Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Spirit Takes Flight

By Carol Dollard

On Veterans Day 2005, I got word that my dear friend & coworker, Mike, had been killed in the war in Iraq.   The news was heartbreaking.  A few days later on the way to my regular Sunday morning shift at the Raptor Center I picked up a newspaper – there on the front page was a half page article about Mike & the sacrifice he had made for the rest of us.  I sat in the parking lot looking at the pics and reading the article with tears rolling down my cheeks.  I collected myself and went in for treatments only to learn that we were going to release an American Kestrel that day – right there on the grounds of the center.  In honor of Mike, the crew let me be the one to actually release the AMKE.   As I pulled back the drape to release him, the bird gave me one backward glance & then took off – vocalizing & circling over our heads several times before settling in a nearby tree.  There was something incredibly healing in that moment.  To this day I cannot see an AMKE without thinking of Mike.  

P.S. For the record it made me tear up just to type up this story.

Carol Dollard is a long time supporter and volunteer at the Rocky Mountain Raptor Program.  Her husband and two daughters have all volunteered for RMRP and one daughter had held a staff position for some time.  She shared this story with us as a way to reflect on how much working with the raptors has impacted her life.

www.rmrp.org/donate

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Get the Lead Out!


The Raptor Center, University of Minnesota
Having lived as an Educational Ambassador at the RMRP for as many years as I have, I am well acquainted with the tragic and often often fatal effects of lead ingestion in raptors.  In an effort to Get the Lead Out, this blog post is all about lead ingestion in raptors: how it happens, effects of lead in the system, what the RMRP does with lead-positive birds, and how you can help Get the Lead Out.

How It Happens: 
Radiograph from Hunt et al. (2006) shows lead fragmentation in
thorax of white-tailed deer killed by a standard copper-jacketed,
lead-core, soft-point hunting bullet
Did you know Bald Eagles are not just predators, they're scavengers as well?  In fact, scavenged food makes up a large portion of a Bald Eagle's diet.  Turkey Vultures are, of course, purely scavengers, getting all their food from animals that have already died.  Other raptors also scavenge when they get the chance, and can you blame them?  It's a hard life hunting for survival, and when a free meal offers itself up, any raptor intent on survival will take it.

Unfortunately, while dining on the carcass, these birds will accidentally eat anything lodged in the meat, including the material left behind if the animal was shot.  And if bullet used to kill the animal was lead (lead bullets tend to fragment into many pieces upon impact), the birds can end up eating lead with their breakfast.

Lead shot in a Bald Eagle's gizzard (biological diversity.org)
Why It's Bad:
Because lead is toxic!  Remember how you aren't supposed to lick lead paint?  Well, same goes for eating lead bullets.  In Bald Eagles, the largest raptors in the United States, it only takes a piece of lead the size of the tip of a pencil to cause lead poisoning.  Now think about a fragmented lead bullet, and how much lead could be left behind in an Elk carcass, and how much of that lead could make it into an eagle's system with one beak-ful of food.

Once in the system, lead can affect the body by interfering with a number of processes, and by damaging many organs and tissues, including the heart, bones, kidneys, intestines, and nervous system.  A bird suffering from lead poisoning shows signs of weakness, organ failure, impaired movement (especially use of legs), heavy breathing, confusion, and in severe cases, seizures and death.


Treatment:
At the RMRP, birds showing the above symptoms have their blood drawn to test for the presence of lead.  If the results are positive, the bird is given doses of Calcium-EDTA, a compound that binds to lead in the system, and can then be passed out of the body in the urine.  The process is called chelation.  Usually, one round of chelation doesn't remove all the lead, so multiple rounds are given until blood levels are back to a reasonable value.  While the bird is undergoing chelation, supportive care is given to keep the bird nourished, hydrated, safe, and comfortable.  Unfortunately, lead poisoning can have chronic effects, and in some cases the bird never regains its full health.

Golden Eagle at the RMRP
What You Can Do:
The two most significant ways raptors ingest lead are through lead bullets used for hunting (explained above), and lead weights used for fishing:  lead weights often fall off fishing lines, or are left on discarded line.  The sinkers then fall to the bottom of the stream or pond, where they are accidentally ingested by ducks and other bottom-feeding waterfowl, or by waterfowl looking for stones for their gizzards.  The waterfowl then get sick and die, and are scavenged by raptors, or they are killed by a raptor while ill.  Either way, the lead eventually makes its way into the raptor.

As a hunter, and depending on your location in the world and within the United States, you can consider not using lead bullets.  Copper and steel alternatives are available, and while copper is a little more expensive than lead, it doesn't have the potential side effect of killing more animals than you intended.  If the higher price is the only deterrent in your situation, please think about the money saved by using a lead bullet instead of a copper bullet, then think about the value of the lives lost by ingesting that same lead bullet--perhaps the more expensive bullets will be worth it.  More information on non-lead bullets here.


Fishermen, you can save lives by not using lead sinkers.  Non-lead alternatives are widely available.  You won't just be saving raptors, you'll be saving ducks and loons and all manner of other water birds.  More information here.

The Good News:
Sub-adult Bald Eagle at the RMRP
The good news is that, while lead bullets and lead sinkers accidentally claim thousands of lives each year, awareness is growing.  As a result, alternatives to lead shot, bullets and tackle are becoming available, and legislation regarding the issues are being brought to the table.  One way to help is to spread the information as much as possible, and to take action on the information when possible.  Every action you take can save lives.
______________________________________

We've admitted three lead-positive eagles with already this year, and it's only February!  Please help us save these birds and all the other 250+ raptors we admit each year by donating here.

Want more science?  Here's is a literature review on the impacts of lead on the environment produced by the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources.

Interested in lead-related legislation?  Check out this site.

Don't forget to follow the RMRP on Facebook and Twitter.  Also, check out our official website.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Happy/Sad Story

I have uplifting news and I have sad news.

The sad news first:
Earlier this week the Humans admitted a critically injured Red-Tailed Hawk.  The bird had been rescued in Berthoud after being hit by a car.  Unfortunately, its injuries were too severe, and the bird died the same afternoon it was admitted to the RMRP.

The uplifting news:
Whenever a bird is released from the RMRP, the Humans band one leg with a numbered US Fish and Wildlife Service band.  That way, if anyone ever comes across the bird again, the Humans can look up the band number and find out the bird's history.
Red-Tailed Hawk with a banded leg
The Red-Tailed Hawk that died was already banded.  Given the activity of the RMRP in the area, odds were good that it was one of our bands.  Sure enough, our Medical Director looked back in the records...and looked back further...and a little bit further...and found the history of this bird in our own facility's records.

The hawk had originally been admitted in late 2007 with head trauma, probably from another car strike, and was released in 2008 as a fully healthy bird.  When admitted in 2007, the bird was already an adult.

Why do I think this news is so good?

Because it means the RMRP took in an injured raptor, gave it everything it needed to heal up, and sent it back out to the wild for a Second Chance at Freedom.

Because the already-adult hawk lived another five full years instead of dying that day in 2007.

Because during those five years, the hawk was able to live a wild existence, rich with hunting and soaring and raising nests of new Red-Tailed Hawks each spring.

And I don't know about you, but I think that is something beautiful, something special, and something worth being happy about.


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Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Welcome back!

Really, I'm welcoming myself back.

As you may have noticed, I haven't been posting for the past month!  It's not that there's been nothing to report, but rather than I was taking a well-earned vacation from being an educator.  For one month I took a break from school visits, tours, blogging, and tweeting (still plenty of hooting, though).  I watched the Humans celebrate the holidays with funny hats and lots of food.  I saw fireworks over the city usher in the new year.  I saw the final bird for 2012 be carried through the doors, and the first bird of 2013.  I saw volunteers travel away from the RMRP to visit their other family and friends, and I saw them come back, eager again to brave the cold, early mornings, and long, frigid days for the sake of us birds.

Now the weather is warmer, my vacation is over, and I'm ready again to regale you with tales of the RMRP. First off, a summary of the holidays:

Our final number of admissions for 2012 was 265 birds.  Not the most ever, but certainly a high caseload, and a particularly challenging range of species and injuries.  More details and stats on the 2012 cases (species composition, injuries breakdown, release rate, etc) coming sometime in the next few weeks, so stay tuned.

Bald eagle with lead poisoning and a wing injury
The first admission for 2012 was a Bald Eagle, and the last admission was a Northern Harrier.  For 2013, the first admission was, again, a Bald Eagle.  He's probably a fourth year male bird, suffering from lead poisoning, an eye injury, and a wing droop.  The Humans treat lead poisoning with chelation, a process which uses Calcium-EDTA to draw the lead out of the bloodstream.  He's finished with his first round of chelation, is taking a break for a few days to allow remaining lead to come out of the woodwork, so to speak, and he'll move on to a second round soon.  Lead poisoning often comes with neurological side effects, which could be causing the wing droop, so hopefully that will resolve as the lead is cleared out of his system.

If you remember, January 2012 had us taking care of four sick and injured Bald Eagles at one time, a scenario the Humans hope to not repeat this January.  Here's hoping these amazing creatures stay happy and healthy in the wild, and don't have to visit the RMRP for care.

Weighing the Merlin on a cold day - see her breath as she vocalizes? 
The cold temperatures over the past few weeks proved very challenging for birds and Humans alike.  In cold weather like that, Humans have to think about a wide range of care-related issues that aren't usually so critical.  Can we avoid disturbing the bird, so the bird can conserve its heat and energy?  Is the bird's food going to freeze before it has a chance to eat?  Can we clean with water today, or will it instantly freeze and create hazards for birds and volunteers?  Are the little birds with high metabolisms maintaining their weight in these cold temps?  Fortunately, the Humans at the RMRP have plenty of experience with conditions like these, and the birds were extremely well cared for, as usual.  As for the Humans themselves, they dealt with the cold with many layers of thermals and Carhartts, hand warmers, insulated boots, hot water bottles, and good attitudes despite the frigidity of their work.

At last, here we are, experiencing some warmer temps and sunny days as a reward for the past few weeks.  The warm weather has provided an opportunity to deep clean the cages, use the hoses again instead of just buckets, and de-ice the pathways and parking lots.  In the past couple of weeks, the Humans have admitted the Bald Eagle mentioned above, a Cooper's Hawk, and an American Kestrel.  In exchange, they've released a female Merlin that recovered from a broken wing, a very handsome male Great Horned Owl that came in emaciated, and a Red-Tailed Hawk that was admitted with a skull fracture and massive head trauma.

That last case, the Red-Tailed Hawk, is truly amazing.  You may remember her from this picture:
Red-Tailed Hawk with skull fracture and damaged eye
The head trauma rendered her right eye useless and problematic.  After prey-testing her to be sure she could hunt with just one good eye, she was brought to the Vet Teaching Hospital to have her eye removed.  She recovered well from the surgery, and went back to hunting live prey like she still had two good eyes.  Seriously, that bird was a killing machine, and she often tried to use her skills on the Humans taking care of her.  She was released last week, and, true to form, she spun around and tried to attack her releaser one last time before flying away to go kill more appropriately-sized prey.

One-eyed Red-Tailed Hawk after release! 
Everything else at the RMRP is tripping along nicely.  As always this time of year, the Humans are busy, busy, busy planning and preparing for the annual Gala and Auction event.  Auction items are coming in daily, so be sure to come to the event to snag the best of it!  Details on our website here, including information on Early Bird tickets, which are only available for a few more days.

I'll be writing again soon to post more pictures of birds and other goings-on, so be sure to check back soon! Also, I'll be creating a new page on this blog with profiles of all us Educational Ambassadors for the RMRP, so stay tuned for those as well.

Friday, December 7, 2012

Owl of the Week: Burrowing Owl

My sincere apologies for leaving the Burrowing Owl out of my Owl of the Week series.  They were in the original list, but somehow I skipped over their place between the Eastern Screech Owl and the Long-Eared Owl.  But make no mistake, these little owls are awesome and well-worth an entire page of this blog.

bird-friends.com
First, a description:  Burrowing Owls are on the small end of things, weighing just half a pound with a wingspan up to two feet.  They're tall and lanky, with long, unfeathered legs below a rounded body.  They are tuftless owls with moderate facial discs.  Adults are brown with white speckles; juveniles are similar, but less speckly and more buff-colored on the chests.

prometheus.med.utah.edu
Burrowing Owls live in open areas west of the Mississippi River from Canada to Argentina, including grasslands, pasturelands and croplands, as well as golf courses and parks and the like.  They live underground in burrows, hence their common name.  Also, the second part of their Latin name (Athene cunicularia) is Greek for "rabbit burrow".  In many of the regions they inhabit, the soils are soft enough for the owls to dig their own burrows, but in Colorado, where the soils are famously hard and rocky, they rely on the abandoned burrows of other animals (more on this later).  They are aggressively territorial about the small area around the burrow, but generally willing to share the larger hunting grounds.

Burrowing Owl family in burrow - snuzzy.com
For hunting, they're surprisingly diverse.  They're neither diurnal nor nocturnal, but some blend of crepuscular (active at dawn and dusk) and insomniac.  In fact, they're active all day and night, taking naps as necessary.  During the day they hunt insects, and at night they catch small mammals like mice.  To accomplish this, they mostly run around on the ground on their stilty legs, or they hunt from low perches like fence posts.  Also--and this is a piece of information I will totally use against my fellow Educational Ambassador Burrowing Owl--they are the only owls to eat fruits and nuts.  Yep, Burrowing Owls are slightly omnivorous, and are partial to cactus fruits, like those of the prickly pear.  My neighbor is never going to live that down.

Juvenile Burrowing Owls - hawksaloft.org
Burrowing Owls are also unique in their vocalizations, and are excellent mimics.  In addition to a high, repetitive "hoot", they have a short barking alarm call like that of a prairie dog, a shaky hiss that's exactly like a rattlesnake rattle, and a variety of other noises.  The Educational Burrowing Owl at the RMRP has recently picked up the scream of the Common Barn Owl, choosing to use it on small children who get too close.  Here a link to their "hoot", and the very last sound on this page is the rattlesnake imitation. 

As for their status, the health of Burrowing Owl populations varies by locations.  In areas with soft soils, they tend to be doing better because they can dig their own burrows.  But out here, where the soils are hard and rocky, they are utterly dependent on Prairie Dogs to provide homes.  This is a problem as Prairie Dog towns are continually being eradicated in Colorado and other Great Plains states.  For Burrowing Owls, it's enough of a problem to place them on Colorado's Threatened Species list.  Populations are diminishing, and will continue to do so until Humans decide to leave room for Prairie Dogs in this state.

Burrowing Owl and Prairie Dog - fws.gov
Burrowing Owls come in to the RMRP pretty infrequently, usually the victims of car stirkes or barbed-wire fence entanglement.  As always, the RMRP provides the best care possible for these birds so they can rejoin their wild populations, and it's your donations that keep this work going!

Burrard-Lucas.com
Alright, this is the end of the Owl of the Week series (for real this time).  Thank you so much for your readership.  If you appreciate the raptors we save and the educational work we do (including this blog), please consider donating using the link above.  Otherwise, I hope to see you at the Open House this Sunday! 

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

General update 12/05/12

Good evening everyone!  It's been awhile since I've let you know what's going on at the RMRP, so I figure it's a good time for an update.  In a sentence, the overall situation can be described as "a welcome decrease in case load, with many ongoing, interesting and hopeful cases, and a whole slew of other activities."
Northern Pygmy Owl - released!!

Let's start with case load:  to date the Humans have admitted 257 birds for the year.  By comparison, last year they only admitted 242 birds.  A couple of weeks ago there were 35 active cases in house, and now the number is down to the mid-twenties.  Happily, almost all of that decrease can be chalked up to successful releases!  A quick summary of some of the birds to leave the RMRP in the past couple weeks:

-An immature Northern Goshawk (shoulder trauma)
-An American Kestrel (unknown trauma)
-A Red-Tailed Hawk with high-voltage trauma (from a power line)
-An American Kestrel (head trauma and fractured corocoid)
-An American Kestrel (hit by a car but without major injuries)
-The Northern Pygmy Owl (bit by car)
-The Boreal Owl (hit by car)
-Two Saw-Whet Owls (window strike and hit by car)
-Two Red-Tailed Hawks (hit by car and flew into truck cab)

Immature Northern Goshawk with quail lunch - released!!
I'm sure there are more, but those are the ones I can think of off the top of my head.  Of course, to make up for the exodus, the Humans have been admitting birds, as well.  Fortunately, the admit-blitz of three weeks ago (admitted eight birds in one week) was followed by a much milder week of only four admits, then just two last week.  In fact, the Critical Care unit is nearly empty at the moment, a first for the year (and a welcome change of pace).

Some interesting species in-house right now, including two Merlins, the small falcons from the north.  One is a small male, and the other a larger female.  They're both in small flight cages so the Humans can assess their flight.  Falcons are like high-performance athletes, and perfect flight is the only option for them to survive in the wild.  Prognosis is guarded on these two at the moment, but the Humans are optimistic.

Merlin - active case
There has also been an influx of American Kestrels getting into odd situations.  For example, one male bird came in covered in sticky goo after running rampant inside an icky warehouse for awhile.  It took some time to de-gunk all his feathers and give him time for a wing injury to heal, but he's making nice progress now.  Another Kestrel, a female, came in with her feet encased in hardened spray-foam, the kind used in house insulation.  The kind people who brought her in have no idea where she got into the stuff as they hadn't been using any on their property.  A mystery, but one with a happy ending as she is doing well with her feet freed.

American Kestrel with feet freed from insulation
In non-active-case news, the Humans and Educational Ambassadors like me have been busy raising money, presenting educational exhibits and programs, and preparing for events.  We've been making a fun circuit of the public libraries all year long, with a different theme education program each month.  The last one for the year didn't include me, but it sounded great:  the topic was winter residents, and the three Educational Ambassadors who attended were the Merlin, the Rough-Legged Hawk, and the Ferruginous Hawk!  Check the RMRP's calendar in January for next year's schedule (the programs are free and very entertaining and educational).

Boreal Owl - released!!
If any of you are friends of the RMRP on Facebook, you'll have noticed the fundraising campaign we were advertising this last week.  The fundraiser was hosted by Colorado Gives, a campaign to increase charitable giving in Colorado (did you know that Colorado is in the top-ten richest states, but in the bottom-five in terms of charitable giving?).  The Colorado Gives project takes one day a year to campaign fiercely to help local non-profits raise money.  This year the RMRP earned $13,000!!  Huge thanks to everyone who helped out with that, either by donating or by asking your friends to support us.  However, that's not the last fundraising campaign of the year for us, as we're considerably behind in donations compared to last year, and taking care of more injured raptors than last year.  In order to get 2013 going, the Humans will be needing more money to feed and care for us birds--details to come!

Volunteer Appreciation Party! 
Oh yeah, the Humans had a party last week to celebrate the work all the volunteers did throughout the year. I wasn't invited, but I'm not partial to salads and peach cobbler anyways.  At any rate, the Staff Humans recognized volunteers who contributed the most hours, attended the most shifts, went on the most bird rescues, attended the most programs and exhibits, and more.  So far this year volunteers have contributed 28,000 hours of work!!  When I say this program wouldn't be here without the volunteers, I mean it.  They are essential and highly valued (not to mention it's fun to scare the pants off the brand new ones with a well-timed flight across the cage).

Now they're all busy preparing for the big shindig this coming Sunday.  It's our annual winter Open House, and there's a whole list of reasons you should attend:

Educational Long-Eared Owl
  1. A behind-the-scenes look at our hospital facility, which is generally closed to the public
  2. Knowledgeable staff and volunteers on hand to answer all your questions
  3. Interesting educational posters and displays to explain what we do and why it's so important
  4. Numerous Educational Ambassadors on display, including some of our newer and shier birds that you may have never seen before!
  5. Snacks and hot drinks!
  6. Access to the amazing gift shop, which is well stocked for your holiday shopping (jewelry, books, stuffed animals, clothing, bookmarks, postcards, stationary, calendars, adopt-a-raptor, and more!)
The Open House will be held at our main facility on Vine Drive from 11:00-3:00 on Sunday December 9th.  Visit here for directions.  Hope to see you there! 

Whew, that was quite the update.  I think I'll sign off for now.  Be sure to check back tomorrow as I will be writing about Burrowing Owls! 

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Mulligan

So, one my neighbors and fellow Educational Ambassador for the RMRP just came a'knocking, and apparently I goofed up on my "Owl of the Week" series:  I forgot the Burrowing Owl.  Completely and utterly forgot.  The good news is, there's one more article in this series to look forward to, so check back next week for a article about Burrowing Owls!

-GHOW

Owl of the Week: Northern Pygmy Owl

Hello again everyone!  I hope you all had a great Thanksgiving.  I myself had an extra helping of mice last Thursday--delicious.  At any rate, this is the final entry in the "Owl of the Week" series.  After today, we will have covered every resident specie of owl in Colorado, and, with the exception of the Mexican Spotted Owl, all the owls the Humans take care of here at the Rocky Mountain Raptor Program.  Well, let's get going on the final owl in the series: the Northern Pygmy Owl.
sdakotabirds.com Northern Pygmy Owl
These little owls are particularly interesting owls.  Everything about them, from size to nesting habits, is a little different from most owls.  For one thing, they're the smallest specie of owl in Colorado, and the second-smallest in the United States (second to the Elf Owl).  They only stand a few inches tall, and weigh in at just 2-2.5 ounces, about as much as a slice of bread or ten quarters.  But, like most of the small owls (and large owls, for that matter), they are much tougher and more aggressive than their body size implies, and are willing to take on prey much larger than they seem able to kill, such as quail.  Smaller prey, however, is the norm, including small birds, rodents, and large juicy insects.

wildsonora.com  Showing the false-eyes on the back of the head
Other key features of their appearance:  there are three color morphs (red, grey and brown); their tails are proportionally long for an owl; their eyes are bright yellow; and there are two dark spots on the nape of the neck that look like false eyes.

They are also the only local specie of owl that is truly diurnal.  Northern Pygmy Owls, therefore, are missing many of the adaptations common among other owls, such as silent flight, above-average hearing, and night vision.

Northern Pygmy Owls live in the western United States, southwestern Canada, and in Mexico south through Guatemala.  Their preferred habitat is forest, ranging in elevation up to treeline.  They spend the majority of their time in the thicketed areas of forests, where they hunt from perches and fly rapidly between trees for cover.

Northern Pygmy Owls are almost entirely dependent on woodpecker holes to build their nests.  They live alone the majority of the year, only coming together during mating season.  Unlike most owls, the female doesn't start incubating the eggs until they are all laid, which happens over the course of a week.

The Humans here at the Rocky Mountain Raptor Program just released a Northern Pygmy Owl earlier this week!  This bird was found at an intersection in Fort Collins.  The bird was largely uninjured, and had probably been caught in the wake of a car rather than actually being hit by a car.  Either way, the bird needed awhile to recuperate under the RMRP's care before being safely released into more suitable habitat than a city intersection.  Northern Pygmy Owls also are admitted to the RMRP after striking windows, or falling prey to domestic cats.  But rest assured, the RMRP is here to help them!

Northern Pygmy Owl at the Rocky Mountain Raptor Program
Well, that's the end of the "Owl of the Week" series!  I really hope you learned a lot from it.  Remember to check out the original page to refresh yourself on all the reasons Owls Are Cool, and to find a list of all the owl species in Colorado with links to their profiles on this blog.  As always, remember you can subscribe to this blog by using the little box in the right sidebar; comments and questions below or at my email address (talonsofdoom@gmail.com) are always welcome; the Rocky Mountain Raptor Program's official website is a great place to visit; our Facebook page is awesome; and you can follow me on Twitter with the name @RaptorProgram.  And, finally, yet most importantly, if you support the Rocky Mountain Raptor Program and the life-saving work the Humans do for the raptors in the region, please support us by donating here.  Thank you for all you do--we truly wouldn't be here without you!

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Owl of the Week: Flammulated Owl

activerain.com
This week's owl is the Flammulated Owl, a tiny specimen that only weighs a couple ounces.  Their name, flammulated, refers to the fire-colored reddish feathers on their otherwise grey-brown faces.  The rest of their plumage is either greyish or brownish depending on the individual.  They are the second smallest raptors in the region, tipping the scales at just 45-65 grams, with a wingspan of 16 inches (about the same as the "wingspan" of Human hands).  Although it doesn't look like it, they actually do have ear tufts (they're just tiny, little ear tufts).

schmoker.org
Being such small, inconspicuous owls, they are difficult to find in the wild, although their populations are actually quite healthy.  In the United States they live in mountain forests, usually Ponderosa Pine and Douglas Fir at elevations up to 10,000 feet.  They are obligate cavity nesters, meaning they only build nests in tree cavities.  Around Colorado they usually use old Northern Flicker or woodpecker holes.  Their range is very scattered, with little patches of habitat in all of the mountain ranges in the Western United States, but not in between.

Flammulated Owls only live around here in the summer breeding season, migrating south to Mexico and Central America during the winter.  This is probably because there's nothing for them to eat up here during the winter.  Unlike other small raptors which eat rodents and supplement their diets with insects, Flammulated Owls almost exclusively eat insects, and only occasionally supplement their diets with very small rodents.  Their favorite bugs to eat are moths, crickets and beetles.  They hunt from a perch at night, like nocturnal flycatchers.
paulbannick.photoshelter.com
One way to actually find a Flammulated Owl in the wild is by listening for its hoot.  It's a unique noise, although very monotonous.  According to the Cornell Ornithology Lab, it sounds like "blowing across the top of a bottle" over and over again.

At the RMRP, the Humans don't admit many Flammulated Owls, maybe one or two every couple of years.  When they are admitted, it's usually when they encounter a car or a window during migration.  They're considered a species of least concern, although they are also considered vulnerable because of their very specific habitat needs.

azgfd.gov
That's all I have for you about the Flammulated Owl.  I'll be taking a break this next week, just like all you Humans, so check back the following week for the final owl in our series, the Pygmy Owl (even smaller than the Flammulated Owl!).  After that, I'll need a new topic to write about, so if you have any ideas about what you'd like to read on this blog, shoot me an email at talonsofdoom@gmail.com with your suggestions!  Have a great holiday week!
seattletimes.com


Thursday, November 8, 2012

Owl of the Week: Northern Saw-Whet Owl

Based on the birds being admitted to the RMRP recently, it would have been very timely of me to swap around my article on Saw-Whet Owls (which we admitted two of a few weeks ago), and my article on Boreal Owls (which we admitted one of a few days ago).  Alas, while I'm remarkably wise, I am not prescient.

lloydspitalnikphotos.com
So, let's learn about Northern Saw-Whet Owls.  These birds are the cutest little murder-machines you've ever encountered, kind of like teddy bears armed with knives.  They're one of the smallest North American owls, standing just 5-6 inches high, with a wingspan of 18-22 inches, and weighing 2 1/2 - 4 oz (about as much as a quarter to a half cup of water).  They are non-tufted owls, with rather large heads in comparison to the rest of their little bodies.  They have a distinctive white "Y" shape on their face, and an overall streaked, buffy coloration elsewhere.  Their eyes are their most striking characteristic, slanty and bright yellow, and as innocent looking as doe eyes.  But at the other end of their body, their arsenal of eight small-but-sharp talons are always at the ready.

Saw-Whet Owl talons (richmondaudobon.org)
I've overheard Humans at the RMRP saying, "Saw-Whet Owls have the attitude of a female Golden Eagle packed into a tiny body."  It's not an exaggeration.  Not only do they have the attitude of a bird willing to fight for its life, they also take on (and take down) prey much larger than they are.  While Saw-Whet Owls typically dine on small rodents with a supplementary diet of songbirds and frogs, they don't turn down an opportunity to kill a squirrel, rat, or even a rock pigeon (about 4X heavier than the Saw-Whet Owl).

A picture to show the size of a Saw-Whet Owl.  (Please note:
this is a wild bird being held for banding, and this is not how
the RMRP handles birds) guardiansofgahoole.wikia.com

Immature Saw-Whet Owls look very different from the adults, with a dark, chocolate-brown color on their heads, backs and wings, and a light brown color on their fronts.  They still have that clear white "Y" on their faces, though.  Saw-Whet Owls typically lay from 3-7 eggs in cavity nests (much like the other small owls we've learned about recently).  They fledge after 4-5 weeks, and are sexually mature in under a year.  Life moves fast for small birds like these.

Immature Saw-Whet Owls (wikipedia.org)
Their common name refers to the sounds they make when alarmed, which apparently sounds an awful lot like a saw being whetted.  Never having heard a saw being whetted myself, I'll have to take the Humans' word on this one.  The other sounds they make is a long series of "hoop-hoop-hoop", and they only vocalize like this during breeding season.  It sounds like this: Saw-Whet Owl call

kewlwallpapers.com
These birds live in forests with dense areas for nesting.  They're year-round residents of the Rocky Mountains and southern Canada, and winter residents in much of the United States.  In Northern Colorado, a transition zone between the two ranges, they're most commonly seen passing through on migration.  In fact, the RMRP has admitted two Saw-Whet Owls in the past couple weeks, both window-strikes from encountering the large plate-glass windows of beautiful mountain homes as they passed through.  One of these birds has already been released to continue on his way, and the other is still in rehab working out some kinks in her flight.

flickriver.com
An odd habit of these birds is to remain still and not fly away when they're discovered.  They're so adamant about not moving that people can readily approach them, and the owl will just sit and watch.  While it's cool from a photographer's perspective, and it allows an excellent chance to closely observe these birds in the wild, please respect its personal space and don't get so close that the bird is forced to fly away.  A reader of this blog actually discovered one of these owls in the wild a few weeks ago and encountered this unique behavior.  A link to his photo-essay is in the comments section for the Boreal Owl article.  I also recommend checking out that article so you can see the difference between the Saw-Whet Owl and the Boreal Owl, which look quite similar.

On a side note, I'm sure many of you have seen the following popular joke:

The bird in the top image is a Saw-Whet Owl, but you already knew that.  The owl in the bottom image is the lower half of the original Saw-Whet Owl, with a very photoshopped head of a much larger, very wet Eagle Owl on top.  The Saw-Whet Owl is also the star of the equally popular "Time For Tickles" image:


Now you know. 

Back to the serious stuff, there's not a lot of data about the population of Saw-Whet Owls, but it's clear to see from the recent admissions to the RMRP that they face similar threats as the other small owls:  window strikes, car hits, and other trauma.  The RMRP doesn't see many of these owls, but those that come through the doors here at our main facility are given quality care and the utmost respect, all the way from admit to release.

If you would like to support the RMRP, please use the donation link in the right sidebar.  Also, please follow us on Facebook and Twitter, and check out our official website to learn more.  Next week's owl (there are only two left!) is the dark-eyed Flammulated Owl.  Thanks for reading!