Mice That Become Rats, Chickenhawks, and other Wild Tales

by Erika K. Yery

Rehabilitators receive numerous calls from the public and most are quite routine. They usually involve so-called “nuisance wildlife”, orphaned or injured wildlife, or questions about various wild and, often, domestic animals.

However, there are the unusual calls that make one realize how important it is to educate the public. Some of these calls turn out to be real funny, others quite sad. All in all, rehabilitating wildlife is never dull, to say the least. Some of the more amusing and interesting episodes help us deal with the stress that is part of being a rehabilitator who will stick with it year after year, and not get burned out or lose interest.

Here are some examples of funny occurrences that have given me a good chuckle over the years:

Some time ago, early in the morning, we got a call that a coyote had been sighted in the woods near a local high school. A neighbor, walking his dog had frantically called various authorities, and finally ended up with us. I was still working at the time, and on my way, dressed in business attire, when the call came in. I had read not long before that call that coyotes were moving into the western part of Virginia. At the time, I thought that was a more humane way to control the increasing deer population. However, I did find it unlikely that coyotes would already roam the City of Alexandria, but not impossible.

My husband, Richard, and I quickly changed clothes, grabbed gloves, nets, and other equipment, and off we went. We arrived at the edge of the woods, where several people had gathered. A few told us they had actually seen the wild beast roaming through the woods, howling. We cautiously made our way to the location, and soon heard noises that sounded similar to a loud “maw!” There she was, a nanny goat, crying because her udder was full of milk! The poor goat was in obvious in distress. I quickly milked her, regretting that I did not have a bucket for all that milk, led her out the school parking lot, and waited for the animal shelter van to arrive to pick up the “coyote”. We later learned that the goat was taken from the local Browne Academy, several miles away, and involved a high school prank.

One busy Saturday, after spending most of the day picking up wildlife, we got a call from a worried lady who said she had a large opossum in a trap. She trapped the opossum because it was bothering the feral cats she was feeding in her backyard. When I got there, the opossum turned out to be a large rat. When I told her it was a rat, the lady became very indignant and insisted she knew the difference between a rat and an opossum. With that I opened the trap and the rat scurried away. I asked her to stop feeding the feral cats because the food would attract wildlife and she said she could not stop feeding them, and besides, how could she possibly have rats with all these cats around?

A lady came to my door with a field mouse in a small box. I asked her why she caught it and since nothing was wrong with it, why did she bring it to me. She said she did not want to kill it, but after all, these tiny mice turn into big bad rats and she could not have rats in her neighborhood.

A rehabilitator that specializes in birds and raptors got a call about an injured chickenhawk that was found along a major highway. It is not unusual to find various hawks feasting on road-kill along major highways, and as they are busy eating, they occasionally get hit by a car. So, this was not at all unusual until the lady showed up with a “Chicken!” It was well and was turned over to a friendly rehabilitator that already had several chickens.

I can’t count the many calls I have gotten over the years about vultures, hawks, and various raptors that turned out to be pigeons. Flying squirrels are often mistaken for gray squirrels, which is understandable, since most people never have seen flying squirrels, as they are mostly nocturnal. Baby mice are often mistaken for baby squirrels, as are moles and voles.

Some years ago, I got a call from two ladies telling me they found a baby raccoon and could I take it. When they arrived with the 2-foot long baby raccoon, it turned out to be a ferret. That night, I got an angry call from a gentleman that said I had stolen his ferret. It turned out his ferret had gotten into the neighbor’s yard and they thought it was a baby raccoon.

Turtle calls are common, and usually involve box turtles, sliders, and various water turtles. One summer, I got a call from a lady with a large estate on the Potomac River. She had a pond with many varieties of expensive fishes. An enormous snapping turtle had moved into the pond. I expected her to ask me how to get rid of the snapper, as that is usually the case when people have snapping turtles in their ponds. To my great surprise, the lady wanted to know how to keep the snapping turtle in her pond and what to feed it. Soon after, I got a call about an injured turtle. I asked the gentleman to bring it by. He pulled up with a 40-some-pound snapping turtle stretched out on the passenger side of the car. He started to pick it up, but I screamed, “Please do Not touch the turtle, unless you want to lose a finger or your hand!” There was a happy ending: the turtle had only an eye infection and after I treated it and kept it in my bathtub for a week, it recovered and the gentleman released it on his property

Another interesting call involved a large snake that was stuck behind a pipe in a laundry room. I stay away from snake problems, since I have no training or expertise in that area, but because the lady was desperate, I went with a more knowledgeable friend to see what could be done. It turned out that a rather large rat snake had gotten into a space between the pipe and a closet and evidently had swallowed a mouse in that position. Due to its now-increased size, it was stuck and could not get out. With the help of several neighbors, we took the closet apart and released the snake in nearby woods.

Several times a year, I get calls from desperate, often elderly ladies, about tree-bound cats. After the cats are high up in a tree, they often are afraid to come down. After calling police, firefighters and animal shelters, people are desperate by the time they reach me. None of these organizations perform that service any more. Luckily there are friendly tree climbers that I can call on to help out, who have helped me over the years rescuing orphaned baby raccoons from trees.

Calls about dogs, cats, iguanas, snakes, ferrets, rabbits, parrots, and other domestic pets are received on a regular basis. Over the years, I have accumulated a large list of rescue groups that usually can help out. What surprises me is that we get so many calls about baby mice and rats. Yes, there are rehabilitators who will take them in and make sure they re released in a safe area when they are well and grown. Domestic birds that have escaped are often taken for blue jays or wood peakers and the list goes on and on.

In the “Ignorance is Bliss” category, this one definitely takes the cake. I get frequent calls from people that feed colonies of feral cats. Usually these feeding sites also attract wildlife, especially foxes and raccoons. All get along well and there are no problems fighting over food. After I explain all that, there is no problem and the subject is usually closed. However, one feral cat feeder as I call them, called me and was very upset not only that the raccoons ate the cat’s food, but also mostly because she was afraid the cats would get rabies from the raccoons. After going into a lengthy discussion about rabies, I told her that many feral cats are rabid and I have the statistics to prove it. At that, she told me that she had all her feral cats tested and none had rabies. I couldn’t resist telling her that I assume she had all her feral cat’s heads cut off because that is the only way one can test for rabies. Needless to say she did not believe me, as her cats were all tested and are not rabid. So much for that!

Do you have interesting wildlife stories you are willing to share? Please contact me on the Wild Bunch website and I may be able to include your “Wild Tales” in a future story.