Volume XI, Issue 7 ~ February 13-19, 2003

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Burton on the Bay

Provisioning the Ark

If you are a rich man, whenever you please;
and if you are a poor man, whenever you can.
The answer of Diogenes the Cynic,
400-325bc, when asked the
proper time for supper.

Sounds reasonable, but eating isn’t always that simple. Just ask Ted Kitzmiller, a compassionate fellow who not infrequently is obliged to come up with a specific meal for one or more at the supper table. The cold weather we have been enduring since the Christmas holidays has posed some challenges for him, but thus far he has come up with something edible.

He’s had his worries. There have been times when the pantry was mighty low on the makings of a suitable meal. Like the time he called me the other day asking where he could get some minnows. And soon.

It wasn’t an unusual question seeing that the creeks and shoals of tidewater rivers are frozen over. Several anglers had previously called with the same question. Pickerel, perch, bass and other species prefer minnows, but I soon learned Ted wasn’t planning on baiting a hook.

You see, Ted and his wife Velvet operate Noah’s Ark, which is a wild animal hospital and rehabilitation center at Broadneck Road, outside of Annapolis. And they have a couple of patients who would soon go hungry and who were in no shape to endure an empty plate.

Picky Eaters
One was a great blue heron, the other a black-crowned night heron, and both are definitely finicky eaters, especially the former. Among wildlife, there are opportunistic feeders such as bears, foxes, raccoons and opossums and the likes. Their menu is varied. When what they want isn’t available, they’ll take the next best thing — and that can mean just about anything containing calories for the body to process and burn.

Then there are critters like great blue and black-crowned night herons, ospreys and some other birds and mammals. If you don’t give ’em what they want, what they’re accustomed to dining on, they’ll turn up their noses (also beaks and bills) until they starve. Ted didn’t want to witness that with the pair of herons under his care.

He was desperate for fish so fresh that it was still alive. At a seafood market he had purchased some fresh smelt, but they weren’t still wriggling. The black-crowned night heron picked at them like a child does peas, but not the great blue. It insisted on something alive. Both birds had to be offered something that would boost their appetites, for both were sick.

Birds Like Those in a Winter Like This
The black-crowned night heron arrived at Noah’s Ark Jan. 26 at 3:45pm. For some reason or other it had arrived at Brooklyn Park in no great shape, and there some boys were stoning it — until another boy reported the incident. It was half frozen, starved and covered with bruises.

It went to the intensive care unit of the Ark, as did the great blue, which was picked up at 9pm February 1 by police at the side of a road in Crofton. This bird was very weak, cold and either injured or sick. Its toes were bleeding; it favored one leg, couldn’t stand on both, and needed help bad.

Both are mending now in an isolation room at the Ark, which can be heated when things get too cold. Ted expects it will take at least a couple of weeks before they’ll be sufficiently healed to be on their own again.

One might ask what a heron would be doing in Brooklyn Park or by the side of the road in Crofton, and that’s just what I asked. Sometimes, Ted said, birds can mistake ice on a parking lot or anywhere else for a pond and come in for a hard landing. Often, they’re not in good shape anyway. The ice on the waters they normally frequent separates them from their usual food supply.

Without sufficient food, they are also vulnerable to the frigid weather of which Maryland has had so much of late. Not infrequently, those lucky enough to be observed and taken to a rehabilitation center have a good chance for survival — if food they will accept can be found. If they don’t eat, they don’t live.

Often lack of food is what got them into bad shape in the first place. Herons have to have open water where they can pluck live aquatic creatures for their meals. And the ice of this winter doesn’t make many such places available.

Pricey Dishes
So there Ted was with two sick herons — and about 50 other wild creatures — at the Ark with the larder getting low. He managed to find some live minnows and eels at bait shops, and he bought all he could. The two pints of minnows and eight eels represented only a two-day supply for the herons.

He discovered it isn’t easy to locate minnows and eels when the weather is like we’ve been having. The same ice that keeps herons from feeding bars men who try to catch minnows, eels and the likes commercially from making their hauls.

When I last talked to Ted, he had reached Mike’s Baits, a wholesaler, who came up with a gallon of minnows and a dozen eels. Two gallons of minnows and two dozen shiners were on the way, and they can be expensive. But the way Ted looks at it, the more food his patients get, the better they eat, and in the long run the sooner they’re rehabilitated — which means the less additional food they need.

Ospreys can also pose problems, though they’re smart enough to winter-over far to the south. But when one is brought in in warmer weather, it demands live food. Put a dead fish in front of it, and it will just stare. Not infrequently, friends who set crab traps deliver the live white perch they find in their pots to the Ark to satisfy the needs of ospreys and other birdlife.

A robin that was in the Ark the other day posed little problem. It was found in the snow where it was foraging for food. The deeper it got, the colder it got, and the pickings were lean. After being rescued, it was being fed mealworms while on the road to recovery. So was another robin afflicted with parasites and mites and with a wing broken from flying into a window.

Mealworms were the solution, also, for ruddy ducks and old squaws that have ended up at the Ark. Ted says at times he goes through 15,000 meal worms in 10 days. Bats brought in also eat mealworms, along with live insects.

Ted’s grocery list runs from baby mammal formula to caterpillars, from minnows to eels, from berries to crickets and mealworms.

Next time you observe healthy birds, squirrels and possibly rabbits at the feeders in the lawn, think of the 50 or so sick and wounded creatures at the Ark, many of which demand more than seeds and suet. If you want to help feed those two sick herons and other patients at the facility, call Ted at 410/622-7700. You’ll feel better for it. Enough said.



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Last updated February 13, 2003 @ 3:13am