Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Riley's Big Adventure

There is nothing in the world quite like free flying our trained birds for education programs at World Bird Sanctuary.  
You get especially attached to the ones you've known since they were hatchlings
Raising them, training them, caring for them in the off season; you get to see them through all of their life.  You get attached to them and they get attached to you.  For the most part, free flying goes off without a hitch, but every now and then things happen that cause a bird to fly off.

A common reason for a fly-off is wind. Wind can help birds travel naturally; it reduces the need for them to flap from one location to another.  Wind is especially difficult for new fliers because they don’t yet know how to maneuver in it.  Riley our captive-raised Barn Owl weighs less than a pound, so when a huge gust of wind blew him off course during a free flying training session, he had no choice but to go with it.  

We lost sight of Riley in the woods and despite the best efforts of all who came to help we could not find him before dark.  Normally on the rare occasion we have a bird out overnight we come back to that area before dawn the next day and again begin trying to cue the bird to us.
Where oh where could Riley be?
This time we were looking for a Barn Owl, a nocturnal bird that was probably going to be moving around at night instead of settling in like a hawk would.  Just to be on the safe side I cued him after dark, using a “pish” cue.  This is a special noise that Barn Owls already know, which sounds similar to the noise their parents would make when feeding them.  It helps us to get a Barn Owl’s attention.

That beautiful face that so many people love about the Barn Owl serves a very important purpose. It is their facial disc and it is made up of stiff, bristly feathers that capture sound from the air and direct it into their ears.  Most owl ears are asymmetrically placed on their head; they have one up high and one down low.  With Barn Owls, the ear holes in the skull are symmetrical and the ear flap (pieces of skin that cover a Barn Owl’s ears) are asymmetrical.  The facial disc and asymmetrical ear flaps combine to give Barn Owls one of the best senses of hearing in the animal world.  They can hear the pitter-patter of mouse feet from ninety feet away. 

So, I tried to use that to my advantage to call Riley that night.  Even if he couldn’t see me, he could hear me and pinpoint my location.  Unfortunately it did not work.  Nor did our continuing search efforts yield anything the next day or night.  Despite everyone keeping an eye and ear out, there was no sign of Riley…until he shot out of the trees around four p.m.-- almost 48 hours after he flew off.  It was right when we were bringing the rest of the birds on jesses inside for the night.  He looped around a bit, darting into and out of the woods, but soon he landed safely on my glove.  Riley was home!
Riley, back safe and sound after his big adventure
 In fact, based on where he darted out of the woods, he may have never ventured very far from where we last saw him!  He was probably safely camouflaged from any wild predators and did not call back to us because he did not feel perfectly safe in his “new “environment.

Fly-offs are a risk you take when free flying a trained bird, but with good training, a dedicated staff and volunteers, fly-offs are rarely permanent.  Also, there is always something to learn from a fly-off, and the observant always take the lesson to heart to make sure it doesn’t happen again.  Thank you to everyone who helped during Riley’s Big Adventure.

Submitted by Leah Tyndall, World Bird Sanctuary Naturalist/Trainer

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Welcome back, Riley!