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Sanibel’s CROW rehabilitates, releases endangered snail kite
January 31, 2018

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An injured snail kite taken in last month by the Clinic for the Rehabilitation of Wildlife was released back into the wild on Jan. 22 at the Harns Marsh Preserve in Lehigh Acres.

Dr. Heather Barron, CROW's hospital director, explained that the adult male bird was found off Interstate 75 - between Daniels Parkway and Colonial Boulevard - by a good Samaritan.

"He was probably hit by a car," she said. "His right eye was injured pretty badly. He also had a fractured right forearm."

The radius and ulna bones were broken in his forearm, and he had injuries to his left "hand" bones.

"It definitely had head trauma," Barron said. "He was extremely depressed when he came in."

She explained that the snail kite did not act like a wild animal, defensive and trying to flee.

"He did undergo several anesthetic procedures, but two major surgeries," Barron said.

The first surgery was to repair the forearm bones in his right wing. A fixation device was put on with pins to set the two bones, while still allowing the snail kite to use his wing normally as it healed.

"We casted his left wing," she added.

CROW's team tried to save his eye but had to remove it because the globe was torn. Following the surgeries, they focused on physical therapy with the snail kite and increasing his body weight.

Barron explained that the species' diet consists 100 percent of apple snails. There is one species of apple snail native to Florida, while four others are invasive but not necessarily viewed as such.

"They're actually helping the snail kite numbers because now they have a plentiful supply of food," she said of the invasive snails.

Snail kites themselves are an endangered native species.

Because apple snails are freshwater snails and are not found on Sanibel, the team had to come up with some creative ways to keep up with the bird's diet during the recovery and rehabilitation process.

"The water on Sanibel is too brackish for them to live in," Brian Bohlman, with CROW, said.

A Cape Coral resident with a freshwater lake across the street from his home, he explained that he would throw on a pair of waders once a week, get into the canal at night and remove 75 to 100 snails from the seawall. The snails, which were placed in buckets, lay their eggs on the seawalls at night.

Without the easy access to a food supply, the team's job might have been harder.

"It probably would have been a lot more difficult to keep his body weight up," Bohlman said.

Barron explained that the alternative to fresh snails is chopping up smelt and shrimp into a sort of seafood chow. The chow is stuffed into empty snail shells, which are then provided to the bird.

"He think's it's the real thing," she said.

As for physical therapy, the CROW team started by holding the bird and moving his limbs through a full range of motion. Toward the end of his rehabilitation, he was placed in a large flight enclosure. His exercises then consisted of the team following the bird from one end to the other, while he flew away.

Barron noted that he was kept on antibiotics and pain medicine during the process.

As of Jan. 19, the snail kite was on the fast road to release.

"He's totally releasable," she said. "All of his bones have healed perfectly."

However, he was still experiencing a bit of "wing drop" after his rehabilitation exercises.

"We're still waiting for that muscle to build back up," she said.

Three days later, the CROW team determined that the bird was good to go.

Bohlman explained that rescued animals are released back into the wild as close to the location of where they were found as possible for several reasons. The animal is familiar with the territory and will have a food supply. For instance, the bird could not be released on Sanibel due to the lack of snails.

He added that it helps to retain the balance of the local ecosystem.

"If animals come from one area, we want to send them back to the same area," Bohlman said.

For more information about CROW, visit online at www.crowclinic.org.

CROW is at 3883 Sanibel Captiva Road, Sanibel.

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