Then it’s on to the flight cage.
Flight cages are those great big enclosures where recovering birds can use their wings, and youngsters can learn to fly. When it comes to birds of prey, normally you can’t put different species in the same flight. Sometimes you can’t even mix birds of the same species. But when it comes to certain mellow, fairly sociable ones, such as Screech Owls or Red-tailed hawks, a wildlife rehabilitator can put quite a few into one flight cage.
But then, how do you tell them apart?
Why, you might ask, would you want to?
First, because different birds require different lengths of time in the flight cage. And second, because we try, especially with adult birds, to return them to their own territory after they have recovered. So you have to be able to differentiate between birds in order to figure out who goes where.
Each wildlife rehabilitator has their own method of telling similar-looking birds apart. You can put a removable band on one of their legs, using different colors. You can use a livestock marker, which looks like a giant crayon and only lasts for a week or two. Or, if you need a quick ID and don’t have either of the above, you can raid your teenaged daughter’s bathroom closet and give your bird a brand new look, using sparkly, ice-blue nail polish (see left.)
We draw the line at bikini waxes, however.
Photo of Screech Owls by Louise Shimmel, Cascades Raptor Center, Eugene, OR http://www.eraptors.org