Hatchling Killdeer
Hatchling Killdeer

“Oh no! That’s a Killdeer” said Sherry, as she looked at the picture sent to her phone.  The sender,  a concerned animal lover,  told Sherry she found this baby bird on the ground and assumed it must have fallen from an above nest.  She could see nothing nearby where a nest would have been, so she placed it in a box and was making plans to bring it to Happinest.

Sherry explained, “That’s a killdeer, they nest on the ground. Can you take it back?”  Sherry sent her a picture and said “Here is what the parents look like.” They often will nest near humans, right on the ground, in grass or gravel. They are frequently found in parking lots, on school roofs, road edges and other spots where you find bare gravel.

Killdeer are a precocial species, meaning their chicks are covered with down, eyes open and walking as soon as they hatch.  They follow the parents right away just like chickens and ducks,  needing  parents for warmth & safety.

The finder told Sherry she was now taking the baby back and she had found several pairs of adults. “Yay,” said Sherry.  “They usually foster each other’s chicks. The mother may act injured. They do that to protect their babies.”

Image Credit:
A Mother Killdeer

Adult Killdeers are well known for a behavior called “the broken wing act.” When they feel threatened or when their offspring are in danger, the parent will try to lure predators – including humans – away from their nest by calling loudly and appearing to be hurt or injured.  They may flail around quite convincingly, limping on one leg and dragging a wing.

“Okay, the baby is going towards one of the adults now. She is doing that hurt thing trying to get me away.  She was within a couple of feet of the baby so I know she saw it.”

“Okay, said Sherry, make sure they reunite. You may need to get further away. Is the baby peeping?”

“Yes, I think it was successful.  Especially since she was acting injured. The mother is sitting on the baby now. That little baby knew right where to go!”

As you can see, in this case, it was a successful reunion for this family of Killdeer.  This situation was a perfect education moment to teach others when it’s right to intervene and when we should trust nature to work it out.

If you ever encounter an orphaned or injured baby bird, here are a couple of things to check before stepping in to help.

  • They need to be kept warm.
  • Do not feed any baby animal. Feeding may harm or even kill the animal that you are trying to protect.
  • Touching the babies does not make parents reject them. All wildlife will take their babies back. Their instinct to parent is stronger than any scent left on the baby.
  • Contact a licensed rehabber who will know what to do.


The Importance of Virginia Opossums

To many, the opossum is considered an undesirable rodent.  Here at the nest, we know just how remarkable these creatures really are.  That is why we are dedicated to rescuing and rehabbing these fascinating animals.  With the help of Eugene, our education ambassador, we are hoping to show people why opossums are so beneficial to have around.  Let’s take a look at a few important facts about our furry little friends:

  • Opossums eat normal foods like fruits, fish and eggs, but they also eat ticks, snakes, insects, snails, slugs, mice and rats. This makes them excellent pest control assistants.
  • It is extremely rare for an opossum to contract rabies. In fact, they are remarkably resistant to many common animal diseases, including distemper.  Contrary to popular belief, if you see an opossum wandering about during the day, this does not mean they have rabies. Although they do usually rest during the day, they will go out foraging in times when food is scarce.
  • It is estimated that an opossum could potentially eat 4,000 ticks in a single week. They are also very unlikely to carry Lyme or other tick-borne infections.  This not only protects them, but also protects us.
  • Opossums are known for their immunity to most snake venom. Not only do they eat poisonous snakes but they may also possess an antidote for venomous snakebites in humans.
  • “Playing possum” is a term that we are all familiar with, but what you might not know it that this “act” is actually a seizure that leaves the animal with little control over when it begins or ends. The comatose state can last for a few minutes or up to several hours.  Please do not assume the animal is dead and try to dispose of the body.  If you can see no obvious injuries, just leave the animal alone.  If you believe the animal is hurt, please contact your local rehabber.
  • Virginia Opossums are North America’s only marsupial. When their babies are only 12 days old and smaller than a jellybean, they will make their way to the mother’s pouch. They will start to venture out of the pouch a bit at two months old and by three months will “ride” the mother’s back.  If you see a dead mother opossum in the road, there may be a chance that there are still babies alive in the pouch.  Should you find baby opossums, contact your local rehabber.  You should not attempt to raise the babies yourself. Even though adult possums can eat almost anything, the young “pups” have very specific dietary needs.

We hope that this has helped alter some of the negative opinions that come along with this “rat-tailed” mammal.  They actually do us a great service.  Still not convinced?  Stop by one of our fundraisers to meet Eugene and give him a chance to show you how delightful an opossum can really be.

Becky Grider
Happinest Volunteer

Call Me When You Get On Ninety-One

That was the entirety of the first conversation with Geri Wynn. So much for directions. To be fair, she likely had an animal in one hand and the phone in the other. Wildlife rehabbers often have their hands full this time of year and your priorities must change a little when you have a hundred mouths to feed. Thank goodness for GPS.

We were only about an hour into the four-hour drive from Chattanooga to Elizabethton and our passengers had hardly made a sound. My travel companion and licensed wildlife rehabilitator at Happinest Wildlife Rescue, Kate Harrell, hopped in the back to check on our most critical bit of cargo. Of the six fawns we had on board, this one was the smallest and had already shown signs of declining health.  When Kate returned to the cab, I feared we may be changing the manifest of this journey from six to five live fawns onboard. About an hour later, we did just that. “Sometimes, you just have to take solace in knowing they were comfortable when they passed and there was nothing more you could do”, Kate remarked.

The highways became streets and then country lanes as they often do when your destination pertains to wildlife. The rehab facility was located at the end of a long gravel drive on the edge of the Cherokee National Forest. This particular facility was more accustomed to dealing with large mammals and it wasn’t hard to see why. Located in the Blue Ridge Mountains roughly 10 miles from the Virginia border, the largely undeveloped land is ideal habitat for all manner of native wildlife.

Geri and Keith Wynn greeted us at the end of the drive, their attention focused mainly on the five new patients being admitted to their care.  Transferring the little guys into the facility and filling out the intake forms led to a very informative tour of their facility, tips for caring for orphaned fawns and some planning for, possibly, being able to care for them locally in the future. For now, we knew these five fawns were in good hands at Wynnwood.

Geri Wynn confirmed that they had seen an uptick in fawn admissions this year. While fawns may occasionally be orphaned, it is rarely the case. Does will often leave their young curled up in a safe location while they go feed on their own and return several times a day to check on them. This serves as a reminder that if you find a fawn, the best thing to do is watch and see if its mother returns.  Geri advises, “Unless you see flies and maggots on the fawn, leave it be.” Although it is necessary to intervene occasionally, nature tends to have a way of taking care of herself and we should sometimes be more obliged to leave our good intentions on our doorsteps.