By Marc Elie, DVM, DACVIM
Staff internist Blue Pearl Michigan
I have worn many hats as a veterinarian. Among my professional endeavors I spent three enchanted years as a wildlife veterinarian. It was during this time in south Florida that I learned about the unique requirements of countless species.
These wondrous experiences not only made me realize that my passion as a veterinarian was internal medicine but also prepared me for future encounters with displaced wildlife.
A case in point:
A few years ago I was knee deep in veterinary cases of the domestic sort when a receptionist brought what we call the “dreaded signature shoebox” from which characteristic chirps of a fledgling killdeer were audible.
Having faced boxed critters before, I asked where the person was who brought the chick in to us. She said it was a school-boy who had since left, but said he found the fluffy feathered chick running about in a field by his school.
From my experience it was clear to me that the chick was born close to a school yard and had been inadvertently abducted from its habitat.
Killdeers nest on the ground. Consequently their newborns must be ready to depart the nest soon after birth to ensure survival. Unlike altricial fledglings that fly first, precocial fledglings like killdeer walk first.
The moment the noisy shoebox arrived at my feet I knew I was in it for the long haul. If I could find the right school yard before dusk, I could surely re-unite the chick with its rightful guardian. I had to because there were no other alternatives that would have ensured the chick’s survival. The education a newborn killdeer gleans from its mother is vital to its survival. It learns to forage and to avoid predatory species, as well as many other things.
My clinical obligations completed, my technician and I piled into the car with the boxed chick in tow, heat painfully on high to keep it warm and us overheated.
We began the circumferential trip from the office, stopping at every open field along the way. More than one hour and countless schoolyards later, we did what we had done at prior sites; step out of the car cradling the box with the cacophonous underling enclosed. However, this time its addled screeches were serenaded. I breathlessly scanned the field. In the distance was an adult killdeer and a frantic second fledgling. I tearfully scooped my “orphaned” chick from the box and placed it on the ground with its face aimed in the direction of its family. Within seconds they were re-united, chirping gleefully in unison while my technician and I openly wept.
It is one of many moments I will not forget as a guardian of all creatures great and small. My only regret in this instance is that I was unable to educate the child who brought the killdeer to us. Leaving the chick alone would have been the better decision. Educating the uneducated lends credence to the adage that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure!