Saturday, May 18, 2013

Who Doesn't Love Caramel?

I love caramel!  The taste, color, texture, and the satisfaction I get from eating it.   My mouth is watering right now just thinking about it.   Another thing that comes to my mind when I hear the word caramel is a very special bird, named Carmelita.

 Carmelita is a Great-Horned Owl (Bubo virginianus).  In this blog, I will discuss the history of her species along with her quirks, some facts, and a special story that I hope you will find very interesting.   Now, let’s dive right in!

Carmelita is 31 years old this year.  She was named after a past employee’s mother-in-law!  Carmelita came to the World Bird Sanctuary in March of 1982 as an orphaned chick.  She has traveled to many states in the United States and has also been a surrogate mother to other orphaned chicks after becoming an adult.  She is a great role model for the young owls, since she feeds them and makes sure they grow up knowing their own species before they are returned to the wild.

Below, is a 2011 picture of Carmelita when she was in the bird show at Grant’s Farm.  She had a very relaxed but curious look to her and I just had to capture it!

Great Horned Owls are native to North America and South America.  These amazing owls are so adaptable that they can be seen as far north as central Alaska and as far south as Argentina and Chile.  The type of habitat where they can be found ranges greatly, but they favor open woodlands and agricultural regions.  They can also be found in suburban and urban areas, and also boreal forests and deserts. 

Nesting sites also vary and may include tree cavities, cliffs, on top of buildings, and even on the ground.  Many birds will spend hours upon hours making their nest, but not these birds.  They will actually steal another bird’s nest for their own.  The nesting season for owls starts in mid winter, when no other birds are nesting, so it’s easy for them to take over a Red-tailed Hawk nest, for example.  Nest stealing is a great adaptation because it saves them energy and time.  Their clutch size (group of eggs or chicks) ranges from one to five in a nest.  The chicks will hatch after 28-35 days of being incubated and then fledge (leave the nest) at 9-10 weeks old.  The chicks may stick around the parents for several months, even after they are able to fly.

A Great Horned Owl’s diet consists of a variety of animals, such as small to medium sized mammals (even skunks!) and birds, amphibians, invertebrates, snakes and other reptiles.  These beautiful creatures are the only animals to eat those black and white stink bombs on a regular basis!   The food they eat the most is mammals.  At WBS we feed our birds a natural diet.  Carmelita’s more favored foods are mice and rats.  Some days she will be given day old chicks, rabbit, or venison, all of course frozen and thawed as she needs. 

As with most birds of prey, the females are about a third larger in size than the males. These birds have a body length of 18-25in (1.5-2ft) and a wingspan of 40-57in (3-4.5ft).  Just because these birds are decent sized in length does not make them heavy in weight.  Birds normally look heavier than what they really are, mostly because of all those feathers.  Great-Horned Owls weigh from 32-88oz (2-5.5lbs).  Amazing isn’t it? 

Earlier I had mentioned Carmelita’s age of 31.  In the wild, these owls average from 5-15 years.  In captivity however, they can reach as high as 40 years.  I think that is impressive.

One Sunday afternoon after coming back from Grant’s Farm, I unloaded Carmelita from her crate and took her into her outside mew (holding area).  I put her on one of her perches and then noticed that she needed fresh water, so I dumped her water out and left to obtain some fresh water. 

At first when I came back I could not find her, which made my heart skip a beat and my face flush.  Then I spotted her.  I wanted to laugh so hard that I was shaking from trying to hold in the laughter.   I knew that if she heard me laugh she would move, and I wanted to get a few pictures of her.  She stood still for at least 45 to 60 seconds, which doesn’t seem like a long time, but it allowed me to get the first photo—albeit a shaky one--since I was trying desperately to muffle my laughter! 

Photo #4

Then I said, “Carmelita what are you doing silly girl? (I talk to birds all the time)”   She immediately turned her head around to face me with this look on her face that probably said, “Ummm—excuse me—water goes here!”  For me these pictures are priceless!  Keep in mind that the water bowl was lying flat on the ground when I left.  Carmelita is definitely my favorite Great-Horned Owl!   I just love her “personality” so much.  I guess she was just really thirsty.  She is so funny!

Carmelita is available for adoption in our Adopt a Bird program.  To find out more information, call 636-861-3225.  All adoption donations are tax deductible. 

This summer (now through Labor Day) Carmelita can be seen at Grant’s Farm St. Louis, MO Tuesday through Sunday.   Carmelita is a very gorgeous bird.  You should stop by the WBS exhibit at Grant’s Farm and visit her this summer! 

Submitted by Lisbeth Hodges, World Bird Sanctuary Naturalist

No comments: