Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Why is that bird Tethered?

One of the most common questions we receive at World Bird Sanctuary is, “Why is that bird tethered to its perch?” 

Solo, a juvenile Peregrine Falcon on his perch (photo: JoHanna Burton) 
Birds of prey differ from other types of birds such as waterfowl and songbirds.  You can look out your window and see songbirds flying around and very active.  Raptors actually spend most of their day perched in trees, conserving energy, and waiting for food to enter their hunting field of view.  In fact, birds of prey spend about 80-95% of their day perched.  They only fly when necessary such as to avoid a predator or catch a meal.

Many birds of prey are sit-and-wait type predators, including species such as the Red-tailed Hawk.  This means that the bird will sit perched to watch for potential food sources, waiting to fly until there is a chance at a meal.

A Cooper’s Hawk scanning the area for prey (photo: Gay Schroer)
When you do see most birds of prey flying, often you will notice that they are not flapping their wings extremely often.  To save energy, raptors will ride thermals (warm currents of air rising from the ground) that enable them to soar and glide effortlessly and cover great distances.  The Turkey Vulture is a prime example of this behavior.  The less a bird has to flap its wings, the more energy it saves.

A Turkey Vulture riding the air currents (photo: Gay Schroer) 
Tethering birds of prey is a practice that has been used by falconers for about 4,000 years.  Each bird has its own specially crafted equipment made from soft leather, sized specifically for that species.  The health of each bird is priority, and tethering is one method that is used to keep healthy birds.  Our birds are constantly monitored throughout the day for any sign of mental or physical stress.  By placing a raptor on a perch, we are able to mimic their natural perching behavior.  At World Bird Sanctuary, our birds tend to double or even triple the lifespan of a wild bird.  This can only be accomplished in healthy, stress-free animals.

Data the Eastern Screech Owl (photo: JoHanna Burton) 
Although we do have our birds tethered out in the open for visiting hours, the birds do not stay out continuously, and they do come in before closing.  We also take outdoor temperature into consideration as to when we put our birds outside on the perches.  On extremely cold days, you may find that we only put out certain birds such as our Snowy Owl, Tundra, which is perfectly adapted for the cold weather.  We also free fly many of our birds on a daily basis to help maintain good physical and mental condition.  You can often see this taking place at the Nature Center in the afternoons.  As mentioned before, raptors only fly when they need to, and our birds fly for tasty treats of meat.

Oracle, a dark phase Augur Buzzard (photo: JoHanna Burton)

The next time you visit World Bird Sanctuary, be sure to check out our weathering areas containing our tethered birds of prey.  If you have any questions, feel free to ask our knowledgeable staff and volunteers.  We would be happy to talk to you!

Submitted by Paige Davis, World Bird Sanctuary Naturalist

No comments: