Sunday, February 27, 2011

The Great Penguin Rescue

I just finished a book titled, The Great Penguin Rescue.   

Its author, Dyan DeNapoli, is a penguin biologist who was recruited to help manage the rescue and rehabilitation of thousands of African Penguins injured in an oil spill off the coast of South Africa. However, this particular oil spill was unusual because it affected around 40,000 birds!  This event became the largest wildlife rescue effort of any species in the world.
Photo reproduced by kind permission of SANCOBB  
Penguins are extremely hardy, but often very specialized animals.  Human interference can throw off their delicate balance with the environment, and the results can be devastating for avian populations. 

African Penguins are built for swimming in the frigid waters off Southern Africa.  Their thick layers of feathers prevent the near freezing waters from making contact with their skin and causing hypothermia.  However, when oil makes contact with these feathers, they clump together and lose their ability to protect the penguin.  A penguin with oil on its feathers cannot enter the water to hunt, and will eventually starve to death or succumb to hypothermia.
On June 23, 2000, the seventeen-year old iron ore carrier, MV Treasure, sustained damage to its hull in the rough seas around South Africa and sank.  Its crewmembers were airlifted to safety via helicopter, and salvage crews removed around 200 tons of oil and fuel from the vessel.  Unfortunately, some oil still escaped the boat and entered the surrounding environment.  The oil slicks drifted towards Robben Island and Dassen Island, two major breeding grounds for African Penguins.  Forty-one percent of the world’s population of African Penguins, an already very threatened population, stood to lose their lives from this spill.
The Southern African Foundation for the Conservation of Coastal Birds (SANCCOB) had been established in 1968 to help respond to environmental disasters affecting avian wildlife around Cape Town, South Africa.  But the Treasure disaster affected far more birds than this, or any other wildlife rescue organization, had ever dealt with.  The logistics of managing so many thousands of penguins would prove as challenging as the work itself. 

In order to deal with the crisis, SANCCOB had to commission a larger facility to hold the penguins.  The Salt River Penguin Crisis Centre was quickly built out of an enormous warehouse formerly used to service trains.  Penguin experts from around the world arrived to help train volunteers and manage operations.  Around 12,500 volunteers helped, over the course of more than two months, to rehabilitate the penguins. 

Each penguin needed to be given a charcoal solution to counteract any oil it may have swallowed, force-fed fish every day, given time to swim each day and be completely cleaned of oil.  Eventually, around 90% of the penguins rescued in the disaster were released. 

DeNapoli, Dyan. The Great Penguin Rescue. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2010.

Submitted by Leah Sainz, World Bird Sanctuary Naturalist

Friday, February 25, 2011

New Learning Materials

Now Available - Materials For Persons Who Are Blind Or Visually Impaired

Environmental education about birds tends to be very visual-based learning, especially when learning about raptors, the meat-eaters of the bird world.  At least, it has been until now.  
These items can be borrowed from our Monsanto Fund Environmental Education Center.
The World Bird Sanctuary is proud to now offer tactile learning materials for persons who are blind or visually impaired.  At our Monsanto Fund Environmental Education Center (EEC), visitors may borrow a tote bag that has a variety of such materials, including a tactile map, binoculars, several examples of bird wings, talons, and skulls, and a packet of information printed in Braille about our exhibit birds.  We hope these materials will enhance our visitors' experience while they explore our sanctuary.

On that note, a number of other improvements have been made at the sanctuary to make our visitors' visits even safer and more informative.  This includes improvements to our pathways and painting step edges and obstacles to make them easier for the visually impaired to see.  
The touch table gives visitors a chance to see some natural items close up. These items now have Braille labels
We have also organized a set of touch table items available in the EEC and labeled them in Braille, and created a series of guess-what's-inside style touch boxes that are now located outside of the wildlife hospital.  
Here is an example of some of the changes to our exhibit line to make the information more accessible to everyone
We have begun to label our exhibit signs in Braille in preparation for an audio tour that is in the works, and soon our amphitheater steps will be rebuilt to be safer and nicer overall.  These are the first of a series of changes that will hopefully make our sanctuary more accessible to everyone.
Dumpling, our friendly Bantam Cochin Chicken, also helps our blind and visually impaired visitors to learn about birds
We would like to thank Ashley Quinn with the Delta Gamma Center for Children with Visual Impairments and Danny Huff of the Missouri Council of the Blind for their ideas.

We would especially like to thank Mildred Eaves and Kendra Hjorth of the St. Louis Society for the Blind and Visually Impaired, who toured the sanctuary with us to give us tailored suggestions of improvements, and provided us with the Braille printing assistance to create the accessible information materials that are now available.

Submitted by Robin Kuehn, World Bird Sanctuary Intern

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Help Us Win!

Help World Bird Sanctuary win's Reader's Choice Awards!

World Bird Sanctuary has been nominated for's Reader's Choice Awards in the category Best Free Attraction or Event in St. Louis.

If you love visiting WBS, love the free admission AND free parking AND no additional fees to see specific displays, then please vote for us!
Voting ends on March 8th, but don't delay – click on the image above and vote today!

Monday, February 21, 2011

Maple Tapping at World Bird Sanctuary

Spring is near!  

In the morning we can hear songbirds declaring winter is over.  The days are warm and we still have freezing temperatures at night.  The perfect weather for tapping Maple trees for sap.

The forest at World Bird Sanctuary is made up of mostly oak and hickory trees.  There are a few Sugar Maple trees around the site and the sap is oozing out of them.  I have tapped Maple trees since I was 12 years old and I thought it would be nice to try it at the Sanctuary.  Missouri only has about a month for sugaring – mid-February to early March.  When the trees start to bud the sugaring season is over.
 Roger Holloway, Director of Facilities, and Joe Hoffmann, Sanctuary Manager tapping a sugar maple
The taps are knocked into a small hole in the tree trunk, drilled about 4ft high.  If the tree is thick enough to hug you can put 2 taps into it.  At World Bird Sanctuary we have tapped six trees and we will be collecting the sap all this week.
 Sap runs into the collecting bucket
We will be doing a Maple syrup cook-down demonstration at World Bird Sanctuary on Sunday February 27th between 12pm and 1pm.  You are welcome to come and join us.  You will be able to see the Maple sap being cooked down to Maple syrup, and see the trees that have been tapped to collect the Maple sap.  However, due to food health regulations, we will not be offering maple syrup for tasting or for sale.  We hope that you can join us and learn how to make your very own maple syrup!

Submitted by Joe Hoffmann, Sanctuary Manager

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Eagle Season Is Still With Us

With the prolonged frigid weather this year it’s still not too late to see eagles in abundance in the St. Louis and surrounding areas. 
 Bald Eagles perched in trees near the river have become an increasingly common sight in the St. Louis area
Have you ever wondered what drives Bald Eagles to migrate South in the Winter?  Following is an excerpt from an article by our Assistant Director, Jeff Meshach, first published in our quarterly publication, the World Bird Sanctuary “Mews News”, in the Winter of 2005.  The information is still as good today as it was when first published.

“Each winter people in the St. Louis area get an opportunity to witness a spectacle that most other city people in the nation cannot see.  Just get in your vehicle and drive north to destinations like the Riverlands Environmental Demonstration Area near Alton, Illinois; Lock and Dam #25 at Winfield, Missouri or Lock and Dam #24 at Clarksville, Missouri, and you will have a chance to see hundreds of eagles.
 A Bald Eagle hunting in the river near St. Louis
“With the right weather in place, the Mississippi River in this area acts like a big funnel, drawing most southward migrating Bald Eagles (Haliaeetus leucocephalus) from the upper Midwest and South Central Canada right to our doorstep.  What is the right weather,” you may ask?  It’s cold weather.  Cold, colder and coldest weather of all brings our national symbol to us.

“The eagles have to migrate south, since their main food source, fish, become hard, if not impossible to catch after ice forms on the lakes and rivers north of us.  During normal winter weather in the Midwest, the Mississippi River freezes to just north of St. Louis.  The eagles come just far enough south to be able to hunt where there is no ice.  With the warmer than usual weather we have experienced in our area over the last several years the eagles have been able to move away from the river to find thawed carrion (dead animals) to feed on.
 A Bald Eagle hunting from an ice floe in the river
“However, when the weather is normal (cold), or extremely cold (like this year), the carrion freezes and the eagles are forced back to the river to catch fish.  The locks and dams at Alton, Illinois, Winfield, Missouri, and Clarksville, Missouri, help concentrate the eagles even more.  As fish pass through the locks and dams they become disoriented and rise to the surface, temporarily stunned.  This makes them easy “pickins” for the eagles, and also allows us to see two or three hundred eagles at a time as they congregate at these locations.
 When the temperatures are really cold in the St. Louis area, look up--that large bird may be a Bald Eagle
“Being able to view these eagles in such great numbers makes this area unique.  Missouri and Illinois have the second largest wintering population of Bald Eagles in the lower forty-eight states.  We are second only to the state of Washington, which gets migrating eagles from Southern Alaska and Southwest Canada.”

Our Education Department brings live Bald Eagles and Golden Eagles to many venues in the Midwest to celebrate the return of our national symbol.  If you are unable get out to see the eagles this month, make a note on your calendar to join us for our annual celebration of all things eagle – WORLD EAGLE DAY! 
 A stately Bateleur Eagle (a non-native species)-- one of the many eagles which may be on display at World Eagle Day
At World Eagle Day you will have an opportunity to see the only two eagles native to the United States—the Bald Eagle and the Golden Eagle.  There will also be other eagles from around the world in close enough proximity to afford the opportunity for unobstructed photos.  Our naturalists will present educational programs about the various species and will be available to answer questions.  For a small fee there will be a photo op for those who would like to have their photo taken with our national symbol. 

Come and join us for a day of fun and eagle watching.

World Eagle Day
Time:  10:00 am – 3:00 pm
Admission and parking are free!

For the safety of our animals and our guests – no pets please

Original article authored by Jeff Meshach, Assistant Director of World Bird Sanctuary

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Hatching Little "Hooters"

I’m sure if you read the WBS blog or the WBS Facebook page you have seen the advertisements for our Owl Prowls.

This is the time of year when our owls’ wild brethren give a hoot.  Owls will defend territory or call out to a mate with their hoots.  Even the Barn Owls who don't technically hoot, have their own distinctive call.  However, I wouldn’t want as my mate someone who can’t remember me with the constant “who, who.”  All of this commotion leads to little hooters. 
 Staff member Leah Tyndall keeps an eye on our breeding pair by watch nest activity on "Barn Owl TV"
Now is the time of year when we start to see activity with our resident breeding pairs, too.  Recently, we went on an expedition to see how our barn owls have been doing.  We can observe them on ‘Barn Owl TV’ in the propagation office as the male brings rat treats to the female, since she is the one who remains on the nest. Barn owls tend to lay many eggs and our gal, Athena is no different. Barn Owls are indeterminate layers. Just like a chicken, they will continue to lay eggs. Several factors including weather, food availability and the females physical condition can affect how long this continues. 
Pulling eggs to be candled
We pulled 8 eggs to see how many are viable. Each egg was candled (put up to an overpriced flashlight--a bird’s equivalent of an ultrasound.) This process tells us how developed the young are, as raptors lay an egg about every other day until the clutch is full. Barn owls tend to have large clutch sizes of 8-12 eggs and up to 3 clutches a year. As soon as the first clutch of babies have grown, they begin laying the next clutch.
Placing the questionable eggs in an incubator for monitoring
Some eggs had a lot of veins and dark blobs in them. This is a good sign and indicates a developing baby Barn Owl. However, a couple of the eggs had some abnormalities. These eggs were removed and placed in an incubator to monitor more frequently. (It is possible that they are either early in the development process or infertile.)
If all goes well the result will be a new generation of baby owls such as these 14 day old chicks
The rest of the eggs we placed back in the nest box for mom to take care of.  The female was allowed to return to her nest box and we rechecked barn owl TV to make sure all was ok. The male reminds us of his parental responsibilities with a defensive fly-by every time we have to feed. (He doesn’t normally bother us.)
By seven weeks our little owlets will be well on their way to looking like their parents
The incubation period is 30-35 days so if all goes well, we will start to see some pipping activity (chicks breaking out of the eggs). Hopefully these chicks will join our list of Barn Owls returned to the wild.

Submitted by Christina Lavallee, World Bird Sanctuary Naturalist/Trainer

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

The Rat

Most people react with a shiver of fear when a rat is mentioned; but there are some people who love rats.
Rats are cute, intelligent and can make great pets
I am part of the second group.  I have had rats as pets for years and love to spoil the rats we have here at the World Bird Sanctuary.  And why would we have rats at a bird sanctuary you ask?  Well, one of the things we do here is education, and since rats have some of the worst reputations around we try to separate fact from fiction about these much maligned animals.  Some of the bad reputation is deserved, but some is not.  Rats are really fascinating animals.  Here are some of the facts:

* There are 51 different species in the genus Rattus
* Rats did not cause the Black Plague--they did, however, carry the fleas that carried the disease--when the fleas jumped from rats to people and then bit them, the disease was passed on.
* Rats are originally from Central and Southeast Asia--but they are so adaptable that they are now found everywhere in the world.
* A group of rats is called a mischief (how appropriate!)
* Rats cannot vomit--once they eat a poison, they can't get rid of it.
* Most pet rats are domesticated descendants of the Norway, or Brown, Rat.  These rats were originally from China, spread throughout Europe and finally came to the US around 1755 aboard ships from Europe.
* Rats are excellent jumpers--they can jump 3 feet vertically and 4 feet horizontally!
* Rats are tough--they can take a 50 foot fall without being killed or even seriously injured!
* Norway rats can swin 1/2 mile and dive down through sewer pipes and water plumbing traps--even swimming against a strong current!
* It is estimated that there is approximately one rat for every person in the U.S.
* Rats do not like cheese--in fact, they are lactose intolerant!
* The hairless tail of a rat (which creeps out so many people) is important to the rat for temperature control, because they cannot sweat.
* A rat's teeth will grow continuously throughout its life, as with all rodents.  They must always chew on things to keep them ground down.  In fact, a rat can chew through a lead pipe!
* Beatrix Potter, the author of Peter Rabbit, was one of the first owners of a pet rat--an albino bred by none other than Queen Victoria's royal rat catcher, Jack Black.
* In northwestern India, the rats at the Karni Mata Temple are highly revered.  The priests feed milk and grain to the rats, and pilgrims that visit the temple also eat this food.  In fact, in India, eating food that has been touched by rats is considered a blessing from God.
* The ancient Romans did not generally differentiate between rats and mice, instead they called rats Mus Maximus (big mouse) and mice Mus Minimus (little mouse).
Saltine & Triscuit, our two resident education rats
All in all, rats are fun, intelligent, clean and clever animals.  If raised correctly, they make great pets and are a blast to work with.  If you visit us at the World Bird Sanctuary, please ask to visit with our resident rats, Saltine and Triscuit.  They live in our Nature Center animal food preparation area (the only reason they aren't out in the main room is that we ran out of room)!  They are really sweet animals.

Submitted by Laura MacLeod, World Bird Sanctuary Education Coordinator

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Year of the Forest

2011 is International Year of Forests

The United Nations General Assembly proclaimed 2011 as the International Year of Forests to raise awareness on sustainable management, conservation and sustainable development of all types of forests.

Forests cover about 30 percent of Earth’s land area and about 9.4 percent the of Earth’s surface, although it used to be much more.  The livelihoods of over 1.6 billion people depend on forests.  Forests are home to 300 million people around the world and are home to 80 percent of our terrestrial biodiversity.  Seventeen percent of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions come from deforestation, which is the cutting of Earth’s forests on a vast scale, often causing damage to the quality of land.  The land thereafter is then converted to non-forest uses like agricultural, urban sprawl, or pastureland.

The world’s rainforests could entirely disappear in a hundred years at the present rate of deforestation.  When farmers clear trees in tropical climates, they burn them in a process known as “slash and burn” agriculture.  The soil is fertile at first but once plant root systems are gone from the soil, every time it rains (which is frequent in a rainforest) the fertility is washed away.  Within a few years the land becomes useless for growing crops and most of these farmers cannot afford fertilizers.  Therefore they are forced to abandon that plot of land and tear down another area of the rainforest to begin cultivating again.  They leave behind them a trail of eroded soils and degraded vegetation.

Providing the world with wood and paper products also uses countless trees each year.  Remember to do your part and recycle all paper, cardboard, and chipboard items.  With the exponential increase in human population houses are continually being built and forests are cleared to make room.  The use of wood for fuel accounts for between 10% and 15% of global energy use and the demand is likely to rise due to population growth and decreased availability of alternate fuels.  This can put pressure on forests and ecosystems where wood is scarce and population is high.

Deforestation has many other negative effects on the environment including climate change, habitat loss and an increase in greenhouse gases.  Forests need to be carefully managed with the elimination of clear-cutting and planting trees to replace the ones cut.  In declaring 2011 as the International Year of Forests, the United Nations is formulating plans and activities to raise awareness about this vital part of our world. 

Submitted by Sara Oliver, World Bird Sanctuary Naturalist

Friday, February 11, 2011

Educating The Educator

Our Environmental Education Center sometimes educates the Naturalist…

I normally spend a few days each week working at the Environmental Education Center.  It’s a great place to see some fantastic birds, both indoors and outdoors, as well as some nice educational displays.  There’s also a “Touch Table” where you can get a hands on look at various animal bones, furs, feathers and more.
 When entering the Environmental Education Center keep an eye out for Dumpling--our official greeter!
Since the World Bird Sanctuary is a place for birds, we don’t allow dogs or any pets--in vehicles or otherwise--on our site.  We have signs posted at our entrance, but they aren’t always heeded by our guests.  If someone with a dog in their vehicle does venture in, it usually isn’t long before I hear it barking.  Anytime I hear the a dog barking, I have to find the owners and ask them to please remove the animal from our premises.  The birds just don’t like dogs, and can become very frightened by them.

There have been several instances when I have been working at the EEC and heard the “telltale” barking.  I always run outside immediately to find the source.  I had noticed on several occasions that when I ran out to find the offender, there was no dog to be found.  I shook it off, thinking that I must have been hearing things.  That was until last week, when I got a little education.

Our site had been closed due to snow and ice for several days.  I was eating lunch with our EEC representative, Dumpling the Bantam Cochin Chicken, at my feet.  Suddenly I heard that familiar barking sound.  Since we were closed, I was sure that no one had wandered on site with a dog.  Then it hit me.  In all that time I had worked at the EEC, I had never realized that Siesta, our Mottled Owl, can make a barking sound that closely resembles a dog.  Up until then I had only heard her make a cute little “chitter” noise.  I found out later, after talking with several of our Naturalists, that they had never heard her make a barking sound either.  I was truly shocked when I figured it out, and had to laugh at myself. 
 Siesta the Mottled Owl -- our little culprit!
I don’t know how many times I have gone running out of the EEC to find a dog that didn’t exist.  I wonder now if Siesta wasn’t sitting back and laughing at me in her own little way.  Thank goodness I finally caught her in the act and solved the “mystery barking”.  I just love when a bird ends up educating me at my expense.

Mottled Owls are native to Mexico and South America.  They live in a variety of habitats from forests to humid jungles, and up to 7500 feet above sea level.  They are about 13-15” in length, and like most owls, strictly nocturnal.  They have a varied diet, which can include large insects, small mammals, birds and reptiles.  They nest in a hole in a tree, tops of broken palm trees or in vacant nests.  I have come to find out that this species uses a variety of vocalizations such as hoots, whistles, screeches, screams, purrs, snorts, chitters and hisses.  They can also make a clicking noise with their tongue.

Next time you visit WBS, be sure to stop in the EEC and have a look at Siesta.  Maybe you will be fortunate enough to hear her bark.  Just be careful as you walk into the building, as Dumpling may be sitting near the door to greet you.

Submitted by Billie Baumann, World Bird Sanctuary Outreach Coordinator

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Meet McGwire!

 As the season of eagle programs continues, I am compelled to tell everyone a little about my favorite Bald Eagle, McGwire.  
Meet McGwire
All of our eagles are fantastic to work with, of course, but every animal we work with does certainly have its own personality and quirks.  The longer you work with each one, you start to notice subtle differences in each of them, and these little discoveries are always magic moments.

Folks who attend our shows and visit our site regularly become familiar with Patriot and Liberty, two of our most travelled and visible Bald Eagles.  McGwire, however, resides at our Education Training Center, which is behind the scenes, so he is an individual with whom people may be less familiar.  I was lucky enough to get to spend an entire summer working with him in Boston, while doing shows at the Stone Zoo in 2007.  I admit I have been partial to him ever since! 

McGwire is 14 years old this year and came to us from a rehabilitation center in Nebraska.  He is an imprinted bird, which for raptors generally means that someone found the bird as a chick, assumed it was injured, and tried to raise it themselves.  Most folks who try this do so with the best of intentions, however the end result is the same.

First of all, this endeavor is illegal. Secondly, a raptor that is imprinted on humans tends to show behavior that is dangerous both to themselves and the humans around them.  They look to humans for food, since humans are what first provided it.  Because of this, they do not know how to hunt for food on their own, and indeed, usually don’t even try.  If an imprinted bird lives long enough to reach maturity, it then sees most humans as threats to its territory or as potential mates, causing unnatural behavior.

McGwire’s preferred “hunting ground” became the parking lot of a Cabela’s sporting goods store, where he was harassing unsuspecting shoppers.  How scary would that be?!  Luckily, there was a center nearby that could take care of him and could find him a good home, since he could clearly not hunt on his own.  Since Mac has been with us, he has been an excellent education bird.  He is good-tempered and comfortable in a variety of show settings.
 McGwire's favorite time of day--3:30 pm during the Stone Zoo show
One of my very favorite things about McGwire is his obvious love of the sunshine.  Now lots of our birds sun themselves, but few of them do it on a schedule.  During the 3:30 pm show at Stone Zoo in Boston, McGwire would come out as the grand finale, be walked around the amphitheater for all to see, and then the trainer would station themselves off to one side where folks could come up and take pictures with McGwire after the show.  At this time of day the sun was positioned so that it shined on that particular spot.  As the show ended McGwire would fluff up all of his leg and belly feathers perfectly parallel to the ground to act like hundreds of little solar panels, and stretch his wings wide, happily soaking up the rays.  People were always impressed, and his apparent total contentment made me happy too.  It’s amusing to think about how many people from that summer alone have pictures in their vacation photo albums of this majestic but fluffy bird, with me grinning dorkily at how adorable he is.

If you want to meet our amazing eagles, a great time to do so is World Eagle Day at the World Bird Sanctuary on Sunday, March 20th from 10 am until 3 pm.  It is a free event full of shows with eagles from around the world, as well as crafts and activities for all ages.

You may get to meet McGwire up close in the eagle weathering area, which will be set up at our Monsanto Environmental Education Center.  However, being March in Missouri, I can promise neither him nor you sunshine.  Rain or shine, a good time will be had by all!

Submitted by Dana Lambert, World Bird Sanctuary Naturalist

Monday, February 7, 2011

The Rookie Files: Surviving the Winter

 The World Bird Sanctuary upper site in snow
Remember when you were little and snow meant hot chocolate, no school, sledding and snowball fights?   Just endless white as far as the eye could see with a light glaze of ice to really enforce the ideal wintry scene.  I would always jump for joy when I saw those big fat flakes of frozen fun…then I got older.  When you are older snow means traffic, scraping, freezing your hands off and shoveling. However, I never truly understood the meaning of winter until I moved to the World Bird Sanctuary.

I love living on World Bird Sanctuary grounds; being surrounded by birds 24/7 is great and the commute cannot be beat (I work in the building literally across the road from my apartment).  There is, however, one minor drawback, and that is winter. 

Hailing from Pennsylvania I am no stranger to snow and blizzards, and going to school in Indiana acclimated me to the wonder that is the ice storm; so when I started my internship with the World Bird Sanctuary in the middle of February I thought I was well prepared as far as wintry weather. 
 The WBS Lower Site - devoid of vehicles, which have all been moved to the upper site
How naïve I was…the behind the scenes area where I live and work is at the bottom of a giant hill accessed via a gravel road …a hill which becomes nearly impassable once it snows (unless you have four-wheel drive and even then it’s dicey).  This means everyone who lives at the bottom moves their vehicle to the top at the first sign of snow, and failure to do so may lead to cabin fever and being trapped until the snow on the hill melts.  The snow melts very slowly due to the hill’s  lack of exposure to the sun, which usually results in the rest of the world being green and dry and WBS continuing to be a frozen tundra. 

Birds and people need to be shuttled up and down the hill, and on days when it gets below freezing we have to feed all of the outside birds (native species as well as hardier owls, hawks and eagles) twice a day instead of once. This ensures that they receive enough nutrition, since their first helping will probably have frozen solid by midday.  On the coldest days when it gets close to zero we feed three times a day.  These are also days when all of the birds have to stay indoors because of the harsh temperatures.  Some outdoor birds even come inside just to be on the safe side.
 Winter weather means feeding 2 and sometimes 3 times a day
As frustrating as it can be to tromp through snow to feed birds 2-3 times a day, we also have a lot of fun.  We make snow angels and build snowmen (and owls!), and even go sledding during our lunch hour. 

Snow and ice can also be enrichment for the birds.   On occasion we will give all of our indoor birds snow in their water bowls instead of water.  For the crows and ravens we even hide their food in the snow and watch them dig through it.  We also prepare mousicles, or mice and a piece or two of dogfood frozen in a cube of ice.  The Red Legged Seriemas enjoy these with much enthusiasm, excitedly slamming them into the ground until they relinquish their rodent reward.
Mousesicles - enrichment for some of the birds
Winter and snow have their upsides and their downsides, the most obvious and frustrating of which is the fact that we have to close the site during unsafe wintry conditions.  And as mentioned before, it takes a while for us to thaw out and match the surrounding area in terms of accessibility. 

Fear not though, for while we are ensconced in our wintry wonderland we are hard at work training and enriching our birds, so the next time our site thaws out we can provide an even better experience.

Submitted by Leah Tyndall, World Bird Sanctuary Naturalist

Saturday, February 5, 2011

An Unusual Gift

We have many visitors tell us stories about birds of prey.  Some tell us about their collections of owl figurines or eagle paintings.  Some have more unusual stories.

Recently a gentleman stopped by the World Bird Sanctuary to show us a family heirloom and share an interesting story.  His grandfather, Fred Roscoe Smith, had been a homesteader out near Billings, Montana, between 1900 and 1916.

Homesteaders could get large tracts of farmland for free, as long as they lived on the land.  Some homesteaders built their homes on skids so that they could move the homes and claim even more acreage.  During one very rough winter, Mr. Smith was running low on supplies.  He had only a bucket of beans and some dried meat to get him through the last month of winter.

Mr. Smith showed kindness during these last winter months that bestowed upon him a gift that has been handed down through his family since.  During the last month of winter, with his supplies very low, and barely able to see himself through the winter, Mr. Smith was visited by a group of Native Americans from the Crow Nation.  They were starving.  Mr. Smith shared his last food with these men, who stayed for a few weeks.

Mr. Smith admitted that he was alone and unsure of the intentions of these men, who had stayed so long.  He moved to a neighbor's homestead for the last few weeks of winter, leaving the remaining food for his visitors.
A prized possession left by a grateful band of Crow warriors 
Mr. Smith returned when the weather warmed.  The men were gone, but had left behind a gift of a full feathered headdress and a buffalo hide warrior's shield.  The shield had a rough stain drawing of an eagle on it, along with a vulture and turkey feather.

We took some photographs of this shield, which Mr. Smith's grandson came to show us.   You can see the profile of an eagle's head, wing, body and feet.

It was a great pleasure to meet Mr. Smith's grandson and hear his positive story of people struggling together to overcome a harsh environment.

Submitted by Joe Hoffmann, Sanctuary Manager

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Pet Snakes - Pros and Cons

Have you been thinking about getting a snake for a pet?

If so you may want to read the following article by Naturalist Sara Oliver to decide if you are really committed to fulfilling all of the requirements necessary to maintaining a healthy and happy reptile.
Monty, our Ball Python
Ball Pythons, also called Royal Pythons, are considered one of the best snakes to have for a pet, especially if your son or daughter has been begging you for a pet snake.  In the wild, they are found in Central and Western Africa and will frequent both the ground and trees, and are most active around dusk and dawn.  They usually live between 20 and 30 years.
Ball Pythons make a good choice particularly because of their docile nature and small size.  They generally do not grow longer than 3 or 4 feet.  When choosing a Ball Python, find one bred in captivity as these are much easier to tame and handle. 
Remember that the cute little snake in the five-gallon tank at the pet store may get quite large.  Research the species you are cnsidering.
Annually, thousands of Ball Pythons are caught in the wild and imported to the U.S. to be sold in pet stores.  These are usually more difficult to tame, may have parasites and be stressed from capture and transport.  Also, it is best for any pet to not be taken from the wild, since sooner or later the wild population will suffer because too many are taken. 

Before purchasing, check the snake’s body and make sure it has clean, smooth skin.  Check the vent (or anus), nostrils and eyes for any discharge.  Arrange for the breeder to show a feeding demonstration as well, to make sure the snake is eating well.

Ball Pythons are not as active as other snakes, so a 10 gallon tank is usually sufficient for juveniles and a minimum of 20 gallons for adults.  Make sure you have the lid securely fitted because all snakes are great escape artists.  For the tank’s substrate, newspaper or astro-turf are fine, as well as aspen, pine or cypress mulch.  Add a few branches for them to climb on at night, and a dark hiding place for them to sleep during the day. 

Provide a water bowl large enough for the snake to soak in, which is important in helping a snake shed its old skin. Since ball pythons are native to very warm temperate to dry areas in Africa, they may be comfortable with the current humidity of your household.  However, if it is too dry and your snake is having difficulty shedding (it takes more than 24 hours or the shed comes off in many pieces), or its feces are dry when excreted or there is straining to defecate, it is a good idea to mist inside the tank twice a day with a spray bottle filled with room temperature water.  Then natural evaporation of the water by a heat source (discussed below) raises humidity in the tank. 

Daytime temperatures in the tank should be between 80 and 90 F.  Nighttime temperatures can be between 70 and 80 F.  A heat lamp with a ceramic heat bulb can be placed on top of the tank off to one side to act as a basking area.  A low wattage incandescent light with a metal reflector (found at any hardware store) can be placed on top of the tank, at about the midpoint.  It’s best to turn off the light at night.

Ball pythons will be happy with a diet of mice or small rats.  Adults can be fed 4 or 5 mice every other week and juveniles can be fed a few pinkie mice every 5-7 days.  Using pre-killed food is safest for your snake.  Using a pair of forceps to dangle the mouse in front of the snake will trigger interest and keep your hands safe from their bite.  Their teeth are quite small, needle thin and needle sharp, so be careful when feeding.  When handling any snake make sure there’s no scent of the snake’s food on your clothes or hands.  It is a good idea to move the python into a separate area for feeding so it won’t associate anything that enters its tank (your hands, for example) as food.  These snakes are known for fasting for long periods.  As long as body weight is sustained and the Python's condition looks good overall, there is no need to panic.
Anna, our beautiful Green Tree Python
If you are really fascinated by snakes, but don’t think you are ready to maintain one in your home, you can still adopt one of the World Bird Sanctuary’s snakes!  To learn more about Monty, our Ball Python, click here.  To learn more about Anna, our beautiful Green Tree Python, or to adopt one of our other animals click here

Submitted by Sara Oliver, World Bird Sanctuary Naturalist

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Guess Who Came For Dinner

Yesterday we had a surprise visitor.

It was a cold snowy day.  Having just filled the bird feeders, I had resigned myself to the fact that we were snowed in yet again, and I might as well catch up on the laundry since it was too nasty to go outside.  Suddenly I heard my husband urgently calling from the top of the stairs, “Get up here right now!”  I went flying up the stairs to find out what was wrong.  My husband was excitedly pointing at the kitchen window and yelling “Hurry!  Get your camera!”

There in our backyard, sitting in our trusty old Hawthorn tree, was a juvenile Red-Tailed Hawk with a real prize.
After his first molt this youngster's tailfeathers will be replaced by the distinctive red tailfeathers of an adult Red-tailed Hawk
Now, this young hawk was no stranger to me.  I’ve been seeing him soaring over the neighborhood since last fall—even sitting in the branches of our big old oak tree a few times.  Earlier this week, right after an 8-inch snowfall, I saw him hurtling past our sliding glass door in pursuit of a squirrel.  Apparently he missed that time because by the time I got to the window on the other side of the house he had taken off and landed in a tree with nothing to show for his effort.  The tracks in the snow told the story of one very lucky squirrel.

This time the hawk had been more successful, because there on the branch of the Hawthorn, beneath his talons, was a freshly caught starling.  I can’t say I was too sorry for the Starling, since he and his kin have been mobbing my feeders lately and driving off the other birds.  Starlings are a non-native species that have become a real nuisance across all the U.S.
He was intent on his dinner and paid no attention to me
Since the hawk was intent on his prize I grabbed my camera and quietly slid open the sliding door just enough to get some photos.  We watched him devour the Starling--feathers, beak, feet and all.  By the time he was done there was no sign of the Starling except for a few primary wing feathers in the snow. 
He devoured his meal until not a morsel was left
Once he had finished his meal, like any polite diner, he cleaned his beak by rubbing it on the branch of the tree until all signs of his repast were cleaned off.  After a few minutes he took off and landed in our fifty-year-old white pine tree.  He sat on the lee side of the trunk (which means out of the wind), and promptly dozed off like a human after a Thanksgiving Dinner.
All cleaned up and ready for a nap
Even though I see birds of prey on a regular basis when I do volunteer work at the World Bird Sanctuary, it was a real treat to see one doing so well in the wild and to be able to watch it up close and following it’s natural instincts.  This is what motivates all of us at WBS – to see these magnificent birds healthy and free and living wild.

If you have never had the opportunity to see a Red Tailed Hawk up close, come visit us at the World Bird Sanctuary and see this youngster’s cousins—birds who, for one reason or another, were unable to be released into the wild, and now serve as education birds.

Submitted by Gay Schroer, World Bird Sanctuary volunteer