Monday, January 11, 2010

Pedicures Raptor Style, Getting DNA

( Photo: Bart, our gray-phase Screech Owl remains unimpressed as we do a pedicure on his nails. )

Our education birds are important to us. Those of you that have seen our programs understand our philosophy when we call the birds our "partners in education". Most of them have a disability and are unable to be released to the wild. They count on us to provide them with everything they need for a good, low-stress and enriched life. Sometimes that included things like doing pedicures on their talons and trimming beaks. Because the gender of raptors is not always obvious, we can do DNA blood testing, so we can get their gender right.

( Photo: Bart, a Gray Eastern Screech Owl ,is pretty laid back and trusts us. I am taking a blood test in this photo for DNA testing to make sure Bart is a male. The weight and size indicate Bart is a male. )

Many birds have visible gender differences. The male Northern Cardinal is bright red while his mate is dull in color. Many birds of the passerine family have flashy colored males and more camouflage-colored females.

In raptors, gender color differences exists only rarely. The Northern Harrier is one raptor in which genders have different plumage color, as well as the more typical reverse size dimorphism that is found in most raptor species. Simply put, female raptors are generally about one-third larger than the males. As you can imagine, variation exists such as a small female or large male,and they can overlap in weights, etc.

( Photo: One drop of blood is all it takes to test for DNA to determine gender. It is expensive, so it's a luxury we don't do often unless we have a specific need. Gender is less important to us than how the birds are housed or treated. We do not breed raptors at REGI. )

( Photo: We have just requested this Short-eared Owl be added to our education permit from USFWS. She had a serious wing injury and is not releasable. Here I take a blood test while Alberta holds her and Katie looks on.)

( Photo: Getting her nails trimmed is not something this Short-eared Owl complains about. No nail polish on these talons. )

( Photo: Do I detect a scowl on the Short-eared Owl's face when she has a bit of a beak trim? )

( Photo: Snowy Owl, Yeti, stands quietly when he is weighed. )

When we are not busy with patients, we still have lots to do with keeping our education "team" of raptors in top shape.

We have some results of the DNA tests. Guess what? Bart, the handsome Gray Eastern Screech Owl, is a lady owl. Who knew? So do we continue to call "her" Bart or come up with a new name? Yeti, the Snowy Owl, is a male. The lovely new little Short-eared Owl as yet unnamed is a female.

Poor Bart...

Have a great week everybody.

Marge Gibson © 2010


  1. Well....let's see, personally I think Bart should remain Bart...but, if need be, how about Bartine...or, Bartinee(which of course would be pronounced as a French name).
    She is Beautiful!!

  2. The gender of so many birds is "hidden" only accessable with invasive surgery to detect the single ovary of the female. In cases of immature birds or very old birds no longer producing eggs, and sometimes off season, it is hard to determine gender even with Laparoscopy surgery.
    DNA is the only way reliably to determine the gender of most but not all raptor species. That is an expense a non-profit like REGI cannot always justify. It does mean however that those birds that are in the middle of the weight and size range are sometimes "gender confused". Bart will likely remain Bart. After all this time Bart is just her name. Like a boy named Sue.:)
    Poor Bart::((