Newsletter Archive

Wild Bunch Newsletter – March 2007

Wild Bunch wishes to give you a brief update on our activities during the month of February. We are a 501(c)(3) nonprofit Virginia organization devoted to the rescue, rehabilitation, and release of native wildlife. 83 acres in the Northern Neck of Virginia near the Rappahannock River serve as our wildlife refuge. The officers and directors are Erika Yery, Pat Crusenberry, Diana O'Connor, Charlene DeVol, and Bonnie Brown.

In the past month, Erika received no new animals. At the Refuge, Diana received 1 Opossum, 3 Barred Owls, 1 Black Vulture, 24 Brown Pelicans, 2 Seagulls, and 1 Screech Owl.

The Weather – Part 1

February is typically a quiet, relatively uneventful month for us with few new animals arriving. While caring for the animals that needed to be overwintered, we complete repairs and improvements at our facilities and take stock of the equipment and supplies we have on hand and begin obtaining what will be needed to see us through the busy spring, summer, and fall months. After a mild December and an even milder January, we were unprepared for what Mother Nature had planned for February 2007. First, there were the near record-setting low temperatures. Then, for those of us in Northern Virginia, Valentine’s Day brought a dangerous winter storm of snow, sleet, and freezing rain that left all outdoor surfaces covered by several inches of a mixture that resembled concrete but was very slippery. Fallen trees brought down power lines that left thousands without electricity for several days. Schools were closed, airports were shut down, and the numerous early office closings caused near chaos on roads and the subway system as commuters tried to make their way home. This turned out to be just a prelude to the weather that followed.

Of course, the animals must be taken care of despite icy roads, icy walks, and frigid temperatures. In the outdoor cages, food and water froze in their bowls, the bowls froze to the floor, and although the animals didn’t seem to mind the plummeting temperatures and howling winds, we worried about them. There were, however, little humorous incidents from time to time, for example, when the raccoons at Erika’s raced back into their nest boxes with tails wagging in alarm upon seeing a hooded intruder enter their cage. It was Erika just trying to keep warm as we fed and cleaned.

The Weather – Part 2

As challenging as the weather was for us, it was nothing compared to the life or death situations that many of our wild neighbors faced in trying to find food, water, and adequate shelter. This was especially true for a number of species of water birds. While some area rehabilitators were trying to rescue such birds as Great Blue Herons, the Refuge became involved in trying to save Brown Pelicans that were struggling to survive the frigid weather and icy waters.

Currently a threatened species, Brown Pelicans faced extinction in the 1960s and ‘70s because of pesticides and hydrocarbons. The smallest of the world’s pelicans, adult Brown Pelicans are about 50 inches in length and have wingspans of approximately 80 inches. They are strictly marine birds and eat fish taken from near the surface by plunge-diving from the air and scooping up the fish with their pouch. They are monogamous and live in colonies. On the East Coast, while they are most often associated with southern beaches, in spring and summer months, many Brown Pelicans are seen along the Atlantic Coast from Maryland southward. We do not know why the pelicans were this far north in February but we believe that they stayed in the area when our early winter weather was so mild. Then, when the temperatures dropped drastically, the pelicans were in serious trouble.

The pelicans’ story is still unfolding but for the Refuge, it began when Diana O’Connor received a call from an area woman who had seen several pelicans that appeared to be in very bad shape under a bridge on the Northern Neck. Diana went to the scene and found two still alive but so debilitated that they were simply picked up and placed in carriers for transport.

Diana advised other area rehabilitators about the extreme difficulties that the Brown Pelicans were experiencing. Many pelicans were found that had died in or near the icy waters. Rescuers brought in 24 that were still alive. A large place needed to be found for them where they could be examined, warmed up, treated, and fed. Gary and Janice Hutt, owners of Red Oak Nurseries on Virginia’s Northern Neck in Montross, offered one of their heated greenhouses to serve as an interim base for caring for the rescued pelicans. More than gracious hosts, the Hutts also helped care for their unexpected and ailing guests. Just feeding them is no easy task since captive pelicans must be hand fed several fish a day.

The pelicans needed to be thoroughly examined by experts and taken to a more appropriate place for long term treatment. Permission had to be obtained from several states for the pelicans to be transported out of Virginia. After considerable effort by a number of people, arrangements were made for the pelicans to go to Maryland. They were driven to Frederick, Maryland by Diana O’Connor’s husband, Dennis. There, a pelican rehabilitator from Florida, two avian veterinarians from the renowned Tri-State Bird Rescue & Research of Delaware, and other avian experts convened to assess each pelican’s condition. Twenty three of the pelicans were juveniles. Sadly, it was determined that several of the pelicans had such severely frostbitten feet that euthanasia was the most humane thing to be done for them. The assessments were a collaborative effort and the euthanasias were done by the avian veterinarians. The rest of the pelicans were taken to Tri-State. (Northern Virginians may recall that this is where Martha, the Bald Eagle, was taken after she was discovered severely injured and near death in 2006. For several years, Martha had lived with her mate, George, in a nest near the Woodrow Wilson Bridge.) Many of the surviving pelicans have weather-related medical problems to overcome but we know that they are in expert hands.

Plans for a Controlled Burn of the Meadow Area of the Refuge

Between winter storms, Bonnie and Erika drove to the Refuge to meet with John Magruder, a local forestry consultant, and Braden Scott, who farms 18 acres on the Refuge and helps us with some of our projects. The meeting was to finalize plans for a controlled burn of the 3 acre meadow that is near the Refuge’s fox cages. The purpose of the burn is to renew the growth of wildlife friendly plants and inhibit the growth of undesirable plants. In advance of the controlled burn, Braden Scott will cut a six foot wide fire break around the perimeter of the area to be burned. John Magruder will oversee the burn that will take place in March. All appropriate authorities will be notified and, as an extra precaution, we will have on hand a “burning trailer� that contains 100 gallons of water. We expect to end up with a meadow that will provide food and/or shelter for many wild creatures.

Some Changes for the Wild Bunch Newsletter and Related Matters

In many small nonprofit organizations, a few committed volunteers do much of the work involved in meeting the mission of the organization and performing the necessary administrative tasks. Such is the case with Wild Bunch, where a relative handful of people care for the animals, take the animals that need special medical care to and from vet appointments, maintain the facilities, obtain the necessary food and supplies, vaccinate the animals, treat injuries and illnesses, provide environmental enrichment, and prepare for and accomplish the releases. Among other things, they also respond to numerous concerns and inquiries from the public; give talks about wildlife at schools, animal shelters, and in other settings; and share information with the public at special community events. They maintain the records required by the IRS and seek to ensure the financial viability of Wild Bunch. And they write many things such as the newsletter, True Stories for the Wild Bunch website, and informational fact sheets.

Recently, the Board of Wild Bunch decided that we would make some changes that involve the newsletter, our True Stories, and related activities. Our goal is to give ourselves a bit more breathing room while improving the quality of our written products. Thus, after April, we will begin doing the newsletter and the website True Story every other month instead of every month as we have been doing the past several years. In addition, many who now receive the newsletter by e-mail will instead be mailed a written copy. (We will continue to send an e-mail version of the newsletter to rehabbers, animal welfare groups, and others who have requested it for informational purposes.)

This Month’s True Story

This month, on the Wild Bunch website (, the True Story is “The Opossum: Our Marvelous Marsupial, The Social Loner.� In this interesting piece, Erika tells the story of the first opossum she encountered. In addition, she provides many details about these common animals that have such unusual characteristics. Opossums are the only marsupials in this country and, are therefore, related to koalas, wallabies, and kangaroos. Amazingly, newborn opossums are about the size of a grain of rice. Those that survive will become cat-sized animals with naked ears, long scaly tails, silver tipped fur, and 50 teeth. They are excellent at rodent and insect control. We hope you will enjoy learning more about these fascinating creatures.

As Always, Our Sincere Thanks

We want to thank everyone who continues to help us help our wild friends. We are grateful for the donations that make it possible for us to help so many animals each year. We could not manage the large scope of work we must accomplish without your support. Financial donations can be mailed to Wild Bunch Wildlife Rehabilitation, 402 West Alexandria Avenue, Alexandria, Virginia 22302-4204. In addition, donations via PayPal can be made directly on our website. We hope you realize how deeply we rely on your support and how much we appreciate everything you do to help.