Friday, November 21, 2014


Hello and welcome back!  Thank you for returning to explore yet another animal from the World Bird Sanctuary. 

What type of bird comes to mind when you see or hear the combined words: scavenger, disgusting, and bald head?  If you are thinking of a vulture or condor, then you’re right!  In this blog I'm going to share some fun and educational information about a special vulture at the World Bird Sanctuary.  You will discover his species’ natural history, personal history, and a few very interesting facts, too!

The bird’s name is Kinsey and he is a Turkey Vulture (Cathartes aura).   He was named after John Kinsey, a beloved WBS volunteer who passed away suddenly in 2009. 

Kinsey (photo: Lisbeth Hodges) 
Kinsey is 5 years old this year and came to us--literally!  He was rescued on our exhibit line after having been observed for three days walking around and not flying.  An examination revealed that due to an old injury his right wing could not be fully extended.  As a result of this injury, he could no longer fly.

Now, onto the educational info!  Turkey vultures are only found in North and South America.  There are two groups of vultures--Old World and New World.  There are 15 Old World vultures and 7 New World vultures, with 22 in total.  Old World vultures are more closely related to diurnal (day active) birds of prey like eagles, hawks and falcons.  New World vultures are more closely related to storks and cranes.  The New World refers to the Americas.  The Old World refers to the rest of the continents.  Other New World vultures include Black, King, Lesser Yellow Headed, Greater Yellow Headed, Andean Condor and California Condor. 
Our resident Turkey Vultures are often visited by their wild cousins (photo: Gay Schroer)
Vultures scavenge for their food, which means that they survive off of eating carrion (dead animals).  Kinsey is given rat, rabbit, pigeons, venison, and fish.  His favorite seems to be pigeon.   If you come to WBS between 8-9am, (when our birds on the exhibit line are usually fed) then your chances of seeing neighboring wild vultures on the exhibit line will be very good!  They often gather there hoping to scavenge scraps from our birds’ meals.  Since most of our enclosures have tops, they are not successful—but, hey, a guy can hope, can’t he?

Kinsey, as well as many of our other birds, loves to sun himself.  This basically means that he opens up his wings and directs the back of his wings and body to the sun.    Below you can see Kinsey sunning in the morning light.

 Kinsey sunning himself (photo: Lisbeth Hodges)
Turkey Vulture chicks look exactly the same as Black Vulture chicks.  Surprisingly, they have white fluffy down feathers and a black face, with a difference in beak shape.  Adult Turkey Vultures are all dark brown except for their bright red face.  It takes around two years for them to mature into the red face, with juveniles having a darker head.  Turkey Vultures are not sexually dimorphic, meaning the male and female look the same.  They also have the same wingspan as small Bald Eagles, which is approximately six feet (67-70 inches).  Their weight however is much lighter--only 4.4lbs (2000g), whereas Bald Eagles range from 6-16lbs. 
Mortimer, one of our other Turkey Vultures, still sporting his white down feathers and dark head (photo: Gay Schroer)
These vultures lay a clutch (group of eggs or chicks) of 1-3 creamy white eggs with colored spots ranging from purple to brown.  Their life span ranges from 20-25 years in the wild.  In captivity they can live from 40-50 years! 
A wild Turkey Vulture in flight (photo: Gay Schroer)
Turkey Vultures are the most common vulture in the United States and they are very easy to spot.  When they soar in the sky, their wings are in a slight dihedral (V-shape), and can soar for many hours without flapping their wings.

These beautiful and bald vultures have a great sense of smell.  They can smell dead animals over 2 miles away!  They have very large nostrils, or nares that are within the cere (skin between beak and forehead).  Below you can see a close up of his cere.

 Kinsey giving us a good look at his cere (photo: Lisbeth Hodges)
Kinsey is available for adoption in our Adopt a Bird program.  To find out more information, call 636-861-3225.  All adoption donations are tax deductible.

Kinsey can be seen in the weathering area just behind the Environmental Education Center (visitor’s center) at the World Bird Sanctuary, which is open daily from 8am-5pm. 

Kinsey is a very handsome bird who demonstrates the phrase “bald is beautiful.”  You should stop by and see him sometime.

Submitted by former World Bird Sanctuary Naturalist Lisbeth Hodges

Wednesday, November 19, 2014


Many of us find a special tranquility when communing with nature—whether it be in our back yards, in the woods, by the shore of a lake, or in a nearby park.  Below World Bird Sanctuary friend, Marge Biermann, tells us what she hears when she seeks the peace and quiet of nature.


God speaks to me through each cricket, butterfly and bird,
Absolutely the very best sounds I’ve ever heard.
I listen with my heart….It has a good ear,
Catching every message from these creatures so dear.

The butterfly is quiet and it takes a little while.
Her words have special beauty and a gentle style.
Now that cricket loves the deep dark of night.
It’s then he chirps with all of his small might.

Then there are the birds….Beautiful, feathered creatures.
Where do I start to speak of all their outstanding features.
Each voice so different….from a peep to a hoot,
And each set of feathers a varied style of suit.

Most are early risers, but not our Owl friend.
He’s just beginning as our day starts to end.
Birds usually are first to greet a new season,
And seem always ready to sing without any reason.

They show their young by example how to fly,
And I’m sure they must get sad, but I’ve not seen one cry.
Once a pair of Robins nested in my flowers,
And I watched them tend their eggs for hours.

Three babies were hatched and guarded with care.
To approach the nest you wouldn’t dare.
No matter the danger they stood their ground.
Two better parents were not to be found.

When they all left that nest it was a sad day,
But I learned so much in such a pleasant way.
There are countless lessons out there without end,
Just stop and listen to a little wildlife friend.

The next time you visit the World Bird Sanctuary, take a moment to rest on one of our benches or walk one of our trails.  Who knows what you might hear?

Submitted by World Bird Sanctuary Guest Author, Marge Biermann            

Monday, November 17, 2014

Buford the Great!

Beauford the Bald Eagle is amazing!  Sorry, I normally have a more cohesive introduction for you, but I really just want to tell you how awesome Beauford was in Branson, Missouri, this season.  Spoiler alert: he was very awesome!

Beauford the Great (photo: Leah Tyndall)

Allow me to backtrack. This fall Beauford and I were lucky enough to represent World Bird Sanctuary at Silver Dollar City for the Harvest Festival as a part of the NEW Wild West show.  For those readers not familiar with the Branson, Missouri, entertainment industry, Silver Dollar City is an 1880s theme park that is one of the cornerstones of the Branson area.

Beauford flew perfectly during the salute to America and our troops. This may not sound terribly exciting, but let me set the scene for you.  Beauford flew from his crate at the top of the stands down to my glove on the top of the riing.  Oh yes…I forgot to mention…he basically did this in the dark!  There was a spotlight illuminating his crate and take off perch, and a second spotlight on me, but otherwise Beauford flew pretty much in the dark indoors.

The audience didn’t know that he was in the show, which led to some fantastic crowd reactions as they felt him fly overhead and then realized what had happened once he landed onstage.  For the 2 months we were there, Beauford only had one “fumble” when he grabbed his crate carpet before taking off.  Not to worry; he just brought it with him when he landed on my glove!  Being a professional myself, I posed and pretended that the green carpet represented the environment--it was a very artistic statement that Beauford and I totally meant to make.
Beauford in his weathering area between shows (photo: Leah Tyndall)

Being a Wild West show, trick riders were a requirement, and we had some of the best!  Of course trick riders mean horses and Beauford is not used to horses.  Based on his fear of cows that we discovered last year when he flew at the Milwaukee County Zoo, it was likely that he would be fearful of horses.  Since the horses came into the ring just after Beauford’s flight, and Beauford landed on the glove while I stood on the ring, I had to make sure Buford never saw the horses in the ring.  This meant coordinating with the riders and having many contingency plans.

I had five different ways to enter and exit the building to avoid horse/eagle interaction and these came in handy once the show closed and the entertainment department began putting together a new stage for a new show.  Did I mention that in building a stage they were using cherry pickers, forklifts and scissor lifts?  All the activity required use of my secret pathways, including cutting through the bathrooms, which was pretty surreal.   No one was there that early in the morning, but it was still strange to take a male bald eagle through the ladies’ room. The things we do so that our birds will fly well.
Beauford had his very own "dressing room" (photo: Leah Tyndall)

Fantastic flying wasn’t Beauford’s only job.  He also led the parade of veterans for the opening flag ceremony every morning for the last two weeks of the festival.  Being so important he had a six-person security team to escort him, and was chauffeured to and from the ceremony.  As a show star he had deluxe accommodations: his own dressing room and private outdoor perching area for relaxing away from his adoring public.
Beauford in his weathering area for one (photo: Leah Tyndall)

After the Wild West Show closed, Beauford and I did outdoor presentations to teach people all about Bald Eagles and Beauford in particular.  These were a huge success!  Even though there were benches provided in the courtyard for spectators, there were often people standing, and even peering around trees and planters, to get a better view.

Buford and I loved every minute of our time down in Silver Dollar City.  He flew fabulously, educated thousands about our national symbol, and paid respect to our veterans.  I learned several secret pathways, how to utilize space efficiently, trained a Bald Eagle to fly spotlight to spotlight and of course did my favorite part of the job--help teach people about our amazing national symbol.

Submitted by Leah Tyndall, World Bird Sanctuary Naturalist/Trainer  

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Barred Owls In The Hospital

Barred Owls are the most common bird admitted to the World Bird Sanctuary’s Kathryn G. Favre Wildlife Hospital. 

Most years we may receive between 50 and 100 injured Barred Owls.  These owls are very active in the late winter while preparing for breeding season.  Then in the spring the parents are busy hunting. 

A Barred Owl with a wing injury (photo: Joe Hoffmann)

Barred Owls sometimes get into trouble from being too focused on their food and not on everything else around them.  They like to hunt near the edge of a woods.  Many grassy areas by roads and highways are perfect hunting grounds for birds of prey.  As an owl hunts near the road they don’t always notice the oncoming traffic.  That is when they are struck by a vehicle.  Sometimes they bounce off with just a bruised body; other times they have broken bones. 

Always being aware of wildlife as you drive is important.  As mentioned above, we inadvertently create good habitat for wildlife along our roads.  Staying off cell phones keeps your eyes on the road, and your eyes on the road will help you brake for wildlife when/if the need arises.

We thank you and I am confident the owls thank you, too.  In fact the owls in the hospital were hooting the entire time I was writing this blog, so I guess they agree. Thanks again for slowing down.

Submitted by Joe Hoffmann, Sanctuary Manager for the World Bird 

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Round-up Time

Anyone who has watched an old John Wayne movie knows that you can’t have a movie about the old west without at least one cattle round-up. 

Humpback whales feeding on the fish they have rounded up (photo: Gay Schroer) 
Likewise, if you’ve watched any Nature documentaries about whales, you are probably familiar with the Humpback Whale’s bubble net feeding behavior.  This is when a pod of Humpback whales swims in circles around a school of baitfish, blowing a “net” of bubbles to round up their quarry.  When they get the baitfish herded together into a “ball” the whales explode to the surface from below the school of fish, with wide open jaws acting like a scoop--a fish round-up so to speak.

Bald Eagle soaring (photo: Gay Schroer)
A few weeks ago my husband and his buddy were fishing at Lake of the Ozarks in Missouri when they were witness to another kind of round-up.  They were fishing on a part of the lake where my husband has frequently seen a pair of Bald Eagles hunting and (in the spring) courting.  We believe this is a resident pair that nests close by, although so far we have not been able to spot the nest due to the dense tree growth in this area.  

A raft of American Coots (bird in the foreground is not a Coot) (photo: Gay Schroer) 
On this particular day the lake was relatively quiet, and a raft of American Coots (often referred to as Mud Hens) were swimming and feeding nearby. Suddenly, my husband spotted one of the Bald Eagles flying toward the Coots.  However, contrary to what he expected, the eagle did not make a direct dive for the Coots.  Instead, he began to circle the hapless birds, driving them closer and closer to each other in their attempt to evade him.  After making several circles around the flock, the eagle had them herded up into such a tight group that they were literally climbing on top of each other in their effort to evade the predator.  At that point the eagle made his move, dropping like a bullet into the middle of the frenzied birds, snatching one up, and then flying off with his prize.

I don’t know if this is a common hunting technique for Bald Eagles, or if this particular raptor has developed his own particular hunting style, but John Wayne would have been proud of him. 

Remington—one of the many beautiful Bald Eagles on our display line (photo: Gay Schroer) 
Not all of us are lucky enough to witness a wild Bald Eagle in full hunting mode, but to get a good close-up look at a number of these majestic birds plan a visit to the World Bird Sanctuary sometime soon.  You won’t be disappointed. 

Later in the year plan to attend one of our Eagle Days programs held at various locations near rivers and lakes where Bald Eagles are known to congregate during winter.  As the weather gets colder the birds from up north will be migrating down river to open waters, giving us St. Louis area natives one of the most magnificent winter spectacles in the country.  You will even stand a chance of seeing a wild Bald Eagle on the hunt.

Submitted by Gay Schroer, World Bird Sanctuary Volunteer/Photographer

 (photo: Sandra Lowe)

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Avian Diseases - Proventricular Dilatation Disease (PDD)

Even though we here at Word Bird Sanctuary are constantly on the lookout for any signs of disease or other problems that could affect our birds, we thought that our readers (especially bird owners) might be interested in a discussion of some of the problems that could affect avian species.

Many people may be familiar with some of the more commonly discussed diseases that affect birds.  Most of us have heard of West Nile Virus, a disease spread by mosquitoes and affecting many species of animals (including humans).  We heard a lot about avian influenza a few years ago in the news.  But, unless you are a pet bird owner, you may not have heard of Proventricular Dilatation Disease, or PDD as it is known.  That’s because it is a disease that is not transmissible to humans, and only recently have we begun to unravel the mysteries of its causes and effects.

Baby Parrots (photo: Melissa Moore)

It is believed this disease was first recognized in a macaw in 1978, and was named “Macaw Wasting Syndrome.”  Affected birds usually show neurologic symptoms (like a weakened grip in their feet), and often exhibit digestive symptoms as well.  The digestive problems often include severe weight loss (thus the “wasting” moniker) and changes in appetite.  When examined internally, there is often a lot of food in the digestive tract, but it appears as though the internal organs were not doing their job to break down the food.  The “proventriculus”, a portion of the stomach, was often full of this undigested material.

These symptoms were identified in many other species, and so the name was changed to “Proventricular Dilatation Syndrome.”  As you might imagine, this disease could create a great deal of concern for bird owners.  For many years, very little was known about this syndrome, making it even more worrisome.

Eclectus Parrot (photo: Melissa Moore)

Then, in 2008, the cause of this syndrome was identified as a virus called the Avian Bornavirus.  Bornaviruses are known to affect many other species of animals, including mammals, but this particular virus appears to be unique to birds, and perhaps only to members of the parrot family.  By 2012 blood tests had been developed for this virus, so its presence in a bird may now be identified.  More research has also been conducted into this virus’ natural occurrence, and it has been shown to exist far more often than it causes disease.  And once again the disease has gained a new name, this time called ABV.

This topic is somewhat different than topics covered previously in World Bird Sanctuary blogs.  It came to my attention recently as I am a long-time Eclectus parrot owner with a normally healthy bird who had to make a trip to the avian vet recently.  Although my bird, Toby, is doing fine now (and tested negative for the Bornavirus), I was surprised to learn how much progress had been made in the field of avian diseases. ABV and many other diseases were quite unknown only seven years ago.

Some references to check out for more information on PDD:

Submitted by Melissa Moore, World Bird Sanctuary 

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Growing Up Around Goblin

Working and volunteering at the World Bird Sanctuary has many commonly mentioned benefits: such as being able to experience things not many other people can, working with a bunch of truly dedicated people who love what they do, and watching those people share their love of animals with other people.

 Goblin still wearing some of his baby down feathers at 55 days old (photo: Gay Schroer)
 One of the great things about being a long-time volunteer is that you cannot only have more of these experiences, but if timed correctly, you can watch birds grow older and mature as you spend more time around them.   In June 2008 I started volunteering at the Nature Center, which was a couple of months after an American Barn Owl had hatched at WBS and was placed on falconry equipment (anklets and jesses that us handlers use for our education raptors).   This Barn Owl's name is Goblin, and he quickly became my favorite Barn Owl.

 Goblin at 55 days old - Wing stretching (photo: Gay Schroer)
Young Barn Owls have many adorable behaviors that range from simple stretches of their wings or legs to a behavior that has been dubbed “head bobbing”.   Head bobbing helps the young owls focus on sounds and determine where they're coming from.   Just imagine a small Barn Owl, who could look something like Goblin here, facing you on his perch.   Suddenly, he turns his head so that he's looking upside-down at you and starts bobbing his head up and down while staring straight at you.  If this mental image wasn't enough, go on YouTube and search for “baby Barn Owl head bobbing”, and you'll quickly see what I mean.

Goblin just after being put on equipment_65 days old (Photo: Gay Schroer) 
During my first few years of volunteering I was considered a Junior Volunteer and was not old enough to handle the birds (a volunteer cannot actually handle the birds until they are 16).  I had to be content with standing on the weathering area deck and watching Goblin for 5 or 10 minutes at a time.

As I got older and gained more experience, I was finally able to start handling Goblin, who had become a favorite of most of the staff at the Nature Center.  He easily lived up to and exceeded the expectations of this 16 year old.  Since I hadn't yet handled the birds at the Nature Center I didn't really know what to expect.  Almost immediately, I understood why naturalists at the Nature Center loved working with Goblin — he's a wonderful flyer!

Goblin performing in an Animal Encounter (Photo: Matt Levin) 
This past summer, I happened to stop by the Nature Center in time to watch one of the Amazing Animal Encounters.  These are free weekend programs that run from Memorial Day to Labor Day and normally have 5 or 6 animals (mostly birds).  These mini programs are a really good chance to see the birds in action while being in a relatively small crowd.  So there I was, sitting in the audience, when I heard the words “Barn Owl”, and who should I see flying from trainer to trainer but my favorite Barn Owl, Goblin, who I hadn't seen in a year or two!

Goblin has come a long way in what feels like 6 very short years, and I look forward to working with him in the years to come!

Submitted by Matt Levin, World Bird Sanctuary Volunteer

Friday, November 7, 2014

Birdlore: Old Abe the War Eagle

Since ages past, eagles have stood as symbols for armies, countries, and modern-day sports teams. 

The eagle’s fearlessness, courage, and strength has led to their image being adorned on the shields of Roman Soldiers, a double-headed eagle was woven onto the banners of Russian czars, and the backside of the country of Kyrgyzstan’s currency carries the image of an eagle hunting.

The most iconic eagle symbol is the Bald Eagle of the United States of America.  With its striking white head and tail, and distinctive yellow beak and feet, the Bald Eagle appears on coins, paper bills, flags, and stamps.  The Bald Eagle has also represented military groups. 
Old Abe perched atop a canon (photo: The wikipedia files)
Perhaps, the most famous bald eagle in U.S. history is Old Abe, the War Eagle. While there is some disagreement among historians as to the sex of the bird, most accounts refer to “Old Abe” as male.  He became the living mascot for a Union infantry company during the Civil War. 

Caught by a Lac du Flambeau Ojibwe cheif in 1861, he was traded to Daniel McCann, a tavern owner, for a bushel of corn.  He subsequently offered to sell the eagle to Company C of the Eighth Regiment of Wisconsin for $2.50.  Thus, Old Abe joined the enlisted soldiers for a three-year tour in the south and participated in 42 battles.  When the company marched, Abe sat on a perch, with a shield underneath, carried by a chosen bearer or caretaker at the front of the company.

Old Abe on his shield perch with the Eighth Regiment color guard. (Photo: The wikipedia files)
Early on in the company’s tour, a band played the song “Yankee Doodle” causing Abe to get excited, and grabbing a flag located near him in his beak, he waved it while flapping his wings (or so the story goes).  This incident was perhaps the start of Abe’s fame as newspapers raved about the incident as a good sign for the Union.

Old Abe drew the attention of visitors and locals everywhere they traveled, because people wanted to see the live eagle.  In time the company would be known as the “Eagle Regiment.”
A memorial commemorating the Battle of Vicksburg with a likeness of Old Abe at the top (photo: The wikipedia files)

In one of his  first major battles, Old Abe and his handler were ordered to the rear for protection.  When the company laid low to the ground from Confederate artillery fire, Old Abe joined them on the ground from his perch even though he was safely out of range.  His handler put Abe back on his perch, only to have him jump back down to flatten himself to the ground with his wings spread out.  After several attempts trying to keep the eagle on his perch, his handler joined him in taking cover on the ground.  Once the regiment rose from their cover, Old Abe then hopped back his on perch.

One contested story goes that the battle of Corinth, MS, Old Abe had his famed flight over the battlefield when a mini ball from a confederate musket severed the cord connecting the eagle to his perch.  He flew overhead the battle lines with his handler chasing after him.  Confederate soldiers attempted to shoot Old Abe down when he came into their line of sight.  Supposedly, one Confederate general issued a bounty to any soldier who could capture Old Abe, dead or alive.  To the general, Old Abe was worth more to the morale of Union soldiers than a whole brigade of soldiers.

Old Abe was never injured in any battles during his three-year tour, as the company was very careful in protecting their comrade.  His only losses were several wing and tail feathers from the mini ball at the battle of Corinth.  However, his handler, David McLain, maintained that even though he would get very excited in battle and spread his wings and scream, he never flew over the battle lines.

In quieter times, Old Abe was granted the occasional liberty of wandering the company’s camp.  Taking advantage of such liberty, the eagle was prone to causing mischief.  Old Abe was fascinated by the fire pails full of water around the camp and often tipped them over, driving soldiers crazy as they would then have to refill them.  The bird chased after flying insects flying past.   Supposedly Old Abe would play catch with soldiers as they rolled bullets across the ground, attacked clean laundry left out to dry and frequently raided food he found in tents and by campfires throughout the camp boundaries.
A lone sculpture of Old Abe rests at the top of the Camp Randall Memorial Arch for Civil War Veterans. (photo: The wikipedia files)
When the Eighth regiment returned to Wisconsin in 1864, the men chose not to reenlist Old Abe.  In selecting a permanent home for the eagle, the whole regiment unanimously voted to give Old Abe to the State of Wisconsin.  State officials declared Old Abe a “war relic” and created an “Eagle Department” in the capitol building, which included a two-room apartment complete with custom bathtub for the eagle and a full time caretaker.

Between the time of Old Abe’s enlistment and his death  in 1881, Abe was a resident at the Wisconsin Capitol Building and received thousands of visitors wanting to see the famous Wisconsin Eagle.  Old Abe attended conventions, functions, fairs, and celebrations during his retirement.  Frequently, he was present for charities raising money to help support hospitals caring for Civil War Veterans.
Old Abe and his last caretaker, George Gilles (photo: The wikipedia files)
Sadly in February, 1881, a small fire broke out in the basement of the capitol building, for which Old Abe raised an alarm.  The fire was quickly put out, but the eagle had inhaled a large amount of thick black smoke.  About a month later he began to decline.  On March 26, 1881, Old Abe died in the arms of his last caretake, George Gilles.

Old Abe became a legend and symbol of the Civil War, imbued with patriotism and bravery.   He is still remembered to this day in the state of Wisconsin with a mounted eagle representing Old Abe in state buildings.  A monument stands in Vicksburg, MS, where Abe saw action and at Camp Randall where the Eighth Regiment trained in Madison, WI.

The inspiration of Old Abe was one of the contributing factors in the drive to protect our nation’s symbol.  Today, the Bald Eagle population, once greatly endangered, now thrives and continues to grow to become a more common sight throughout the country.

For a more complete history of Old Abe and his part of the Civil War Click Here.

To learn more about the American Bald Eagle, visit the World Bird Sanctuary to see Bald Eagles on display and speak to one of our dedicated staff members about the Bald Eagle’s natural history and recovery from being endangered.

Submitted by Jessica Bunke World Bird Sanctuary Naturalist/Trainer

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

May I Have a Feather?

Working for the World Bird Sanctuary with birds of prey and the public, there are many questions that I receive on a daily basis. 

One very important question is, “May I have a feather,” or any variation of such.  Many people are unaware that there is a federal law that protects migratory birds.  Sure, they may know that a license is required to hunt, but it seems to escape the mind that collecting feathers may be illegal without a license.  I will be the first to admit that I was once ignorant of this fact. 

Leigh French, blog author, scolding Jeff Meshach, WBS director, as he tries to "make off" with some Bald Eagle feathers.

The Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918 was first enacted in 1916 with Great Britain on behalf of Canada to protect native and migratory birds from over-hunting.  Over time, amendments implemented treaties between the U.S. and Mexico, Japan, and Russia.  This prohibition includes the trading, selling, hunting, and possessing in any way of any bird part without federal licensing.  Federal licenses are granted for religious purposes to American Indian tribes as well as scientific research, education, falconry, taxidermy, and depredation.

During the late 1800’s and early 1900’s the feather trade was at a record high.  Millions of birds were killed each year so that their feathers could adorn women’s hats and other accessories.  Unchecked, the feather trade would have decimated bird populations.  

So, every time I see a beautiful feather, whether it be in the woods or at work, I am reminded of our country’s unfortunate history with animal exploitation and the wonderful way that we can turn things around to save and support our environments and the native animals living within them.

Submitted by Leigh French, World Bird Sanctuary Naturalist/Trainer

Monday, November 3, 2014

The Mystery of Migration

It’s officially autumn. Autumn means cool weather, hot cider, and many of us wishing we could make like geese and head south for the winter.

All we’d have to do is look at a road map, choose a destination and away we’d go. Geese, of course, not being able to read, don’t have the luxury of a map. So how do they know where to go? Furthermore, how do migratory birds know when to leave?

Sandhill Cranes in flight (photo: Wikipedia files)

The Cornell Lab of Ornithology estimates that there are over 650 species of birds in North America, and most of those are migratory, meaning that entire populations of birds are moving to a different place. Many of us assume that migration must mean long distances, crossing at least half of the country. The term migration, however, doesn’t only encompass such epic journeys; it also includes smaller ones. A species that simply moves from a higher elevation to a lower elevation is considered to have migrated. Birds that migrate such short distances might not have trouble finding their destination since it is relatively close to their starting point, but what about the birds that migrate medium to long distances?

It is not well known exactly how birds navigate from one location to another during migrations. Even first year birds which have never experienced migration can navigate following a precise pathway to the exact same location as other birds without the guidance of an older bird. Some birds appear to navigate by sensing the earth’s magnetic field, others seem to migrate using the stars for navigation, and some use a combination of techniques.
Wading birds in flight (photo: Wikipedia files)

Furthermore, the triggers for migration are not well known, and also likely vary from species to species. Some birds may begin migration as temperatures cool or as days shorten. Other species may only migrate when food sources become scarce. There may even be a genetic predisposition in some species, since certain species have a very precise window of migration, even as short as two weeks, while other species migrate over a period of a few months.

More is known about the reasons why birds migrate than how they migrate. While it’s certainly nice to escape cold weather, the primary reasons for migration are food and nesting locations. Northward migration in the spring brings the birds to rising populations of insects as well as new nesting locations, giving the earliest arrivals the pick of the best nesting spots. Southward migration in the fall brings the birds to fresher, larger food sources.

While the knowledge that birds migrate is common, surprisingly little is known about this phenomenon. The World Bird Sanctuary’s bird banding team does their part to better understand the mysteries of migration during their spring migration banding blitz, when they catch and release songbirds passing through the area.  The banding team also bands songbirds as they migrate south, and they have recently started banding Saw-whet Owls as they migrate south.

Submitted by JoHanna Burton, World Bird Sanctuary Naturalist

Saturday, November 1, 2014

Talking Birds: Fact vs. Fiction

There are a number of tales involving talking animals, but these tales require our suspension of belief.  Even while we accept talking animals in the context of a story, we know that, in real life, animals don’t talk.  Or do they?

Buddy, a Double Yellow-headed Amazon Parrot

If you’ve ever walked into the World Bird Sanctuary Nature Center, you’ve probably been greeted by a cheery “Hello!” from one of our resident parrots.  Perhaps you’ve been surprised with a “Hi!” from one of our ravens as you walk past our birds on the display line.

Some birds do have the ability to learn to mimic certain words of the human language.  In fact, some birds, if worked with regularly, have even been known to learn word associations and string together sentences.  There are some surprisingly intelligent species of bird out there.
Aesop one of our resident birds....and, no, you don't have to split his tongue to make him talk.

There is a popular myth that in order to get a crow to learn to talk, you first have to split its tongue.  There are two things wrong with this myth: 1) it’s cruel, and 2) it’s just that – a myth.  Birds that talk don’t do so in the same way we do.  Humans use their lips, tongue, and teeth to help form sound, and in case you haven’t noticed, birds don’t have lips or teeth.  They do have beaks and tongues, but neither of these are used by a bird to produce sound.  Birds use their syrinx to produce sound.  The syrinx is the avian version of our larynx, or voicebox.  All of those fantastically different sounds that birds make are produced by varying the amount and velocity of air moving across the syrinx.

One stunning example of this variety of sound is found in the Lyrebird, an Australian species.  This performer will mimic as many different bird calls and sounds as he can in order to attract a mate. 
Superb Lyrebirds have an amazing vocal range

A popular video featuring David Attenborough captures this array of vocal gymnastics…and more.  The Lyrebird caught on camera in that trending video also mimics the sounds of camera shutters, car alarms, and even chainsaws.  Yes, birds can mimic sounds produced by machinery; however, most birds that can do so have been raised in captivity.  The Lyrebird in Attenborough’s video did, in fact, belong to a zoo.  Not that this makes the Lyrebird any less impressive.  Along with the chirps and whistles of other birds, Lyrebirds can also mimic the whooping chatter of a Laughing Kookaburra with startling skill.

Since learning human speech, or any other sound, requires lots of repetition, you are unlikely to encounter a wild crow or raven that will greet you in the same manner as the birds at the Sanctuary.  Unless you’re willing to spend every morning repeating the same thing to that noisy crow in your front yard, you’ll have to stop by the World Bird Sanctuary for your fix of talking birds; however, leave the crows’ tongues alone please.

Submitted by JoHanna Burton, World Bird Sanctuary Naturalist