Saturday, September 20, 2014

Really Weird Birds: Standard-winged Nightjar

The Standard-winged Nightjar is found in African dry savannah and scrub habitats.

Nightjars are divided into two subfamilies: “typical nightjars” with about 70 species located in Africa, Europe, Asia, and Australia; and “nighthawks” with about 9 species located in North and South America.

 Male standard-winged nightjar in breeding plumage. (Photo by Jan Steffan from the wikipedia files) 
Nightjars have very long pointed wings, short legs, small feet and very short beaks.  However their beaks are much wider than they are long and they can open their mouth very wide, both vertically and horizontally, in order to catch and consume insects in flight.  These birds are either nocturnal or crepuscular (active at dusk and dawn) and have very large eyes on the sides of their heads, increasing its field of vision.  They have soft feathers that are camouflaged to resemble dead leaves or bark while roosting.

The Standard-winged Nightjar is about 8-9 inches long, with a fairly short tail.  The peculiar trait of this species is that during breeding season, the males grow an extra-long primary feather on each wing reaching up to 15 inches long! The first 7-8 inches of this feather is just bare shaft.  While in normal flight, the two long feathers flutter behind and almost look like two other birds chasing the nightjar!  Click here to see what I mean.

When the males are displaying for females, the two extra long feathers are raised vertically like flags.  He will also sing an insect-like song.  Any receptive females will join in the display flight.  The male will eventually lose the ornamental feathers after breeding season; they either fall off or are broken off.  The males and females will then look the same.

This species doesn’t build nests and just lay one to two pink eggs in dirt or dead leaves.  The female incubates the eggs during the day while the male roosts nearby, and then at night they take turns incubating.  Once the chicks hatch, the male usually guards and defends the chicks.  He will hover near the nest with his body vertical and tail spread out.  Both parents will feed their young regurgitated insects.

Standard-winged Nightjars exist in a very broad range in the wild and are not considered to be an endangered or threatened species!  

Submitted by Sara Oliver, World Bird Sanctuary Naturalist 

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Photo Project Year 3 - July

July was a slower month for photos for me.  I do have three very different highlights for the month. 

This being July, I started out with making an attempt at photographing some 4th of July fireworks.  This year I used my camera on a monopod.  I did use the fireworks function on my camera, but I am still learning, and with the camera I have that is the best route. 

Fireworks display (photo: Cathy Spahn) 
I took many photos of the fireworks, some of which did not work. It took a few shots to get the timing down.  I did get several shots that show nice colors and burst.  One photo in particular demonstrates color and a few different bursts.  The other challenge I ran into at this location was either trees in the way, or as I found this time, a light that managed to get into all of my shots.  If I go to this location again I have to get there earlier to locate a spot away from the trees and lights.  However, I still really like this shot even with the light in part of it.

Watching the baby European Barn Owl being fed (Hailey closest to the camera/Madilynn closest to the owl) (photo: Cathy Spahn)

The second photo for the month of July was when my sister, brother-in-law and nieces came for a visit.  During the course of the day they were here we did many things, and of course one of them involved visiting the World Bird Sanctuary.  One of the best experiences I was able to give my nieces was for them to get a chance to meet a few day old European Barn Owl.  My nieces just fell in love with the baby owl.  Of course the big thing was she wanted to pet the owl, but once she got to see staff member Roger Wallace try to feed the baby owl she sat quietly and they all watched closely.

Sunflower and bees (photo: Cathy Spahn) 
The last photo I took at the very end of the month.  I was out birding, just wandering around to see what I could find.  I took many photos that day, and amazingly my favorite shot is not of a bird, but rather a sunflower with bees.  I came across this beautiful field of sunflowers. Most of the flowers were beyond peak, but a few were just right.  This one flower was just beautiful and I set my camera on continuous shoot mode because I saw the bees in the area.  I was concentrating on the bees on the sunflower, but when I looked back through my shots I found this photo with the bees flying into the flower.  I just love it.

Keeping a camera with you as you go out and about can lead to many very interesting and beautiful photos.  Sometimes you get them, sometimes you don’t, but that is half the fun of photography.

Submitted by Cathy Spahn, World Bird Sanctuary Naturalist

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Special Events At The World Bird Sanctuary

The World Bird Sanctuary’s staff, interns and volunteers wear many hats during the year in addition to their everyday duties—not the least of which are the unexpected talents they display at our special events.
JoHanna Burton with a batch of owl cookies for Birds in Concert (photo: Mike Zieloski)
Look at what JoHanna Burton (WBS Staff Person) made for the Birds In Concert Event for the night of August 28, 2014.  She made Peanut Butter Cookies into the shape of Owls. She used chocolate for the eyes.  These treats were for sale to help raise money for the birds.  At the concert the week before she made Blueberry Bars which were delicious.  Matt Levin, volunteer extraordinaire made Chocolate chip cookie pies, which were sold as treats.  Thanks JoHanna and Matt.
At World Eagle Day, I, Michael Zeloski had my face painted by WBS Staff person Dawn Kernich.  My face became a wonderfully large Eagle head.  Face Painting is just one of the activities at World Eagle Day in March and at Open House in October.  Other popular activities are the photo op with one of our amazing birds, and the kids’ craft project.
The Raptor Project performing at one of our special events (photo: Gay Schroer)

The World Bird Sanctuary band, The Raptor Project, is composed of unbelievably talented staff and volunteers, and never fails to entertain at our special events.
One of our most popular activities at special events--the photo op (photo: Gay Schroer)

You will want to be a part of our next special event, our 2-day Open House—always held the third weekend of October.  Until then, the World Bird Sanctuary has a number of other special programs to fill your outdoor interests.

            Our guided hikes program, Hey, There’s Nature In My Woods, has only two more sign up days left for this year – 9/27 and 10/25.  Call 636-225-4390 x101 to make your reservations.

            Owl Prowls will be starting 11/8 and will continue through the Owl mating and breeding season.  Owl Prowl slots are already beginning to fill.  For more information and specific dates click here  and check out the Owl Prowl dates on our events calendar.  Don’t delay, as these Owl Prowls fill up quickly.  Call 636-225-4390 x101 to make your reservations

WBS Special Events are made special by our staff, volunteers and interns.  The work our crew puts in, plus amazing birds and the community spirit and energy generated by our staff and volunteers is contagious.

 Click here  for information on Special Events now and throughout the year--or call 636-225-4390 x101 for more detailed information.

Submitted by Michael Zieloski, World Bird Sanctuary Director of Education

Friday, September 12, 2014

Volunteer Spotlight: Bobby Zitzmann

The World Bird Sanctuary would not be able to properly care for our birds without the help of our staff and volunteers.  They are hardworking, dedicated, and most of all passionate about everything they do.   To show our appreciation, we want to spotlight individuals who make day-to-day work at the World Bird Sanctuary run smoothly.

As of June 15, 2014 Bobby Zitzmann has been a volunteer for the World Bird Sanctuary for exactly one year.  Thanks to his dad, who is good friends with founder Walter Crawford, as well as being a trustee for the Wildlife Hospital, Bobby has grown up hearing about and being around the World Bird Sanctuary for as long as he can remember.

Bobby is an extremely dedicated volunteer.  During the summer last year, he was volunteering at least four days a week.  Even returning to school didn’t stop Bobby’s dedication; he was in here every Sunday volunteering.  This past summer Bobby was volunteering three to four days a week.  Now that schools are back in session you’ll be able to find him working hard in the Nature Center every chance he gets.

You’ll also be able to find Bobby’s favorite bird in the Nature Center--Murdock the Military Macaw.  Murdock is Bobby’s favorite because no matter what kind of day you’re having, you’ll always get a friendly “Hello!” from Murdock.

When asked what his favorite part about volunteering at the World Bird Sanctuary is, Bobby answered without a pause that it is helping the visitors and answering any questions they may have. This is exactly what we look for in our volunteers and staff!
The commitment to all of our visitors is something in which we take great pride.

We at the World Bird Sanctuary are extremely lucky to have staff and volunteers who are devoted to the care of all our birds.  Thank you Bobby for everything you do for the World Bird Sanctuary!

Submitted by Mary Beth St. Peters, World Bird Sanctuary Social Media & Fundraising Intern

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

What is a Buzzard?

When you hear or see the word “buzzard”, what do you think of?  Does a picture of a vulture pop into your mind?  I am going to tell you what buzzard really means in this blog.  Also I will focus on a very special bird and her personal history, species’ natural history, and some wonderful and quirky facts about this specific bird.
Keeoo, World Bird Sanctuary’s dark morph Augur Buzzard (photo: Lisbeth Hodges) 
The special bird I would like to introduce is an Augur Buzzard (Buteo augur) and her name is Keeoo.  She is one of my favorite birds that I work with at the World Bird Sanctuary.  She was hatched in our propagation department at the sanctuary in 1992, so this year she is celebrating her 22nd year at WBS.  She has a great personality.  She is patient with new handlers, curious about her surroundings, and will vocalize when she recognizes people she knows, like me. 
Augur Buzzard in Flight_Uganda (photo: by Tom Tarrant from the Wikipdia files) 
Augur Buzzards are native to central Africa, more specifically south Sudan, eastern Congo, Ethiopia, Uganda, and Somalia.  The type of habitat they thrive in varies from plains to grasslands to forests in Africa.  Like many other Birds of Prey, these beautiful birds are monogamous (one single mate) during breeding season.  Some of these birds will even stay together after the breeding season is over.  They build their stick nests on cliffs or in large strong trees.  The female will lay from one to three eggs per clutch (group of eggs or chicks) and will start to incubate the first egg immediately after it is laid.  Because of this, usually only one chick will survive if all the eggs hatch.  The first chick to hatch will be older and stronger, therefore fight for more food.  The females will stay at the nest with the clutch most of the time, except when she needs to feed herself.  As with all Birds of Prey, they are carnivores (meat eaters).  An Augur Buzzard’s diet consists of eating small mammals, reptiles, other birds, and large insects. 

A light morph Augur Buzzard_Lake Manyara, Tanzania (photo: by D. Gordon E. Robertson from the Wikipedia files) 
Now let’s define what buzzard really means.  Most Americans see a vulture and immediately think buzzard.  In Europe, Asia, and Africa buzzards are what people from the U.S. call hawks.  When European settlers came over to North America, they noticed the vultures and mistook them for the buzzards they would commonly see in Europe. Unfortunately the buzzard name stuck with our American vultures.   Augur Buzzards are the most common “hawks” in Africa just like their closely related relative in the United States.  If you were thinking the Red-tailed Hawk as the closely related relative, then you’re right! 
A view of Keeoo’s tail feathers_note the similarity to a Red-tailed Hawk (photo: Gay Schroer)

View of Keeoo with wings raised_note the similarity to a Red-tailed Hawk (photo: Gay Schroer 
The lifespan for animals in captivity and in the wild can be vastly different.  Wild animals will almost always have a shorter lifespan then captive ones.  Augur Buzzards range from 20-25 years in the wild while captive Augurs have been known to live 35-40 years. 

These beautiful birds also weigh less than you may think.  They only weigh about 2 – 3 ½ lbs (1000g-1500g) with females being larger than the males.  It’s also pretty amazing that these birds can be two different color morphs; a light morph or a dark morph.  Keeoo is a dark morph while one of the others pictured in this blog is a light morph.

Keeoo is available for adoption in our Adopt a Bird program.  To find out more information, call 636-861-3225 or visit the Adopt A Bird section of our website HERE.(LINK)  All adoption donations are tax deductible. 

This season Keeoo can be seen at the Monsanto Environmental Education Center (also known as the visitor’s center) at the World Bird Sanctuary, which is open daily from 8am-5pm.  Keeoo is a very beautiful bird.  You should stop on by and visit her! 

Submitted by Lisbeth Hodges, World Bird Sanctuary Naturalist 

Monday, September 8, 2014

Birdlore: The Wedged-tailed Eagle: Bunjil

On the continent of Australia, the land down under, lives a unique raptor known as the Wedge-tailed Eagle (Aquila audax).

The name of this bird of prey comes from its characteristic diamond-shaped tail. The Wedge-tailed Eagle can be seen widespread throughout the continent, as well as Tasmania, and parts of southern New Guinea.

A wedge-tailed eagle in flight with broad wings stretched out and its diamond-shape tail easily seen (photo: the Wikipedia files)
The Wedge-tailed Eagle is the largest raptor found in Australia and fills in the niche as nature’s scavenger, as there are no native vultures.  Despite past persecution due to accusations of predation on cattle and sheep herds, the Wedge-tailed Eagle population has thrived well from the introduction of rabbits, a pest species introduced in the early 1800’s, as well as the usual sources of carrion.

In many early cultures, apex predators were regarded as gods or spirits, responsible for the elements or even the creation of the world, the Wedge-tailed Eagle being no exception to this.

One creation story belonging to the Kulin, an aboriginal people of Australia’s Victoria state, tells the story of Bunjil, in the form of a
Wedge-tailed Eagle, and his creation of the world and humanity.

Bunjil, the Great Spirit and All-father, created the entire earth with the plants and animals to inhabit it.  He also made the form of man, which proved a greater undertaking than the rest of his creation, for man would require the complex power of thought and reasoning to separate him from simple animals. 

After much consideration, Bunjil selected two slabs of bark and crafted them into shapes suitable for his greatest creation, being sure to incorporate the necessary traits of mobility and dexterity into his design.  Next, he took soft clay from the earth and molded it around the bark sheets, smoothing it.  Completing this task, he danced around the still figures, implanting the seeds of knowledge, thought, and reason.

Granting them the names, Berrook-boorn and Kookin-berrook, Bunjil knew this was necessary so that they could retain individual personalities and spirit.  His creations ready to be filled with life force, Bunjil danced around them once again and proceeded to fill their mouths, nostrils, and navels with breath and life.

Dancing around them a third time, Bunjil weaved complex patterns in the dust.  As he did so, Berrook-boorn and Kookin-berrok rose from their place on the ground and linked hands with Bunjil.  They joined their All-Father in celebration of the dance of life, singing with Bunjil with the first song from the lips of man.

Duncan, WBS's resident Wedge-tailed Eagle (photo: Gay Schroer)

To see a flesh and blood example of Bunjil come visit us at the World Bird Sanctuary where you can meet Duncan our resident Wedge-tailed Eagle who usually resides in one of our exhibit enclosures on the path just past the Wildlife Hopital.

Submitted by Jessica Bunke, World Bird Sanctuary ETC Trainer

Saturday, September 6, 2014

From The North She's Come...

For those of you that don’t know, I’m a Peregrine Falcon (Falco peregrinus) fanatic. 
An unhappy parent watching as we band Peregrine Falcon babies (photo: Cathy Spahn, WBS)

How these amazing birds survive at the top of the food chain is nothing but spectacular, preying on other birds which they almost always catch in mid flight.  Super maneuverable, the fastest creature in the world and long toes all help to catch slippery and evading birds.  During the months of May and June you will find me banding the Peregrine babies from the 7 or so nests in the greater St. Louis area.   When not in the field you can often find me answering questions from the “Ask Jeff” section of the Peregrine Cam, which is honed in on the pair at Ameren Missouri’s Sioux Energy Center from mid March through mid June (be sure to watch on our web site next year).
Banding Peregrine Falcon babies at the AT&T building (photo: Cathy Spahn, WBS)

On a weekly basis during the nesting season I answer questions in the “Ask Jeff” section of the Peregrine Cam, with all the questions coming directly to my computer.  I still had a few questions trickling in even well after the nesting season ended.  The other day I saw I had 6 inquiries, so I took a look through.  The last inquiry, dated 12 August, grabbed my attention as if someone dumped a bucket of icy water on my head (that happens a lot on all the social media sites these days). 

A person working at the Thomas Eagleton Courthouse in downtown St. Louis sent me a picture of an adult Peregrine Falcon.  When I first looked at the picture, I wasn’t too impressed because the picture preview was small, with the bird seemingly not well focused.  Upon clicking on the picture, my heart started to race.
Photo taken by Karen Schroeder on 12 August 2014 at the Thomas Eagleton Courthouse in St. Louis

 Even through all the spots on the windowpane the Peregrine’s colored band was quite visible.  Colored bands have been being placed on Peregrine Falcon legs for about 25 years, with the advantage being observers can see the letters and numbers from further away, which gives us biologists the potential to gather information from alive and well wild Peregrines.  On this particular bird the colored band had a black field above a red field, with a 95 and S respectively, as you can see in the picture.  
 I jumped from my office chair, coming close to pulling a leg muscle in the process (hours of physical inactivity then a super rush of adrenalin can do that), and bounded to my Peregrine banding records book, on a shelf a few feet away.

 I have records dating back to 2009 in this little notebook, with dates, numbers of babies per nest and locations, and nope, the band was not in it.  I then contacted Linda Tossing, WBS volunteer extraordinaire and band record keeper from the start of the World Bird Sanctuary banding activities in the early 80’s.  She didn’t have the band record either.  Not being able to find the band in our records only made me more excited, for it meant someone from afar placed the band on this bird.  Peregrine means “wanderer” in Latin, and the falcon is aptly named because babies hatched within the Arctic circle can wind up at the southern tip of South America.  They can migrate further than any other raptor in the world.

My next inquiry was to Amber Burnette, the record keeper for the Midwest Peregrine Society.  The Society hands out all the colored bands to all the licensed Peregrine banders in the Midwest.  The Society also receives all the records of bands placed on Peregrines through reports given to them by the same banders.  Amber was quick to respond.

This lovely female Peregrine was banded as a baby in Lake City, Minnesota on 31 May in 2011, in a Peregrine nest box atop the Horizon Milling building.  She had 3 siblings (2 sisters and a brother), and the bander, Amy Ries from the Raptor Resource Project in Decorah, IA, named this Peregrine Cyclone.

 Since Cyclone is a 3 year old adult now, and her picture was taken during the non migration season, it’s relatively safe to assume she had a family somewhere in the downtown St. Louis area.  The closest known Peregrine nest to the Thomas Eagleton Courthouse is on the 45th floor of the AT&T building, a few blocks to the north of Eagleton.  A Peregrine’s nesting territory can be quite large, but even if the AT&T birds had a smaller territory, it would certainly encompass the courthouse.  Last I knew both AT&T adults were unbanded, as you can see in this picture taken in late March 2013, as the male on the left gave the female a blackbird he caught.
Photo by Mary Burns, AT&T employee, 2013

Was the AT&T female replaced by Cyclone?  This phenomenon happens a lot in the Peregrine world.  Is there a new nesting pair in downtown St. Louis?  Hard for me to believe with what I know about Peregrine territories, but not out of the question.  These questions and Cyclone intrigue me, and if I get news relating to Cyclone in the future, you can bet you will read a blog from me soon afterward!

Submitted by Jeff Meshach, World Bird Sanctuary Director 

Thursday, September 4, 2014

International Vulture Awareness Day 2014

We love vultures!  Do you?

 Join us on Saturday, September 6th, as the World Bird Sanctuary celebrates International Vulture Awareness Day 2014! 
Dorothy, an Andean Condor that will be on display, has a wingspan of 10ft and a beak strong enough to rip through seal and whale hide.

Ewwww, Vultures are Gross!  But we need them the most!  Find out more at World Bird Sanctuary as we take part in the international celebration of all things vulture.  

·     •   Shows featuring vultures and other animals, as well as music from the Raptor Project.
·     •   Special vulture exhibits, including Turkey Vultures and an Andean Condor
·      •   A kids’ craft for the youngsters to make
Skinner the Turkey Vulture--Turkey Vultures are native to Missouri.

Date: September 6th, 2010
Time: 10am – 3pm
Vulture shows: 10:30, 12:30, 2:30

Admission and parking are free!

This event Sponsored by Ameren Missouri

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Raising Baby

If you’ve ever had a bird’s nest in your backyard, you know the joy of watching a pair of birds raising their young.  It seems like the babies go from hatchlings to fledging (leaving) the nest in the blink of an eye.

For over a month, I have been privileged to witness firsthand the growth of a young European Barn Owl.  As World Bird Sanctuary staff members, we are responsible for the training of our young education birds, but some of us also get the responsibility of raising them.

In mid April of this year, a couple of European Barn Owls were hatched in our propagation department.  Two of these chicks will be education birds with the World Bird Sanctuary; so, when the chicks were about one month old, they were removed from the Propagation Department and given to the care of Education Department staff members.  I was fortunate enough to be one of the staff members chosen for the task.
Avery with his baby down (photo: JoHanna Burton)

When I received the baby, he was exactly one month old, and no more than a downy cloud of fluff.  I took home a crate, and all the necessary equipment to feed him as often as he was hungry.  My job was to socialize the baby and get him used to various people, places, and experiences.  I carried him to and from work every day, where we set up a pen for the babies in a corner of the kitchen.

Over the following weeks, the little owls changed rapidly.  Already being about full-grown in weight at a month old, the babies began growing in their adult feathers and losing their down.  As my little owl’s feathers grew, so did his curiosity.  He began to explore more of his surroundings (supervised by me).  Eventually he figured out how to pounce, which provided hours of entertainment.  Shortly after, he figured out how to use his wings to give himself a little more height on his pounces, which led to short flights.
Baby birds grow very quickly.  Avery with his "big boy" equipment (photo: JoHanna Burton)

Once the flights started, it was time to put the two young owls on falconry equipment, so they could be handled by trainers like the rest of our education raptors.  The owls are now on anklets, jesses, and leashes, just like the other education birds.  It took a day or two, of course, for the little owl to come to terms with the loss of his freedom of exploration.  Now, bringing the owl home in the evenings required also bringing home a perch and mats to keep him tethered for his own safety.

Learning the routine of stepping onto and off of gloves, crating properly, and going out on shows as a walk-on bird are some of the last steps in the little owl’s (named Avery) training.  He is a crowd favorite with his curious head bobbing and wing stretching.

Perhaps the next time you visit the World Bird Sanctuary, you will see little Avery and his brother Oakley in the Nature Center weathering area.
Submitted by JoHanna Burton, World Bird Sanctuary Naturalist

Monday, September 1, 2014

Here A Chick, There A Chick

The World Bird Sanctuary is known for our work with birds of prey, but we also have some cute, fluffy little friends running around the Lower Site.
A few of this year's crop of chicks (photo: Adam Triska)

Twenty-four Araucana and Cochin chicks have hatched within a 3-week period out of our incubators.  Just about every day there is a new little one peeping from the back hallway where the incubators are located.  The two species are unique in their own way and fascinating to work with.

Every morning when I come into work, I find myself going to the incubators in the ETC (Education Training Center) to look for another new hatchling.  Some chicks we find completely hatched, but others are slow to emerge from their shells.  We remove them from the top incubator racks that are designed to hold the eggs, then put them on the more secure bottom racks to dry for 24 hours.  After a full day of drying, the little chicks join the other hatchlings in our baby room.
Here you can see the rumpless characteristic of the Aruacana chickens (photo: Gay Schroer)

The Araucana chicken originated in Chile.  This fowl is actually a hybrid between two separate species of South American chickens.  The Colloncas are rumpless, meaning they have no tail or pygostyle (bony structure to support the tail), and are known for their brilliant blue colored eggs.
Here you can see the odd feather tufts sported by many individuals (photo: Gay Schroer)

Queteros are known for their loud, beautiful sounding males and tufted ears.  The Araucana is a delightful combination of these two exquisite species, bringing together some of their most distinguishing features.  Breed standards vary dependent upon region.  The North American standard for an Araucana calls for a rumpless chicken that lays blue eggs and has ear-tufts.

The Cochin Bantam chicken initially came to us from China.  There are two variations of the story about how this species gained popularity with the rest of the world.  One account tells that the private collection of the Emperor of Beijing was stolen by British soldiers.  The lighter version of the tale says that the Emperor gifted a flock to Queen Victoria.  Both versions convey that the Queen fell in love with her new feathered friends.
Bantam Cochin chickens look like they're wearing pantaloons (photo: Gay Schroer)

Bantams are known for their short, round shape and feathers that cover their feet.  The hens are very good egg sitters and have been used as surrogate mothers for raptor eggs.  Their friendly disposition and fluffy appearance have earned them a great reputation as kind, gentle pets!

It’s a refreshing change of pace to work with such cute, defenseless little fuzz balls.  I will never lose interest in tending to the babies and watching them grow up.  Before you know it, the males will start strutting and the females will lay eggs!

The next time you visit the World Bird Sanctuary see if you can spot these two distinctive chicken breeds.  The Aruacanas are the odd looking tailless chickens with the funny looking feather puffs on the sides of their faces.  The Cochins can be found in the Nature Center and in the Environmental Education Center (often running loose to greet visitors)—they are the little chickens that look like they’re wearing pantaloons!

Submitted by Adam Triska, World Bird Sanctuary Educational Training Center Superviso

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Really Weird Animals: Greater Sage Grouse

The Greater Sage Grouse is found in the grasslands and plains of the western United States and southern Alberta and Saskatchewan, Canada.  Their range used to cover 13 western states and 3 Canadian provinces.  Currently, it is only found in half their historic range.

A male Greater Sage Grouse (photo: The wikipedia files)

The Greater Sage Grouse is the largest grouse in North America.  Grouse are chicken-like game birds ranging in height from 12 to 37 inches and from less than 1 to 14 pounds.  They have feathers covering their feet and toes in winter to protect them when walking on snow.  The Greater Sage Grouse ranges in height from 22 to 29.5 inches and from 2 to 7 pounds.  Adults have long pointed tail feathers.  The males have a small yellow patch above their eyes, grayish brown plumage, with white around their neck and breast.
What makes the Greater Sage Grouse unique is their courtship display and complex mating rituals.  The adult males also possess two yellow sacs on their chest, which are inflated with air and produce interesting sounds.  Some sound like popping sounds similar to the uncorking of a bottle.  Males will also strut and dance and fan their spiky tails out.

Please click here to watch a video of a male performing a strut display. These birds return to the same breeding grounds every year.  The places where males come together and engage in competitive displays in hopes of enticing viewing females are called leks.  Dozens of males will be on display but only one or two will be chosen by the females for mating.
After mating, the females leave and find suitable nesting grounds.  They will nest on the ground, preferably under sagebrush for cover.  They lay between 6 and 10 eggs, which hatch after 25-29 days.  The chicks are precocial, which means their eyes are open and they are covered in downy feathers when they hatch.  They are able to walk soon after hatching.  Sage grouse spend 60 percent of their day eating insects, leaves, buds, flowers, and fruit.  By five weeks old the chicks are strong flyers.  Come winter, they may flock together or disperse.

The Greater Sage Grouse is listed as a near threatened species due to human development, conversion of land for farming, oil and gas development, and climate change.  The only other species of sage grouse, called the Gunnison Sage Grouse, is on the endangered species list for the same reasons.

Submitted by Sara Oliver, World Bird Sanctuary Naturalist

Thursday, August 28, 2014


Here is another poetic flight of fancy by guest author Marge Biermann.  While bats and owls would never coexist side by side in the real world, Marge’s tale poses the question….what if?

Once in the still of a dark, cold night,
A single black bat took to his flight.
He was looking for a friend that would fly with him,
And maybe hang out on a Sycamore limb.
Flying solo was a lonely place to be….
What fun to have company, perhaps two or three.
Suddenly Bat saw a strange camouflaged kind of bird,
With the oddest call he had ever heard.

Oliver the Eastern Screech Owl (photo:  Gay Schroer)
Great large round eyes held him in his gaze.
Bat wondered if he worked nights and also slept days.
No harm in asking, though most birds didn’t like bats,
Being often associated with Black Halloween Cats.
But in no time at all these two were fast friends.
They would never, however, make attractive bookends….
One…coal black, small and quite fast,
While Owl was large and stoic in contrast.

Scar, an African Fruit Bat (photo: Gay Schroer)
Both had radar to fly easily in the dark,
But in a tree they had different methods on how to park!
One sitting upright to take in the panoramic view,
While Bat hung by his feet….all the better to look at you!
Talks were filled with Owl wisdom and Bat’s latest escapade,
So between these two a permanent bond was being made.
God created many animals….feathered and furred,
Different voices across the world to be heard.

He also made man the very same way….
All can’t understand what the other has to say.
Maybe we should take a lesson from our little bird friend.
How do Owl and Bat find that comfortable blend?
Understanding of equality comes to mind.
Sometimes of this fact man seems somewhat blind.
Often it helps thinking with one’s heart in gear….
Helps us to see the road ahead quite clear.

Tucking a small bit of love in our every act...,
Will help us make kindness a daily fact.
We can then enjoy what Bat and Owl know….
We are all brothers, why not let it show?           

To see both owls and bats (just not side by side) come out and visit the World Bird Sanctuary.  For more information about our hours and location Click Here.

Submitted by Guest Author, Marge Biermann