Thursday, March 22, 2012

Saw-whet Owl, Ruffed Grouse, Dark-eyed Junco, Patient Updates, and Fun Spring Ideas

Good Thursday afternoon everyone!

We have been thoroughly enjoying this beautiful atypical March weather. The bird migrations are a bit ahead of schedule and that means it is very likely we will be seeing lots of baby songbirds soon. While we don't have any babies to introduce you to quite yet, we do have a few other new patients and some updates for you.

Photo above: This beautiful male Northern Saw-whet Owl was rescued after being hit by a vehicle. This little male has us feeling a case of deja vu because only a few months ago we admitted another male Northern Saw-whet in the same condition, from a similar incident, but it was his opposite eye which was damaged. He has since become an education bird in training. This handsome little guy may follow a similar path if his eye doesn't heal properly.

Photo above: This male Roughed Grouse was admitted with a broken leg. These lovely birds get their name from the black "ruff" the males possess. His is neatly tucked away at the moment, but you can still see some signs of it. The black feathers that are poking out from his other neck feathers are his ruff. When displaying for females, the males raise these black feathers into a stunning ruffle of feathers around their neck as well as fan their impressive tail feathers; undoubtedly hard to resist for a female.

Photo above: This sweet little American Tree Sparrow was found along with a Dark-eyed Junco (not pictured) covered in unidentified "sticky stuff." The rehabbers turned to Dawn soap to try to remove some of the gooey material from their feathers, but with little success. These tiny birds will need to stay with us until they molt and grow new feathers.

Photo above: Sparrows are some of the trickiest birds to identify because many look similarly to each other. I'll try to point out some of the "field marks" which may help you identify this type of sparrow in the future. This is the same American Tree Sparrow from above (you can see the sticky material pulled out most of his tail feathers). Our rehabilitator, Katie Farvour, held him in such a way so you could see one of his identifying characteristics; these little sparrows have a black spot of feathers on their otherwise spotless breasts. They also have bicolored beaks; black on top and yellow on the bottom, and a rusty crown of feathers on their head as well as a rusty line of feathers coming from their eyes. These characteristics, along with knowing that they spend winters here in the United States and summers in far northern Canada, should help you distinguish these sparrows from their look-alikes.

I'd like to update you on a few of the patients we've mentioned in recent blog posts. The large number of eagles we have are still doing well. All are in the flight building reconditioning their muscles.

The Snowy Owl is getting us all really excited. Our amazing rehabbers examined her a few days ago to see how her Trichomonas gallinae infection is healing (To read more about Trichomonas please see previous blogs). They were shocked to see that most of her lesions are gone! She still has a long road to recovery, but this was very encouraging to see.

Photo above: The Snowy Owl is doing very well. She has found her way to one of the high perches in her mew. Her breathing becomes raspy when we approach her so to keep her calm I snapped a photo through the slats of her mew.

Spring is a time of constant change and it can be really fun to watch and keep track of. I become terribly excited in the spring and I have a hard time not sharing my joy with everyone.
I find it extremely fulfilling to observe nature and help children observe it too and I want to tell you about a few of the really fun things you can do and see in the spring.

If you're looking for something new to try with the children in your life, you can explore phenology. Phenology is the study of the timing of changes in nature, such as the arrival of robins in the spring, the changing of leaf color in the fall, and the first snowfall of winter. You can choose an area like your yard or city park and keep a journal of all the changes you see throughout the year. Keep track of which birds you see; what day they leave in the fall and come back in the spring. Look to the sky for flocks of migrating ducks, swans, geese, and cranes. Listen for the sounds of frogs and toads calling. Watch for butterflies and moths. When did your lake, pond or river freeze over and when did it thaw? What was the last day snow was on the ground? I could go on and on. There are limitless things to look at in nature and you and your children will become more observant over time. You can keep these journals for years and look back at how the dates compare and how your area has changed over time. Someday your children's grandchildren may read those journals and if we work hard enough to instill conservation values and a love for nature in our young ones now, their descendants will still have wilderness to enjoy.

Photo above: American Woodcocks, like the bird above, become very vocally active in the spring. While normally living in forested areas, they choose more open areas for their courtship displays. You and your children can be lucky enough to see this display if you head outside near open marshes, meadows or boggy areas at dusk during the spring. Listen for the male to make his "peent" and watch the area above where the sound is coming from (Please do not approach these birds as you will interrupt their courtship and scare them away). If you're near the area at the right time you may see the male shoot himself high in the sky, spiraling up as he goes. He makes a lovely twittering noise created by the feathers of his wings as he's spiraling in the sky. It's an experience you'll never forget! Follow this link to learn more about American Woodcocks and hear what their peent sounds like.

The last fun idea I'll tell you about today is already a pretty hot trend. Live nest cameras are rapidly gaining popularity, and if you haven't already jumped on the bandwagon, hop on now! Nest cams are a wonderful way to introduce your children to nature, family, and the lives of birds. These cameras provide an intimate and unobtrusive view into the lives of these otherwise secretive animals. You can watch from the time the nests are fixed up to the time the young leave the nest. There are cameras watching everything from hummingbirds to Bald Eagles, and so many species in between. My favorite ones right now are the Red-tailed Hawk nest in New York through the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, the Bald Eagle nest in Blair, Wisconsin, and of course the Bald Eagles from Decorah, Iowa, whose eggs are expected to hatch in the next few days. If you look around you can find many, many more.

There are so many more things that you can do to enjoy nature with your children, so get out there and have some fun!

Thanks everyone!

Karissa Mohr
Wildlife Educator

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