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Tending a fowl situation

Veterinarian visit opens discussion on North Liberty wildlife
North Liberty resident Kay Klein observes a flock of wild ducks on her front lawn. Klein, along with neighbors Dan and Ruthann Schrock, brought a duckling to Animal Kingdom Veterinary Care Center after discovering a fishhook lodged in its neck. Locals in similar circumstances are encouraged to bring injured wildlife to the Raptor Advocacy, Rehabilitation, and Education (RARE) Group, in Iowa City, for treatment. (photo courtesy of Dan Schrock)

NORTH LIBERTY– What do you do when chanced upon a wild animal whose life is threatened by human negligence? It’s a question recently faced by residents of Saint Andrews Drive in North Liberty.
Every day for the last five years, a flock of ducks has waddled across the yard of Dan and Ruthann Schrock, to be fed by Kay Klein. The ritual keeps the neighbors eager to greet the charming fowl as they march into the neighborhood, looking for grub. But on Tuesday, July 31, the neighbors noticed one of the ducklings exhibiting some impairment.
“Fishing line was wrapped around his neck really tight, and it was wrapped around his leg,” Dan Schrock explained. He first tried to liberate the bird with an electrical knife but couldn’t get between the skin and line. 
“My wife had a little cuticle instrument that I ended up just sliding across and it came loose, I unraveled it and all the line fell off,” he recalled.
But upon removing part of the fishing line, Schrock inspected the duckling only to discover something more severe– a fishing hook lodged in the animal’s neck. “There’s no way in the world I could take a needlenose pliers and try getting that thing out, because all fishhooks have barbs on it,” he assessed. “It’d be ripping his skin.”

Answering the call

Klein and Ruthann took the duckling and raced off to their most immediate and practical option, the Animal Kingdom Veterinary Care Center on Liberty Way. But the clinic was not up to the call, citing its policy of only treating domesticated animals.
“My wife spoke up and says, ‘We can’t either; we don’t have the tools like you do,’” Schrock said.
Dr. Wayne Ahern ultimately made a rare exception and agreed to help, taking X-rays of the duckling and discovering the fishhook narrowly missed its trachea. The experienced veterinarian was able to remove the hook, use glue to stop the bleeding and give the animal two shots of antibiotics in its belly.
“Within five minutes, he had everything straightened out.” Schrock marveled. “And the neatest thing about that– he wasn’t even worried about the money or anything. He was more worried about the animal, and there was no charge.”
The compromised critter took the ordeal surprisingly well, as though it recognized the good nature of its assistants. “The whole time, this duck was very calm, not flapping or anything,” he said. “On the way back, it’s looking out the window and enjoying itself.”
Dr. Ahern cited the calm disposition as a primary factor in going through with treatment. “The duck was amazingly cooperative,” he remarked. “It was quiet for a wild duck.”
Schrock expressed gratitude to Dr. Ahern and his gracious decision to treat an unusual case of animal endangerment. In addition, he hopes the experience can serve as a cautionary tale to recreational fishers to pick up after themselves for the sake of local wildlife.
While the duckling suffered from a bum leg following care, Schrock said it has since made a strong recovery.

Proper procedures

Unfortunately, such cases are nothing unusual, says Jodeane Cancilla, a volunteer for the Raptor Advocacy, Rehabilitation, and Education (RARE) Group.
“This is a very common issue that we see,” she lamented. “Owls and hawks are frequently tangled in fishing line that is left attached to stumps, tree branches and other things that are along the shoreline where people are fishing.” Waterfowl, she said, often swallow fishing hooks and are unable to pass the unforgiving barbs.
Fortunately, for residents of North Johnson County who find themselves dealing with jeopardized wildlife, resources are available.
“What the people did was a wonderful, caring thing to do for the animal,” she said of the North Liberty neighbors. “But there are licensed, professional, wildlife rehabilitators that do it out of their own pocket, that take care of wild animals and have the proper food, medicines, nourishment and caging that the wild animals need.”
Cancilla said the best action to take with a wild animal in distress is to safely capture it in a cardboard box or pet carrier and bring it to the nearest wildlife rehabilitator within 24 hours, as required by federal and state laws. In the case of North Liberty, this would be the RARE Group, located at 3305 Hwy 1 SW, Unit 29A, in Iowa City, and available by phone at 319-248-9770.
While the RARE Group tends to fall under the radar, as evidenced in Dr. Ahern’s unfamiliarity with the organization, Cancilla cited its significance as a local resource.
“There is not a huge source of money to support the work that they do, but that doesn’t stop the rehabilitators from taking care of the animals and doing it with the animals’ best interest,” she said. The organization seeks financial help from the public and accepts supplies such as towels, bedding, food and medicines that most people have in their own home.

All in moderation

As for whether or not to feed wild ducks, Cancilla said moderation, nutrition and duration are critical.
“You do need to be careful with that,” she cautioned. “Unfortunately, most of the time people are feeding incorrect food.” The RARE volunteer said a diet of breadcrumbs, while filling, doesn’t provide the nutrients ducks need. In addition, it could prolong their desire to migrate for the winter. As ponds and other waters begin to freeze, the waterfowl may stay in favor of a steady, human-provided food source. But as people stop feeding them as temperatures drop, the ducks may starve. Should they attempt migration, the lack of energy may only carry malnourished ducks as far as Missouri.
“It’s really not in the animal’s best interest to feed them,” Cancilla summarized. “If, however, you’re one of those that just has to feed them, please take something that they would eat.” This means buying commercially available foods intended for wild fowl.
“But again, all in moderation,” she said. “Don’t make that the big source for them, so that especially the young ones learn where to get the wild food.”