Tuesday, September 30, 2014
There are many challenges when doing a zoo show program. Weather has to be taken into account, wind speeds compensated for, and the crowd carefully monitored to make sure no one tries to stand up during the show. These challenges I was always prepared for; one thing I never took into account was the neighbors.
By neighbors I mean the wild (or semi-wild) birds that call the zoo home. When our birds first move into the neighborhood in the spring they are generally ignored by the wild birds unless they end up in a tree while learning their new patterns.
Many zoos and theme parks release peafowl such as this albino Peacock (photo by Gay Schroer at Magnolia Plantation)
The biggest problem we have when we first arrive is the peafowl. Peafowl are not native, and are intentionally released by zoos and theme parks for their guest’s enjoyment. The fowl quickly call wherever they are released home, and rarely wander off grounds. Both Milwaukee County Zoo and Grant’s Farm have free ranging Peacocks and Peahens that consider the entire zoo their territory. In the winter months they have free range of the exhibits where we keep our birds, so they are often surprised and upset when they suddenly cannot cross into “their” territory. They wander into the theaters during practices and we have to stand guard in the weathering area (the outdoor area where we keep our birds on display) to prevent Peahens from charging our poor birds. Peafowl may look ridiculous, but they have strong kicks and they could do a fair amount of damage to our birds, especially the Peacocks, which have spurs on their legs. After a while the peafowl start to realize they cannot enter certain areas, but we still have to stay on guard because peafowl are not the only birds that are not pleased with our birds’ presence.
Songbirds, understandably, are not thrilled when a group of predators move into their territory--especially during breeding season. Once songbirds have eggs in their nests they begin to display a behavior called mobbing. They will gather in groups and dive bomb large birds of prey to “encourage” them to leave the area. Unfortunately, these birds do not realize that our birds have little interest in them or their young—our birds get three free meals a day.
The worst offenders are the Common Grackles, black songbirds that leave nothing to chance. I am especially bitter about them because they chased a kestrel I worked with into the woods. Every time he tried to fly back into the theater they chased him further into the woods (don’t worry we got him back…it just took a while).
The grackles this year were especially numerous. Diablo (a Tawny Eagle), Reese (Great Horned Owl) and Clark (Bald Eagle) got the worst of it. Both Reese and Diablo had clouds of five to seven grackles following them throughout their patterns. We used the grackles’ natural fear of humans to our advantage, strategically placing ourselves between them and our birds or flying our birds into the crowd. Robins, especially juveniles, will also harass our birds--often lurking in the trees above the weathering area in wait.
The scariest case of wild bird interaction however did not involve songbirds, but a wild juvenile Cooper’s Hawk who wanted to chase our Military Macaws my first year doing shows. Suddenly instead of two birds doing loops around the theater there were three! Luckily we were able to call our birds down to safety and we never saw the young hawk again.
Despite all of the trouble wild birds cause, I will admit there is no better way of finding a bird that has flown off or been blown out of the theater by wind. Just follow the sound of angry songbirds and nine times out of ten we find our bird. Although sometimes we find wild birds of prey!
There are many challenges to face during zoo show programs, but none quite as unpredictable as the local bird population. They can be an annoyance, an amusement and even aid you, assuming they did not cause the bird to seek shelter in a tree in the first place. Regardless, they certainly keep us on our toes!
If you live in or are visiting the Milwaukee, Wisconsin area this summer be sure to visit the Milwaukee County Zoo, and in particular the bird show presented by the World Bird Sanctuary.
Sunday, September 28, 2014
The King-of-Saxony bird-of-paradise is found in the rain forested mountains of New Guinea. This species was first described and named in 1894. It received its common name and scientific species name (alberti), to honor the then king of Saxony, Albert of Saxony.
There are 41 species of birds-of-paradise, mostly found in New Guinea and its surrounding islands. Males of the species exhibit some of the most unusual and beautiful feathers in the world. The King-of-Saxony bird-of-paradise has feathers unlike any other.
Illustration from the wikipedia files
The bird’s body is about 8.5 inches long. Males have a black head, back, wings, and tail, and a white and yellow front. The most unusual part of the male is the two very long head plumes, or ornamental feathers sprouting from behind each eye. These feather structures are more than twice the length of the bird’s body, almost 20 inches long! In the right light, they look light blue on top and reddish-brown underneath. The plumes have lost their normal feather structure. There are 40 to 50 small flag-shaped structures positioned on one side of the shaft. Males have evolved these through sexual selection; yep, girl attractants. The bland looking brown females choose the male with the most impressive head plumes.
King-of-Saxony birds are polygamous. During courtship males perform their displays in one large area called a lek. They are all attempting to impress the on-looking females. The male’s display has two main parts. First, he will try to attract females to his spot by “singing” a hissing rattle sound while perched up in the canopy. He also moves and waves his head plumes and raises the feathers on his neck. When a female approaches, he flies down to a vine in the under-story where he perches below the female. He repeats his display and also bounces up and down on the vine. Click here for a short video of a male King-of-Saxony bird courtship display. When approaching the female for mating, the male wags his head back and forth while hopping up the vine towards her. Afterwards, the female leaves and the male continues to attract other females.
Males take no part in the rearing of their offspring. Females lay only one egg and care for the chick themselves. This species mainly eats fruit, therefore helping with seed dispersal in their rainforest habitat. They are not considered endangered or threatened. They are only found in a small range, but are very common throughout that range.
Submitted by Sara Oliver, World Bird Sanctuary Naturalist
Friday, September 26, 2014
I'm easy to pick out of a crowd, and I've heard the question, "How tall are you," too many times to count. My height (I'm 6'6") has been helpful for most of my life, but when I started working for World Bird Sanctuary’s bird show at the Milwaukee County Zoo, I considered it more of a hindrance at times.
I started volunteering at WBS’s nature center in February 2014 because I could work with both the birds and reptiles there, and at the same time interact with the public. I found my niche in the daily chores, but I wanted to help more with the animals, especially the birds. Once I started handling the birds, I wanted to participate more in their flying exercises. When Jeff noticed my thirst for knowledge and drive to help out more, he recommended I try the bird show. That is how I ended up becoming a trainer in Milwaukee for the summer.
Being tall has many perks when it comes to bird shows. During the initial setup, it helped in the construction of the outdoor bird enclosures, since I could reach on top of them without any problems.
When it came time to shape birds’ flying patterns, I got designated the "official creance tester" (creance being a long line used in initial raptor free flight training), since during later training I could place birds on high perches others couldn't reach. The main advantage I utilize every day is that I don't have to use a step stool to reach into the raptor's night stalls (picture below). This helps me get them out of their stalls faster and easier during the morning weigh/change and later during shows for faster transitions.
Cleaning the stalls (photo by Erika Fenske)
While being tall has some advantages when working with the birds, it also has some disadvantages when it comes to training and doing shows with them. My size tended to intimidate/scare a lot of the birds at first (and still does for some), so I have to limit my interactions with them during the initial stages of training. When it comes to shows I have learned to adjust my height a lot, because the fence covering the behind the scenes area is only 6' in most places. So, I have to crouch a lot to hide my movements from both the audience and the birds on stage.
"Hidey ho neighbor"–A Wilson quote from the Tim Allen Show, Home Improvement (photo: Erica Fenske)
I have accepted the fact that I'm tall and I can't do anything about it. That just means I have to devise new techniques to work with the World Bird Sanctuary’s amazing birds while doing bird shows.
Submitted by William Oberbeck III, World Bird Sanctuary’s Milwaukee Zoo Bird Show Trainer/Naturalist
Wednesday, September 24, 2014
Another season of concerts was a great success at the World Bird Sanctuary. Special guest musicians Javier Mendoza, Babaloo and a band named Fowl Play filled this year’s schedule.
The Raptor Project takes to the stage (photo: Gay Schroer)
We had wonderful sponsors that helped us make this event happen. Ameren Missouri partnered with the World Bird Sanctuary’s education department to sponsor the concerts and many of the other events on our yearly schedule. Other sponsors were Sprout and About, Whole Foods Market and the Hendrickson insurance group. We appreciate all the support of these sponsors.
Naturalist JoHanna Burton releases a Harris' Hawk during a musical number (photo: Gay Schroer)
Enthusiastic audiences turned out to enjoy an evening of unique music mixed with flying birds, snake parades and a stage full of bubbles. The World Bird Sanctuary’s band “The Raptor Project” performed each Thursday night. Many of the songs played were from the band’s first two CDs, which were produced to benefit the Kathryn G. Favre wildlife hospital. This year we performed 7 new songs, which were not previously released.
The band’s soundman, volunteer Rusty Wandall, was able to set up recording equipment to start production of a live album. Older songs from the first two CDs will be chosen after we listen to the tapes from all the shows to figure out what sounds best. This will be a long process and we hope to have a digital release of a live CD sometime in the spring of 2015. We just hope the tapes reflect the great fun we had at the concerts this year.
Submitted by World Bird Sanctuary's Sanctuary Manager, Joe Hoffmann
Monday, September 22, 2014
Only a few days left to take advantage of the early registration bonus for the World Bird Sanctuary Avian Training Workshop! By registering before October 1st you can save $100. After that date registration will be the full fee of $750.
What is an Avian Training Workshop you may ask, and what do I get for my registration fee?
Workshop students learning to do a necropsy
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.
Students learn to weigh and weight manage a raptor (in this case an American Kestrel)
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
A Workshop student flying a Harris' Hawk
Everybody's favorite--the hands-on section:
Our staff believes one of the best ways 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 and anklets
* 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 White-necked Raven (continues throughout the workshop)
* "Be the Bird" in our training game
* Participate in emergency medical care and do a gross necropsy on a raptor
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, October 30th through Sunday, Nov. 2nd
EARLY REGISTRATION: Sign up by October 1st - Cost - $650
LATE REGISTRATION: Sign up after October 1st - Cost - $750
$100 non-refundable deposit required by October 1st for early registration, balance due by October 15th.
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 Melissa Moore, 636-225-4390, ext. 0 or email firstname.lastname@example.org
Saturday, September 20, 2014
The Standard-winged Nightjar is found in African dry savannah and scrub habitats.
Nightjars are divided into two subfamilies: “typical nightjars” with about 70 species located in Africa, Europe, Asia, and Australia; and “nighthawks” with about 9 species located in North and South America.
Male standard-winged nightjar in breeding plumage. (Photo by Jan Steffan from the wikipedia files)
Nightjars have very long pointed wings, short legs, small feet and very short beaks. However their beaks are much wider than they are long and they can open their mouth very wide, both vertically and horizontally, in order to catch and consume insects in flight. These birds are either nocturnal or crepuscular (active at dusk and dawn) and have very large eyes on the sides of their heads, increasing its field of vision. They have soft feathers that are camouflaged to resemble dead leaves or bark while roosting.
The Standard-winged Nightjar is about 8-9 inches long, with a fairly short tail. The peculiar trait of this species is that during breeding season, the males grow an extra-long primary feather on each wing reaching up to 15 inches long! The first 7-8 inches of this feather is just bare shaft. While in normal flight, the two long feathers flutter behind and almost look like two other birds chasing the nightjar! Click here to see what I mean.
When the males are displaying for females, the two extra long feathers are raised vertically like flags. He will also sing an insect-like song. Any receptive females will join in the display flight. The male will eventually lose the ornamental feathers after breeding season; they either fall off or are broken off. The males and females will then look the same.
This species doesn’t build nests and just lay one to two pink eggs in dirt or dead leaves. The female incubates the eggs during the day while the male roosts nearby, and then at night they take turns incubating. Once the chicks hatch, the male usually guards and defends the chicks. He will hover near the nest with his body vertical and tail spread out. Both parents will feed their young regurgitated insects.
Standard-winged Nightjars exist in a very broad range in the wild and are not considered to be an endangered or threatened species!
Submitted by Sara Oliver, World Bird Sanctuary Naturalist
Tuesday, September 16, 2014
July was a slower month for photos for me. I do have three very different highlights for the month.
This being July, I started out with making an attempt at photographing some 4th of July fireworks. This year I used my camera on a monopod. I did use the fireworks function on my camera, but I am still learning, and with the camera I have that is the best route.
Fireworks display (photo: Cathy Spahn)
I took many photos of the fireworks, some of which did not work. It took a few shots to get the timing down. I did get several shots that show nice colors and burst. One photo in particular demonstrates color and a few different bursts. The other challenge I ran into at this location was either trees in the way, or as I found this time, a light that managed to get into all of my shots. If I go to this location again I have to get there earlier to locate a spot away from the trees and lights. However, I still really like this shot even with the light in part of it.
Watching the baby European Barn Owl being fed (Hailey closest to the camera/Madilynn closest to the owl) (photo: Cathy Spahn)
The second photo for the month of July was when my sister, brother-in-law and nieces came for a visit. During the course of the day they were here we did many things, and of course one of them involved visiting the World Bird Sanctuary. One of the best experiences I was able to give my nieces was for them to get a chance to meet a few day old European Barn Owl. My nieces just fell in love with the baby owl. Of course the big thing was she wanted to pet the owl, but once she got to see staff member Roger Wallace try to feed the baby owl she sat quietly and they all watched closely.
Sunflower and bees (photo: Cathy Spahn)
The last photo I took at the very end of the month. I was out birding, just wandering around to see what I could find. I took many photos that day, and amazingly my favorite shot is not of a bird, but rather a sunflower with bees. I came across this beautiful field of sunflowers. Most of the flowers were beyond peak, but a few were just right. This one flower was just beautiful and I set my camera on continuous shoot mode because I saw the bees in the area. I was concentrating on the bees on the sunflower, but when I looked back through my shots I found this photo with the bees flying into the flower. I just love it.
Keeping a camera with you as you go out and about can lead to many very interesting and beautiful photos. Sometimes you get them, sometimes you don’t, but that is half the fun of photography.
Submitted by Cathy Spahn, World Bird Sanctuary Naturalist
Sunday, September 14, 2014
The World Bird Sanctuary’s staff, interns and volunteers wear many hats during the year in addition to their everyday duties—not the least of which are the unexpected talents they display at our special events.
JoHanna Burton with a batch of owl cookies for Birds in Concert (photo: Mike Zieloski)
Look at what JoHanna Burton (WBS Staff Person) made for the Birds In Concert Event for the night of August 28, 2014. She made Peanut Butter Cookies into the shape of Owls. She used chocolate for the eyes. These treats were for sale to help raise money for the birds. At the concert the week before she made Blueberry Bars which were delicious. Matt Levin, volunteer extraordinaire made Chocolate chip cookie pies, which were sold as treats. Thanks JoHanna and Matt.
At World Eagle Day, I, Michael Zeloski had my face painted by WBS Staff person Dawn Kernich. My face became a wonderfully large Eagle head. Face Painting is just one of the activities at World Eagle Day in March and at Open House in October. Other popular activities are the photo op with one of our amazing birds, and the kids’ craft project.
The Raptor Project performing at one of our special events (photo: Gay Schroer)
The World Bird Sanctuary band, The Raptor Project, is composed of unbelievably talented staff and volunteers, and never fails to entertain at our special events.
One of our most popular activities at special events--the photo op (photo: Gay Schroer)
You will want to be a part of our next special event, our 2-day Open House—always held the third weekend of October. Until then, the World Bird Sanctuary has a number of other special programs to fill your outdoor interests.
• Our guided hikes program, Hey, There’s Nature In My Woods, has only two more sign up days left for this year – 9/27 and 10/25. Call 636-225-4390 x101 to make your reservations.
• Owl Prowls will be starting 11/8 and will continue through the Owl mating and breeding season. Owl Prowl slots are already beginning to fill. For more information and specific dates click here and check out the Owl Prowl dates on our events calendar. Don’t delay, as these Owl Prowls fill up quickly. Call 636-225-4390 x101 to make your reservations
WBS Special Events are made special by our staff, volunteers and interns. The work our crew puts in, plus amazing birds and the community spirit and energy generated by our staff and volunteers is contagious.
Click here for information on Special Events now and throughout the year--or call 636-225-4390 x101 for more detailed information.
Friday, September 12, 2014
The World Bird Sanctuary would not be able to properly care for our birds without the help of our staff and volunteers. They are hardworking, dedicated, and most of all passionate about everything they do. To show our appreciation, we want to spotlight individuals who make day-to-day work at the World Bird Sanctuary run smoothly.
As of June 15, 2014 Bobby Zitzmann has been a volunteer for the World Bird Sanctuary for exactly one year. Thanks to his dad, who is good friends with founder Walter Crawford, as well as being a trustee for the Wildlife Hospital, Bobby has grown up hearing about and being around the World Bird Sanctuary for as long as he can remember.
Bobby is an extremely dedicated volunteer. During the summer last year, he was volunteering at least four days a week. Even returning to school didn’t stop Bobby’s dedication; he was in here every Sunday volunteering. This past summer Bobby was volunteering three to four days a week. Now that schools are back in session you’ll be able to find him working hard in the Nature Center every chance he gets.
You’ll also be able to find Bobby’s favorite bird in the Nature Center--Murdock the Military Macaw. Murdock is Bobby’s favorite because no matter what kind of day you’re having, you’ll always get a friendly “Hello!” from Murdock.
When asked what his favorite part about volunteering at the World Bird Sanctuary is, Bobby answered without a pause that it is helping the visitors and answering any questions they may have. This is exactly what we look for in our volunteers and staff!
The commitment to all of our visitors is something in which we take great pride.
We at the World Bird Sanctuary are extremely lucky to have staff and volunteers who are devoted to the care of all our birds. Thank you Bobby for everything you do for the World Bird Sanctuary!
Submitted by Mary Beth St. Peters, World Bird Sanctuary Social Media & Fundraising Intern
Wednesday, September 10, 2014
When you hear or see the word “buzzard”, what do you think of? Does a picture of a vulture pop into your mind? I am going to tell you what buzzard really means in this blog. Also I will focus on a very special bird and her personal history, species’ natural history, and some wonderful and quirky facts about this specific bird.
Keeoo, World Bird Sanctuary’s dark morph Augur Buzzard (photo: Lisbeth Hodges)
The special bird I would like to introduce is an Augur Buzzard (Buteo augur) and her name is Keeoo. She is one of my favorite birds that I work with at the World Bird Sanctuary. She was hatched in our propagation department at the sanctuary in 1992, so this year she is celebrating her 22nd year at WBS. She has a great personality. She is patient with new handlers, curious about her surroundings, and will vocalize when she recognizes people she knows, like me.
Augur Buzzard in Flight_Uganda (photo: by Tom Tarrant from the Wikipdia files)
Augur Buzzards are native to central Africa, more specifically south Sudan, eastern Congo, Ethiopia, Uganda, and Somalia. The type of habitat they thrive in varies from plains to grasslands to forests in Africa. Like many other Birds of Prey, these beautiful birds are monogamous (one single mate) during breeding season. Some of these birds will even stay together after the breeding season is over. They build their stick nests on cliffs or in large strong trees. The female will lay from one to three eggs per clutch (group of eggs or chicks) and will start to incubate the first egg immediately after it is laid. Because of this, usually only one chick will survive if all the eggs hatch. The first chick to hatch will be older and stronger, therefore fight for more food. The females will stay at the nest with the clutch most of the time, except when she needs to feed herself. As with all Birds of Prey, they are carnivores (meat eaters). An Augur Buzzard’s diet consists of eating small mammals, reptiles, other birds, and large insects.
A light morph Augur Buzzard_Lake Manyara, Tanzania (photo: by D. Gordon E. Robertson from the Wikipedia files)
Now let’s define what buzzard really means. Most Americans see a vulture and immediately think buzzard. In Europe, Asia, and Africa buzzards are what people from the U.S. call hawks. When European settlers came over to North America, they noticed the vultures and mistook them for the buzzards they would commonly see in Europe. Unfortunately the buzzard name stuck with our American vultures. Augur Buzzards are the most common “hawks” in Africa just like their closely related relative in the United States. If you were thinking the Red-tailed Hawk as the closely related relative, then you’re right!
A view of Keeoo’s tail feathers_note the similarity to a Red-tailed Hawk (photo: Gay Schroer)
View of Keeoo with wings raised_note the similarity to a Red-tailed Hawk (photo: Gay Schroer
The lifespan for animals in captivity and in the wild can be vastly different. Wild animals will almost always have a shorter lifespan then captive ones. Augur Buzzards range from 20-25 years in the wild while captive Augurs have been known to live 35-40 years.
These beautiful birds also weigh less than you may think. They only weigh about 2 – 3 ½ lbs (1000g-1500g) with females being larger than the males. It’s also pretty amazing that these birds can be two different color morphs; a light morph or a dark morph. Keeoo is a dark morph while one of the others pictured in this blog is a light morph.
Keeoo is available for adoption in our Adopt a Bird program. To find out more information, call 636-861-3225 or visit the Adopt A Bird section of our website HERE.(LINK) All adoption donations are tax deductible.
This season Keeoo can be seen at the Monsanto Environmental Education Center (also known as the visitor’s center) at the World Bird Sanctuary, which is open daily from 8am-5pm. Keeoo is a very beautiful bird. You should stop on by and visit her!
Submitted by Lisbeth Hodges, World Bird Sanctuary Naturalist
Monday, September 8, 2014
On the continent of Australia, the land down under, lives a unique raptor known as the Wedge-tailed Eagle (Aquila audax).
The name of this bird of prey comes from its characteristic diamond-shaped tail. The Wedge-tailed Eagle can be seen widespread throughout the continent, as well as Tasmania, and parts of southern New Guinea.
A wedge-tailed eagle in flight with broad wings stretched out and its diamond-shape tail easily seen (photo: the Wikipedia files)
The Wedge-tailed Eagle is the largest raptor found in Australia and fills in the niche as nature’s scavenger, as there are no native vultures. Despite past persecution due to accusations of predation on cattle and sheep herds, the Wedge-tailed Eagle population has thrived well from the introduction of rabbits, a pest species introduced in the early 1800’s, as well as the usual sources of carrion.
In many early cultures, apex predators were regarded as gods or spirits, responsible for the elements or even the creation of the world, the Wedge-tailed Eagle being no exception to this.
One creation story belonging to the Kulin, an aboriginal people of Australia’s Victoria state, tells the story of Bunjil, in the form of a
Wedge-tailed Eagle, and his creation of the world and humanity.
Bunjil, the Great Spirit and All-father, created the entire earth with the plants and animals to inhabit it. He also made the form of man, which proved a greater undertaking than the rest of his creation, for man would require the complex power of thought and reasoning to separate him from simple animals.
After much consideration, Bunjil selected two slabs of bark and crafted them into shapes suitable for his greatest creation, being sure to incorporate the necessary traits of mobility and dexterity into his design. Next, he took soft clay from the earth and molded it around the bark sheets, smoothing it. Completing this task, he danced around the still figures, implanting the seeds of knowledge, thought, and reason.
Granting them the names, Berrook-boorn and Kookin-berrook, Bunjil knew this was necessary so that they could retain individual personalities and spirit. His creations ready to be filled with life force, Bunjil danced around them once again and proceeded to fill their mouths, nostrils, and navels with breath and life.
Dancing around them a third time, Bunjil weaved complex patterns in the dust. As he did so, Berrook-boorn and Kookin-berrok rose from their place on the ground and linked hands with Bunjil. They joined their All-Father in celebration of the dance of life, singing with Bunjil with the first song from the lips of man.
Duncan, WBS's resident Wedge-tailed Eagle (photo: Gay Schroer)
To see a flesh and blood example of Bunjil come visit us at the World Bird Sanctuary where you can meet Duncan our resident Wedge-tailed Eagle who usually resides in one of our exhibit enclosures on the path just past the Wildlife Hopital.
Saturday, September 6, 2014
For those of you that don’t know, I’m a Peregrine Falcon (Falco peregrinus) fanatic.
An unhappy parent watching as we band Peregrine Falcon babies (photo: Cathy Spahn, WBS)
How these amazing birds survive at the top of the food chain is nothing but spectacular, preying on other birds which they almost always catch in mid flight. Super maneuverable, the fastest creature in the world and long toes all help to catch slippery and evading birds. During the months of May and June you will find me banding the Peregrine babies from the 7 or so nests in the greater St. Louis area. When not in the field you can often find me answering questions from the “Ask Jeff” section of the Peregrine Cam, which is honed in on the pair at Ameren Missouri’s Sioux Energy Center from mid March through mid June (be sure to watch on our web site next year).
Banding Peregrine Falcon babies at the AT&T building (photo: Cathy Spahn, WBS)
On a weekly basis during the nesting season I answer questions in the “Ask Jeff” section of the Peregrine Cam, with all the questions coming directly to my computer. I still had a few questions trickling in even well after the nesting season ended. The other day I saw I had 6 inquiries, so I took a look through. The last inquiry, dated 12 August, grabbed my attention as if someone dumped a bucket of icy water on my head (that happens a lot on all the social media sites these days).
A person working at the Thomas Eagleton Courthouse in downtown St. Louis sent me a picture of an adult Peregrine Falcon. When I first looked at the picture, I wasn’t too impressed because the picture preview was small, with the bird seemingly not well focused. Upon clicking on the picture, my heart started to race.
Photo taken by Karen Schroeder on 12 August 2014 at the Thomas Eagleton Courthouse in St. Louis
Even through all the spots on the windowpane the Peregrine’s colored band was quite visible. Colored bands have been being placed on Peregrine Falcon legs for about 25 years, with the advantage being observers can see the letters and numbers from further away, which gives us biologists the potential to gather information from alive and well wild Peregrines. On this particular bird the colored band had a black field above a red field, with a 95 and S respectively, as you can see in the picture.
I jumped from my office chair, coming close to pulling a leg muscle in the process (hours of physical inactivity then a super rush of adrenalin can do that), and bounded to my Peregrine banding records book, on a shelf a few feet away.
I have records dating back to 2009 in this little notebook, with dates, numbers of babies per nest and locations, and nope, the band was not in it. I then contacted Linda Tossing, WBS volunteer extraordinaire and band record keeper from the start of the World Bird Sanctuary banding activities in the early 80’s. She didn’t have the band record either. Not being able to find the band in our records only made me more excited, for it meant someone from afar placed the band on this bird. Peregrine means “wanderer” in Latin, and the falcon is aptly named because babies hatched within the Arctic circle can wind up at the southern tip of South America. They can migrate further than any other raptor in the world.
My next inquiry was to Amber Burnette, the record keeper for the Midwest Peregrine Society. The Society hands out all the colored bands to all the licensed Peregrine banders in the Midwest. The Society also receives all the records of bands placed on Peregrines through reports given to them by the same banders. Amber was quick to respond.
This lovely female Peregrine was banded as a baby in Lake City, Minnesota on 31 May in 2011, in a Peregrine nest box atop the Horizon Milling building. She had 3 siblings (2 sisters and a brother), and the bander, Amy Ries from the Raptor Resource Project in Decorah, IA, named this Peregrine Cyclone.
Since Cyclone is a 3 year old adult now, and her picture was taken during the non migration season, it’s relatively safe to assume she had a family somewhere in the downtown St. Louis area. The closest known Peregrine nest to the Thomas Eagleton Courthouse is on the 45th floor of the AT&T building, a few blocks to the north of Eagleton. A Peregrine’s nesting territory can be quite large, but even if the AT&T birds had a smaller territory, it would certainly encompass the courthouse. Last I knew both AT&T adults were unbanded, as you can see in this picture taken in late March 2013, as the male on the left gave the female a blackbird he caught.
Photo by Mary Burns, AT&T employee, 2013
Was the AT&T female replaced by Cyclone? This phenomenon happens a lot in the Peregrine world. Is there a new nesting pair in downtown St. Louis? Hard for me to believe with what I know about Peregrine territories, but not out of the question. These questions and Cyclone intrigue me, and if I get news relating to Cyclone in the future, you can bet you will read a blog from me soon afterward!
Submitted by Jeff Meshach, World Bird Sanctuary Director