Wildlife team treats songbird injured in glue trap

As winter wears off, migrating songbirds return to the Finger Lakes area to nest and raise their young. An eastern phoebe may not have that chance.

Found in a glue trap intended to catch insects, the little bird was taken to Cornell’s Janet L. Swanson Wildlife Hospital after the rescuers tried to free the creature from the powerful glue.

“Glue traps are bad news,” said dr. Cynthia Hopf-Dennis, instructor in the Department of Zoological Medicine at the College of Veterinary Medicine. “While we hope people avoid these traps altogether, we ask that they don’t try to get animals out of the glue themselves. We have glue remover with which we can free the animals more safely and carefully.”

According to the Cornell Laboratory of OrnithologyEastern foeba often breed around human structures, where they build mud-based nests under the protection of eaves or ledges — which may explain why this patient got too close to a glue trap.

Unfortunately, the bird sustained an injured leg and lost all of its tail feathers and most of its primary flight feathers as rescuers tried to free it from the trap. Without these crucial feathers, the phoebe cannot fly.

“Songbirds can’t be released until all their tail feathers have grown back in,” Hopf-Dennis said. “It usually takes a month for them to grow back.”

The clinical team found that the songbird’s leg was not broken. By gently manipulating the little foot, they noticed it still gripped well, meaning the leg was just tense.

The team also assessed the bird’s hydration status by peeking into its mouth.

“If the saliva is thick and slimy, that means the bird is dehydrated,” Hopf-Dennis said. “Fortunately, the foeba wasn’t trapped for long and hadn’t lost much fluid.”

However, other animals are not as lucky as the little phoebe. Glue traps naturally trap anything that comes in contact with them, meaning non-pests are easy to catch. According to the Humane Society of the United States, glue-bound animals are usually left to die of starvation and exhaustion. Others will bite through limbs trying to free themselves.

Cornell’s wildlife clinical team advocates preventative measures rather than glue traps.

“A suitable place for a trap is in your house,” Hopf-Dennis said. “Ideally, people should try to seal their homes and possibly call a professional pest controller who can help tackle the root problem of any infestations.”

If you find an injured wild animal, call Janet L. Swanson Wildlife Hospital at (607) 253-3060.

Lauren Cahoon Roberts is director of communications at the College of Veterinary Medicine.

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