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The Little Owl Sanctuary: Waddlesworth Strikes Again

Another great post from guest blogger, Sarah Higgins of the Little Owl Sanctuary!

A few mornings ago Waddlesworth, the Pelican, excelled himself. He swallowed a teaspoon!

Sammy had just laid the table on the veranda when ‘himself’ arrived and snatched a teaspoon off the table. This is not unusual and we are always shooing him off the veranda as he can be a bit of a pest, but he was just too quick for Sammy and the spoon was gone before he could do anything about it. Swallowing the spoon was unusual as he normally just plays with whatever he has stolen until he gets bored and then he drops it and goes off to find something else to play with. Anyway Sammy didn’t know what to do and as I was not around he decided to give him some fish in the hope, I think, that the food would flush the spoon through the system. Whilst this might work for a human I was pretty sure that it wouldn’t work for a pelican.

So you swallowed a spoon, did you?

So you swallowed a spoon, did you?

As soon as I got back and had been told what had happened I rang our Vet and asked his advice but he had to confess that he had never had a situation like that before and told me that he would have to consult his partner and his books and then get back to me. Some time later he rang back to say that he was none the wiser.

Now, this won't hurt ...

Now, this won't hurt ...

As we know that baby pelicans put their heads inside their parent’s beaks to get the fish out of its crop, I decided that the only option was for me to put my arm down the poor creature’s throat and try to fish the spoon out. The Vet had kept muttering about anaesthetic but I decided that time was of the essence (our Vet is an hour and a half’s drive from here) and didn’t feel that this was strictly necessary so I rang next door and asked Jane to “bring a camera”, rounded up Waddles, got Sammy to hold him and Mwanzia to hold his beak open, oiled my arm with cooking oil and in I went.

Here we go ...

Here we go ...

Unfortunately there were about seven fish on top of the spoon but having fished them all out I eventually felt the spoon, part way through the second sphincter, and was able to retrieve it, much to the relief of us all … with the possible exception of Waddles who had just had his entire breakfast stolen, quite literally, right out of tummy!

Look! You can see my hand

Look! You can see my hand

Gosh, it's a long way down

Gosh, it's a long way down

Got it!

Got it!

Amazingly Waddles is still talking to me after all this, as he usually refuses to speak to me for at least a week after I have had to handle him and more often than not he also leaves home (for a day)! Not that he got the option this time as I confined him to the walled garden for the rest of the day until we were sure that he had suffered no ill effects from my cheerfully thrusting my arm down his throat. The attached pictures are courtesy of Eddie Ver Beek who was literally just arriving back from his honeymoon when Jane caught him and told him that he and his camera were needed next door!

The spoon

The spoon

Waddlesworth is still in fine fettle but I hope that he has learned his lesson and doesn’t swallow anything else that he shouldn’t.

There, that's better ...

There, that's better ...

The Little Owl Sanctuary: A New Fish Eagle Arrives

Guest post from Sarah Higgins of The Little Owl Sanctuary

Yesterday, July 25, a poor broken Fish Eagle was brought in. It had been found the previous evening trying desperately to fly and getting nowhere, so it was picked up, put in a cardboard box and brought round to me the following morning.

I checked it over and found a clean break up near the right shoulder but sadly it was a fairly old break and the three inches of exposed bone had the look of an old dog’s bone that had been buried for a week! The bird was underweight and desperately thirsty and had just about given up, although he was feisty enough when anyone approached him. I put him in a small compound and went to get some tape to immobilise the broken wing so that he didn’t keep tripping over it, and by the time I got back he was lying on the ground looking as if he really had had enough. In fact I wondered at that moment if he would make it, but as soon as I approached he threw himself on his back and threatened me with his talons (two of which are missing)!

I taped his bad wing to his body and showed him where the water was by splashing in the bowl. Once he had taken his eyes off my face long enough to glance at the source of the sound he fixed his gaze on the bowl. I quietly withdrew and left him to it and as soon as I shut the door he lolloped over to the bowl and drank and drank. Poor fellow, he must have been desperate.

new fish eagle little owl sanctuary
New Fish Eagle at Little Owl Sanctuary

I rang the Vet who told me to bring him in, so I popped him into a large cardboard box and set off. It is a hundred mile drive to get to the Vet but, for someone as desperate as this poor bird, it was worth the journey. The Vet, a delightfully calm and confidence-inspiring man, checked the bird over and weighed him – he was just 2 kg (a healthy male bird should be 2.5 kgs and a female up to a kilo more!). Sadly, having seen the obvious age of the injury and subsequent lack of blood supply to the bone, it was decided that the only thing to do was to remove the wing.

I brought the bird back home after the operation and by late evening he was awake and thirsty again. The Vet had suggested that I should only give him water with glucose for that evening, which he gulped down. He spent the night in the bathroom where he was warm and safe and I could keep an eye on him. He produced a couple of ‘poops’ in the night so at least that side of things was still working well which is always good news.

This morning we tried him on a small fish which he ate greedily. He had another for lunch and another two for supper. He is still rather miserable and unsure of all the things that are happening to him and around him, but at least he has stopped looking fierce and putting his one good wing out at me every time I approach and is now allowing me to come close and talk to him.

I am referring to him as a ‘he’ as I am really hoping that he is but am not entirely sure yet. Bogoria, our resident mono-winged lady Fish Eagle, would be delighted to have a male companion all of her own!

The Little Owl Sanctuary: Meet Waddlesworth

Here’s another great guest post from Sarah Higgins!

In April, on the shore of Lake Elmenteita, a young pelican waddled up to a weekend cottage and begged for food from the couple staying there. As you can imagine they were somewhat startled by this but they rushed to the fridge and dug out some tilapia fillets, which the little fellow gulped down greedily. They then herded him back to the lake shore. Next morning he was back again so they gave him some nice smoked salmon and herded him back to the lake but, as they turned to go back, so did the pelican! They couldn’t get rid of him and had to assume that something had happened to his parents and that he was otherwise starving to death. As they were only there for the long weekend they didn’t quite know what to do about the bird as they couldn’t exactly take him back to Nairobi. So they rang a friend who suggested that they should bring him to me!

‘Waddlesworth,’ as he became known, arrived in the back seat of a car all wrapped up in a kikoy, looking very miserable, underweight and covered in lice. We put him in a nice warm compound with a bucket of water and I raided a neighbour’s deep freeze for some fish for that day and sent out to the local fish market for a regular supply of fresh fish. We checked him over and he seemed to be unharmed although he did seem to carry his left wing closer to his body than the other one, but there was no sign of any injury. I did notice that he was sort of ‘crackly’ as if he had bubble-wrap under his skin but not knowing anything about pelicans I didn’t take much notice and assumed that is what a pelican should feel like.

Waddles in May 2009
Waddles in May, 2009

Waddlesworth soon got the hang of being hand-fed and I became ‘Mummy.’ As soon as he saw me with the white ‘fish’ pot he would rush up, bumping into me, flapping his wings, making his baby ‘feed-me’ noises and biting excitedly (but gently) at my legs, his own wings, bushes, anything, in a food ‘frenzy’ – which is exactly how a baby pelican should behave! I have not had any experience rearing a baby pelican and so out came the books. Waddlesworth did exactly what a wild pelican should do and at exactly the right time he started practicing his wing flaps. From then on we allowed him the run of the garden with its two acres of sloping lawn that has a ‘haha’ at the bottom and then acres of wildlife-filled vlei between us and the edge of our rapidly receding lake (we are in a drought situation at present), so he has plenty of room for a long takeoff and safe landing. He quickly settled into a routine: Mornings – bullying the dogs and playing in the bird bath! Afternoons – sleeping off his busy morning.

Waddles and Radar
Waddles and Radar

When he was old enough he put himself on a ‘flight diet’ to loose sufficient weight to be able to take off and then, a few days later, off he went on his maiden flight. He tried a steep turn but didn’t quite make it home and ended up in my neighbour’s hedge, being eyed up by their huge dogs. I galloped round, rescued him from the hedge and carried him home. As soon as I put him down he stomped off to his favourite snooze spot and slept for the rest of the day. Next day he set off again and again miscalculated and ended up in the neighbour’s garden. So I nipped round next door and herded him back home and once more he slept away the rest of the day. After that he seemed to give up all idea of flight and went back to his dog bullying and mucking about in the bird bath (I still haven’t been able to persuade him to float about on the pond, which doesn’t auger well for life on his own!). I had hoped that in the three weeks between his first flight and our intended overseas trip he would have become a good pilot and left home, but no such luck. After much discussion we decided that Waddles should remain in the walled garden beside the house whilst we were away so that he couldn’t get himself into trouble.

On our return we found him in good form but he had now transferred his affections to Sammy, who had taken over feeding duty, and didn’t recognise me any more (I confess to feeling just a tad miffed that he could be so fickle!). We had decided that we should tag Waddlesworth before he went off on his next adventure so when Simon suddenly appeared out of the blue he was asked to do the deed. Waddles now wears a smart yellow (number 56) wing tag. Whilst tagging him, Simon remarked on the odd bubble-wrap feel of the bird but, like me, was not sure if this was normal, but suspected that it might not be. So now I am trying to find someone who knows something about pelicans who might be able to tell us. The crackly ‘bubble-wrap’ is all over his body, even his wings! Can anyone shed some light on this?

Waddles july 2009
Waddlesworth, July 2009