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Thanks for the Memories: The Ring-billed Gull Rescue

By Kim Everson, DVM

Dr. Kim Everson and CVT Tim Kneeland providing
emergency care for a juvenile ring-billed gull.

Months ago my staff captured these images as an exciting wildlife rescue case unfolded in our veterinary clinic. As with too many things in life, I procrastinated writing my blog post about it because I’d have more time tomorrow. Nearly six months have gone by. That hot August day seems like an unreal dream as sturgeon spearers sit above 30″ of ice on a sunny but brittle February day. Yet, now is the perfect time to reflect on “Peter” the fish-hook gull as, with a mixture of sadness and anticipation, we say farewell and good luck to Tim Kneeland, CVT, who soon begins a new chapter in his veterinary technician career.

The morning of Tim’s interview, the first ever employee of St. Bernard’s Animal Medical Center (!), we were to meet at New Moon Cafe in Oshkosh. Tim was running a bit late, which doesn’t bode well for an interviewee but turns out to be highly unusual for him. When he arrived, he was flush with excitement and informed me that a pair of peregrine falcons were nesting nearby and he had been watching for them as part of his volunteer work with Aves Wildlife Alliance. As I had driven to the cafe earlier I had noted an unusual looking bird of prey soaring over UW Oshkosh’s high rise dormitories, and thus Tim and I shared our first Aves moment.

Tim’s interest in wildlife rehabilitation influenced our veterinary clinic caseload in fascinating ways. To be honest, handling calls from concerned citizens about injured wildlife is a bit unnerving. There are strict rules and regulations regarding which animals can be rehabilitated, who can provide care, where and for how long. Tim became a sort of wildlife ambassador, EMT and ambulance, sorting through the red tape then helping to assess and stabilize various birds and even a baby squirrel before transporting them to Aves Wildlife Alliance in Neenah for continued care.

Removing fishing lure hooks from the gull’s nares (nostril).

On a hot August day in 2013, a Wisconsin DNR agent brought us an injured gull found near a Fond du Lac business. As we assessed the bird, Tim drilled into us that it was not a “sea gull” but a ring-billed gull. I had never thought of gulls as anything other than “sea gull” but now I am very conscious of how I refer to gulls! This particular juvenile ring-billed gull–christened “Peter” by veterinary assistant Ashley–had the misfortune of becoming hooked by a fishing lure through its beak and in several places in one wing. It was mildly dehydrated and also had several small scrapes and abrasions from struggling to undo itself.

Administering SQ fluids in the inguinal space (groin).

After determining the extent of its injuries, we consulted with Rebekah Weiss, founder of Aves Wildlife Alliance, who approved the treatment plan. With Tim safely restraining the gull, I used my trusty pink needle-nose pliers to extract the lure hooks from the gull’s wing first and then its right nares (e.g., nostril). Ouch! There just is no great way to remove multi-barbed fishing hooks from living tissue. Luckily the hooks weren’t buried very deeply, and the young gull tolerated treatment incredibly well. It immediately appeared relieved and more relaxed after the lure was removed.

Next we administered fluids to offset dehydration by injecting a balanced electrolyte solution into its inguinal space (i.e., the “groin” if birds can be said to have such a thing!). We administered a dose of non-steroidal anti-inflammatory orally then left the bird to rest in a quiet, dark place. After work that day, Tim transported the gull to Aves for a week of recovery and supportive care. Fortunately, the gull’s wounds healed well, leaving no permanent damage that would impede flight and survival in the wild.

“Peter” the ring-billed gull takes flight over Lake Winnebago.

On August 27th, Tim brought the gull home to Lake Winnebago for release. One of the prettiest pictures I’ve ever seen is this bird taking flight after its rescue and rehabilitation.

As we say farewell to Tim, I find this image of restored flight imprinted on my memories of hours and hours of shared experiences, challenges and learning leaving me simultaneously nostalgic and hopeful.

Thank you, Tim Kneeland, CVT, for your service and dedication to St. Bernard’s Animal Medical Center. We wish you continued success in your career!

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