Thursday, December 10, 2015

Those Fascinating Vultures

Most people are not big fans of vultures.  They were never really a number one favorite of mine either—at least not until I  started working with and learning about them at the World Bird Sanctuary.

Vultures come off as pretty gross birds.  They eat dead things, they projectile vomit as a self-defense mechanism, and New World vultures urinate on their legs to keep cool.  So, why are vultures such awesome birds?

Osiris the Egyptian Vulture is an Old World Vulture (photo: Gay Schroer)
For starters, vultures are super-important to our environment.  Without them, we would have an awful lot of dead things (carrion) lying around.  Rotting animals are breeding grounds for bacteria and disease.  Vultures help keep animal carcasses cleaned up, and thus help stop the spread of most diseases—positives in both a visual way (no one enjoys seeing dead animals all over the place) and health aspects of human life.

If animal carcasses harbor so much bacteria and disease, how can vultures eat them without getting sick?  Well, vultures have super strong stomach acids that can kill the bacteria, making them a dead end for disease.  Their strong stomach acid also helps them out quite a bit with that projectile vomit they use for defense against predators.  Their stomach acid is so strong that it can even strip the paint off of a car!  It’s a good thing they have it, though, because it helps us out with diseases and bacteria.

Vader the Black Vulture is a New World Vulture native to the southern United States (photo: Gay Schroer)
Vultures also have some of the neatest personalities.  Each vulture I have worked with so far has been completely different from the others.  Goober, the Black Vulture, gets very excited for his food and he even skips and makes barking noises!  Desi, the Hooded Vulture, seems rambunctious and is very gung ho about flying in shows.  Mortimer, the Turkey Vulture, is a dominant bird that seems to know exactly what he wants while Kinsey, another Turkey Vulture, seems a little bit shy around crowds.  Each vulture is very unique, even amongst the same species.  They each have their own personalities, and I feel privileged to get to work with them.
Desi, the Hooded Vulture, is an Old World vulture (photo: Gay Schroer)
There are also big differences between New World and Old World vultures.  New World vultures, such as the Andean Condor, Turkey Vulture, and Black Vulture urinate on their legs to keep cool when it is hot outside.  Old World vultures, like the Hooded Vulture, Egyptian Vulture, and Bearded Vulture don’t do this behavior.  It may seem gross, but it also acts as a natural anti-bacterial by killing germs on their legs and feet.
Skinner, a New World Turkey Vulture, displays his beautiful feather pattern (photo: Gay Schroer)
Several New World vulture species live in groups with social hierarchies, whereas Old World vultures typically live solitary lives.  Old World vultures also have a strong grip in their feet, whereas New World vultures do not.  If you look at a Turkey Vulture’s feet, they look fairly similar to those of a stork or crane.  New World vultures are actually more closely related to cranes or herons than they are to Old World vultures.  They are superficially similar due to convergent evolution, which in this case means both kinds of vultures evolved to feed on dead animals.  They aren’t closely related, but they evolved similar traits because they had to adapt to similar environments and feeding habits.

Vultures are super interesting and they have become some of my favorite birds.  I am so glad that I have the opportunity to work with them each day and learn more about their unique traits.

The next time you visit the World Bird Sanctuary be sure to take a really close look at our resident vultures.  You, too, may find that they are truly fascinating birds.

Any of the vultures mentioned in this article can be adopted via our Adopt A Bird program.

Submitted by Kelsey McCord, World Bird Sanctuary Naturalist

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Dr. Doug's Menagerie

On September  14, 2015 long time World Bird Sanctuary Consulting Veterinarian, Dr. Doug Pernikoff, donated two Tarantulas, for our exhibits and for our traveling educational programs.  

Dr. Doug has been helping examine, medicate and provide some surgeries for our birds since the 1980’s.  Dr. Doug has a veterinary practice: Clarkson Wilson Veterinary Clinic. 32 Clarkson Wilson Center, Chesterfield, MO 63017. 636-530-1808.  If you have concerns about your Tarantula, Dr. Doug is the man to call.  

A Mexican Red Kneed Tarantula from Dr. Doug's collection (photo: Dawn Griffard)

Dr. Doug primarily treats dogs and cats but also has many clients who bring in exotic animals.  Dr. Doug has an extreme affinity for Tarantulas.  He also has a large collection of Tarantulas at his home.  I was able to see his collection on September 14, 2015.  He has 12 species and has bred 3 of the species in the past year.  He showed me one of the exhibits of newly hatched Tarantulas--around 1,000 tiny babies.  Wow!

Dr. Doug donated a Chilean Rose Haired Tarantula and a Mexican Red Kneed Tarantula to WBS.  Both Tarantulas are ground species, and use superficial burrows.  Dr. Doug also donated the materials for their exhibits and the enclosures themselves--very generous.

A Chilean Rose-haired Tarantula from Dr. Doug's collection (photo: Dawn Griffard)

I asked Dr. Doug what he liked about Tarantulas?  He said that they are high-end predators, carnivorous, and similar to Birds of Prey in the way they respond to their environment.  He also likes how social they are.

Breeding is interactive and intimate.  There is lots of display, they perform a mating dance to each other with much visual display and strumming.  Tarantulas are not true spiders.  Also they can throw their butt hairs at an intruder or attacker.

Dr. Doug and one of his French bulldogs taken by Michael Zeloski

Dr. Doug’s place was “busy” with creatures as you might expect a Veterinarian’s house to be.  When I arrived a stream of French Bulldogs pulsed out of the garage to lick me and wag their tails and butts vigorously.  The most eager one jumped up into my lap while I was still seated in my car.

The three French Bull dogs, a breed with huge heads and small bodies, are named Pearl, Bruno, and George.  They look like the head caricatures that Dr. Doug has a passion for making out of clay.  Dr. Doug has many life sized head caricatures of his friends and other interesting looking people displayed in most of the rooms of his house on the downstairs level.

Dr. Doug also has a very large Aldabra tortoise named Dewey that lives out back of his house.

Thank you to Dr. Doug for granting permission to do a blog about him and his house and his animals.

Submitted by Michael Zieloski, World Bird Sanctuary Director of Education

Sunday, December 6, 2015

History of The Land

In the beginning is usually how it starts. 

I won’t go that far back, but I would like to share a small amount of the local lore concerning the land on which the World Bird Sanctuary sits today. 

Some stories were passed on to me by people whose grandparents lived in the area; other information came from research; and, as with all historical research, some could just be out and out fabrications.

The World Bird Sanctuary exhibit line as it looks today—this ridge may have been host to Native American hunters at one time (photo: Gay Schroer)

The hills around the World Bird Sanctuary were said to have been a summer hunting ground for the builders of the Cahokia mounds.  The chert and other stones found here were important materials for the tools and weapons the early Native American cultures needed.  The Osage tribes inhabited the area in later years and were relocated to reservations in Oklahoma. 

Missouri also had a history of European settlers living alongside and fighting for native rights.  Both Lewis and Clark worked throughout their lives to find equitable solutions for any disputes in the territory.  Many of the hills in the area were filled with homesteaders. 

A former WBS employee’s grandparents had a cabin across Interstate 44 from our property.  I spoke to a gentleman when he was in his 90s and he told me numerous stories of his grandfather seeing bison along the river and of the lone elk which he would later help capture within the county park bearing its name. 

The forest was a haven for southern sympathizers or confederate guerrillas during the civil war.  Directly across the Meramec River from our property there is said to be a cave or tunnel, which was used to hide slaves escaping captivity.  Later, this same tunnel was said to have been used to sneak illegal alcohol into nearby taverns.

Shortly after the civil war these hills were almost entirely bare due to lumbering for the railroad and the country’s expansion.  One family owned most of the land and leased small plots for homes or vacation retreats. 

During prohibition Al Capone and his enforcer Frank Nitte were known to supply and be honored guests at the local speakeasies.  Pretty boy Floyd, a depression era bank robber and member of a super gang, which listed among its members Baby Face Nelson and John Dillinger, was known to have stayed in local flophouses.  One home nearby still exists and has a register which he signed. 

An old map showing the site of the World Bird Sanctuary and surrounding areas (photo: Joe Hoffmann) 

The summer homes were very popular and the town of Morschels was known for great weekend parties call “The Chicken Fry’s”.  Some nearby land was used as a military base during World War 2 and the Korean War. 

The highlighted area shows the approximate location of WBS today 

In the seventies the state of Missouri approached the landowners and obtained the property to be a future park.  Much of the land was developed into Castlewood State Park. 

On the south side of the river the town remnants remained, slowly decaying until the World Bird Sanctuary moved onto the land.  We would like you to come visit our center and enjoy this history.  Signs can be found on the World Bird Sanctuary trails throughout our site detailing some of the fascinating history of our site.

Submitted by Joe Hoffmann, Rehabilitation Hospital Manager

Friday, December 4, 2015

Our Newest Naturalist

My name is Tess Rogers, and I am the newest naturalist here at World Bird Sanctuary!  I started at the beginning of this month, and am having a great time learning all about our wonderful birds.

I am originally from St.Louis, where I’ve lived for most of my life.  As a native St. Louisan I will provide the obligatory high school information--Maplewood Richmond-Heights.  For all of you not from St. Louis, it’s a well known fact that the first question asked when two St. Louis natives meet for the first time is….”what high school did you go to?”

For college I decided to get away from home, broaden my horizons, and apparently never be warm again as I went north to attend the University of Minnesota.  I had a fantastic four years there, during which I went even further away from home to do a semester abroad in Australia.

Myself and an irate Tufted Titmouse, one of the first birds I banded with WBS this summer!
 Upon Graduating this spring I returned home to St. Louis where, through a research fellowship, I started to get involved with the World Bird Sanctuary by working with the fantastic bird banding team. When I was told they might have a job opening coming up in the fall, I jumped at the opportunity to apply.  And here I am!

Thus far I absolutely love my job. There has been quite the learning curve working with raptors, as the most dangerous birds I had handled previously were cardinals.  That being said, getting to meet all the birds and starting to learn their individual personalities has been one of the most enjoyable parts of my days here.  My other favorite part, by far, is getting to tell people all about each bird when they come to visit, especially the kids. When I was little I adored animals, and when kids (and even some adults) come in to the Nature Center full of excitement and a list of facts about their favorite kinds of animals, I immediately feel a kinship with them since I WAS them.  Getting to teach them even more is by far one of the most rewarding experiences I have had while at work.  I know from personal experience I may very well be helping inspire the next batch of conservationists or even naturalists.

The kestrels and I have made fast friends. Though they may just be using me for my access to food if I’m being honest
 So if you see a naturalist down at the Nature Center or at the Visitors Center arguing with a bird about why they should not bite the glove, or seems to be taking longer than usual to tie their leashes to a perch, that just might be me.  I’m still getting the one-handed dexterity thing down.

The next time you visit the World Bird Sanctuary feel free to say hello, and level any questions you may have at me!

Submitted by Tess Rogers, World Bird Sanctuary Naturalist

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Armadillos in Missouri

Many people who live in the Saint Louis area have lately noticed an increase in armadillo sightings. 
Rustle, the World Bird Sanctuary's nine-banded armadillo (photo: Cathy Spahn)

In the past we would only spot armadillos if we were heading to the southern part of Missouri.  However, they are finding their way up here, and there have even been some sightings as far north as the Missouri/Iowa border.  This is mainly because of climate change.  The warmer winters have made the northern section of Missouri more adaptable for them to migrate north.  So, it will not be uncommon to see these guys more and more as the years go on.

Since armadillos are becoming more common in the Saint Louis area, we should learn about them and why it is important to have them around.  Armadillos are mammals. They have a thin layer of hair covering their entire body. Their “shell,” which is actually bony plates with softer skin in between, protects their head.  They generally weigh between 11 to 14 pounds.  They have a long sticky tongue to help them catch their food.  Due to the fact that they have poor eyesight, they rely on their ears and nose to detect food and predators.  Mating season in this area occurs from July to August.  The female always produces maternal quadruplets.

Armadillos are most active from dusk until dawn.  During the winter months, you will only encounter one during the warmest time of the day.  They construct their home by building burrows, using their long sharp claws.  They use soil and grass to construct the habitats within their burrows.  They are even known to steal habitats created by other armadillos or tortoises.  Their self defense mechanism consists of them jumping straight up into the air; this is why they are often struck by automobiles.  They jump instead of run.

So, why do we need these guys as a part of our ecosystem?  They eat the insects and their larvae that “bug” us so often.  That is enough for me to appreciate these creatures being in existence.  If you happen to see one of these guys while you are at the park or on a walk, enjoy watching them, but do not make physical contact with them.  They are capable of contracting leprosy and transferring it to humans.  Not to worry about Rustle, though.  He’s been checked by our vet and is disease free.

If you want to see and learn more about armadillos, come and visit our resident armadillo, Rustle. He lives in the World Bird Sanctuary Nature Center, and is always a favorite with our guests.  You can also go to our website and adopt Rustle for $150.00.  This will help feed Rustle and pay for his medical care for one year.

Submitted by Erica O’Donnell, World Bird Sanctuary Front Office Coordinator