brief Guide to Finding Migrating Birds Online

With the onset of September’s cooler, discernibly shorter days and the sharper angle of the sun comes one of nature’s most exciting times of year.  Creatures that spent the preceding months eating and enjoying summer begin to feel the seasonal changes.  They become restless.  Many begin to regroup.  Unable to resist the pull of the season they start looking for their binoculars.

So for humans, fall migration begins. Birders search for their beloved and frayed Peterson’s and Sibley’s.  They pull out old, dedicated maps.  Others find and share apps.  They update statuses, they blog and tweet.  

Fall offers birdwatchers (and the friends they invariably drag along) the most exciting months to precede a dreary northern winter.  Over 200 species of birds migrate through New Jersey.  For hawk watchers in the northeast fall is akin to Nirvana.  Fourteen species of diurnal raptors migrate through New Jersey September through November: Ospreys, Bald eagles, Northern harriers, Sharp-shinned hawks, Cooper’s hawks, Northern goshawks, Red-shouldered hawks, Broad-winged hawks, Red-tailed hawks, Rough-legged hawks, Golden eagles, American kestrels, Merlins and Peregrine falcons.  

Some of these visitors are common to the point of breeding locally: Red-tails and Cooper’s are almost “back yard” birds.  Some are just a bit less common but have rock star status: Peregrines, Merlins and Bald eagles.  And some raptors, even for the most experienced, well-worn-field-guide expert, are sensational: Gos!  Golden!  Roughie!  (Note the endearment, single case and exclamation! That’s how rare and spectacular they are!)

But how do you find them?

Of course, there are hawk watches throughout the northeast.  Look to the mountain ridges along the Appalachians and Alleghenies where hawks soar ancient migratory routes on winds lifted by warm air.  Look to coastal peninsulas and river valleys where they funnel across water from land to land.

Or look to the internet.  Google “hawkwatch nj” and you will find exactly where those hawk watches are.  The Hawk Migration Association of America is a great source.  There you can find over 40 hawk watches in the NY/NJ/PA areas, with links and maps.  

There are way more resources for the passionate (or compulsive) birder.  Now, with web sites and online social networks (Facebook, blogs and most appropriately named for birders, Twitter), bird watchers cannot just know what Peregrine or Gos! was spotted, but can do so in real time.  

I cannot emphasize enough how important real-time sightings are for birders.  For the social network gumbies out there who only rely on web sites and speed dialed friends, I will explain.

Because bird watchers historically have loved to share, the potential for finding birds by Twitter is monumental.  Lillian and Don Stokes tweeted on Tuesday: 
         Swainson's Hawk, a western species, seen over Pack Monadnock Raptor Migration Observatory, NH, yesterday, a record for that site.  

CMBO (Cape May Bird Observatory) tweeted in the last 2 hours 
        Clay-colored sparrow in burn pile behind beach at state park, 
        23 Brown pelicans off Sunset Beach, 
and just this moment 
        Cape May Point streets and state park full of warblers!  

Just  this moment John @dendroica
         saw a Green heron behind Morgan Mudflats.  

and @urbanhawks a second ago spotted 
          an adult Peregrine falcon on 100 Bleeker Street in Greenwich Village in New York. is a global online wild bird statistical, checklist and interactive observation program started by the Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology.  Some of the data provided on eBird can be very intimidating for the statistically challenged to whom bar charts and line graphs are frightening.  More accessible for the common person, members can explore or report sightings in specific areas.  For example, I searched Northern goshawk in NJ.  EBird has no current sightings in NJ, but after scanning the map I found that on September 9, 2012, Raymond Birdfellow (name changed for obvious reasons) spotted a Northern goshawk “immature bird, heavily streaked breast and prominent white eyebrow” in Litchfield, CT.  

The Crested caracara, a southern raptor that on Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology's own web site “reaches only in Arizona, Texas, and Florida” was reported for the first time ever in NJ.  More specifically, on Ebird I found that between September 11 and September 13 of this year 12 sightings were reported of a Crested caracara in Mercer County, most recently at 9:30am this past Thursday.  

EBird also has a Rare Bird Alert and you can sign up to get daily - or hourly - updates. 

Never underestimate Facebook for learning what and who is where and when.  My Facebook friend Jim Birdbuddy (name changed for obvious reasons) posted his Caracara pictures on Facebook Wednesday. 

These online tools are to a bird watcher what a Porsche 911 is to a middle aged man.

Realize, though,  that I just spent 3 hours indoors on my laptop instead of 2 minutes outside with my binoculars.  That’s one of the hazards of online bird finding.  You don’t ever want to spend time birdwatching with your face in a device (or book, for that matter) instead of in binoculars.  And another, real hazard is that in finding and sharing bird sightings, birders can love their birds to death.  It has happened that hundreds of well-meaning birdwatchers and photographers have holed up and settled in for days around an exclamation mark-worthy bird to the point that it was harassed from feeding, or worse, grabbed by a predator attracted to the commotion.

It’s a dilemma for the bird watcher.  I will leave that to your ethics and good judgement with a quote by E.B. White that all bird watchers will understand:   

“I arise every morning torn between the desire to save the world and the desire to savor the world. It makes it hard to plan the day.”

Some online resources:

A few birding blogs:

Some bird watching Twitter feeds

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Toilet Paper Conservation in a Financial Crisis

Memo to staff:

I have noticed that we are purchasing more toilet paper than usual. Due to recent financial events, I would like to request staff to be more conservative with toilet paper use, as the supplier has recently increased prices and reduced sheet number (from 800 to 700).

New ID palm monitors will be placed outside each stall to count individual usage. Please wash your hands before using the palm monitor.

Using 4 sheets after urinating and 6 sheets after defecating should be sufficient; this can be done by folding creatively. Otherwise we will be selling toilet paper sheets @ $.05 each, or require staff to bring their own rolls and keep them in the utility closet in the mens room.

Thanks for your anticipated cooperation.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Must Remember

So much happens so fast. Every morning he comes out of the crate, he has grown. Wilbur at 7.5 months is 55 pounds now, lean and long, still growing into his long, wolfy legs and splayed front feet.

He is still a cheerful, confident puppy. He still loves children more than anything except maybe food.

  1. If he sees a child in the distance, he will focus on the child, sit and wait for the child to come over. If the child ignores him, he is confused.
  2. When he is snooting in the grass and sees someone he wants to approach, he pretends to find things to smell in the direction towards the person, and then raise his head.
  3. He snores, still.
  4. Still lays akimbo on his back.
  5. Loves to slide. He used to climb and then slide down the tarps at TRT; loves to put both front feet on a plastic bottle and skate across the tennis court.
  6. He used to love somersaults and sausage rolls. Now just sausage rolls.

Monday, September 7, 2009


I love taking long walks with Wilbur. The local walk - through Meyersville, up and down the dinky roads to the circle - is almost bucolic. (Note: I have never used that word before.)

I think alot in our walks.

Today, after almost 5 full months of raising a puppy into adolescenthood, which is indeed as hideous as everyone promised (Is he deaf? Doesn't he remember "shake?" Why won't he let me cut his nails?), I was wondering why Wilbur does some of the things he does.
  1. Why does he burrow under his bed in the crate to sleep on a hot day?
  2. Why does he want to roll in dead snakes and voles?
  3. Why does he seek out tissues to rip and play with?
  4. " " " " " the fabric under the boxspring to rip and play with?
  5. " " " " " seek out and destroy the right insert to my Merrill clog, and not the left, to which he has equal access? (Under my bed looks like a mouse nest.)
  6. How can he possibly be hungry after he eats 2 cups of dry food that expands to 4 cups in his stomach after he drinks water? (And I know for sure both measurements.)
  7. And since I have mentioned eating: Why is his entire world now focused on food? He drooled at the deli counter in Whole Foods.
  8. He's 98% Lab: Why can't he swim like a dog? All that follows his shoulders is under water when he paddles. He ends up swallowing water and not feeling so good after.
I don't know if I will ever have answers to these questions.

I don't know how dog people do it. Dogs eat unspeakable things, they seem to get diarrhea with regularity, (the one follows the other), they drool and they fart. Actually, thank goodness, Wilbur does not fart, but I still cannot be sure. He is a dog.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

What Would Liz Say?

I walked Wilbur on a long lead in the little woods near the house. He loves free walks, and I love letting him be a dog. I work him a little, in the woods - wait, don't, and sits when people come by - but basically we walk and I let him explore. I think if everything is forbidden, it becomes attractive; so I let him snoot, but bring him along when I want him to catch up, or change direction and follow me.

I over-think things. Or I don't think things through enough. Both. But whenever I come to a dog-training question, I think of asking Liz Catalano, who is a keen and accomplished trainer.

But then I think, I can't ask Liz, because if I ask her every training question, I would have to put her on speed-dial. And I like her too much to harass her in such a way.

And then I think, "What would Liz say?"

And that is how I answer most of my dog training questions. I go through a good part of the day, thinking, "What would Liz say?"

Today, this was my imaginary conversation with Liz, in the forest:

Ellen: Liz, I have a question.

Liz: Yes, my dear. You are my favorite student, and Wilbur is the best dog I ever saw.

E: (Blushing, but immensely proud) Thank you, Liz. But here is my question. I don't have a fenced-in back yard. So I can't run Wilbur, or play with him the way I would like, unless we go to a friend's, for a pup-play date.

L: How do you sufficiently exercise him every day?

E: (Blushing, ashamed) I walk him. And I intersperse short training. I do try to make it fun. But I can't always run him, or throw a ball.

L: Is there a tennis court, or playground near you? You can make sure it's empty and safely enclosed, and play in there.

E: Oh! Of course! But what do you do when it rains? And you are indoors all day, no walks, no plays?

L: Isn't Wilbur training to be a Service Dog?

E: Yes....

L: Can't you take him into stores?

E: Yes....

L: Remember the other day, when you were training Wilbur in Shop-Rite having an imaginary conversation with me, and you remarked that working Wilbur in the store, especially in a supermarket, is very intense but fun training, and he is exhausted after?

E: (Light bulb over my head) Yes! It was exercise for him! Of course! So on a rainy day, or any day, to really exercise him, we can train in a store! And I am supposed to be doing that, anyway, now he's six months old!

L: (Smiles, but not like I am an idiot, more like I am grasshopper.) You are learning.

E: I have another question.

L: Oh, good!

E: I walk Wilbur on a 20 foot long lead sometimes. I work on his attention, on waits, and heres with the long lead.

L: You make me so proud.

E: Thank you. But the lead drags under him, and trips him. Do you think I can use a flexi-lead?

L: How stupid are you? Of course not. Duh. He weighs over 50 pounds. Didn't I see him run on the lead and pull it out of your hand the other day? He'd snap a flexi-lead. Sheesh, what an idiot.

E: OK, I got it, no flexi-lead. It was just a question.

L: Well, I am getting tired of your questions, even though I am only in your mind. That's how annoying you are. That's why I don't give you my phone number.