This once severely injured pond turtle is back to where it should be, basking and pond feeding in the Santa Monica Mountains, thanks to the California Wildlife Center. Photo by Spencer Orloff
A California State Park employee brought a female adult Western Pond Turtle to the California Wildlife Center in late June of this year. Her top and bottom shells were cracked, chunks of shell were missing, and she showed signs of an infection. The ranger found the turtle in the road with injuries consistent with a sudden impact trauma, such as being hit by a car. This was California Wildlife Centerâ€™s (CWC) first turtle patient of the year.
Western Pond Turtles are Californiaâ€™s only native freshwater turtle. The adults grow up to six to eight inches in length, but the baby turtle is only about the size of a quarter. Ranging from the Puget Sound in Washington to Baja, California in ponds, streams, lakes and wetlands, these medium-sized turtles have a brown or black upper shell with light specks of color. Their lower shell typically is black and yellow. They often are spotted near water, but they also need places to bask in the sun. Sometimes, the turtles stack themselves on top of one another to keep warm.
CWC always works hard to provide its patients with an environment that closely resembles their home. In this case, technicians set up a turtle pond outside the intensive care unit. Each day the turtle was taken out to her pond and each evening she would return to her enclosure furnished with a heat lamp in the ICU. Her outdoor retreat was especially important because this species of turtle only eats underwater. They are omnivores, eating insects, fish, tadpoles, frogs, algae, lily pads, tule and cattail roots.
While birds, fish and bullfrogs are the main predators of Western Pond Turtles, they also face other threats such as habitat destruction, disease, fire, flooding, and droughts. The loss of only a few adults can have a significant impact on the population, because the female turtles do not reach maturity until close to 10 years of age.
After the turtleâ€™s injuries were cleaned and the damaged tissue and non-vital parts of the shell removed, the veterinarian prescribed anti-inflammatory medication and antibiotics to help the infected area heal. Over time, new, healthy tissue grew, repairing the damage to the shells and enabling the turtle to return to the wild 22 days after being admitted. The same California State Park employee released the turtle back into the Santa Monica Mountains to bask in the sun, safely away from the roads.
No Glue Traps, Please
On August 22, California Wildlife Center (CWC) received two adult California Scrub Jays from Malibu that were tragically caught in a glue trap meant for rodents.
One of the birds showed up very lethargic and weak. CWC technicians quickly administered subcutaneous fluids and placed one Jay in an incubator to warm up. The other Jay seemed okay, and since they were caught in the same glue trap, both birds were placed in the incubator together. Are these birds a pair? Are they siblings or family members? Or just two very unlucky strangers? We really didnâ€™t know, but they seemed to tolerate each other well in their small enclosure. After they were stabilized, we decided to take no chances and moved them into separate enclosures, just in case the small space they were in became uncomfortable to share!
Both California Scrub Jays had sticky residue left on their feathers after being removed from the glue trap. Fortunately, they were not fully covered in glue and could be spot-washed using a special bird-safe adhesive remover called methyl oleate to take the stickiness off, then washed with soap and water. After testing the feathers for water proofing, t`hey were placed outside in an aviary. Luckily, they lost only some tail feathers and body feathers, which should grow back in a few weeks.
CWC does not advise the use of home pest control items outside. Snap traps, glue traps, rodent poison, and sticky fly traps are not for outdoor use. These items can and do have devastating effects on local wildlife. CWC has received 17 patients so far this year that have been stuck in glue traps and 28 patients in 2020.
California Scrub Jays can be seen all along the west coast from Washington to Baja in dry scrub and oak woodland habitats. They are omnivorous opportunists and eat everything from berries, acorns, insects, grain, small snakes and lizards, and sometimes other birds. Jays are part of the Corvidae bird family, a group of birds known for their high intelligence that includes crows and ravens. CWC cared for 18 California Scrub Jays in 2020.
If you find a bird that is stuck in a glue trap do not attempt to pull them off. It is easy to break a bone or cause other permanent damage. Place the bird and the trap in a box with air holes and cover with a towel to keep it dark to reduce stress and call California Wildlife Center immediately at (310) 458-WILD. n
California Wildlife Center is a 501(c)3 non-profit that provides medical and rehabilitative care to more than 4,300 sick, injured, and orphaned native California animals every year. To support the California Wildlife Center, cawildlife.org.