Thursday, October 9, 2008

Avian Awareness Training

Did you ever wonder who or what might be staying in the room next door at your hotel? I'll bet you never imagined that it might be a few hawks, a couple of owls, and a crow! Well, that is exactly what was spending the night in southern New Mexico hotel earlier this week. You can see the tons of sheets and towels covering the area surrounding the ferruginous and Swainson's hawk that night.

Gail Garber and Kristin Madden traveled to Artesia with a vanload of birds to participate in an avian protection training session for utility workers. What a wonderful event it was! All 6 birds were perched around the room for the duration of the session. The crow happily accepted grapes and hard-boiled egg from one gentleman. Our Swainson's hawk captivated everyone at the end of the program when she caught mice tossed by another gentleman and chowed them down right in front of everyone.

The linemen that attended the session were wonderful. They were all interested in meeting the birds and learning more about compliance with the laws and the development of avian protection plans. A few myths were dispelled and everyone had a great sense of humor. In spite of the dry nature of some of the topics covered that day, the faces of the audience lit up when we talked about the birds and shared something about their individual personalities.

After a delicious lunch at a restaurant that was clearly a local favorite, Gail & Kristin headed home. Pulling into Albuquerque around 6:20 p.m., they congratulated each other on arriving home early enough to put birds back in their mews (raptor cage) before dark. They obviously spoke far too soon. What they encountered was one of the worst traffic jams they could remember. Finally, arriving at an exit, they ditched the freeway and south another way across the river. Every crossing was packed! Neither of them arrived home before 8 p.m. It was a very long day.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Indigo the American Crow

Indigo is the newest addition to the Hawks Aloft family of education ambassadors. Found in Oregon as a youngster, she was kept as a pet indoors. We assume that her rescuers, who cared for her very much, were not aware that it is illegal to keep a crow without the appropriate permits. When her rescuers needed to move, they turned her in to the Cascades Raptor Center. So the little beauty grew up with nearly constant human contact. As you can imagine, she is a human imprint. When she arrived, she was afraid to be outside, particularly after dark, and was terrified of anything flying near her.

Indigo has an immediate and very humorous reaction to being in the sun. She starts by fluffing out all the feathers on her neck. Then one wing comes out and her head drops to one shoulder. She opens her mouth and looks as if she is about to pass out. It doesn’t matter if she is outside in the heat or sitting near a window in the air-conditioned Hawks Aloft office.

One thing that Indigo absolutely loves is a good bath. Here you can see her during bath time at the Hawks Aloft office. She does look a little like a drenched cat, doesn't she? You can see right into her ears when she's wet. Of course, she doesn't care how she looks. Bath time is her favorite game and she will dive back in over and over until the whole area is soaked and her bowl is empty. It is obviously great fun!

Indigo is a beautiful, engaging bird. In her short time with us, she has already captivated her fair share of utility workers and children, eliminating many negative beliefs regarding crows. As you can tell, she is quite the character, so you can expect us to post more amusing stories about her.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Beaks and Talons

In the wild, animals keep their claws and beaks trimmed down by all the movement they do in the course of everyday living. We clip our dog's nails - most of the time they don't have to go far for food - but wolves, which run for miles, don't need our help in that regard! So, too, our Educational Raptors, which are all unreleasable due to injuries, occasionally need a pedicure!

Our birds, which are conditioned to stand on a glove, are still wild animals! So a certain amount of wrestling is needed to accomplish this very necessary task. So, out comes the towel, along with a Dremel tool, which does a quick and precise job on overgrown beaks and talons.

Although the birds don't like the initial grabbing, they are remarkably quiet while being "coped", as the trimming is called in the falconry world. Being wrapped in a towel, like a Bird Burrito, is much like using a hood.

After trimming, the slightly ruffled raptors hop back onto the glove. We also weigh them, and it's amazing how quickly they settle down after the ordeal! Of course, just like people, our birds have individual personalities. So our Swainson's Hawk is letting us know he did NOT enjoy that!

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Bathtub Bird

Early Monday morning we got the call. A woman in Los Lunas had a bird in her bathtub (No water). Could Hawks Aloft come get it? The first thing to establish: was it a hawk?

We have a series of questions we ask to determine, as closely as possible, what type of winged creature a member of the public has. This person was adamant she had a small hawk, probably a Kestrel. Transporting and handling a raptor usually takes special skills. Before driving an hour to pick up a bird, we ensure it is one of our target species; raptor, corvid, or roadrunner, because anyone can transport a songbird to the Wildlife Rehabilitator.

The next question: was it truly injured? Many fledgling birds, including raptors, are "kidnapped" from the wild each year because well-meaning people pick them up when they are in the awkward "just out of the nest" stage. They will be clumsy fliers for a few days, but their parents continue to care for them. Even trying to watch the bird to determine if it is abandoned will keep the parents away. Right now, it is mostly passed fledgling season. So the little bird was probably not a "brancher" learning to fly. The Los Lunas folks were able to easily scoop up this particular bird with a towel, and the husband proceeded to examine its wings and legs without the bird retaliating (i.e. grabbing him back!). So this bird was probably injured.

Our Raptor Biologist, Ron Kellermueller, found on his arrival that the bird in the bathtub was indeed a hawk - a Sharp-shinned Hawk, smaller relative of the Cooper's Hawk so ubiquitous to the Rio Grande bosque. When he arrived at the office with his feathered charge, we did a quick once over and found no broken bones, but a marked discrepancy in the fleshiness on either side of the keel. Just like our muscles atrophy without use, if a bird has an injury that prevents proper flying, the muscles of the keel will wither from disuse. The one-sided nature of this bird's muscle problem pointed to a possible fracture of the coracoid, a collar-bone like part of a bird's skeletal system. This bone provides muscle attachment for the strong flight muscles of the chest. A fractured coracoid will prevent flight. The good news is, with cage rest and supportive care, this little bird should make a full recovery, and be back to terrorizing songbirds soon!

Monday, September 15, 2008

2008 New Mexico State Fair

On Friday, September 12, Hawks Aloft set up a booth at the State Fair for Celebra la Ciencia!, their Science and Technology day. Our booth was outside on the main concourse, strategically placed AWAY from the chemistry booth, where they were firing off rockets! We were next to the Rio Grande Nature Center and Outdoor Space booths, which turned out to be excellent company.

Attending the event were Kim Villescas, Hawks Aloft Educator; Sandy Skeba, Biologist and Outreach Coordinator; and wonderful volunteers Chuck Brandt, who has been with Hawks Aloft since its inception in 1994, and Jim Lakatos, who just started volunteering with us a month ago. Also attending were four Avian Educational Ambassadors: a Mississippi Kite, a Merlin, a Burrowing Owl, and a Red-tailed Hawk. They stole the show!

Visitors to the booth ran the full spectrum from nature lovers who marveled at the beauty of the birds, to people who were afraid (that type of bird ate my chihuahua!), to people who wanted one of their own. All of us explained politely, many times, the wonderful facts about each bird and how, sorry, it's illegal to own one unless you go through lots of training and permits. And no, they don't like being petted! As always, the kids were the most responsive and awed by our raptors.

So, despite it being a wearying day mentally and physically, we contacted lots of people and hopefully instilled a little bit of our enthusiasm about protecting birds and the habitats they need to survive.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Trailer Hawk

During breeding bird season, my job is to arise before the sun to conduct songbird surveys. An 8 hour day usually means I'm headed home by 2 pm. And so it was that hot afternoon in mid-July. My little Toyota was almost through the Tijeras pass when my cell phone rang. An injured hawk was reported in Cedar Crest, not too far from my current location. I did not have a net or box for capture purposes, but I always carry light leather gloves for just such an emergency!

When I arrived, the distraught homeowner pointed out a Red-tailed Hawk perched quietly on her horse trailer. She and her family had been watching the hawks raise a family nearby, and the young ones had recently fledged. The human's joy at this happy event had turned to dismay when they discovered this apparently injured juvenile.

Armed with the knowledge that one of the horses had been nuzzling up to the ruffled raptor, I took the stealth-and-grab-approach. The hawk was no less surprised than the owner when he found himself firmly in hand! A cursory exam revealed no obvious problems, but due to the relative ease of capture and his history of sitting in one spot all day, the decision was made to transport him to a wildlife rehabilitator. The homeowner dredged up a diaper box, which was the perfect fit for the young hawk.

Because I was pretty tired by that point, an office relay was set up for hawk delivery. The office manager met me at a nearby shopping center, and he took the package to the office, where our educator ferried the diaper box (and contents) to the rehabilition facility. I was surprised to learn that the only injury found was a large thorn imbedded in his foot! Once this was removed, he ate like a champ.

I am happy to report that the young Red-tailed Hawk recovered completely, and proved his mouse-catching prowess well enough that he was recently released back into the wild!

Sandy Skeba, photos by Theresa Falzone

Friday, September 5, 2008

Banshee or Barn Owl?

Dear Hawks Aloft:

I'm not sure that the question I have is about a hawk/owl/or what. We have a relatively large bird that comes out at night and makes a horrifying SCREEEEEECH sound. I listened to the screech owl sounds on line and it sounds nothing like it. I would estimate the size to be about 12" tall. Got any suggestions? I am really interested in what it is. Thanks!
Midwest Wisconsin, near the Mississippi

Hi Pam!
As you may guess, it can be very difficult to identify a bird through an e-mail! You have, however, provided two essential details: that it comes out at night, and that it makes a horrible screeching noise! To help further identify, we might need some more information, such as:

-Is the bird calling from on the ground, or up in a tree?
-Can you see anything at all that gives you an impression of shape or color, or even pale vs. dark?
-Are you in a rural area or in the center of a town or city?

Based on the information we have, though, one bird that springs to mind is a Barn Owl. Barn Owls are large, pale birds that frequently live in barns or other man-made structures (hence the name). They can even be attracted to Barn Owl-sized birdhouses! Their typical call is a horrid, squealing screech. While they don't often make noise, they will do so if they are disturbed, such as by human presence! They have a wide habitat range, and can be found in agricultural areas as well as suburbs. The male Barn Owl is smaller than the female, just above 12 inches long.
I copied a link that contains some Barn Owl information, as well as some of their calls. The "typical" call is the one that sounds the weirdest, to me! So listen to that call, and if that's not the bird you are hearing, try to get a little bit better of a look. If you get some more information, please let me know - We'd like to help you solve your mystery bird!

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Burrowing Owl Release, Santa Fe, NM

Malcolm Kellermueller, Fledgling Biologist, is shown releasing Burrow Owls that were relocated from a construction site in Santa Fe, New Mexico. Four owls, one adult and three young, had to be safely excavated from three burrows and relocated to an area where they would not be disturbed. Malcolm is the son of Ron Kellermueller, HAI Raptor Biologist