Sunday, May 31, 2015

Pack it on up. Move it on out.

As show supervisor for World Bird Sanctuary’s zoo shows I enjoy a transient lifestyle.  I’ve mentioned before how the ever-changing scenery and people keep me on my toes and free of boredom.  This is true but there is one thing I don’t enjoy about constantly being on the move—Packing!

Time to pack the car (photo: Neal Cowan)
 I hate packing.  I loathe packing.  It doesn’t help that I’m not particularly good at it.  I’m great at gathering things, checking and double checking a list, and sorting.  I’m not so good at the actual packing…or moving. Putting things in boxes, carrying them around, making them fit in a car.  All of it is not fun. 

Not only do I have to pack all of my own things, but I also have to pack for the birds and the show.  Both zoos we frequent allow us to leave items in storage, but we still cart the majority of our supplies back and forth.  It is important to make sure we have everything we need, as there are very few opportunities to bring the missing items to us from St. Louis.  That is a lot of pressure when packing, which makes it even less fun.

So much “stuff” and I’ve only just begun (photo: Leah Tyndall)
 I will admit there have been occasions, when I am very tired, that I’ve pondered the possibility of training birds to pack for themselves--not that they have a whole lot of experience when it comes to packing.  Well Sherlock the African Pied Crow will pile his toys in his crate, but that’s about it.

Hmmm…do you think?  Uh….no, I guess not! (photo: Mike Cerutti) 
In the wild, birds don’t have to pack up and move their things from one nest to another.  In most cases they build their nest from scratch.  In some cases they don’t even build the nest.  Owls for instance build a scrape.  This is a depression either in the ground or in a tree cavity.  They usually line these with feathers before laying their eggs.  Abandoned nests will often be used by different birds, even different species.  It is not uncommon for Great Horned Owls to take over abandoned Red-tailed Hawk nests.  On occasion they don’t even wait for the nests to be abandoned.

Brood parasites are a group of birds including European cuckoos and cowbirds.  These birds will lay their eggs in another bird’s nest.  Not only do they not have to raise their own young, but they also do not have to expend the energy to build a nest in the first place.  Bald Eagles are the closest to being movers, although they don’t move between nests as much as they build onto their existing nest.  Bald Eagles will return to the same nest year after year, adding more and more sticks.  The largest Bald Eagle nest ever recorded was nine and a half feet wide, twenty feet deep, and weighed over three tons before it broke the tree in which it was built. That weighs more than my car--my car being a RAV 4, so I can pack all of my stuff or fit an eagle size crate in it!

Zoo show life is fantastic, except for moving myself, and 15-20 birds and all of their items, across the country.  In the wild birds do not need to move anything but themselves from one place to another.  In some cases they do not even need to build a nest in the first place. If only moving zoo shows were that simple…and don’t even get me started on unpacking!

And just about the time I have reached the point of exhaustion and am throwing myself a real pity party, I am reminded why we at zoo shows do all this packing, unpacking and moving of personal items, equipment and birds.  The first time a bird swoops over the heads of audience members and we hear the gasps of amazement from a theater full of adults and children we know that “OH YEAH…that’s why we do it!”

So, if you happen to be in the Milwaukee area this summer, be sure to make the Milwaukee County Zoo one of your stops.  Our amazing birds will demonstrate for you why all that furious packing and transporting was well worth the effort.

Submitted by Leah Tyndall, World Bird Sanctuary Naturalist/Trainer and Zoo Show Supervisor.

Friday, May 29, 2015

The True Harpy

The Harpy Eagle (Harpia harpyja) is a true beast of the sky 
that only a handful of people will ever see in the wild. 
South American explorers named these great birds after 
harpies, the predatory “frightful, flying creatures with 
hooked beak and claws,” of Greek mythology.

Head shot of an adult Harpy Eagle (photo: wikipedia)

This mostly dark gray bird of prey has an extremely distinctive look, 
having feathers atop its head that fan into a bold crest when the bird 
feels threatened.  Smaller gray feathers create a facial disk that may 
focus sound waves to improve the bird’s hearing, similar to owls. 

Like most eagle species, the female Harpy Eagle can be almost twice 
as large as the male.  Female’s can average in weight from 13-20 lbs., 
whereas the average weight for a female Bald Eagle is approximately 
12 lbs.   The Harpy Eagle's leg could be as thick as a man's wrist, and 
its back talons are larger than bear claws at 5 inches long.  The Harpy 
Eagle is one of the world’s 2 or 3 largest raptors, and is a true apex 

Harpy Eagle in flight (photo: wikipedia)

Harpy Eagles range from Mexico to Argentina and live in forests. 
Not having a massive wingspan (but it still can reach 6 feet across), 
Harpies fly through their forest home with great agility.

For nesting, Harpies favor silk-cotton trees and usually build nests 
90 to 140 feet above the ground.  They like to use trees that have 
widely spaced branches for a clear flight path to and from the nest. 
Harpies use large sticks to create the nest’s huge frame and line it 
with softer greens, seedpods, and animal fur to make it warm and 
comfortable.  A Harpy nest measures about 4 feet thick and 5 feet 
across--big enough for a person to lie across.  Once built, an eagle 
pair may reuse and remodel the same nest for many years.

Harpies are great at saving needed energy.  You will rarely see a 
Harpy Eagle flying over the top of rain forests.  Instead, the powerful 
Harpy flies below the forest canopy and uses its great talons to snatch 
up monkeys and sloths that can weigh up to about 17 pounds. 
Harpy is capable, in a serious chase, of reaching speeds around 50 
miles per hour.  It dives down at its prey and snatches it with 
outstretched feet.  Its short, broad wings help the Harpy fly almost 
straight up, so it can attack prey from below and above.

Harpies are ambush predators—perching in a tree waiting for prey like this 
male Harpy (photo: wikipedia)

The Harpy Eagle can turn its head to get a better look at its prey. 
The bird perches silently up to 23 hours in a tree, waiting to catch 
unsuspecting prey.  It has amazing vision and can see something 
smaller than 1 inch in size from almost 220 yards away.

A Harpy's feet are massive. This photo does not do them justice.... 
(photo: wikipedia….

….the back talons are longer than this bear’s claws 
(photo: Gay Schroer)

The deadly talons of a Harpy Eagle can exert several hundred 
pounds of pressure, crushing the bones of its prey and instantly 
ending its victim.  A Harpy also feeds on opossums, porcupines, 
small deer, snakes, and lizards.  Larger prey is taken to a stump or 
low branch and partially eaten, because many times prey is too 
heavy to carry whole to the nest.  A lot of the Harpy’s food is found 
in the rain forest canopy and understory instead of on the forest 
floor.  The bigger females tend to take sloths and monkeys; the 
smaller, more agile and faster males tend to take more quantities 
of smaller food.  This increases the pair’s odds of eating on a regular 

All in all, the Harpy Eagle has to be one of the most powerful and 
impressive creatures in the sky.

Submitted by Ian Wright, World Bird Sanctuary Naturalist

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Love is in the air

We have all heard of the birds and the bees.  This blog is going to focus on the birds, not the bees.  Without a doubt, spring is the busiest time of year for everyone at the World Bird Sanctuary—especially the birds!

Breeding takes place everywhere at the World Bird Sanctuary; hawks and owls in the woods call out to their mates.  Birds everywhere are working overtime on nest building. 

A Bald Eagles’ nest located near WBS_note the two babies in the nest (photo: Jim Kent)
 Bald Eagles near the river by the sanctuary have built a nest, which is currently about 4 feet deep, that they add to every year.  We have seen this eagle pair flying through the trees in courtship rituals; spinning, flipping and grasping each other’s talons, then releasing at the last second as they fall.  Later in the year we see the juvenile eagles flying around the WBS Nature Center, as they explore the world near their nest. 

When baby birds hatch mom and dad will hunt at every opportunity.  Owls will even hunt during the day. 

Our resident birds sometimes call in wild birds, seeming to flirt with them. 

In the wildlife hospital we admit many baby birds, which have fallen from the nests during spring storms.  Adult birds sometimes are egg-bound at this time of year. This  is a problem where a bird cannot lay the egg that has developed inside its body.  This prevents them from performing other biological functions. 

Since the parent birds are busy hunting they sometimes are so focused on the prey that they collide with cars. 

Baby Barn owl – 33 days old (photo: Gay Schroer)

Our propagation department is busy overseeing our breeding birds. We make sure they have the right food, vitamins and nesting materials that they need.  Even the birds on exhibit get in the mood.  The birdcalls and courtship dances heard and seen on the property are a symphony of love.

Thickbill Parrot Baby being watched by the parents – note the light colored beak on the baby (photo: Gay Schroer)
The Thick billed parrots on the exhibit line have hatched several babies over the years.  A few of those babies were released in the mountains of New Mexico. 

Some eagles and hawks on the exhibit line have even laid eggs.  However these birds are not currently in bonded pairs so the eggs will never develop.  We tend to empty the eggs and use them for education. 

We have released to the wild many Barn Owls and Peregrine Falcons that we have hatched here.  Both of these species were recently taken off the endangered species list.

Dorothy the Andean Condor baby hatched here at WBS (photo: Gay Schroer)
We have hatched Andean Condors that were later released in South America.  We have released many bald eagles, even babies.

Breeding will continue all around us no matter what.  Like they say in Jurassic Park, “Life will find a way.”

When visiting the World Bird Sanctuary in the spring, keep an eye out for some of these breeding activities and behaviors. 

Submitted by Joe Hoffmann, World Bird Sanctuary Rehabilitation Hospital Manager

Monday, May 25, 2015

Birdlore: Northern Mockingbird: The Best Singer of Them All

On a warm spring afternoon, you may find yourself relaxing on the porch or listening to the chitter- chatter of songbirds bobbing and weaving through the yard.  Listening, you hear the song of what seems like a dozen different bird species singing.  You decide to glance about to locate the gathering chorus, but all those songbirds are nowhere to be seen.

Except for a single, slender-bodied, grey songbird perched boldly high up in a bush, bursting proudly with song.

A Northern Mockingbird. in its typically subdued colors (photo: wikipedia)
 The Northern Mockingbird (Mimus polyglottos) is renowned for its ability to mimic the songs of other songbirds, cats, dogs, frogs, and even human-made objects.  Their songs are made of a long series of phrases, usually repeated several times, and lasting upwards of half a minute.  The mockingbird, male and female, sings continuously throughout the day and even into the night.  Unmated males will sing longer and louder than mated males in the daytime.  A mockingbird will continue to add new songs and sounds to its repertoire throughout its lifespan.

The Mayans tell a story of how a young mockingbird named, X-chol-col-chek, was poor and could only dress in shabby feathers.  However, X-chol-col-chek had been blessed with a beautiful voice since the day she hatched, but couldn’t afford singing lessons. 

X-chol-col-chek found work with a rich cardinal family, when a famous singing professor, a blackbird, arrived to the Maya land one season.  The father cardinal asked the blackbird to teach his lazy daughter, Col-pol-che, to become a skilled singer.

Col-pol-che and the blackbird would head off into a quiet part of the forest for many weeks for lessons and X-col would follow in secret to watch.  However, over time, the blackbird came to realize that Col-pol-che had neither the skill nor the motivation to become a singer.  Afraid to tell the cardinal father of his daughter’s progress after much time and accepting a great deal of money, the blackbird simply flew away to forget the matter.

All the while, X-col-col-chek practiced the lessons she had watched, until one day Col-pol-che stumbled upon her practice in surprise.  At the same time, the proud father cardinal arranged for his daughter to perform before all their friends and family.  Lazy Col-pol-che was terrified and too afraid to tell her father she couldn’t sing. Instead, she turned to X-chol-col-chek for help.

The two birds recruited a woodpecker to drill a hole in the tree just below where Col-pol-che would perch for her concert.  Col-pol-che would pretend to sing, while X-chol-col-chek hid in the hole and provided the real voice. 

The time of the concert had finally arrived.  All the nobles, artists, singers, and musicians had gathered while Col-pol-che rose to her perch.  Col-pol-che opened her beak and the most enchanting voice to ever be heard in the Maya land spread throughout the whole forest.    The audience flapped and praised the beautiful voice, however, the father cardinal was not applauding.

He had seen X-chol-col-chek climb into the hole shortly before the concert.  When the audience finally settled down, the father cardinal joined his daughter on the perch and demanded silence.  Leaning towards the hole, he called the little mockingbird out.

Shaking with fright, the small, gray mockingbird came out, only to have the father cardinal gently guide her to the perch with him and his daughter.  Explaining to the audience that his daughter had tricked them and himself, he explained that it was really, “this shy little ‘nightingale’ singing the whole time.”

In a great roar of excitement, the audience cried for X-chol-col-chek to sing again.  Feeling more confident, the mockingbird sang with a full spirit and won the heart of every bird.  From then on, her children and her children’s children would inherit her lovely voice, but the cardinals never learned how to sing as well.

The Mayan legend teaches that we should use the abilities we are born with, to be confident and bold in ourselves, and to never stop pursuing our dreams.

You may see one of these amazing singers at one of the WBS feeders (photo: Gay Schroer)

The next time you visit the World Bird Sanctuary keep your ears tuned for the exuberant song of the Mockingbird.  You may see one at one of our feeders--or--you may have one of these joyful little singers in your own yard.  Just take the time to listen.

Submitted by Jessica Bunke, World Bird Sanctuary Naturalist/Trainer

Saturday, May 23, 2015

So You Want To Work With Animals

Working with animals is very rewarding work.  As a naturalist at the World Bird Sanctuary, I enjoy working with our critters every day.  But many people get the idea that it’s all cuddles and fun!  No matter if you want to become a veterinarian, wildlife rehabilitator, naturalist, or biologist, if you work with animals, you will be doing a lot of dirty work.

All animals poop.  It is a fact of life.  And that poop doesn’t magically disappear!  At WBS, we have to clean bird poop several times a day.  In fact, birds do not have a bladder, which helps them to stay light since they don’t have to carry around the weight of their waste.  This means that they go to the bathroom A LOT!  Whether you work with birds, reptiles, or mammals, you can be sure that cleaning up animal poop will be a big part of your job.  Clean enclosures make for happy, healthy animal residents.

Wedge-tailed eagle Duncan enjoying a meal of rabbit. (photo: Paige Davis)

Another big part of animal jobs is preparing food.  At WBS, we have more than 250 animals to feed every day!  Most of our animals are birds of prey, which are carnivorous.  We feed our birds a natural diet consisting of things such as rats, mice, rabbit, fish, etc.  All of these food items need preparation on a daily basis.  It can be messy work gutting and prepping hundreds of food items each week!  If you want to work with animals, you will very likely have to prepare diets for the critters you care for.  It is all worth it when one sees the animals enjoying a good meal.

All of our enclosures need to be maintained...from chicken coops to Condor enclosures,,, 

Another part of the job is maintaining animal enclosures.  At WBS, we have to do major maintenance days twice a year, in addition to the daily maintenance.  It is important for the safety of the animals that their enclosures are monitored and kept in good condition.  With the change of seasons, we have to make adjustments to our enclosures to keep the animals comfortable as the weather transitions.  It can be hard work, consisting of climbing, using power tools, and getting muddy.  But the safety of our animal residents is our top priority.

...including the behind the scenes enclosures which the public rarely sees,,,and, alas, none of them clean themselves (photos: Gay Schroer)

On a different note, some animal related jobs do not allow “cuddling”.  If you work in a wildlife rehab for example, the animals are to be kept as wild as possible to give them a good chance of being returned to nature.  Cuddling is prohibited.  At WBS we do not even pet our birds.  Not only are these wild animals that would not appreciate being touched, but also the oils in human skin can cause damage to birds’ feathers.  It may seem tempting to try and pet animals as cute as owls, but they are much happier and healthier getting love through your hard work caring for them.

Even though a big part of working with animals is dirty work, it is definitely worth it.  I wouldn’t give up the opportunity to work with such amazing animals for anything in the world.  But it is important to know just what you are getting into.  If you love animals, and don’t mind getting down and dirty, a career in the animal field may be right for you!  One way to find out is to gain experience through volunteering and interning.  WBS offers unique opportunities to gain hands on experience in the wildlife field.
To find out more, Click Here

Submitted by Paige Davis, World Bird Sanctary Naturalist

Thursday, May 21, 2015

The Red-tailed Hawk

The most common hawk in North America is probably the Red-tailed Hawk.
Marz, the Red-tailed Hawk, watching vigilantly for his cue to fly to his trainer at Stone Zoo (photo Teri Graves)

They are commonly found sitting on fence posts near fields or soaring in the sky with their broad, and rounded wings.  They are typically brown above and pale below in color with that very well-known red tail.  Juveniles have a brown banded tail.  There are also multiple morphs or variations.  The dark-morph birds are chocolate brown and rufous-morph birds are reddish-brown above and dark below.
Nelson, a Krider's Red-tailed Hawk, is a WBS resident bird (photo: Gay Schroer)

There is also a color variation of the Red-tailed Hawk called "Krider's" that is pale with a whitish head, streaked belly, and a pinkish tail.  Harlan's variation of the Red-tailed Hawk is very dark with marbled white, brown and grey in the tail.  These last two morphs are more commonly found in the western United States.

Red-tailed Hawks prefer open country where they can soar or perch on high objects as they search for prey, but they are found in every habitat in the United States, including deserts and woodlands.  When flying, they use thermal updrafts to climb, maintain altitude, and circle the sky.  Often times the Red-shouldered Hawk is mistaken for the Red-tailed Hawk.  They have a similar appearance when in flight.
Flip, a Red-shouldered Hawk.  In flight this species is often mistaken for a Red-tailed Hawk (photo: Gay Schroer)

Red-tailed Hawks are typically a solitary species, but they will share in the hunt with their mate or offspring.  One may keep an eye on their prey while the other makes the attack.  Their diet consists of small mammals such as mice, rabbits, and squirrels, as well as snakes and even other birds.  Like most birds of prey, they will also feed on carrion.
Marz the Red-tailed Hawk at Grant's Farm (photo: W. Leigh French)

The World Bird Sanctuary has several resident Red-tailed Hawks, and even a Krider's Hawk.  As with all of our resident animals, they are available for adoption in our Adopt A Bird program.  To see a gallery of some of our hawks, Click Here.  If you don't see the bird you would like to adopt in our photo gallery--don't despair.  Just call 636-861-3225 and ask for Marion.

Submitted by W. Leigh French, World Bird Sanctuary Naturalist

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Rio the Green-winged Macaw

Green-winged Macaws are also known as Red and Green Macaws.  Covered in red feathers with blues and greens on the tail and wings, they are the second largest parrot species in the world, only behind the Hyacinth Macaw. 
Rio, WBS's resident Green-winged Macaw (photo: Gay Schroer)

These beautiful birds have an average length of about 2.5 feet, and a wingspan of over three feet!  Even though they are so large, they only weigh about 3 pounds.  In fact, most birds are relatively light.  This is because the largest of birds' bones have a honeycomb structure instead of being solid like mammal bones.  Also, they don't have heavy jaws and teeth.   

Just because their beaks are lightweight they should not be underestimated. Green-winged Macaws have roughly two-thousand pounds of crushing force with their beaks.  This allows them to break open the toughest nuts and shells.  However, if for some reason this parrot couldn't break open a nut, they have what is called a rasping edge on the inside and end of their upper beak.  This means they could file away at the shell to make it easier to break apart.  Instead they have lightweight beaks.

Because their feet are xygodactal, macaws are very adept at picking up items with their feet (photo: Mike Cerutti)

Here at World Bird Sanctuary we have one of these amazing birds.  His name is Rio, and I honestly do not know if he likes dancing in the sand (a pun on the song “Rio,” by Duran Duran).  Rio has xygodactal feet, meaning that on each foot the outer 2 toes face backwards along with back toe, and the two inner toes face forwards.  This makes picking up fruits and nuts very easy.  Birds of prey like hawks and eagles have to reach down with their heads to their feet to eat food, but parrots like Rio can bring that food all the way up to their mouth with the foot. 

Apart from having gorgeous feathers, a very powerful beak, and awesome feet, Rio (like many other parrots) can even mimic words!  He is known for quietly saying “Hello?” and screaming “Hi Rio!”  at his favorite trainers.  Rio is only eighteen years old, which might seem like a lot, but not for a parrot.  Green-winged Macaws can live to be 60 to 80 years old!

During the summer months, Rio spends his time at various zoos across the United States as part of World Bird Sanctuary’s bird shows.  There he flies over peoples' heads in a seemingly spectacular attempt to wow audiences.  In the winter he likes to eat bananas and play games with his trainers.  One of his favorites is to pick up aluminum cans, and then put them into a recycling bin. 

Even though recycling helps us save money at World Bird Sanctuary, we still need your help.  For just $150 you can adopt Rio through our Adopt-A-Bird program   That tax deductible donation will go directly toward helping us feed and care for our beloved Rio for 1 year.

Submitted by Mike Cerutti, World Bird Sanctuary Naturalist/Trainer

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Babies Are Here!

If you’ve been watching our Falcon Cam, you know that the Peregrine Falcon pair at the Ameren MO Sioux Energy Center have been sitting on four eggs.

As of Saturday the babies had begun to pip their eggshells, and by Sunday morning there were four babies.  If you watch the Falcon Cam you may see momma sitting over her clutch to keep them warm, and occasionally you will see one or more babies peek out from beneath her feathers only to be tucked back in by mom.

2014 Photo of parent bird feeding babies (photo: WBS website)

If you’re really lucky you may just catch them when one of the parents returns to the nest with a pigeon or starling and feeds them.  At this time you will see a big ball of fuzz with anywhere from one to four heads ready and waiting for a meal. 

Once the babies have been fed the parent will fly off with the remaining carcass, either to finish off any remaining morsels or to dispose of the carcass somewhere other than the nest.  Shortly after that the parent will return to the nest and gather the babies to be tucked safely under the parent’s warm body.

The Falcon Cam is a cooperative effort between The World Bird Sanctuary, Ameren Missouri, and the Missouri Department of Conservation.


Submitted by Gay Schroer, World Bird Sanctuary Volunteer/Photographer

Friday, May 15, 2015

Birds On The Line: Dorothy

One of my favorite birds on the World Bird Sanctuary exhibit line is Dorothy, the Andean Condor.  I have had the pleasure to watch this amazing bird grow from a chick to a young adult. 

Closeup of Dorothy (photo: Cathy Spahn) 
Every year (with each molt) her colors change as her feathers transform into those of an adult condor.  I remember seeing her for the first time in the summer of 2006 when she was with her parents in our behind the scenes Condor enclosure; she was this little brown fuzz ball.  It is now 9 years later and she is almost a fully feathered adult.

This little fuzzball is baby Dorothy napping (photo: Cathy Spahn)

The Andean Condor, Vultur gryphus, lives in the mountainous regions of South America.  The Andean Condor is one of the largest flying birds in the world.  They tip the scale at 20 t 25 lbs, are up to 4 ft tall, and have a wingspan up to 10 ft.  Adult Andean Condors are mostly black with a fluffy white ruff of feathers around their neck and white patches along their wings.  They also have grayish red heads, the adult females have red eyes, and the males have a fleshy lump on the front of their heads called a caruncle. 

The Andean Condor lays its egg in a cave or rocky area.  They lay only one egg every other year.  The Andean condor was placed on the Endangered Species List in 1973.  They have been the victims of over-hunting, killed because farmers thought condors were killing livestock.  In fact, as with all vultures and their kin, condors feed on carrion (animals that have already died).  Pesticide poisoning has also affected the population.

Many zoos and other organizations have worked on breeding the Andean Condor and releasing them back into the wild. World Bird Sanctuary assisted with this program back in the 1990’s and early 2000’s.  Dorothy’s parents, Gryph and Laurel, were housed at the World Bird Sanctuary for many years as part of the species survival program.   During the 10 years they were with us, they produced 6 chicks, 5 of which were sent to Venezuela for release to the wild.  Laurel and Gryph are now back at the Cincinnati Zoo, which was their home before they came to us.

Dorothy sunning (photo: Cathy Spahn) 
Dorothy is a very friendly young avian ambassador and can be seen many days sunning herself in her enclosure.  When vultures sun they sit with their wings open to maximize the amount of solar rays absorbed, somewhat like a solar collector.  Ultimately the sun transforms oils on their feathers into vitamin D, so when Dorothy preens her feathers, she takes in this important vitamin.

Dorothy is a very curious condor and loves to play with the toys in her enclosure.  She considers the hose a very special toy when we are trying to clean her exhibit or give her fresh water.

As with all of our resident animals, Dorothy is available for adoption through the World Bird Sanctuary’s Adopt A Bird program. Adoption does not mean that you can take her home, but you receive many cool items through the mail and you will help to feed and care for her during the coming year. If you are a fan of Dorothy’s please head to our website and adopt her.

Submitted by Cathy Spahn, World Bird Sanctuary Naturalist

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Caring for Birds of Prey in Captivity

At the World Bird Sanctuary, you will find over 200 animals, most of which are birds of prey.  From eagles to hawks to owls, WBS is home to numerous different species of raptors.  Keeping birds in captivity poses a few challenges that WBS staff and volunteers must work through every day.

Every single one of World Bird Sanctuary’s raptors gets fed a natural meat diet each day.  Bald eagles may get fish, and Great Horned Owls may get rats for example.  This food needs to be prepared on a daily basis for our 200+ animals.

Some birds get a little extra care.  For instance, older birds coping with arthritis get an arthritis supplement on their food.  Some birds get extra calcium sprinkled on their meals for added benefit.  Rehab patients may require daily medications in their food.  By feeding frozen/thawed food, our birds (especially those with disabilities) do not have any risk of injury during feeding as they might in the wild.  They simply get their meals served up to them on a silver platter.

The raptors at WBS are fed a natural diet each day-Duncan the Wedge-tailed Eagle enjoys his lunch (photo: Paige Davis)

In the wild, birds of prey are constantly scraping their talons on trees, rocks, and prey.  In captivity, sometimes the birds need a trim to help keep their talons from overgrowing.  Just as our fingernails continuously grow, so do raptors’ talons.  The staff at WBS must monitor each bird and make sure their talons are well kept.  It is like giving a manicure, but to much sharper and more deadly “fingernails.”

Birds of prey have talons that grow continuously like our fingernails; they must be trimmed on a regular basis (photo: Paige Davis)

Just as the talons continuously grow, so do birds’ beaks!  Birds’ beaks also need a trim (known in falconry as “coping”) once in a while if they do not keep it worn down themselves.  This can be an artistic task; shaping a bird’s beak requires a good eye and a steady hand.  Luckily World Bird Sanctuary has a great team of people for such a task.
Pictured is a before and after of Ivory after a beak coping (photo: Paige Davis)

In addition to all of these tasks, WBS staff and volunteers must also clean up after each animal and maintain their exhibits.  Birds do not have a bladder to hold waste, which makes them lighter.  It also makes for a lot of poop!  And let me tell you, raptor poop is like cement when it dries.  Caretakers often use a scraper to remove the waste before deep cleaning.  It can be a very dirty job full of bird poop, but it makes for some happy, healthy feathered friends once the work is done.

Submitted by Paige Davis, World Bird Sanctuary Naturalist