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An Unusual Winter Visitor

As wildlife rehabilitators, it is not unusual for us to receive a species of bird for care that we have never handled in the past. We pull out the bird books, get a weight to help with identification and physical condition, and text pictures to all of our bird people. It can be an interesting challenge! Once we know what we have, we begin to investigate how to best contain the bird to reduce stress, what his natural diet might be and whether medical care is required.

I received a picture and a text message late in the evening of January 13th from Bristol Animal Control Officer Gina Farrell. Bristol Police had responded to a call from Roger Williams University about a bird outside of a dorm building. The bird was apparently easy to catch, and seemed “tame.” Is this a domestic bird, she wondered? She had him contained in a birdcage and he was pecking away at birdseed.

The picture Officer Farrell had forwarded showed a wildly colorful wading bird, with a Fruit Loops colored beak and large feet designed for wading through shallow water. He was clearly not a pet bird so I began thumbing through the bird identification books. He appeared to be in the same family as the Moorhen or American Coot so I began there. Sure enough, there was a picture of a Purple Gallinule, also known as a “swamp hen” who matched our new-found friend’s description. Interestingly, those large feet enable him to walk on top of lily pads in the quest for food! A nearby rehabber, Blaine Hymel, immediately hopped into her car and collected him from the Bristol Animal Shelter.

Our investigation into the Purple Gallinule gave us some interesting factoids: these are birds of the southeast and the tropics, but on a rare occasion one may end up much farther north, even into Canada. Sometimes they also show up in southern Africa! In the winter, they are found in southern Florida and into South America.

Clearly this guy had taken a seriously wrong turn. Our grocery list for our new guest included seed, a variety of live bugs, and live fish - and a lot of them.

It was quickly determined after an examination and check of his weight that, despite showing up in Rhode Island in the middle of a frigid January, the Purple Gallinule was in good shape. Once he warmed up, he was no longer tame, but clearly stressed out by captivity. His temporary living space is a large screen enclosure in a very quiet spare bedroom in a rehabilitator’s home. Branches and pine boughs, logs and flat bark create a natural setting, with low pie plates of preferred foods.

Being ever sensitive to the fact that stress kills wildlife in captivity, especially for extended periods, Blaine began researching wildlife rehabilitation facilities in Florida who handle Purple Gallinules for a transfer. Fortunately, Dr Renata Schneider of South Florida Wildlife Center in Fort Lauderdale was willing to take our “swamp hen”.

Unfortunately, no airline would agree to fly our friend back home the easy way. It was decided that Blaine and the Purple Gallinule would be migrating south in a rental car.

With all of the required paperwork underway, including a Certificate of Health from a veterinarian and permission to transfer the bird to Florida from RIDEM Wildlife Biologist Charlie Brown, the scheduled departure was Friday, February 9.

As our Purple Gallinule traveled to Florida, Blaine sent us updates and we in turn updated our Facebook page. It was wonderful to see so much interest in our unusual winter visitor.

Purple Gallinule Update FB post #1

Blaine has reported a pretty uneventful trip so far. Although we are all concerned about the stress of travel on a bird like this, he apparently cleaned his bowl of food while en route down to Virginia yesterday (note the picture of his bagged lunch that Blaine packed for him) below.

They are now on the second leg of the trip to the wildlife rehabilitation facility in Ft Lauderdale. Once he is given a clean bill of health from the South Florida Wildlife Center, he will be released into the proper habitat - with a story to tell.

Purple Gallinule Update FB post #2

Blaine and her feathered friend arrived in Cocoa Beach, FL this evening without incident. She reports that the bird has so far handled the trip well, eating and basically enjoying the ride. The plan is to make the last 2.5 hour ride to Ft Lauderdale in the morning to the wildlife rehabilitation facility that will ultimately release him back into the wild. The veterinarian reports that they are ready and waiting.

Purple Gallinule Update FB post #3

We are happy to report that the Purple Gallinule has finished his migration back to Florida via Rt 95 in a Nissan Altima. He is now in the hands of the great folks at South Florida Wildlife Center!

The plan moving forward is that he will have some blood tests done, spend a few days conditioning in an outdoor aviary and be released into an area with other Purple Gallinules.

As always, WRARI is honored to be part of a larger family of incredibly caring folk who endeavor to save wildlife in our state.

Despite a free flight home for Blaine from Florida and a reduced rate for the rental car, we anticipate it will cost WRARI in the $1700 range for rental car, gas, tolls and a couple of night’s stay in hotels to insure this beautiful bird’s survival. (This doesn’t include the large amount of expensive bugs and live fish we fed him to maintain his lovely turnip like figure while in our care.)

We are very grateful for any donation you would like to make to help offset the $1700 cost of saving this bird’s life and returning him back home. Click here to visit our donation page.

We are also very proud of Blaine (at right in the righthand photo below) for her commitment to provide top notch care for this bird while he was in Rhode Island and then driving him back to where he belongs.

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