Saturday, March 21, 2015

Watching Birds Grow

Watching Birds Grow

One of the coolest things about being involved with the World Bird Sanctuary for a number of years is being able to watch birds grow and change. 

In addition to watching Goblin grow into an awesome flyer and show-bird, I was also able to watch Mortimer the Turkey Vulture and Wyatt the Harris Hawk grow up and end up being really fun to work with.  I also got to experience the differences in their “personalities.”
Naturalist Cathy Spahn & baby Mortimer just beginning to get his adult plumage (photo: Gay Schroer)
With Mortimer, I was around when he first began roaming the Nature Center with downy feathers, with some of his black feathers growing in, and a blackish face, nibbling at anything within reach.  He then progressed to being used in education programs as a bird which was walked around on a trainer’s glove, so he could get used to people.  During this progression, I was in college, which meant that I was unable to watch the changes like I could with Goblin.  Instead, I got to see the beginning bird and the end results for that time (which ended up being Mortimer making an appearance during the Open House program of 2012).  Then I went back to college for two years, but started working at the Nature Center during the summer of 2014.  I was re-introduced to Mortimer — this time with him flying perch to perch in programs, such as International Vulture Awareness Day. Of course he had grown up, and had that red face and white beak. 

Mortimer beginning to do education programs as a walk-on bird (photo: Sandra Lowe)

As I've had the chance to experience, his looks weren't the only thing that changed.  His “personality” has changed from a bird which was not totally used to being around people to one which was much more at ease with people.  In Mortimer's case, this means testing the people who are new to him by trying to see what he can get away with.  I found this out very quickly and learned not to let my guard down when working with him.  Somehow he seems to know when you're thinking about doing just that.

Watching Wyatt grow up was a lot different because I wasn't around nearly as much, so the progression I was able to watch was his transition between juvenile and adult plumage.  In the summer of 2012 he was given many opportunities to show off the beautiful markings of a juvenile Harris Hawk during Amazing Animal Encounters (free weekend summer shows sponsored by Ameren Missouri).

Naturalist Neal Cowan & Wyatt at a Birds in Concert show  (photo: Gay Schroer)

Then, during the same Open House program where Mortimer appeared, I got to see Wyatt flying again, this time over crowds at least four times as large as the Animal Encounters.  This didn't seem to bother him in the slightest, and he's proven to be a wonderfully reliable flyer throughout the entirety of his flying career.

Wyatt easily became my favorite Harris Hawk to work with.  This happened not only because of his cool iris color (tan, instead of the more common brown found in adult Harris Hawks), but also his “personality.”  Even during vertical flight practice when I wasn't ready for him to fly to me, he proved to be remarkably patient — seeing that I wasn't ready, he would circle back down to his perch, and wait for me to be ready before flying to me.  He kept this patience and added quick learning and adaptability to his list of good qualities.  He quickly adapts to different flights his trainers ask of him, showcased in a video you can see here, where he demonstrates how Harris Hawks adjust to flying over terrains that vary in heights. 

If you visit the World Bird Sanctuary when these two remarkable birds are not traveling to programs with their trainers you may be able to see both of these interesting birds, as well as numerous others which call the Sanctuary their home.

Hope to see you there!

Matt Levin, World Bird Sanctuary Naturalist

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