Monday, March 28, 2011

Conversations with a Cunning Corvid

I feel very honored to be able to work so closely with wild animals and get to know the personalities of every species and each bird as an individual. I love every species of birds there are; from the large carrion-eating Turkey Vulture to the tiny nectar-drinking Ruby-throated Hummingbird. They are all spectacular.

One group that I've been particularly impressed with and surprised by is the family Corvidae. This family consist of mainly Crows, Ravens, and Jays, and they are extremely intelligent birds. I have gotten to know the resident American Crows very well and am constantly blown away by everything they are capable of.

Spending so much time with these animals allows us an opportunity to witness some of their behaviors that we may not normally be able to see. One of the first things I noticed about corvids is that they are experts at mimicry. There are many many bird sounds at REGI all the time, and the resident crows have learned to mimic most of them; the clucking of the chickens, the trumpeting of Sandhill Cranes, the hoots of various owls, the cooing of doves, and I'm sure there are more that I'm forgetting.

We are lucky to share our lives with a completely wild adult female Blue Jay that lives and nests on the REGI property. Although 100% wild, she has learned to mimic the sound of our ringing phone which she hears through open windows!

Photo above: A young Blue Jay recuperating from a broken wing at REGI. He's warming up to show off his amazing mimicry skills.

Currently, we have a couple of young Blue Jays with us recuperating from broken wings; during their stay they have been showing off their mimicry skills. This morning I was able to catch some of their skills in action. One of the Blue Jays went through three different vocalizations in less than 5 minutes, and he was so convincing that if I hadn't been standing there watching his beak move, I would have a hard time believing that all those sounds came out of him!

In this video, the Blue Jay is mimicking the screeching call of a red-tailed hawk.

In this video, the Blue Jay is mimicking the calls of American Crows. It looks like he's not saying anything and it is such a convincing crow call, but watch his beak closely. He is actually making the crow sound that you hear!

In this video, the Blue Jay is performing the classic Blue Jay "wheedle wheedle" call.

Photo above: A young Blue Jay recuperating from a broken wing at REGI.

Mimicry might seem like a silly skill to have, but it can serve a valuable purpose. A Blue Jay can mimic the sound of a Red-tailed Hawk to scare other birds away from a feeder, allowing them first pick at the best food. They can also use the mimicked call to alert other Blue Jays that an actual hawk may be near. However, the reasons why they mimic American Crows are unclear. Although from the same family, Blue Jays and Crows are enemies, so perhaps mimicking them can alert others that crows are in the area, similarly to mimicking hawks.

Other birds, such as the Northern Mocking Bird of North America and the Superb Lyrebird of New South Wales and Victoria, Australia, use their mimicry skills to impress females. The theory is, the male that can mimic the most sounds is the most exciting and industrious mate and therefore attracts more females to pass on his genes. The Superb Lyrebird is so adept at picking up and mimicking sounds, they have been recorded sounding like many other birds plus car alarms, chainsaws, dogs barking, camera shutter sounds, and basically anything else they hear. The Northern Mockingbird mimics many other birds, but has been known to mimic "unnatural" sounds as well.

Whether Blue Jays mimic sounds to attract mates is unclear, but I'd like to think they do it just to have fun...

Photo above: A young Blue Jay recuperating from a broken wing at REGI shows off his brilliant blue feathers.

I know that this is off the topic of mimicry, but it is a fun fact about Blue Jays that I've always loved, so here goes. Blue Jay feathers have NO blue pigment in them. The brilliant blue color we see is a product of the refraction of light, not pigment. If you were to take one of their feathers and grind it up, the resultant powder would be gray. The feathers have special prismatic cells on them that refract light so our eyes perceive them as blue. If you ever find a Blue Jay feather, look at it under the light, it will appear blue. However, if you hold it up to the light, the light passing through it will make it look gray because the refraction is lost. So interesting! Make sure not to keep the feather though, as it is illegal to possess any part of a bird protected under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act. :)

Take some time to watch your neighborhood birds, and keep an ear out for bird songs, you never know what you might hear!

Karissa Mohr
REGI Wildlife Educator

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Visitors from Türkiye & Spring is Here!

For the past two weeks, we have had three very special visitors from Turkey here at REGI. Ahmet Kütükçü, a veterinarian, Önder Cırık, and Derya Cil, biologists, have been exploring American and Wisconsin culture and experiencing a northern winter, but their main reason for visiting was to learn more about avian rehabilitation, care, and education as they develop the first-of-its-kind rehabilitation center in Turkey. Their visit even made it into the news! Check out this link!

Marge is an excellent teacher (and now, tour-guide) and she made sure there was never a dull moment for our guests. They had an action-packed 2 weeks beginning with a visit to the International Crane Foundation (ICF), which houses individuals of most, if not all, of the world's 15 species of cranes. They also visited a white-tailed deer farm to learn about housing non-avian species. In rural Wisconsin, we are accustomed to seeing these four-legged herbivores roaming through our backyards, but as they are not native to Turkey, they were an exciting "exotic" species for our visitors. ICF and the deer farm provide great examples of enclosures and exhibits which will help them as they design their own facility in Turkey.

Photos above: Ahmet meets a typical tan, White-tailed Deer, while Derya meets an uncommon white, White-tailed Deer. Because this deer is lacking pink eyes, it is not technically albino, just white. (Photo credit:
Ahmet Kütükçü)

On one of their first days at REGI, they were greeted by a lovely snow storm. What does one do when they find themselves in the midst of a blizzard? Have a snowball fight of course!

Photos above: Ahmet, Önder, Derya, and Marge have a friendly snowball fight, a first for many. (Photo credit: Don Gibson)

For a typical Wisconsin experience, Marge's grandson, Hunter, treated everyone to snowmobile rides around the property.

Photo above: Marge's grandson, Hunter, gives
Önder his first-ever snowmobile ride. He looks like he enjoyed it! (Photo credit: Derya Cil)

To get a feel for historic American culture, they accompanied us to Klondike Days in Eagle River. They learned how to pan for gold, witnessed a Native American dance presentation by the Waswagoning Dance Theatre, saw chainsaw carvings of every kind, and just about everything else that Klondike Days has to offer.

Photo above: Don Gibson, Önder, Derya, and Ahmet learn how to pan for gold at one of the many interactive stations at Klondike Days 2011. (Photo credit: Marge Gibson)

Aside from from all of the site-seeing, there is work to do :) The group got a chance to handle rarely-seen Snowy Owls and Sandhill cranes.

Photos above: Ahmet, Önder, and Derya meet and examine the educational snowy owl, Yeti. From this angle, you can see the highly insulated feet of the snowy owl. Their powerful feet are covered in dense feathers, right down to their talons. These amazing feathers help them survive in the arctic; another example of how perfectly each species is adapted to its environment. (Photo credit: Marge Gibson)

Photo above: Ahmet learns how to properly carry a crane to avoid injury to himself and the crane. Because cranes have very long and slender legs, they are easily injured. Their feet are also adorned with sharp claws which could harm the carrier; safely restraining their legs is a must. Carrying them backwards like this calms them down so they don't struggle. (Photo credit: Marge Gibson)

For another break from all of the learning, the group learns how to make a snowman with help from Marge and Don's grandchildren, Hunter and Maddie.

Photo above: Önder, Ahmet, Derya, Marge, Maddie, and Hunter are beaming with pride around their handsome snowman. Not too shabby for our guests' first snowman ever! (Photo credit: Don Gibson)

Photo above: To celebrate their first snowman, they had another snowball fight! See Önder's snowball mid-air? (Photo credit: Marge Gibson)

As always, more work to be done. Marge examined two Great-horned Owls and determined that they were ready to be placed in an outside flight enclosure to exercise and regain their strength. Watching and helping Marge assess REGI's patients will serve as a great experience as they treat their own patients in Turkey.

Photos above: Marge and Ahmet examine two different Great-horned Owls to assesses their progress. (Photo credit: Derya Cil)

As you may have noticed by this point of the blog, our three guests had a lot of new experiences during their short stay with us. There are so many things to do during a winter in Wisconsin; if you're only going to be here during the winter once in your life, it is obligatory that you take a stroll on a frozen lake. Ice fishing and snow angels are a bonus!

Photos above: Önder operates the ice auger for the first time and admires the perfectly drilled ice fishing hole. (Photo credit: Derya Cil)

Photo above: Derya makes a beautiful snow angel! (Photo credit: Ahmet Kütükçü)

One of their last days here, the group was able to get close to the resident Bald Eagles and Ahmet was able to handle one. He has handled many large raptors through his work in Turkey, but this was his first experience with a Bald Eagle.

Photo above: Ahmet, Önder, and Derya, pose with Marge Gibson and Qushquluk, the largest Bald Eagle on record and one of the oldest as well.

Photo above: Ahmet with Bald Eagle, Qushquluk, his first experience with a Bald Eagle.

Not only did Ahmet
, Önder, and Derya learn from us, but they also taught us a lot about Turkey and Turkish Culture through stories, gifts, and even preparation of food. Ahmet has a lot of experience as a Veterinarian in Turkey so he treated a few of the patients during his stay and taught us a few veterinary techniques.

Photo above: Önder, Marge, and Derya gather around as Ahmet puts his expert veterinary skills to use while treating and wrapping the wing of a Barred Owl with nerve damage and flesh lacerations.

They just returned from a trip to Bay Beach Wildlife Sanctuary and the NEW Zoo in Green Bay, WI, and have a few more exciting stops in the United States before heading back to Turkey. Ahmet has been in contact with Marge for quite some time and has been mentioned in previous blogs about the work he does with wildlife in Turkey. It was a great pleasure finally meeting and getting to know Ahmet, Önder, and Derya during their stay. We wish them all the luck in the world as they develop and succeed with their rehabilitation center in Turkey. We will miss you!

Spring is Here!

Mother Nature tells me that spring is upon us and I think it just may stick this time. I spotted the first Turkey Vulture of spring this morning, gracefully drifting over the REGI property. This is the time of year where the sediment of winter begins to show itself again and spring cleaning commences once more. Lucky for us, we have beautiful wild turkey vultures in the world to help clean up some of the more unsavory bits.

Another signal of spring is the full moon Saturday evening. This final full moon of the winter season is also called "Crow Moon" or "Worm Moon". The moon becomes full while crows caw the signal of spring and worms begin wiggling again as robins return in the North. Step outside tomorrow evening and take a peek at the lovely moon.

Soon the relentlessly hungry babies of spring and summer will begin to arrive so we are taking deep breaths now while we still can. It is inevitable that we will raise baby birds every year here at REGI, but if you would like to help out your neighborhood baby creatures this spring, you can begin by not removing any trees on your property from now until the late summer/early fall. Even though there is still some snow on the ground, birds have already begun nesting. Many, many baby birds and mammals are taken to rehabilitation centers every year because the tree they were nesting in was cut down by humans. Do wildlife a favor and leave that "eye-sore" up for a few more months... better yet, leave it up forever! Deceased trees make excellent habitat for many animals and aren't as lifeless as they appear; burrowing insects provide food for woodpeckers and cavities provide shelter for little owls. As long as they aren't a hazard for human safety, leave them up!

Happy Spring everyone!

Karissa Mohr
REGI Wildlife Educator

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Education Director's Update

Education raptor Dessa, Rough-legged Hawk

The REGI educators, along with our amazing education birds, have been busy. As Molly McKay described, we were most recently at Klondike Days in Eagle River, where we interacted over a two-day period with hundreds of people who were fascinated with the birds we brought. We shared their amazing abilities and compelling stories, and the birds acted, as they do many times during the year, as educational partners and ambassadors for their species. As a teacher with many years of experience, I readily recognize and appreciate the birds' abilities to motivate and stimulate people's interest in both the birds themselves and the important issues connected to them.

Earlier, Karissa Mohr explained how REGI presented programs at two central Wisconsin schools in Rudolph and Vesper. We also just concluded another season of programs at the Wausau School Forest, where, for many years, REGI has been part of all Wausau fifth-graders' experience at this wonderful outdoor learning facility. We are honored to continue this environmental education partnership with the Wausau School District. While providing educational information to every age is important, I am especially happy that our staff gets so many chances to interact with young people. They are eager, inquisitive, and interested. It is gratifying to help them understand the beauty and complexity of the natural world, and our education birds always make that challenge easier and lots of fun!

All of us involved in sharing our experiences with the birds and their related issues appreciate our interactions with the public, and we look forward to many more. As a former public school teacher, I am proud of my involvement in that worthwhile endeavor, and now as REGI's Education Director, I am proud of our staff's continuing commitment to provide educational opportunities to everyone. And finally, I am always proud of, as well as awed by, all our raptors that work with us side-by-side to achieve REGI's educational mission.

Steve Fisher
REGI Education Director

Another successful Klondike Days & see us again this weekend!

REGI has been bringing birds to Klondike Days for many years. It is one of the highlights of the year. As educators we thrive on sharing our love of birds. There is no better way to spend the day than talking with hundreds of people about the birds that we have out on the glove.
Photo above: Karissa Mohr and Molly McKay talk with a group of Klondike Days attendees about our Peregrine Falcon, Ishmael, and Barred Owl, Malcolm. (Photo credit: Kristi Mohr)
Photo above: Karissa tells a group of children about how an owls feathers aid in their silent flight while holding Great-horned Owl, Fonzy.
Photo above: Molly McKay with Peregrine Falcon, Ishmael. (Photo credit: Kristi Mohr)

We spent both Saturday and Sunday from 9:00am-4:00pm sharing our birds with a public. When we ended each day we were exhausted, hoarse from talking, and completely happy. Saturday Steve and Evelyn Fisher started off the weekend and Karissa Mohr and I spent Sunday presenting and wrapped up the weekend.
Photo above: Molly McKay shares information about Rough-legged Hawk, Atka, while Saw-whet Owl, Lil' Bit, peeks out from his stump. (Photo credit: Kristi Mohr)
Photo above: Karissa Mohr with Great-horned Owl, Fonzy. (Photo credit: Kristi Mohr)

If you missed the chance to see us at Klondike Days, we have another program just around the corner! Karissa Mohr and I will be presenting at the Science Extravaganza at SPASH in Stevens Point this Saturday. The science extravaganza is a student driven science fair with science activities, demonstrations and lots of fun. (I know how much fun this event is from attending with my own son while living in Stevens Point!) Follow this link to to Stevens Point Journal article about the upcoming event.

So come see us!

Science Extravaganza
Stevens Point Area Senior High (SPASH)
1201 Northpoint Drive
Stevens Point, WI

REGI Program 1-2pm on the main stage

Event goes from 10am-2:30pm

Admission is $3

We hope to see you soon!

Molly McKay
Environmental Education Coordinator

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Winged Wonders in Rudolph and Vesper and Klondike Days this weekend!

Have you ever had such a great day that you feel like bursting with joy? Well, ladies and gentlemen, that was my day today!
REGI's education department was invited to the Rudolph Elementary School and the Vesper Community Academy to do several programs about our "Winged Wonders." We absolutely LOVE doing programs, especially for children, and are always very lucky to have courteous and attentive crowds; the students of Rudolph and Vesper are no exception! Steve and I were extremely impressed with both schools, and it was an honor to meet each and every student and teacher. Needless to say, my heart is full after a long day of enriching young minds.

During the programs, I told the students to keep their eyes out for raptors in the future. Now that they've seen raptors up close and they know what to look for, I promised them that they would be able to spot raptors while going for walks or car rides. To prove that that is true, on our short journey back up North, Steve and I counted 7 raptors perched and flying along the road; five red-tailed hawks, a kestrel, and a rough-legged hawk in flight and swooping down to catch a rodent! Amazing! It was a great drive, I only wish the students would have still been with us to view such beauties in the wild.

The only bad part of the day was that I forgot to bring my camera to the programs; this is why the blog is sadly lacking photos. My apologies. Just imagine a smiley group of students, and that is what the photos would have looked like. ;)

If you would like to see some gorgeous raptors face-to-face, visit us this weekend at Klondike Days in Eagle River, WI!
The weather looks like it is going to be perfect so bring your camera, and an adventurer's spirit!

Photos above: Environmental Education Coordinator, Molly McKay with a Broad-winged Hawk, and Education Director, Steve Fisher with a Red-tailed Hawk at previous Klondike Days. Come and see these birds and more this weekend!

Klondike Days
Eagle River, WI

Klondike Days is a large family oriented event featuring turn of the century events. Come see REGI at our booth and meet some of our beautiful raptors.

1800 Pleasure Island Road Eagle River, WI 54521-8980
Date & Time:
March 5-6, 2011, 9:00am-4:00pm
More information at:

We hope to see you there!

Have a terrific weekend everyone! I know I certainly will :)

Karissa Mohr
REGI Wildlife Educator