by Sarah Lane and Julie Hall
It didn’t rain on the second annual Spooky Creatures Walk at Bloedel, October 26. It was cold and clear and the perfect night for families to take guided walks through the candlelit grounds to meet some of the neighboring West Sound Wildlife Shelter’s Education Ambassadors. The event was sold out.
Pele, American Kestrel
Handler Nancy LeMay introduced Pele, who is named after a Hawaiian goddess, not the Brazilian soccer great. The American Kestrel is the smallest falcon in Washington State: Pele is a perfect example, having only an 18-inch wingspan. But unlike the rest of her species, Pele is no longer an expert, precision flyer. She was hit by a car, which fractured her wing. Surgery performed at Washington State University repaired the wing, but she has never regained the ability to fly. She was recently transferred to West Sound Wildlife Shelter (WSWS) from another shelter.
LeMay said that Kestrels, which live on Bainbridge, mainly eat mice and large insects, especially grasshoppers.
Yukon, Harlan’s Red-Tailed Hawk
Yukon arrived at WSWS when he was only two, after having been hit by a car. He suffered a brain injury and a broken left wing. Although the bones healed, permanent nerve damage means he can no longer fly.
His handler, Jania Henderson, said that Yukon has an insatiable appetite. The shelter feeds him quail, mice, rats, day-old chicks, and rabbit parts. She said that, in the wild, a red-tailed hawk like Yukon, who weighs two pounds and has a five-foot wingspan, will hunt birds, snakes, and rabbits from their perches in tall trees near open areas.
The red-tailed hawk mates for life. The pair will build the nest together and take turns sitting on their eggs.
Artemis, Northern Saw Whet Owl
Artemis is possibly the most adorable creature ever to set claw at WSWS. She weighs a mere 3 to 4 ounces and is about the size of a fist. Handler Susan Ford said that Artemis came to the shelter about one and a half years ago when someone found her in his garage in Covington with a dislocated wing. Her wing will never heal enough for her to be released. Ford said that wing injuries are the number-one reason that raptors end up at the shelter.
In captivity, Artemis could live up to 15 years. In the wild, her life expectancy would be about 5 years.
Ford said that saw whet owls sometimes migrate here from Canada in the winter. Males stake out territory, and pairs mate for life.
Australian Bearded Dragon
This lizard is not a Shelter resident. He and his human, Kent Bridwell, were asked to be part of the event as a reminder to people that many exotic pets end up at the shelter because they are inappropriate pets who often get dumped outside in a climate or environment hostile to them. For example, the bearded dragon belongs in the Australian desert. Bridwell had to keep the dragon inside his sweatshirt in between tour talks to help keep it warm.
Callie, California King Snake
Bridwell also brought to the event a shiny constrictor named Callie. The California King Snake is known for its ability to hunt and eat rattlesnakes, to whose poison it is immune. The King Snake will squeeze the rattlesnake to death before eating it. Callie gently squeezed willing visitors’ hands and fingers.
Bridwell said that he didn’t know the gender of Callie, who was abandoned after being someone’s pet, until she started laying unfertilized eggs a few years ago.
Athena, Barred Owl
Athena is a massive raptor. She is like a growler compared to her shot glass of a cousin Artemis. In fact, Artemis doesn’t much care for Athena, who is a predator of saw whet owls. Athena’s handler Kathleen White said that, fittingly, Athena doesn’t much care for great horned owls, as they are predators of her species.
On the night of the Spooky Creatures Walk, Athena was restless and excited, being a nocturnal predator who rarely gets the opportunity to be out at night. White said that barred owls hunt rodents and small birds and think of bird feeders as “vending machines.”
White explained that the barred owl’s eyes are too big to swivel around like ours do, so the birds have to rotate their heads instead and can do so about 270 degrees. If humans had eyes as big relative to the size of our heads, we would look like anime: Our eyes would be the size of our fists.
Athena, who is 8 years old, came to the shelter as a young owl after having been hit by a car. White told visitors not to throw food out of their car windows because it draws animals to the sides of roads where they get hit by cars. The predators feeding on them also get hit by cars. She also asked people not to use rat poison because owls eat the poisoned rodents and then become poisoned themselves.
One visitor asked about the proposed effort to kill barred owls because of their displacement of spotted owls. White explained that spotted owls only nest in old-growth forests. As humans cut down forests and eliminate their territory, barred owls, who can nest in both old-growth and second-growth, move in. She said that spotted owls eat a far narrower diet than barred owls do, which is another disadvantage for them. She wanted people to understand that the cause of the spotted owls’ problem is humans, not barred owls. And she added that taking out one species will only open the door for another to come in.
Remington, Turkey Vulture
Remington the turkey vulture was found near Shelton and Belfair by a hunter. He had been shot by another hunter. He couldn’t fly and was foraging on the ground and somehow getting by.
Handler Lynne Weber explained that turkey vultures have “weak feet,” meaning that they don’t perch and are able to walk on the ground where they find their prey. One of their defenses when approached from behind by a predator on the ground, she explained, is to swirl around and throw up malodorous vomit. She said that this tactic is often enough of a surprise to buy the vulture time to get away.
Remington, who is four pounds and three years old, is possibly female, which will lead the shelter to rename her Princess Remington, explained Weber. The shelter has sent away some of the bird’s DNA for gender testing. Until then, Remington gets male pronouns. In captivity, as a bird ambassador, he could live for as long as 30 years.
Weber said that condors and turkey vultures are the only birds with a strong sense of smell. A turkey vulture a mile high in the air can smell prey 10 to 12 miles away. Weber called them the “sanitation department” of the wild, cleaning up carrion. Through the advantage of strong stomach acids that kill many viruses, they also have the ability to help stop the spread of diseases, which terminate in their digestive systems. When numbers of turkey vultures decline, the cases of rabies and distemper, among other diseases, increase.
Remington, who, like the rest of his species, can only hiss, had nothing to say about any of this, but he did jump off his crate and try to head off into the woods, as if to demonstrate his foraging powers.
Handler Shannon Rose, who was holding Luna in her arms like a baby, said that opossums have brains the size of a cherry. But their small brain capacity hasn’t stopped the opossum from achieving the status of being one of the oldest mammal species on earth. And this status comes despite their high mortality rate: 98 percent die within a year of birth.
Rose explained that the opossum enjoys several species advantages: It has excellent hearing and, because of its low body temperature, rarely gets diseases like rabies or distemper.
Opossums are omnivores who will eat just about anything, helping them survive but also making them targets of poisoning. They are marsupials who carry their newborns in a pouch, making them highly mobile, albeit slow, so they roam widely, which also can get them into trouble. So can their poor eyesight and lack of much in the way of defense, except for an instinct to show their impressive array of about 50 pointy teeth (more than any other North American mammal), hiss, and, as a last resort, roll over and play dead.
Luna, who is about six or seven months old, came to the shelter after being attacked by a predator. Her tail is “messed up” and she is blind in one eye. In the care of the shelter, she stands a good chance of living three or four years.
The featured animal on the last stop on the tour was a mystery. Handler Rick Gillatt asked visitors to guess what was in the cage behind a drop cloth. He described it as the most dangerous animal in the forest. When the dropcloth was lifted, the visitors saw themselves in a mirror.
Gillatt said that WSWS took in 1,000 animals this year, most “because of humans.” With passion, he said, “We all need to coexist with wildlife.” He encouraged people to contact the shelter with questions about the best ways to deal with “pests” and or get advice if they find an animal that appears to be in trouble.
Photos by Julie Hall.