Friday, January 31, 2014

You Can't Con A Kahn

Welcome back readers!  Here's a riddle for you: what has no arms, no legs, is white and yellow, and has allergies?
Kahn makes an appearance at a Birds in Concert performance (photo by Gay Schroer)
If you were thinking Khan the albino Burmese Python that resides at the World Bird Sanctuary, then you're correct!  This species is one of the largest snakes in the world!
Here is a picture of Kahn taking a bath outside.  He seems to love the water! (photo by Lisbeth Hodges)
Burmese Pythons (Python bivittatus) are native to Southeast Asia.  They are a popular reptile pet in the pet trade.  Their diet is mostly small mammals and they will also eat birds.

Burmese Pythons average up to 200 pounds and range from 8-16 feet long.  Kahn is on the smaller scale.  He is just shy of 13 feet and weighs 76 pounds.  The longest snake species in the world is the Reticulated Python.  They can get up to 33 feet long!  The heaviest living snake in the world is a Burmese Python named “Baby” that is 27 feet (8.23 meters) long and weighs 403 pounds (183 kilograms)!  If you visit the Serpent Safari Park in Illinois you can see him! 

Burmese Pythons are popular animals for people who want to have an exotic pet.  However, when purchasing their pet many people don’t realize how large they become. When they get too big for their owners they will sometimes be released into the wild.  At other times these giant snakes will escape from their homes and become feral animals.

These snakes were first reported around the year 2000 in the Everglades National Park here in the U.S., and have been a problem ever since. They have proliferated in the  Everglades in Florida and are now considered an invasive species.  Between 2000 and 2002, over 1,800 were removed from the area by the National Park Service.  The Park Service believes it is only a small fraction of what is still present today.

Kahn came to us from a friend of Walter Crawford, Executive Director of the World Bird Sanctuary.  He is at least twenty years old now.  The normal lifespan is 20-25 years in the wild, but can increase up to 30-35 years in captivity. 

One of the most frequent questions that I get asked is, “Is that snake poisonous?” Snakes are not poisonous.  Snakes are either venomous or non-venomous.  All the snakes at World Bird Sanctuary are non-venomous constrictors.  The term constrictor refers to how some snakes kill their prey.  Kahn’s diet consists of frozen, then thawed rabbits.  When he is given the rabbit, he first constricts (squeezes) it for a period of time.  If the rabbit is large enough, Kahn then unhinges his jaw and slowly starts to swallow. 

In the beginning of the blog I mentioned allergies.  Yes, this snake does have allergies! He has seasonal allergies just like people!  We check his nose every day and give him drops as necessary.  He also has a humidifier in his exhibit to help keep the air moist around him.  Kahn has a unique color mutation called albinism that affects the pigment in his skin.  Below you can view a picture of a normal colored Burmese next to a close up picture of Kahn.
Normal colored Burmese Python (photo from the Wikimedia Commons files)

Close-up of Kahn (photo by Lisbeth Hodges)
Kahn is available for adoption in our Adoption program.  To find out more information, call 636-861-3225.  All adoption donations are tax deductible. 

This season Kahne can be seen at the nature center at the World Bird Sanctuary, which is open daily from 8am-5pm. 

Kahn is a very handsome snake; you should stop on by and visit him! 

Submitted by Lisbeth Hodges, World Bird Sanctuary Naturalist

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Volunteer of the Year 2013 Jena Baumgarten

As volunteer coordinator for the World Bird Sanctuary it is my pleasure each year to present the volunteer of the year award.  This year was special because the staff and senior management nominated and chose my dear friend Jena Baumgarten!  

Jena became a volunteer in December 2005.  At the time she answered our application question, “Why do you want to volunteer at WBS?” by saying, “To learn about the different types of birds you have and to be able to educate the public.” She has certainly accomplished what she set out to do, and then some!  In her eight years with WBS she has logged 2129.5 hours helping the birds!

As an education volunteer Jena regularly assists our staff with presenting programs around St. Louis and surrounding areas as well as traveling on overnight, out of town trips. 

Due to the amount of time Jena has put in over the years and the experience she has gained, she is one of a handful of volunteers that we ask to be “chick in charge” for displays and small programs.  This basically means that as a volunteer Jena goes out with another volunteer and carries the responsibility of a staff person at a raptor display.  She can also regularly be found giving tours of World Bird Sanctuary.
Jena’s time does not end with programs.  She also assists me with our volunteer program, helping me with orientations to get new volunteers started.  This past summer she also ran our volunteer program for eight weeks while I was out on maternity leave--fielding emails, running orientations, and checking up on new volunteers to see how things were going.  She loves to spread her excitement and love of WBS to anyone she encounters.

Jena has also done an amazing job of getting her family involved.  She regularly brings family and friends to WBS, as well as giving a Return to the Wild as gifts for her family (a Return to the Wild allows a person who donates money to WBS to release a bird to the wild that WBS rehabilitated).  In addition she is regularly getting her husband involved by helping us with in-kind car part donations to keep our fleet of aging vehicles up and running.

The dictionary describes a volunteer as one who voluntarily gives of their time and resources without expectation of compensation or reward.  Jena and all our volunteers certainly fit that description.

Submitted by Teri Graves, World Bird Sanctuary Volunteer & Special Events Coordinator

Monday, January 27, 2014

World Bird Sanctuary Christmas Bird Count 2011

In the birding community it’s a well-known fact that dyed-in-the-wool birdwatchers are like postmen….neither rain, nor sleet, nor snow, etc., etc., will keep them from their appointed rounds (or in this case, a Christmas Bird Count).  Following is World Bird Sanctuary Director of Education Mike Zieloski’s description of one such memorable outing in 2011.

We met at daybreak at our Visitor Information Center.

It was cold—so cold that I was worried no one would show up.

Dauntless birds Nathan Thoele, Emily Hall and Cassandra Braun

But then….all bundled up…. they came out of the darkness, to meet and to plan our strategy to count the wild birds.  People actually showed up!   Needless to say, I was relieved.  It was so cold.   Nathan Thoele showed up.  Emily Hall showed up.  Mary Elise Okenfuss showed up.  Cassandra J. Braun showed up.  I was thankful that these crazy people actually showed up on this bitterly cold day.  It was so so cold.

Why were five obviously touched people preparing to count birds on World Bird Sanctuary's 300 acres on this frigid day?  It was time for the annual Christmas Bird Count sponsored by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology.

We hiked about 2 miles on our property.  We counted all the birds we saw or heard.
Emily, Cassandra and I could identify some of the birds by their sound.  Cassandra kept our list, recording all the species and individuals counted.  She would submit our data to ebird, the Cornell web site that records bird sightings from all over the world.  During my visit to Cornell in June 2012 I was told that ebird is the 2nd biggest data user on the internet, after the US Military.

I cannot remember the number of species we saw or heard.  However, some of the vivid memories are of the little flock of Bluebirds, foraging and resting in a sunny ravine--sunny and safe from the wind with their feathers flashing vibrant blue against the brownish backdrop of winter trees.

There were also the woodpeckers--and the final bird that Cassandra and I saw as we made our way to the Nature Center…a Hermit Thrush.  Yes a Thrush!   Did you know that Missouri has a Thrush that regularly spends the winter in the St. Louis area?  Yes, it is the rusty tail colored, brown drab, black spotted throat and breast Hermit Thrush! 

We saw Robins, too.  Guess What?   American Robins and Eastern Bluebirds are Thrushes, too.  So, we saw three species of Thrushes in Missouri, in winter, in the cold.
So cold you could feel it freezing the hairs in your nose.

I am grateful these four volunteers braved the early hour and the cold to observe and count birds with me.  We created a memory of a lifetime--camaraderie, birds, and a little contribution to the scientific database.

Did I mention it was cold that morning?  It was very, very cold.

Submitted by Michael Zeloski, WBS Director of Education 

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Prepare For Vocal Domination

Growing up going to football games I noticed a bizarre trend.

The group of fans that cheered the loudest for their team was considered to be the superior group of fans.  In my family we usually decided things based on the mantra “I was here first! I was here LOUDER!” with the louder person occasionally being the victor.  Little did I realize that we were simply following the rules of vocal dominance.

Two young bull elk sparring to establish dominance (photo by Gay Schroer)
The idea of one individual proving their “superiority” or fitness over another is nothing new, especially in the animal kingdom.  Some species, such as most hoofed mammals will physically challenge one another.  Others avoid physical contact due to the high risk of injury and prove their dominance in other ways.  Male lemurs have scent fights. They rub the tips of their tails with the scent glands that are found in their wrists and then rub their tail in the other lemur’s face.  Humans establish dominance through material goods…like sports cars.  Vocal dominance however is less about looks or smell, and all about noise.

We have two species of birds at the behind the scenes area of World Bird Sanctuary that exhibit vocal dominance.  The Red-legged Seriema and the Laughing Kookaburra.  Both of these species determine who is the top bird, by whoever can call the longest and the loudest.  This is not so much fun for their human caretakers when all three of them are in one building for the winter.
Sara and Gomez, two of our Red-legged Seriemas calling in unison (photo by Gay Schroer)
 Red-legged Seriemas are found in the grasslands of South America.  They are most famous for their eating habits, repeatedly slamming their prey (mostly snakes) into the ground until they are ready to be swallowed whole.  However, as anyone at World Bird Sanctuary can tell you, they have another infamous trait--their call.  A Seriema has a coiled trachea which acts as a resonating chamber making their high pitched call incredibly loud!  For many years Sara our breeding female was the local champion always out-calling the rest.  Last year, however, Locust took the lead and with Sara off in a breeding program, he just might keep it.  Just about any loud or high pitched noise will set off the Seriemas; the phone, the hatchet hitting the cutting board, the parrots, or the door slamming.
Even though Chadder our Laughing Kookaburra  is small, her call is mighty (photo by Gay Schroer)

Even Chadder, our laughing Kookaburra, famous for the children’s song, is laughing not because of how happy she is, but because there is another bird in her territory.  Kookaburras live in small family groups of about 3-5 and they are big on family feuds.  If there is another group of Kooks nearby the whole family will start calling until one group gives up and concedes the fight.  This usually means that once the Seriemas get going, Chadder follows closely behind.  Her hollow bill not only helps with keeping her cool, but it also amplifies the sound of her call.  She is only a teensy bit quieter than the Seriemas, even though she weighs only 6 ounces!

Vocal dominance is a way for some species to declare fitness without risking injury to themselves.  Unfortunately we have highly competitive birds.  Just in case you were wondering, if we humans could ever out call them and claim top billing…let’s just say it makes them even louder.

Since these birds are cold sensitive, they are now in their winter quarters behind the scenes.  However, when the weather warms up be sure to visit the World Bird Sanctuary’s exhibit line just beyond the Wildlife Hospital.  You may be lucky enough to witness a calling competition by these very vocal birds.

Submitted by Leah Tyndall, World Bird Sanctuary Naturalist/Trainer

Thursday, January 23, 2014

WBS Staff Member of The Year Lisbeth Hodges

Lisbeth Hodges began her career with World Bird Sanctuary  in February 2010.

We are glad Lisbeth is with us. She makes each guest’s visit better. She is always enthusiastic and informative and greets all guests with a smile and conversation.

Lisbeth loves birds and has raised many of her own. She has pet parrots and has  even helped some of her birds’ eggs hatch.
Lisbeth presenting a program on the lawn of the Missouri State Capitol (photo by Mike Zieloski)
Lisbeth began her career with the World Bird Sanctuary with a three-month  internship.  She then demonstrated her desire to continue with World Bird Sanctuary by doing another three-month internship.  She began by working for World Bird Sanctuary as a seasonal employee at our Grant's Farm bird show for two seasons, taking care of our Bald Eagles and other birds we had there for the education programs.
Lisbeth presenting a program at the Missouri State Capitol in Jefferson City (photo by Mike Zieloski)
Lisbeth now works at our Nature Center as a Naturalist, caring for our Office of Wildlife Learning birds, and greeting guests.  She routinely enriches our creatures with exercise or love.
Lisbeth receiving the Staff Member of the Year award from Mike Zieloski (photo by Gay Schroer)
This year she was given the Staff Member Of The Year award at the World Bird Sanctuary annual Holiday Party Awards Ceremony—a well-deserved honor for this hard working young lady.

Submitted by Michael Zieloski, World Bird Sanctuary Director of Education

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Double Trouble At The VIC- Jane & Adele

Few animals are as popular at the World Bird Sanctuary with children as those that they can actually touch.

We have several different breeds of chickens on display on our exhibit line, most with coin operated feeding stations nearby where you can feed the chickens.  For the children this is one of the most popular stops on our exhibit line.  So the recent addition of not just one, but two Bantam Cochin Chickens to our Visitor’s Information Center has received rave reviews from our young guests.  The chickens are siblings that were hatched right here at WBS. 
 Jane and Adele usually have free run of the Visitor's Center buildiing (photo by Billie Baumann)

We named the two resident educational chickens at the Visitor’s Center after characters in the novel Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte—Jane and Adele.  When the weather is too cold outside, you can find them running free, chasing one another around inside the Visitor’s Center building.  When the weather is nice enough, they go to an outdoor enclosure on the side of the building, where they can soak up some sunshine and dig around in the rocks and dirt for bugs and grubs.  They also love to take dust baths.  The two chickens are pretty much inseparable, and can be quite entertaining.

The Visitor’s Center (also called the Environmental Education Center) is really one of the most interactive areas to visit at the World Bird Sanctuary.  There is as much to see inside this little building as there is to see on the outside.  There are two different types of live snakes on display, as well as two different types of owls. 

A very interactive and hands on display is our “Touch Table” where kids can actually handle and learn about animal artifacts like a turkey beard, a deer hoof, different footprint molds, feathers, shells, furs, etc.  They can also pick up a free Activity Book of fun things that can be done at home.  Be sure to check out all of the cool and interesting displays on all four walls.
Egg display (photo by Billie Baumann)

You can see eggs from numerous species of birds....
Skull display (photo by Billie Baumann)
.... or skulls from various birds like raptors, parrots and even a pelican.
Tracks display (photo by Billie Baumann)
You can try and guess which tracks were made by what type of animal at one of the displays. 
Fossil display (photo by Billie Baumann)
There’s also a display featuring different types of fossils, and one that has different kinds of scat (a fancy way of saying, “wildlife poop”). 

Scat display (photo by Billie Baumann)

On the countertop there are several different nature books containing tons of facts and information about animals, the environment and more.  You can also check out our Adopt-A-Bird book and help sponsor the care of one of the permanent residents of the World Bird Sanctuary.

Just outside of the Visitor’s Center building there’s a weathering area in which you can see different live birds of prey from several countries up close, within a few feet. 
The weathering area (photo by Sandra Lowe)
Nearby there’s a water feature that has a few good-sized goldfish and it’s right next to one of our main songbird feeding stations.  If you sit quietly for just a spell, you’ll likely see several different types of woodpeckers, tufted titmouse, nuthatches, doves and more. 
Red-bellied Woodpecker (photo by Gay Schroer)
WBS is located in an area that is right in the path of migration for many species of birds, so depending on the time of year that you visit, you could also see warblers, bluebirds, cardinals and many more.

A lot can be learned in the little building that is the Visitor’s Center (or EEC).  We hope you’ll enjoy your visit!

Submitted by Billie Baumann, former World Bird Sanctuary Naturalist

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Junior Volunteer of the Year

In our October blog Director of Education Mike Zieloski wrote a post introducing Junior Volunteer Shayne Sifford. 
Shayne Sifford & Director of Education Michael Zieloski (photo by Gay Schroer)
It is our pleasure to announce that Shayne has been given the Junior Volunteer of the Year award at the World Bird Sanctuary’s annual award ceremony. 

What is a junior volunteer you may ask?  First of all let’s look at the definition of a volunteer. The dictionary defines a volunteer as “…. a person who willingly and without pay gives their own time, expertise and talents.”

Volunteers are vital to the success of the World Bird Sanctuary and are welcomed as family.  Our volunteer program offers something for everyone, including the unique opportunity to work directly with birds and animals.  The minimum requirement is 16 hours of work per month.  Previous animal experience is not required and all training is done on-site.  All volunteers are required to become a WBS Friend.  Sounds simple doesn’t it?  However, there is one more criteria.  Applicants must be at least 16 years old to handle birds of prey.

Junior volunteers must be at least 13 years old, but must be at least 16 years old to handle the birds of prey.  They have the opportunity to assist with daily chores in the education and animal management departments.  This position allows young aspiring naturalists to be in a safe proximity to the animals, while learning about conservation and animal care.   Some would be discouraged by this waiting period—but our truly dedicated Junior Volunteers use this time to learn all they can about the birds while experiencing the responsibilities of caring for our other live animals on a daily basis…an education within itself.

Shayne’s unbridled enthusiasm shines through every Sunday when he arrives at the World Bird Sanctuary’s Nature Center ready to work at whatever task needs to be done—whether that involves cleaning cages or greeting visitors.

If you happen to visit us on a Sunday look for Shayne.  He’ll be happy to tell you all about whichever animal he’s caring for at the moment.

Submitted by Gay Schroer, World Bird Sanctuary Volunteer/Photographer

Friday, January 17, 2014


It is with a heavy heart that my sad duty today is to tell you that Twig, our grey phase Eastern Screech Owl, has passed away due to the infirmities of old age

Twig was one of the World Bird Sanctuary’s elder statesmen, having come to us as a young orphaned chick in 1993.  He was unreleasable because he had no fear of humans, so he became a vital part of our organization—first at WBS’s educational bird shows presented at zoos, and then as a member of our Education Department.

Twig was definitely the “Aaawww!” factor in our education programs.  Many of the other birds in our programs were bigger, could amaze the audience with their flying abilities, or were more colorful—but invariably, Twig’s appearance would be the show stopper while presenters waited for the chorus of “Aaawww’s” and ”….isn’t he cute!” comments to die down. 
Twig was definitely the "Aaaww!" factor in any program (photo by Gay Schroer)

In his almost twenty-one year career here at the World Bird Sanctuary, Twig helped to educate literally millions of audience members about the environment, his species, and owls in general. Twig was the first bird of prey that many new interns and volunteers had on their glove—a lifetime memory for many.  In the wild, Screech Owls are lucky to live to 5 years old, so making it to virtually 21 is an accomplishment to all who cared for him over so many years.

Because advancing old age had taken a toll on him, Twig was retired several years ago. He has spent his latter years on public display in our Office of Wildlife Learning Nature Center, where he enjoyed living quarters that were heated in the winter and cooled in the summer, and where he was admired by visitors and catered to by staff, interns and volunteers.

Twig will be sorely missed.

Submitted by Gay Schroer, World Bird Sanctuary Volunteer/Photographer

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Eagle Days 2014—Celebrate with WBS

Has the recent Polar vortex been keeping you housebound?  Do you have a serious case of cabin fever? 
An adult Bald Eagle in a tree near Alton, IL (photo by Gay Schroer)

If you live along the Mississippi flyway, as we do here in the St. Louis area, you may know that the colder temperatures herald the arrival some of winter’s most anticipated guests—Bald Eagles!  This is the season for eagle watching!

With the recent frigid temperatures the nearby rivers make for great eagle watching, particularly near Locks and Dams.  Bald Eagles migrate south along the Mississippi River, looking for good fishing in water that hasn’t frozen solid.
A Bald Eagle fishing in the Mississippi River near Alton, IL (photo by Billie Baumann)

If you can bear braving the cold and wind along the river, chances are you will see wild Bald Eagles in action, hunting their prey, perching in a tree, or soaring up above.  Eagle watching is an annual tradition for many of us, even those of us that are lucky enough to see and work with them every day. 

If you want to see a live bald eagle up close and in person, you can visit the World Bird Sanctuary, or catch one of the displays or presentations listed below.  Even though we’re well into Eagle season, it’s not too late to catch one of these special programs.
Our WBS education department staff pause for a photo during an Eagle Display

Alton Visitor’s Center
Alton, IL
January 18, and 25
from 10 am – 2 pm
Eagle Meet & Greet
Meet a live bald eagle and talk to a naturalist to learn about their habits, behaviors, and how they survived almost becoming extinct.

Audubon Center at Riverlands
West Alton, MO
January 19, 26, February 2, 9
10 am – 2 pm
Eagle Display
Meet a live bald eagle and talk to a naturalist to learn about their habits, behaviors, and how they survived almost becoming extinct.

Missouri Department of Conservation
Chain of Rocks Bridge
January 18 – 19
Programs from 9 am – 3 pm
All About Eagles Programs
Did you know that Ben Franklin wanted the turkey as our national symbol instead of the Bald Eagle? Get an up close and personal view of a Bald Eagle and learn the reasons it was chosen instead of the turkey.

Keokuk Eagle Days
Keokuk, IA
January 18 and 19
Saturday: programs from 10:00 am – 4:00 pm
Sunday: programs from 11:00 am – 3:00 pm
Raptor Awareness Program with eagle
Features birds of prey including falcons, hawks, owls and vultures. Not only will you see different species of raptors, but you'll also learn a vulture's secret weapon and how to identify a bird of prey in the wild. Sit back and enjoy an up close view as some of the birds soar right over your head!  At the end of the program, meet a live bald eagle!

Clarksville Eagle Days
Clarksville, MO
January 25 and 26
Saturday: programs from 9:00 am – 4:00 pm
Sunday: programs from 10:00 am – 3:00 pm
All About Eagles Program
Did you know that Ben Franklin wanted the turkey as our national symbol instead of the Bald Eagle? Get an up close and personal view of a Bald Eagle and learn the reasons it was chosen instead of the turkey.

Fort Bellefontaine Park
St. Louis, MO
January 25
12:00 pm – 2:00 pm
Four bird display featuring a bald eagle and other birds of prey.  Naturalists will be on hand to talk about the animals.

National Great Rivers Museum
East Alton, IL
February 15 – 17
Shows at 11:00 am, 1:00 pm and 3:00 pm each day
Masters of the Sky Programs and Eagle Display
Features birds of prey including falcons, hawks, owls and vultures. Not only will you see different species of raptors, but you'll also learn a vulture's secret weapon and how to identify a bird of prey in the wild. Sit back and enjoy an up close view as some of the birds soar right over your head!  At the end of the program, meet a live bald eagle!

Lewis and Clark Confluence Tower
Hartford, IL
February 15
1:00 pm – 3:00 pm
Eagle Display
Meet a live bald eagle and talk to a naturalist to learn about their habits, behaviors, and how they survived almost becoming extinct.

Submitted by Gay Schroer, World Bird Sanctuary Volunteer/Photographer

Monday, January 13, 2014

365 Photo Project: Identifying LBJs (Sparrows)

Recently I have spent a lot of time bird watching and photographing.  During my trips out I’ve discovered how much fun sparrows can be and how pretty they can be when they actually “sit up,” or perch in a place where they can be viewed and photographed. 

Over the years I have never really been overly interested in sparrows, other than that they are little, brown, and can be difficult to see.  Until a few years ago I really did not see many of the differences in the sparrows, which to me have seemed just brown and striped…and I know I am not the only one that thinks this way.  Recently, though, I have started to see the differences and slight color changes, markings on the bird, etc.  I have chosen three birds to highlight and show a few differences.  With two of them, just getting a photo can be a challenge at times.

Savannah Sparrow (photo by Cathy Spahn)

The first photo is of a Savannah Sparrow, Passerculus sandwichensis.  During the fall, winter and early spring they can be seen in the St. Louis area; however, they nest further north.  I took this photo in early October while looking for shorebirds.  I happened to be sitting in a bird blind when a group of about four Savannah Sparrows popped up.  I quickly took a few photos because sparrows are not well known for sitting up for any length of time.  Savannah Sparrow’s are a smaller sparrow with a short tail, distinct facial markings and Malar stripe (a strip just below and behind the lower mandible) like you find on many falcon species.

LeConte's Sparrow (photo by Cathy Spahn)

The second photo is a LeConte’s Sparrow, Ammodramus leconteii.  This bird can also be found in St. Louis during fall, winter and early spring.  They also nest to the north.  I found this bird about a week later than the Savannah with another area birder.  I was in the blind as during the previous week, and this time we went for a walk into the grasses.  As we walked out this bird popped up and then we saw about three other birds in the field.  LeConte’s Sparrows have a central crown stripe, orange forehead, buffy eyebrow, grayish ear patch and thinner bill than other sparrows.  This is a nice find, since LeConte’s sparrows are not a sparrow that sits up for long.  Most of the looks I have had over the years are the bird popping up, flying a few feet, then disappearing.

The last photo is a Nelson’s Sharp-tailed Sparrow, Ammondramus nelsoni.  They winter to the south and nest to the Northwest of St. Louis, so they are generally only seen during migration.  This photo was pure luck.  The day I saw the Savannah Sparrows I just happened to catch a different sparrow out of the corner of my eye.  I put my camera up right away and took a shot.  I figured if I got the bird in the camera I could ID it later.  I tried to take another photo and the bird dropped out of sight.  I tried looking for the bird, but never saw it again that trip. 

Nelson's Sparrow (photo by Cathy Spahn)

Later I worked on trying to ID it, but with no real luck. Then I sent it to my Dad for extra help.  Lo and behold it was a Nelson’s Sparrow--similar looking to the LeConte's, but with more orange and a bigger grey spot behind the eye and on the back of the neck.  I was very excited, since this was a Life bird for me, meaning the first time I ever saw it. 

The following week when I saw the LeConte’s I saw three more Nelson’s and I could really see the difference between the two sparrows. 

The one thing sparrows have taught me is there is beauty in the simplest things, even LBJs (Little Brown Jobs).

All photos were taken at Riverlands Bird Sanctuary, in West Alton, Missouri.

Submitted by Cathy Spahn, World Bird Sanctuary Naturalist

Saturday, January 11, 2014

I Love My Job

I love my job--working with birds at the World Bird Sanctuary and seeing the look on a kid's face right after a bird flies just above their head.  But for me, the single best part of my job is doing zoo shows; more precisely, training different behaviors that our birds perform during those shows.

The process of working with a bird to teach, refine and perfect a behavior is the single coolest thing I get to do.  During our zoo shows we get to showcase these amazing behaviors for others to witness.  

For example:
Locust, our Red-Legged Seriema will slam a rubber snake into the ground, mimicking how they do this in the wild to kill snakes and break up the bones to make it easier for the Seriema to swallow.  

Red-legged Seriemas have a unique method for capturing and killing prey...the Seriema Slam!

Cupid, one of our American Barn Owls, can find and fly to a trainer offstage without being able to see them.  This is possible because of a special "pish" cue.  Barn Owls can find the audible cue because of a specialized facial disc made of controllable stiff feathers that will direct sound to their ears.  In the wild they use this ability to track down prey at night, sometimes even in complete darkness.  

Scarlett, our Red-Shouldered Hawk can fly out from behind a corner and find a trainer in mid-flight.  This is called a "blind release" because they can't see where the trainer is before they start flying.  In the wild, Red-Shouldered Hawks live in woodlands near rivers, flying through the trees.  So, it is important for them to be able to quickly see where they need to go in case they are flying at prey to catch and eat.  
Scarlett, the Red-shouldered Hawk executes a blind release to the on-stage trainer 

Hugnin, a White-Necked Raven, will take generous dollar donations from your hand and put them inside of her donation box, mimicking how in the wild ravens, crows, jays and other birds will hide or 'stash' items that they find valuable.  This can also include food—just in case they can't find enough another day--then they can go back to their stash to eat.  

These are just a few examples of some of the different behaviors our birds do during our educational shows at different zoos throughout the summer.  To see these amazing behaviors and many more, you will just have to come visit us next summer at Milwaukee County Zoo in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, or at Stone Zoo, just north of Boston, Massachusetts.

We will be in Milwaukee from Memorial Day until Labor Day and Boston's Stone Zoo from 1 May through Labor Day, every day of the week, three times a day, weather permitting, of course.  We hope to see you there!

Submitted by Mike Cerutti, World Bird Sanctuary Naturalist/Trainer