Sunday, October 31, 2010

The Rookie Files: Crate Training 101:

Or How I learned to love restricted space

One of the easiest ways to transport birds from one location to another, be it cross country or between WBS buildings, is a crate. During initial training, or when they learn how to sit on the glove or become used to people, they learn how to go into a crate. All of our birds crate, from kestrels all the way to Dorothy our Andean Condor. Of course they all have different sized crates.
Crates come in all different sizes
Some birds, like Barn Owls and American Kestrels that nest in cavities and therefore are used to small, enclosed areas, are usually no problem to train to go into a crate.  With some birds, like hawks, eagles and ravens, crates could look rather frightening. It is our job as trainers to turn entering a crate into a positive experience.  We do this by using the great motivator--food! First we remove the door from the crate so that the bird does not feel trapped, then we place food just inside the lip of the crate. 
A White Naped Raven approaching the "food box"
In order to eat that piece of food, the bird has to begin to step into the crate, and once it does, it is rewarded with that piece of food. Gradually the piece of food is moved further back until it is all the way in the back of the crate, causing the bird to step all of the way inside the crate. Once the bird is comfortable going all of the way into the crate the door is put back on the crate and phase two begins.
It has food in it--it must be good!
Phase Two is all about increasing the amount of time a bird can spend in the crate. Now when the bird steps all of the way into the crate we very briefly shut the door, usually for only a few seconds at a time. As the bird becomes more relaxed in the crate it can be left in the crate for longer durations of time. In order to reinforce staying in the crate for longer periods of time, similar to the length of a program, we feed the bird small tidbits of food through the crate window to help keep the experience a positive one. Some birds become so relaxed in the crate that they rush into the crate the first chance they get. Riley the Barn Owl loves his crate so much that we sometimes have trouble getting him to come back out, and Mesquite dives headfirst into his. Buddy the Double Yellow Headed Amazon thinks his crate is the best place ever to nest and babble.

Now that the bird is OK with being in the crate it is time for phase three. Key to transporting a bird in a crate is moving that crate while they are in it. This is easier said than done, since birds usually move under their own power, they decide when to fly or walk. It can be frightening to them to be moving without it being their decision. In order to make this transition more comfortable we place carpets in the crate to prevent the bird from sliding around. Just like in the previous phases we start small and work up to moving the crates long distances, rewarding the bird as we go. In the beginning the crate is lifted only a few inches off the ground, keeping it as level as possible and then it is placed back on the ground. Gradually we increase the distance until the crate can be lifted onto shelves. Then we walk with the crate, a few feet at first, and then all around a building. Eventually the bird feels safe enough in the crate that we can begin taking it on field trips around the site.

Crating is beneficial not only for transporting birds, but for keeping them safe during shows and programs. Sometimes we need to stash birds during shows or programs where they will be safe from each other and curious people. During the flood in 2008 we had to keep several birds in crates after evacuating the ETC. Crates also make perfect “nests” for owl chicks. The small space imitates the nest cavity of many species of owls, so it is a safe place to keep them when they outgrow their brooders.
A "birds eye view" of a crate
Crates come in all shapes and sizes, from the small wooden box crates we use for kestrels to the XXL crate we use for Dorothy, our Andean Condor. Some crates have perches to protect a bird’s tail; some have cutouts in the back for depositing treats, a crate has to be big enough for the bird to stand up comfortably, but small enough to easily transport and stack in small spaces, like the backs of vans. Regardless of shape or size, crate training is perhaps the most important part of a bird’s training. The more positive a crate is to a bird, the easier it is on the bird to be transported, or stored in case of emergency. This is why we make every effort to turn what could be a negative experience to the happy, fun, “box of food”.

Submitted by Lean Tyndall, World Bird Sanctuary Naturalist

Friday, October 29, 2010

Effects on the Environment - #5

In article #1 of this series World Bird Sanctuary volunteer, Jennifer Jones, talked about one specific pesticide—rodent poison.  Here she discusses pesticides in a more general overview.

Pesticides cause significant bird mortality each year. Of the five billion pounds of pesticides that are applied worldwide every year, 20% are used in the United States (U.S. Environmental Protection Agency [USEPA], 2004). Approximately 40 pesticides still used in the U.S. are documented to have caused bird die-offs. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (the U.S. government agency responsible for regulating pesticides) has recorded more than 1,700 incidents of bird kills - many including hundreds of individual birds - attributable to pesticide use.

 Pesticide effects may be lethal, sublethal, acute, chronic, habitat related, or there may be no effect at all. A sub lethal effect is usually from a repeated exposure to some pesticides and though it does not kill the bird it affects it in other ways.  These effects are hard to detect but nevertheless can produce dramatic species declines over time.  Other effects of sublethal are weakening and behavorial.

An acute effect is a sudden, short exposure to high levels of pesticides.  Responses of birds to acute exposure can vary significantly.  Acute exposure to organophospates often leads to death of the bird within 30 minutes after symptoms of feather fluffing, labored breathing, muscle tremors and convulsions. Effects from acute exposure can be immediate or delayed. 

Chronic effects are defined as long-term exposures.  The problem with these exposures is that because the poisoning takes place over a prolonged period birds are more likely to become scattered over a wider geographical area and may never be seen.  If they are recovered it is much harder to correlate the death with specific pesticide applications.  Chronic exposure produces delayed effects.  One such effect is the decrease in breeding success, such as we saw with the pesticide DDT.

Habitat Related effects include loss of seed set or berry production in vegetation if bees are killed by pesticides.  Also, runoff into wetlands reduces the number of aquatic insects essential to the growth and development of aquatic birds.  The use of insecticides on lawns reduces the number of earthworms, which affects the American Robins in particular.

In general, insecticides are more toxic to fish and wildlife than herbicides or fungicides; though some herbicides may harm wildlife by damaging the habitat in which it is found.

Insecticides work by interfering with the central nervous system of insects.  The central nervous systems of fish and wildlife that ingest tainted insects may also be affected.

Wildlife can be exposed to pesticides directly by eating contaminated food or water, breathing pesticides or by skin absorption.  Young birds that are fed infected insects are at great risk of suffering lethal pesticide exposure effects.

One such chemical was banned back in 1972; it was the reason why the Bald Eagle and the Peregrine Falcon were on the endangered species list.  The chemical called DDT caused the eggs that were laid to have eggshells so thin that when the eggs were incubated, they were crushed by the weight of the parent bird.   Since the ban of DDT both the Bald Eagle and the Peregrine Falcon have made a comeback and are no longer on the endangered species list.  This is a prime example that we can right what we have done wrong.

When you purchase any pesticide, be sure to read the label to determine whether it is considered toxic to humans and wildlife.  Most chemicals are now required to state this on the label.

Submitted by Jennifer Jones, World Bird Sanctuary volunteer

Monday, October 25, 2010

Owl Prowls

Have you seen the latest hit movie The Legend of the Guardians: the Owls of Ga’Hoole?  

Do you want to discover more about those amazing birds?  Your chance to learn about and see live owls is coming soon at the World Bird Sanctuary! 
A Barn Owl in flight
Starting in November join us for Owl Prowls where first you will be shown different species of owls up close, a few flying mere inches above your heads!  A sanctuary naturalist will talk about their characteristics, behaviors, and their unique hoots and calls, which you will learn how to imitate.  After the presentation, the naturalist will guide you on an easy night hike through the sanctuary.  You can hoot calls of native owls and try to lure a wild one in closer.
The classroom portion of an Owl Prowl 
The most common owls one may hear at night in Missouri are great horned owls, barred owls, and Eastern screech owls.  Another owl that inhabits Missouri is the common barn owl.  Despite the name, they are not very common anymore due to loss of their habitat and secondary poisoning.  Rare winter resident owls are the long-eared owl and Northern saw-whet owl, an uncommon winter resident is the short-eared owl, and very rarely snowy owls will migrate far enough south to winter in this area. 

Most people do not realize that owls have many different vocalizations other than just hooting.  For example, great horned owls are known for their booming hoots, but they also squawk, chitter, and bark.  Their appearance is very different than that of a barred owl.  Great horned owls have two feather tufts on the top of their head, and barred owls don’t.  Great horned owls have bright yellow eyes, and barred owls have dark brown.  Great horned owls have a white neck patch, and barred owls do not.
 Great horned owl - Note the feather tufts that resemble ears,  and the white throat patch
The typical call of a barred owl is a series of eight hoots ending in oo-aw, with a downward pitch at the end, sometimes with a gurgle sound.  The most common mnemonic device for remembering the call is "who cooks for you, who cooks for you all."  They also will make other types of calls and variations of each, some almost sounding monkey-like.  While calls are most common at night, they do call during the day as well.
  A Barred owl - note the round facial disk and lack of feather tufts

Eastern screech owls don’t necessarily screech, but make more of a whistled trill or a high pitched horse whinny.  Also, when they are annoyed they will make a rattling sound.  Eastern screech owls are the twelfth smallest owl out of around 200 species (is this world wide?) and are more often heard than seen.  They have excellent camouflage and when tucked away in tree cavities are almost invisible.   
 Acorn, an Eastern screech owl in the process of molting
 Owls and other birds use sound to attract and bond with a mate, pronounce and defend territories, beg for food and express alarm. Many owls will also hiss when they feel threatened or don’t want to be bothered.  There can also be differences between male and female calls and between adult, juvenile, and chick calls.  Often young owls do not hoot but make screeches or squawks when begging for food.  The common barn owl cannot hoot at all, even as an adult.  They produce eerie screams and will also make chirping noises.
 Goblin, a common barn owl
 During the Owl Prowl presentation, you will also be shown a few non-native species of owls as well as the ones discussed above.  The best time to hear owls or to call a wild one in is during fall and winter when they are establishing territories, and finding and courting mates.  The Owl Prowls at the sanctuary cost $9 for adults and $7 for children under 12, groups of 10 or more $7 regardless of age.  

Owl Prowls take place on the following dates:
November 5, 13, 19
December 4, 10, 18
January 21, 28
February 11, 19, 26

Owl Prowls begin at 7 pm and last approximately 2 hours.

Our trails are not paved, so wear comfortable walking shoes and dress appropriately for the weather, since we will spend about an hour outside.

Advanced reservations are required.  Call 636-225-4390 ext. 0 to make your Owl Prowl reservation today!

Submitted by Sara Oliver, World Bird Sanctuary Naturalist

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Creatures of Halloween

What’s fun and entertaining for the little ones…features those creatures of the night that fly, creep, slither and crawl…and is educational as well? 

Why, it’s World Bird Sanctuary’s Creatures of Halloween presentation, of course!

It’s not too late to make your reservation for this ghoulishly entertaining program which takes place on October 29, 2010 from 7-9 pm.  Advance reservations are required for this special Halloween program.

Don’t miss this opportunity to meet our naturalist ghoul from the past and some of her “special friends”!

COST:   $7.00 for children, $9.00 for adults
               For groups of 10 or more cost is $7.00 per person regardless of age

DATE:   Friday, October 29, 2010

TIME:    7 pm – 9 pm


CALL 636-225-4390 to register

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Open House

Thanks to all of our loyal supporters for making this year's Open House a huge success!

We couldn't do it without you!  Events such as Open House, Birds in Concert, the Fiesta Fundraiser, Fete du Feather, and the many other fundraisers held throughout the year, make it possible for us to do the job we love--educating people about the environment.

Even though your contribution, in the grand scheme of things, may seem small or insignificant to you,  when we put them all together they add up.  No amount is too small.  From the child who collects pennies at his school to help the hospital, to the corporations who so generously support us with grants, to the first time casual visitor who wanders onto our site to see what we're all about -- THANK YOU!

Sunday, October 17, 2010


Casa Gallardo Mexican Restaurants in St. Louis are generously hosting a fundraiser for World Bird Sanctuary's Wildlife Hospital on Thursday, October 21st.

When you present a copy of the fundraiser flyer to your server at any Casa Gallardo restaurant in St. Louis between 11am and 10pm on Thursday, October 21st, they will donate 25% of your total food bill to the WBS Wildlife Hospital.

So, mark your calendars for lunch and dinner on October 21st  - then encourage your family, friends and colleagues to print off this flyer and eat at Casa Gallardo!

It couldn't be easier, and will benefit our wildlife hospital.  World Bird Sanctuary receives no local, state or federal funding.  Our hospital relies entirely on donations from members of the public.  All donations received from this fundraiser will go directly towards helping us pay for medical supplies and food for the birds in our hospital.

NOTE: NO FLYER, NO DONATION - so CLICK HERE to print the flier today! 

Please feel free to print and copy as many of these flyers as you need to hand out at work and to your families and friends!

Friday, October 15, 2010

Open House - This weekend!

Open House starts tomorrow!

Join us this weekend, Saturday, October 16 and Sunday October 17,  for one of the most entertaining events in the St. Louis area.

There will be free flight demonstrations by our birds of prey, a concert by our band The Raptor Project who will perform some of their original songs performed while our birds entertain you with their amazing talents.

Have your photo taken with our majestic Golden Eagle, Mariah.

Many of our birds will be on display with no wire or mesh barriers between them and our guests--perfect for taking those wildlife photos!

On Sunday come and watch a chainsaw carving demonstration.  Our guest chainsaw carver will create a one-of-a-kind work of art from a log as you watch.

There will be facepainting and a craft station for the little ones (and the not so little ones).  Food will be available at the Raptor Cafe booth.

Come and join us this weekend, Saturday and Sunday, from 10 am to 4 pm for these one of a kind activities.

As always, admission and parking are free.

For the safety of our guests and our animals, no pets please.

Open House is sponsored by AmerenUE

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

The Rookie Files: Learning how to fly 101

The Bald Eagle is onstage, donations are being collected by our Raven, and the post show adrenaline is buzzing through my system. 

The end of a show is always a great experience, not because the show is over, but because now I can interact with the audience on a personal level and answer any questions they many have, and there is always at least one person who asks the question. “How to you get the birds to fly around like that?”

Flying comes naturally to all of our birds, even the rookies. We simply have to direct them where to go.  Birds of prey spend about ninety to ninety-five percent of their day sitting on a perch.  They are motivated to move if they need to flee from a predator, impress another bird because it’s breeding season or for food.  Motivating our birds to fly in patterns for us must be accomplished with positive reinforcement.  For ease of training this leaves us with the third motivation option from those listed above--food.
 Encouraging Hoss to fly to a baited stump

Food is a great motivator. It motivates me to get out of bed in the morning, and it motivates birds like Hoss (our Eurasian eagle owl rookie) to fly to stumps. Using food as part of positive reinforcement, we can encourage our birds to fly where we want them to go. Our birds have the option of whether they would like to fly their pattern or not, but every time they do they get a treat. Over time they learn that by doing their patterns there is a tasty reward in it for them.
 Hoss devouring his reward for executing a successful flight to a perch

Using our motivator/reward of food, we can begin to shape the bird’s flight pattern. For example if I want Hoss to fly across the stage and land on a series of stumps, then I would bait each stump with a piece of rat meat. The key to executing the long complicated patterns that are seen during a show is to start small and work from ending point to starting point. When I first started training Hoss to fly I did not start with him at one end of the stage and his stump at the other. Instead his first flight was more of a hop from my glove to a baited stump less than a foot away. Once he made the connection between hopping to the stump and receiving food, I gradually backed up until he was flying the whole length of the stage.
Hoss attempting a longer fight
In our shows and programs we usually have two types of flying--perch flying and glove flying. Perch flying involves having the bird fly to or between perches. This method is good for larger owls, birds that might become food aggressive when receiving their reward (vultures) and birds that tend to grip with their feet (some hawks).
 Hoss executes a perfect landing on a stump after a long flight

Glove flying, on the other hand, is where the bird flies to or between gloves. It starts out much like perch flying in terms of training, with two trainers standing less than a foot away from one another and the bird hopping from one glove to another ( known as leash hopping). When first starting out, the food is visible to the bird on top of the glove, after a few hops the bird associates food and the glove and so the food can be hidden inside the glove. Glove flying is much more mobile than perch flying and works very well where the program venue changes constantly.  It allows us to go right into the audience and fly birds over their heads.  Trainers can also move to locations away from frightening objects or loud noises, helping the bird to feel safe. Glove fidelity helps especially if a bird has been frightened or blown into a tree.  It is much easier to call a bird to a glove than to try and find or move a perch or stump on which to offer meat.

Training a bird to fly is far more complicated than I have described here.  Entire books have been written on the subject, but it is also incredibly rewarding. There is nothing like watching your bird start to make connections, pick up on cues, or listen to and watch audience reactions as a bird flies right over their heads. No matter how many times you experience it, watching a bird you trained do its pattern correctly will bring a goofy smile to your face, and nothing in the world beats that feeling.

Submitted by Leah Tyndall

Monday, October 11, 2010

Greetings from Down Under!

No, not Australia--the Education Training Center (ETC). 

The ETC is the behind the scenes valley area of the World Bird Sanctuary where many of our birds spend the winter months between show seasons.  It is also where our cold sensitive birds spend the winter months in heated quarters.
 ETC interior enclosures where cold sensitive birds spend the winter months

The past month of September has been very busy with the comings and goings  of our birds and staff. To begin, since the visitor information center (VIC) and the area it is in was under construction for most of the summer, all birds that were normally housed there were kept at WBS’s Education Training Center (ETC).  On Saturday, 4 September, those birds were finally moved back to the VIC.  But the ‘calm’ and ‘quiet’ that this provided didn’t last long because within 4 days the summer bird show from Milwaukee returned with all the supplies, birds, and 2 staff members.

The show staff had left in early May with 23 birds to prepare for the show at the Milwaukee County Zoo. The summer was busy with 23 birds, 4 staff, a script to memorize and a lot of new behaviors to train before shows started on Memorial Day Weekend.
 Riley has perfected the art of looking cute--so on to bigger and better things

Some of the biggest challenges for the staff included many rookie birds.  Riley (American Barn Owl) spent the previous summer getting socialized to the crowds as a beginner and just being cute. This year he was required to be cute as he flew over the audience. 
 Hoss trying to match Riley's cutness factor

Hoss (Eurasian Eagle Owl) assumed Riley’s role from the previous year, learning how to stand on the glove and getting socialized in front of our audiences.  Mesquite (Harris Hawk) was going through accelerated learning.  He spent a couple of weeks in the spring being trained to sit comfortably on the glove.  For the show in Milwaukee he was flying to perches, and even some without a trainer to cue him there! 
 With Tsavo, our Bateleur Eagle, it's not all about being cute--his role is about being impressive!

Tsavo (Bateleur Eagle) spent the previous summer as a glove or display bird at Grant’s Farm.   According to his file before he migrated to the Sanctuary, he had flown at shows but this was his first time flying at a sanctuary show. Now was the time to see what he could do. After passing all tests, he cruised into the theater and into the bleachers and right over the crowd awing them with his bright red face and feet.

Many birds have gone to shows before, but they still had to learn their patterns for this show (and we did too!)  Some behaviors were tweaked or added to. 
Black - Our little chicken hawk impersonator 
 Our chickens have always been the ‘fowl’ part of the show, but Black showed a lot of promise in an interactive part of the show with a young victim… I mean volunteer.  Guests had the opportunity to be a perch for Black, our “chicken hawk” impersonator.
Rio, part of our triple Macaw Madness, wowing an audience 
Our flocking Military Macaws (Carmen and Trinidad) found themselves with an additional macaw flying in the theater.  While the green blurs passed outside the theater, buzzing by bystanders on the paths, Rio (Green Winged Macaw) flew a couple of loops right over audience heads, providing many with new hair dos! This part of the show was lovingly referred to as Triple Macaw Madness.
Millwaukee pre show talk at the weathering area

So, in the end, we presented more than 325 shows, performing seven days a week from Memorial weekend to Labor Day, and educated more than 31,000 guests!!  I mention “more than” because before shows even started for the day, we spoke to zoo guests about the raptors that were in our weathering area in the morning.
Milwaukee Zoo Show guests taking photos and having questions answered before the show
At the end of the show we asked guests to fill out a survey.  A quarter of the guests surveyed enjoyed the bald eagle the best, followed closely by the Triple Macaw Madness and the parrots that sounded like people.   Guests gave many accolades including a few of my favorites.  “Very informative and entertaining.  Nicely Done.” Another guest said “We are the best part of the zoo!” Another visitor remarked “Fun and entertaining for both children and adults.”  And my favorite one of all “The best show in 20 years!”
Outside Weathering Area at lower site where our zoo show birds spend their winter vacation
All the birds have since settled in from the summer and are ready for the ‘relaxing’ winter to come, where they get breakfast in bed, sight- seeing opportunities, views of the local wildlife, and room service to their mews (winter hotel room.)

Also, Grants Farm has slowed down but you may still see several of our raptors in the show Fridays thru Sundays.  Hunter (Eurasian Eagle Owl) and Richie (Harris Hawk extraordinaire) fly in the Animal encounter programs that occur 3-4 times a day.  Several other birds might also be spotted, including Carmelita (Great Horned Owl veteran), Shadow (Bateleur Eagle) and Sanibel (Bald Eagle).

If this was September, lets hope October slows down a little and cools off.

Submitted by World Bird Sanctuary Trainer/Naturalist Christina Lavallee

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Who Loves Halloween? Me!

It’s true.  Fall has always been my very favorite time of year—it’s finally cooling off. Soon the leaves will be changing colors, and you won’t be able to turn around without coming face to face with a pumpkin!  Halloween is a big part of what I love about fall.  Even at 32 years old, now is when I excitedly start to concoct this year’s costume.  
Long dead Naturalist Dana Lambert and "friend" erupt from their coffin to find they have been transported to the 21st century 
Halloween is quickly making its way to the World Bird Sanctuary as well, and I’d like to invite you all to join in.  When darkness descends on Friday, October 29th, our annual Creatures of Halloween show will begin.  
Dana introduces her friend, Monty, to all the little ghouls and goblins in attendance
During this family-friendly event for little goblins of all ages, you will learn about some of nature’s own “creatures of the night!”  
Bogart, the Eurasian Eagle Owl, transfixes the audience with his mesmerizing stare
See swooping vultures, hooting owls, creeping tarantulas and more, while sorting out the facts of these animals’ lives from the fiction foisted on them by Hollywood’s horror movies. 
Dana introduces the audience to a real live tarantula
We encourage our visitors to dress in costume if they please.  After all, I can’t vouch for what type of creature might try to pass for your Naturalist for the evening! No one combines learning with Halloween hjinks better than the World Bird Sanctuary!

The show begins promptly at 7 pm at the Office of Wildlife Learning Nature Center, so we ask that you arrive to check in by 6:45pm.  Program fees are $9 for adults, $7 for children 12 and under, and groups of 10 or more pay $7 dollars for all ghouls involved.

Reservations are required, so please call 636-225-4390 Ex. 0 to speak with one of our program schedulers.  We promise you won’t have to sell your soul to reserve your spot!  J    

Submitted by Dana Lambert, World Bird Sanctuary Naturalist

Thursday, October 7, 2010


Last week I saw a drawing of a very strange bird in the wildlife hospital.  It looked like a small bird, but it had an oddly shaped tail, talons on its wrists, and a jaw containing teeth!  It was a drawing of Archaeopteryx, one of the most primitive birds known.  Although there is still some debate in the scientific community as to whether this speciies was actually a dinosaur or a bird, these fossils provide some great examples of the transition from reptiles, particularly Theropod dinosaurs, to birds.
 Photo of the Berlin Archaeopteryx by H. Raab, rev. 20 Sep, 2010,  from the Wikipedia website 

Although many names have been given to the various specimens found, the most commonly used species designation is Archaeopteryx litographica.  The genus stems from the Greek words “archaios”, which means “ancient,” and “pteryx”, which means “wing.”  The first fossilized Archaeopteryx skeleton was discovered in 1861, in a very unique limestone formation that is only found in Solnhofen, Germany.  At the time, this valuable limestone was hand quarried for use in lithography.  It was through this quarrying process that many fossils, including Archaeopteryx, were discovered.

Archaeopteryx was an important discovery also because it was the first fossil ever found where you could clearly see feathers.  Because feathers are softer than bone they usually biodegrade well before the fossilization process can take place.  So, before Archaeopteryx it was impossible for archaeologists to trace the ancestry of birds.
Photo of Archeopteryx model on display at the Oxford University Mueum of Natural History by Michael Reeve, 30 May 2004 from the New World Encyclopedia website 

Archaeopteryx lived around 150 million years ago during the late Jurassic period.  Then, Europe was just an archipelago of islands located much closer to the equator than today.  Archaeopteryx has features that are common to dinosaurs in the theropod family.  It had a jaw with sharp teeth and a long tail containing bones.  It also had three fingers with claws on the front edge of each wing, which it probably used to hold onto the sides of trees.   Archaeopteryx also had a hyperextendable middle talon on each foot that worked a little like a switchblade.  The flight feathers are highly evolved, meaning they already looked and probably worked like the flight feathers of birds of today.  This demonstrates that dinosaurs of this family probably had feathers even earlier than the late Jurassic period.
Archaeopteryx seems to lack strong breast muscles or structures that would enable it to have the strong wing upstroke needed for flapping flight.  So, this animal probably used its feathers mostly to glide.  Although Archaeopteryx may not be the direct ancestor of modern birds, it is at least closely related to that ancestor and provides a very clear demonstration of how birds originated. 

Submitted by Leah Sainz, World Bird Sanctuary Trainer/Naturalist

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

It's Almost Time!

Time for what, you may ask?  

It’s time for one of the most exciting and entertaining two day Fall Events in the St. Louis area – World Bird Sanctuary’s Open House!
Trainer/Naturalist Sara Oliver releases a Harris' Hawk who swoops low over the audience's heads
We know there are other Fall Festivals—but where else can you have your photo taken with a live bird of prey, be entertained by hawks, owls and falcons swooping overhead, sing along with talented musicians who will regale you with their own original songs about the creatures who inhabit the World Bird Sanctuary, watch a chainsaw carver create an original work of art right before your eyes--all while enjoying a picnic lunch items purchased from our raptor cafe and strolling the trails of our oak-hickory forest?

Be sure to mark your calendars for this unique event.

DATE:  October 16 & 17
TIME:   10 am – 4 pm


Open House is sponsored by AmerenUE

Sunday, October 3, 2010

End of the Season

With the baseball season drawing to a close the World Bird Sanctuary would like to thank the St. Louis Baseball Cardinals for their support during the 2010 season.

Pictured with Fredbird is Liberty the Bald Eagle and World Bird Sanctuary volunteer Hank Heberer.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Odd Admission

Teri Schroer, WBS’s Director of Education, took the call.  I was busy doing office things when she came in and said, “Jeff.  You need talk to the person on line 1.”  After just one sentence from the voice on the other end, I knew why Teri put her through to me.  “Do you help snakes?”  I am a snake enthusiast, and have several of my own at my house.  Aside from birds, snakes have some of the most dazzling colors on their bodies in the animal world.  Most are an excellent control on rodent populations.  Rodents eat the same grains humans eat, so snakes help save the world hundreds of millions of dollars per year.

 WBS does not have the expertise to rehabilitate snakes.  Also, we don’t have the permits that would allow us to do it.  Still, I couldn’t just hang up on the woman, and besides, I just needed to know what kind of snake she had.  “My children and I looked it up on the internet, and I think it is a racer of some kind.”  The St. Louis area is home to the Yellow-bellied Racer and Black Racer.  Both can grow to 4-5 feet, are dark on the top and lighter on the underside, have relatively small heads and big eyes.  They feed mostly on cold-blooded animals, like frogs and lizards, but will occasionally eat mice.  They are aptly named because they can crawl incredibly quickly.

 I asked what the problem was.  Carrie Lewis from Imperial, MO said, “I placed a fine mesh netting over my raspberry bushes, and the snake got caught in the net.”  This happens a lot.  There are many different kinds of plastic and nylon netting that are used for many different purposes around the yard.  Snakes can get their heads through the netting, but cannot get the fatter parts of their bodies through, and because a snake’s scales point toward the tail, when the snake tries to back out of the netting, their scales get caught.  Usually the snake struggles, which makes its predicament worse.
 WBS Assistant Director Jeff Meshach, Carrie Lewis and two of her children, and Odd, the Black Rat Snake
 We at WBS will try to help anyone that calls with an animal problem.  Since Missouri does allow a resident to possess as many as 5 native snakes as personal pets, I told Carrie to bring the snake in.  I would personally care for it.

Carrie, her 4 children, and the snake arrived about 2 hours later.  I took the snake out of the pillowcase they transported it in.  Yes, it was a Racer (or so I first thought), and it was thoroughly tangled in the netting and had struggled so much there were wounds where the netting got tightest on its body.  Its body was dry and rough to the touch, and it was limp and not moving.  I thought it was dead, but slowly it started to move as I held it.  I asked Carrie and her children to stay in our rehabilitation hospital waiting room and watch through the window.  Dana Lambert, one of WBS’s Trainer/Naturalists, happened to be in Rehab, and I quickly recruited her help.  She and I gingerly removed all the netting and spread an antibiotic cream on the wounds.  I took Carrie’s phone number and told her I would keep her informed, and if and when the snake got better, I would give it back to her and she could release it back to the wild.

I set up an aquarium in my office and placed the snake in it.  I had a water bowl in with it, but the snake seemed too weak to get up and over the bowl’s edge, so I placed the snake’s head and neck in the water.  The snake immediately started to drink…a very good sign!

Katrina Whitener, another WBS Trainer/naturalist and a fellow snake enthusiast, came into my office 2 days later.  She took one look at the snake and proclaimed, “This is a Black Rat Snake and not a Racer.”  I couldn’t believe I made such a mistake, but sure enough, it was a Black Rat Snake.  The snake was so dehydrated when I first saw it that its features were distorted.  With its rehydration its features and color became more pronounced, and now it was easy to tell it was a Black Rat Snake.  Black Rat Snakes constrict their prey to kill it before swallowing it whole, eat warm-blooded prey, and are a great natural rodent control.

I gave the snake another day to drink and rehydrate, then I placed a dead mouse in its aquarium.  WBS feeds mice to many of its birds, so it was no problem to find one for my patient.  The snake immediately ate the mouse, but as I feared, when the mouse got to the wounded part of the body on its way to the stomach, it stopped.  It took about an hour, but finally the mouse lump moved past the wounded section and came to rest in its stomach.  I tried feeding the snake another mouse, but it wouldn’t have anything to do with it.  A snake of this size (about 40 inches long) could easily eat 3 adult mice in one feeding, but Odd (for obvious reasons) seemed quite sore from struggling over just one mouse.  Still, eating was a huge step toward healing, so I was happy.

I waited another week and fed Odd another mouse.  This second mouse was a little bigger than the first, and odd had an even harder time pushing the mouse past the wounds on its body.  I deduced if Odd was going to survive in the wild, it would have to be able to eat full grown mice with me, so I intentionally fed it a large mouse.  After struggling for another hour, Odd pushed the mouse past its wounds and down to its stomach.

The next week Odd shed his skin.  About 5 days before a snake is going to shed its eyes become cloudy.  Snakes do have a clear scale over each eye, so during this 5 day period they cannot see very well and usually stay hidden and inactive until they shed.  Odd’s shed came off its body in pieces rather than one, long shed because of its wounds, but it did shed the skin across the wound.  The wounds were definitely smaller, so I could tell Odd was healing.

The next day I fed odd 2 adult mice.  It ate them both, and both mice slid through the wounded part of the body with no hesitation.  Odd was going to be just fine!

On 28 September Carrie and 2 of her children, Jesse and Jamie, came to pick Odd up, and it was released back to the wild.  Thank you, Carrie, for showing concern and compassion for an animal that most don’t think too fondly of.

Unfortunately snakes still get a bad rap in our society.  Most people cannot identify the many different species we have in Missouri, so many assume any snake they see is a venomous snake, and the snake is killed.  Even venomous snakes are shy and retiring, and except for when they are feeding, the only reason they strike is when they feel the need to defend themselves.  If you leave the snake alone it will go about its business controlling the small rodents that actually do cause us harm.

If you choose to have a snake as a pet, as with any pet, do research so you can provide correct housing, water and food.  Remember, some snakes, like pythons, are great as youngsters, but can grow to well over 10 feet long, weigh hundreds of pounds and will require a lot of expensive food.  Pythons are not native to the United States, so you can’t just release it to the wild if it gets too big.  The snake will be yours for its life, which can be as many as 50 years.  Always remember to choose your pets wisely.

Submitted by World Bird Sanctuary Assistant Director Jeff Meshach