Eagles, Pelicans, and Baby Squirrels

Honors Blog Week 2014 a

by Hannah Thomae

Hannah’s blog is the second of Iowa State’s contributions to National Honors Blog Week 2014.  This year’s theme is “Things You Can’t Learn in a Classroom,” …and Hannah is certainly learning a LOT by first volunteering and now interning with the Wildlife Care Clinic at ISU’s College of Veterinary Medicine.  When is the last time you had a pelican in your classroom?


Many of you are like me in the sense that you are biology or animal ecology majors. For Iowa State animal ecology majors, there is a requirement of 400 experience hours in order to graduate. FOUR HUNDRED HOURS?! Now that’s a lot. Let’s just say I had many questions when I heard this: How on earth am I supposed to meet that requirement? Also, how am I going to get experience with animals when I’m living on campus? Well during the first semester of my freshman year, I actually heard about this place called the Wildlife Care Clinic (WCC) that helped me to get many of those hours completed.

The WCC is a non-profit rehabilitation center for Iowa Wildlife that is located at the College of Veterinary Medicine. It is run by undergraduate staff and is headed by a clinical veterinarian at Iowa State’s Lloyd Veterinary Medical Center named Dr. Zaffarano. The WCC has six permanents: a Barred Owl named Kali, an Eastern Screech Owl named Screechy, a Great Horned Owl named Harvey, a Red tailed Hawk named Sora, an American Kestrel named Kessie, and an opossum named Ernie. All of the permanents are at the clinic because they couldn’t be released due to wing injuries, resulting in the inability to fly, or eye injuries resulting in blindness.

I started volunteering at the WCC the spring semester of my freshman year and fell in love with it right away! I also volunteered last semester in the fall. As a volunteer, you can work two hours, one day a week for the whole semester. Volunteers get to clean, work with the permanents, assist staff when needed, and do many other tasks. The WCC gets in many patients that are brought in by the public who find them in a variety of locations and health conditions. However, as a volunteer, you have limited contact with the patients. Since I loved working at the WCC so much, I wanted to get more involved so I could spend more time there and so I could work more with the patients. At the end of last semester I applied for an internship position for the spring semester at the WCC, and I got it!

Since we are almost done with this semester, I wanted to share with you some of my experiences being an intern at the WCC. I work 4 days a week for about 9 hours, plus every other weekend. I have seen so many cool animals that I probably wouldn’t have been able to see or work with if I hadn’t worked at the clinic. By far, one of the coolest animals we got in this semester was a Bald Eagle that was found to have severe lead poisoning. He had some of the highest lead poisoning the veterinarians had ever seen (2 parts per million). We treated him for several weeks by administering Calcium EDTA, but didn’t see any progress. As an intern, I got the opportunity to hand feed him, administer injections, and handle him. Unfortunately, he had to be euthanized, but it was still a really cool experience.

Thomae 2Hannah and a bald eagle

Also in mid-late December, we got two pelicans into the WCC. They were a couple migrating together (many birds are monogamous = breeding for at least one season and many times for life), but were assumed to be thrown off their route. One of the pelicans that came in already had a poorly amputated wing and the other one we presumed had nerve damage, causing the inability to fly. We treated them for a few months, and then transferred them to the San Francisco Zoo in California. They were really sassy pelicans and were really fun to work with!

Thomae 1Who knew pelicans were sassy?

We normally get in many types of animals such as geese, swans, Red Tailed Hawks, Barred Owls, and some common mammals like squirrels, and rabbits. However, on occasion we do get in less common types of animals such as American coots, pelicans, bald eagles, Cooper’s hawks, moles, and foxes. Right now, it is baby season so we are getting in a lot of baby bunnies and squirrels. We bottle feed the baby squirrels of which volunteers can help with. With bunnies, we usually feed by intubation (inserting a tube into their stomach directly) because they don’t suckle very well with the bottle. As an intern, I get to feed the bunnies along with the staff members.

Thomae 3Just an average day at work with a mole

Overall, as an intern I get to do a lot more by actually administering medications and injections as well as handling the patients. Working at the WCC has really made my college experience memorable and will help me a lot in the future. My experiences with the WCC have fueled my passion even more in caring for wildlife and have also been helpful in gaining experience hours. After a long day of classes it’s nice to be able to go the clinic and just work with animals, which is what I truly love. I encourage anyone who needs hours and wants experience with animals to volunteer or even become an intern at the clinic because it’s definitely a decision you won’t regret making! 🙂


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