Two downy woodpeckers and a barred owl were among the 94animals admitted to the von Arx Wildlife Hospital at the Conservancy of Southwest Florida last week.

Other admissions include a black-crowned night-heron, a snowy egret, a black skimmer, a black racer and a marsh rabbit.

Getting the downy woodpeckers the help they needed required information, communication and skill. A homeowner on Marco Island cut down a row of trees on his property. As he was looking through the brush he noticed three woodpeckers on the ground. Not knowing what to do or how to contact the hospital, he left the babies on the ground. Twenty-four hours later hospital staff received a message about the situation. The homeowner was contacted; unfortunately he hadn’t checked on the babies for over 10 hours and he wasn’t home so he couldn’t go out to check if the babies were still alive.

A volunteer from Marco Island went to the site and searched for the babies. He found a yard full of woodpecker activity.

Our volunteer found two live baby downy woodpeckers still in the brush pile where they had been hiding since the tree was cut down. Amazingly, the adult downy woodpeckers were still tending to the babies on the ground. Our volunteer was concerned about the amount of time the babies had been on the ground so he brought them to the wildlife hospital for a check-up.

The health check on the two downy woodpeckers showed they were in good condition. Hospital staff knew the parents were around so we planned to re-nest. An old branch that contained a downy woodpecker nest cavity that was at the hospital from a previous admission was used as the “new” nest for the two babies. The branch containing the baby woodpeckers was attached to a bit of tree trunk that hadn’t been cut down.

Hospital staff didn’t need to wait and watch to verify if the adult woodpeckers would continue to care for their babies in the “new” nest cavity – the mother downy woodpecker was literally waiting with a bug in her mouth while staff secured the branch in place. As soon as our worker stepped away the mother went to the hole to feed her babies!

A typically re-nesting isn’t always so obviously and instantly successful; sometimes it takes a few minutes or hours to verify the adults have returned to care for their young.

Successes such as this reinforce the need for people to put in the time and any effort it might take to reunite wild animal babies with their parents – it is amazing to witness.

Interestingly, there was another cut tree in the same yard that contained an active red-bellied woodpecker nest. The homeowner had noticed this nest and attached the portion of the cut tree containing the nest cavity and baby red-bellied woodpeckers to a nearby stump. The adult red-bellied woodpeckers were not deterred and adjusted to the new location of their nest as well and were caring for their babies.

Please check any trees for active nests before doing any trimming or removal. If you find an active nest avoid performing any work until the nest is no longer active. If you accidentally cut down a nest, bring the babies to the hospital for care. Injured babies must receive professional medical care. Depending on the situation, healthy babies may be re-nested so they can grow up in the wild, learning skills from their parents needed to survive on their own.

The barred owl was admitted after being found stuck in the mud in a roadside ditch in south Lee County. The owl was hypothermic but alert. Our first priority was to raise the owl’s body temperature. The bird was given subcutaneous electrolytes and placed in an animal intensive care unit which has controlled temperature and humidity. After several hours of warmth, the owl was given a bath to rinse some of the mud from its feathers. Pain medication and electrolytes were administered and the owl was returned to the intensive care unit for the night.

An exam the following morning showed the owl was slightly more responsive but was tachycardic and had harsh lung sounds on inspiration. An antibiotic, as well as Chinese herbs, were added to the owl’s treatment plan.

The owl received a second bath and within another 24 hours was eating on its own. After several days of treatment, the owl no longer required the intensive care unit. The owl was moved to an indoor cage and continues to gain strength as it recovers in the bird room at the wildlife hospital.

Recent Releases
A Florida brown snake, an eastern screech owl, three downy woodpeckers, four common grackles, three northern mockingbirds, four blue jays, a mourning dove, six eastern cottontails, a Swainson’s thrush, a painted bunting, three brown thrashers, three mottled ducks, four Virginia opossums, a yellow-bellied slider and a broad-winged hawk were released this past week.

Opportunities to Help
Please join us in celebrating the Conservancy of Southwest Florida’s annual Wildlife Hospital Baby Shower on Saturday, June 3rd. Visit the Conservancy website at for details on how to get involved and help us continue to provide quality care to the hundreds of baby animals we will care for this season. All donations are truly vital in helping us continue our work to protect Southwest Florida’s wildlife.


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