Saturday, June 29, 2013
Thievery is not a behavior confined solely to the human race.
Thievery has existed for eons in the animal kingdom. Take, for example, a Jackal slinking in to steal a morsel from a lion kill; one Bald Eagle attempting to snatch a Salmon from the talons of another of its own species; the packrat who steals into a campsite in the middle of the night to appropriate various items from unsuspecting campers; or a squirrel raiding a feeder clearly put out for the birds.
This Bluejay is one of the birds commonly accused of thievery, since they are known to raid the nests of other birds for eggs and young chicks.
For the past several years this last scenario is one that has baffled my husband and me at our Lake Cabin. We have been plagued at various times by raids on the feeders, the culprits being Raccoons, Squirrels and Chipmunks.
For the most part my husband has found various ways to thwart the thieves. However, one feeder has continued to be a mystery. At dusk there would still be about a fourth of a tube of seed left in the feeder, but in the morning it would be empty.
Originally this feeder was hung high off the ground in a tree about 8-10 feet from our deck, and we could only reach it to fill it by pulling it in with a small string too flimsy to support a squirrel. We had had enough squirrel raids to know that any feeder needed to be in a squirrel-proof cage. We finally found one that would keep most adult squirrels at bay--although very young, small squirrels could occasionally get into it. This problem always solves itself, since they quickly grow to be too large to get through the bars. Problem solved—we thought!
This thief, the common Grey Squirrel, will soon find that he can't squeeze between the wires of this feeder.
We soon found that we may have thwarted one thief, only to come up against another. Apparently the local Raccoons had discovered this feeder. Not to be thwarted by the cage enclosure they would simply jump onto it, dislodging it from the only available branch we could hang it from, and then ride it down the thirteen feet to the ground, spilling the seed everywhere. Not to be defeated by the Raccoon version of a Six Flags Ride, my ever-resourceful husband went back to the drawing board!
Soon he came up with a Fisherman’s version of a feeder pole. He made a fishing rod holder out of some PVC pipe fittings, and triumphantly installed a fishing rod out over the thirteen foot void off of our deck. A fishing rod?? How did this solve the problem you might ask? With a hot pepper suet feeder hanging from one ferrule and the much battered seed feeder hanging from another ferrule, we were now in business trolling for birds. The squirrels couldn’t get into the feeder, no matter how many times they navigated the fishing rod, only to find to their chagrin that they could not fit between the cage bars surrounding the feeder; and the Raccoons couldn’t navigate the rod since it was too narrow and flimsy to support their weight. Problem solved—right??
This Red Breasted Woodpecker doesn't care that the suet contains hot peppers, but the squirrels won't touch it once they've tried it one time
Well, problem solved for a while--at least until the birdseed again began to disappear between dusk and daybreak. The finger of suspicion now began to point to the local Chipmunk population. However, there was no evidence to confirm this “beyond a reasonable doubt.”
Then one night it happened. My husband had been sitting on the deck enjoying a beautiful Lake sunset, and had lingered a bit after dark, when he heard an unmistakable “clank” from the direction of the mystery feeder. My husband grabbed a flashlight, sure that he was about to catch a Chipmunk in the act. But, lo and behold, the critter in the spotlight was no thieving Chipmunk—it was a Flying Squirrel!
In all the years we’ve been going to the Lake of the Ozarks this was the first time encountering one of these nocturnal little creatures. According to the Missouri Department of Conservation’s web page these small rodents, who really are in the squirrel family, are fairly common in a healthy ecosystem.
Common or not—they are rarely seen by most people. Last week we took our granddaughter with us to the Lake for a few days. We were sitting on the deck after dark listening to the night sounds of the tree frogs, when our sharp eyed granddaughter excitedly exclaimed that something had scurried across the deck railing right under our noses, unseen by my husband and me. Sure enough, it was the night thief--our resident Southern Flying Squirrel--sitting in the birdfeeder frantically stuffing itself with the remaining birdseed from the day.
We were so taken by this stealthy little night creature that for now we have decided to share the day’s remaining birdseed with him and his brethren. After all, how often do you get to share a true mystery with your grandchildren?
Thursday, June 27, 2013
Visit World Bird Sanctuary this summer and experience Amazing Animal Encounters!
Ameren Missouri brings you free, family-friendly, fun and education Amazing Animal Encounters at World Bird Sanctuary, all summer long!
Free, fun, family-friendly environmental education programs are presented by our naturalists, using snakes, parrots, birds and mammals to teach you about the amazing creatures that share our planet, and what we can do to help them survive.
Dates: Every Saturday and Sunday from Memorial Day to Labor Day
Time: Saturdays at 11.30am and 2.00pm; Sundays 1.30pm.
Admission: Admission and parking is FREE. No reservations required.
Tuesday, June 25, 2013
Growing up, I regrettably admit, I didn’t know much about birds. I knew the area’s common birds: Robins, Blue Jays, Cardinals, and Crows…or what I thought were Crows. I later learned they were Grackles. I must have assumed the big black birds, the actual crows, were Ravens. It’s all so embarrassing now.
"I knew the most about Bluejays..."
I knew the most about Blue Jays, after having written an essay on Blue Jays in elementary school. And though I was absolutely wowed with what I learned about Blue Jays, it didn’t register with me that there is a whole wide world of birds to learn about.
Most people don't realize that bats are mammals--not birds
Hawks, bats, owls, vultures…those were the creatures of countless Halloween stories. The first time I had ever seen a real bat, I was probably close to 16 years old, and I was staying with relatives near Ste. Genevieve. A small group of bats fluttered above my cousins and me as one night we laid ourselves out on their trampoline talking about whatever it is kids talk about. I was captivated by these creatures as they swirled above us, and thought it to be the coolest thing ever. But still, it didn’t register with me that there is a whole wide world of birds (and in this case, birdlike mammals) to learn about.
Around 2003, my husband became aware of the World Bird Sanctuary while attending a postal convention through his former employer. WBS’ founder, Walter Crawford, Jr. and a volunteer were there with Tobin, a WBS Barn Owl. They discussed WBS’ history and mission, and they flew Tobin, whose wing brushed my husband’s head as it flew by.
Upon meeting Tobin my husband was "hooked"
From the time my husband and I began dating in 1999 I have learned more and more about birds. He grew up learning about them and is an official “bird nerd.” Each time he sees a bird he’ll call it out, and finally, I began to fully realize there is a whole wide world filled with amazing and beautiful birds to learn about. Since his passion for birds had quickly spread to me, when he came home from work the day Tobin’s wing brushed his head I was immediately…well…jealous…and I had to see this owl. We made plans to visit WBS that weekend.
Upon arrival, I was in awe of the Sanctuary. Tucked away in the middle of a hardwood forest, I could not envision a more perfect backdrop. Oak and Hickory trees surround the sanctuary; an assortment of wild birds from Woodpeckers to Brown-headed Cowbirds to Nuthatches to Chickadees, Mourning Doves, and Titmice flitter about from feeder to feeder; in the distance, the Meramec river flows.
Who would guess that this little piece of wilderness is so close to St. Louis?
Further in is the raptor exhibit and just beyond that, the outdoor exhibit, where most of the birds are kept for viewing. It is here where, for the very first time, I had seen, “in real life,” all the creatures of countless Halloween stories. The feeling was almost indescribable. To see these birds in pictures or on the TV screen is one thing, but to see them, to hear them, up close, to watch them move and take in all their fine details is, in the most literal sense, awesome. It was here, that I truly and fully fell in love with not only birds of prey but also the World Bird Sanctuary.
To see the Bald Eagles up close is awesome
In the way the staff and volunteers interact with WBS’ animals it is clear to see that caring for these creatures is not just their job, but their passion--a passion that extends far beyond themselves and reaches out to each and every WBS visitor.
It’s in the way they interact with the animals, the way they so willingly share their knowledge and experience - it is born from a true desire to care for, protect, and preserve these vital birds.
I feel fortunate to live close to such a wonderful organization that not only focuses on the preservation and rehabilitation of birds of prey but also on educating the public on the importance of these birds and their ecological roles. I am so grateful for the opportunity WBS provides my kids to learn about birds of prey, and learn what they can do to help make sure these animals thrive.
The amount of bird knowledge I have amassed in the years my husband, kids, and I have visited the World Bird Sanctuary, I guarantee, I would not have learned otherwise. Through WBS’ programs - World Eagle Day, Baturday, International Migratory Bird Day, International Vulture Awareness Day, Fall Open House, Owl Prowls, and various concerts and trails days - the staff, and volunteers, I have learned enough (but there’s definitely more to learn!) to proudly, finally, call myself a true “bird nerd”.
Submitted by Sara Borgard, Guest Writer
Sunday, June 23, 2013
World Bird Sanctuary visits St. Louis Children's Hospital a couple of times per year, thanks to Horticulturalist Gary Wangler.
Gary standing in his beautiful creationGary Wangler is the Staff Horticulturalist for Children's Hospital. He and his staff of gardeners have the most beautiful garden on the roof of part of the 8th floor at Children's Hospital. This garden is a magical place with growing trees, flowers and sculptures that will take your breath away. The garden, complete with a walking path and benches, has a view into Forest Park, St. Louis’s city park. This visual delight is just outside the kids’ playroom on the 8th floor. Families can go out there to relax and look at the view, and admire the plants or the whimsical sculptures.
Colorful birdhouses adorn the fence surrounding the gardenTwice a year the World Bird Sanctuary is asked to bring animal biofacts like feathers, claws and eggs. We share stories with the young patients. Sometimes one of the parents just needs a break and pops in to ask questions about birds or tell us of one of the amazing animal encounters they have had. Other times I have had a great conversation with a sibling who is not sick, but is interested in wildlife or birds.
I have been lucky enough to be the World Bird Sanctuary representative to go for these twice a year visits many times. With every visit I feel better about sharing my knowledge or my passion for birds or compassion for fellow humans who need a change of pace.
One of the whimsical sculptures that adorns the rooftop garden
Gary Wangler is a super guy, who enjoys making the hospital a bright place with wonderful plants and interactive sculptures. He and Walter Crawford, our Executive Director at World Bird Sanctuary, have known each other for many years from working side by side at the St. Louis Zoo. Gary always asks how Walt is doing and I always give him the latest update on Walt's travels or programs.
Gary's rooftop garden is a very special place for patients and families of St. Louis Children's Hospital. World Bird Sanctuary is lucky to be able to go there a couple of times each year to share our passion about birds with these families.
Thank you Gary for inviting us to be part of something very special.
World Bird Sanctuary Director of Education
Friday, June 21, 2013
Duncan, our 26-year-old Wedge-tailed eagle, recently came out of retirement to wow audiences at WBS’s educational bird shows at Stone Zoo near Boston, MA.
Meet Duncan, WBS's Wedge-tailed Eagle
The last time this bird flew in our education programs was in 1994. This summer she is back and flying at our zoo program at Stone Zoo in Boston, MA, and doing quite well. At first I was unsure of how this would go, but I was very excited to have this opportunity to, basically, retrain this bird.
Training birds, and any animal I would assume, is very challenging. The first thing that we have to figure out is the “working weight” of the bird. The working weight is the weight we keep them at during their flying season (6 months of flying 6 months off), and this is a weight at which they’re food motivated (in other words, a weight at which they want food, but they’re not starving). The working weight is heavier than they would be naturally in the wild, but lighter than they would be if they were offered as much food as they wanted without working for it. In order to find that magic number it takes observation. Too light and your bird gets aggressive, too heavy and your bird won’t fly. Once you find this magic number you then have to do a lot of practicing and getting the bird back in shape because just like us, birds also get out of shape. We usually take about a month and a half to two months to get all the birds back in shape.
Photo courtesy of Alex Navarro, Educational Specialist, Stone Zoo
Once that training period has gone by its then time for shows to start. This is when you learn even more about your bird. You have to get them used to seeing people in the theater, because during show practice time you practice in an empty theater. If the bird is new to flying for an audience you have to slowly build up from just a few people to more and larger crowds. You quickly learn all the strange things that individual birds may not like. I’ve worked with birds that don’t like the strangest things, like big necklaces or strollers, or crutches. A very few don’t like sunglasses, perhaps because they can see themselves in them—or that’s what we think at least.
Photo courtesy of Alex Navarro, Educational Specialist, Stone Zoo
After learning the quirks of individual birds and doing our best to keep that object away from them, you then have to regularly deal with uncontrollable factors, like wind. Very windy conditions may sometimes blow a free flying bird off course, but with the right flight muscle conditioning (in other words, lots of practice), our birds fly very well when the wind is blowing.
Photo courtesy of Alex Navarro, Educational Specialist, Stone Zoo
After taking all these factors into consideration, and even if you do everything right, sometimes the unexpected still happens--they are live animals after all. Most times, though, things work out perfectly, and you get what I would imagine to be a “proud parent” moment the first time your bird does the exact behavior you’ve been training. Then, when the behavior you’re asking of your bird becomes consistent, that is one of the best feelings a trainer can have.
Photo courtesy of Alex Navarro, Educational Specialist, Stone Zoo
All of this is what my staff and I have dealt with while getting Duncan back into the swing of things. And finally, after tons of practice and hard work, she is doing very well and flying for all our audiences at Stone Zoo. We are all very proud of this magnificent bird.
Submitted by Jaimie Sansoucie, World Bird Sanctuary Naturalist/Trainer
Wednesday, June 19, 2013
World Bird Sanctuary will be hosting its hugely popular Avian Training Workshop October 31-November 3, 2013.
If you've considered attending the World Bird Sanctuary Avian Training Workshop in the past but couldn’t work it into your schedule, now is your chance to plan ahead. There's still plenty of time to arrange your schedule and take advantage of the early registration bonus! Save $100 by registering before October 1st!
The classroom section covers a multitude of subjects
What is an Avian Training Workshop you may ask?
The WBS Avian Training Workshop is an intensive 4-day workshop, which covers all aspects of housing, training, feeding and caring for raptors, parrots, corvids and many other species. The workshop includes both classroom and hands-on training.
Subjects covered in the classroom section include:
* Establishing your own program--permits, insurance, facilities, staff & volunteers
* Working with and training your bird--manning and positive reinforcement, desensitizing
* Choosing the correct species to work with
* Transportation--crates, permits, driving, flying, shipping
* Housing--mews, jumpboxes, A-frames, flight cages, climate, hotwiring enclosures, substrates
* Perch types--bow, platform, screen, etc.--which perch works best for which species
* Diets--food types, frozen vs. live, storage, prep, raising food colonies, vitamins
* Training your birds for flying--weight management, base weights, target weighs, flyer food
Learn how to weight manage your birds
Everybody's favorite--the hands-on section:
Our staff believes the only way to learn is through the hands-on experience of doing things yourself. At our workshop you will have the opportunity to actually do the following:
* Make jesses, anklets, leashes
* Practice imping feathers
* Experience coping and trimming of a raptor
* Participate in simple public speaking games and learn how different elements make you a better public speaker
* Fly a Harris' Hawk and/or Barn Owl with WBS staff
* Help train a new behavior with a Raven or crow (continues throughout the workshop)
* "Be the Bird" in our training game
* Participate in emergency medical care and do a gross necropsy on a raptor
Help train a Raven or Crow to do a new behavior
The workshop also includes an extensive tour of WBS' facilities and opportunities to see birds and housing up close.
RESERVATIONS REQUIRED. Workshop has a minimum of 10 participants and a maximum of 20.
WHEN: Thursday, Oct. 31 through Sunday, Nov. 3
EARLY REGISTRATION: Sign up by October 1st - Cost - $650/person
LATE REGISTRATION: Sign up after October 1st - Cost - $750/person
$100 non-refundable deposit required by 10/01/13 for early registration, balance due by 10/15/13.
Registration fee includes lunch each day.
Transportation to and from St. Louis, hotel accommodations and breakfast & dinner are the responsibility of each participant.
To download a registration form CLICK HERE
Further questions? Contact Teri Graves, 636-225-4390, ext. 0 or email email@example.com
Monday, June 17, 2013
There are thirty-one species of shrikes throughout the world.
Shrikes are medium-sized (~20 inches in length) passerine birds of the family Laniidae, the name being derived from the Latin word for butcher. Some shrikes are also known as "butcher birds" because of their unusual feeding habits. Their beaks are hooked, like birds of prey, indicating their predatory nature. Most shrike species are found throughout Eurasia and Africa. There are just two species found in North America: the Loggerhead and Northern Shrikes.
Shrikes are birds of open country, especially grasslands and overgrown fields with scattered shrubs and trees. They consume insects, other invertebrates, amphibians, small to medium-sized reptiles, and small mammals and birds. The design of their beak allows them to quickly kill their prey with a bite to the back of the neck. They use their beaks to transport small prey, and their feet to carry something larger up to their own body mass. But what they then do with their prey is unique. They impale their captured meal on a thorn, a sharp twig, or even barbed wire. They can then proceed to rip and tear it apart into bite size pieces! If the prey is too large to eat in one sitting, the shrike will leave it on its spike and return later to finish.
Northern Shrike with impaled mouse
Shrikes are predators, but they lack strong feet and talons for holding prey down while eating it. Therefore they have instead evolved this unique adaptation for feeding as well as for courtship displays. In some species of shrikes, the larger the item the male impales, the more desirable he is to the female. Also a study done in Poland on the Great Grey (in Europe this is the common name for the Northern Shrike species) Shrike showed that males impaled their prey faster and with less attempts per impaling than females. The location of impaled prey also differed. Males impaled prey in more visible places, especially during the courtship and mating season, whereas females found concealed locations.
Males will also perform a courtship dance and song in order to attract a mate. They will bow, shiver their wings, and zigzag up and down a branch. Some shrikes will even impress the ladies by impaling shiny or colorful objects on a thorn. Shrikes are typically monogamous and together build a cup shaped nest off the ground. The female incubates the eggs while the male brings her food.
Unfortunately, a trait shared among shrikes around the World is that many species have suffered population declines. The Loggerhead Shrike population has been decreasing across much of North America and has all but disappeared from many areas, to the extent that captive breeding programs have been started in an attempt to save some populations of this bird.
Biologists believe that habitat loss and pesticides are the chief reasons for their decline. In Missouri, the Loggerhead Shrike is listed as a Species of Conservation due to its rapidly declining populations.
Saturday, June 15, 2013
Hey! There's Nature in My Woods! Time to go find it!
Have you booked your family onto World Bird Sanctuary's family-friendly guided nature hikes yet! Our next Nature Walk is scheduled for June 22.
Join us for a leisurely 2-hour hike through our oak hickory forest to see what kind of nature is in our woods.
An expert naturalist will lead you on your hike – where you may see birds, reptiles, amphibians and mammals. Learn about trees, rocks and who knows what else!
Each hike will be a new experience depending on the season and creatures we encounter.
Time: Hike starts at 9am. Registration at 8.30am.
Dates: Every fourth Saturday of the month from April until October.
Enjoy a walk through our oak hickory forest where you may encounter a colony of May Apples
Cost: $9 for adults; $7 for children under 12. Groups of 10 or more - $7 per person regardless of age.
Reservations Required: Call 636-225-4390 ext. 0 to make your reservation and find out what nature is in your woods!
Dress for the weather and don't forget your binoculars and cameras!
Thursday, June 13, 2013
May has been a very busy month with some great weather. Since I love to bird watch, this is a great time of year to get out in the field and look for migrating birds along with some of the locals.
One of my early trips this month was to Busch Conservation area. As I was bird watching around the conservation area I was lucky enough to get a great photo of a Worm-eating Warbler. This is a local species here in Missouri, but for someone that is from New York, it is still a nice find, since they are rare in New York. Then during the editing process I made the mistake of deleting the photo, grrrrrr!
However, I did not delete this first photo I have for you of a Barred Owl. Just by chance I chose to drive down a road that has reliably yielded me a Yellow Warbler sighting in the past. I saw the warbler and then drove down the road to turn around. Just as I started turning around I heard chickadees, titmice, and wrens making a lot of scolding noise. Small birds scold and harass birds of prey, usually making the raptor leave the small bird’s nesting territories. I looked up and there was this beautiful Barred Owl sitting in a tree. I took lots of photos and then went on my way, trying to just let the owl be.
The next two photos are both from the same event--a bird release. During an average workday I walk through the Wildlife Hospital on my way to train some birds that reside on WBS’s display line, so I frequently get a chance to see the patients that come into the hospital. On this particular day I just happened to see a beautiful American Bittern. The American Bittern is a relative of the heron family, known for sitting with their heads stretched up toward the sky in order to blend in with reeds; their usual habitat. I made a comment about how cool it was, and the next thing I knew I was getting the opportunity to release the bird. I had a day or two to think about where the release site should be, and with the help of the WBS Outreach Coordinator, Billie Baumann, I found a good location, and that evening off we went to release the bird.
When we arrived I looked around at the setting and decided it would be a perfect release site. I took the bird out of the crate for a second to get a few photos, then put the bird back in the crate. Billie and I stationed ourselves off to the side ready to take pictures, and then opened the crate. The Bittern walked out and immediately went into the classic “I am a reed!” bittern position. Slowly the bird walked to the water, then finally took off. It landed in a tree and we left to let the bird become accustomed to its surroundings.
And finally, one more photo for the month of May. Recently I took a trip to the St. Louis Zoo. I was very happy I did. On this particular trip many of the animals were very active and the crowds were manageable. However, I am glad I left when I did, since by that time the crowds were flocking in.
On this trip I took tons of photos and there is one I would like to share with all of you. As I walked by the lion exhibit I noticed that two young lions were very active. I set up to take some photos. While watching them interact I caught this photo of these two youngsters. As one was drinking the other one walked up behind him and grabbed his tail! It was just hysterical. I had a great time watching them and all the other animals.
I encourage anyone who loves taking photos to develop your own 365 project. Over the last year and a half I have experienced more and seen more than I ever have in years past; simply because I find myself looking for ways to take that next photo. Rather than just taking the camera sporadically here and there, I just make it a point to automatically carry it with me.
Get out there and have fun! There’s so much to see and so little time!
Submitted by Cathy Spahn, World Bird Sanctuary Naturalist
Tuesday, June 11, 2013
Rain, rain go away. We still need to do shows today--if you don’t the people won’t stay!
A summer downpour does not make for good audience numbers
Rain, rain go away! I hate the weather…ok allow me to rephrase. I hate the weather during show season. Nothing can throw off the amazing groove you have going during shows faster than a sudden downpour or unexpected heat wave.
When all of your programs take place outdoors, good weather is very key. The ability to read the weather is even more important. After five years of doing zoo show programs, the weather still defies me.
Even with the aid of a Doppler radar, I still get taken by surprise. Very recently we looked at the radar before doing a practice show up at the Milwaukee County Zoo, where WBS presents educational birds shows for the summer, and it looked clear. About halfway through the show it started to pour on us and we had to scramble to get everyone inside and protect the sound equipment. Turns out a storm literally appeared out of nowhere on the radar!
There have been several occasions where we started a show, but had to cancel it because of inclement weather. Not only to protect our guests and birds, but as you can imagine, expensive sound equipment does not react well to pouring rain. Despite the fact that birds have excellent waterproofing on their feathers, even they cannot fly once they have been soaked to the skin by a rapid downpour.
A thoroughly soaked Peabody
Unfortunately, once it does start pouring, many people begin fleeing for the exits (not that I can blame them--it’s pouring rain!), and sometimes there is still a bird on the stage, so we have to quickly get control of it again.
Surely, you might think, things must be less difficult when the rain starts before the shows, but no. When the rain happens before shows start for the day or between shows we make sure that the birds are inside (or under cover) so that they are dry enough to fly. Sometimes it rains right up until and through fifteen minutes before shows--in which case we unfortunately have to cancel. Other times it stops raining sixteen minutes before shows start, which means we have to scramble to get all of the birds outside that are going to be in the show. Any way you slice it, rain, for us, is a problem. Maybe I should stop bringing Otis, our White-bellied Stork, to the shows I supervise (in Africa, where White-bellied Storks are from, natives look forward to the return of flocks of this stork because their return means the rainy season is about to start).
Otis, Bringer Of Rain
The lack of rain however is not necessarily any better, since this usually occurs in the dead of summer. Which of course equals hotter temperatures, and since our stages are made of concrete, hot stages as well. If the heat index exceeds 105, we cannot do shows for the safety of our guests and birds. Sometimes we have to feel the surface temperature of the stage for the birds that walk on it, since bird feet are not built for blistering concrete. There have been times that we have actually fried an egg on the stage. They get that hot!
Weather is an unfortunate factor when performing outdoors. Over time you learn to read it a little and get better and better at adjusting for it. Overall though, no matter how very vexing it is (and it is very vexing), it is important to work around the weather so that we can showcase our birds and their behaviors as often as possible. After all, the show must go on!
Submitted by Leah Tyndall, World Bird Sanctuary Naturalist/Trainer