Wilson’s Snipe Treated and Released

WISN Feb 14 - 9Wilson’s Snipe, a widespread and common member of the Sandpiper family (Scolopacidae), can be found along stream beds, marshy edges, meadows, bogs, and other open grassy habitats – in other words, coastal Humboldt County is a terrific place for birds such as these.

31 January, we received an injured Wilson’s Snipe brought in by a resident of Humboldt Hill, just south of Eureka. From the mouth of the Elk River in Humboldt Bay, up through the river’s valley, excellent snipe habitat is easy to find.

Unfortunately so is US101. Numerous other roads, plate glass windows, grassy fields divided into backyards with family dogs and outdoor cats, littered trash and more present a daily threat of catastrophe to these broadly adapted birds.

Upon initial examination the snipe appeared to be in serious trouble. A head wound, swollen and bruised was causing what we hoped was only temporarily impaired vision. Our seemingly blind patient struggled in the small, soft-sided enclosure we’d set up for initial care. Multiple food dishes were presented to make it less difficult for the bird to eat. It was apparent s/he knew when we were near, hearing us, but unable to see our hands or instruments placed before his (or her) unblinking eye. A course of anti-inflammatory medicine, nutrition and rest were the backbone of our treatment plan.

WISN Feb 14 - 5We’ll never know with certainty what caused the injury – most likely, the snipe, who is slightly larger than a robin, collided with a glass window or had been hit by a car.

As with every wild patient who we are able to release, patient 14-61 was one of the lucky ones. A study published in The Condor earlier this month estimated that collisions with windows kill between 365 and 988 million birds in the United States alone (second only to the death toll taken by homeless and free-roaming house cats) with nearly half that number resulting from collisions with residences 3 stories and less – people’s houses in other words. While there has been attention given to birds and skyscrapers, the same study found such collisions contribute only 1% to this staggering number.

Vehicle collisions kill millions of wild animals each year as well. A study conducted in Canada in 2013 estimated that 13.8 million birds (mostly songbirds and raptors) are killed annually on that country’s primary and secondary roads. This was was approximately 5% of all avian collisions with human-built infrastructure. Applying that figure to the estimated annual mortality in the window strike study above would mean between 18 and 49 million birds killed in the United States by vehicles each year.

Last year, Humboldt Wildlife Care Center treated 927 wild animals, 77 of whom were known to have been hit by a vehicle. A River Otter, dozens of owls, hawks, songbirds, rabbits – the list is long and diverse. In the first 6 weeks of 2014, we’ve treated 6 animals that we are certain were hit by vehicles.

WISN Feb 14 - 6For the Wilson’s Snipe in our care, we were able to provide the medicine and support needed for her (or him) to recover. Soon s/he was able to detect light from shadow. Within 2 days s/he could easily find the mixture of insects, aquatic invertebrates such as blood worms, the bit of clover and other typical food items on which these birds thrive. Our purpose-built shorebird aviary made for a good place for the lucky bird to regain coordinated flight. After 10 days, s/he had recuperated and was ready for release. Taking the snipe back to the Elk River valley, as far from highways and structures as possible, the bird flew free, back to the wild contract and a second chance we thankfully could provide.
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