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Nursery Success: Mikey

The story of a red-shouldered hawk named Mikey is a good example of how orphaned raptors are raised in our nursery:

Rescue: Mikey came to the Center as a downy chick when he was only two days old. The wind had blown his nest out of the tree, causing both Mikey and his nestmate to fall to the ground. Sadly, the nestmate died from the fall, but Mikey was still alive when caring people found him in the tangled remains of the nest and brought him to the Center. Mikey was so small that he fit in the palm of a hand.

The Incubator: If the rescuers had brought in an egg, volunteers would have "candled" it (held it up to a special light) to see if the chick was alive inside. If the egg had been viable, it would have been placed in the electric incubator. This box keeps the eggs warm at a steady temperature and at the right level of humidity, acting like an incubating mother bird. The incubator gently turns the eggs at regular intervals in the same way she would turn the eggs in the nest. This keeps the chick near the center of the egg so it can develop properly. Volunteers must constantly monitor the eggs to see how the chicks are growing, and they must regularly check the temperature and humidity levels, adjusting settings and adding water when necessary.

Into the Brooder: Because Mikey was already hatched when he arrived, he skipped the incubator and went straight into the nursery's electric brooder. This is a box with temperature and humidity controls, but it has no movement. Mikey was settled into a tiny plastic bowl lined with soft paper for comfort and with soft rubber netting to keep his feet from splaying. He was soon joined by other newly hatched birds and "pipped" eggs from the incubator. ("Pipping" is when baby birds break a hole in the egg shell with their beaks – these have, for a few days, a tiny white protrusion called an egg tooth that helps them crack the shell.) In the brooder, the chick finishes breaking out of its shell. The baby bird needs to struggle with this process because the activity helps it become strong. These nearly naked baby raptors are fed tiny bits of choice mashed mouse, put into their beaks with tweezers by staff and volunteers wearing camouflage and veils to prevent the young chicks from identifying their feeders as human. This discourages the chicks from imprinting improperly on human beings. The birds stay in the brooder until (1) their down grows thick enough to cover their bodies, (2) their necks get strong enough to hold up their heads, and (3) their wings and legs get strong enough to keep the chick from falling over. This happens fast.

Into the Tub: When Mikey left the brooder, he was placed with Evita, an adult female Swainson's hawk, in the hope that she would care for him and feed him and that he would imprint on her, learning that he was a bird, not a human. Sometimes this fostering works well, and young birds thrive and develop properly. After a bit more growth and development, they are placed in caging with other young raptors of their species and eventually all are placed in a hack box, a box set in a tree where young birds can be fed and monitored, and from which they can be released into the wild.

In Mikey's case, however, he did not do well with Evita. He was developing eye problems and could not see food, so he had to be kept in the nursery under special care. One eye did not develop and so Mikey, blind on that side, is one of our permanent residents.

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