Some days it seems like none of your patients will eat. I asked the intern at the wildlife clinic where I was doing a two week rotation what his advice was for convincing the tiny screech owl (214 grams of cute) to actually ingest food on her own. We had tube fed her; this worked, but you don’t really want to have to do it every day, and she really doesn’t want you to do it every day. We had force-fed her mouse bits with tongs, which was even worse. The intern suggested peeling the skin off of baby mice “so she can see the meat.“
In vet school, you get a little inured to gross things. I cut up mice for raptors every day on this rotation without getting squeamish. But I found peeling the skin off of two day old mice (thankfully already dead) to be a bit much. The intern was a little bewildered by my reaction. Anyways, it didn’t work.
The next day I went to a different vet for advice. “Sometimes,” she said, “they like to have the mice split open and the liver displayed... You can leave the skin on.” I did this. I was artistic about it. HERE ARE THE LIVERS. PLEASE EAT THEM.
And that night, she ate.
My next problem patients were two barred owls who had recently been transported a fairly long distance, which we were examining before they were placed into permanent captivity, as they were not releasable. These guys really didn't want to eat. I laid the mice out enticingly next to a branch on the ground. I split them open and DISPLAYED THE LIVERS. No.
The intern said, “They don’t want to come off their perch. They’re scared. Put the mice on the perch.” Easier said than done (he said it, I did it). One of the owls inevitably reacted to my entry into the pen with OH HOLY CRAP I AM GOING TO DIE, flying back and forth at high speeds. It wasn’t a very big pen. I covered my head with my arms and crept at a snail’s pace towards the perch. Veeeeery slowly I balanced the mice on the perch. And crept away again. That night, the owls ate.
The next day, as I was artistically displaying peeled mouse haunch for an Eastern box turtle (the mealworms weren’t working as they would just escape into his cage and set up shop there) I thought to myself: how did this become my life?