Thursday, November 29, 2012

The Mystifying Bird Changes of Winter

(Photos: 1-- Migratory geese, ducks and gulls at Central Park Reservoir. 2-- New flock of domestic ducks at Harlem Mere.  3-- Oliver, my recovering mallard 4--Canada goose at Harlem Mere. 5-- Hector, the swan whose motives are not entirely clear.) 

"Coldest November in 15 Years"

It was surprising to learn yesterday that according to the National Weather Service, New York City experienced its coldest November in 15 years.

With the exceptions of hurricane Sandy and the Nor'easter,  I thought the weather in NYC to be very pleasant -- even ideal -- over the past month.

But, perhaps the near total absence of evening joggers and cyclists in Central Park over the past month should have indicated significant weather changes. --  That and the influx of many migratory birds -- especially to the Central Park Reservoir.

Still, the current number of Canada geese in Central Park appears relatively low compared to mallard and sea gull numbers.

I am guessing the bulk of migratory Canada geese have still not yet arrived to New York City.

According to this "birding"  article from Ohio,  millions of migratory birds are only now leaving Canada and the Arctic and starting to show up in the states.

I am wondering, if like last year, it will be the first week in December that most of the migratory geese arrive to New York City?

While current goose numbers in Central Park are higher than this time last year (suggesting some flocks migrated early), one has to surmise the numbers are mixed with resident NYC geese.

I am hoping to see more migratory geese arrive and stay at Harlem Mere, as occurred last year.

The healthy number of geese last year, along with flocks of mallards worked cooperatively together to prevent the lake at Harlem Mere from entirely freezing over. (Of course, last winter was unusually warm in New York City with virtually no snow and that apparently encouraged the large flocks of migratory geese and ducks to stay.)

One has no way of knowing exactly what this winter will have in store for New York City.

But, if we were going to have a month that was the "coldest in 15 years" in New York City, I am glad it was November and have to hope that the same doesn't hold true for January and February.

Such could spell a really hard winter for the six domestic (flightless) ducks currently at Harlem Mere who would not, by themselves contain the weight and strength sufficient to create and maintain open water on an otherwise, frozen solid lake. 


Temperatures in NYC this week have been hovering as low as the freezing mark.

It is touching when sometimes arriving at Harlem Mere, to now find the four new domestic ducks snuggling and cuddling up to each other along the embankment -- presumably for warmth.

I have never observed that kind of closeness among birds before, though from the very beginning, this has been a very tight knit group.  They obviously have known each other a long time (and might actually be related) and were dropped off at the Mere together.  

Meanwhile, Oliver, (the recovering fishing line mallard) continues to make steady improvement and even now follows me, (though in hobbling fashion) with many of the other ducks when I leave the Mere each night.

I have always been mystified and touched by this "departing" and seemingly protective gesture on the part of many of the mallards and domestic ducks at Harlem Mere. 

It is almost as if I could not safely leave the park without the escort of the waterfowl there.

Even Hector, the swan now follows in the water when I leave the Mere, keeping careful watch.

But, I am not sure in Hector's case, if it a matter of vigilance and sweetly saying "good night" -- or rather, giving a departing "evil eye" glance to my two dogs prancing beside me.   

For the moment and in my "anthropomorphic" way, I will prefer to imagine the former. -- PCA


Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Where the Wild Things Are -- Contradictory Lessons in Intolerance & Resiliency

(Photos: 1--  "Hector" returned back to Harlem Mere. 2-- A few Canada geese in Central Park.  3-- "Oliver" last night at the Mere on the way to speedy recovery.)

"Swan Lake" in Central Park -- Welcome Back, Hector!

"Hector" the swan is back at Harlem Mere.

Assuming him to be the same swan observed two years ago, Hector has been back for a few weeks.

I had not seen Hector since he was chased out of the Mere in December of 2010 by a goose harassment company.

But, with so few Canada geese at Harlem Mere these days, it is hoped that Hector (who appears on in years and walks with a limp) will be left alone.

Although swans can sometimes be a bit tough and assertive (especially around dogs), they are truly beautiful and majestic creatures to observe and enjoy on park lakes and ponds.

So much so as to inspire a beautiful ballet by one of the world's greatest composers.

I truly hope Hector is allowed to stay around a while.

It's nice to have a "Swan Lake" in Central Park again -- even if only one swan is actually there.

Where the Wild Things Are -- New Contraption for the Terrorizing of  Canada Geese

Not the subject of ballets or operas and still the target of non-stop harassment and lethal culls are of course, Canada geese.

It appears now there is a new device in the never ending arsenal against these peaceful, harmless birds:

Perhaps as one bitterly opposed to nationwide slaughters of Canada geese, I should be grateful for all those non-lethal measures and devices designed to terrorize geese from parks and golf courses.

But, I am not.

I do not wish to see the beauty of park lakes with waterfowl peacefully swimming to be marred and replaced by ugly manufactured contraptions zipping across the water and defiling them.

It would be like placing a black hood over the Venus de Milo.

One has to wonder, what exactly is our problem with all things natural?

Have we become so alienated from everything in nature that we can only look at elephants as "ivory," deer as "targets," many species of animals as "food" and geese as "pests?"

For those who abhor and are so repulsed by nature, one wishes them to stay home, waddle in a keg of beer and build plastic bubble around themselves.

Don't foist your intolerances, fears and hostilities on the rest of us who happen to enjoy being out where there are still a few wild creatures left in park, forest or stream.

The Resiliency  of Nature -- Oliver's Remarkable Recovery Process

Still recovering from his near leg-breaking encounter with discarded fishing line, "Oliver" at Harlem Mere is looking remarkably better over the past couple of nights.

When first released back to the Mere (after being medically treated for more than a week at the Wild Bird Fund), Oliver was initially shaky and unsure of himself on the then-freed leg.

He would often hold the leg up (as was routine when twisted in the fishing line) and when finally putting it down, Oliver acted surprised that he could actually stand and even hop around on it!

The leg was again usable!

Now, Oliver seems somewhat comfortable moving around on both legs and there is seemingly less pain and struggle.

Though still obviously lame and limping, Oliver is walking now with some regularity and even small bursts of speed.

I am hopeful for if not, 100% recovery back to normal, something very close to that.

The resiliency of nature is truly something to behold and revel in.

That only more people would open their eyes to and appreciate it for the spectacular lessons it teaches and shows us.  -- PCA


Sunday, November 25, 2012

The Practical Considerations of Waterfowl in Winter

(Photos:  The waterfowl of Harlem Mere in Central Park.  Domestic ducks, Canada geese, one swan and Oliver, the fishing line mallard.) 

The Tease and Trials of Winter

As the calls of migrating, wild geese flying overhead signal a changing of seasons even before official calendar date arrives, winter has seemingly tip toed into New York City giving brief, flirting glimpse to the months ahead.

Temperatures last night dipped to near freezing and a stiff wind blowing into the city cut across the face and compelled once again, the donning of scarf and gloves.

Perhaps it is only fitting considering the Christmas trees swiftly going up along Park Avenue and in Rockefeller Center.

Bird numbers in Central Park appear, like the weather, to be changing from day to day and almost hour to hour as different migratory populations stop for brief rests before moving on and resident populations of ducks and geese "pond hop" as part of daily autumn routine.

About the only things easily predictable and stationery this time of year are the domestic duck castoffs of our city parks as they are, unlike their wild cousins, incapable of flight.

But, ducks like Wiggly and Honker of Harlem Mere (Khaki Campbells) and the four new domestic arrivals, ("Cochise, Conner, Carol and Connie") make up in size, moxie, experience and organization, what they lack in wing capabilities.  

The domestic ducks seem to learn quickly how to "stake their claims" with other waterfowl, while at the same time, figuring out all the good feeding and sheltering spots of the location.

Though they may be "domesticated" for hundreds or even thousands of years, it is amazing how quickly some animals can adapt and revert back to ancient tribal ritual when the need calls for it.  Perhaps domestic ducks are a little like "feral" cats in that sense.  We may be more used to seeing them in barns or other human settings, but they can as easily survive (or even thrive) on their own. 

Animals are not by any means or measure, "dumb."

In fact, they have languages all their own.

Perhaps it is we who are the "dumb" ones for not being able to decipher the hidden languages and ways of nature and animals any more than we have quite mastered the art of staying safe and warm during challenging and unpredictable weather patterns.

In the Animal World, Practicality Cometh Before Pride

As previously noted, Lianna and I released Oliver (the fishing line mallard), back to Harlem Mere on Wednesday.
I was certain that Oliver would never come near me again, but, surprisingly he does -- as if nothing happened. 

(One can easily recognize Oliver because of his "lame duck" status.  He hobbles quite badly, but is walking on the leg that for some weeks was encased and rendered useless in fishing line.  The injury was severe and will probably take a long time, if ever, to completely heal.)  

Though understandably annoyed for the "ducknapping" and taking him away from his home temporarily, Oliver apparently still trusts and values my willingness to lend a helping hand.  Oliver may even recognize that despite the fright and lingering pain, humans actually aided him by removing the source of so much crippling discomfort and potential life threatening injury.

That seems to say a lot about animals' abilities to forgive and not hold grudges -- or just their abilities to put the practical before other considerations, such as "pride."

(Then again, one is quite sure that the latter is only unique to humans.)  

Winter is coming.

Put simply, animals know what they have to do to survive.

That means ducks, geese and other waterfowl cooperating and working with each other to maintain or create open water and it sometimes means the animals looking to otherwise "enemies" (whether of wing or two feet) for the occasional helping hand.  -- PCA


Thursday, November 22, 2012

Thanksgiving for the Beauty and Wonder Around Us -- Both, Human and Nature

(Photos:   1-- Oliver enjoying last swim at hospital.  2-- The recovered Oliver swimming freely away at Harlem Mere. 3-- "White Face," Barnacle Goose at Central Park Reservoir.  4-- "Casper," safe at last at Wild Bird Fund.)

I am very grateful on this Thanksgiving Day to have made the acquaintance of fellow bird lover, Lianna this past year.  Without her, the rescue of injured and needy birds in Central Park would be far more difficult, if not impossible.

I am also grateful for the existence of the Wild Bird Fund in New York City. Without this vital facility and all those who support it either financially or through volunteer work, the injured, sick and abandoned wild (or domestic) birds would have no safe place to go for treatment, sanctuary and healing:

Yesterday, I met with Lianna at the Wild Bird Fund to pick up Oliver, the wild mallard whose leg was damaged and nearly broken from embedded fishing line.

Oliver spent almost two weeks at the hospital during which he was treated with antibiotics (to prevent infection) and calcium to build up the fragile and weakened bone.

Oliver was speedily swimming in the small pool when Lianna and I arrived.

When for a moment, he stepped out, I was stunned to see him standing on both legs.

"Wow, that is amazing!" I said to Rita, the director of the facility. "He had not been able to put both legs on the ground before.  He used to flop over and try to move forward on his belly and wings.  Now there is just a slight limp. Incredible, the recovery!"

"Yes, he has healed very nicely," replied Rita with some pride. "You did a very good job in removing all the fishing line.  There is no swelling or infection.  He should do well now."

But, Oliver was not terribly grateful for all the concern and attention that had been focused on him.

When offering my hand to him, Oliver attempted to bite.

That was actually a good sign according to Rita.

It is obviously important for wild birds to maintain vigilance and wariness of people and other potential threats to their safety.

Nor, did Oliver cooperate when Rita tried to grab and put him into a carrier.  She and a volunteer had to use a net.

But, once Oliver was securely inside the carrier, I spoke with Rita about the possibility of bringing in Casper, the debeaked, white Moscovy or Pekin duck recently dropped off at Harlem Mere.

Rita agreed that due to his tameness with people, debeaking, lack of flock and inability to fly, Casper should be rescued and found an appropriate home.  She assured me she had connections for the responsible and humane placement of domestic,  human-friendly ducks, provided the facility had room to temporarily house them.

While rescue was ideally suited for after Thanksgiving, I had concerns about getting Casper out of Harlem Mere as soon as possible.

The previous night when seeing him at the Mere, I noticed Casper was not capable of quickly flying into the water when a dog or other threat passed by.

Although the other domestic ducks cannot fly more than a couple of feet off the ground, they are capable of quick escape to water when necessary.

Casper, by contrast, could not fly at all and also walked and swam slowly presumably due to bow and somewhat misshapen legs.   

Casper was quite literally, a "sitting duck" at Harlem Mere. -- A sitting duck that walked up to people.

I could not even be sure, Lianna and I would see Casper when returning with Oliver to Harlem Mere yesterday.   

Considering the many owned dogs who run off leash in the early mornings, every day was a crap shoot for this vulnerable and easily trusting bird.

After making a donation to the facility and with Oliver safely in Lianna's Sherpa bag, we made our way to Harlem Mere by walking north through Central Park.   We passed around the Reservoir where hundreds of Sea Gulls and a number of flocks of Canada geese and various ducks rested on the water.

I imagine many of the birds to be migratory. 

If that be the case, the geese have migrated much earlier this year, than last -- perhaps signifying a cold winter ahead.   (Last winter was unusually warm in New York City.  I did not see migratory geese in appreciable numbers until the first week in December. This year they have seemingly arrived as early as October.) 

Finally arriving at the Mere, there were few birds on the water.

It appears that many of the mallards and geese regularly seen at night at the Mere, fly to the Reservoir during the day as it is free from dogs and human activity. 

For example, "White Face," the barnacle goose who flocks with a family of Canadas was observed yesterday at the Reservoir.  At night, he and his flock are frequently seen at the Mere in recent days.

However, the four new domestic ducks were at the Mere yesterday and like, Casper, routinely walk up to people, including Lianna and me.  (I worry too for these guys, though they are capable of quick escape when need be and are very organized and protective as a flock. )

Lianna and I opened the carrier and Oliver immediately popped out.

The healed drake stepped on the grass, took a quick look around and without so much as a glance back at us or the four domestic ducks chomping down cracked corn on the grass,  took to the water.

"So much for gratitude!" I laughed to Lianna.  "Look at King Olilver go!"

It was about then that we noticed on the other side of the lake, Casper.

Casper was alone near the Dana Center and apparently beseeching food from a passing man.

"Maybe we should go over there," Lianna said.

"No," I replied.  "Casper should eventually see us and come this way. Let's just wait a bit."

Sure enough, Casper eventually noticed us and took to the water, slowly swimming in our direction.

Within minutes, Casper was on the grass in front of us.  Like an expert, Lianna picked Casper up and placed him in the carrier without any struggle.

The entire rescue took less than a minute.

With Casper secured in the carrier, Lianna and I then walked back to the Wild Bird Fund.

Rita had apparently left for the day, but fortunately, several workers and volunteers were still there.

They were surprised to see us showing up with a new bird, but I explained the matter had already been discussed with Rita and that Casper was not safe to be left at the Mere.

The staff was even more surprised when noticing Casper's shortened and severed top bill and how short his wings had been clipped.

"Who would do this to a bird?" one of them asked sternly.

Without going into how debeaking is common in chickens, turkeys and some marketed "meat" ducks, we all agreed it was simply a cruel thing to do.

As for the wings, staffers informed me that eventually the wings grow back, though in domestic breeds, the birds are only capable of very limited flight (as noted, a few feet off the ground.)

Casper cheerfully walked around the reception area of the Wild Bird Fund and quickly endeared himself to everyone (though not being entirely "housebroken").

One of the workers prepared a roomy cage for him, complete with two hefty bowls of duck food, greens and fresh water.

I picked up Casper and we placed him in the cage.  Within seconds, he was heartily partaking of the delectable treats.

Casper seemed to take no notice of the two injured Canada geese or Wild Turkey (with broken leg) housed in the same general area. He was too busy enjoying his "Thanksgiving" chow.

Casper was finally safe and out of danger -- perhaps for the first real time in his life.

Finally leaving the Wild Bird Fund with Lianna, I felt immensely grateful to everyone and how beautifully the day had turned out.

Every day that this compromised and vulnerable duck was at the mercy of the wild, so to speak, was a day I worried and could not feel comfort with.

I felt yesterday that a burden had suddenly been lifted from my shoulders.

The wild and healed mallard, Oliver, was happily back in his home again.  And the domestic duck, Casper was on the first leg of his journey to a hoped and forever home to that which he has attachment to -- humans.

On this Thanksgiving Day I feel gratitude to the people who are able to see and appreciate the intrinsic beauty of our feathered friends for who they are and not what they are in terms of "food, trophy or ornament."

Thank you, Lianna.  Thank you, Wild Bird Fund.  

And thanks to all who are nurtured in spirit and soul by the beauty and sheer wonder of the nature around us.  -- PCA


Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Destruction and Healing (USDA Wildlife Services and Wild Bird Fund)

USDA Wildlife Services:  Killing Animals and Adding to Nation's Unemployment.

Once again, investigative journalist, Tom Knudson of the Sacramento Bee has produced an excellent and eye-opening article exposing USDA "Wildlife Services."

Not only is the rogue agency acting like a private extermination company by killing millions of animals per year, but in the process, it is putting many humans out of work.

Here in New York City, companies like "Goosebusters" should be concerned that their businesses of non-lethal control of Canada geese could well be put out of business when there are no longer sufficient geese in NYC to "harass" due to the yearly USDA goose roundups and culls.

This has already occurred in Central Park which, in the past, used to employ goose harassment companies to keep the Canada goose population in check. The companies would send Border Collies on park lawns and around lakes to "chase" the geese from undesirable areas.

But, this past year no harassment was conducted on Canada geese in Central Park because their numbers were "too low."

If goose harassment companies care about keeping their jobs, they might do well to team up with goose advocacy groups like (27) GooseWatch NYC in support and protection of the few resident Canada geese still surviving in NYC..

"The enemy of my enemy is my friend" might well apply here.

Wild Bird Fund and "King Oliver" -- A healed, but unwilling patient.

 "Oliver," the mallard whose leg was ensnared in fishing line has made a full recovery.  My friend, Lianna and I will pick him up tomorrow from the Wild Bird Fund and release him back to Harlem Mere in Central Park.

Apparently, "King Oliver" has not been a very cooperative and willing patient at the bird hospital.  Word is that he didn't appreciate having to share the pool with a wood duck and readily attacked the other patient.  And in the past few days, the recovering Oliver has made it known his desires to get back to where he belongs.  He has been impatiently flying all around the center and proving himself "hard to catch."

It should be interesting to release Oliver back tomorrow to all his bird pals at the Mere.

The question is, will I later regret having rescued this "bully duck" who compensated for his injuries by becoming a great deal tougher and more tenacious than the other birds?

All of course remains to be seen. -- PCA

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Escaping Thanksgiving (The New Domestic Ducks in Central Park)

 (Photos: 1 and 2  "Casper" -- Pekin duck, clearly disadvantaged. Will his debeaking hamper Casper's abilities to survive in an urban park setting? 3-- "Cochise" -- Swedish Black Duck?  Wing feathers stick up in unnatural fashion, suggesting some former wing trauma.)

The mystery deepens with respect to the five new domestic ducks who have mysteriously appeared at Harlem Mere over the past couple of weeks.

For sure, they did not fly in on their own.  It's highly unlikely they can fly at all except for a couple of feet off the ground.

But, what kind of ducks are they and where did they come from?

Over the past couple of days, I have been scouting the Internet, looking up information on domestic ducks.

It is purely conjecture, but I am guessing Casper to be a "Pekin" duck, commonly used for "meat" or kept as pets. 

The other four ducks are harder to identify.  Perhaps the two girls are "Buff" ducks and the males, "Swedish Black Ducks,"  but it is impossible to know for sure.

Of the five ducks, Casper is the most comfortable around and acclimated to humans (as defined in the "very social," Pekin ducks). -- Too much so, in my view.

Part of me in fact, wonders if Casper might have been kept as a pet due to his trust and ease with humans?

On the other hand, Casper's generally poor and dirty condition when first spotted raises significant doubt on that.

Another interesting thing to note about Casper is that the top of his beak appears to have been severed off.
He has almost assuredly been debeaked.

Debeaking is a common (and cruel) practice on chickens and turkeys, (to prevent "cannibalization" when raised in crowded conditions) but it is also apparently performed on some domestic ducks, as well.  

One has to seriously wonder of the impacts of debeaking on domestic waterfowl dropped off to a city park?

The shortened top beak undoubtedly hampers a bird's abilities to pull at grass, seeds, plants in the water and catch insects.

Although this is obviously not the first time seeing domestic ducks abandoned in Central Park, it is the first time observing one that is debeaked.

I have many doubts about Casper's abilities to survive in Central Park over the long haul.

Not because of a tough winter about to arrive or inability to find a flock (Casper has already acclimated and been accepted into the flock of four new domestic ducks), but because of the limitations of a deformed beak and his seeming reliance on humans.

Moreover, Casper's legs are somewhat bowed and pigeon toed resulting in him not being able to swim and walk as fast as the other ducks (both domestic and wild) at the Mere.  

This could represent life threatening limitation when forced to quickly escape free-running dogs that are common to the park during off-leash hours.

Although Casper is not obviously ill or injured at the moment, I believe it vital to seek a rescue placement for him.   He needs to be in a safe and protected environment. Preferably, a small farm or suburban setting with access to a barn and pond.

As for the other domestics at Harlem Mere, one has to simply hope that they quickly figure out modes of survival and that the upcoming winter is not too brutal and unrelenting.

One of the Swedish Black Ducks seems to have screwed up wing feathers that stick up like grotesque decorations on a hat.

I named him, "Cochise." 

One thing that is almost certain is that all five ducks are escapees from a live poultry market.

Something to think about -- especially less than a week from so-called, "Turkey Day."

Thanksgiving not exactly a day of gratitude for the millions of birds who are exploited and die for it. -- PCA


Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Fear Not the Foul Weather, But the Fair

(Photo:  1-- Casper, last night at Harlem Mere.  Tame and vulnerable as a kitten, but heart of lion.)

Casper, the Lion Hearted

He may be a duck, but in the few days that "Casper" has been observed at Harlem Mere, he is displaying amazing adaptability, resilience and guts.

(Casper is a domestic, white duck whose name has been changed from "Snow White" to "Casper" because I now  believe him to be a boy.) 

I personally did not hold out much hope for this bird's survival potential when first seeing him a few nights ago.

Casper's appearance was disheveled, dirty, undernourished and somewhat battered -- unlike the flocks of robust and hearty wild mallards and geese he was suddenly surrounded by.   

Casper is almost assuredly a "poultry market" duck who was likely destined to wind up on someone's dinner plate.

But, through some strange and lucky twist of fate, Casper instead found himself drifting alone one day on the water at Harlem Mere.

It must have been a terrifying experience for this flightless, (Pekin?) duck who, unlike all the wild mallards and geese, probably never saw grass or open water before and did not have flock mates to rely on for security and protection.

Indeed, Casper was a lonely and forlorn figure on the water when first discovered three nights ago.  His appearance reminded me a little of Brad just before the Rouen duck (who had survived years at Harlem Mere), died this past September.

I didn't think I would actually see Casper again.

But, in less than three days, there is remarkable change.

Casper has somehow initiated and imbedded himself into the flock of four domestic ducks (who also magically and mysteriously showed up at Harlem Mere this past week).  One suspects that all five birds were left at Central Park by either well meaning rescuers or irresponsible "pet owners." who no longer wanted their animals.

But, not only has Casper seemingly figured out quickly that he needed to find a flock to get an "in" with, but he also has learned the ropes at Harlem Mere with extraordinary deftness and speed.

Last night, Casper was roosting peacefully with the other four domestic ducks and scores of wild mallards and geese along the south embankment at Harlem Mere.

When arriving with my two dogs, Casper immediately recognized and came to me as quickly and openly as  other birds who have know me for many months or even years.

It occurred that Casper is actually a tame duck who despite neglectful (or even cruel) treatment by humans has innate trust.

Casper ate from my hand and even followed me around like a barnyard duck.

When shoved and pecked a bit by the more assertive geese and mallards, Casper held his own and didn't flinch or seek easy escape back to the water as a couple of his domestic companions did.

Rather, Casper and one of the other male domestic (black) ducks stood their ground.

Though a little concerned that Casper may be too trusting of humans for his own good, I am hopeful he (and the other new domestic ducks) will quickly pick up "warning and wary" cues from their wild cousins.

It is not after all, cold temperatures or blustery wind, rain or snow storms these birds have to ultimately worry about.

It is the dangers that come when they least expect and usually from those they most trust.
"What Doesn't Kill You, Makes You Stronger"

There is good news on Oliver, the wild mallard who was rescued a few days ago with fishing line imbedded into his leg.

Rita from the Wild Bird Fund (where Oliver is recovering) called yesterday. 

Oliver is able to put some weight on the damaged leg now. He enjoys waddling in the small pool of the facility.  And according to Rita, he is a very "strong" if not, somewhat feisty duck.

He is being treated with calcium (to strengthen the bone) and antibiotics.

Prognosis for Oliver's full recovery is guarded, but optimistic. (His leg had been close to breaking from fishing line cutting into it and stopping the circulation.)

Rita told me they recently had a Canada goose at the hospital who was also unable to put leg down after it was ensnared in fishing line.  But, the goose fully recovered, was walking within a week and was later released back to his environment.

Hopefully, it will be the same for Oliver.  

Both, Lianna and I look forward to the day when we can pick up "King Oliver" (in her words) again and return him back to Harlem Mere.

It is speculated that what did not kill Oliver, will have ultimately made him stronger from the experience of having to go through and survive it.

Fear Not the Foul Weather, But the Fair

As has been widely reported, the north east was hit with a devastating hurricane and nor'easter over the past few weeks.

What wasn't reported were these storms' impacts upon birds and other wildlife.

However, the New York Times recently published an excellent and informative article describing the nearly miraculous ways birds particularly avoid and adapt to whatever perils nature dishes out.

From personal observations, I would concur with everything in the article -- and more.

For it isn't just wild birds who are incredibly adaptive to storms and other natural disasters, but domestic birds as well.

And yet, for all their smarts and seeming abilities to survive all types of natural calamities, what most dooms birds and other wildlife are human created disasters (such as oil spills) and cruelty.

That too, is verified in personal observations over the years.

I have never personally noted a special and observed goose or duck to perish due to challenges of blizzards, hurricane, nor'easter, frozen lakes or extremes in temperature.  

On the contrary, all who have been lost or maimed were victims of dog attacks, fishing tackle injury or USDA lethal goose roundups held in summer.

Here in New York City, we who care about the wildlife in city parks, fear far more the fair weather than the foul due to the extra human activities attendant with it. -- PCA


Monday, November 12, 2012

"Migratory" Domestic Ducks? -- Not All New Arrivals in Fall, "Migratory"

(Photos:  New arrivals at Harlem Mere over past week. But, the suspicion is that the five new ducks are not part of normal fall migrations.)

As any birder will tell you, this is an exciting time of the year due to the fall migrations.

Many flocks of northern birds pass through and often stop in New York City.  Sometime they stop for brief rest or in the case of waterfowl, until such time lakes and ponds might freeze over and they are forced to fly further south.

Since hurricane Sandy packed a wallop to New York City two weeks ago and left, scores of new ducks, Canada geese and even one swan have arrived to Harlem Mere.

A little more than a week ago, I noticed a flock of four very unusual and large ducks gliding along the water at the Mere.

Two were a very pretty light golden color and two were black with white markings.  I presumed them to be two males and two females of the same breed.  But, I had no idea what kind of birds they actually were.   They could in fact, even be geese of some unusual breed type.  

But, over the past two nights, I have gotten a closer and better look at the new arrivals.

And I am not sure now that they are "wild" migratory birds at all.

On the contrary, due to the short (clipped?) wings, I believe them to be domestic breeds of ducks (or geese).

As noted in this journal over the years, it is not unusual to find domestic (flightless) ducks at Harlem Mere and other parts of Central Park. 

But, obviously, these ducks did not fly into the park on their own.

People have to put and leave them there.

A couple of years ago, I was told by a park ranger that virtually all the turtles at Turtle Pond are abandoned pets that apparently grew too big for their tanks and human caregivers.  

But, one suspects the domestic ducks in our parks are not so much the result of "pets growing too big," as much as they might actually be "rescues" from live poultry markets around the city.

Apparently, some well meaning people believe the birds have a far greater chance at survival in a public park than they do a cage at a live poultry market.

They are undoubtedly correct in that belief as the evidence shows.

It is in fact, quite remarkable how quickly the domestic ducks (or geese) figure out their situation and learn to "adapt" to the unusual and challenging circumstances of the outdoors.

But, one has to wonder about the long range impacts upon environment and wild waterfowl, should the domestic ducks ever figure out how to nest, protect eggs and raise young?

It could open up a whole new chapter in the "invasive species" dialogue.

So far, I have not seen nesting of domestic waterfowl actually occur.  The one instance of noting one of the domestic ducks apparently drop an egg in open grass, she (Wiggly) didn't seem to know what to do with it.

But, what if the domestic ducks actually do figure out successful reproduction eventually?

The fact that the domestics ducks are larger than wild ducks and some are bred to be "proficient egg layers" could create some interesting dynamics in our city parks.

Finally, one has to question the wisdom of dropping off domestic ducks in a park just prior to winter setting in.

We know that the wild mallards and geese develop heavy down and winter feathers to get them through the toughest days of January and February.

But, are domestic ducks and geese (bred for "meat" or egg production) blessed with such bounty?

So far, I have personally noted domestic ducks being able to survive winter in NYC.

But, I am not so confident about the birds dropped off just prior to the season actually beginning.   "Nature" will have to work quickly to prepare these birds for the rough days ahead.

If I am not absolutely positive about the flock of four new ducks at the Mere actually being domestic, I am almost dead certain, the new white duck observed last night is a domestic duck (or goose) rescued from a live poultry market.

Wild ducks and geese almost never appear this dirty and scruffy.

And, once again, the wings appear to be small and clipped.

The fact the duck was alone without any flock, also suggests a bird that was "placed" in the environment as opposed to flying in.

I am not confident about the white duck's chances for survival over the winter -- unless s/he is able to get an "in" with one of the established domestic flocks -- perhaps the newest one.

All of this makes one wonder sometimes, "What are people thinking?"

Was the reason for dropping these birds off during normal fall migrations, the belief that the birds would then "blend in" with all the other newcomers? (That was, after all, my initial assumption when first noticing the flock of four newcomers.)

But, there is something that always sets the domestic ducks and geese apart from their wild cousins.

That is the fact the wild birds can fly and the domestics can't.

We have to hope that there are enough geese and ducks at Harlem Mere this winter to help maintain open water and prevent the lake from entirely freezing over.

We have to hope we don't get a winter like 2010 when the Mere became a nearly solid block of ice and all the wild mallards and geese left.  It was a huge and constant struggle for the then two domestic ducks (Brad and Angelina) to survive. They literally had to swim 24/7 in a tiny,  bath tub sized pool of water to keep it open.

The now 7 domestic ducks at Harlem Mere will not have the option of leaving when the going gets tough. They too, would have to learn to frantically swim, dunk and dive nearly 24/7 in order to maintain any open water should a tough winter be around the corner. 

Let us hope it doesn't come to that.  -- PCA


Saturday, November 10, 2012

Oliver Twist -- A Very Lucky and Blessed Duck

(Photos:  1 and 2-- Oliver before rescue. Fishing line twisted around and imbedded into leg.  Oliver unable to put foot down or walk.  3 and 4 -- Leg after fishing line removed. Swollen, indented, close to breaking point.  Oliver now being treated and recovering at Wild Bird Fund.) 

Oliver Twist is either a very lucky -- or blessed duck.  But, more about him later.....

Once again, I could not know what to expect when returning to Harlem Mere last night.

A second storm had blown into New York City on Wednesday and Central Park was closed for two days.

I was of course worried for Wiggly and Honker (the domestic ducks),  as well as Little Brad (still recovering from a leg injury) and most of all, Oliver, the compromised drake who was crippled from imbedded fishing line wrapped tightly around his left leg.

But, I did not go alone to Harlem Mere last night.

After sharing Oliver's plight with Lianna, (the kindly senior citizen who monitors the birds at the Boat Lake), she insisted on helping me to rescue Oliver in order to free the fishing line from his leg.

"But, Lianna, I am not sure that Oliver will even be there tonight!" I told her.  "With the park closed for two days, the normal routine is disrupted.  Things could be a bit chaotic as there are many ducks, geese and other birds at the Mere right now.  Perhaps it is better for me to go and determine the situation first before we plan anything."

"Nonsense!" Lianna answered in her heavy Romanian accent.  "I go with you. Even if we not get the duck, it is good for me to know the area.  I don't like to think of the duck suffering.  I will say a prayer for help to Saint Francis, the patron saint of animals and I will light a candle."

Who was I to argue with a saint?

Lianna and I met at the 97th Street entrance to Central Park last night. As usual, I had my two dogs with me, some bird food and a small pair of scissors in the unlikely event we were able to capture Oliver. Lianna brought with her a Sherpa bag (cat carrier), a small blanket and some food.  Lianna and I then walked to Harlem Mere together.

When arriving to the Mere, a number of ducks were already gathered along the embankment.  I could immediately see Wiggly, Honker and Little Brad who came quickly scampering towards us.  Thank goodness they were safe, I thought.

"Ah, look at that!" Lianna exclaimed. "They are following you!"

"Yes, well they missed their treats for two days," I laughed. "Greedy little buggers."

Shortly after securing my dogs to a park bench, I turned around and quickly noted Oliver pitifully pulling himself on the embankment and immediately flopping down on the grass.

"Oh, there he is!" I said, pointing out Oliver to Lianna.

"Oh, poor bird." Lianna replied.   "Look, the other ducks are attacking him. Shoo! Shoo!"

Within seconds, the grass was crowded with a swarm of mallards and even some geese.

I lost sight of Oliver.

"Oh dear.  I don't see Oliver now.  Did he fly back to the water?" I asked Lianna.

"No!  Look.  He is right in front of you!"

Looking down, I was shocked to see Oliver sitting directly at my feet and looking up at me.

I squatted down offering food from my hand and tossing it in front of him, while at the same time, trying to keep the greedy Wiggly and other ducks away.  Fighting for the food, Oliver was busy grabbing what he could while also, in feisty fashion,  pecking at the other ducks.

"This is good!" Lianna said.  "You keep him distracted and I will sneak up behind and try to grab him."

To my utter shock, Lianna had Oliver wrapped inside a small blanket and held securely in her arms within seconds.

Both of us then moved swiftly under a lamp light.  I pulled out the small scissors from my bag and immediately began to cut into the fishing line imbedded into and around Oliver's leg.

But, it wasn't an easy job as I literally had to cut into the leg itself in order to remove all of the fishing line.

Oliver's twisted leg began to bleed profusely.

Although the original plan was to cut the line and release Oliver back to the water (or grass), I began to have second thoughts when noting the severity of the injury and damaged leg limply dangling.

"He is still not going to be able to walk or put any weight on this leg, " I said with concern to Lianna.  "It could also get infected now from having to cut into it."

"Then I take him home and bring him to Wild Bird Fund tomorrow morning!" Lianna answered with confidence.

Both of us then worked gently to put Oliver safely into the Sherpa bag Lianna had brought.

Once securely in the bag, Lianna and I then tossed remaining cracked corn and sunflower seeds to the scores of apparently newly arrived migratory and resident ducks and geese.

Harlem Mere has greatly "come alive" over the past couple of weeks with arrivals of wood ducks, cormorants and even a swan.

Had "Hector" the swan suddenly returned to Harlem Mere after being chased out two years ago by "Geese Relief" I wondered?

I could not be sure last night if the newly arrived swan was the same one from 2010. But, there were too many other things going on to stop and try to figure out.

Finally leaving Harlem Mere, Lianna again remarked at the number of ducks following us.

"Oh yes!  And notice Little Brad limping in the very front, as he always leads the departing parade." I answered.  "That is simply their good night ritual."

Lianna seemed utterly fascinated by that.

Once on Fifth Avenue, I insisted on Lianna taking a cab home to her West 70's apartment.

The only way she agreed is when I told her it would be less stressful to Oliver.  Lianna was perfectly content to walk almost two miles home with a wild, frightened duck in her bag.

I was extremely fortunate that Lianna (unlike me) has no other pets at home and was willing to put an injured duck up for the night.

This morning, I left a message for Rita McMahon of the Wild Bird Fund that Lianna would be bringing in an injured mallard.   Although I offered to help Lianna get Oliver to the bird hospital, she declined the offer saying it was "no problem" for her.

Very few things are "problems" for Lianna. She apparently has God and the saints on her side.  Faith seems to bring with it, almost superhuman strength and resilience.

Following her dropping off Oliver at the animal hospital, Lianna called me to give an updated report:

Oliver is safely at the bird hospital now and is being treated.

Rita (chief vet and rehabber) says the circulation in Oliver's leg was cut off and the leg was close to breaking. 

Damage to and fragility of bone means that Oliver will be treated with rest, calcium and antibiotics.   

It seems we got Oliver just in time before his leg actually broke.

Prognosis is guarded, but somewhat optimistic.  Hopefully, with some time and healing, Oliver will be able to walk again.  

I am very happy that with Lianna's help (and Saint Francis?) we were able to get Oliver last night. I never thought it would happen, but it was as if Oliver somehow "knew" we were there to help him and almost literally flopped into our arms.

Never underestimate the power of faith and the birds sometimes being smart enough to ask for help. 

Thank you, Lianna.  Thank you Wild Bird Fund.  And thank you, Saint Francis.  -- PCA

Important Note:   The Wild Bird Fund works entirely on donations.  Without this fine veterinary facility available for injured and sick wild birds, the "Oliver's" of New York City could not be helped.  Please be generous in supporting this vital, non-profit organization:

Wild Bird Fund
565 Columbus Ave.
New York, NY. 10024
(646) 306-2862