Sunday, March 29, 2015
In the course of a year the World Bird Sanctuary presents upwards of 600 outreach programs—a large majority of them presented in school gymnasiums. We generally talk with groups of school children or scouts, with a group size of up to 250 people.
It is very important for our Naturalists to be able to use hands-free belt pack amplifiers so we’re heard by the children and teachers, especially once one of our trained flying birds glides over the top of the school children and the children get excited. It is important to be able to use both of our hands to fly the birds.
When handling free-flying birds it is imperative to have your hands free—note the amplifier belt pack worn by the trainer (photo: Gay Schroer)
Unfortunately, we have literally worn out our last 3 sound systems. We are in dire need of 3 brand new Waist Band amplifiers—the kind that have the belt to clip to our waists. If you would like to help World Bird Sanctuary with our Mission of Conservation Education, these amplifies are some of our most immediate needs.
Our worn out microphone systems (photo: Michael Zeloski)
New sound systems may be obtained for prices ranging from $110 to $250. Various companies manufacture these amplifiers. Some of the companies in business now are Chattervox, or Sonivox or Amplivox. You can peek at the systems on the web to see which sound system you could help us fund.
Please hear my plea.
If you would be willing to help us fund the purchase of new amplifiers for our hands-free audio system please call us at 636-225-4390, X 104 or send your check to World Bird Sanctuary, 125 Bald Eagle Ridge Road, Valley Park, MO 63088. If you would prefer to donate by credit card or check you can make those arrangements by calling the above number.
Submitted by Michael Zieloski, Director of Education
Friday, March 27, 2015
It’s finally here!
Are you tired of winter? Ready to get outdoors? Suffering from LDS (Light deficiency syndrome)? Cabin fever? Well the World Bird Sanctuary has just what the doctor ordered—a chance to get out of the house into the fresh air and enjoy one of the area’s most popular Spring events—WORLD EAGLE DAY!!
See Clark, one of our team of free flying eagles, soar right over your head (photo: Gay Schroer)
COME CELEBRATE SPRING WITH US WHILE THE WORLD BIRD SANCTUARY’S FREE FLYING EAGLES SOAR OVER YOUR HEADS!
On Sunday, March 29, The World Bird Sanctuary will celebrate World Eagle Day. In addition to our national symbol, the Bald Eagle, this is your opportunity to see a number of other species of Eagles from around the world!
Mark your calendars—World Eagle Day is March 29, 10:00 to 4:00!!
Our naturalists will be glad to answer questions or give you an up close photo opportunity (photo: Sandra Lowe)
World Eagle Day is one of our most popular events. It’s a chance for everyone to get out of the house after a long cold winter and enjoy the outdoors with us. Be prepared to celebrate everything Eagle—from close-up encounters with eagles from around the world to having an eagle soar overhead--close enough to feel the draft from its wing beats.
There will be face painting, crafts for the kids, flight demonstrations by our free flying eagles, the opportunity to have your photo taken with a Bald Eagle, and much more. Our gift shop will have special eagle-related merchandise for those wanting souvenirs.
As a special treat this year members of SIA: The Comanche Nation Ethno-Ornithological Institute, will discuss the unique importance of eagles to Comanche culture.
So, mark your calendars.
WHEN? March 29
TIME? 10 AM to 4 PM
NEED DIRECTIONS? Click Here
Be prepared to spend the day with us learning about these magnificent creatures. Bring a picnic lunch, or take advantage of food and beverages from our food truck. Bring your cameras and take photos of the kids in our simulated eagle’s nest.
Dress for the weather and be sure to wear comfortable walking shoes as there is much to see, and most of the events will be outdoors.
As always, admission and parking are FREE!
For the safety of our birds and our other guests, please no pets.
Submitted by Gay Schroer, World Bird Sanctuary Volunteer/Photographer
Wednesday, March 25, 2015
Birds are amazing and versatile creatures. One versatile thing about birds is the differences in the nesting requirements of the various species.
Bald Eagle at a nest in Kodiak, Alaska (photo: Gay Schroer)
Birds build all kinds of nests. For example, Bald Eagles build the largest nests of any bird of prey in the world. Constructed primarily of large sticks and branches, these nests may be used and added on to for many years. The largest one ever found was about ten feet across, twenty feet deep, and weighed almost three tons! The nest can become so heavy that it may eventually topple the tree in which is it built.
Conversely, the smallest bird nest is built by the Cuban Bee Hummingbird. On average they are less than one inch wide and less than 2 inches deep...quite the difference.
In my opinion one of the most interesting and unusual nests is built by the Sociable Weavers. The entire bird colony builds the nest, and it can house up to one hundred birds. Not only are these nesting colonies very large, but some have been observed to be occupied for over one hundred years!
This colony of swallows have built their nests under a highway overpass (photo: Gay Schroer)
However, not all birds build nests in trees. Many birds, like Gyrfalcons for example, build their nests on the sides of cliffs and have eggs that are less round so they won't easily roll off the cliff. Snowy Owls, along with many other birds, will make a “nest” on the ground by digging a small scrape in the ground.
This Great Horned Owl commandeered a nest built by hawks the prior year (photo: Gay Schroer)
Not all birds build their own nests either. Great-Horned Owls will use the nests of Red-tailed Hawks, and Burrowing Owls will use the burrows of small mammals. Unfortunately, a large number of bird nests are destroyed each year by humans.
One way to help out birds during nesting season is by building or buying a nest box--a small wooden box designed to fit the requirements of certain species of birds. You can stop by World Bird Sanctuary to buy a nest box for your feathered friends, or if you're more into Do It Yourself, WBS has pamphlets that show you how to properly build a nest box yourself.
Submitted by Mike Cerutti, World Bird Sanctuary Naturalist/Trainer
Monday, March 23, 2015
Our staff, interns and volunteers here at the World Bird Sanctuary go to great lengths to make sure all of our birds are happy and healthy. We are lucky to have veterinarians who assist us in learning about potential diseases and in keeping a close eye on our birds.
Psitticosis is most commonly associated with Parrots, thus the name Parrot Fever (photo: Gay Schroer)
One disease that may be of particular interest to our readers who are bird owners is known as Psittacosis, or “Parrot Fever.” Contrary to the way it sounds, “Parrot Fever” is not the overwhelming desire to purchase or own many pet birds! It is a disease that was discovered in 1879 by Robert Koch, and is caused by a bacteria known as Clamydia psittaci. The name, Psittacosis, is derived from the Greek word for parrot, psittakos.
Although named for the parrot family (and sometimes identified in parrots, especially those that have been imported), many species of birds can contract this disease, including even chickens and pigeons. Symptoms in birds may include respiratory signs like nasal discharge, sneezing, or wheezing; there may also be gastrointestinal signs like loss of interest in food and discolored droppings. Birds with Psittacosis may have other signs and symptoms as well, like lethargy (acting sluggish) and weight loss, and sometimes birds may have very little in the way of symptoms, but still have the disease within them.
Other species that can contract this disease, including pigeons, chickens and even humans (photo: Melissa Moore)
The good news is that Psittacosis can be diagnosed with tests administered by your avian veterinarian, and it is treatable with a course of antibiotics. I am not aware of any vaccine for Psittacosis at this time, but the disease is considered fairly rare. It is important to be aware of this disease, since it is considered a zoonotic disease, meaning that it can be transmitted to humans. If you have any questions about Psittacosis in humans, please talk with your family doctor.
Like most other avian diseases, “Parrot Fever” is generally not something most of us at World Bird Sanctuary or most of our readers may ever encounter. However, it is good to be informed, especially about those animals that are near and dear to our hearts, and often live with us in our homes.
Here are some online references to check out about Psittacosis:
Submitted by Melissa Moore, World Bird Sanctuary Chief of Operations in Education
Saturday, March 21, 2015
Watching Birds Grow
One of the coolest things about being involved with the World Bird Sanctuary for a number of years is being able to watch birds grow and change.
In addition to watching Goblin grow into an awesome flyer and show-bird, I was also able to watch Mortimer the Turkey Vulture and Wyatt the Harris Hawk grow up and end up being really fun to work with. I also got to experience the differences in their “personalities.”
Naturalist Cathy Spahn & baby Mortimer just beginning to get his adult plumage (photo: Gay Schroer)With Mortimer, I was around when he first began roaming the Nature Center with downy feathers, with some of his black feathers growing in, and a blackish face, nibbling at anything within reach. He then progressed to being used in education programs as a bird which was walked around on a trainer’s glove, so he could get used to people. During this progression, I was in college, which meant that I was unable to watch the changes like I could with Goblin. Instead, I got to see the beginning bird and the end results for that time (which ended up being Mortimer making an appearance during the Open House program of 2012). Then I went back to college for two years, but started working at the Nature Center during the summer of 2014. I was re-introduced to Mortimer — this time with him flying perch to perch in programs, such as International Vulture Awareness Day. Of course he had grown up, and had that red face and white beak.
Mortimer beginning to do education programs as a walk-on bird (photo: Sandra Lowe)
As I've had the chance to experience, his looks weren't the only thing that changed. His “personality” has changed from a bird which was not totally used to being around people to one which was much more at ease with people. In Mortimer's case, this means testing the people who are new to him by trying to see what he can get away with. I found this out very quickly and learned not to let my guard down when working with him. Somehow he seems to know when you're thinking about doing just that.
Watching Wyatt grow up was a lot different because I wasn't around nearly as much, so the progression I was able to watch was his transition between juvenile and adult plumage. In the summer of 2012 he was given many opportunities to show off the beautiful markings of a juvenile Harris Hawk during Amazing Animal Encounters (free weekend summer shows sponsored by Ameren Missouri).
Naturalist Neal Cowan & Wyatt at a Birds in Concert show (photo: Gay Schroer)
Then, during the same Open House program where Mortimer appeared, I got to see Wyatt flying again, this time over crowds at least four times as large as the Animal Encounters. This didn't seem to bother him in the slightest, and he's proven to be a wonderfully reliable flyer throughout the entirety of his flying career.
Wyatt easily became my favorite Harris Hawk to work with. This happened not only because of his cool iris color (tan, instead of the more common brown found in adult Harris Hawks), but also his “personality.” Even during vertical flight practice when I wasn't ready for him to fly to me, he proved to be remarkably patient — seeing that I wasn't ready, he would circle back down to his perch, and wait for me to be ready before flying to me. He kept this patience and added quick learning and adaptability to his list of good qualities. He quickly adapts to different flights his trainers ask of him, showcased in a video you can see here, where he demonstrates how Harris Hawks adjust to flying over terrains that vary in heights.
If you visit the World Bird Sanctuary when these two remarkable birds are not traveling to programs with their trainers you may be able to see both of these interesting birds, as well as numerous others which call the Sanctuary their home.
Hope to see you there!
Matt Levin, World Bird Sanctuary Naturalist
Thursday, March 19, 2015
Have you ever wondered what it would be like to be the naturalist at one of the World Bird Sanctuary Birds in Flight programs?
Naturalist Trina Whitener about to have a Barn Owl land on her glove (photo: Gay Schroer)
During one of our presentations in the Quad Cities area World Bird Sanctuary naturalist Trina Whitener was asked by the Quad-City Times to wear a Go Pro camera on her head during one of the flight shows.
So now our readers can see what the naturalist sees when one of our birds comes soaring in to land on her glove. Unfortunately, the audio is very faint, but the video is definitely “close and personal”.
To experience this unique perspective Click Here. The link will take you to the Quad-City Times web page. Scroll down to the bottom of the page where you will find a video strip labeled “Related Video”. Click on the arrow to start the video.
Submitted by Gay Schroer, World Bird Sanctuary Volunteer
Tuesday, March 17, 2015
February may be the shortest month, but it is one of the busiest. Not only is it Black History Month, but it is also the month of Mardi Gras and Valentine’s Day. Valentine’s Day is famous for flower and candy giving as a sign of love and courtship. Our birds don’t give each other candy, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t plenty of courtship happening.
A "nest" built by Osiris, an Egyptian Vulture (photo: Leah Tyndall)
Birds court one another in a variety of different ways. Some species sing to one another, others such as Bower Birds, will build a spectacular display in an effort to attract a mate. Certain species of fowl will have entire breeding grounds called leks dedicated to courtship. Male Prairie Chickens will display simultaneously while females choose the male with the best display.
Eagles have some of the most spectacular and heart-stopping displays. Bald Eagles do what is called a talon lock; two individuals lock talons in mid-air and spiral towards the ground before separating and landing on separate perches. This is repeated over and over.
Bateleur Eagles perform heart-stopping in-flight displays (photo: Leah Tyndall)
Bateleur Eagles have some of the most elaborate of courtship flights. They will do spins, tumbles and barrel rolls in midair. While the male is performing these aerial acrobatics the female flies upside down to determine which male she will choose as a mate. In comparison human courtship seems a little dull, doesn’t it?
Birds are not strictly monogamous either; polygamy is an excellent way to ensure many offspring and that those offspring are well cared for and protected. Harris’ Hawks for example are polyandrous meaning a female may have two or in extreme cases three male mates to help her care for her young. Polygamy is one male with multiple females, such as a rooster with his harem of hens. Other species like Bald eagles will mate for life, only taking another mate if the first one has died.
You might think that our captive-raised or captive for medical reasons birds would not be able to express their feelings as well as their wild counterparts, but you would be mistaken. They may not be able to perform elaborate flights, but there are still displays occurring. The male owls make depressions in the ground called scrapes; and stand in these hooting. The male owls will set aside around half of their food for their “mates”. Niles, a Southern Ground Hornbill, would parade around with food in his beak to show off his hunting skills to his keepers. Some of the male hawks will collect sticks and feathers to build nests for their loved ones.
Wagner, a Red-tailed Hawk, building his nest (photo: Leah Tyndall)
Even our birds on equipment will use their leashes to form the outline of a nest, placing them very deliberately on the ground. Unfortunately whenever they move the nest goes with them. To ease their frustration we provide them with small sticks and toys that are not quite so mobile.
Sanibel's nest (photo: Leah Tyndall)
Males are not the only ones busy during breeding season. The female owls begin incubating their toys and sometimes their food. Osiris a female Egyptian Vulture builds an elaborate nest and will even line it with fur and feathers. Sanibel a Bald Eagle once made a mud nest so that she could lay an egg, which was not fertile. Jersey the Barred Owl has developed a brood patch in years past. This is an area on her belly free of feathers that aids in the incubating of eggs. The female African Pied Crows will bow and swirl their tales.
Gomez, a male Seriema, proudly offering a lizard to the photographer (photo: Gay Schroer)
Male or female, many birds over the years have tried to court their trainers, even going so far as to try and, ahem, “seal the deal.” This can be a little awkward, but is to be expected from imprinted birds. They do not know they are what they are, instead thinking that they are humans or that humans are birds. That means come breeding season, they do not look for their species for a mate. They look for ours!
Birds have a variety of different methods for courtship as well as different types of bonds. These could be pair bonds, harems, or multiple mates all with different advantages and disadvantages. Even birds in captivity have adapted different methods so that they too can attract a mate; even if that potential mate turns out to be a different species.
If you are hardy enough to brave the cold weather in February and March take a walk down the exhibit line at the World Bird Sanctuary. You may see some of our birds exhibiting some of the above-mentioned courting behaviors.
Submitted by Leah Tyndall, World Bird Sanctuary Naturalist/Trainer
Sunday, March 15, 2015
Thinking about getting a new pet? How about a snake?
Snakes are intriguing animals, and they can make a great addition to the family as a pet—especially for those people with allergies to more conventional pets, such as dogs, cats and birds. With regular handling, snakes can be very docile animals. However, there are a few things to consider before getting your slithery friend.
The Dumeril’s Boa grows to a length of about 6.5 feet (photo: Paige Davis)
Many snakes live relatively long lives, surpassing 20 years. Be sure that you are willing to commit to keeping your pet snake for its entire life. Snakes also eat prey items like mice and rats. Often these can be stored frozen then fed thawed, so you would need to devote some space in your freezer for snake food. Finally, snakes can be great escape artists from their enclosures. They will search out any spaces they can squeeze through. It is important to have a secure cage for your pet.
Snakes are great animals both to handle and to view! They will make use of their enclosure space, and you can watch them climb and explore for hours. Being cold blooded, snakes only need to be fed approximately once a week as babies, and often even less as they grow. This also means less poo to clean up! They are solitary animals that do not need attention constantly, and they will be fine if left alone during the day.
Average length for the King Snake is 2-4 feet, occasionally longer (photo: Paige Davis)
So, which kind of snake is right for you? There are several species of snakes that make excellent pets. Some great options for a beginner snake owner include: Ball Pythons, Corn Snakes, Milk Snakes, and King Snakes. All of these species have simple housing requirements and are reluctant to bite with regular handling. In fact, the Ball Python gets its name because it will often curl up into a ball rather than bite when frightened.
Kahn, WBS’s Albino Burmese Pythons is currently 12 feet long and 70 lbs—and is still growing! (Photo: WBS Staff)
Beginners should avoid very large species such as Burmese Pythons, venomous snakes, and species with difficult housing requirements. It is easy to buy a snake as a small baby, but it is important to know how large they will become. Pet stores regularly sell species such as the Red-tailed Boa. This snake will fit in the palm of your hand when it is a baby, but once fully grown, it can reach lengths of 10 feet or more! They require very large enclosures as adults and will need to be fed bigger prey items, such as rabbits.
There are many options available to you when buying a pet snake. Through captive breeding to produce certain colors, many species come in beautiful color morphs, such as lavender and pastel. Ball Pythons and Corn Snakes are some of the most diverse looking species, and they come in a variety of colors. You will want to choose a snake that is eating regularly and has clear and healthy eyes and skin.
The most important thing to do before buying any new pet is to research its care before you buy. Once you have everything you need, you will be ready for a great new addition to your family.
To see some of the species mentioned above come out and visit the World Bird Sanctuary's nature center. Our naturalists will be happy to answer your questions about the snakes we care for on a daily basis.
Submitted by Paige Davis, World Bird Sanctuary Naturalist
Friday, March 13, 2015
Seagulls seem to be a ubiquitous species. They are so common that people sometimes term them “rats with wings.”
California Gulls on a rooftop on Antelope Island, Utah (photo: the wikipedia files)
If seagulls are so commonplace, why on earth would a state choose to make them its state bird?? First of all, there is no such bird as a seagull. Seagull is a generic term used when talking about the various species of gull, like the California gull – which is, coincidentally, the state bird of Utah.
The California gull (Larus californicus) can be found wintering in the western United States, coming as far east as South Dakota, and spending the summers in a few areas of the northwestern states. Gulls are true opportunists, eating anything from fish to French fries. They will follow plows and other farm equipment to catch the insects and other small critters stirred up by its passage, dive toward the water to grab fish with their beaks, or wander around on the ground foraging for fruit or worms or discarded Happy Meals. California gulls do so well for themselves that they are considered a species of Least Concern and have seen an increase in numbers.
Seagull monument-Temple, Utah (photo: the wikipedia files)
These parking lot pests weren’t always considered to be pesky. In fact, in Salt Lake City there exists a statue – a monument honoring the gulls. Back in 1848, the settlers of Utah had a problem. Their crops – their livelihoods – were being decimated by crickets. The destruction was so bad that the settlers were losing all hope of saving their crops. The settler’s salvation arrived from the skies. Flocks upon flocks of California gulls were attracted to the abundance of crickets and proceeded to feast. By the time the gulls had their fill and left the area, hardly a cricket was left, and the crops were saved from total devastation. To commemorate saving the Utah settlers, the California gull was named the state bird in 1955.
Close-up of the birds atop the monument (photo: the wikipedia files)
Although there haven’t been any major plagues in recent years, Utah hasn’t forgotten the service rendered by the gulls. The next time you see a group of gulls, instead of ignoring them or dismissing them, try thanking them for saving Utah.
Submitted by JoHanna Burton, World Bird Sanctuary Naturalist
Wednesday, March 11, 2015
Unlike most birds of prey, I typically migrate to the north to my Michigan roots during the winter holidays to visit my family. My most recent visit yielded a most unexpected and joyous surprise....I glimpsed my first wild Snowy Owl!
The Snowy Owl was perched high above the farm fields looking for prey. (Photo by Connie Bunke)
The Snowy Owl (Bubo scandiacus) is a large, white owl with striking yellow eyes and a black beak. Females are typically larger and have a brown bar pattern mixed with the white of their plumage. Snowy males will also have the brown coloration to a lesser degree and will become more white as they age.
These majestic owls live solitary lives in the harsh arctic tundra, following the population movements of lemmings, a type of rodent. Lemmings are the primary food source for Snowy Owls. A single Snowy Owl can eat 1,500 to 1,600 lemmings in one year.
A lemming is a tasty meal for Snowy Owls (photo: The wikipedia files)
Sightings of Snowy Owls in the thumb of Michigan was once a really rare occurrence. My mother could only recall seeing a Snowy Owl out in the countryside once in the thirty-five plus years she’s lived there. Now, neighbors and friends talk as though seeing two or three snowies in a single day is a normal event!
My family and I took a drive one afternoon to go looking for the Snowy Owls. In the span of an hour, we came across six snowies perched on telephone poles overlooking the fields.
We almost didn’t spot this fellow. At a distance, he simply looked like an extension of the telephone pole (photo by Connie Bunke)
In recent years the explosion of Snowy Owls appearing across the northern United States is likely due to an unusually high abundance of lemming populations across Quebec, Canada, according to an article by the Cornell Lab of Orinthology BirdCast. The high population levels of lemmings allow Snowy Owl pairs to rear larger clutches of chicks. With the current Snowy Owl baby boom, we’re likely to have more frequent sightings of Snowy Owls for recurring years.
If you wish to learn more about Snowy Owls, come visit the World Bird Sanctuary to meet Tundra, the Snowy Owl, at our Education Department, as well as Ookpik and Crystal, our Snowy Owl pair, living on the sanctuary’s display line.
Submitted by Jessica Bunke, World Bird Sanctuary Naturalist/Trainer
Monday, March 9, 2015
I am getting old but, partly, that is a good thing….
Back in the 1980’s – when I was in my twenties – the only place that I could see bald eagles in abundance was to take a trip to Alaska. Flying into Juneau, I looked out the window to see the eagles roosting on the electrical towers close to the water where the fish were in abundance. So, too, were the Peregrine Falcons, catching their favorite food of ducks in midair, swooping down as the ducks were taking off. Both species of birds of prey migrated with the species they preyed on – the spawning fish and migrating duck species, but the raptors’ populations were still in sad, sad shape after years of DDT.
An Audubon print depicting Peregrine Falcons with their prey (photo: wikipedia files)
Fast forward 35 years with concentrated human effort (at places like World Bird Sanctuary) to bring raptor populations back to a healthy level…. My gray hair has increased, but so have the bird populations and even the wetlands where they find their favorite prey. It was only a few years ago that I watched a mature Bald Eagle swoop in front of a tractor-trailer on Highway 55, barely missing death, but headed for the ‘safe zone’ of the median strip, of all places, to eat his large fish.
It has also been a success of World Bird Sanctuary’s efforts in the last few years to have nesting peregrines on the tall office buildings of downtown St. Louis. But, especially in recent years, I have enjoyed watching builders, developers, and city/county/federal government programs help bring back the wetlands, to bring back the fish, to bring back the waterfowl, and to ultimately bring back the raptors.
Peregrines, especially, will ultimately benefit from the wetlands habitat increase. According to the website http://www.defenders.org/peregrine-falcon/basic-facts, there are approximately 1650 breeding pairs in North America, not a large number but a bigger population base than in years past, especially within my lifetime. To quote from the same site: “Adults have blue-gray wings, dark brown backs, a buff colored underside with brown spots, and white faces with a black tear stripe on their cheeks. They have a hooked beak and strong talons. Their name comes from the Latin word ‘peregrinus’, which means “to wander.” They are commonly referred to as the Duck Hawk. Peregrine Falcons are the fastest-flying birds in the world – they are able to dive at speeds in excess of 200 miles per hour….Peregrine Falcons eat other birds, such as songbirds and ducks, as well as bats. They catch their prey in mid-air….” Right now, I can only imagine the sight of watching such a mid-air swoop over a rising flock of ducks from a constructed wetlands, but it is on my bucket-list now because that would be a success story where mankind ‘finally got it right.’
In future blogs, I hope to discuss in more detail about the intricate layers of wetlands as an important habitat for raptor populations. It all starts with the water….
Submitted by Paula Arbuthnot, World Bird Sanctuary Part-time ETC Employee
Saturday, March 7, 2015
In this blog I’ve talked quite a bit about Zeus our Golden Eagle over the last couple of years.
His training has been a huge part of my job, as well as a milestone in my life. Last summer he completed another landmark by working at his first World Bird Sanctuary zoo show program at the Milwaukee County Zoo, and I couldn’t be more proud of that bird. WBS has presented a bird show at the Milwaukee County Zoo for 30 of the last 31 years.
Zeus peering curiously at the camera (photo: Erica Fenske)
Last year was all about helping him to feel comfortable around people, especially large crowds. We started him out small, placing him in our public weathering area every morning for increasingly longer periods of time. Since there were many new things (vans, strollers, lots of people, construction equipment, etc.) we always had a pouch of treats to reward him for calmly tolerating all of the above. This caused Zeus to associate going out to the weathering area with getting food, making it a very positive experience.
Being a clever eagle, Zeus would sometimes use these rewards to his advantage. The big cat exhibit was under construction and many of the front loaders drove on the main road behind our weathering area. This frightened Zeus at first. We started rewarding him for jumping back up onto the perch once they went past and then for staying on the perch as they went by until he didn’t even flinch when he heard them coming. Problem solved! However Zeus remembered that we used to give him treats for hopping back up onto his perch (a subtle training error by me). So, he started to jump off his perch for seemingly no reason, looked at me (and my bag of treats), hopped back up to his perch, and then looked at me again. From then on we only rewarded him while he was sitting on his perch, which put a stop to this particular behavior.
Once Zeus was comfortable in the weathering area, we started putting him in shows as a walk on (he perched on our glove and we walked him around the theater). His first audience was 68 people, but he quickly worked his way up to triple digit audiences. We continued to reward him while he was being walked around so that he would want to be on stage, since it meant he was going to get treats. The audience loved seeing a Golden Eagle, and we loved showing him off.
Zeus was unruffled by all the equipment and strangers (photo: Leah Tyndall)
Zeus became so famous at the Milwaukee County Zoo that Marquette University wanted to use him in a photo shoot (their mascot is the Golden Eagle). I have to admit at first I was incredibly nervous. Yes, Zeus had made great strides, but a photo shoot had all sorts of variables that could frighten him. Cameras are strange, the backdrop might scare him, he was going to be surrounded by people he didn’t know, and a lot closer than he was used to. What if a peacock wandered in…the list went on and on. Turns out I need not have worried! Zeus was amazing, he sat perfectly on his perch, didn’t seem bothered by the camera and no extraneous peafowl were afoot.
In the beginning Zeus eating from my hand was cause for celebration (photo: Mike Cerutti)
I cannot even describe the sense of pride I felt watching him. This was a bird that trusted no one when I first met him in a huge free flight chamber. He had to watch me for several minutes before he came down to eat the food I offered him. Now he was sitting with a seemingly curious expression in front of cameras and strangers-- he even started preening; the ultimate sign of comfort for a bird! He had come so far! Sorry, I’m gushing, but I’m just so proud of this bird.
Zeus had a terrific season up in Milwaukee. He learned a lot, he taught me a lot and he educated thousands of people about Golden Eagles. Based on his performance and progress last season I am incredibly confident about his first flying season this year. That’s right ladies and gentlemen. For the first time in the history of the sanctuary, we’re free flying a Golden Eagle…stay tuned!
Submitted by World Bird Sanctuary Naturalist/Trainer Leah Tyndall