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Wildlife Shelter’s new waterfowl enclosure just ducky

The open-air enclosure is only the second of its kind in the state. - Courtesy Photo
The open-air enclosure is only the second of its kind in the state.
— image credit: Courtesy Photo

“Ouch!” “Don’t spit out those fish again.” “Gosh dangit, that hurt!”

I’m standing in our new waterfowl enclosure watching Mike Pratt, our director of Wildlife Services, and Lynne Weber, our Wildlife Rehabilitation specialist, try to feed fish to a feisty juvenile cormorant.

The cormorant’s body is wrapped in a white towel, and Lynne is holding on tight as the cormorant’s head and about 10 inches of sleek, black neck dance around like a cobra about to strike. And strike it does – Wham!

“Stop it,” Mike says as he quickly dislodges his finger from the cormorant’s sharp beak. He gains an edge in the struggle, opens the cormorant’s beak, and begins stuffing smelt down its throat (just like the cormorant’s mother would do).

One little smelt down the hatch. Now a second. Mike stops at six smelt and starts to stroke the cormorant’s neck to stimulate swallowing. But the cormorant is having none of it. With a shake of its head and a loud “blaahh,” all six smelt come flying out of the cormorant’s mouth and slap down on the deck. (OK, there was no “blaahh” sound, but you get the picture.)

It’s another morning at West Sound Wildlife Shelter. But this morning is different because our new waterfowl enclosure is open. This amazing facility, funded entirely by donations from wonderful, caring people, is only the second facility of its kind in the state. This facility will help us save the lives of countless waterfowl in the coming decades – ducks, cormorants, gulls, herons, loons, geese, auklets, and the other species that grace the lakes, shores, and Sound all around us.

This new facility has some special magic, a deep resonance with my soul. It’s completely open to the elements. The “roof” and “walls” are welded wire.  The water in the six eight-foot diameter pools – each set in a deck and separated from the others – is constantly being cleaned by a ridiculously complicated filtration system.

Every day I spend time in the enclosure, and each day I come away with my mood improved and a brighter outlook on life. I’m not sure why. Is it knowing that innocent, feathered bundles of life will be saved here? Is it the constant sound of running water? Is it the cute duck heads that tilt and look up at me? All, I suppose.

In addition to two cormorants, there are also 15 mallard ducks in the enclosure right now. They are all orphans, having lost their parents to cars, dogs, or some other tragedy.

Three of them were discovered by a woman who saw a distraught mallard mother circling around a storm drain on the Winslow Green. It turns out that three of the mother’s ducklings had fallen through the grate into the drain. By the time we rescued the ducklings, their mother had been scared off by the crowd of humans gathered around. So we had to bring the duckies back here to raise.

I wish their mother had been able to see them when we moved them out to the waterfowl enclosure. When they were old enough to go outside, we put them in a kitty carrier and took them out to the enclosure. As soon as we opened the carrier door, they waddled out as fast as their clunky webbed feet could take them. Their immense joy at suddenly being in a big pool of water was instantly recognizable as they peeped and chirped, swam and dove, and splashed water about like kids in a swimming pool.

The juvenile cormorant just came in last night, having been found stunned on a couple’s deck. He must have been quite shocked this morning to find Mike pushing smelt down his throat. He appears to be in fine shape. After a day or two of monitoring (and lots of free fish!), he’ll probably be released. In the meantime, though, his fight with Mike and Lynne continues.

“Yikes!”  “Stop biting me.”  “Now keep those fish in there!”

As I walk away I hear the sounds of wet fish smacking the deck, and Mike saying, “Now come on!”

You can see photos of the enclosure and some of the patients at www.westsoundwildlife.org. And please understand that we use best practices in the care of all of our patients. The cormorant story I’ve related here is exaggerated for the sake of humor.

- Kol Medina is executive director of the West Sound Wildlife Center.


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