Well, it stung. And it felt like a right of passage.
Yesterday afternoon I was sprayed right in the eyes by a baby skunk.
And it wasn’t as bad as you’d think. From the way people talk about it, it seems like you can never wash the smell off and you’ll go around smelling like skunk for days or weeks.
It really stung, like any foreign substance in the eyes, and I couldn’t see for a minute or two. I wiped my eyes with a clean towel right away and felt fine within a couple of minutes. A bit like having had chlorine in the eyes from swimming. I used a proper (sanitized) eye wash in the bathroom, and then washed my face with warm water and soap.
Bathing in tomato juice is a myth (though bathing in it or anything else might reduce the smell a bit). More often it is recommended to wash with a mixture of peroxide, baking soda, and liquid soap. For me in this case, liquid soap was sufficient. It washed off the spray and the smell.
Skunks can be incredibly accurate when shooting their spray. It streams out of two glands under the tail, on each side of the anus. They can spray fairly accurately by the time they are about 3 months old. The spray is an oily substance that contains sulphur compounds, which give it both sting and smell.
As I have written about skunks before here, skunks would really rather not spray if they can help it. These adorable little ones were doing a great job stomping to scare me away, and one or two would give off just little squirts of spray. They are just learning!
I almost cried! At the wildlife centre, as usual the last thing I did in the day was feed, weigh and clean the bats. I love caring for the little cuties and have come to know each one and their own personality and sweet quirks.
I look forward to seeing them each week. I pick up each enclosure from its place on the shelf in the humidity tent (big brown bats, who are very little – their name is misleading – are housed in the humidity tent) or from the table top (silver haired bats), and move it to my workspace on a counter top in the Songbird Room.
I have a variety of worms, large tweezers, my protective gloves, calcium water, bat vitamins, and clean fresh tea towels, a sensitive weigh scale set up there, and a garbage can nearby.
Once I’ve moved the enclosure to my workspace, I check the chart to see who it is, and what they need today in terms of food, cleaning, weighing, and any special care. Like, for a while, we were putting emu oil on Ursula’s swollen and sore wrists, which helped a lot.
So, starting logically, from left to right, I did the first silver haired bat on the table. It was Ursula, who didn’t need much more than a spot cleaning and replenishing her food and water.
The next bat enclosure I moved to my workspace. Looked at the chart to see who it is and what they need today. And what a surprise!
IT WAS LEONTES!!! Little love! I was just about in tears. I am just about in tears again now, while typing this. It was such a surprise and so wonderful to see him again!
He looks good – his tiny body is about the length of my thumb, and his silvery coat is beautiful. He learned to eat on his own while he was in foster care (I mentioned this in a previous post), so I only needed to do a spot cleaning and replenish his food, but oh my goodness I was so happy to see him and do that!
Leontes came into care at the wildlife centre on November 4, 2019. I have been taking care of him every week since November 17, which was a month or so after I was properly and thoroughly rabies vaccinated and had provided the staff with my titer (proof for the files).
I was very worried about him in January when he started to not eat or groom well. Around that time, I learned a special way of feeding him that worked well – Leontes laying on his piece of bark, and a tea towel over him like a little mini cave. I could then give him water from a tiny syringe and then he would eat.
I also learned to feed him a special bat food from a syringe. It is a mixture of mealworms, oils, and vitamins blended into a smoothie or baby food consistency. He ate that really well. Seemed to like it. Not like Phoenix worms! He is very clear that he does NOT like phoenix worms! Mealworms he loves. Waxworms he will tolerate, especially with some help to hold it up for him. But not Phoenix worms – you can almost her him say “yuck!” He also needed patience, as he often would eat then need a bit of a rest before being ready to be fed the rest of his food.
We were all cheering him on in February when he was recovering and was back to having a huge appetite. He had lost some of the fur from his chest and was showing a little pinkish skin. I looked forward to seeing him, and helping with his recovery, every week.
Then in March when Covid 19 changed everything, he and many of the other bats went in to foster care. I was hoping to be able to foster him, other bats, and other animals at my home, but I hear that he was being fostered by one of the staff people. I missed him but was happy to know he would be getting great care.
That said, I was afraid I’d never see him again. Knowing that bats should be released in summertime, I thought that if he stays in foster care, and Covid 19 forces isolation, distancing, and reduced staffing at the Wildlife Centre for long, there’s a chance he would be released before I ever saw him again.
But he’s back! And he’s doing well! He is eating on his own and being exercised regularly to get his flying muscles back into shape for him to be released.
I will start helping to fly the bats for exercise in the next week or two. In the meantime, I am happy to be able to feed and clean Leontes and see him hanging on his tea towel or hiding and resting in his fave spot underneath a piece of bark, each week.
Until he is in shape and ready to go back into the wild world.
It is Easter Sunday, and my one-year anniversary at the wildlife centre. It’s become an important part of my life and a highlight of my week. But it is such a strange time there now, due to Covid 19, with much fewer animals in care than normal, as they are being fostered, cared for elsewhere, or released if safe to do so.
I was sad and disappointed to see that little Leontes is gone. I am glad to know that he is in good care, but I am truly saddened that I will not likely see him ever again. He will probably be released rather than returning to the centre. The snakes are gone into foster care, too. But I am happy to see Hashbrown and be able to care for the remaining bats, opossums, a very clean coyote, raccoons including a very funny little girl who should be more afraid of humans, a too-sweet skunk, a very calm gull, and other animal patients.
More small songbirds are coming in now, too: a robin, blue jay, yellow-bellied sapsuckers, juncos, sparrows, as well as a starling, and the mourning doves and pigeons as always.
Recently I’ve been able to hold a very laid-back gull, a gorgeous yellow-bellied sapsucker who is sadly in really rough shape (a small woodpecker with a beautiful bright red head, who looooves eating her orange slices despite a fractured beak and other injuries), and a tiny dark-eyed junco (a beautiful little fluffy rich slate-grey songbird), with no problem at all, for medication and treatments.
A little kinglet outsmarted me, though! Super tiny little fluffball of a bird with gorgeous yellow and orange head cap.
This one was my first in months – I had not handled songbirds since last autumn. And she escaped!
Two tiny kinglets had just arrived at the centre earlier on Sunday, and it was time for them to get oral medications, tiny droplets at a time. I was with staff member H, and when ready, I reached in under the fabric cover, into the terrarium to gently capture the first one. Which is very difficult when there are two in an enclosure, that is not big but big enough for them to fly from one end to the other, and to hide under their branches.
I should have taken out the branches. Didn’t think of that at the time. I did grasp one little kinglet, but I was being far too gentle, and it got out of my hand. It was still in the enclosure.
I then tried using the fabric cover as a scoop to push the birds into one area of the enclosure where I can then more easily grasp it. This works very well when there is one bird in the enclosure but is tricky when there are two or more together.
So I used the fabric, and had both kinglets in the far end of the terrarium. As I reached in to bring one out, it escaped and started flying around the room!
“Ruby-crowned Kinglets are fast-moving but quiet little birds…” says AllAboutBirds.com and that’s very true. Especially the part about fast.
We immediately turned off the lights, but of course escaped birds always go as high as possible toward the ceiling and fly back and forth from one end of the room to the other. Staff member H and I grabbed our nets and tried to carefully capture it. (In the meantime, the other kinglet was still under the fabric, in the enclosure.)
Staff member H netted it expertly after a few minutes. Tired little bird. I reached in, too-gently trying to grasp it, and it escaped again!
H netted it again and I covered her net with mine. I reached in and gently, firmly, grasped it in my hand, removed it from the net, and turned it around in my hand, so its head was between my index and middle fingers with my hand loosely fisted around the tiny bird. It is SO tiny and SO fragile! Among the smallest of the songbirds who come in for care, at about 3 inches tall and weighing about ¼ of an ounce… much smaller than a warbler or a chickadee.
But once securely in my hand I held it no problem, and H gave it 3 different oral medications, before I put it back with the other kinglet in the terrarium. Certainly not final sign-off worthy work, but I feel blessed to have had the experience and practice handling tiny songbirds again.
At the end of the day, I discovered that the gorgeous milk snake had shed!
I was able to remove the shed skin in one perfect piece, head to tail. And place it gently in-tact in a large Ziploc bag that I labelled with her patient number and the date on it.
Everyone has been waiting for her to shed. Which is not surprising as her wounds heal. She is the only snake who has not been placed in foster care while staffing is reduced due to Covid19, because she has been healing from some significant wounds on her belly. I noticed about 3 weeks ago that her eyes were starting to get cloudy – a sign of preparing to shed.
The beautiful snake was hiding under the large rock in her enclosure as I removed the shed skin. I let staff member J know, and since snakes don’t eat much before shedding, I was asked to bring her a little feast of a variety of small foods. Well no problem – except for the earthworms from outside.
I grabbed a fork from the kitchen and first went out the back door and into the ditch area to look for worms. I promptly stepped deeply into muck, covering my right shoe and pant hem. Ugh. No worms.
Then I went over the road to the farther ditch to dig and look under garbage in the wet ditch. No worms.
I have no idea where to find worms. On my way back into the centre, taking a route back that appeared drier, I slipped into the deep muck. Covered my left shoe. Ugh.
Ok, so wiped my feet as well as I could on the grass, then on the door mat, I went inside and went to the room where the dirty kennel cabs and waterfowl mats are hosed down. I hosed down my shoes and pants. Soaking wet shoes and socks now. Still no worms. I know nothing about wild worms.
So I went out the front door, to the park-like area in front of the building. Dug my fork into the grass. No worms. Dug into the slope of the planted area, covered in leaves. No worms. But there was a nice surprise: as I was returning to the TWC I noticed a groundhog looking at me!
A groundhog has made a home in the planted mound, in the park-like space in front of the Centre. What a treat to see her looking at me looking at her looking at me. Then back in to the Centre. I asked A if she knew where to find worms. Nope. I asked T. Good thing I asked T! She told me where to look. It was outside of course but could not be any closer or easier. I found two small wild earthworms. Thank goodness!
The milksnake’s post-shed Easter Sunday feast was complete and placed in a tiny dish in front of her, for her to enjoy.