Thursday, October 31, 2013

Junior Volunteer Spotlight - Shayne Sifford

Shayne began volunteering at The World Bird Sanctuary on a cold winter day in February of 2012.  Youngsters can become Junior Volunteers at the age of 13.

Junior Volunteer Shayne Sifford
Shayne is usually a Sunday volunteer.  He is an awesome kid. Joy radiates from him. He loves animals and that love shines through when he shares his knowledge and love of the creatures he cares for with our guests.  

Shayne is especially fond of our display and program Rats.  Yes, I said Rats.  He cuddles them, lets them crawl all over him and shares them with guests who come through the front door of our Nature Center.  Does the thought of cuddling Rats and letting them crawl on you make you shudder?  It is not something that I go out of my way to do, but Shayne does it every weekend, and by sharing his love of these misunderstood creatures with guests he helps to dispel some of the fears and misconceptions many people harbor about rats.

When you walk into the Nature Center and see Shayne beaming with joy, peek up on his shoulder to see if the rat named Betty is up there.  If not, maybe it will be the rat named Veronica.

Shayne’s Mom, Lisa, is also a wonderful volunteer with a great spirit.

Former Staff person Emily Hall and I brought our Free Flight Bird show called Raptor Awareness to Sperring Middle school, which is the school Shayne attends.  Shayne was in the audience for our presentation as we had the trained birds fly over the middle schoolers’ heads. We acknowledged Shayne during our presentation.  We brought Shayne up to take some photos immediately after the program.

Shayne Sifford with Mischief our White-necked Raven and former Staff member Emily Hall.

We love seeing Shayne on Sundays at World Bird Sanctuary’s Nature Center. He brings joy to us all of us and to our animals. Come in on a Sunday morning and meet Shayne and his animal friends.

Photos and story by Michael Zeloski, Director of Education 

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

365 Photo Project - Elephant Rocks State Park

A photo project plus having a friend from out of town equals many opportunities to take photos.  One of the places we visited this summer was Elephant Rock State Park in Missouri, part of the Missouri State Park system.

 The day started out rainy, which was often the M.O. of our outings, but with time the sun came out and we ended up with a beautiful day.  I took over one hundred photos that day, many of which were wildlife photos.  With the day starting out rainy it meant that wildlife would then be out actively feeding or sunning.  This led to some great photos.

The first photo is of a dragonfly that just sat for some time on the path, while we snapped away.  I have tried to identify the species of dragonfly, but have had no luck.  I had a lot of fun photographing and watching this dragonfly.  The fun part was watching it turn its head and look upward every now and then.  I tried to get a photo of this, but it happened so fast that I had no luck.

The next photo is of a Northern Water Snake.  This photo opportunity came when we were exploring a part of the Quarry Lake that was full of dragonflies.  I happened to surprise this snake and, needless to say, both snake and I moved away from each other.  It swam out just a little to the end of some underwater weeds, and then the photos began.  We took many, but this nice close up of the head is a favorite because it captured the tongue sticking out and the rings in the water.  We then walked away to make the snake more comfortable and give it time to swim away.

The last photo is of the beautiful scenery at this popular state park.  It was difficult choosing photos for this blog as there were so many favorite and interesting ones that came out of this day.

Submitted by Cathy Spahn, World Bird Sanctuary Naturalist

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Volunteer Spotlight - Sherry Seavers

Sherry Seavers began a multi-faceted volunteer career with World Bird Sanctuary in 2008, after a visit to World Bird Sanctuary.

During her visit, Sherry, a graphic designer, noticed that some of our brochures needed updating.  With a little trepidation, Sherry approached us about helping us redesign our brochures on a volunteer basis.  After all, she didn’t want to seem critical, but it was obvious that we needed help – and she was willing to help.  With a resounding, “Yes!  Please!” Sherry embarked on a massive project to update our logo, brochures, and eventually, our website.

Sherry's company, S3 Media, specializes in graphic design and web development and hosting services for non-profits.  What would have been a simple redesign of a few pieces of printed material turned into a long-term project to modernize our communication channels, including our website.  Sherry pulled her husband Mike into the work, too.  Mike is a hot shot computer programming guy – Mike makes our website work, Sherry maintains it and makes it look good.   You can see the fruits of their labor at – a website so suited to what we do that other similar organizations have copied the format!

Sherry with Kona, her personal assistant, in her office
 In addition to volunteering graphic design and web-building talent, Sherry is a regular volunteer in our wildlife hospital.  She helps treat sick and injured birds, cleans up after them.  Sherry has also volunteered to bring rescued birds to our wildlife hospital on occasion, since we do not have the manpower to run a rescue service.

Sherry working on a bald eagle in the wildlife hospital 
It is impossible to quantify the value of Sherry’s volunteer contribution to World Bird Sanctuary.  In monetary terms, it is more than we could have afforded to rebuild our website, but the impact is certainly greater than that.  The website and brochures have increased awareness of World Bird Sanctuary and increased the number of visitors that have come to the sanctuary to learn about birds and what we do to save them.  In addition, Sherry’s work on our business cards, logo, brochures and website combined has established a recognizable brand for World Bird Sanctuary across all of our communication pieces and channels, strengthening our public profile and our credibility in the public eye.

According to Independent Sector, an advocacy group in Washington D.C. – the value of a single volunteer hour to an organization is $22.14.  With Sherry’s five years of consistent volunteer work at World Bird Sanctuary, and her many hours behind-the-scenes working on our printed materials and websites, she is truly an integral member of our wonderful volunteer team!  

To find out more about how YOU can volunteer Click Here.

Submitted by Catherine Redfern, World Bird Sanctuary Director of Development

Friday, October 25, 2013

Really Weird Birds: Kagu

The Kagu (Rhynochetos jubatus) is only found in the mountain forests of New Caledonia, which are islands to the east of Australia. 

The Kagu is the sole surviving member in the family Rhynochetidae and the only known close relative is the Sunbittern.  Kagus are listed as an endangered species by the IUCN Red List.

Kagus live on the forest floor, but the strange thing about this bird is, at first glance, they don’t seem to have adapted well to that type of habitat.  Most creatures that live in forests and on the forest floor have excellent camouflage in order to blend in and remain undetected by predators or prey.  The Kagu however has an unusual look for a forest-dweller.  It has light gray feathers, a bright orange beak and legs, a head crest, and bold stripes on its wingtips.  They are known locally as the “ghosts of the forest.”

A Kagu showing off its wings. 
The Kagu is flightless, although it does not have reduced wings like some other flightless birds.  It has a wingspan of about 2.5 feet but they lack the muscles for flight.  They are used mainly for display and can be used for gliding to escape danger. 

These birds are carnivorous and eat a variety of small animals including worms, snails, insects, and lizards.  They find most of their prey in the leaf litter and soil.  If digging is required, they use their beak, not their feet.  They are the only birds to possess ‘nasal corns’, structures covering the nostrils that prevent debris from entering when prodding in the soil.  Another unique characteristic of this bird is that it has only one-third the red blood cells and three times the hemoglobin per red blood cell compared to other birds!

 Kagu with feather crest on display. 
Before Europeans colonized New Caledonia, there were no natural predators for these birds.  Europeans brought cats, dogs, pigs, and rats.  Feral pigs and rats will eat Kagu eggs and chicks; cats and dogs go after both young and adult birds.  It is estimated that there are only between 250-1000 mature Kagus remaining in the wild today.  They also suffer from habitat loss caused by mining and forestry.

Kagus are protected in New Caledonia and have been the subject of conservation efforts, including breeding and releasing, and eradication of the unnatural predators.

Submitted by Sara Oliver, World Bird Sanctuary Naturalist

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

Monday, October 21, 2013

Last Nature Hike Of The Year!

Have you booked your family onto World Bird Sanctuary's family-friendly guided nature hikes yet?

Join us for a leisurely 2-hour hike through our oak hickory forest to see what kind of nature is in our woods.  Only one date remaining this year.
Don't miss this last chance for a Naturalist led hike
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.
Dates Remaining:
October 26th
If you see one Tufted Titmouse, look around--there are probably more.
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!

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Jersey Girl

This month I am excited to introduce you to a very special owl that has a very curious behavior and a great voice!

This special bird’s name is Jersey and she is a Barred Owl.  Jersey is a rescue bird that was hatched in the wild.  She came to WBS in 2011 as an adult, therefore we are unsure of her exact age.

Jersey, the Barred Owl

At the beginning Jersey was not vocal at all, but as she got better she began to make hoot after hoot after hoot.  I can remember when I first heard her vocalize.  It was such an amazing event because she has such a beautiful voice (at least in my opinion).

The Barred Owl (Strix varia) gets its name from the barring on the wing, tail, and belly feathers.  These beautiful owls are native to North America, more specifically the midwest to the east coast, middle range of the southern Canadian provinces, and small parts of Mexico.  They are found in forested areas with access to waterways.  If you look below you can see a beautiful wild Barred Owl.

A wild Barred Owl

The Barred Owl’s diet consists of many different kinds of animals, such as small mammals, small to medium sized birds, fish, reptiles, and amphibians.  Jersey’s favorite food is mice, wings down!  At times she can be a very picky eater!  I guess I would be too if I was given peanut butter on celery instead of strawberries.  I love strawberries, but detest peanut butter (I know, it’s unusual).  To Jersey, mice are to strawberries as chicken is to peanut butter.  Everyone has a preference. 

With most birds of prey, males and females differ in size.  Normally with mammals, it is the males that are larger than the females, but most raptors have it switched!  The females are around a third larger than males.  Barred Owls range from 470-1050 grams (1lb – 2.5lbs) in weight.  They stand from 17-20 inches in height.  They also have a large wingspan for their size, 39-43 inches (3-3.5 feet).  Their lifespan in the wild ranges from 4-8 years and up to 20 years in captivity.  The oldest Barred Owl in captivity was 24 years old!

Here is a photo of Jersey hooting at me

If you hear an owl calling and you are wondering if it is a Barred Owl, then think of the sayings “Who cooks for you? Who cooks for you all?”  Try it now but replace the words with hoos.  This is the Barred Owl “song.”  When a group of Barred Owls hoot together, they sound like a bunch of monkeys!  Above is a picture of Jersey hooting at me.  Do you notice that her throat is puffed up?

Submitted by Lisbeth Hodges, World Bird Sanctuary Naturalist

Thursday, October 17, 2013

This Weekend - Open House Is Here!

This weekend--WBS’ Annual Open House!
FREE!  Bird Shows!  Concerts!  Naturalist Talks!  Kids Activities!

As temperatures cool down the activity at World Bird Sanctuary is heating up.

Where else in the Midwest can you see an Andean Condor....
Fall is in the air; the leaves are beginning to turn; and World Bird Sanctuary's Open House event is this weekend!  Open House coincides with the Fall bird migration - and this year at Open House, we are giving you a closer look at which native birds you might come across as they head south for the winter!  That's right - it's a celebration of birds from the southern Hemisphere - where you'll get to meet birds that you won't find anywhere else in the mid-West!

Those in the know will tell you that the WBS Open House is one of the most entertaining Fall events in the St. Louis area.
 ....or have your photo taken holding a raptor?
It's all about What We Do!
Open House is your opportunity to learn first-hand all about World Bird Sanctuary and the work we do to save threatened bird species and their habitats.  Special activities include:
  • Behind-the-scenes guided tours of our breeding barn, animal behavioral and training center and the wildlife hospital.  These areas are closed to the public for the rest of the year.
  • Shows featuring live animals native to the southern hemisphere presented in our amphitheater three times daily, including: Red-legged seriemas, king vultures, flying macaws, talking parrots, bateleur eagles, tawny eagles and more!
  • Raptor project concerts.
  • Photo opportunity - have your photograph taken while holding a live raptor!  This year's featured bird will be Keeoo the Augur Buzzard
  • Craft activity center for kids, and special kids programs featuring live animals!
  • Be sure to catch the bus to the "Lower Site" where you will meet special birds in our endangered species breeding program and our animal behavior and training center).
Here's what you need to know:
  • Saturday 19th and Sunday 20th October, 2013 
  • 10:00am - 4:00pm
  • Admission and Parking is FREE.
  • Free adults and kids activities!

Sponsored by:

We hope to see you this weekend!

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Laughter In Song

When I first began as a volunteer at World Bird Sanctuary, I was ecstatic at meeting all the unique and wonderful bird species up close, especially, the Sanctuary’s Laughing Kookaburra, Chadder. 
Chadder, the Kookaburra, sitting on his favorite branch
Previously, I had only known this member of the Kingfisher family through the old Aussie song, “Kookaburra” by Marion Sinclair, as many young children learned at summer camp or in the classroom.

During my weekend Keeper Talks, I ask the kids visiting with mom and dad if they’re familiar with the Aussie song, singing a few lines in the meantime to jog their memories.  Most of the time, the children nod excitedly and with bright smiles as I introduce them to Chadder.  And sometimes, as if on cue (but not always), Chadder will let loose the merry laugh in greeting for which his species is renowned.

While the Kookaburra’s call sounds merry and good-natured, it is actually a declaration of territory.  The individual Kookaburra will tell members of its family unit, ‘stay away this is my branch’ or an entire family unit will erupt in a noise hysterical chorus to warn away rival Kookaburra families from their tree.

The Laughing Kookaburra is perhaps the most well known of the four Australian Kookaburra species.  The other three species are: Rufous-bellied Kookaburra, Spangled Kookaburra, and the Blue-winged Kookaburra.

Considering Kookaburras lived in a very small portion of the world--regions of Australia and New Guinea--they are known throughout the world because of the popular song, “Kookaburra” and for their unmistakable merry, hysterical call.

Be sure to visit the World Bird Sanctuary and say hello to Chadder, the Laughing Kookaburra!

Submitted by Jessica Bunke, World Bird Sanctuary Volunteer

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Growing Up Flamingo

One of the many exciting things about working in a zoo all summer is that you get to see the baby animals growing up every day.  I got to work at Stone Zoo with WBS’s educational bird show last summer, so I saw first-hand many youngsters grow up.
These Flamingos nested in full view of the public
While most young animals are off exhibit until they reach a certain age, the flamingos build their nests, lay eggs, and raise their young in full view of the public.  This year six American Flamingos hatched at the Stone Zoo near Boston.  During our many visits to see these adorable little fuzzy flamingos, we realized that while almost everyone recognizes these birds as flamingos, many inquisitive kids (and adults) would like to know more about them.

There are actually six species of flamingos found around the world--in Africa, Europe, Asia, Central and South America, the Caribbean islands and occasionally southern Florida.  They can be found living in the tropics or mountains, but always near shallow brackish waters such as lagoons, swamps, marshes, estuaries, and mudflats where they find their food.  Flamingos are filter feeders and filter tasty blue and green algae, mollusks, crustaceans, plankton, insects, small fish, and seeds from the mud and water. 
This bird's striking pink color comes from the food they eat
The flamingo's pink color actually comes from the carotenoids in the food they eat.  Their unique downward bent beak is well adapted for filtering food out of the water and is lined with rows of hair-like lamellae for capturing their food.  The beak, and sometimes the entire head, is dipped into the water upside down and swept back and forth to filter the food out.  By using their spiny tongue as a pump, water is sucked in and pushed back out across the lamellae as fast 4 to 20 times a second, depending on the species. 

The flamingos' long legs and necks allow them to feed in deeper waters.  They sometimes use their webbed feet to stomp around in the water and bring the food off the bottom and closer to the surface where it can be filtered more easily.  The webbed feet also help flamingos stand on soft mud and make them excellent swimmers in water that
 is too deep to wade. 

While flamingos are most often seen standing in shallow water feeding and preening, they are also good fliers.  However, flamingos need a running start in order to take off, explaining why most of the flamingos at the zoo are fully flighted even though the enclosure has no roof.

Flamingos are very social birds and form colonies of a few dozen to over a million individuals.  Larger colonies split up for the breeding season.  These colonies perform synchronized displays such as marching, wing salutes, and head flagging.  Individuals pair up for the breeding season and form strong pair bonds.

Both parents assist with the building of the nest, which is constructed by pulling mouthfuls of mud, pebbles, feathers, and other nearby material up into a mound. This mound is built up until it is high enough so that the egg won't be washed away during a flood and is protected from the heat of the ground.  This can be a few inches or a foot high and has a slight indentation on the top to prevent the single egg from rolling out.  The parents are very territorial of their nest, which is usually located just out of reach of the neighboring nests.  Both parents take turns incubating the egg for about 26-31 days.

When the egg hatches, the chick is white and fuzzy with a straight pink beak and pink legs.  At the zoo, the chicks were standing up at about two days old.  Within a week, the chicks began to leave the nest and their pink legs and beak turned black.  At this point in the wild, fledglings would group up into microcreches and then later larger creches of thousands of other chicks for protection from predators. During these first few weeks, the chick's beak is not developed enough for feeding on its own, so food is provided by both parents in the form of crop milk.  This reddish milk is secreted by the upper digestive tract and is high in protein and fat.
This chick's beak is beginning to form its characteristic bend
By about eleven weeks, the hatchlings grow in brown juvenile plumage and their beaks gradually begin to get their characteristic bend and lamellae.  Juvenile flamingos get their bright pink adult plumage gradually between 2 and 4 years of age. Males and females look the same, but males are slightly larger. Flamingos live about 20-30 years in the wild, but in captivity, they can live to be 50 or older.

At the Stone Zoo each juvenile flamingo was given a unique identification band when they were old enough.  It has been quite exciting to watch these six flamingos grow up this summer!

Story and photos by Michaela Henneberg, World Bird Sanctuary Zoo Show Staff Member

Friday, October 11, 2013

Really Weird Birds: The Terror Bird

Terror Birds were very large, flightless, carnivorous birds which are now all extinct.  They were the largest group of top predators in South America during the Cenozoic Era (62-2 million years ago). 

Terror Birds ranged in height from about 3 to 10 feet tall.

Image of Terror Bird species Paraphysornis brasiliensis, measuring about 6 feet tall 
These birds had unusually massive skulls and beaks.  The largest bird skull yet found belongs to the Terror Bird species Kelenken guillermoi.  This bird’s skull measures 28 inches long, including its 18 inch beak.  It stood about 9.8 feet tall!

Image of Kelenken guillermoi, largest head of any known bird 
What was the purpose and benefit of having such a large head and large beak?  Surely to capture and kill prey, but how?  One opinion is that they captured prey with their beak and in order to kill it, shook it vigorously until its neck or back broke.  A second opinion is that after capture they would bite straight down on the animal in order to kill it.  A third opinion is that when in pursuit of prey, the bird would hammer and jab its prey at the opportune moment.
In order to figure out which method Terror Birds most likely used, scientists used CT scans of the bird’s skulls and biomechanical computer models highlighting the physical stress put on the bones when executing the different methods of kill.  The method that showed the least stress was pulling back with the neck and hammering prey with the beak.  The scan showed the skull to have rigid beam-like bones where almost all other known birds have flexible joints.  The beams strengthen the skull and beak, making them extremely powerful for up and down jabbing motions.  Scans also revealed a hollow beak.  Models showed that thrashing the head back and forth with a wiggling prey item makes the hollow beak susceptible to breaking; therefore a method most likely not used.

Skull of terror bird species Paraphysornis brasiliensis
The Terror Bird’s legs were well adapted for quick, agile movement.  They most likely chased prey until either it was cornered or worn out; then the Terror Bird would swing its beak down on the animal like a hatchet, over and over again!

All in all, one could easily see how this bird got its name, for it must have been a truly terrifying creature!

Submitted by Sara Oliver, World Bird Sanctuary Naturalist

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Dave & Kathy King

Dave and Kathy King have been volunteering with World Bird Sanctuary since the year 2000.

Dave and Kathy at the WBS Holiday Party which honors staff and volunteers

In 1999 World Bird Sanctuary Executive Director Walter Crawford and I led a chartered bus tour up and down the Mississippi River to view wintering Bald Eagles.  This was where we first met Dave and Kathy King who had signed up for the tour.

We first met the Kings on an eagle viewing bus tour - photo by Mike Zieloski

That day traveling up and down the Mississippi proved to be a great day for viewing Bald Eagles, ice, and waterfowl.  But the best part of the day was meeting Dave and Kathy, who became volunteers the next year and have been helping us ever since.

Dave holding Patriot the Bald Eagle - photo by Mike Zieloski

These two long-time volunteers are fun loving and are always ready to help at any World Bird Sanctuary event, including preparing meals for staff, interns and volunteers for many of our special events.  For many years they have run our food concession stand for Birds in Concert every Thursday evening in August, as well as the food concession for our Annual Open House event in October.

During many WBS special events you're sure to find Kathy serving up food for the hungry crowd

Dave fires up the grill and cooks the meat while Kathy serves up a variety of delicious and eye appealing accompaniments to Dave’s main course. 

Be sure to stop by the food concession stand and meet Dave and Kathy when you attend Open House or Birds in Concert.  Dave is sure to put a smile on your face with his easy-going friendly manner and wry quips.
Submitted by Michael Zeloski,  World Bird Sanctuary Director of Education

Monday, October 7, 2013

Scavenger Hunt

A few months ago I had the opportunity to watch a very interesting documentary about how biologists and hunters in California are collaborating to save the California condor from extinction. 

“Scavenger Hunt,” was produced by Boise non-profit Wild Lens, featuring Chris Parish of The Peregrine Fund
The film is called “Scavenger Hunt” and is the first of its kind that I have seen that actually credits hunters for their conservation efforts.  At the same time, it is a very well done educational piece that explains to hunters the many reasons why they should consider switching to lead-alternative ammunitions (if they haven’t already). 

Of course, their main focus is to prevent species like the California Condor from going extinct, as they feed on carcasses that many times contain lead fragments.  These lead particles and fragments can also be consumed by hunters and their families.

Xray of a California Condor - Photo courtesy of The Peregrine Fund/Chris Parish
This film follows biologists that survey the condors and depicts what really goes on in the field.  They not only observe these birds from afar, but they track them extensively and capture each numbered bird once or twice a year to test their blood levels for lead exposure.  I don’t want to give away all of the details of the film, but unfortunately despite all best efforts, sometimes intervention comes too late.

Flying California Condor - Photo courtesy of The Peregrine Fund/Chris Parish
In 1981 there were only 21 California Condors left in the wild.  Today, through captive breeding programs and conservation efforts, those numbers have increased to over 200 in the wild.  That is a great improvement from where they were, but at only 200, the wild population is still at a huge risk for extinction. 

Adult Condors in nest cave - Photo courtesy of The Peregrine Fund/Chris Parish
The life of a California condor is not an easy one.  A pair must spend 57 days working on incubating an egg.  Then it takes 5 – 6 months of development before the chick is ready to try its wings.  The youngster may remain dependent on their parents for up to a year after fledging.  Wild Condors will usually only raise one chick every two years.  This one chick will take around 6 – 8 years to begin breeding attempts.  Reproductive rates are low for Condors, and much time and effort is dedicated by both the Condor parents and by biologists who try and do everything possible to make sure that the egg hatches, the chick fledges and one day has offspring of its own.

Perched California Condors, juvenile and adult - Photo courtesy of The Peregrine Fund/Chris Parish
The state of California banned the use of lead ammunition in 2008 in the 8 counties in which California Condors are found.  This has also helped reduce lead levels in other birds of prey, such as Golden Eagles and Turkey Vultures.  These 2 species have smaller territories and a more varied diet.  Banning lead ammunition in the 8 counties, though, does not seem to have improved things much for the Condors.  Condors can eat from 75 – 100 carcasses per year, and even a single exposure to lead can be deadly.  They can fly over 200 miles a day, which is beyond the counties in which lead is banned.

Of course, any time you mention guns or ammunition these days, people get uncomfortable and sometimes even hot under the collar.  I believe that this film fairly represents both sides of the issues, allowing the viewer to come to an educated and ethical conclusion of their own.

For more information on this film, Click Here.

For information about alternatives to lead ammunition,  Click Here.

For other resources about condors and lead, check out the Institute for Wildlife Studies Here.

Submitted by Billie Baumann, World Bird Sanctuary Outreach Coordinator