Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Brown Thrasher does impressions

I have been so happy that Brown Thrashers called our yard home this year. They stalk through the underbrush in the side yard and sneak about under the Little Bluestem kicking up the mulch.
They produced at least one youngin', and I hope they do it again next year.
This one was so brazen, he or she didn't care one bit that I was standing in the yard.
There was even a stare-down.
Thrasher does bittern impression

For those of you who know birds...anyone think he sort of looks like a minature
American Bittern?
(shamelessly stolen from Kathi's blog)

Monday, September 28, 2009

A letter I am seriously considering putting into distribution in our neighborhood

Dear Neighbor,

This is an open letter to everyone in the neighborhood. Specifically, cat owners.
If you don't own a cat, you are free to recycle this.
And if you have kids who are selling chocolate for fund raising, please send them our way.

Cat Owners:
If you own an indoor cat, then bless you.

If you let your cat roam freely outside, please consider this not a warning, but a declaration.
When you own a pet, there comes a set of responsibilities.
This includes feeding it, loving it, giving it veterinary care and keeping it out of danger. You are promising to keep this animal happy and healthy.
IF YOU LET YOUR CAT ROAM FREE, you are blatantly ignoring your DUTY as a pet owner.
Cats are non-native, predatory animals who kill our native wildlife such as birds, mice, lizards, amphibians, etc. Studies have shown that bird populations and diversity drop dramatically in areas where cats are allowed to roam free. And it's not THEIR FAULT.

If you are about to start explaining to me that "cats are just acting on their instincts", or "My cat won't stay indoors!" or "My cat is happy when he's outside!", please think on this:

Imagine your cat. Better yet, go find your cat and look into his or her eyes.
Now, imagine your cat, just having been hit by a car. Your cat is laying in a ditch, maybe already dead.
Or maybe the blow wasn't quite enough to kill him. Your cat is mangled and in excruciating pain, dragging himself into the weeds. Your cat will spend the next few hours, or maybe a day or two, either bleeding to death or slowly succumbing to starvation, because he is paralyzed and can't get back to the house. Your cat has died a horrible death.

Or maybe a stray dog has gotten hold of your cat. The dog is savagely shaking the life out of your cat. Your cat has died a horrible death.

Or maybe your cat has been caught by a great horned owl, or red-tailed hawk. He has been lifted off the ground and taken to a tree where he is being squeezed by hundreds of pounds of pressure so that he will stop struggling so the bird can eat him. Your cat has died a horrible death.

Or maybe your cat has been captured by sick teenagers who set him on fire. Just for fun.
He is left to lay wherever they throw him. Your cat has died a horrible death.

Sick to your stomach yet? You should be.
Ready to wipe these scenarios from your mind? There is one, and only one thing you need to do.

That's it.

And here comes the declaration:
If I find your cat roaming the neighborhood, I will be taking him off the streets to our local shelter where he will have the safety you neglected to provide.
If you didn't have him micro-chipped, then you will probably never see him again.
I will be giving him the chance you never did. Because I care more about him than you do.

If you want to come down and yell at me, feel free.
I'm the Freak Down the Street with all the birds in her yard, and her cats in the HOUSE.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

My moment with an osprey

Sorry for the lack of posts lately. I've been under the weather...but I am bucking up to post something tonight.

The other day, I was in my "Warbler Corner" at a nearby park. Migration brings so many neat things at that spot...usually right outside my car window.
The river runs alongside the spot where I sit...usually nothing more than ducks, geese and kingfishers. This day, I saw what initially looked like a humongous goose coming in for a landing.

But instead of splashing down, it hit the water and then lifted up again. I strained to see through the trees, and when I saw what it was, I started talking to myself:
"Oh, holy ****. An OSPREY."

Only the second one I have seen this year, and even better, it had a huge fish in its talons.
I jumped from the car (left it running!) and slunk along the treeline to get a better look.

Osprey 1

It was directly across the river from me, but trees were in the way. I stayed where I was, thinking I would never be able to get closer.
It spent a long time adjusting the fish as it perched....

Mantling fish

...just not right.....

Adjusting fish

....adjusting some more....
Adjusting again
...almost there....

Finally. Time to eat.

I let it eat more than half the fish before attempting to walk down to the river and get free of the trees.

I wasn't much of a threat, it turns out.
I walked around to the canoe access and slowly and quietly down the bank until I was directly across from the bird again. It pretty much ignored me....

...mantling its catch and watching for any other birds who might try to steal it.
Resting and watching
For twenty minutes (and the car was still running), I watched this glorious creature.

Every osprey I have ever seen has been a fly-over. Never have I had the opportunity to watch one eat, or perch, even for a minute. And for 20 minutes, this one was mine.
I stood there, grinning like a fool, silently giddy for my luck.

But all good things must come to an end.
We made eye contact.

Osprey eye contact
And I quietly gave up the field and left it in peace.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Things you can find when you pay attention...and when you are lazy

Walking in our prairie today, trying to shake a blue mood, I was sadly watching the petals fall from our huge stand of Tall Coreopsis.
Fall is creeping over the horizon more every day. Hooper was suddenly alert, trotting over to the fence. I followed, since his eyesight and hearing are much better than mine, and he has pointed me to interesting things more than once.

A tiny, fledgling goldfinch. Just sitting in a clump of weeds. No visible injuries. Just young.

Fledgling AMgoldfinch

Before placing it in the apple tree on the other side of the fence (and away from the dogs), I soaked in its stubby tail,
stubby tail
...barely poking out from the sheaths,

...and let the wee thing perch on my fingers. It was either too weak or too trusting to fly away on its own. It was gently placed among the apples, where a male adult was waiting nervously.
(Just noticed my nails in this photo...more on that at the end)

A few minutes later, on the front porch, a ruckus had begun.
I usually dismiss the house sparrows that swarm like locusts around the feeders (occasionally throwing shoes at them or banging on the windows), but one had tackled a moth.
HOSP and moth
I watched in fascinated horror as it shook the moth until it had stopped fluttering. And then shook off its legs for good measure.

A few minutes after that, while staring at the dishes in disgust, a song sparrow landed just outside the window.
It was sampling the grass seeds sprouting from the BANK of weeds I was too lazy/busy/distracted to pull this summer.
song sparrow2

song sparrow
So yet again, judicious laziness has rewarded us.

Now, my nails.
I have been losing weight rapidly over the past few months. Without trying.
While at a program, I ran into a woman who hasn't seen me in quite a while, and her face dropped into a worried frown as she took my hand and said, "Oh...have you been ill?"
I laughed it off. I reveled in giving away all of my jeans and buying new ones three sizes smaller.
New bras. New tops. Tightening my watch. Being able to take off my wedding and engagement rings to finally clean them.

But. I noticed that my fingernails have been growing into ridges, like growth rings on a tree. Horizontal ridges, emerging from the base.
I read up on this odd symptom, and from the list of ever-increasing, serious-sounding illnesses (malabsorption syndrome, diabetes, cancer) I concluded that it was time to see the doctor.
I am obviously not absorbing nutrients, and while I have loved my lighter body, I am also worried that I am robbing my body of things it needs, like calcium for my bones and protein for my muscles. Vitamin A, potassium, etc....
So, I go in tomorrow so my doctor can look under the hood and kick the tires. Will keep you informed.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Pablo Neruda: "Bird"

It was passed from one bird to another,
the whole gift of the day.
Prothonotary warbler Lake Isabella

The day went from flute to flute,
went dressed in vegetation,
in flights which opened a tunnel
through the wind would pass
to where birds were breaking open
the dense blue air -
flock of ducks

and there, night came in.

When I returned from so many journeys,
I stayed suspended and green
between sun and geography -
Yellow-billed cuckoo

I saw how wings worked,
how perfumes
are transmitted
by feathery telegraph,
flying skimmers

and from above I saw the path,
the springs and the roof tiles,
the fishermen at their trades,
the trousers of the foam;

I saw it all from my green sky.
I had no more alphabet
than the swallows in their courses,
TRES strike a pose

the tiny, shining water
of the small bird on fire
Victor E.
which dances out of the pollen

Monday, September 14, 2009

Species Profile: Rough-legged Hawk

One of the reasons I look forward to Winter in Ohio
(and really, wintering raptors are the only reason to go birding when it's cold):

Rough-legged Hawk
Buteo lagopus

This large buteo species (hawk with long wings and short tail) is a denizen of the tundra and taiga regions around the Northern Hemisphere, with nearly holarctic distribution.

rough legged hawk 2
Armleder Park, December 2007, by me
Light morph

  • Large buteo
  • Long and broad wings
  • Two distinct color morphs with multiple variations in between
  • Flight feathers pale, with dark trailing edges on wings
  • Obvious black marks at wrists
Length: 19-24 inches
Wing span: 4-4.5 feet
Weight: 2-2.5 pounds
The female is typically larger than the male.

Rough-legged hawks have eight different morphs that vary between sex, age, and location. Both sexes exhibit both light and dark morphs; and coloration varies between juveniles and adults:
  • All adult morphs have a black band that goes along the edges of the underside of their lesser coverts. Adults also all have dark colored eyes. Juveniles have light colored eyes and a dark band along the underside of their wings.
  • Light morphs of adult females have brown backs and a pattern of increased markings from breast to belly. They have one dark tail band and heavily marked leg feathers. Light-morph adult males have grayish backs. Their breasts are more heavily marked than the belly and there are multiple bands on the tail. A light-morph adult male has heavily-marked leg feathers.

Rough legged hawk 4

The rough-legged hawk spends its breeding season in the Arctic and sub-Arctic regions of North America, Europe and Asia. A bird who prefers wide open spaces with little or no tree cover, it migrates south in Winter.

Mostly small mammals like lemmings, occasionally reptiles, amphibians, small birds and carrion.
This hawk (the osprey is another) is one of the few raptors who routinely hover while hunting.

(See below...I took this photo while the hawk was actively hunting, "kiting" directly over me on strong cold winds...
...the bird was not moving...and was staring directly into my eyes)

Rough legged hawk 1

Drawn-out, downward "kaaaar."

Rough-legged hawks build their bowl-like stick nests on cliffs and sometimes trees. They sometimes incorporate caribou bones into their nest structure.

Clutch size: 1-7 eggs (Incubation begins with the first egg, so hatching times are staggered. In years of low lemming population, only the oldest chicks survive)

Photo by BirdGirl
Look at that face. I want to knit a cozy for it.

My first and only rough-legged hawk was seen at Armleder Park. The grace of these birds lifts my heart. Come on, Winter!!!

Wednesday, September 09, 2009

Bird Rescue 101

I get asked the same question over and over at my education programs.

"What do I do if I find an injured bird/baby bird?"

Thanks to the dudes over at 10,000 Birds for posting this.

If you love birds or nature in general, read this and remember it. And if you have a blog, why not post it, too?

Suzie Gilbert is a wildlife rehabilitator in the Hudson Valley of New York State. She is also the author of Flyaway: How a Wild Bird Rehabber Sought Adventure and Found Her Wings, an excellent read that we reviewed and recommended. To make a long story short, in Flyaway there are several incidents described in which wild birds were brought to Suzie in worse condition than they might have been, mostly because people did not know what to do with an injured bird. Since we at 10,000 Birds often get inquiries from people asking what to do with an injured bird and none of we three bird bloggers feel qualified enough to give unequivocal answers we figured we could get Suzie to do it, and, much to our delight, she has! So, if you have a lonely nestling, an injured fledgling, or a sick duck you’ve come to the right place!

Welcome to Wild Bird Rescue 101!

Being a rehabber myself, I can tell you that we can be hard to find, especially when there’s an emergency and you need someone fast. So here’s a quick primer on what to do if you should find a sick/injured/nestling/fledgling songbird/waterbird/gamebird/raptor.

There are three rules that cover all birds in all circumstances:

  1. If there are flies involved, the bird needs immediate rescue, even if you don’t see any sign of injury. Leaving a bird in the middle of circling flies will always mean a bad end for him.
  2. Never attempt to put water down a bird’s throat. You will drown him, or at least fill his lungs with enough water to give him an eventual case of pneumonia. Do not attempt to feed a wild bird unless you have talked to a rehabber.
  3. Wash your hands after handling wildlife. There’s no need for alarm; it’s just a rule of thumb. A good hand wash with regular soap is all you need.

Here is information for specific situations:

Nestling songbirds: if you find one on the ground, try to find the nest. If you find it, pick up the nestling and put him back, even if this means getting out the big ladder. A nestling’s best chance of survival is with his parents; birds (except for vultures and pigeons) have a poor to non-existent sense of smell, and the parents won’t care if you’ve handled their baby as long as they get him back. If you cannot find the nest but the parents are around, you can make a nest out of a small plastic blueberry basket or margarine tub (poke holes in the bottom so it won’t fill with water during rain), line it with leaves or dry grass, and hang it from a protected branch; keep watching to make sure the parents have resumed care. If the nestling is obviously injured, or has been touched by a cat, you’ll have to find a rehabilitator (see end of article); nestlings need to eat every 20 minutes, so you’ll have to find one quickly. Meanwhile, get a small box. Take a hand towel (or small piece of material), twist and curve it into a donut shape, and place it in the box; take another hand towel and drape it over the donut so it becomes a makeshift nest. Place some Kleenex over the second towel, so it can be easily cleaned if the bird poops, then put the bird in. Put another small towel over the top of the box to conserve heat, because nestlings become chilled easily.

Fledgling songbirds: The fledgling part of a bird’s life is filled with danger. Normally they climb out of the nest, hop from branch to branch, lose their balance, fall down, then climb back up again. The problem is if they encounter humans or domestic pets. If you find a healthy fledgling, odds are the parents are still taking care of him, and are probably watching nearby. If he’s on the ground, pick him up and put him in a leafy bush or the branch of a tree, anything that will provide some protection, and let the parents take over. Keep pets and children out of the area for at least two hours. If you check again in two hours and he is still there, or if he is obviously injured, you’ll need to call a rehabilitator. Fledglings can be temporarily housed in a box or small pet carrier, just put a small towel on the bottom so they can grip. As with all birds, once the bird is in a dark box leave him alone in a quiet place while you find help; stress, as well as injury, can kill a bird.

A word about outdoor cats: other than habitat loss, there is nothing more destructive to wild birds than outdoor cats. If a cat touches a bird, it’s a dead bird. Cats’ teeth and claws are crawling with bacteria, especially pasteurella; even if the bird does not appear injured, any tiny nick will become infected and slowly kill him – unless he is immediately taken to a rehabber and put on antibiotics. If you care about birds, please keep your cats indoors. If you are an indoor cat owner, bless you – you are an environmental hero.

Adult songbirds: for birds who are stunned by a window strike … place the bird in a cardboard box with a hand towel on the bottom, make sure all pets are inside, and put the box in a protected area – under a bush, in a garden, etc. Check the box in a half hour, with any luck the bird will have flown away. In frigid weather, punch airholes in the box, place the bird in, close the lid, bring him inside, and leave the box in a bathroom for a half hour. Open the box to check carefully – the reason you’re in the bathroom is so if the bird recovers and manages to escape, you don’t end up chasing him through your house and having him slam into yet another window, this time from the inside. If he hasn’t recovered, call a rehabber. For all other injuries, place the bird in the same kind of box and call a rehabber.

Young waterbirds: as with songbirds, it is vital to make sure that all young waterbirds really are parentless before removing them from their habitat. Keep watching to make sure that the parents aren’t nearby, trying to avoid drawing attention to their young.

Adult waterbirds: injured adult ducks, geese and gulls can be caught by throwing a towel or blanket over them, then carrying them to a box or a pet carrier. Swans, herons and egrets are difficult birds and I do not recommend trying to catch them … but if you decide to do it anyway … swans are amazingly strong, so be careful. Throw a towel or blanket over the head, then hold the head with one hand and encircle the body with your other arm. Be even more careful with herons and egrets, especially herons, as they may try to strike at your eyes with their beaks. Throw the towel over the bird’s head, then hold the beak with one hand and encircle the body with your other arm. If you are able to get anywhere near a heron or egret it means they are in dire straits, so get him to a rehabber ASAP – but be careful of that beak.

Gamebirds: follow directions for ducks and geese. Be careful of the spurs on the back of adult male turkeys’ legs.

Nestling raptors: Please encourage everyone you know not to cut down trees in the springtime! This leads to all kinds of injured and homeless nestlings, especially cavity-nesters, like woodpeckers and screech owls. Nestling raptors also need a rehabber as soon as possible; they have to eat entire animals or they will develop debilitating and sometimes fatal calcium deficiencies. It is often possible to put a nestling raptor back in its nest; this is tricky, and if you’re dealing with a large raptor dangerous, so it’s best left to the rehabber.

Fledgling and adult raptors: By the time they fledge, raptors are as large or larger than their parents. As with songbirds, the parents continue to feed them and teach them the ropes. Obviously, care should be taken when trying to rescue an injured adult raptor. If possible, use heavy gloves, a blanket, and a cardboard box or pet carrier. Tilt the box on its side and try to push the bird into the box with the blanket. If they are able, raptors tend to flip onto their backs and grab at their rescuer with their feet (believe me, you do not want them to connect); if they grab the blanket, simply lift them up and then lower them into the box. Once the bird is in the box, close the lid or drape the towel or blanket over the top; if it is dark inside, they won’t struggle. By fall, many young raptors are starving; only 80% of them make it through their first year. A raptor sitting on the ground may simply be a young one who hasn’t mastered his hunting skills and is too weak to fly. A rehabilitator can fatten him up and give him another chance.

Crows: Ah, crows. It is tempting to keep a nestling crow for awhile before surrendering him to a rehabber, as they are so smart, personable, and happy to accept your hospitality. But they imprint in a heartbeat, and an imprinted crow has almost no chance of ever joining a flock and living like a crow should live. A rehabber will find potential siblings and eventually release him. By the time crows are fledglings their parents have taught them to be scared to death of humans, so injured fledgling or adult crows should be caught with a towel and placed in a box.

How to find a rehabilitator [This information is intended for those in the United States, though the first and third would apply to everyone. If you have information about finding rehabbers in a country outside the United States please include your information in the comments]:

  1. Google (Your State) “wildlife rehabilitator” (or “wildlife rehabilitation”). There should be a list. Call around; even if the rehabilitator listed is fairly far from you, they may know someone closer who’s not on the list.
  2. Go to the National Wildlife Rehabilitators Association Website. On the homepage, click “Need Help?” on the left side, click “Finding a rehabilitator” and go to the third option, Rhonda DeVold’s listings.
  3. Call your local veterinarian, humane society, animal control officer, or animal protection organization; most local animal people know each other.

It can be wonderfully satisfying to rescue an injured bird and know that you’ve given her another chance at life. Just be careful, and make sure that the bird actually needs to be rescued!

Monday, September 07, 2009

A weekend overflowing

Lots of little things happened this past few days:

Let's start with Nellie. Nellie (our almost 9 year old Lab/Rott mix), gets horrible allergies this time of year, and with every passing summer, it gets worse. Time to see Dr. Kathi!

Dr. Kathi
I love to see her in her official white coat.

Turns out our appointment was right after a Facebook friend's:
Mary Ann
Mary Ann (That poor dope with no blog)

I've been trying forever to get a photo of the resident chipmunks who live at Lake Isabella and this one stopped just long enough (praying?) for me to capture him.

The other night, Geoff let Hooper outside around 3 am. He was unable to get Hooper to come back in, so Hooper slept under one of our maple trees until dawn.
And this was why he refused to come in:
Raccoon in robins nest
He had treed a raccoon.
And the raccoon fell asleep in an old robin's nest.

Raccoon in robins nest 2
I'm sure it wasn't a restful night for this teen-aged raccoon.

A praying mantis on the hummingbird feeder:
Mantis on hummingbird feeder
If this guy had been bigger (he was only about three inches long) I would be worried about our hummingbirds.

To cleanse your minds from that link, how about some Boston Terriers?
Big and little BTs
These guys visited my program today at Farbach-Werner Nature Preserve. The little one is really little (a"teacup" Boston) and the larger one was really large (about 40 pounds).

This is a red-morph screech owl who lives with the Hamilton County Parks:
Red morph SO parks
And just a few months ago, he was one of the flurry of screech owls who would regularly land on me when I entered the screech owl mew to get Angel. All of the birds who now live at the Park once were birds being cared for by RAPTOR, Inc.

My favorite bird from the Parks:
Curly BV
This is Curly, an 8-year old Black Vulture. He is uninjured physically, but is a human imprint, so he is unable to be released.

A super fun bird...lots of personality:
Curly and Matt
He would rather be near his keepers than near other birds.

Curly samples Matt's leg hair
And he likes to sample the hair on their legs.

Saturday, September 05, 2009

My name is Earl, and I am a Turkey Vulture.

My name is Earl, and I am a Turkey Vulture.
I heard about this big event thing today on Facebook (yeah, I have an account. Who doesn't??).
Supposedly, this is International Vulture Awareness Day. Well. I say, it's about TIME.
People just don't understand how cool we are.

We are so cute when we are young....
This is me at a few months old. Have you seen a cuter baby than that??

I'm 24 years old now, and I'm still such a looker....
Big ol earl and me
...but I sure do hate that red-headed woman. I hate all women, but I hate this one the most.

She just keeps trying to buy my love with toys stuffed with dead mice, and gives me puzzle boxes stuffed with dead mice, and phone books that I am allowed to shred all that I want and I don't get in trouble. She wants me to stand on her arm ( if) but I just puke on her and hang upside down. That's how I pout.

(Psst. I will let you in on a little secret, okay? Don't tell that red-headed woman, but I actually really like her gifts. But we can't let her's more fun to watch her try and try...)

You people think that vultures are just stinky scavengers who puke on everything. Well, I am here to set you straight.

best earl closeup

We vultures do the world a service with our scavenging. We eat all that dead, smelly, germ-laden stuff that no one else will touch. We clean up the world. If it weren't for vultures and other scavengers, your world would be a slimy, foul, unhealthy place.
And since we eat stuff that would kill other animals if they tried to eat it, we have cool adaptations that allow us to process it. We have stomach acid strong enough to kill anthrax, and our poop is really a sanitizing agent that kills all kinds of bacteria. Since we really get into our food (honest, we get INTO our we will step into a dead carcass to get to the really juicy bits) we get covered with all sorts of germy slime. So we poop on our legs and that makes us all clean. See? We are neat.

And that thing about puking?
Yeah, we do it. So what?
Everyone is so disgusted by that. Well, we do it when we are threatened, so you will go away. And if you notice, it works.

Our soaring skills are the best. We can soar for hours without flapping our wings once, if the thermals we ride are optimal.

And did I mention that we are beautiful? You stooopid humans think you know so much about beauty. We have awesome red heads, and in different light, our feathers can be chocolate brown or iridescent blue and black. Our beaks look like they were carved from pearls.

These people at RAPTOR, Inc. think they treat me so well.
They feed me every day. They clean my cage. The men hand me pinkie mice (my favorite), some of them sing to me.

But then they do stuff like this:
Poor Earl
When the creek flooded all of the mews, they made me stay in this dog carrier for two days, because they said they wanted to keep me safe because I can't swim. Jeez. These people.

But I stick around. I know they love me and want me to be happy.
earl spread out
You know why they love me? And why you should, too?

Because I am awesome. I am gorgeous. I have personality.

WORSHIP ME. Because I am a Turkey Vulture.