Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Weathering Storms

This summer was particularly wet. There was plenty of rain, thunder, and lightning, and while we were likely holed up in our houses, warm, safe, and dry, our wild feathered friends were outside. Although they might not have the luxury of a roof and four walls, birds have their own methods of surviving inclement weather.
A typical Midwest thunderstorm (photo: the wikipedia files)
First and foremost, birds take shelter during a storm. Fortunately most of our backyard birds are small in size, allowing them to take advantage of microhabitats. Hiding in the small spaces inside a hedge or on the lee side of a tree can make all the difference during high winds. Instead of being buffeted by driving wind and rain, a little bird will stay relatively warm and dry.

Preparation for storms is crucial, because birds will not be foraging for food during inclement weather; instead, they will devote their energy to staying safe and warm. Birds may be able to detect changes in barometric pressure, which would explain how they know to increase foraging activity before a storm hits. The extra fats and other nutrients that a bird acquires during this foraging give the bird a better chance of survival.

Of course, some storms are too severe for birds to safely weather. Tornadoes, for example, are so destructive that even taking shelter in microhabitats is not likely to protect a bird. The only sure way to survive a tornado is to avoid one – which is exactly what some birds do. A recent study on migration accidentally discovered that birds that had already returned from migration went out of their way to avoid a storm system that was producing tornadoes.

Warblers (a group of birds within the songbird order called Passeriformes) that had been outfitted with trackers showed something odd: the birds suddenly traveled 400 miles south of their breeding grounds. A day later, scientists noted a massive storm system moving towards the area the warblers vacated. Because the weather conditions were still normal as far as the researchers could tell, they are not entirely sure exactly how the birds detected the storm.   They believe, though, the warblers may have been able to detect the low-frequency sound that tornadoes produce. Such a deep sound, below the hearing capacity of humans, can travel well ahead of the storm and warn any animals that can hear it.

Mother nature can be fickle, and birds must be resourceful to deal with the variety of conditions that nature can throw at them. Especially in a changing climate, birds must be able to adapt, and ultimately evolve, or else perish.

Submitted by JoHanna Burton, World Bird Sanctuary Naturalist

Monday, September 28, 2015

Some People Are Just Mean!

We have all met someone who fits that description. 

Some people might be rude and pushy to other humans, but when someone directs their venom at animals, they are wrong inside and out.  It seems to sometimes be a judgment call on the worth of life. 

A Mississippi Kite recovering from a gunshot wound in our hospital (photo: Joe Hoffmann)

Recently, a group of kids chose to kick an injured hawk around like a soccer ball and a kind young man stood up and stopped them. Then, with the help of his parents, the young man delivered the bird to the World Bird Sanctuary.  Some people are heroes and some we should call ignorant no matter what the age. 

There are so many cases of animal cruelty that we hear of or that we experience, but conversely there are a great majority of cases of people who go out of their way to help animals. 

It is illegal to harm or harass any migratory bird according to the Migratory Bird Treaty Act.  The Bald Eagle and Golden Eagle Protection Act adds more restrictions and penalties if someone was to injure or kill a Bald or Golden Eagle.   Many birds are targeted because of misconceptions about eagles or owls killing livestock or flying away carrying someone’s pet.  These of course are myths and legends; not fact.

Raptors might be seen eating a dead animal, but something else killed it and the bird of prey is just scavenging an easy meal.  As far as a threat to your domestic pets, birds of prey usually hunt the smallest and easiest prey.  Cats kill millions of songbirds and other wildlife each year and feral dogs have overtaken many wild areas.  It is more likely your pet might be killed by a fox, coyote, raccoon, bobcat, or a long list of possible culprits. 

This week we received a hawk from the St. Louis area that was shot by someone because they had a small dog.  This was a juvenile hawk that was just hatched in the spring and was starting to hunt. It was only nearby, but these people felt this was their solution. It is wrong, as well as illegal. 

A few months ago we received two Mississippi Kites from the Affton, MO, area that were shot.  They primarily eat large insects, but the person who shot them thought they might eat the birds in their yard. No matter what someone’s excuse is, shooting these raptors is pure ignorance. 

One of the reasons World Bird Sanctuary is in existence is to help change the minds of people about birds and wildlife.  We have naturalists available from 8 to 5 almost every day of the year that can answer any question anyone may have.  The information almost always helps people learn the correct facts about them, and helps dispel myths and ignorance.  Please give us a visit.

Submitted by Joe Hoffmann, World Bird Sanctuary Hospital Manager

Saturday, September 26, 2015

Keeper Talks

Did you know that you could shadow one of the World Bird Sanctuary’s Keepers on his or her morning feeding rounds every Saturday or Sunday?  No reservations necessary.

Guests following our Keeper on her morning rounds. (photo: Gay Schroer)
Meet one of our Keepers on the front porch of our Wildlife Hospital at 9 am any Saturday or Sunday or catch up with them as they make their way down the exhibit line path.   You can accompany him/her on the morning rounds as they feed the birds on our exhibit line.

As you accompany our keeper you will be given information and backgrounds on the individual birds and their species and have the opportunity to ask any questions you may have about them. 

This is a year-round program and is like having your own informal personalized tour—and it’s FREE!

Submitted by Gay Schroer, World Bird Sanctuary Volunteer/Photographer

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Monarch Miracle

On Saturday, 9/19, I was witness to a miracle that occurs twice every year! 

Monarch butterflies on a Common Milkweed plant (photo: Gay Schroer)

Every year—usually during March in the spring and the last week or two of September—the Monarch butterflies migrate through our yard.  This miracle of nature never ceases to amaze me.  Now I’m not talking about the 3 or 4 Monarchs you may see feeding or resting in your flower garden during the summer months.  These migrating Monarchs are already three or four generations removed from those summer butterflies.  The summer Monarch generations have a short adult lifespan—only three to five weeks, compared to eight to nine months for the migrators, or the so called super generation.

In the spring of the year, usually during the second week of March, clouds of Monarch butterflies migrate from their wintering grounds in the mountains of Mexico to various locations in North America as far north as Canada.  This generation of Monarchs has already survived a long southward flight in the fall.  They have evaded a host of dangers, including predatory birds and vehicle collisions, storms, winds and cold.  Those that reach their wintering grounds in Mexico are the only Monarchs left that can produce a new generation.

As they pursue their migration path north and eastward in the spring they seek out the milkweed plants necessary to the survival of their species, upon which they lay their eggs, recolonizing the southern United States before they die.  Soon these eggs hatch and the emerging caterpillars feed on the milkweed plant, which is so crucial to their survival.  These caterpillars then metamorphose into the familiar orange and black adults, which in turn pursue the milkweed ever northward as winter loses its grip on the land.  They in turn lay their eggs, etc., etc., continuing this life cycle throughout the summer.  Before the summer’s end there are once again millions of Monarchs inhabiting the northern U.S. and southern Canada.

When the late Summer and early Fall generation emerges they are biologically and behaviorly different from their summer ancestors.  The shorter days and cooler temperatures trigger changes.  Even though these “migrators” look like the summer adults, they won’t mate or lay eggs until the following spring when their generation has left the mountains of Mexico.  These are the Monarchs that migrate through my St. Peters, Missouri, yard each late summer and early autumn.

At first you may ask, “What’s so great about that?  Other animals migrate.”  But stop to think—this is a creature that weighs less than a paper clip and is as fragile as a piece of tissue paper; yet it survives a journey of thousands of miles against huge odds.  This is not even the creature that made the original journey.  It is several generations removed from that original Monarch.  How did it know to find it’s final destination—right down to the same specific tree that it’s ancestor rested upon in Mexico several generations ago?  How does it know, each year, to rest for a night in one particular pin oak tree in my back yard—even though there are dozens of trees of the same species in my yard and surrounding yards?   To learn more about the amazing Monarch Butterfly and its life cycle Click Here.
Butterfly Weed, with its striking orange blossoms, attracts other creatures as well as Monarchs (photo: Gay Schroer)

I consider this creature a true miracle of nature—but there is a problem.  As we humans spread out more and more into the suburbs and the surrounding countryside, we destroy the natural growing habitat for the milkweed plant.  In addition, as more and more land is cleared for agriculture, shopping malls, parking lots and other accoutrements of civilization we rely on herbicides to keep the “weeds” down.  There is less and less milkweed to nurture the Monarchs.  In recent years scientists who study the Monarchs have noted an alarming decrease in their populations. 

What can I do, you may ask?  We as individuals may not be able to solve the whole problem, but we can help by growing milkweed in our gardens.  If every gardener nurtured a small patch of milkweed it would give this valiant little flyer a place to lay eggs for the next generation. Milkweed is a sun loving plant, so shade gardens are not to its liking.  However, my husband grows Butterfly Weed in a pot on the deck of our Ozarks cabin, and each year it draws dozens of Monarchs to its bright orange flowers.

 To learn more about growing milkweed in your garden Click Here.  Even though common milkweed presents a containment problem in the garden, this website offers several tips on containment measures.  It also gives information on other forms of milkweed—most notably, Butterfly Weed, which is a very striking plant if your garden has a suitable site for it.

Submitted by Gay Schroer, World Bird Sanctuary Volunteer/Photographer

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

The Philippine Eagle

The importance of a species or what is necessary for a species to survive is one very complicated subject.  Wild animals don’t have stores to buy food and apartments to crowd into.  While we take this fact for granted every day, one of the world’s largest raptors is in a whole lot of trouble.

The Philippine Eagle (photo: the wikipedia files)

The Philippine Eagle (Pithecophaga jefferyi) is one gigantic bird!  Another name for this bird is the Monkey-Eating Eagle because, well, it eats monkeys--primarily Macaques.

When I say this bird is gigantic, what I’m saying is it stands 3 feet tall and weighs around 15 pounds!  I can’t even imagine having an eagle of that size on the glove.  It would be more than half of my height!
This species is, unfortunately, critically endangered and it is endemic (restricted) to the Philippines.  But, over the last 20 years it has been completely removed from all but four of the Philippine Islands: Leyte, Luzon, Mindanao, and Samar.  There are now less than 200 individuals remaining, most of which are located on the islands of Mindanao and Luzon--with only a few nesting pairs being found on Leyte and Samar.  Hunting, habitat loss, and pollution are the main reasons for their decline. 

These birds have always been prized for their size but locals killed them to protect livestock as well.

Deforestation is a major concern; it reduces habitat for their prey, and reduces their available home range.  Philippine Eagles have been known to have a territory of up to 50 square miles.  To date around 80 percent of the rainforest has been lost to deforestation.  Philippine eagles search for the tallest of trees in the tropical rainforest.  Choice trees rise above the canopy and they need those old growth, very large trees in which to nest.  Newly planted, smaller trees just don’t work.

We tend to look around us at all of the trees and think that deforestation isn’t a problem.  We hear about new trees being planted to replace old ones and believe that we are repairing damage; that those new trees make up for the damage.  However, the fact remains that habitat has been lost.  Old growth trees can be hundreds of years old and these birds don’t have the time to wait around for us to mend our mistakes. 

By the time our attempts at reparation reach a real habitat gain this animal may already be gone.

To learn more about the Philippine Eagle and programs that are currently being implemented by the Philippine Eagle Foundation to save this magnificent creature from extinction Click Here.

Submitted by W. Leigh French, World Bird Sanctuary Naturalist/Trainer

Sunday, September 20, 2015

What's In A Name?

Many people know that a group of birds can be called either a flock or colony, but little do they know you can also call a group of geese a gaggle, or a group of loons an asylum.  Birds by themselves are called by their species name, but when you get a group of them together we like to refer to them as a whole.
The origin of many collective nouns for animals can be traced back to the 15th century to one of the first published books, The Book of Hawking, Hunting, and Blasing of Arms (also known as The Book of Saint Albans) by Dame Juliana Barnes (1486).

It is unknown if Barnes coined these terms herself, or rather recorded the terms that were considered proper at the time.  The section on hunting contains the list of special collective nouns for animals, which are rarely used today, with some exceptions that have been resurrected in the last 100 years or so.

A murmuration of Starlings (photo: wikipedia)

The animal group names typically refer to a particular behavior the animals have when they are gathered together.  A group of flamingos is called a flamboyance for their brightly colored feathers and elaborate/showy display when walking together.  A group of starlings is called a murmuration (murmur: a low/indistinct, continuous sound) for their highly social roosting behavior that can number in the thousands. 

A group of raptors can be called either a cauldron or kettle due to the tendency of birds circling in a thermal updraft, to communicate, gain altitude to help their daily movements, and conserve strength for either upcoming hunting or migration.  A group of falcons or hawks can be called a cast (falconers term for flying multiple birds together), while a group of eagles is called a convocation (a large formal assembly), and a group of owls is called a parliament (a discussion; a group of people who meet to discuss matters of state).

While some of the group names are silly (a gulp of cormorants) some have more serious origins (like a murder of crows).  Most of these terms are rarely used today, even in science, but they embody our linguistic ingenuity and affinity for nature and its' beauty.

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

Friday, September 18, 2015


The Military Macaw, also known as Ara militaris, is a large sized parrot.  They are native to the regions of Mexico and South America.  They are officially listed as endangered, mostly due to deforestation.  Although endangered, they are still available in the pet trade industry.
Our resident Military Macaw, Murdock (photo: Erica O'Donnell)

Military Macaws can be identified by their bright green feathers and blue flight feathers, along with a red patch around the beak area.  These birds can reach up to 30 inches in length.  In the wild, they can be found in large flocks.  Their diet consists mostly of fruits, seeds, and nuts.  The sounds they make are identified as loud shrieks.

If you are thinking about adding a Military Macaw to your family, there are many different facts about this bird that you should take into consideration.  These birds are very intelligent and easy to train, as long as you have experience in training birds.  They are even capable of learning how to mimic a few words if you take the time to work with them. 

Ideally, however, these beautiful birds are suited for experienced bird owners, as they can be stubborn and crabby.  Military Macaws are social and animated birds.  This means they require a great deal of attention.  If they do not receive the attention they crave, they can become difficult and destructive pets.  It is suggested to always have a large parrot toy in their cage, along with old papers for them to chew on as a way to keep their lives enriched.  These birds are very vocal.  They are capable of making extremely loud, crackling, shrieking sounds.  It can sometimes be ear piercing.  Military Macaws require regular exercise outside of their cage.  Daily exercise is recommended.

There is one last matter to consider before making one of these birds a part of your family.  Military Macaws can live 50+ years.  This means they may outlive you.  I highly recommend you create a backup plan of someone that can adopt your macaw from you if the day comes that you are unable to physically care for it.

To learn more about Military Macaws, visit our resident macaw, Murdock, in the World Bird Sanctuary Nature Center.  He loves entertaining the visitors and playing peek-a-boo as well.  

Submitted by Erica O’Donnell, World Bird Sanctuary Outreach Coordinator

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

It’s Windy Out There

Almost every day after each of the World Bird Sanctuary Stone Zoo bird shows, one of the staff gets asked how much Norbert our Bald Eagle weighs.
Norbert, the Bald Eagle (photo: Sandra Lowe)

Usually we respond with a question, asking kids and adults how much they think he weighs.  The answers are almost always higher than 20lbs, because most people don’t understand bird anatomy (Norbert weighs just 7 pounds). 

The reason for this faulty weight perception is twofold; the first is something that’s not visible to the naked eye.  Unlike we mammals, birds have hollow bones!  The second reason is one that we can easily see, but usually don’t take into account when doing our weight calculations—feathers!   Feathers are very lightweight—even though there may be several thousand of them on a bird such as an eagle. 

Let’s talk about feathers--that amazing adaptation that gives birds their beauty, insulates them from the heat and cold, and most importantly—allows them to fly.  (Of course, there are some flightless feathered birds, but that’s a discussion for another day.) 

Flight feathers are common to the majority of bird species.  Birds’ feathers will help to catch air, which allows them to stay in flight.  Their wings allow them to direct the air so that they can create lift.  They also will use their wings to flap, soar, and hover, but that depends on what their wings are built for.
Diablo, a Tawny Eagle, has passive soaring wings (photo: Aurora Potts)

There are four different wing shapes.  The first one is Passive soaring wings, which means these birds have long primary feathers (the outermost feathers on the wing).  These long feathers, with slots between each of the outermost five, allow these birds to catch the upward movement of vertical columns of hot air called “thermals” and to fly higher in the sky.  Some examples of these birds are eagles, hawks, and storks.

The second type of wing is the Active soaring wing.  This means that these bird wings are narrow and long, allowing them to soar for long periods of time on horizontal wind currents.  Examples of these birds are gulls, albatrosses, and gannets.

Another type of wing is the Elliptical wing.  These wings are very good for a short burst of high speed flying.  Crows, ravens and sparrows are some examples of birds that have Elliptical wings.
This American Kestrel is a good example of High Speed Wings (photo: Gay Schroer)

The last type of wing is the High speed wing.  The birds in this category have long narrow wings, which allow them to fly very fast for a long period of time.  Swifts, ducks, falcons and sandpipers are some examples of these birds.

As mentioned above, although all these birds are very different, they all have one thing in common... hollow bones, which allow them to be lightweight.  This is a key factor to why birds are able to fly.  Since birds are so lightweight, wind does tend to affect them while they are flying.
Riley the Barn Owl (photo: Aurora Potts)

At WBS’s Stone Zoo bird show in Boston we definitely have windy days that have affected our birds.  For our Barn Owl, Riley, wind can cause him to have to flap harder and longer to fly through the wind to get from one trainer’s glove to another.  Diablo our Tawny Eagle does sometimes get blown off course of his flight pattern on very windy days, but because he’s physically fit from all the practicing we do with him, he always fights through the wind to come back.  Our Red and Green Macaw Rio actually is the exact opposite of my other two examples; she would rather wait for the wind to die down, then fly.
Rio, the Red & Green Macaw (photo: Aurora Potts)

Those windy days can definitely make bird shows very interesting.

Submitted by Taylor Zant, World Bird Sanctuary Stone Zoo Naturalist/Trainer

Monday, September 14, 2015


Funny things happen to your water when it doesn’t bubble enough....

Most of us are used to thinking of ‘bubbling water’ from the carbon dioxide that is in our sodas.  You open the can or the bottle and hear the ‘f-f-f-i-i-i-z-z-z-z-z’ release of the gas coming out of the solution of water and flavorings.  Or people can make the cork in the champagne bottle go flying and the fizzy wine comes running out -- it really looks great at weddings.

But we are more interested in getting a different kind of bubble -- the “ O2 “, or oxygen -- put into the water.  That can actually happen several different ways:

Bullfrog and Duckweed at August A. Busch Wildlife Area, Weldon Springs, MO (photo: Gay Schroer) 
1.  All plants, from the mighty trees down to the simple green algaes, use water, carbon dioxide, and sunlight to make the sugars they need to grow.  This process, known as photosynthesis, releases oxygen as the byproduct.  We animals benefit from all that oxygen in the air, but few people stop to consider that algae and aquatic plants release a lot of oxygen back into the water.
Lotus plants, August A. Busch Wildlife Area, Weldon Spring, MO (photo: Gay Schroer)

2.  The temperature of the water and what level it is at also makes a big difference in the amount of dissolved oxygen that is available to the wetlands.   Since the “ O2 “ dissolves into water the same way that other chemicals and salts do, cooler temperatures increase the amount of oxygen that the water can hold.  When the water gets warmer, more oxygen bubbles out of solution, exactly the same way that water forms bubbles when you boil water on the stove....the dissolved oxygen is leaving the solution.  The depth of the water also makes a difference in the amount of oxygen present.  During the summer, the top layers of the water have less oxygen available than the deeper levels of the wetlands.   (Pressure also plays a factor, but we can save that for a later blog).

Marymere Falls, Olympic National Forest, Washington state (photo: Gay Schroer) 
3.   Water movement -- that babbling brook that is so picturesque -- is also critical to help dissolve more oxygen.  The more the water is ‘diffused’ around, pushed, bent, even thrown up into the air with the help of a beautiful fountain, all helps bind more oxygen back into the water for the benefit of a healthy wetlands ecosystem. 

A dissolved oxygen level meter (photo: wikipedia)

4.   Dissolved oxygen levels is a measurement that environmentalists and engineers can test for.  Getting the right proportion of dissolved oxygen back into the water is critical to supporting a balanced ecosystem.  In fact, that is generally what we call the test -- we measure the “Biological Oxygen Demand” of the water (our BOD counts).  If the amount of oxygen is too high or too low, the whole system can get out of whack, causing excessive algae growth, fish kills, and other disasters that we would rather avoid.

There are other things we measure in our water samples and that will be covered in upcoming blogs.  Wait until you hear about how your poop gets recycled!

Submitted by Paula Arbuthnot, World Bird Sanctuary Part Time ETC Employee

Saturday, September 12, 2015

The Next Generation

Today, as we celebrate the life and achievements of Walter C. Crawford, Jr., the World Bird Sanctuary founder, leader, and guiding light for many years, the following blog by Joe Hoffmann, our rehabilitation hospital manager, sums up what many of us are feeling.

Baby Boomers, The Disco age, Generation X and the Millennials...time moves on with or without us. 

Sometimes we are lucky enough to meet someone who challenges us to make a difference.  They also assist us in doing so until one day we are no longer following their lead but working alongside them as they reach their crescendo.  We can reflect on the vision achieved during their lifetime or we can build on the opportunities created by their leadership. 

 The late Walter C. Crawford, Jr., founder of the World Bird Sanctuary (photo: Gay Schroer)

Birds follow cycles of the earth and the seasons--breeding and raising their next generations.  There is training that takes place by the parents in many species.  We have also found that a lot of the skills needed to survive are pure instinct.  Some animals have it and some don’t--I guess you could call it a learning curve, but there is no second chance at this test.  In fact, 60% to 85% of all baby birds die before their first birthday.

Some of these birds die because of human made problems, and that is why we here at WBS do the work we do.  We help a few of them by educating the public on the damage humans cause to our world and how each of us might limit our negative impact on the environment. 

A baby Green Heron currently in our care. (Photo: Gay Schroer) 
We also help many birds who are injured, as well as orphaned babies, in the wildlife hospital.   After rehabilitation of these birds we release them back to the wild.  For many years no one addressed this need and this is why Walter C. Crawford, Jr. founded the World Bird Sanctuary.  He challenged the staff and volunteers to meet these objectives and make a difference each day. 

Luckily Walt set up a system of succession for the management of the Sanctuary.  He even lectured around the country and published papers to help other organizations dealing with the handover of leadership.  Walt first appointed Jeff Meshach as the assistant Director, and then about four years ago Walter appointed Jeff Meshach as the Director of The World Bird Sanctuary.

The Sanctuary also has a senior management group which assists in steering the organization to keep us on track.  This group consists of some staff that has been here 20 years or more, and occasionally we have even had individuals that had only been with us for a few years who are included in this leadership role.  We are very thankful for all of Walters’s insights and planning.

So, just as our baby Green Heron learns to balance on his gangly new legs to stand and walk, we do also.  It may take time and it might seem awkward at first but soon it might even seem natural.  

Submitted by Joe Hoffmann, World Bird Sanctuary, Rehabilitation Hospital Manager           

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Poet’s Corner: Nails

World Bird Sanctuary friend, Marge Biermann gives us another poem that asks us to slow down and enjoy the wonders of nature all around us—even in the oddest places.
Sometimes bird mothers choose to next in the oddest places (photo: Gay Schroer)

“There it was, a sign over the door….blinking,
And while looking at it I began thinking.
“Nails” is what it spelled, but there was an added feature.
Often God’s little birds can be a good teacher.

When I saw the grass and twigs in the crook of the “S”,
I knew a busy mama bird had a new address.
Then I looked at the other letters in the sign “Nails”.
I really saw some options for residential sales.

Perhaps a cozy nest in the “N” or in the angle of the “L”.
You never know what could become a bird hotel,
Or even a cute “A” frame waiting to be filled.
I’m sure a little family of wrens would be thrilled.

Yes, I could fill my time with a more important event,
But this is a moment, I think, well spent.
We live with God’s flying creatures every day,
From the majestic Eagle to the sassy Bluejay.

Birds do us no harm so why not wish them the best,
And look with pleasure on every clever little nest.”

It’s amazing how many times we walk within scant feet of a well hidden nest…after all, birds are clever little creatures.  The next time you step outside your door challenge yourself to count the nests between home and your destination.

Submitted by Marge Biermann, World Bird Sanctuary Guest Author

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

New to the Crew

My name is Kelsey, and I am excited and proud to be the newest staff member at The World Bird Sanctuary.  I have worked with birds for several field seasons, but this is a whole new journey for me.  I have worked with passerines (song birds), waterfowl, and woodpeckers.  Birds of prey, however, are a new experience.

I’ve been interested in birds since I was a child.  I always wanted to know what species the birds were that I saw in my backyard or at school.  I would frequently ask my parents what each bird was, or grab one of my dad’s old bird books.  A friend of mine gave me my first set of field guides for birds in the United States (The Smithsonian Handbook: Birds of North America) when I was a teenager.  I looked through every single bird in both volumes and couldn’t wait to see some of these birds in the wild.

A Northern Shoveler (photo: wikipedia)

My first bit of fieldwork was in the winter and spring of 2012.  I was working on an independent research project for an ornithology class.  I studied phenology (migration patterns) of waterfowl and shore birds at Eagle Bluffs (a wetland and prairie conservation area near Columbia Missouri).  I would go to the conservation area several times each week and record the first arrival dates and population numbers of all of the different species.  This went on from early February to mid May.

We didn’t have much of a winter that year so I wanted to see which, if any, of the species would migrate through early.  I compared my data to that of the previous 20 years.  Through this and looking up diets, wintering and breeding locations, distance traveled, and temperatures over the last 20 years I was able to determine that in the long run all of the species were arriving a little bit earlier.  Compared to 2011, where we had a harsh winter, many species arrived much earlier.

My next field job was that summer of 2012 in the Missouri Ozarks.  The first half of the season was spent mapping territories and monitoring nests of passerines and woodpeckers.  Birds (especially small ones) are much easier to hear than they are to see.  So the best way to locate them and map out their territories is through sound.  I had to learn the songs and calls of every bird species in the area.  It was quite a long list!

The early mornings were spent mapping because that is when birds are most active and singing.  The late mornings and early afternoons were spent searching for nests and monitoring already found nests.  The second half of the season was all about bird banding.  The team I worked with and I would set up mist nets right as the sun was coming up, and write down all of the data on birds that we caught.  We would measure wing and tarsus (lower leg) length, weigh, sex, age, and of course identify each species.  It was a ton of fun!

Puerto Rican Tody (photo: Kelsey McCord)

The next field position was a little bit more tropical.  I spent the winter of 2012-2013 in Guanica, Puerto Rico banding birds.  I had to learn a whole new list of birds.  Most of the birds in Puerto Rico are a lot more colorful than the birds you see in Missouri.  My favorite bird to band was the Puerto Rican Tody.  They are about the size of hummingbirds and look a little bit like them, but they are actually related to kingfishers.  Since we were banding in the winter, we actually caught a lot of birds that breed in the United States.  I even caught an Ovenbird that was banded in the Ozarks that previous summer!

Stellar's Jay (photo: Kelsey McCord)

My most recent field position was in the Mogollon Rim in Arizona.  Since I had never been to the western part of the United States, these were all new birds for me.  I was on the banding crew, and I recorded all sorts of measurements from each bird and gave them a new shiny numbered leg band.  There was one bird from my guides that I had always wanted to see.  Ever since I first saw a picture of the Stellar’s Jay, I knew I had to see one.  I not only got to see them, but I got the pleasure of banding one as well!  It was most certainly the highlight bird of my summer.

The World Bird Sanctuary has given me an awesome opportunity to work with new birds and gain some awesome experience!  I am super excited to be a part of the team!

Submitted by Kelsey McCord, World Bird Sanctuary Naturalist

Sunday, September 6, 2015

Domestic Cats Kill Billions of Native Wildlife Each Year

Domestic cats that roam freely outdoors cause devastating effects to the environment.

These invasive species are not part of the natural ecosystem, and they do not positively contribute to the environment. This is unlike a native fox that might hunt in the wild, and also die in the wild feeding other organisms.  The fox depends on hunting to survive, and in turn contributes to the ecosystem as they live and die.  Domestic cats are not a natural part of the food chain. Many are well fed and hunt without the need to eat their prey.  Feral cats, or domestic cats that have turned wild and have babies that grow up wild, are also a large part of this problem.

Domestic cats kill millions of birds such as this Red-bellied Woodpecker (photo: Paige Davis)

Domestic cats kill BILLIONS of wild animals each year in the United States alone.  This includes at least 500 million birds if not more. Cat predation is a huge reason why 1 in 3 American bird species are declining. Even if a cat catches something and does not kill it, tiny punctures from cat teeth are often fatal due to the high bacteria in cats' mouths. Cat caught animals have a high chance of mortality even from small wounds.  In fact, cats are the number one killer of birds and small mammals in the United States.

Even if not killed outright, puncture wounds may get infected and cause death (photo: Paige Davis)

Many cat owners believe it is cruel to keep cats indoors. This is not the case however. Cats encounter numerous dangers when roaming free such as poisons, predators, cars, diseases, and humans who will capture them on their property. Cats actually live much longer lives when kept safely indoors.

Just as with dogs, cat owners are encouraged to take their cats outside on a leash!  This is a great way for your cat to spend time outside safely and controlled.  Your pet will live much longer and healthier if kept indoors and supervised when outside.

Many native species have declined and even gone extinct due to cat predation.  An easy way you can help is by keeping your kitty indoors when not on a leash.  The fate of billions of lives depend on how we as humans will deal with this situation.

Submitted by Paige Davis, World Bird Sanctuary Naturalist