Thursday, 10 July 2014

Interfering with Nature?

Hundreds of baby mammals, like these
raccoons, are orphaned each spring when
their mothers are trapped and relocated
or destroyed. (Photo: Brandi Postma)
As wildlife rehabilitators, we’re often accused of “interfering with nature”. Many believe that we should just let nature take its course; the injured bird will provide food for a fox; the injured deer will pass and be scavenged by other animals. While there is no doubt that nature can be pretty harsh, there are a lot of reasons why we at Hope for Wildlife feel that interfering is a good thing.
This fishing lure was caught deep in a
herring gull's throat. (Photo: Chelsea Pullen)
For starters, many - in fact, most - cases of injured and orphaned wildlife admitted to HFW are not caused by nature to begin with. The overwhelming majority of cases are caused either directly or indirectly by humans: a fawn is orphaned when a mother is hit by a car; a bird was attacked by a pet allowed to roam freely; a nest of squirrels is made homeless when its tree is cut down; a skunk gets its head stuck in a jar; a loon is sick from eating fishing lures. These are all examples of how animals are affected by the actions of humans. At Hope for Wildlife, we feel it is important that humans take responsibility for these actions and take the steps to fix them.  We don’t see these cases as interfering with nature, because it wasn’t a cause of nature to begin with.

It may have been nature's cause,
but Hope for Wildlife didn't hesitate to
get involved when some snowy owls
were found starving  well outside
their usual range (Photo: HFW)
Of course, there are times when nature is the cause: tropical birds are blown northward and left weak by storms; scarce food supplies force animals to migrate out of their usual range leaving them tired and hungry; young are orphaned when their mother dies trying to distract or fight off predators; late season young just aren’t ready for the winter ahead and fail to thrive. These causes may be natural, but Hope for Wildlife isn’t going to stand by and let nature take its course if we can help. Consider this: humans interfere with nature every single day - to build shelter, grow food, create roads and cities - we take land, we create pollution. So when nature gives us the opportunity to make a positive contribution, of course we are going to ‘interfere’.

3 young osprey are left homeless
after the tree supporting their
nest broke during post-tropical
storm Arthur. (Photo: Katie Hauser)

Last weekend when post-tropical storm Arthur blew through, nature gave us an opportunity to help. An osprey nest broke free in the storm, throwing 3 nestlings to the ground. With the parents circling overhead, it seemed like there was a good chance the young could be reunited.

After ensuring the young were unharmed, staff and volunteers set to the task of rebuilding the nest. A few hours later, the nest was hoisted into a nearby tree, followed by the 3 nestlings. 

The new nest is hoisted into a
nearby tree (Photo: Katie Hauser)
The next morning there were no signs the parents had returned; staff climbed back to the nest to feed the young.  The parents weren’t far - they were perched in the broken tree where the nest had been. After another 12 hours and another feeding, the replacement nest was relocated back to the old tree on a lower and more secure branch. Finally, upon checking the chicks on day 3, their crops were full and there were signs of food in the nest. The parents had finally returned to their young!

Did Hope for Wildlife interfere with nature by helping the osprey? Perhaps. But we don’t think there’s anything wrong with that.

Friday, 9 August 2013

Mid-summer Update!

It's hard to believe we are already halfway through the summer; we've had such a busy season so far, with no signs of slowing down! Here are just a few updates on the people, patients and projects at the farm.

A juvenile red squirrel practices her climbing
and hiding in the outdoor squirrel enclosure!
 Photo: RMichelin

Most of our early spring babies have moved from the nurseries to larger outdoor enclosures in preparation for release, and we've already released over 80 songbirds and 40 red squirrels back to the wild so far!

But that doesn't mean things have started to quiet down in the nurseries! This is the time of the summer when many species have their second litter or nest of the season and we start seeing  "Round 2" of baby birds and mammals at Hope for Wildlife! 

This litter of seven squirrel kits
 arrived only a couple days ago. Photo: RMichelin
Three nestling sparrows gape wide and beg to be fed!
Photo: RMichelin
One of five juvenile foxes currently in care.
Photo: RMichelin
Of course, we've still got some patients that need a little more time before they can return to the wild- our young foxes will have to stay with us for another few months before release so that we can be sure they have all the necessary skills they will need to survive on their own. 

Interpreters: Jo, Nick, and Shawna with Education Animals 
And it's not only our Animal Care workers that are keeping super busy! Our Learning Center Guides have been doing a great job giving educational tours to our many visitors! We've already lost count of the exact number, but at this rate we are expecting to surpass 2,000 guests visiting Hope for Wildlife by the end of August. Our Learning Center and Wildlife Gardens are open Monday through Saturday from 10am- 4pm until August 31st, so there is still plenty of time to come for a tour before the end of the season!

Thanks for sticking with us as we make our way through yet another busy summer season! Please subscribe to our blog for more news and updates, and thank you for all your support!

...because they matter

Friday, 2 August 2013

Helping Hands- Lily Campbell

We've had so many amazing interns this summer! Lily Campbell came to stay with us from Canada's West Coast, and we were so happy to have her with us for a full two months! Thanks, Lily- come back and visit soon!

Lily and Clover the Tortiose
My Hope for Wildlife Experience  
By Lily Campbell

When I arrived at Hope for Wildlife, I wasn't really sure what to expect beyond animals in need of help; and that's definitely what I got! On any given day during my two months there, I was told we had about 200 animals in care. Some were animals that I'd heard of but never seen, such as a skunk (and yes, I had the pleasure of being sprayed), while others were species I didn't know existed, such as a woodcock. The days I worked in the rehab were filled with long hours and hard work; there was always another cage to clean, another animal to feed, and no matter how hard we tried to keep on top of it, there was always more laundry to do.  And I loved this hard work- I worked longer shifts than I was scheduled for, volunteered for extra shifts, and wandered over on my days off to help out.

Lily cuddles Maxwell, the 3-legged skunk,
one of the HFW education animals
But my experience was so much more than just hard work and injured animals. The orphaned seals quickly became my favorite animals and I was often found by them, either feeding, cleaning, or simply watching them. While I couldn't snuggle the seals (and believe me, I would have if I could have), I took Maxwell the skunk on walks with his harness and leash, and I carried Oliver the owl around with me while giving him head scratches and him snuggling into my shoulder. The interns and I living in the bunkhouse had an education bunny that would sleep in the bunkhouse with us. I had the opportunity to work with a film crew, and may not only be in the TV show, but also have filmed parts of it! I had the honor of having a fawn named after me and simultaneously learned the importance of selenium. I learned the hard way that porcupine quills are barbed and that squirrels may be small but they can bite very hard! I even got an education on how cars work when the HFW Rescue/ Intern minivan broke down. I saw a lot of Nova Scotia with other interns living in the bunkhouse, although I realized I should have spent a day off buying a thesaurus since the two words I used most during my shifts were "cute" and "adorable".

Oliver the Barred Owl loves to go for walks!
I came to the rehab to work with the animals, but it wasn't long before I realized that there was so much more. I can't talk about my amazing experience without talking about the people I met; I shared so many laughs with them about many things, like trying to catch animals that had escaped from their cages. I wish I knew how to capture in writing how wonderful everyone truly was. When I left, the friends I had made offered to be a reference for me, made me promise to let them know, not if but when, I return to Nova Scotia, and worked very hard at convincing me to come back next summer.

And next summer, I would love to come back. I know there is so much more that I can learn from Hope for Wildlife. And not just about the animals. The most important things learned during my two months there were about myself.

Lily and Hope in Lily's favourite spot at the farm- next to the seal pool!
We definitely couldn't do as much as we do at HFW without our incredible staff, volunteers and interns. For more information on volunteering and other ways to support Hope for Wildlife, visit our webpage at And please subscribe to our blog for more goings-on at the farm!

-...because they matter

Friday, 26 July 2013

Species Profile- Common Snapping Turtle

Canada's largest freshwater turtle, the Common Snapping Turtle (Chelydra serpentina serpentina is found in many lakes and ponds around Nova Scotia. So far this season, we have had 8 Snapping turtles brought into our care! 

Quick "Snapper" Facts: 
Adult Snapping Turtle. Photo: HFW
  1. Can reach a shell length of over 50 cm (20 inches), though 20-35cm is typical. 
  2. Shells are black, brown or green due to algae growing on the surface. 
  3. Mostly carnivorous, eating small fish and amphibians. 
  4. Have a keen sense of smell but limited vision. 
  5. Listed as a "Vulnerable" species in Nova Scotia (2013). 
  6. Believed to live well over 100 years!
Bad Reputation (Or Why the Snapping Turtle Snaps!) 

Snapping turtle plastron.
Photo: Nova Scotia Museum
Due to a ferocious appearance and powerful bite, snapping turtles can have a reputation as "dangerous". However, as long as humans don't disturb the turtle's personal space, they are typically shy creatures!

The bottom of a snapping turtle's shell, called the plastron, is considerably smaller than the top half of the shell, or carapace. Unlike many other species, with such a small plastron snapping turtles can not pull their head and limbs into their shell for protection. Since they are also very slow moving on land the turtle's only defense when threatened is to snap! The turtle's neck is much longer than it appears when at rest- if disturbed, the turtle can stretch it's neck halfway back to it's tail and has exceptional aim! 

If you spot a snapping turtle on land, please be respectful and keep your distance. There is also no risk to swimmers sharing a lake or pond with a snapping turtle - they will keep their distance from you! 

Baby snapping turtle.
Photo: R Michelin
Snapping turtles will usually only leave the water to lay their eggs; in Nova Scotia, they typically nest during late June and early July, but egg-laying season can extend to anytime between May and October. In early daylight or late in the afternoon, turtles will emerge from lakes and ponds to dig their nests in sand or gravel a few meters above the water line.

Snapping turtles lay between 20-50 spherical eggs each year. The eggs hatch in late September or early November, but baby snapping turtles will remain under ground until the spring if the soil above the nest is colder than the nest itself. The baby snappers are only a few centimeters long when hatched, and can take up to twenty years to fully mature!

Turtles in Danger

Turtles eggs in soil. Photo: R Michelin
Despite their thick shells and leathery skin, turtles are not immune to harm. The most common reason for snapping turtles to be brought to Hope for Wildlife is due to being struck or run over by a vehicle.  Turtles often have to cross busy roads and highways in search of nesting sites; some turtles will even choose gravel roadways, loose garden soil or construction sites in which to build their nest. For such slow moving animals, crossing roads with cars speeding past can be extremely dangerous! 
While some turtles are brought in with only minor scratches to their shells and can be immediately released, others are more seriously damaged, such as the snapper in the photo. This turtle had a large hole where a piece of her shell had been broken off- the white spot you can see is the hole after it was patched! It took more than a year for this turtle to recover enough to be released back to the wild. 
Sadly, we aren't able to help all the turtles that come to us with injuries. The turtle's shell is a living part of their skeletal system and protects their vulnerable organs and tissues, and damaged shells take a very long time to heal. 

What YOU Can Do!

If you spot a turtle on or near the road and want to help, here are a few simple steps to follow:

1) Call a wildlife rehab for help! Getting expert advice is always a good idea.

2) Be SAFE! Keep safety in mind for the turtle, yourself and other motorists. Make sure your car is safely stopped well off the road and be mindful of approaching traffic. 

3) Do NOT pick the turtle up! Keep fingers and feet well away and use a stick, broom or other long tool to gently herd the turtle to safety. 

4) Go forwards, not backwards! Herd the turtle in the direction she is already going in; otherwise it is likely that once you leave the turtle will turn around and try again! 

For more information about snapping turtles, visit

We appreciate your support! For more information about Hope for Wildlife, visit our website at, and subscribe to our blog!

...because they matter
Juvenile Snapping Turtle. Photo: R Michelin

Monday, 3 June 2013

Helping Hands- Shawna Burgess

In this week's "Helping Hands" feature, we hear from Shawna Burgess. Shawna has been lending a hand at HFW in several areas and offers her perspective on the many different ways our amazing volunteers and the general public contribute to Hope for Wildlife !

When you volunteer for any cause, you do it because you believe in it.  You chip in wherever you are needed and you are not scared to roll up your sleeves.  The rewards are always more than you ever bargained and it brings you a pride of self and those around you.
 As a volunteer at Hope for Wildlife, I have had the thrill of bottle feeding fawns no taller than my knee and the comedy of trying to clean a crow cage when the inhabitants would rather perch on my head! I've been within inches of a bear cub and had the privilege of watching someone feed a three day old porcupine with a Mohawk. I have had the honor of teaching children the difference between a tortoise and a turtle and watched their joy in touching a skunk or a snake for the first time. Whether I volunteer to clean, feed, educate or transport – there is always the reward of a job well done. 
Often one of the least thought of but greatest challenges for Hope for Wildlife is the daily financial demand of caring for injured and  orphaned wildlife and educating the public.  On one end of the scale there is the daily costs of food and supplies (feeder mice, for example- a mature barred owl can eat at least 3 mice a day, and at a dollar a mouse, it can really add up!).   At the other end of rehabbing is the annual cost of transportation, medication and medical equipment, without which wildlife would suffer and little could be done. 
 Happy volunteers give of their time and treasure to nurse and educate but the list of need is so much more.  We have to rely on a tired van past its prime for rescues and to make emergency clinic runs. Bird  cages are contained with netting that has been mended more times than my woolen socks!  There is the laundry equipment that never rests and refrigerators stuffed almost beyond their capacity (to hold all those mice!)
It's amazing to see the wonderful folk from all over who have supported the cause financially.  I've seen a five year- old ask her friends for birthday money to donate to Hope instead of gifts and a friend of the rehab on her fiftieth ask her spouse to donate a washing machine for the same reason.  We have all made goods for bake sales and worked during the Open House the last weekend in August each year to raise some of the funds needed.
I've asked myself over time what can I do that would make a difference and I know the answer is everything I do makes a difference.   Action is important.  Whether it is to volunteer at the farm, respect habitat conservation or simply educate yourself on best wildlife human co-existence- no amount or action is too little and every bit helps.  Think about it. It all counts and it is rewarding.
- Shawna
Thanks Shawna! We'd love to hear from you, too! Have you had an amazing volunteer experience? Ever thought about volunteering but haven't been sure where to begin? Visit our website at to find out about volunteer opportunities at Hope for Wildlife, and then subscribe to our blog for more stories from our past and current volunteers!
-because they matter

Monday, 20 May 2013

Taking Flight: What is a fledgling?

During spring and summer, Hope for Wildlife receives hundreds of baby and juvenile songbirds, crows and ravens; unfortunately, not all young birds brought in are actually in need of our help. By learning when we should and should not get involved, we can reduce the number of birds that are brought to HFW unnecessarily.

The Best Intentions

Before you capture an animal, first determine that it needs your help! Every year, hundreds of young animals are 'kidnapped' by well-meaning people who think they have found an injured or orphaned baby. What they may not know is that in many cases it is normal to find a baby alone or out of its nest. Always remember that a baby animal's best chance for survival is with its mother! 

Signs that a bird needs immediate assistance include:

  • attacked by a cat or dog
  • open wounds/ bleeding
  • injured or missing limbs
  • foreign objects stuck to or wrapped around the body
  • large patches of missing feathers
  • covered in oily or sticky substance
  • discharge from ears, eyes, or nose
  • strange behaviour such as a permanently tilted head, staggering, lethargy, or unconsciousness

Nestling, Fledgling or Adult?

If you find a bird that cannot fly, it is important to determine if the bird is a nestling, fledgling, or an adult.
Nestlings are very young birds that should still be in the nest. Very young nestlings have few or no feathers, they cannot stand up and support themselves, and their eyes may still be closed, like these baby starlings. They need constant care from their parents at this stage; most nestlings need to be fed every 20-30 minutes for at least 14 hours a day!

A fledgling, like this juvenile blue jay, is a young bird that is covered with feathers and able to stand but is just leaving the nest and learning how to fly. They often have remnants of their fluffy baby down feathers on their heads and sides and their tail and wing feathers may not be fully developed. Fledgling crows and ravens can look almost exactly like full- grown adults; the tell-tale sign is their eyes: fledgling crows and ravens have blue eyes, while adults have dark brown eyes.

What if I find...

A bird on the ground?

If you find a nestling bird that has fallen out of its nest and the nest is within reach, you can simply place the baby back in it.
If you find a fledgling bird on the ground, that's normal! Young birds don't go straight from the nest to the air on their first try; depending on the species they may spend anywhere from a couple of days to several weeks on the ground. Watch from a distance to make sure the parents are still taking care of the fledgling (they won't come while you are nearby!) and keep pets away. If the bird is hopping around in a dangerous area, pick it up and place it in a shrub nearby where the parents can still hear him. 

Did You Know?
It is a common myth that a baby bird touched by humans will be rejected by its mother. Birds don't have a great sense of smell, and they have amazing parenting instincts! 

A destroyed nest?

If you find a nest that has been destroyed or blown out of a tree, place all the babies together in a container lined with dry leaves, grass, pine needles, or the old nest. The container can be a plastic container with holes poked into the bottom for drainage. Secure the new nest to the original or a nearby tree and check to see if the mother returns. If she doesn't, place all the babies together into a box with a heat source and call Hope for Wildlife for assistance or bring to the nearest Hope for Wildlife drop off location.

If you have any questions about injured or orphaned birds, we're always happy to provide assistance or advice in any way we can! Visit our website at for more information on baby birds. You can also call our Wildlife Hotline with questions any time at 407-WILD (9453). 

Stay tuned for more information about spring babies in upcoming blog posts! Please subscribe by clicking the button to the right. Thank you for your continued support!

... because they matter

Saturday, 11 May 2013

Home Sweet Habitat- Spring Construction and Wildlife Habitat

Spring has sprung! With warmer weather on it's way, it's time to spruce up our Spruce trees, tend our tulips and dote on our daffodils...but what effects does this have on our wildlife? Each year, we have dozens of injured and orphaned mammals and birds brought to Hope for Wildlife when nests and dens are disturbed during spring landscaping and construction activities. Read on for ways to reduce our negative impacts on spring babies, and find out how to safely share our outdoor spaces!

Home Construction and Landscaping:
Getting started

Before you even begin a home construction or landscaping project, there are simple ways you can reduce your impact on wildlife in your area.
1) Understand your environment. Are there any important features of your property that are essential to local wildlife such as streams or water courses? If so, try to work around these features so they remain undisturbed.

2) Start early…or late. Spring and early summer are great times for home projects, but are also prime nesting and birthing times for most wildlife.  If possible, begin projects well before wildlife start to nest to reduce impacts on babies, or delay the start of your project until babies have left the nest or den.

3) Check for signs of wildlife residents.  Do a thorough inspection of the project area before starting work each day. Look for signs of wildlife in the area, such as nests in trees or dens under decks or stairs. Watch for birds flying repeatedly into an area with nest building materials, or areas of disturbed soil where small mammals may be building a den. 

Living With Wildlife: Landscape and design with wildlife in mind

Avoid unwanted guests: You want wildlife in your yard, not in your house! Plan any new construction to be wildlife-proof: install wire mesh or lattice around the bottom of new sheds, decks and porches; staple mesh or netting up as a false ceiling under overhangs or rafters, plug or repair gaps in siding and roofs. 

Choose Native Plants: Native plants not only have low water requirements, but native animals have evolved with and are adapted to native plants and will benefit from their presence in your garden.  Using natives will attract native insects and micro-organisms, which reduces pests and the need for chemicals.

Let your grass grow!  Short-trimmed grass provides little cover, food or nesting material for wildlife. Save yourself the trouble, and let an area of your yard grow wild! If you do mow, thoroughly check the grass for ground-nesting birds or mammals like pheasant and snowshoe hare and avoid mowing those areas when possible.

Wildlife mothers, whether mammals or birds, will NOT reject their babies even if they have been handled by humans. However, if a mother has been so stressed by the destruction of her nest, she may not be able to return. If a mother does not return for her babies within a few hours, place the babies in a box with a heat source and bring them to the nearest HFW drop-off location.
Potential Project Problems!

Even if you are diligent, you may still encounter problems with wildlife during your home construction project.

Bird Nest- Fallen or destroyed
If an entire bird nest has fallen or been removed, gather the fallen babies and place them gently back in the nest, then place the nest as close to where it came from as possible, but out of the way of further harm. If the nest was destroyed, line a small container that has drainage holes with some soft straw and hang it near where it was found. Watch the nest for about an hour to ensure the parents return to care for the babies.

 Mammal Nest/ Den- disturbed or destroyed
If your work has disturbed or destroyed the nest of a raccoon, fox or squirrel and/or you find a baby outside the nest, put the babies in a shallow box close to where they were found. Keep the box warm and out of direct sunlight and keep children and pets away. Watch from a distance or come back every so often to see if the mother has returned for her babies.  

For more tips and advice about living with wildlife, please visit our website at or call our wildlife hotline at (902) 407-WILD. 

Stay involved with Hope for Wildlife! Please subscribe to our blog by clicking the link to the right of this post! Thank you for your support! 

...because they matter