Sunday, January 30, 2011

Bald Eagle Census

Last Thursday, I participated in a survey of wild Bald Eagles along the Mississippi River.  

We departed from the Spirit of St. Louis Airport in Chesterfield in a Cessna 185 named the “Earth Angel.”  The plane was beautifully painted red and white, but the interior of the plane was significantly smaller than most cars.  We wore headphones to communicate over the hum of the plane’s engine.

The familiar landmarks in Chesterfield Valley seemed like pieces on a model train town as we flew overhead.  When we reached the Alton lock and dam on the Mississippi River, we began to count the Bald Eagles we observed below.  
Bale Eagles perched in trees along the river
Even though the plane flew as slow and low as possible, the eagles still appeared only slightly larger than the head of a pin.  Most of the eagles perched on the branches of large cottonwood trees growing on the very edge of the river.  We observed a few eagles in flight.  I was most amazed to spot eagles perched on ice blocks floating in the river.  They balanced on the edges of the ice and peered over into the water, waiting for an unlucky fish to swim past.  This sight reminded me how well eagles and other birds are protected from the cold temperatures by their feathers and the scales on their feet.
Bald Eagles perched on ice floes use another hunting technique 
As we spotted the Bald Eagles, Jeff Meshach, the Assistant Director of WBS and navigator of this flight, marked their location on a detailed map of the area.  We also noted whether the bird was a juvenile or adult, and whether it was perched, flying or standing on the ice.  In all, we counted 676 bald eagles.  The majority were adults perched in trees and were most heavily concentrated in the northern sections of our survey area.  Happily, the number of bald eagles in the survey has increased significantly over all the censuses done last year.

Submitted by Leah Sainz, World Bird Sanctuary Naturalist

Monday, January 24, 2011


Meet our newest resident!  Her name is Jersey and she is a Barred Owl.  Let me tell you her story…
 Jersey, the Barred Owl--one of our newest residents
Jersey was hatched in May of 1993 in the Richmond, Virginia area.  Her earliest history is not exactly known, but the information that came with her says that she was hand-raised by a rehabilitator in Richmond. 

The rehabber tried to release her several times, but Jersey had become imprinted and always came back.  When a bird is imprinted, it does not associate itself with others of its species; instead it basically thinks it is a human.  The bird doesn’t know how to hunt or survive in the wild and will always look to humans, instead of to its own species.  This, of course, is very dangerous to an animal and chances are that it won’t survive in the wild.  Lucky for Jersey, she had returned to the place she was familiar with; otherwise, there is a good chance she would have died.

When Jersey kept returning to the rehabber he realized the problem.  Unfortunately, he did not have the ability to keep her permanently, so he turned to the Virginia Zoological Park.

 In May of 1994 the zoo took her in and she received her first name--Misun.  This is the Lakota Sioux word for “Little Brother”.  Obviously no one had really looked at Jersey – she is a big girl!  In birds of prey, the males are up to one-third smaller than the females and Jersey definitely wasn’t a small owl! 

Jersey/Misun was trained to free-fly for the folks at the zoo – she was trained to fly perch to perch or fly to a trainer.  She helped them out in their educational programs, but she began to show signs of aggression to her handlers.  After about a year, the zoo workers put her in a big free-flight cage and let her be a display bird.  After another year had passed, they donated her to the Reptile Gardens in South Dakota.

Jersey/Misun arrived in South Dakota in April of 1996 and she received her next name. This time she was called Steinbeck.  Here she stayed for quite some time, doing educational programs for Wildlife Experiences, Inc. a non-profit offshoot of Reptile Gardens.  But once again, things were to change.  In 2010, Wildlife Experiences, Inc. became another victim of the economic crisis the US has been facing and they were forced to close.  Luckily, they contacted us for a new home for their Barred Owl and Jersey/Misun/Steinbeck took one more trip.
Jersey, shortly after she arrived at the World Bird Sanctuary 
When she arrived in Nov 2010, she received the name of Jersey.  She was named that because her weight when she arrived was just over 3 lbs – a VERY large girl… some of us affectionately referred to her as a cow because she was so large.  Also, the Barred Owl’s coloration is brown and white bars or stripes and they have big, beautiful dark eyes.  All of these things made me think of the Jersey cows – brown & white, big dark eyes and definitely very heavy.  The staff at the Nature Center took a vote and Jersey it was! 
 Jersey getting accustomed to her new home
Jersey now lives at our Nature Center, enjoying her days outside watching Missouri wildlife and listening to Missouri noises, probably a bit different from her old homes!  Please come out and visit her or you can even adopt her and help with her yearly support and care.

Submitted by Laura MacLeod, World Bird Sanctuary Education Coordinator

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Revisit the 1904 World's Fair

Snow is blanketing the ground, and even though it seems hard to believe, Fete du Feather is just around the corner!

Waiting for guests to arrive...a bird's eye view of a previous Fete du Feather in the beautiful atrium of the Ameren UE building
Fete du Feather is the World Bird Sanctuary’s bi-annual themed fundraiser/auction.  The planning committee has been busy choosing a theme, designing invitations, selecting a venue, and doing the basic groundwork.  After much discussion it was decided that this year’s theme will be the "1904 World’s Fair"!  What could be more appropriate for a St. Louis event?
Director Walter Crawford, dressed for the theme, greeting guests
Now the hard work begins.  There are booths, activities, and costumes to be designed, and much research  to be done to bring the 1904 Fair to life. 

One of the most important aspects of putting this event together is solicitation of items for the auctions.  This is where we are right now.  There will be both silent and live auctions—with the larger items being sold at live auction. 
Just a small sampling of the many items offered at a past silent auction
In the past we have offered some of the following items for auction:

*            A fully restored vintage automobile
*            5 days at a vacation home in Montana
*            Weekend getaways at a Lake home
*            Autographed baseballs, footballs or hockey pucks
*            Hockey or football jerseys worn by major league stars
*            Tickets for sporting or other entertainment events
*            Quilts
*            Jewelry
*            Photo sessions for family portraits
*            A kayak
*            An antique stained glass window
*            Paintings
*            Fine art prints
*            A crate of oranges
*            Baskets with a collection of various related items
*            A hand crafted leather topped poker table
*            A handmade copper windchime

The list goes on and on--it takes a lot of items to create a good auction!

Do you get the picture?  Almost anything and everything is good fodder for an auction!
One of the many items up for bid at the live auction portion of the evening at a past event
Do you have an idea for something we could auction?  If you can imagine it, we can probably use it.  So--if you have an item or service that you would like to donate contact Teri Schroer at 636-225-4390, XT 3, or email her at

All donations are tax deductible to the full extent of the law.

Help make our biggest fundraiser a resounding success, and “Meet Us in St. Louis” on May 7 at our re-creation of the 1904 World’s Fair!

Submitted by Gay Schroer, World Bird Sanctuary Volunteer

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Year of the Bat

2011 has been named the Year of the Bat by the United Nations Convention on Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals, and by the Agreement on the Conservation of Population of European Bats.  Year of the Bat is going to promote conservation, research and education of these fascinating flying mammals. 

 Batty & Scar, our two Straw Colored Fruit Bats
World Bird Sanctuary is also going to participate by having some of our blogs dedicated to bat information, and some additional displays about our bats and bat conservation at our Nature Center.  We are going to work on promoting the conservation of these amazing animals by providing much needed education for one of the world’s most misunderstood and persecuted mammals.

World Bird Sanctuary is participating in promoting Year of the Bat for two reasons.  To begin with, WBS has two resident Straw-colored Fruit Bats on exhibit and we would like to debunk some of the many myths associated with these often misunderstood creatures.  The second reason is that bird and bat conservation are directly related.  Bats face many of the same environmental issues as birds. Three overlapping threats to birds and bats are habitat loss, pesticides and wind power.  Over the coming year I will at some point touch on each of these topics, along with many others.

My own fascination with Bats began back in 2002.  I was living in Milwaukee, WI at the time, and attended a speaking engagement by Dr. Merlin Tuttle, founder and president of Bat Conservation International (  By the end of the evening I was in love with these flying mammals. Upon seeing all of his jaw-dropping photos of these intriguing animals I was addicted.  Shortly after that I became a member of Bat Conservation International to help me keep up on the latest developments in bat conservation, and because I was truly interested in bats and wanted to know more about them. There are more than 1,116 species of bats worldwide with new species being discovered all over the world.  About half of these bats are currently at risk of becoming endangered. 

Bats range in size from the smallest, the Bumblebee Bat of Thailand which weighs less than a penny, to the giant Flying Fox from Indonesia, which has a wingspan of up to six-feet--equivalent to a male bald eagle. 

There are an estimated 134 plants that yield products we use that at least partially rely on bats for pollination or seed dispersal.  Some of these products include bananas, mangoes, dates, figs and tequila.  Bats like the Little Brown Bat found here in Missouri can eat about 1000 mosquito-sized insects in an hour.    Many other species of bats eat insects that attack farmers’ crops, so insect eating bats are also very helpful to our ecosystem.
Keep an eye on the blog or visit our Nature Center to learn more about these truly spectacular flying mammals--Bats.

Submitted by Cathy Spahn, World Bird Sanctuary Field Studies Coordinator

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Unusual Roommates

 As I impatiently wait until the day I can hop in my car and head to Chicago to see my family for my “Christmas Break,” I’ve been thinking a lot about traveling in general.  Because, let’s face it, it’s never as easy as “hopping in the car!”

Yours Truly and Patriot our well known Bald Eagle appearing before a fascinated Eagle Days crowd
I have packing lists, cleaning to do, weather forecasts to check daily, etc.  Perhaps there are some people who are less Type-A about this process, but the point is this: it is ironic that many of us do most of our long-distance traveling during the season of worst weather.  It is certainly true for all of us here at the World Bird Sanctuary, not just myself.  Once this vacation is over, I’ll be back and it will be all about traveling still, but for work instead.

Cold and snow means Bald Eagle migration season, and that means a migration of sorts for us as well.  We trainers face an erratic “migration”--following programs instead of food, as the eagles do.  Up and down the Mississippi River we go, through towns celebrating the return of Bald Eagles en masse, our big white van loaded down with people and birds and…a whole lot of STUFF. 

As one might imagine, traveling with live animals is a truly different species of endeavor.  Our setup in any given town varies wildly.  Some venues have an adequate place for us to house our birds overnight, while other trips have us building our hotel rooms into a micro-replica of our bird room at home, with plenty of rubber "carpet poop protectors".  Yes, birds in the hotel.  Yes, the raven might try to bite your toes on the way to the bathroom in the middle of the night.  Yes, the owls DO often hoot quietly all night at the foot of the bed.  Yes, eagles have been admonished for throwing rat chunks exactly where bare feet tread…squish. 
Twig, our Eastern Screech Owl, handing out under the bathroom sink in a hotel room
These magic moments may make hanging out with the birds in the off-time sound really awful.  But, in truth, it is one of the best parts of doing these shows.  It has been stated repeatedly by all of us that while our job is fun, it is also a ton of hard work and frequently exhausting.  So this situation is actually a great opportunity to sit and watch and admire our amazing raptors doing what they do—eat, preen their feathers, sometimes just perching and doing nothing.  Rarely do we have nothing more pressing to do than just sit and observe.  For those times, I am truly grateful.  For a bit of down-time with raptors, check out the following fun video on You Tube by clicking here.   This footage was taken by and narrated by Naturalist Trina Whitener while she and I were on a trip to Nebraska.

People are equally as important in these travels as birds, of course.  We meet so many gracious folks in each town who put together these celebrations, help get us settled and find anything we need.  They are always so happy to see us arrive.  How many of us get to experience that kind of welcome week after week, year after year? 

The people who come to see the programs are just as warm and wonderful.  Many come every year, braving the cold winds and ice, bundling up their children; and they always tell us what an important part of their family traditions the Sanctuary’s shows are.  They even know the names of our birds.  And half the time they remember our names as well!  Their passion and these traditions they pass on to their children will be what keeps Bald Eagles and other wildlife protected in the future.  I cannot explain how good it makes me feel about the work I do--personally as well as for the Sanctuary.  Some people never experience validation of that magnitude. 

If you have never been out to see one of our Eagle presentations, you will have many opportunities in the next few months.  Just to name a few, we will be at the following locations near you soon:

Alton Visitor Center in Alton, IL Jan. 1, 8, 15, 22, & 29
The Great Rivers Museum in East Alton, IL Jan. 23 & 30, Feb. 6 & 13
Chain of Rocks Eagle Days Jan. 15 & 16
Clarksville Eagle Days Jan. 29 & 30 

For more information about these programs and others in surrounding states, please call 636-225-4390 Ex. 0 and speak to one of our Naturalists.  If you would like to stay up to date on where the Sanctuary’s travels are taking us, sign up to receive our email newsletter by entering your email address in the box on the right-hand side of this page, or better yet, become a WBS Sponsor today and receive the Mews News Newsletter tri-annually—full of schedules, updates, and stories! 

Happy travels—be safe out there!

Submitted by Dana Lambert, World Bird Sanctuary Naturalist

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Operating the Environmental Education Center

2010 was another landmark year for the World Bird Sanctuary.  
Our beautiful new outdoor classroom - part of the remodeled Environmental Education Center (EEC)
One of the reasons it was a great year was because of a generous grant from the Monsanto Fund for remodeling of our Visitor Information Center and the addition of restrooms to our upper triangle area.

After several months of construction we opened our new and expanded Environmental Education Center to the public with a formal ribbon cutting ceremony in September.
Walter Crawford, World Bird Sanctuary Director, and Deborah Patterson, President of the Monsanto Fund, cut the ribbon to herald the opening of the EEC
Even though the generous grant we received covered the cost of construction, we still have the burden of expenses for items used on a daily basis.  As Manager of our Environmental Education Center I made a list of items still needed to operate this new facility.  I then did a walk-through of a local hardware store to come up with a cost estimate for items still needed to efficiently operate our beautiful new buildings.

Following is a conservative list of what we will need:

$6.32 for keys
$13.94 padlocks
$8.37 for 50 feet of 1/4 inch braided nylon rope
$50.49 velcro
$35.52 Tube Sand
$4.52 outdoor thermometer
$54 plants
$22.52 American Flag
$16.98 Fire Extinguisher
$27.98 3-step Steel Step Black
$8.00 mop
$47.92 Force Flex Trash Bags
$150 Cordless, battery operated Weedwacker
$39.92 floodlights
$71.84 Ice Melt
$17.64 for 2-8 foot flourescents
$59.40 for Snap-in Gutter Guard
$40.24 for 10 cans of flat Black Spray Paint
$44.98 for 75 foot Contractor hose
$15 Vacuum Bags

Total :$735.58

It occurred to me that perhaps our generous supporters would be willing to help us out by donating the needed articles, if they only knew what they were.  We would gladly accept donations of any of the listed items—in whole or in part.  Monetary donations could be in the form of cash, check, credit card or gift card to a local hardware store.

If donating by check please make it payable to World Bird Sanctuary.

Please “Make My Day” and come in and hand it to me personally at the Environmental Education Center--or send it to World Bird Sanctuary, Attn: Michael Zeloski, World Bird Sanctuary, 125 Bald Eagle Ridge Road, Valley Park, MO, 63088

Thank you for helping us with our operating costs for 2011 for the new Environmental Education Center.

Submitted by Michael Zeloski, World Bird Sanctuary Naturalist

Friday, January 14, 2011

Handling Duncan

A few weeks ago I handled our Wedge-Tailed Eagle, Duncan, for the first time.  I don’t normally work in the department where this bird is housed, so the opportunity hadn’t really presented itself before.  We do not know if Duncan is a male or female, as the plumage is the same for both sexes.  I will refer to Duncan as a “he” for writing purposes, unless he proves us otherwise, by laying an egg.
Duncan, our Wedge-Tailed Eagle 
I admit I was a little apprehensive about handling him.  He is a rather large bird and has shown a dislike for certain people that have had to assist during routine beak and talon trims.  When birds are in captivity, their beaks and talons do not wear down as they would in the wild, so they require a little upkeep on our part.

I knew ahead of time that I would be handling Duncan soon, because all of our birds that are on equipment (jessed birds) are weighed every two weeks, and their equipment is thoroughly checked and treated, in addition to inspecting the bird’s feet.  I decided I wanted a preview of what Duncan’s behavior might be like, so I tagged along with staff members Laura and Sara, for a dry run.  I was pretty surprised at how calm he was for them, and after seeing their interaction, I felt pretty confident that I wouldn’t have any problems.

My first time handlng a Wedge-Tailed Eagle 
Two weeks later, it was my turn to work with him, and I was pretty jazzed about it.  He stepped up onto my glove like a pro and we walked for a bit down to the building where the scale was set up.  As soon as we stepped outside, he spread his wings and stretched out for a few moments.  Then he made a lot of cute little “squeaky” sounding noises as we walked.  Sara and I weighed him, checked his equipment and his feet, and then I proudly put him on his perch so he could enjoy some outdoor time.  I had finally handled a Wedge-Tailed Eagle, and it was a pretty awesome feeling.
 What an awesome feeling!
Duncan was the first Wedge-Tailed Eagle hatched by WBS, back in 1988.  He has been a part of our zoo programs in several states.  Wedge-Tailed Eagles are native to Australia’s mainland, and their largest bird of prey.  They have a 7’ – 8’ wingspan and weigh 8 – 12 pounds.  Their prey of choice is rabbits or hares, but they will also feed on carrion, smaller birds and other small mammals.  Several Wedge-Tailed Eagles may be seen at a time feeding on a carcass – as many as 30 – 40.

The next time you visit World Bird Sanctuary, be sure to look for Duncan on the exhibit line, past the Wildlife Hospital.

Submitted by Billie Bauman, World Bird Sanctuary Outreach Coordinator

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

The Rookie Files: Becoming a Bird Person

The end of December is a time for reflection.  A year in review so to speak, and while many people think about changes in relationships, family and getting older, I’ve been thinking about my unexpected love of birds.

You may recall from my first blog that I mentioned I was a rookie.  This is true not only for shows but for birds in general.  Yes--shocking I know--but the truth is that once upon a time I was a huge mammal person. 
 Dwarf Mongooses formerly at the top of my list
 Meerkats, otters, prairie dogs, lemurs, big cats, red pandas, canines these were my passions, along with frogs (which are clearly not mammals).  I would map out zoo routes so that I could find my way to the meerkats the fastest; I knew which zoos had my mammalian friends and where to find them. 
River Otters--one of my former favorites 
I could navigate a zoo in record time and see all of my favorites and if I was short on time I skipped the aviary.  It wasn’t that I disliked birds; I just didn’t really get them.  Over the years I was exposed to them on occasion--songbirds in the backyard, shorebirds at the beach, raptors at environmental centers.  Nothing really clicked.  There was no passion, no drive to research their behaviors.  Then one day in college I needed another biology course and my friend suggested ornithology.  It sounded cool, so I signed up.

That course was the first of many life changing bird experiences.  Once you learn about birds it’s impossible not to be fascinated by them.  The course was both lecture and lab and I learned so much from both.  Feathers, hollow bones, flow through lungs, physiological systems that are so efficient humans are envious, and fused, lower back vertebra called the synsacrum are just a few amazing traits unique to birds.  In the field lab I discovered I was a decent birder, other than once telling my class that the call of a mourning dove was an owl ( which is what I was told when I was younger--so a perfectly honest mistake).

After Ornithology class I had a new appreciation for birds, but I didn’t really LOVE them—yet.  That didn’t happen until I interned at WBS, and even then it snuck up on me.
 I arrived with a fear of Great Horned Owls 
I arrived at WBS with a car full of belongings, everything I had learned in ornithology, and a fear of Great Horned Owls.  This last was entirely the fault of the movie Rock-a-Doodle whose villainous owl not only gives owls a bad name, but gave me nightmares for years.  I was entirely prepared to treat the next three months as a stepping stone.  I would work hard, learn all that I could, and then move on to the next aspect of environmental education.  As you may have guessed, that is not what happened.
Have you ever been waylaid by a chicken?  They are absolutely irresistable!
The birds snuck up on me.  They waylaid me when my guard was down, and worked their way into my heart before I even realized it.  I learned about more species, their life histories and their personalities.  The feeling of having a bird on your glove and being involved in their training is highly addictive.  Then I was invited to do shows and the rest, as they say, is history.
  Murdock excited to see me
Now the aviary is my first stop.  I have a small but growing library of field guides and bird books, and my cell phone is 98 percent bird photos.  If you had asked me in college what I would be doing right now, “working with birds” is probably the last response I would have given you.  Birds sneak up on you.  Once you learn about them it is impossible to not be fascinated by them.  So come out to the sanctuary, meet our birds and see what it took me until college to figure out: birds are awesome, bird people even more so.

Submitted by Leah Tyndall, World Bird Sanctuary Naturalist

Monday, January 10, 2011


Have you been cooped up in the house for too long due to the bad weather?

Are you longing to get out into the woods, but are deterred by the weather, or mobility problems, or small children who can’t navigate the woods yet?

If so, I’m going to lead you on a virtual tour of two of St. Louis’s best kept secrets.  Just west of St. Louis is a small patch of forest, which houses some of the area’s most amazing and easily visible wildlife—ALL FOR FREE!
At the front entrance make a right turn into the tree lined driveway
At the intersection of Hwy 44 and Hwy 141 proceed onto the North Outer Road heading west.  When this stretch of road, which starts out looking like a barren commercial area, crosses a small creek, you are suddenly transported into another world.  The road winds through a pristine oak/hickory forest such as one would expect to find in the Ozarks.  A few hundred yards after you crest the top of the ridge you will see the entrance of the World Bird Sanctuary on the right.  This is only the beginning of your adventure!
Dumpling, the Cochin Chicken, is the official "greeter" at the EEC
As you pull into the parking area you will find an easily accessible interpretive center right in front of you—the Environmental Education Center (EEC).  Stop in here to see some of the exhibits and let the kiddies explore some of the activities, as well as viewing some of our small birds almost nose to beak.  You might have to keep an eye out for Dumpling, the Cochin chicken, who may be underfoot.  She considers it her job to greet visitors. 
The weathering area is an excellent spot to get some up-close photos of the birds
Outside, behind the EEC, is the weathering area for a number of birds of prey.  If they are not doing educational shows for some school or organization, the birds will be sitting on their perches in clear view of the public, with only a short fence separating them from guests with cameras.
An easy walk past the Wildlife hospital leads you to Owl Row, Eagle exhibits and a number of other exhibits
After visiting with the Weathering Area birds you may take a short, easy walk down the level, gravel-paved road past the Wildlife Hospital.  
Tigger, the Tawny Owl, is housed just a few feet away from the path at "kids' eye" height with no wire fencing to obstruct their view
Just beyond the hospital you may meet some of our other raptors who are housed at “kids eye” height only a few feet away from the path.  Next is Owl Row, where a variety of owls are housed that are normally not seen by most people.
One of several Bald Eagle exhibits
As you stroll further down this path you will encounter a variety of other birds, including but not limited to:  Bald Eagles, a flock of Thick-billed Parrots (the only parrot indigenous to the U.S.), Golden Eagles, an Andean Condor, a flock of Araucana chickens (which the kids can feed), White Pelicans, and many other unusual and seldom seen birds.  The birds on exhibit along this path may change from time to time depending on the weather. 
Children love to feed the flock of Araucana Chickens
 When you return from your stroll along this trail there is yet more to see in the Nature Center building at the bottom of the hill.  A leisurely walk down the gravel road just past the Hospital will take you to the amphitheater and Nature Center.  This building can also be accessed via a paved Handicapped accessible path—or steps that wind around the amphitheater. 
It seems Armadillos have only two speeds, "Stop" and "Go".  When he's not sleeping Rustle the Armadillo is one of the most entertaining residents in the Nature Center
A variety of animals are housed in the Nature Center building, among them a Northern Shrike, a Saw-whet Owl, several species of parrots, an armadillo named Rustle, Straw-colored Fruit Bats, a variety of reptiles and a number of other interesting creatures.  There are also bunnies and a guinea pig for the little ones to pet.  Behind this building is another weathering area where guests can see a variety of Birds of Prey from the comfort of a large wooden deck.  The Nature Center also houses a gift shop with a good selection of nature and bird related items.
Bring a picnic lunch to enjoy under one of our shaded pavillions
For those guests who plan to make this a day-long outing there are several picnic tables under covered pavilions in the area near the EEC, which you first visited upon your arrival.  There are also new modern restrooms nearby.
Keep your eyes peeled for Lone Elk Park's resident Elk such as this cow--they could be anywhere!
Once you’ve finished exploring all that the sanctuary has to offer there is more to see just down the road.  As you exit the World Bird Sanctuary driveway, make a right turn. 
In the Spring and early Summer you may see one of the many Bison calves
This will take you to the entrance of Lone Elk County Park where you may see a free roaming herd of Elk and a herd of Bison (Bison are in their own enclosed area which is drive-through only--no getting out of the car here where these two-ton behemoths roam free).  If they are not hiding in one of the many valleys you may be fortunate enough to see them just feet from the road.
These young bulls are jousting to prove dominance - they could be right beside the road as these were!
These animals are free to roam their respective areas of the park, so there is no guarantee that you will find them on any given day.  However, the elk are usually easily found by those sharp-eyed enough to spot them.  Right now the Elk breeding season (rut) is over, and they are traveling in two distinct groups.  The cows are spending their time peacefully grazing, awaiting the Spring calving season.  The bulls are spending their time in a bachelor group, jousting with each other to see which is the dominant male.  Be sure to explore all the roads in the park as you never know where you might find the inhabitants. 
Even if you've already seen the Elk and Bison, stay on the lookout.  Deer are everywhere--if you're sharp-eyed enough to spot them!
This park also has a good population of deer, turkey, Canada Geese, Pileated Woodpeckers, and a variety of  songbirds.  There are also a number of picnic tables and barbecue pits scattered throughout the park for those who wish to use them. 

So bring your kids, bring your grandparents, bring your friends, and plan to spend the day exploring these two gems hidden within a stone’s throw of the St. Louis area.

Both facilities are open 363 days of the year.  However, in the case of bad weather, ice and snow on the roads may force a temporary closure.  So check the World Bird Sanctuary Facebook or Twitter pages if the weather is questionable.

Submitted by Gay Schroer, World Bird Sanctuary

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Those Amazing Birds

Adaptations in the animal kingdom never cease to amaze me—especially the mind-boggling number of incredible adaptations that occur in the avian kingdom!

From birds like the Toucans with their huge colorful bills, to the Hornbills who seal their mates into a tree cavity during the nesting period, to the Bower Birds with their complex courtship behaviors, to the communal hunting behavior of the Harris’ Hawk, birds are one of the most adaptable species on earth. 

While on vacation in South Dakota this summer my family and I were fortunate enough to watch one of this country’s most amazing owl species—the Burrowing Owl. 
A Burrowing Owl perched atop one of the many dirt mounds next to a Prairie Dog burrow
We had been watching one of the Bison herds in Custer State Park, and had decided to move on.  As we drove on we approached one of the Prairie Dog towns.  Suddenly, off in the distance, my eagle-eyed oldest daughter spotted a definitely un-Prairie Dog-like creature perched atop one of the many mounds that dotted the field. There, among the Prairie Dogs and their burrows, was the creature I had only seen in documentaries!  To say we were excited would be putting it mildly!
As we watched, he glided across the field and caught and devoured a large insect
As we watched and photographed this owl hunting for his lunch—usually insects and small rodents—his Prairie Dog neighbors went unconcernedly about their business.  They paid no attention to the Burrowing Owl who usually hunts much smaller prey, but definitely kept an eye on the sky for other predators.
These Prairie Dogs seemed unconcerned about their neighbor--they were watching for larger predators
The Burrowing Owl is a small (slightly larger than an American Robin), long-legged owl found in open landscapes and prairies of North and South America.  They nest and roost in burrows, such as those excavated by Prairie Dogs, and are often active during the day, although most hunting is done from dusk to dawn. 
Some of the larger prairie plants also make excellent hunting perches
These unusual owls may live as long as nine years in the wild if they do not fall victim to vehicles while crossing roads, or to natural enemies such as badgers, coyotes, snakes, etc.  Unlike other owls they will sometimes eat fruit and seeds, such as those of the prickly pear and cholla cacti.

The nesting season is a prime example of this bird’s adaptability.  Since trees are scarce or non-existent in their natural environment (most owls nest in tree cavities), this small owl has substituted Prairie Dog burrows (or other similar holes in the ground) for the usual tree cavity.  They will line the inside of the burrow with a wide variety of materials—most often mammal dung.  How’s that for making lemonade out of lemons?

The Burrowing Owl is endangered in Canada, threatened in Mexico, and a species of special concern in Florida and most of the western USA.  One of the major reasons for its decline are control programs for Prairie Dogs, and loss of habitat.  So—even though this amazing creature has survived and adapted over the centuries to cope with his environment, he may not be able to adapt quickly enough to keep up with the intervention of humans.  Unfortunately this is an all too familiar story. 

There are now some passive relocation techniques in place that have proven successful in some areas where the presence of Burrowing Owls has conflicted with development interests.  Hopefully these measures will preserve remaining populations of this amazing little creature.

Submitted by Gay Schroer, World Bird Sanctuary Volunteer

Sunday, January 2, 2011


This holiday season was white with snow, but also green.  No, the Grinch didn’t visit.  But the presents given, as well as the clean up process have become more eco- friendly in my family.

This year to encourage the family into being more eco- friendly, I decided to assist them by giving gifts that might cost more initially, but are better in the long run.  I had a bright idea… light bulb.  And that was exactly what I wrapped up.  CFL or compact fluorescent lights are more expensive than incandescent lights, but they pay for themselves in energy savings and last 10 times longer.  CFLs come in many forms, not just looking like curly fries.  They are made for floodlights, vanity bathroom mirrors, and even chandelier lights.  The next trend is toward LED (light emitting diode) lights which are savvier than CFLs but still cost a lot more.  (I wanted to give them away instead, but couldn’t find them in stores even though they sell decorative LED Christmas lights.)  As technology improves, these lights will lower in price and become more available.  Soon the incandescent light will be obsolete.

My family tries to be green but all they need in some cases is a push to the next level.  Every season, a vegetable garden is planted.  We harvest everything the deer, groundhog, mice and birds don’t get.  In the fall, all the raked leaves and grass clippings get dumped there and occasionally we get a load of manure too.  Last year I did a little experiment.  Would they compost other items if made easier, rather than walking all the way out to the garden?  Hauling buckets full of compostable material almost daily proved this.  So to make composting easier, they got a composting bin that can sit right outside the door that the wildlife can’t get into.

Clean up on Christmas Day has become more streamlined.  All the wrapping paper goes in a bag destined for the full recycling containers.  Some of the paper is reused to wrap other gifts.  Stamping and card making has become a big hobby for my mom, so paper is collected to decorate the cards.  Boxes that clothes or other items came in are also sent to recycling or are stored in the basement where they can be reused for birthdays or next holiday season.  The tissue paper and gift bags also make their way to be re-gifted with presents at a later date.

Take a look at your holiday routines and take steps to limit your carbon footprint.  What do you do to keep the holidays ‘green’?

Submitted by Christina Lavallee, World Bird Sanctuary Naturalist