Wildlife Preservation Canada is Canada’s last defence for endangered species, and is not equipped or able to provide wildlife rehabilitation care. Our teams of biologists in the field sometimes come across animals in distress and are grateful to the organisations dedicated to helping these animals. In this case, we are grateful to everyone who helped this raccoon kit survive: Ontario Wildlife Rescue and Laurel Beechey for their advice and helping to connect with wildlife rescue centres; Susan L. for taking over fostering this raccoon kit with her group of two to let him grow up properly with siblings; and Mally’s Raccoon Rescue and Rehabilitation Sanctuary for giving him and many other raccoons a chance at a future in the wild.
As the Carden Loggerhead Shrike Biologist, I intended to be entirely focused on this endangered songbird for the season. I never expected that I would be adding a third job to my already packed schedule (I’m also a PhD student), but when an orphaned raccoon kit quite literally fell into my care and no rescue centres had space for him, I didn’t feel like there was any other option. I was now also a racoon foster parent.
I was fortunate to have a large kennel available as a temporary enclosure for this raccoon kit.
Our field station is on a ranch with an old cabin which more than a few creatures also call home. Throughout June, I had heard baby raccoons in the roof and did not mind the company, so long as they kept to themselves. Unfortunately, when the mother didn’t return for a few nights the young found their way out of the roof and into the main cabin. I tried to keep them safe in a place that their mother could access, because young raccoons often make their way out of their birth nest once they are old enough to move about and the mother will find them and take them to a secondary nest.
When it became clear that this raccoon kit was definitely orphaned, I tried to reach every wildlife rescue centre I could find, but they were all over capacity and under-staffed due to Covid-19 social distancing restrictions. To keep volunteers and staff safely apart, the maximum number of people allowed in buildings had been drastically cut which in turn meant that this year less wildlife could be adequately cared for. Young raccoon kits need to be bottle-fed up to six times a day (and night) and the overtaxed wildlife facilities simply did not have the resources to care for even one more baby raccoon. I am a trained wildlife rehabber and have been volunteering at wildlife rescues since I was a teen so I have the experience and skills to foster this kit until I could find a facility with room for him.
It takes a lot of effort to get some raccoon kits to drink from a baby bottle.
There is almost no chance of a solitary young raccoon surviving its first winter, as siblings usually huddle together in a nest for warmth. I desperately needed to find siblings for my kit to grow up with, or else the most ethical course of action would be to follow the only advice that the overtaxed rescue facilities had to offer – to euthanize him rather than helping him grow up only to freeze to death come winter.
I reached out to every contact I could find and through persistence and a stroke of luck, I saw photos of two similarly-aged raccoons being temporarily fostered before they were weaned and able to go to a rescue centre. The rescue facility kindly agreed to take on a group of three young rather than two, and although it was hard to let him go after nearly three weeks in my care, I was also thrilled to give this raccoon a real chance at survival with his two new foster-brothers.
This raccoon kit wasn’t the only creature that needed a helping hand this year. So far, I have also helped out a pair of freshly-hatched killdeer chicks, a fledgling house wren, and an eastern phoebe. Luckily, no shrikes have needed any help from me, but soon I will be caring for the conservation-bred juveniles before they are released in mid-August.
These newly-hatched killdeer chicks were tripping over their feet trying to run ahead of my vehicle on a sideroad. I safely moved them off the road, near their anxious parents.
…but what about the shrikes that were supposed to be my sole focus? I was extremely lucky to perform a nest check earlier this month on my final wild clutch’s hatch day. Unfortunately, there are no photos of this exciting event, as I had as brief a visit as possible to count the fresh, naked hatchlings and pipping eggs without upsetting the protective parents or drawing the attention of potential predators. These five young have all since left the nest and are beginning to hunt on their own, though they still prefer to beg for food from their parents than track it down themselves.
Carden Biologist, Eastern Loggerhead Shrike Program
Alisa is a conservation ornithologist specializing in loggerhead shrike and has returned to Carden after a season with WPC in 2017. She has worked with endangered avian species across North America from James Bay to Southern California, where she spent most of 2019 working with the island endemic San Clemente loggerhead shrike. Alisa is a PhD candidate at Queen’s University researching the genetics of migratory urge in loggerhead shrike under the supervision of Dr. Amy Chabot and Prof. Vicki Friesen.