2016-09-29 / Pets

Mockingbird on snowshoes presents a rehab challenge

ANIMAL CARE
By Donna Mahan
Special to The Acorn


FANCY FOOTWEAR—The mockingbird before, left, and after treatment at the California Wildlife Center. The bird arrived at the center with knuckled, or bent over, feet that needed to be straightened. 
Courtesy of CWC FANCY FOOTWEAR—The mockingbird before, left, and after treatment at the California Wildlife Center. The bird arrived at the center with knuckled, or bent over, feet that needed to be straightened. Courtesy of CWC A small fledgling northern mockingbird came to the California Wildlife Center this spring from a Los Angeles animal shelter. Both of this young bird’s feet were knuckled, meaning it was walking on the tops of its toes.

Imagine if your toes were curled under all the way back to your heels and you had to “stand” on the tops of your feet.

All young birds fledge, or leave the nest, by hopping to a nearby branch or to the ground, and then they begin to practice flying. This baby bird probably had trouble as soon as she was on the ground. She couldn’t hop around and she couldn’t perch on a branch—she was helpless.

Luckily, mockingbird parents are excellent caretakers and likely continued to feed this baby until she was rescued and taken to animal control and then to the California Wildlife Center in Calabasas.

Every year, eight to 10 young birds arrive afflicted with knuckling, which can be a birth defect or have other causes, such as improper diet. Whatever the cause, the condition almost certainly dooms the young bird.

The CWC, a wildlife rehabilitation facility with two full-time wildlife veterinarians, began using a therapeutic snowshoe correction method about five years ago.

The snowshoe correction gets its name because the little cardboard shoes that are taped to the birds’ feet look like snowshoes.

Veterinarian Lorraine Barbosa applied the custom-made shoes to the baby bird, and it was immediately able to stand and hop around.

Typically, the corrective shoes stay on for one to two weeks.

This young bird wore the corrective shoes for about a week and, once they were removed, she could hop onto a branch and perch normally for the first time in her life. She spent the first few weeks in the wildlife center’s baby care unit, where it was fed a diet of mealworms and crickets, and exposed to a daily chorus of mockingbird songs.

She was then placed in an aviary with other northern mockingbirds where she could grow, learn songs, develop flight feathers and gain flying skills. The bird was constantly monitored to ensure the disabling condition would not return.

Once the baby mockingbird grew its full set of flight feathers and demonstrated flight ability, and veterinarians were confident its knuckling had fully resolved, the bird was transferred to a larger outdoor flight aviary.

In the outside aviaries, the birds are self-feeding, exposed to normal day and night temperatures, and allowed to become wild again. Exposure to staff and volunteers is kept at a minimum.

California Wildlife Center’s goal is for all of the birds and mammals to be truly wild and ready for a successful life when they are released. This young bird was released back into the wild in August.

California Wildlife Center is a registered nonprofit organization. With a small staff and dedicated volunteer core, CWC cared for over 4,500 patients in 2015. CWC is funded through individual and foundation donations. For more information, visit www.cawildlife.org.

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