Posted by: Wild Instincts | August 25, 2021

Home to Die

On Saturday, August 7, 2021, at 12:40 pm, we admitted an adult loon. People had been watching it be a normal loon just two evenings before. Diving, swimming and being the typical icon-of-the-wilderness off the end of their dock, but less than 48 hours later something was horribly wrong. They were able to catch it and bring it to us.

The green goo and the general appearance of it when it arrived provided a stark contrast to the healthy vibrant bird it was just a couple days earlier. It was conscious, but showing signs of having aspirated on its own vomit and having difficulty breathing.

Adult loon with green discharge, a sign of lead poisoning.

Unfortunately, wildlife rehabbers have way too much experience seeing these things and they were shouting to us LEAD POISONING.

The weight indicated it’s probably a female. Her body condition was pretty good, so whatever was going on was acute, sudden onset.

We drew blood for a blood lead level test hoping for good news. While we were waiting for the test to finish, we took a couple x-rays. Both diagnostics confirmed our worst suspicions.

The blood lead level was HIGH. That means there is so much lead in the animal’s system, the analyzer is unable to break it down into a specific number. It’s over 65 micrograms/deciliter (or .65 parts per million) but we don’t know if it’s 66 or 166. A value of 10 or less is considered “background” and the general thought is it’s not of concern. We are not of that mindset, however. We treat any measurable value so when the animal gets re-exposed after release, there is more of a cushion for future accumulation. Unless we get the lead out of our fishing and hunting equipment, they WILL be re-exposed.

The x-ray revealed what appeared to be a jig head in the stomach.

The x-ray revealed what appeared to be a jig head in its stomach. This was the likely culprit. In these situations, removing the source of lead in the digestive tract is the only way to keep lead from continuing to enter the bird’s system. We were the first rehabbers in the state to use endoscopy to accomplish removal of fishing tackle from loons. (See Loon Endoscopy blog and the video).The human gastroenterologist who donated use of his equipment and skill has long since retired meaning that is no longer an option. Most rehabbers and their veterinarians “gavage” the item out of the stomach. This is accomplished by anesthetizing the bird and “flushing” the entire stomach contents from the bird.

Critical loon suffering from acute lead poisoning in ICU.

The trouble with either of these approaches is the loon first must be stable enough for anesthesia. This one was not even close to that point. We began work to stabilizing her, but she was too far gone. Despite everyone’s best efforts, she passed away mere hours after her admission.

So why in the world would a loon have a jig head or sinker in its stomach?

They may have eaten a fish that had snapped an angler’s line. Or they mistook the piece of lead for a rock. Loons ingest small rocks and stones on purpose. Called gastroliths, they are in their stomachs to help grind up their food and help with digestion. This, however, makes it even more deadly when they swallow a lead jig head or sinker. The rocks in the stomach grind against the fishing tackle. This removes any paint that may have protected the lead a bit. Then the rocks continue to grind against the bait, releasing more and more lead into the system continually. Lead is released back into the system faster than we can chelate it out.

The stomach contents revealed lots of snails and a bright shiny jig head that’s not supposed to there amongst the stones that are supposed to be there.

She was banded July 10, 2009 as a juvenile on the connecting body of water on which she was poisoned.

Loons don’t generally start breeding until around 6 years of age. Hopefully she was successful in the last six years to raise several other generations.

In the 12 years of her life, she migrated roughly 61, 800 miles between breeding and wintering grounds.  It’s astounding to think of all the challenges she would have encountered. Weather events, people, boats, predators.

She survived all those obstacles over all those years only to come home to be killed by something totally preventable.

A fatal lead jig head with the stones from the loon’s stomach.

The future of our wildlife is in our hands. We need to do better. Get rid of all the lead in your fishing and hunting gear.

She deserved better.

Posted by: Wild Instincts | March 20, 2021

Bear Cubs Play

Posted by: Wild Instincts | September 30, 2020

Pick Your Poison: NONE

Now is the time of year mice and other little creatures are looking for a good place to spend the winter. Chances are your garage, your barn, your shed or even your house look much more inviting and warm than the great soon-to-be-white-&-frozen outdoors.

People are looking for ways to keep these pesky critters out of their living space. A long-time solution has been and still is to actually turn to poisons like D-con®.

Rachel Carson’s 1962 book Silent Spring brought attention to the perils of the indiscriminate use of pesticides. Changes came about, but the use pesticides with no thought of the bigger picture is still a much too common practice.

So let’s talk about the bigger picture.

In 1948 Warfarin was introduced as a rodenticide. It was developed in Wisconsin and partially funded by the Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation (the WARF of Warfarin). It works by interfering with the blood’s ability to clot, causing the animal to bleed to death internally.

Rodents began to develop genetic resistance to warfarin so second generation anticoagulants were developed. Probably the most common and therefore most well-known would be d-CON® (using the chemical ingredient brodifacoum) or TomCat® (using the chemical ingredient bromadiolone).

These second generation anticoagulants were more toxic than the first generation. Part of that is because they are longer acting and they bioaccumulate leading to biomagnification. In short, the chemical is not broken down before the little creature dies so is still present in its body. A wild animal like a raptor finds the little creature for breakfast and ingests the toxin the animal had in its body along with the body. Then in finds another for lunch and another for dinner and another for a bedtime snack. Viola. Now the hawk or eagle has ingested 4x the amount used to kill little creatures.

This is a major problem for wildlife. Part of the big picture we must think about when trying to keep the mouse out of our house.

The Environmental Protection Agency recognized this and developed new regulations regarding rodenticides supposedly with this in mind.

In 2011, new regulations restricted the residential use of second generation anticoagulants. The regulations stated the only allowable active ingredients for residential or consumer use were the first generation anticoagulants, vitamin D3 or bromethalin, or zinc phosphate (used in specialty applications). Manufacturers knew mice had developed a resistance to the first generation anticoagulants so looked at the other possibilities. The choice was to start to use bromethalin (a neurotoxin with no antidote) or cholecalciferol (vitamin D3.).

Neither of these ingredients have a safe, easy, inexpensive antidote like the anticoagulants. Vitamin D3 was chosen because of the risk to kids and pets of the neurotoxin with no antidote (bromethalin).

You may be thinking D3 is in my vitamin supplement. How can it be used in rat poison? Vitamin D3 is an essential vitamin we can’t live without. Normally it helps your body absorb calcium and phosphorous. In excess, however, it causes calcium and phosphorous imbalances that can lead to severe kidney failure within 48-72 hours. Soft tissues and organs may start to calcify.

These D3 rodenticides also have a narrow margin of safety which means smaller amounts cause poisonings in pets. The clinical signs may not be seen for 24-48 hours, so by the time they appear it may be too late.

These changes in product make-up initiate a huge change in the way accidental ingestions are treated. If your pet accidentally gets into the rat poison in your garage for instance. OR if a wild animal eats an animal killed with rat poison.

First and second generation anticoagulants were fairly easily treated, if caught in time. The chemicals replacing them are not.

Over the last two months we’ve seen an increase in red-tailed hawks and eagles with signs of these poisonings.

Last night we admitted an eagle with seizures and the landowner admitted to having lots of rat poison around. He even gave us the bucket. Despite our best efforts, the eagle passed away about 14 hours after he arrived.

Maybe in addition to “kills rats, mice & meadow voles” we should add bald eagles to that list to help us remember the far reaching consequences of using any kind of poison.

We understand people don’t want mice or other little creatures in their homes. That’s okay. We can be good neighbors without allowing them in the door.

Please choose alternatives to ANY rodenticide.

Live traps and relocating them is one way. Make sure you relocate them far enough away they won’t beat you home. For mice, a ¼ mile should be sufficient. Note that this still puts a hardship on the animal, but it may have a chance to live a good life somewhere other than your house.

Sticky or glue traps are inhumane and the animal suffers a slow and painful death. Other animals such as birds, bats or salamanders are also victims to these.

Snap traps are generally quick and deadly, but not always. They also have the potential for catching something you weren’t after.

Ultrasonic repellers or unpleasant scents may also work.

Making your home a less inviting habitat is probably the best place to start. Make sure all entry points are sealed, keep birdfeeders away from the house, seal birdseed and pet food in chew proof containers, keep the garage door closed, etc.

From mice to eagles to humans, let’s be considerate of all our neighbors.

Posted by: Wild Instincts | September 18, 2020

Felid and Mustelid Rehab Ban Position Statement

Amanda Falch, DVM, CCRT has created a Position Statement regarding the Felid & Mustelid rehab ban. Please consider electronically signing it by sending your full name, title, city and state to (you may have to cut and paste this address)Please share this widely. The more signatures, especially from WI, the bigger the impact. If there are enough signatures they may be presented at a Natural Resource Board meeting occurring next Wednesday. Thanks to Dr. Falch and all of you for helping us help them.

Position Statement on Felid and Mustelid Wildlife Rehabilitation in Response to SARS-CoV-2September 17, 2020BackgroundSince December 2019, a corona virus known as SARS-CoV-2 which causes COVID-19 in humans has rapidly spread across the globe causing serious illness and death in some individuals. As our knowledge of the virus has been rapidly evolving it is suspected that the virus uses the ACE2 receptor to attack the body. Many species other than humans also have this receptor and concern emerged early on about possible zooanthroponosis (reverse zoonosis).There have been documented cases of infection with the virus in dogs, cats, tigers, and mink. It has been shown that both cats and mink have the ability to pass the virus on to others of their species once infected. It is worth noting that while concerns exist there has not been a documented natural infection in a North American species. (…/sa…/sars-cov-2-animals-us)ConcernThe ability of some species to become infected and to potentially pass the virus on to others has led to concerns that this virus could become established in a native species, causing illness and death and/or potentially allowing that species to act as a reservoir for human infections.

Agency Response

Out of an “abundance of caution” some state agencies have halted rehabilitation of felids and mustelid species. This is being done even as the agencies acknowledge that the solitary nature of many of these species makes propagation of the virus in the wild less likely. Excerpt from COVID-19 and North American Species of Mustelidae, Felidae prepared by the Fish and Wildlife Health Committee of the Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies: “Based on our current understanding of transmission pathways, the infection appears less likely to spread among animals with a solitary lifestyle (as occurs with many mustelids and felids) than among animals that live in social groups. There is no evidence at this time that such infections, if they occurred in individual wild mustelids, felids, or canids, would necessarily be maintained in populations of these species, or that SARS-CoV-2 would cause significant disease if established in these species.”


Limiting rehabilitation of species of concern could have unforeseen effects on public health by inadvertently increasing disease spread in these species while putting the untrained public at risk.Risks:1.) The public taking matters into their own hands. Individuals of young felid and mustelid species are vulnerable to orphaning and injury and people who find them will be able to interact with them in a way not possible with adults. If an individual is found in distress and the public is told there is no option but to leave the animal where it is found, they are very unlikely to do so. This puts the public at risk for rabies and other potential zoonotic illnesses and parasites. It increases the risk of domestic animals of acquiring illnesses like panleukopenia if a finder interacts with them as well as the wild animal. It increases the risk that the wild animal will suffer inhumane conditions as a result of malnutrition, habituation, inappropriate skill development for survival in the wild, and increases the risk of SARS-CoV-2 being introduced to the wild through an untrained, well intentioned person releasing an exposed individual back to the wild. 2.) Increased risk of rabies exposure without proper reporting. When a finder interacts with a wildlife rehabilitator he or she is asked about any potential exposure and is more likely to share this information with a wildlife rehabilitator trusted with helping an animal brought into care.3.) Habituated animals. Wildlife that is raised by an untrained person is more likely to be habituated. Habituation of these species can lead to dangerous human/animal encounters, domestic animal/wild animal encounters, and increased risk of disease spread into wild populations. 4.) Endangered species, like the American pine marten, which is already in jeopardy, could lose individuals to injury or orphaning unnecessarily due to lack of access to professional rehabilitation.5.) Even if a member of the public does not take an animal into care through the act of finding it and looking for help, he/she may expose an animal to SARS-CoV-2 that is then left to spread the virus in the wild.6.) When the public knows that professional advice is not available and that contact could lead to an animal being euthanized when it is in need of help, there will be increased interactions with the species without knowledge of rehabilitators who would be able to provide direction about normal and abnormal conditions and behaviors of an individual, and who could intervene in situations where animals would otherwise be held illegally by the public.7.) Free-ranging domestic cats which can carry the virus, given their numbers and exposure to people, should be considered a risk for wildlife exposure.


Wildlife rehabilitators provide a free and valuable resource to the public and to our wildlife. They are experienced, knowledgeable, individuals who have been trained, tested, and found to be qualified by state and federal agencies to rehabilitate wildlife when necessary. Rehabilitators understand species natural history and care needs and keep current with information on emerging disease. They are able to effectively educate the public on when to intervene and when to leave an animal in the wild and, because they are trusted by the public, finders are more willing to follow their instructions and are more willing to share information with them. Wildlife rehabilitators have a vested interest in the health of the individuals already in their care as well as in the populations those individuals will return to. Rehabilitators should be viewed as a resource of knowledge on the species for which they provide care, for the valuable public education and outreach they provide, for their willingness to implement necessary protocols to protect against spread of the virus, as well as to report if a virus is detected in an individual in their care—all at their own expense, as professional volunteers. They are likely to be the first to identify illness if signs of SARS-CoV-2 are developing in the population. We feel the expertise of these individuals is needed now more than ever to protect human and animal health during this pandemic. We recommend that state agencies utilize their skills to help prevent the spread of SARS Co-V-2 to wildlife by allowing them to rehabilitate felids and mustelids with appropriate disease mitigation strategies in place to ensure the safety of the animals as well as the people working with them.

Under these conditions we recommend authorized wildlife rehabilitators be allowed to accept, rehabilitate, and release felid and mustelid species:

1.) Appropriate use of personal protective equipment including but not limited to gloves, gowns, and face masks to be used when working with these species.

2.) Appropriate sanitation is implemented for all caging, bowls, linens, and enrichment items.

3.) Appropriate quarantine protocols are in place when new individuals are brought into care.

4.) People with any symptoms of COVID-19 are not allowed to work with these species while sick or under quarantine.

5.) The number of people working with these species in a rehabilitation setting is limited to decrease risk of exposure.

6.) Any respiratory symptoms in these species are recorded, monitored, and reported to the appropriate state agency.

7.) Appropriate protocols are in place if an individual develops respiratory symptoms while in care to limit exposure of other at-risk individuals8.) Non-traumatic sample collection can be provided when appropriate and requested by state agencies to further our understanding of SARS-CoV-2 in these species.

Posted by: Wild Instincts | September 13, 2020

Help Us Help Them

Imagine walking into your yard to see this cold, wet, shivering face:

Trying to do the right thing, you call a wildlife rehabber to see how long to wait before the bobcat kitten is thought to be abandoned by its mom and in trouble. The wildlife rehabber tells you as of August 21st 2020, the WDNR no longer allows any rehabber in WI to admit bobcats because they are a species susceptible to SAR-CoV-2.  They are supposed to tell you to leave it alone and “let nature take its course”. You are shocked. You ask if they can at least tell you how to know if it’s abandoned. You agree to text the rehabber a photo so they can get a better idea of age and prognosis.

Unfortunately, for at least one Northwoods family and Wild Instincts, this is not some imagined scenario. This really happened.

In fact, since the moratorium on Mustelid and Felid rehab went into effect on Aug 21, Wild Instincts has had the issue come up twice- in just 3 weeks.

The temporary rehab ban on members of the Mustelid and Felid families instructs rehabbers to tell the public to leave the animals alone or to call the local county wildlife biologist. There is a link provided to the WDNR staff directory by county.

The first time Wild Instincts ran into this situation, two young girls just arrived at their facility with an injured mink. Unable to tell the girls to “go put it back”, they tried calling the biologist as instructed.

Even knowing who to call, it took Wild Instincts half a dozen calls to get to someone. Even in the middle of a Tuesday afternoon, no one was available.

The bobcat kitten appeared on a weekend evening. Want to guess the odds of phones being answered?

If you were the person with a bobcat kitten in trouble in your yard, would you be able to leave it there for nature to take its course? We don’t think so.

Many people have stepped forward to say even if it meant fines or tickets, they would be doing whatever it takes to help that poor animal.

That’s where we think the WDNR moratorium is counter-productive. There are certain species of wildlife that can actually catch SARS-CoV-2 from people. Bobcats are one of those. We know when trained, professional wildlife rehabbers aren’t available to help, you will step in and do the best you can. However, without training in diseases, proper PPE and disinfection, this can be harmful to the individual animal, the population, you and your family, including your pets. Not just with SARS-CoV-2 and COVID, but many other diseases and parasites as well.

We believe wildlife susceptible to SARS-CoV-2 should absolutely be brought into rehabilitation where it can be monitored closely and even tested if warranted. Taking extra protocols and risk mitigation is what wildlife rehabbers do. They should be allowed to continue to do so in a way that protects the individual animal, the population and the public.

Contact your WDNR and your state representative now. Next week the animal in need could be in YOUR yard.

Posted by: Wild Instincts | September 5, 2020

COVID, Felid, Mustelid

By now we’ve all run out of words to describe 2020 so far. You’ve heard them all, some repeated many times and others not repeatable in mixed company. We have no words left.

All of us are exhausted trying to keep our families safe. In addition to our human families, wildlife rehabbers and wildlife zookeepers around the world are trying to keep their animal families safe as well.

Any time a new disease appears in Wisconsin wildlife, wildlife disease specialists develop new protocols to protect all of Wisconsin’s wildlife. West Nile Virus, Chronic Wasting Disease and White-nosed Syndrome are recent diseases that all changed the way we could treat wild animals in our care. Each of those diseases, though, we could see advancing upon Wisconsin allowing more time for new policies and protocols to be established.

SARS-CoV2 is a whole different story. No slow advance with warning ahead of its arrival. While many coronaviruses coexist with and have been studied in wildlife, this particular one is a big unknown. Wildlife disease specialists, like most health specialists, are being cautious because there is a lot at stake.

Wild Instincts deals with many species who are considered susceptible to SARS-CoV2 so we have had to adjust protocols. In April, we closed all buildings to volunteers and non-essential people. We added another layer of extra bio-security measures in dealing with certain species. Disease control and contamination mitigation are things wildlife rehabbers routinely deal with on a daily basis. This is just a new reason and another layer of protocols.

River Otter moments from being released back into the wild.

All that being said, it’s bittersweet today to share the 2020 river otter release.

River otters are a member of the mustelid family; a family that has been determined to be susceptible to SARS-CoV2. Despite the fact we have had our own policies in place since the river otters were admitted, 13 days before their scheduled release, we were suddenly told we would be unable to release them. Domestic mink, also a member of the mustelid family, in Utah had just tested positive for SARS-CoV2. We spent several days outlining arguments of how our river otter were different than farmed mink and pointed out we had been following protocols even though they hadn’t mandated from the beginning. We were given permission to release them.

That’s the sweet part.

The not-so-sweet part is as of Friday, August 21, 2020, wildlife rehabilitators in Wisconsin are no longer able to admit/treat any member of the Mustelid or Felid families until further notice. Except for animals in such condition that immediate euthanasia would be warranted.

This means we cannot admit any more otter, mink, weasel, badger, fisher, or bobcat. If you find any of these animals in need of help, please do not approach them. Call your local WDNR Wildlife Biologist. Click on this link, search the directory for ‘wildlife biologist’ and select the county of interest.

Posted by: Wild Instincts | August 2, 2020

Snake Surprises

On July 9th someone brought us 6 snake eggs. He had found them next to an almost 5’ shed of an Eastern Fox Snake, also known as a Pine Snake. His wife took one look at the shed and declared the eggs had to go!

Megan holds 4’10” Eastern Fox Snake shed.

We know that snakes lay their eggs and move along. There wasn’t any guarantee that the eggs brought in to be incubated belonged to the snake who gifted the property owners with her shed. But we were grateful that the husband brought us the eggs to incubate rather than destroying them.

Snakes eggs being “reburied” to incubate.

When 5 of the 6 eggs hatched on July 30th we were surprised. They were definitely NOT Fox Snakes. But what kind of snakes were they?

Newly hatched snakes. Some egg membrane is visible on the head of one.
Newly hatched with a penny for size comparison.

Only about ½ of Wisconsin snakes lay eggs outside their body. The others are known as live-bearers. This allowed us to narrow down and eliminate some likely common species such as garter snakes and red-bellied snakes immediately.

In looking at their color, they certainly resembled adult North American (Blue) Racers. That species is declining and not generally found in this geographical area. But if people bring in mulch and other garden enhancing items, wildlife of many forms can hitch a ride with them. Further research, though, revealed North American Racers are spotted at hatching and lose their spots as they mature.

Colored similar to an adult North American (Blue) Racer

Mark has hatched out many snake eggs, including at least 50 smooth green snakes. That species was dismissed quickly because they weren’t green. We were starting to get stumped and concerned maybe something not from the area had been unknowingly transported here. Meanwhile, these babies needed to start eating!

To save time, we reached out to a snake expert.

Looking closely at the scales, they were determined to be smooth and not keeled.

Keeled scales have a raised ridge running lengthwise down the center of the scale.

Keeled scales

Smooth scales do not have this ridge, making the surface able to reflect light. This gives them a smooth, glossy, iridescent appearance.

Smooth scales

This brought us back to the Smooth Green Snake we had ruled out. Turns out, despite Mark having hatched out 50+ Smooth Green Snakes that hatched out bright green, there is a buff/brown color phase.

Now knowing these were smooth green snakes, they were able to be released immediately. Number six hatched also and was released the following day.

Even seasoned rehabbers learn new things!

Posted by: Wild Instincts | June 2, 2020

They Helped It to Death

This is the time of year when many well-meaning people are finding many different species of wildlife babies…ducklings, squirrels, bunnies, birds, raccoons and especially fawns.

People decide to help their newfound wild friend by reaching out to find a wildlife rehabber because they realize this is a job for a professional.

A small percentage decide they don’t need no stinkin’ rehabber and they will proceed to try and help the animal themselves. After all Google will reveal all the secrets. Some think it will be a great lesson for their kids.

This is a very frustrating and heartbreaking event for rehabbers that happens almost daily this time of year.

If you come across a person in need of medical attention, even if it’s minor, you don’t take them home into your basement, garage or spare bedroom and start looking up what might be good to feed them to make them better. You call a medical professional! Think of wildlife rehabbers as wildlife paramedics.

If a child is wandering the street all alone, you call the authorities to help find their parents. Wildlife rehabbers are wildlife authorities.

Even though you have chickens or remember as a young child, Grandpa had a pet raccoon, the truth is, you are unlikely to be equipped to effectively help the animal you to which you are now attached.

Just because you dropper or tubed fed a litter of kittens, you will not have the special formulas. The incorrect formula(s) can cause death. Google doesn’t tell you that nor which ones are the worst of the worst. You will not have special enclosures. In addition, many of these animals carry diseases and parasites you or your pets can get.

You don’t know what you don’t know. Believe us when we say it is a tremendous amount.

You will not have decades of experience and knowledge of handling thousands of wild animals from hundreds of different species. What formulas at what stages of that species’ life, how often, how much are just a few of the things wildlife rehabbers know.

The lesson you will be teaching your child is that of death and heartbreak.

Rest assured, you will pass that heartbreak onto the rehabber you finally decide to contact at the end; when your wild charge can no longer endure the Googling and the inexperience.

The rehabber will spring into action and try all the tricks, use all the medical intervention that should have been given when the animal was first found a week ago. They will pour their heart, time and resources into the wild animal you care so much about because they care about it, too. Their heart will break when it turns out to be futile and the death you started ends in their arms.

This fawn was admitted today after a well-meaning person tried to help it. Even though the formula she was being fed said it was for fawns, she was slowly starved to death over a week’s time. The body condition score was 0.5-1.0.  She died in one of our intensive care units that controls temperature, humidity and oxygen about 30 minutes after admission.

Your wild animal should be given the best chance at the life it was supposed to live.

Please don’t help it to death. Help it to life.

Call a rehabber right away.

Posted by: Wild Instincts | April 2, 2020

Magnificent 7

Posted by: Wild Instincts | March 30, 2020

5 Cubs Move Up

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