Tuesday, April 22, 2014

A New Friend

For the last 6 months I have had the opportunity to help train a Golden Eagle that we call Zeus.  The process has been a learning experience for all that have been involved.

Zeus waiting for his new phase of training (photo by Mike Cerutti)

Coming up this summer Zeus will be going to the Milwaukee County Zoo with a coworker of mine, Leah Tyndall, and a team of 3 other World Bird Sanctuary staff.  This staff will have around 20 birds, and the whole team will be presenting educational programs or, for short, “Zoo Shows.”  With that being said, the date is approaching that Zeus will be on his way to Milwaukee.

Zeus was given to WBS by a local falconer and brought to us in August 2012 as a young bird with a very strong spirit.  It was decided from the beginning that Zeus would be trained to one day fly in our educational programs, and help us educate the public about Golden Eagles. 

With the end goal set, the team of trainers set out to teach this amazing bird.  There are many, many other behaviors to train before the ultimate goal is achieved, and many of these behaviors were trained from September 2012 to August 2013.  Let’s move to last September.  It was decided that when Leah and all of our other staff and volunteers returned from Zoo shows, we would kick the training into another gear to make sure Zeus would be ready to go to Milwaukee this season.
When this was all decided in September I was thrown into the mix because Zeus needed to learn to trust many trainers; not just one or two trainers.  I have worked at WBS for almost 3 years, and in that time I have handled and done several events with our two other Golden Eagles, but they had been with WBS for over ten years and were already well trained.

Zeus our young Golden Eagle is in the process of learning many new behaviors (photo by Gay Schroer)

Every day presents new hurdles for Zeus and the trainer, but because of what Zeus has already learned, these hurdles are small and easily jumped.  In looking back on his accomplishments, he has grown up and learned so many things. We now are able to walk with him while he is sitting on our eagle glove and calmly stand in front of small groups of people.  He stands on a scale, steps confidently from a perch to 8 different trainers’ gloves, and the list goes on and on and is always growing!

Zeus will be missed by many this summer while he’s in Milwaukee, but when he comes back he will be even closer in his training to moving toward the final goal of free flying in front of the public!

Submitted by Mike Cerutti, World Bird Sanctuary Naturalist/Trainer

Sunday, April 20, 2014


We must sadly inform our readers that the World Bird Sanctuary’s loveable little “velveteen” rabbit, Patches, passed away on April 14, 2014.

Even though she was technically a Mini Rex rabbit, anyone who has ever stroked her soft fur will know why this breed is popularly know as the “Velveteen Rabbit”. 

Patches was whelped at the Ralston Purina farm in Grey Summit, Missouri in 2005.  She was part of their rabbit nutrition study program which monitored the health and growth rate of the animals when fed different foods.  As she matured she became one of their breeders as a continuing part of the program.  When Purina was purchased by another corporation, their rabbit nutrition program was phased out.  We were fortunate to acquire Patches and another rabbit for our Education Department.  Patches had already had several litters by the time she came to live at WBS.

Patches settled right in to her new job as official greeter for the youngsters who visited our Nature Center.  She also was an important part of the WBS education programs that traveled to elementary schools to teach youngsters the differences between birds, mammals and reptiles.  She was one of our “touchable” animals and was always patient and docile when little hands were feeling her soft fur.

Patches will be missed by staff and visitors alike--and especially by the children who make a beeline for her enclosure when entering the Nature Center.

Submitted by Gay Schroer, World Bird Sanctuary Volunteer/Photographer

Friday, April 18, 2014

Birdlore: The Kingfisher - Halcyon Days

Kingfishers are in a group of birds found throughout all the continents of the world. 

As their name suggests, most Kingfishers eat fish and dive beak first for their primary prey into the rivers, lakes, or streams of their habitat.  The exception would be members of the Halcyonidae family, or Tree Kingfishers, which inhabit more woody habitats and prey mostly on invertebrates and small mammals.

Chadder, the Laughing Kookaburra, is a member of the Halcyonidae family. (photo by Jessica Bunke)
Along with their diverse range, Kingfishers also play many important roles in ancient human cultures.  Among the Native American tribes, the Kingfisher was a messenger, a sign of fertility and good luck, or a master hunter.  Or in one particular legend, a human was changed into the world’s first kingfisher as punishment for thievery.

The Legend of Halcyon and Halcyon Days
In the far past, Halcyon was another word used for those kingfishers that built their nests by the sea.  The term is derived from the name of the Greek goddess, Alcyone.  The Greek legend of Alcyone and Ceyx is most well-known in Ovid’s Metamorphoses, a series of books about human transformations to animals from Greek and Roman myths.

Alcyone was a goddess and a daughter of Aeolus, the god in charge of the winds.  She married a mortal king, Ceyx, and the two shared a deep passionate love that even brought the attention of the gods.  At one point, Ceyx decided to make a fateful trip across the sea to consult an oracle of Apollo.  Alcyone pleaded with her husband not to make the journey, as she was terribly afraid of the seas.  Nonetheless, Ceyx left overseas for the oracle.
As it would happen, a terrifying storm overcame Ceyx’s ship, not far from the coast, and he drowned with his ship disappearing into the waves.  Ceyx died whispering his beloved wife’s name on his lips and praying to the gods that Alcyone would know his fate and return his body to her.

After being told in a dream by the god, Morpheus, about her husband’s fate, Alcyone fled down to the coast in grief and despair, where upon she found Ceyx’s lifeless body.  Unwilling to live on without Ceyx, Alcyone threw herself to the mercy of the waves.  Moved by her love and devotion, the gods took pity and saved her by changing her into a Halcyon bird (kingfisher).  As Alcyone embraced Ceyx in her new form, he was then transformed into another kingfisher so the two could now live and be together.

Sacred Kingfisher (wikipedia.org)
Halcyon Days
In the life to follow, Alcyone would still meet with misfortunate and grief. She made her nest near the shore where her beloved’s body came to rest; stormy waves would come and wash away her eggs every time.  Crying and pleading to the skies, Alcyone begged for a reprieve.

Finally, Zeus was touched by Alcyone’s plight.  Zeus commanded her father, Aeolus, to still the winds of the sea for 14 days in the middle of winter.  So, Alcyone, granted a reprieve, was able to keep her eggs safe until she was done incubating them every winter with calm clear days.

This two week period, surrounding the winter solstice, would become known as Halcyon Days and celebrated by Greeks for centuries in honor of Alcyone and Ceyx.  Halcyon Days is also an expression for a calm, serene, and reflective setting.

May your coming days be of Halcyon Days.

Be sure to visit the World Bird Sanctuary where you may see Chadder the Laughing Kookaburra once our St. Louis weather warms enough for him to be housed outside.  Chadder can be found  in his display enclosure down the walking trail behind the Kathryn G. Favre Wildlife Hospital.  If you're lucky you may hear his distinctive call.

Submitted by Jessica Bunke, World Bird SanctuaryTrainer

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

American Heritage Girls MO 3368 Donate 8 Birdhouses to World Bird Sanctuary

 American Heritage Girls Troop Leader Carla Goad called ahead to make arrangements to deliver the handcrafted Birdhouses.  Carla Informed me that the American Heritage Girls are a Faith Based Scouting Program for Girls.

The girls in Carla's group are 4th - 6th grade, and were working on their "Nature and Wildlife" Badge.  The idea is to help wildlife and donate to a nonprofit organization.    The girls chose World Bird Sanctuary to donate their handcrafted birdhouses.  For many of the girls it was their first time using a hammer!  The girls built wooden birdhouses, assembled with nails.  They delivered the birdhouses in a red wagon.

The proud girl scouts with the birdhouses that they built and donated to World Bird Sanctuary.
    Carla's Group is from St. Charles, Missouri.  We were delighted to receive these lovingly crafted birdhouses to help our birds.  The American Heritage Girls told us we could sell the birdhouses to raise money for our Education Department.  By the time of this Blog, we have already sold half of the birdhouses.  The girls and their leaders and their siblings toured our Nature Center and had a wonderful time learning about our animals and wildlife.

 We are grateful to the American Heritage Girls MO 3368 troop for all of their hard work.  Their efforts help nesting birds and World Bird Sanctuary continue our mission of education.  We took some group photos on stage and Lisbeth Hodges brought out Slayer the Boa Constrictor for the girls to pet and to get a memorable photo.  

Submitted by Michael Zeloski, Director of Education.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Volunteer Spotlight: Dr. Stacey Schaeffer

We have many volunteers at World Bird Sanctuary.  Many specialize in one area. For example the office, at the Visitor’s Center, the Library, or our “Tuesday Crew” maintenance group that work on Tuesdays.

One such specialized volunteer gets called in the middle of the night, early in the morning, and while she is on the beach on vacation.  This volunteer is our veterinarian, Dr. Stacey Schaeffer, from the St. Louis Hills Veterinary Clinic.  Dr. Stacey does rounds every week, treating sick and injured birds at our wildlife hospital, as well as seeing to any of our permanent residents that need attention.  In addition, with her husband Dr. Erik Siebel-Spath, and her father, Dr. Robert Schaeffer, they all will treat birds at their clinic for surgeries, acupuncture and other treatments.

Dr. Stacey Schaeffer, DVM and Joe Hoffmann, Sanctuary Manager,examine a Red-tailed Hawk with a toe injury.
At World Bird Sanctuary we consider ourselves very lucky to not only have a dedicated veterinarian working with us, but all the clinic staff, that bring a holistic approach to wildlife rehabilitation and the treatment of our birds.  Dr. Stacey prescribes western medicines and treatments, as well as herbal remedies, acupuncture and more, drawing on generations of experience and knowledge from her family-run practice.
Joe Hoffman, Dr. Shannon Broyles, DVM and Dr. Stacey Schaeffer, DVM
examine an injured Turkey Vulture during morning 'rounds'
 For example, Dr. Stacey has introduced herbs to birds at the wildlife hospital that can slow down, and in some cases stop internal bleeding, with minimal interference to the patient.  When 98% of all hospital cases are collision victims, and many of those have internal bleeding, this is an amazing addition to our arsenal of bird medications.  Under Dr. Stacey’s direction, we also use a balm made of Chinese herbs to help wounds heal more quickly.
Roger Holloway (WBS) and Dr. Schaeffer examine an emergency case - a Red-tailed Hawk shot with a bow arrow.  Dr. Schaeffer's quick response and expertise saved this hawk, which was eventually successfully returned to the wild. 
The most helpful thing that Dr. Stacey brings to save these beautiful birds is her compassion.  She always cares, 24/7.  She comes by it naturally – it runs in the family.  Dr. Stacey’s mother and father recently rescued a pelican while on vacation in Florida in February!  I just hope I don’t have to bother her when she’s on the beach on her vacation again this year.

Submitted by Joe Hoffmann, Sanctuary Manager

Saturday, April 12, 2014

World Bird Sanctuary is proud to be a host of STL250's Cakeway to the West!

As of 2014, St. Louis turned 250 years old. 

To celebrate the 250th anniversary of the founding of St. Louis, a project known as stl250’s Cakeway to the West has been in the works. Exactly 250 cakes standing four-feet-tall and weighing an approximate 250 pounds will be placed all around the St. Louis region. The locations of the cakes are of vast importance as it helps to celebrate some of the organizations, businesses and historic landmarks which have helped to shape the city of St. Louis in the past, present and the future.
Photo: http://www.stl250.org/cake.aspx
The World Bird Sanctuary is honored to be recognized as one of those locations hosting a cake. The cake has been delivered to the World Bird Sanctuary and it looks magnificent. Many thanks to St. Louis artist, Mark Swain for his beautiful decorative work.
Joe Hoffmann, Sanctuary Manager, with Tsavo the Bateleur Eagle, and  Rich Mallien, WBS Volunteer, with Magwire the Bald Eagle, next to our lovely cake
The location of the World Bird Sanctuary cake is at the flag pole located next to the Visitor's Information Center. Be sure to stop by and take a look at our beautiful cake.

While you are here don’t forget to take a tour of the World Bird Sanctuary and get to know one of the 250 places St. Louis recognizes as a place you’ve just got to visit. Bring your friends and family for a wonderful day of education and fun. Admission and parking are free!

Click here to find out more about Cakeway to the West and find other cake locations.

Submitted by Alisha Cole, Social Media Intern

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Birdlore: Albatross: The Lucky Charm?

Albatross, the great wanderer of the southern seas. 

This bird, often romanticized or cursed in literature, belongs to the Diomedeidae family.  They have the longest wingspan of any bird species at up to 12 feet.  These amazing birds can travel incredible distances in very short periods of time by utilizing a flying technique called dynamic soaring, which involves gliding on wind up-drafts above waves for more lift and maintaining flight with little to no effort.

A Wandering Albatross skimming over the ocean’s surface. (photo from the Wikimedia Files)
Albatrosses, because of their prolonged flying above the oceans, feed on organisms found on the ocean surface such as: fish, cephalopods (squid), krill, crabs, and more.  They will feast on carrion floating on the water surface as well.  They tend to hang around ships to take advantage of any fish waste left behind.

Perhaps largely due to the reliance on the wind for transportation for both Albatrosses and sailors, their frequent interactions would eventually lead to the Albatross becoming an integral part of maritime superstition. 

During the Age of the Sail, seamen were highly superstitious.  Life at sea was very dangerous and difficult.  Many behaviors or habits we wouldn’t give much thought to in this day and age would be taboo onboard a sailing ship as it was believed to bring bad luck (No whistling, women, red heads, or bananas on board; don’t set sail on certain days; don’t utter words like drowning, goodbye, good luck, or pig; no cutting/trimming hair, beards, and nails while at sea).

The Albatross is both a sign of good and bad luck.  The main belief is that the Albatross carries the souls of dead mariners.  Sighting one flying overhead was considered good luck as the sailors believed that the mariner soul the Albatross carried had come to protect them from harm or bring needed winds for the ship’s sails.  Some sailors believed an Albatross sighting would be a bad omen as it would mean someone was doomed to die in the near future.  Regardless of which way a sailor would view the Albatross, the shooting and killing of an Albatross was a promised curse to befall the entire crew. 

The poem, The Rime of the Ancient Mariner by Samuel Taylor Coleridge, illustrates both sides of luck the Albatross represents.  Following are excerpts from that epic poem:

The Wedding-Guest sat on a stone:
He cannot choose but hear;
And thus spake on that ancient man,
The bright-eyed Mariner.

Translation: An old mariner pulls aside a young man going to a wedding to tell a story.

'The ship was cheered, the harbour cleared,
Merrily did we drop
Below the kirk, below the hill,
Below the lighthouse top.

And now the STORM-BLAST came, and he
Was tyrannous and strong:
He struck with his o'ertaking wings,
And chased us south along.

The ice was here, the ice was there,
The ice was all around:
It cracked and growled, and roared and howled,
Like noises in a swound!

At length did cross an Albatross,
Thorough the fog it came;
As if it had been a Christian soul,
We hailed it in God's name.

It ate the food it ne'er had eat,
And round and round it flew.
The ice did split with a thunder-fit;
The helmsman steered us through!

And a good south wind sprung up behind;
The Albatross did follow,
And every day, for food or play,
Came to the mariner's hollo!

To help translate the above, the sailors sailed from the harbor in fine weather, then a terrible storm drove them south to be surrounded by ice fields.  An Albatross came and they offered the bird food.  The Albatross flew around until the ice split and the ship’s helmsmen steered them out.  A good wind caught their sails to continue their journey.

In mist or cloud, on mast or shroud,
It perched for vespers nine;
Whiles all the night, through fog-smoke white,
Glimmered the white Moon-shine.'

'God save thee, ancient Mariner!
From the fiends, that plague thee thus!—
Why look'st thou so?'—With my cross-bow
I shot the ALBATROSS.

Translation:  A mysterious fog shrouds the ship.  They cannot see.  A sailor panics and shoots the Albatross.

And I had done a hellish thing,
And it would work 'em woe:
For all averred, I had killed the bird
That made the breeze to blow.
Ah wretch! said they, the bird to slay,
That made the breeze to blow!

The sailor realizes his woe.

Day after day, day after day,
We stuck, nor breath nor motion;
As idle as a painted ship
Upon a painted ocean.

Translation:  The crew is now trapped on calm water with no breeze to carry them away.

Ah! well a-day! what evil looks
Had I from old and young!
Instead of the cross, the Albatross
About my neck was hung.

Translation:  The sailor is made to wear the Albatross to display his shame by the rest of the crew.

The story continues on.  The cursed mariner is the sole survivor of a doomed ship and crew.  He lives the rest of his life in great pain and the only relief he may receive is by sharing his tale as he does with the young man that was on his way to a wedding.

Normally, I would share the whole story here, but you would still be reading the poem by the time my next bird lore blog came out.  So, the entirety of The Rime of the Ancient Mariner can be found here:  http://www.poetryfoundation.org/poem/173253.

Submitted by Jessica Bunke, World Bird Sanctuary Naturalist/Trainer

Tuesday, April 8, 2014


Aspen Obituary

I am sad this morning to tell our readers that Aspen, the World Bird Sanctuary’s sweet little Northern Saw Whet Owl, passed away during the night of 4/1/14.

Our beloved little Aspen, the Northern Saw Whet Owl (Photo by Gay Schroer)

It was noted during the day that she was not acting quite right, so she was taken to the wildlife rehab hospital to be given fluids and supportive care, but unfortunately she did not make it through the night. 

Aspen was brought to our Rehabilitation Hospital in 2007 after sustaining injuries due to a vehicle collision in the Hillsboro area.  She had severe injuries to her right shoulder and wing.  After approximately three months of intensive treatment she was again healthy, but unable to fully extend her injured right wing.  Because of this she was unreleasable.

It was decided that even though she could not be returned to the wild, she could be a spokesbird for her species at the World Bird Sanctuary’s Office of Wildlife Learning.  Aspen took up residency in the WBS Nature Center in spring of 2008, and has delighted visitors ever since—particularly the children, who related well to her small size.

Even though most people referred to Aspen as “she”, we do not really know the sex, since there are no visible differences between males and females of this species.

Aspen will be sorely missed by Staff and visitors alike.

Submitted by Gay Schroer, World Bird  Sanctuary Volunteer/Photographer

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Nigel, the White Pelican

Nigel, the White Pelican, was found on December 3 2013, in a field near Macon, MO. He then was brought to the MU Vet school raptor rehab, and transferred to the World Bird Sanctuary's wildlife hospital
Nigel in his evening quarters, in the Wildlife Hospital.
 Nigel had suffered a right wing injury, his left leg had an old fracture and he was very thin. It was touch and go for many weeks until he was able to gain some weight, but now he is on his way to recovery. Unfortunately he will not be able to recover 100% because the old leg break won’t let that leg fully function, so he will be placed at another facility to live out his days. 

Nigel in his physical therapy water tub
White Pelicans are found on inland bodies of water in North America. They are an aquatic species, preferring to be on the open water for most of the day, feeding on primarily fish. They are not a small bird by any standards, having the second largest average wingspan of any North American Bird and having one of the largest bills of any bird on Earth! They migrate for winter, following major rivers, from as far north as central Canada, to the Saint Louis area and all the way to the Gulf of Mexico.  
Scoop, an unreleaseable White Pelican that calls World Bird Sanctuary home
Most days Nigel can be found in the main room of the hospital standing around preening and eating fish. Nigel also receives acupuncture once a week at St. Louis Hills Veterinary Clinic, which is also helping to increase the range of motion in his leg.  He also receives physical therapy.  Nigel is put in a small pool so he can stretch and work on moving and using his left leg. He also enjoys snapping at and carrying on with the swan that is in rehab.  They aren't too sure of what to think of one another, but they do seem to enjoy having each other’s company.  

Submitted by Adam Triska, Supervisor

Friday, April 4, 2014

Birdy, It's Cold Outside

Recently I went to get my eyes checked and had a very enjoyable chat with my optometrist. She had recently visited World Bird Sanctuary, loved it and was curious as to how the birds were handling the cold weather. I realized that others might have the same question, so I decided to write my blog about our birds and the cold.
Peabody, the Tawny Owl, is native to Europe, where members of his species thrive in cold conditions.
Most of the birds that are on our display line in the winter are adapted for cold weather. They are either native to Missouri or even more extreme climates. Some species that are not native to Missouri can remain on our display line throughout the winter with additional wind protection or building shelters and providing them with heat lamps. Other species that are from warmer climates, such as the Brown Pelicans, move indoors for the winter and move back out once it warms up. Every now and then we need to bring birds indoors for the very cold spells, such as that week when we hit negative temperatures, but in general if a bird is out on our display line it is because it is adapted for the cold.

Ookpik the Snowy Owl - well-adpated to the cold.
How exactly are the birds adapted for the cold, you might ask. The short answer is feathers! Yes, those wonderful things that allow birds to fly also allow birds to live pretty much anywhere. Feathers have the highest insulation quality of any substance known to humans. You are probably familiar with this if you own a down comforter or jacket. You know that warm toasty feeling you have when bundled up? The temperature difference between the outside and the inside of the feather coat of a song bird can be one hundred degrees. Due to this amazing insulation birds from warmer climates tend to have more skin exposed to aid in heat exchange. Unfortunately that extra exposure means that in Missouri those particular birds are at risk of frostbite, hence why we need to move them indoors. The birds native to colder environments tend to have more feathers. For example Golden Eagles, which are found in the Northern Hemisphere have feathers all the way to the tops of their feet. These extra feathers keep their legs warm, as well as protecting them from the bites of their prey. Golden Eagles are members of the group of eagles called booted eagles, which also include Tawny Eagles. Snowy owls, native to the tundra not only have feathers on their feet, but also on the bottoms of their feet. Since Snowy owls are ground nesters, this helps to protect their feet from the snow and frozen ground. Even when it snows birds are not as affected as we are due to the feather’s structure. Feathers are made up of barbs and empty spaces between them called touch points. These suspend water away from the feather preventing it from soaking into the feather and the bird’s skin. Feathers are not the only “winterizing” on a bird of prey.

Golden Eagles are 'booted eagles' - an important factor in helping them to keep warm.
The scales on a bird’s feet also play an incredibly important role. These scales form in layers and depending on the species can be incredibly thick and act as built in snow boots causing ice to flake off rather than sticking to the bird and leading to frostbite. Bald eagles have these thick scales as well as feathers that stop before the tops of the feet, preventing feathers from freezing when they fish in icy water.

Bald Eagle feet have thick scales to help deal with the cold.
Birds, especially birds of prey, have a number of adaptations to help them keep warm. We make sure all of our birds are comfortable during these cold spells, whether that means keeping them indoors, or letting their natural adaptations take care of it. In fact during these cold spells, our birds probably feel even warmer than we feel!

Submitted by: Leah Tyndall, Trainer

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

This Weekend - MidWest BatFest 2014!

Join us as we celebrate everything about the special bats that call Missouri home.  During this two-day event at World Bird Sanctuary and Onondaga Cave State Park, you will find out all about why bats are important, what we can do to help them survive – and you will even meet live Missouri bats that are currently in rehabilitation!

This celebration is a partnership between World Bird Sanctuary, Missouri Bat Census, Missouri State Parks, Missouri Department of Conservation, the US Fish and Wildlife Service, and the US Forest Service.

Attend each venue and get your BatFest Passport (available free at each venue) stamped to be entered into a prize drawing.

MidWest BatFest 2014 activities:
Saturday, April 5th
Onondaga State Park:
Bats at Onondaga Cave State Park
Photo: www.mostateparks.gov
  • Discounted cave tours with BatFest Passport
  • Live bats and education programs by Incredible Bats
  • Bat Kids Craft
  • White-nose Syndrome decontamination demonstration
  • White-nose Syndrome in Missouri presentation
  • Sunset Public Bat Mist-netting Demonstration at Onondaga State Park
  • Ozark Task Force – Cave Restoration display
  • Missouri Cave and Karst Conservancy
  • Missouri Bat Census

World Bird Sanctuary:
  • Sunset Public Bat Mist-netting at World Bird Sanctuary
Sunday, April 6th
World Bird Sanctuary:

Pallid Bat, brought to World Bird Sanctuary for "Bat"urday 2013.
Photo: World Bird Sanctuary
  • Kids craft activity
  • Environmental education program featuring bats, barn owls, snakes – presented by World Bird Sanctuary
  • Missouri Bat Census presentation – Urban Bat Preservation
  • Bats of Missouri presentation featuring live Missouri bats
  • White-nose Syndrome in Missouri presentation
  • Missouri Bat Census bat-house building activity – throughout the day
  • “Battle for Bats” video running throughout the day in Visitor Information Center
  • RNA Free Electronics Recycling drop-off point

Exhibitors (booth space):
  • Missouri Cave and Karst Conservancy
  • Missouri Bat Census

Onondaga State Park:
  • Discounted cave tours with BatFest Passport

For the latest news and program updates about this exciting new event, “like” our MidWest BatFest 2014 Facebook page.

Submitted by:
Catherine Redfern

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Really Weird Animals - Potoo

Potoos are a group of seven species of tree-dwelling birds native to the Neotropics of Central and South America.  They are not much to look at and you’ll struggle to see them at all!  They are not brightly colored like many tropical birds or fierce like raptors, but they are masters of disguise. Their complex feather patterns of grays, browns, and black resemble tree bark perfectly.  They can stand perfectly camouflaged atop a dead tree branch.  A potoo will position itself to mimic an extension of the tree branch itself.

A Common Potoo camouflaged on a stump (wikipedia.org)

They are nocturnal and spend the day resting, out in the open on the end of a dead tree limb.  They have unusual slits in their eyelids which allow them to sense movement even when their eyes are closed.  The instant a potoo detects an intruder it slowly moves its head straight up and freezes.  With its beak pointing up to the sky, it stays perfectly still until the threat passes, looking like no more than the end of a broken branch.  They can move their heads unperceptively slow in order to watch a predator carefully.  They will squint their eyes as to not expose themselves by revealing too much of their bright yellow irises.  These birds are so amazing at camouflage that they show complete composure under pressure and only break free from their disguise if a predator is almost upon them.  

A Long-tailed Potoo (wikipedia.org)

The Rufous Potoo is the smallest of the seven species and is invisible among dead leaves and trees.  To increase their camouflage even further, they may rock back and forth while roosting to even closer resemble a dead leaf that’s waving in the breeze. 

Potoos are very selective nesters.  They will not build a nest, but will find an upright broken tree branch with just enough depression or crevice for a single egg to rest.  Both parents will take turns shielding the egg from predators and bad weather. Potoos feed on flying insects at dusk and at night.  They will regurgitate partially digested food to feed the chick.  When the chick is too large to hide under its parent’s protection, it will assume the same freeze position resembling a clump of fungus, since it has gray downy feathers.

Potoos have proportionately large heads for their body size and long wings and tails.  The large head is dominated by enormous eyes and a massive broad bill, helping them to see prey in little light and to then catch and swallow that prey whole.  Beetles and other flying insects are their main source of food. However, one Northern potoo was found with a small bird in its stomach!

Fortunately all seven species of potoos are not on the endangered or threatened species list, but like all tropical wildlife, they are still subject to rapid loss of habitat by deforestation.   

Submitted by Sara Oliver, Naturalist

Friday, March 28, 2014

Red-headed Woodpecker

At World Bird Sanctuary, we recently received a Red-headed Woodpecker (Melanerpes erythrocephalus) that is non releasable.  After keeping an eye on it (we don't know if it is a male or female) throughout a particular day, I realized that I know almost nothing about woodpeckers.  So, I decided that it was time for me to learn.  

Red-headed Woodpecker (wikipedia.org)

As adults, Red-headed Woodpeckers have bright red heads, black backs, white chests and black wings with large white patches.  This gives them the nickname of the flying checkerboard.  So naturally we named ours "Checkers".  Red-headed Woodpeckers have been around for a very long time.  In fact, in Florida, Virginia and Illinois, Red-headed woodpecker fossils have been found.  Some of them even dated to about 2 million years old!  They can be found all over the eastern United States,  ranging from Montana down to New Mexico, and from Florida up to New Hampshire.  However, the further north you go, the less common they are.  

They live in deciduous woodlands and nest in old dying trees.  Red-headed woodpeckers are omnivores, meaning they eat both plants and animals.  Most of their diet contains different nuts and fruits (Checkers seems to enjoy grapes and peanuts the most).  They will often find insects to eat also.  Ranging from flies to grasshoppers to cicadas, they will eat practically any insect they can find.  And they are very effective at catching them in midair, too.  Rarely they will even eat smaller birds and mice.  

The Red-headed Woodpecker is one of only 4 woodpecker species in the United States that will cache, or save and hide, their food.  This is in case they need the backup food supply.  Commonly they will store live grasshoppers in cracks in trees.  They will wedge the grasshoppers in so tightly that it cannot escape.  These woodpeckers have even been known to store food underneath shingles on peoples' roofs. 

The Red-headed Woodpecker's conservation status is Near Threatened.  This means that if current trends of decline continue, they will likely become endangered.  According to the North American Breeding Bird Survey, their populations have declined around 2.9% every year, starting around 1966.  In the mid 1840's Red-headed Woodpeckers were so common that some farmers and orchard owners actually paid bounties for them.  Beech forests and chestnut trees are far less common today, which is a major cause in the decline of their populations.  

One way to help out the Red-headed Woodpecker is to make sure that if you have any old dying trees on your property, don't cut them down.  Those are prime foraging and nesting real estate for these beautiful birds.

Submitted by Mike Cerrutti, Trainer.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Species Spotlight: Bald Eagle ww

The Bald Eagle is recognized by most all Americans as a symbol of our amazing nation.  This particular bird of prey has been a national emblem since June 20th, 1782.  The Bald Eagle was chosen in part because it is found only on the North American continent.

Clark, Bald Eagle, flies at World Bird Sanctuary's Open House in 2013
Photo: Sandra Murray
 You’re probably wondering how it got its name ‘Bald Eagle’.  No, this bird is not really bald; its name is derived from an earlier meaning.  At the time when this eagle was coined the ‘Bald Eagle’, bald actually meant white opposed to hairless.  Therefore, its name is derived from its head plumage as an adult.  Juveniles have a brown head and tail.   Additionally, mature Bald Eagles are characterized by their bright yellow-orange beak and feet and yellow irises.  These amazing birds of prey can reach 30-37 inches in length and can weigh between 8-14 pounds depending on their sex.  Male and female Bald Eagles generally look identical, although females are larger than males and usually have a slightly longer back toe and beak.
Wild Bald Eagle
Photo: Gay Schroer
There are two subspecies of the Bald Eagle coined the “Northern” Bald Eagle, found anywhere north of 40 degrees north latitude across the entire continent, and “Southern”, found anywhere south of 40 degrees north latitude.  The northern Bald Eagles are significantly larger than their southern relations.  These birds of prey can lift up to anywhere between one third to one half of their total body weight.  Fish and small mammals make up their main source of nutrients. 

A Bald Eagle’s vocalizations have often been described as high pitched shrills or as twittering.  They use these vocalizations to reinforce the relationship between a male and female or as defense to warn other eagles that a territory is defended.  These extraordinary birds have the same size eyes as a human, but are able to see 8-9 times sharper than that of a person with perfect vision.  Their habitats are usually formed along the coasts and around lakes and rivers where their diet consists of mostly fish.  These massive birds of prey have an average lifespan of about 15-20 years in the wild.  They have been known to double and sometimes even triple that in captivity.  

Juvenile Bald Eagle in recovery after being treated at the Kathryn G. Favre Wildlife Hospital at World Bird Sanctuary.
Photo: World Bird Sanctuary
If you are interested in learning more or seeing one of these brilliant raptors up close and in person come pay us a visit at World Bird Sanctuary in Valley Park, MO.  We would love to have you!

Submitted by:
Callie Plakovic, Outreach Coordinator, World Bird Sanctuary