Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Free to Read

We need your help at the World Bird Sanctuary library.  Five years ago we started a free library as an answer to what we could do with a building made for our docent program, which is along our exhibit line. 

WBS's docent center/library (photo: Gay Schroer)

A volunteer had some books he asked us to give away during an event.  This generous act got us to thinking…why not develop our docent building into a free library made up of books about wildlife and the environment.  We also had pallets of posters in our warehouse that we no longer sold and were considering recycling.  Instead we decided to give them away.

The library is a great kid's activity center (photo: Sandra Lowe)

So as a thank you to the public for all the years of support, we opened our library with free books and free posters.   We also have made the entire area into a great kid’s activity center.  We have sidewalk chalk, a puppet show area, coloring sheets, crayons, and touch items such as wings and claws.  We hope it all can educate and inspire old and young alike.

The help we need is twofold; first we need volunteers to run the library. This is a very rewarding activity giving away books and posters.  In return you get smiles and people looking a little stunned when they realize it really is free. 

We need books to replenish our shelves and volunteers to staff the library

The second thing we need is books about the environment and wildlife.  These can be new or gently used books for all age levels.  We need animal books for infants and toddlers the most.  It seems these disappear quickly.  We ask people to share or return the books when they are done with them, but they can also keep them and cherish them forever.  Every year we collect hundreds of books from the public. 

We also receive books from the St. Louis book fair and would like to thank them and encourage everyone to go to the book fair each year.  We have given away close to four thousand books since the library started.  We are very proud of all the staff and volunteers who have donated their time and books to this effort.

If you have any books about wildlife or the environment that you wish to donate or you know a source that would donate books to our library, please contact Joe Hoffmann at 636 861-1392.   You can also drop books off at our new donation drop-off building near the World Bird Sanctuary Wildlife Hospital.

Submitted by Joe Hoffmann, World Bird Sanctuary Rehabilitation Hospital Manager

Sunday, June 28, 2015

Raising Young Birds For Programs

Baby birds, especially Owls, are a favorite for most people.   One of the amazing and fun benefits of working at World Bird Sanctuary is to assist in raising young birds for the World Bird Sanctuary education programs. 

Currently I am assisting with raising a young Barred Owl.  This young Barred Owl was brought in to our Wildlife hospital after a storm.  Our vet was looking over this bird before we moved it to an outside enclosure for later release to the wild, and found that this youngster has eye problems.  It is blind in one eye and has poor vision in the other eye so he would not survive in the wild and could not be released.  The education department was asked if we were interested in a young Barred Owl and we said yes. So now begins the socializing part of the job.

When we socialize an owl we take the owl home and introduce them to human life--TV’s, music, activity, other people, and sometimes pets--with lots of supervision.  This is to get the owl exposed to many different things so they become more accustomed to the situations they may experience at programs.
As the owl gets older we start introducing the equipment, such as anklets and jesses.  Then the last step is to introduce perches. 

When we introduce the anklets and jesses we put them on and then leave the bird alone to become accustomed to them.  We then handle the bird on the glove.  We pick them up standing on the glove and holding them.  At first we sit with them on the glove for a few minutes.  Over time we increase the amount of time they are on the glove.  This gets them comfortable with the glove at a young age.  Then we introduce the perch.  The perch is introduced slowly so they become accustomed to being tethered.

All during this training time we enjoy the cute moments--the great looks, the playfulness they exhibit, such as pouncing on shadows, pouncing on toys, and also falling asleep in “interesting” positions.  Of course, we all take lots of photos of our little charge during this stage. 

Keep watching for more information on this new little star and information on adopting him.

Submitted by Cathy Spahn, World Bird Sanctuary Naturalist

All Owl photos by Cathy Spahn

Friday, June 26, 2015

Zoo Show “Radar”

When sitting in the audience of a World Bird Sanctuary bird show at a zoo, the setup may appear simple enough; one person is talking (the Speaker) while two others are mostly backstage (the Trainers) cueing perches for birds to fly to or walking birds offstage.

While memorizing a roughly twelve page long script and fifteen or so different bird flight patterns (the places on stage a particular bird flies to) may not seem too bad, we have a lot more than just script and patterns on our radar!  Like the birds we work with, we must be acutely aware of anything and everything going on around the theater, and react to those things at a second’s notice.

Locust, the Red-legged Seriema, pausing to watch a plane

The main things that we are watching are the behaviors of the avian members of the team.  On the occasion a bird goes to an incorrect perch or is not flying to the next one, it is our job to determine why.  It’s often as simple as trying to look at whatever the bird is looking at!  A plane flying overhead may have caught their attention for a moment, or an audience member sifting through a purse across stage.  Usually re-pointing to a location is all we have to do to re-catch a bird’s attention, and as the Speaker we always have extra facts ready to share to fill in the time.

Riley taking off to fly to his next cue in the bleachers

The second thing everyone has an eye on is the audience.  One of my favorite parts of our show is getting into the bleacher seats and flying Riley, an American Barn Owl, right above and very close to the audience.  As you are walking to the set of bleachers in Riley’s pattern, you have a few sentences to decide where exactly you should go.  A giant snake stuffed animal resting in the back row?  To Riley that looks like a Godzilla-sized predator…not a good spot!  Everyone must keep an eye on the extra-antsy young members in attendance as well.  Emergency bathroom trips are quite common.  Trainers know when the Speaker delays saying a release cue (a point in the script that signals the next bird to appear), it’s a signal that audience members are making their way out of the theater.  Norbert the Bald Eagle should definitely not fly through the entryway at that moment.

Our radar expands to outside the theater too.  Sometimes wild raptors make an appearance in the sky above us.  While a wild Red-tailed Hawk gliding by is no threat to the eagles in the show, stalling is sometimes required if the next bird just so happens to be a smaller species.  It’s almost a guarantee the wild raptor won’t attack any of our birds, but the smaller birds could still react like the wild bird would attack.

The classic “All’s Clear!” sign

This leads to another thing all the human members of the show team are watching--each other!  A Trainer arm appearing above the fence could signal several things to the Speaker.  Pointing skyward, for example, means a wild predator is overhead.  The ever-changing and always-different environment of zoo shows is one of the things I love about them.

Now, after reading this you may be thinking that an awful lot of things can cause a Speaker to stall for time during a show.  However, if you watch a World Bird Sanctuary zoo show at Stone Zoo or Milwaukee County Zoo this summer, you probably won’t be able to tell if anything out of the ordinary is happening!  Our goal during zoo shows is to educate and entertain the audience about the amazing birds of our world.  After all, “stalling” really just means sharing more cool facts!

Submitted by Carmen Volante, World Bird Sanctuary Naturalist/Trainer

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

The Language of Feathers

In the bird world, special coloration of feathers and quality of feathers plays a great role in the choice of mates for breeding purposes. Ornithologists call this process “sexual signaling”.

An English Budgie and a Common Parakeet (photo: Dawn Griffard)

The female bird will make a careful selection of a potential mate by examining the quality of his feathers along with the brightness, iridescence and saturation of their hues.  Female birds are so judgmental because they instinctively want to choose the healthiest male to mate with in order to ensure the continuation of their species.

High quality feathers require a lot of energy and strength to create and maintain. Weak and sickly males cannot afford such flashy feathers, as they must use every ounce of their energy for mere survival.  Therefore, that showy male is the best choice with which to create strong, healthy babies.  However, the cost of such flamboyance is high.  Bright colors and an often long, heavy tail mean that the male is more conspicuous to predators and may have a harder time escaping through flight due to the added weight.

Because of the high cost of these bright colors, some species’ spring molt creates what is called an “alternate plumage”, which allows them to have brighter feathers for just the breeding season.  This can be seen in the bright spring colors of buntings, grosbeaks and wood-warblers.  This spring molt may be just a partial molt which replaces feathers in only certain areas.  This requires much less energy than a complete molt.

While we humans can see many of those gorgeous feather colors that birds can display, some birds can see so much more.  Humans can see only a portion of the electromagnetic spectrum.  The electromagnetic spectrum is the range of all possible frequencies of electromagnetic radiation.  The “visible spectrum” is the portion of the electromagnetic spectrum that is visible to the human eye.  Birds can see the same visible spectrum that we can, but they can also additionally see the ultraviolet spectrum.  The ultraviolet spectrum is invisible to the human eye.  The fact that the ultraviolet light can be seen by birds opens up a whole other world of possible “sexual signaling” coloration.

A photo sowing the fluorescent feathers of a parakeet under a blacklight (photo: Dawn Griffard)

Just like those colors that can be seen in the visible spectrum, colors that can be seen only in the ultraviolet (UV) spectrum can be difficult for the birds to create and maintain.  Therefore, they are also proof of the strength and excellent health of the bird that displays them with gusto.

Recent studies have found that it is mainly parrot species that display these ultraviolet colorations.  Most species of parrot are not sexually dimorphic, which means that males and females have similarly colored feathers.  For example, the northern cardinal is clearly sexually dimorphic – the male bird is bright red, while the female is dull brown/gray with somewhat red wings and tail.  Most parrot species do not have these noticeable differences in coloration.  Perhaps this is why they have the added ability to create the different colors in the UV spectrum in addition to the visible spectrum – to prove their virility.

A male and female Blue Front Amazon Parrot (photo: Dawn Griffard)

In addition to the UV reflective plumage, many of these parrots also have “fluorescing” plumage.  Fluorescent and UV reflective plumage on parrots are often found adjacent to each other and are most often found in body regions associated with active courtship displays.  Although it has not yet been proven, it follows that this coloration is probably also used in sexual signaling for breeding purposes.

Coloration and feather quality is not always the way that males (and sometimes females) prove their worth.  Sometimes it also involves an elaborate song or a complicated dance.  But a beautiful song or dance without a fitting costume is a pale performance.

Submitted by Dawn Trainor Griffard, World Bird Sanctuary Naturalist

Monday, June 22, 2015

Birds on The Line: Scoop the White Pelican

For today’s walk down the line I would like to introduce you to a bird that has a great nickname and seemingly loves to show off during our summer concert series.  This is none other than Scoop the White Pelican, or as he is nicknamed, “Super Scoop”.

Do you feel you’re being watched?  (photo: Cathy Spahn)

Scoop is an American White Pelican, Pelecanus erythrorhynchos.  He was rescued from a pond in West Alton, MO, near Ameren Missouri’s Portage des Sioux Energy Center in October 2004.  Scoop managed to survive for 3 months without the ability to fly.  He had to be rescued when winter weather approached.

Meet Scoop—sporting the distinctive “horn” on top of his bill which only appears during breeding season, and is then shed later in the year. (photo: Gay Schroer)

Upon examining Scoop our veterinarian, Dr. Stacey Schaefer, found the bird’s shoulder had been badly broken, healed improperly, and now required the tip of the wing to be amputated.  Scoop now has his home in one of our outdoor avian exhibits.  He has adapted well to life at World Bird Sanctuary and is a visitor favorite.  If you are lucky enough to see him fully open his bill, you will quickly understand how he got his name.  It takes a lot of fish to fill the pouch below that will!!

Scoop has a very distinct “personality”.  He challenges his trainers, but once you have set up a relationship with him and are a part of his flock he will follow you like a big puppy dog.

Scoop has learned that if he hits his target (the blocks or his stick) he will be rewarded with a tasty treat (photo: Gay Schroer)

Scoop is trained with positive reinforcement to “target” to special perches and a stick with a tennis ball on it.  He will follow that stick anywhere as long as you have some fish for him.  However, when training, you must always pay close attention to Scoop.  If you ignore him, even for a second, he likes to remind you of what you are doing and will whack you with that long bill.  That bill does not look fearsome, but pelicans have sharp edges on the sides of the bill to help them hold onto fish, and the tip of the bill has a hook to it.  So when he whacks you, yes it does hurt.  I do not know how many times that has happened and people always ask “Does that hurt?”  My answer—yes it does.  Think of two razors hitting your arm and you will have some approximation of what it feels like.

Scoop and his friend Mudflap in their breeding colors (photo: Cathy Spahn)

Scoop lives with his friend Mudflap.  He is protective of Mudflap and they can be seen sitting together, swimming together and also vocalizing.  Please stop by and see these amazing birds the next time you visit WBS.

As with all of our resident animals, Scoop is available for adoption in our Adopt A Bird program.  Your adoption fee will help feed, house and care for Scoop in the coming year.  To adopt Scoop Click Here to go to the Adopt A Bird program on our website—or call 636-861-325 and ask for Marion to set up an Adopt A Bird over the phone.

Submitted by Cathy Spahn, World Bird Sanctuary Naturalist

Saturday, June 20, 2015

The Moody Eagle

When people ask, "What is your favorite bird at the World Bird Sanctuary," my answer has always been the Bateleur Eagle. I've had the immense pleasure to work with both Tsavo and Shadow, WBS’s Bateleurs, and I can't help but smile each time I get to handle one or the other.

Bateleur sunning at Veszprém Zoo, Hungary – Notice the beautiful wing pattern and short tail (photo: Wikipedia)

A little background on the species.
Their scientific name, terathopius ecaudatus, says a lot about them.  The name originates from the Latin words teratos ("marvel"), opos ("appearance"), and ecaudatus ("to lack a tail").

Bateleur is the French word for "street performer". The bateleur eagle got this name for its distinctive flying style, because they rock side to side (as if to regain balance like a tight-rope walker) while gliding at low-altitudes in search of prey. They also do amazing aerial acrobatics for courtship and mating displays, which is only possible because of their short tail (3-4 inches long) and long, narrow wings (5.5-6 feet). They only gain their distinct adult plumage after 6-8 years.  The juvenile eagles begin life with longer wing and tail feathers (makes it easier to learn to fly), but after each molt the feathers grow back in just a little shorter than before.

Tsavo – One of the World Bird Sanctuary’s stunningly beautiful Bateleur Eagles. (photo: Gay Schroer)

Now for why we've nicknamed them the moody eagles of the sanctuary.  The first thing you will see (and hear) is their territorial display when you get "too close" to their perch(s).  All the following antics would be performed in the wild if a rival Bateleur came into their territory.  They start off with a soft "kau kau kau", and when that doesn't scare you away they raise their half spread wings and scream a loud "koaagh koaagh". Most of the time this is just how they greet you when you enter their territory, but their face will tell you if it is okay for you to handle them or not.  Their face is typically a pale red to orange when calm and relaxed, but can turn bright red when really excited. If their face turns yellow, get away as soon as possible, because that is when they're really angry about something and need space to calm down.

Shadow - One of this bird’s most striking features is its beautiful facial coloration (photo: Gay Schroer)

Bateleur eagles are indigenous to Africa (sub-Saharan open woodlands and grasslands) in which they are on the near-threatened list due to loss of habitat, poisoning, and illegal captures. There are no ongoing conservation efforts known because they are a common sight in conservation areas, even though they are scarce elsewhere. I believe we need to start keeping a closer eye on this amazing species before they become just a memory for those lucky enough to have seen/worked with one.

Be sure to look for this stunning eagle when you visit one of our zoo shows or come to one of our special events. This summer Tsavo will be entertaining the crowds at the Milwaukee County Zoo, and Tsavo will be wowing the crowds at Grant’s Farm in St. Louis.  There is no mistaking this unusual looking raptor.  As with all of our resident animals, Shadow and Tsavo are available for adoption through our Adopt A Bird program.

Submitted by William Oberbeck III, World Bird Sanctuary Naturalist/Trainer

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Come Visit Us At Grant's Farm!

All summer long through October, World Bird Sanctuary will be at Grant's Farm with some of our birds.  It is free to visit!  You will not only find some of our raptors on display, you will also get to see a few of our birds perform in the Animal Encounters show.

Otis the Abdim’s Stork is one of the stars of the Animal Encounters show (photo: Paige Davis)

The Animal Encounters show features all sorts of different animals, many of which the audience gets to interact with, hands on.  From reptiles to mammals to birds, the animal encounters show has it all.  World Bird Sanctuary stars include Otis the Abdim's Stork, Emerson the Eurasian Eagle Owl, and McGuire and Sanibel the Bald Eagles.  This show is unique to Grant's Farm and can't be seen anywhere else. Be sure to stop by this summer and see us!   You can also meet some of the stars up close and personal at our periodic sidewalk interactions throughout the day.

Shadow the Bateleur Eagle can be found in the WBS weathering area (photo: Paige Davis)

World Bird Sanctuary also has birds on display during visiting hours.  At our Grant’s Farm weathering area, you can find the following birds: Bald Eagle, Red-tailed Hawk, Bateleur Eagle, Great-horned Owl, Eurasian Eagle Owl, Red-shouldered Hawk, and Peregrine/Gyrfalcon hybrid.  These birds make great models for anyone interested in bird photography.  We also have an open enclosure with two Bald Eagles roaming freely.  These eagles came to WBS with injuries that make them permanent captive birds.  These eagles can often be found perching on their enclosure logs, looking majestic for visitors.

Visitors can get a photo with a live Bald Eagle at the entrance to Grant’s Farm (photo: Paige Davis)

Something new this year is a photo opportunity with one of World Bird Sanctuary's Bald Eagles.  While waiting in line to get into the farm, you can have your photo taken with a live Bald Eagle!  This year you will find both Sanibel and McGuire posing for photos at the entrance.  Photos are taken in front of a Grant’s Farm backdrop, making a great trip souvenir.  Don’t miss your chance to meet and greet a live bald eagle up close and personal!
One of the many residents at Grant’s Farm, an African Sulcata Tortoise (photo: Paige Davis)

Grant's Farm is an exciting place to visit with lots of critters to see.  With elephants, parrots, giant tortoises, baby goats, zebras, camels, and more, it is a great stop for animal lovers!  Come by for a visit, always free!

Submitted by Paige Davis, World Bird Sanctuary Naturalist

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Come One, Come All

We naturalists at the World Bird Sanctuary frequently have visitors ask if/when there’s going to be a show. Unfortunately, most of our programs need to be booked in advance through the education department and are not always open to the public, but there are many exceptions.

One of our Harris' Hawks demonstrating its amazing flying abilities (photo: Gay Schroer)
Visitors attending the site during afternoons can see some of the practice flights we do daily with the birds, but the times those practices happen are variable.  We also do free shows on some of our larger special event days scattered throughout the year.  The most frequent and easy-to-attend shows, however, occur during the summer months at WBS – our Amazing Animal Encounters!

One of our Ravens demonstrating that even a bird can recycle (photo: Gay Schroer)
Beginning Memorial Day weekend, we put on four half-hour shows a weekend – two on Saturday and two on Sunday,11:30 am and 2:00 pm. These short shows feature a variety of our animals, including reptiles, mammals, and birds.  It’s a wonderful opportunity to see some of our birds in flight, and to witness the incredible talent of our intelligent ravens.  The best part is--these shows are free!

I had the good fortune to speak the majority of the 2014 Animal Encounters, and I can sincerely say that our beautiful amphitheatre gives the shows a very personal feel.  I had so much fun watching the audience’s expressions as I sent a Barn Owl soaring over their heads, or brought our 6-foot boa constrictor onstage.  The animals do vary from show to show, so be sure to visit us more than once!  No two shows are the same.

Naturalist Mike Zieloski dispelling some of the fears and myths about snakes (photo: Gay Schroer)
As an added bonus, our amphitheatre is directly outside our Nature Center, so after a show on a particularly hot day, families can wander inside to find ice cream, cold soda, and other snacks and to cool off in the air conditioning before venturing out to view the other exhibits on our spacious grounds.

You’ll find us onstage every weekend this summer through Labor Day weekend in September, showing off one or more of our truly amazing animals.  This is an event for the whole family, so bring the kids, bring the grandparents, even bring the cousins and aunts and uncles!  We can’t wait to see you soon at one of our Amazing Animal Encounters!

Submitted by JoHanna Burton, World Bird Sanctuary Naturalist

Sunday, June 14, 2015

House Finch Nest In Our Front Doorway Wreath

One day we noticed extra grass and pine needles on our front porch, at home, in Ballwin, Missouri.  I looked up to notice the beginnings of a nest inside the wreath that is mounted on the sidewall, just outside our front door.
 A House Finch had built a nest in our front porch wreath (photo: Mike Zieloski)

The next day there were more bits of grasses on the front porch concrete and the nest had gotten larger. The nest had a nice deep cup…not muddy enough to be a Robin…not disheveled enough to be a Carolina Wren or a House Sparrow…so I figured that it was probably a House Finch (Carpodacus mexicanus). House Finches do like to nest close to human structures and our porch is covered by a nice roof extension. The nest building took place March 20, and 21, 2015.

Four eggs were laid over a four day period (photo: Mike Zieloski)

Daily I would peer into the cup nest to check for eggs. The first egg was laid March 23, 2015, and then one egg was laid per day on the 24th, 25th and 26th of March.  The chicks hatched, but I wasn’t sure exactly which day or days.  By April 17th there were 4 tiny chicks in the nest when I checked.

An interesting behavior took place for 3 days…a Robin began to build a nest on top of the wreath. We observed the Robin fly out from under the eaves 5 times, but the nest was well on its way, so we did not see all the trips. The Robin never finished the nest. Did the hatching House Finches stimulate the Robin to build there?  That is my best guess.
Just thirty-six days after the first egg was laid the babies had fledged (photo: Mike Zieloski)

The House Finches Fledged April 28, 2015 sometime between 6:20 am when I retrieved the newspaper and 7:34 am when I left for work. The nest was empty. Only baby poop remains in the nest.

House Finches are small 5-inch birds and have a fairly nice song--a fast cheery warbling. The males have a red eyebrow and red breast and belly. Females and young have blurry brown lines all over.

House Finches have an interesting American History in that they were accidentally released in New York in 1940 and spread west. Originally only a resident of Mexico and the southwestern United States, the birds were sold illegally in New York City as "Hollywood Finches," a marketing ploy.  To avoid prosecution under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918, vendors and owners released the birds.  They have become naturalized in largely unforested land across the Eastern U.S.  They have displaced the native Purple Finch and even the non-native House Sparrow.  In 1870 or before, they were introduced into Hawaii and are known to be abundant on all its islands.

Story and photos by Michael Zeloski, World Bird Sanctuary Director of Education.

Friday, June 12, 2015

World Bird Sanctuary's Bonus

This year Mother Nature gave the World Bird Sanctuary an exciting bonus!

One of the Fox kits peeking out at his new world (photo: Sandra Lowe)

A female Red Fox made her den on WBS property very close to our parking area.  Many staff members, volunteers and visitors were fortunate enough to see and photograph the fox kits as they began to explore their world.  Of course, we were very careful to keep a respectful distance so as not to interfere with or intrude upon their comfort zone.

To see some video footage of the young foxes exploring their world taken by staff member Trina Whitener  Click Here

Submitted by World Bird Sanctuary Volunteer/Photographer Gay Schroer

Video by Trina Whitener, World Bird Sanctuary Naturalist

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

The Boat-tailed Grackle

While working at Stone Zoo near Boston in the World Bird Sanctuary’s bird show we come into a lot of contact with wild birds. 

A Boat-tailed Grackle soaring over the Stone Zoo amphitheater (photo: Mike Cerutti)

Our stage is almost surrounded by trees.  This makes for good shade and a pleasing look, but those trees are home to the native birds in the area.  One of the most common birds we see around our theatre is the Boat-tailed Grackle. 

Even though this is my fourth year doing the show here near Boston, this year it occurred to me that I don't know very much about these Grackles. 

These are massive tailed, large songbirds that are mostly a glossy black.  During the breeding season the females turn more brownish while keeping a glossy black head.  The males develop a blue shimmer to their glossy black heads during the same time. 

Male Boat-tailed Grackle (photo: wikipedia)

They have an interesting mating system called a "harem defense polygamy."  This means that many females will all make nests very close to each other and the males will fight over all the nests….this helps defend against predators.  The winning male has the right to mate with all of the females and defend the territory.  However, DNA testing has proven that some of the females will breed with other males away from the harem with a separate male and return to lay the eggs.  The same DNA tests show that on average, only about 1/4 of the offspring actually belong to the male that defends the territory.

Female Boat-tailed Grackle (photo: wikipedia)

Grackles will eat just about anything they can find, including worms, grasses, seeds, bugs, small amphibians, garbage, fruits, and more.  They usually forage on the ground for their meals.  They are one of the few species that will eat Japanese Beetles—a real plus for a bird species that is sometimes considered a “pest.”

Boat-tailed Grackles live on the Atlantic Coast and Gulf Coast of North America.  The wild population is estimated at around 2 million individuals.  Urban development of their territory does not seem to affect these birds.  These birds are adaptable enough to thrive around humans, zoo animals, and all of our hawks, eagles, and owls.

So, if you live along the Atlantic Coast, Florida, or the Gulf Coast, and you see a big glossy black bird with a really long tail, chances are that you are seeing a Boat-tailed Grackle.  If the bird in question has a fairly normal sized tail, it may be a Common Grackle.  Since these birds’ territories overlap, the tail is the key identifier for most people.

Submitted by Mike Cerutti, World Bird Sanctuary Naturalist/Trainer

Monday, June 8, 2015

What You Need to Know about Lead Toxicosis, The Bipartisan Sportsmen’s Act of 2015 S.405 and Our American Bald Eagle

Lead is a heavy metal that has no physiologic benefit in any living system. When ingested, it is absorbed from the stomach and is distributed by red blood cells to the soft tissues, causing damage to the gastrointestinal tract, nervous system and kidneys.  Lead causes anemia (lack of red blood cells) by increasing the fragility and premature destruction of red blood cells.  It also suppresses bone marrow.
 Dr. Laura L Wade DVM Dipl ABVP working on a bald eagle that had lead toxicosis and was subsequently hit by a car because of the resulting neurological effects. This eagle was saved with chelation therapy and currently resides at the Buffalo Zoo (photo: Dawn Trainor Griffard)

Signs of lead toxicosis can include lethargy (lack of energy), loss of appetite, regurgitation, green and/or bloody diarrhea, seizures and sudden death.  In order to treat lead toxicosis, it must be diagnosed early and treated aggressively.  Treatment consists of removing or chelating the lead from the system with injectable CaEDTA, oral Dpenicillamine, oral DMSA or oral dimercaprol. 

The body attempts to store lesser amounts of lead in the bone, where it is most often inactive.  However it can become active again in laying hens, as they use more calcium to create their eggs and therefore may pull more calcium from the bones – disturbing the stored lead in the process.

Treatment of lead toxicosis is costly and time-consuming and is most often performed by veterinarians and rehabilitators on wild animals such as waterfowl and bald eagles, which do not have families to pay their bills like pet birds do.  Therefore, it falls to the responsibility of conservation groups, participating veterinarians and sanctuaries to save the lives of these poor animals.  These animals must stay in treatment until it is clear that they once again have a fighting chance back in the wild.  This can often take several weeks to months of care.

Over the past 25 years, an average of 21-25 percent of sick or injured eagles treated at wildlife hospitals were found to have toxic levels of lead in their blood.  Bald Eagles frequently scavenge the carcasses of deer, pheasants and other wildlife that may harbor lead or lead fragments.  They also hunt live prey such as waterfowl that have been impaired by lead ingestion.  Lead is present in these prey items because they have been shot by hunters who use lead ammunition, or they have swallowed fishing equipment such as lead sinkers.

Lead ammunition also poses health risks to human beings.  Lead bullets explode into minute fragments when they hit their target.  These fragments can spread throughout the meat that humans eventually eat.  Studies using radiographs have shown that dust sized particles can infect meat up to a foot and a half away from the bullet wound.  A recent study has found that up to 87 percent of cooked game killed by lead ammunition can contain unsafe levels of lead.

In October 2012, a position statement issued by the Association of Avian Veterinarians stated that AAV “recognizes that lead is a potent toxin to wild birds that can have individual-and-population-level effects.  Therefore, the AAV advocates the replacement of lead-based sporting ammunition and fishing tackle with non-lead-based alternatives.”

The American Veterinary Medical Association’s Policy Statement on Conservation of Wild Animals states that the organization is concerned about the possible extinction of many animal species.  The AVMA should collaborate with naturalists, conservation groups, appropriate governmental agencies, non-governmental organizations (NGOs), and international bodies to establish and maintain effective actions for the conservation of wild animals in their native habitats.  These AVMA policies provide support for the elimination of lead ammunition use.  For these reasons, we join with our veterinary colleagues in supporting a commonsense primary prevention policy requiring that lead ammunition be replaced with non-lead ammunition.  This policy helps protect all wildlife species, and also domestic and companion animals.
Researchers examined 58 dead bald eagles and identified lead exposure as a significant mortality factor/USFWS.  (from April 2014 US Fish & Wildlife of the Midwest “Inside Region 3”)

In 1991, the federal government banned the use of lead in waterfowl hunting.  Non-toxic bullets cost only 10-20 percent more for most guns.  Despite the ban, Duck Stamp purchases increased by 30% between 1991 and 2009, even with a 20% increase in the cost of each stamp.   As the production of lead-free ammunition ramps up, costs could drop significantly.

Anthony Prieto, a hunter and co-founder of “Project Gutpile” (a hunter’s group that provides educational resources for lead-free hunters and anglers) says, "As a hunter in California, compliance with the recent state non-lead ammunition regulation has been simple.  I still get to hunt, there is no toxic impact on wildlife or my health, and copper bullets shoot better."

“The Bipartisan Sportsmen’s Bill of 2015” is the re-introduction of a bill that was originally introduced and dismissed in 2012.  This bill will try to stop the no-lead ammunition laws being passed and introduced.  Those who authored the bill hope that the average “rank and file” hunters in the United States will believe that their rights as hunters are being challenged.  Those reintroducing this bill believe these “rank and file hunters” will fight for this bill to be passed.  However, none of their current hunting freedoms are being challenged, and they will gain nothing from this legislation.

What this legislation will do (if passed) is legalize the import of threatened species which are shot abroad and stop the regulation of toxic ammunition.  The bill could also create the presumption that federal lands specifically designated as wilderness areas must be opened to trophy hunting and commercial trapping, regardless of the impacts on the environment, wildlife or other land users (hikers, families, campers, photographers etc.)

The ammunition section of the bill states, “Firearms, ammunition and sport fishing equipment and its components (such as lead sinkers) are exempted from regulations of chemical substances under the Toxic Substances Control Act.”  This section of the legislation – if passed - will make any previous protective laws against lead ammunition exempt and allow the use of all lead ammunitions completely legal for any use in any state.

Please help protect our wildlife. Call your Senators today and urge them to oppose the Bi-Partisan Sportsmens Act of 2015-S.405.   Congress needs to know that the majority of Americans want to keep critical protections for wildlife and wild lands – including our bald eagles - in place.

Submitted by Dawn Griffard, World Bird Sanctuary Naturalist