Monday, April 30, 2012

Baby update

My kiddo was let out of his box a few days ago, and now he spends all his time cozied up to me.  He's growing up fast, putting on weight and feathers every day.  Before I know it, he'll be fully fledged and on his way out of here.

But for now, he's my responsibility, so I'm teaching him all of my best stuff.  For instance, when Humans peek in the window, I hiss extra loud, and even throw in some beak-clacking and feather-fluffing.  The kid is starting to mimic me very well, and with our fearsome displays combined, the Humans don't seem inclined to come into the cage.

Here he is practicing his scary-face:

I taught him that!

When Humans do come into the cage, I make a point to avoid them as much as possible, instead of my usual behavior of letting them approach and jess me.  I can't have my kid thinking that wild Raptors are supposed to spend time near Humans!  He's becoming very evasive as well.

I have other responsibilities, too, like showing him how to rip and tear his food.  He's at that age right now where he just swallows everything whole, but once he's out in the wild and catching larger prey than the mice the Humans are feeding him, he'll have to know how to shred prey into manageable sizes.  So I make a point to grab my mice with my talons, and tear them apart with my beak...but he's still just gulping his down.  Oh well, he'll figure it out eventually.

Did I mention that the baby gets fed tons of mice?  He has a lot of growing to do, so he's always chowing down.  It's a perk for me too, because I get to eat all the mice I want!  I'm an old hand at this, and I learned long ago that when I have a baby, the Humans have no choice but to keep feeding us if the mice are being eaten, because they can't let the baby become malnourished.  I think Humans call this "milking the system", and it's a very nice side effect of raising a kid on room service!

Ooh, speaking of mice, some more just dropped in through the food chute. Signing off!

Thursday, April 26, 2012

General Update

Still not a whole lot going on at the RMRP, but certainly some interesting cases coming through the cages.  Here's the quick-and-dirty:

--First off, I can't remember if I told everyone that the Humans released the grill-head Red-Tailed Hawk! Remember him? He was found with his head stuck in the grill of a truck, and came in looking like this:
Very sick Red-Tailed Hawk after colliding with car
Well, he was released last week! Despite a fractured skull and awful head trauma, he's out there striking fear into the hearts of small rodents again. Congratulations to the RMRP for a job well done!

--Onto more current cases, a few days ago the Humans admitted a Cooper's Hawk that hit a house window...and shattered it. Can someone who's better at physics than an Owl please explain how a soft, feathery bird that weighs about half a pound can shatter a house window? Unfortunately, the outlook for this bird isn't hopeful, but it is a good reminder to keep your bird feeders away from windows, and apply decals to your windows if you have lots of birds zooming around.

--Admitted two baby Great-Horned Owls last week! Same nest, different days!  The first kid to come in was still very young. He was found at the base of the tree in fine health, but pretty vulnerable.  The Humans were able to put him back in the nest with his younger sibling.  Then, the very next day, the Humans had to rescue another young Owl from that same nest.  This one had gone out on his maiden flight and ended up standing in the middle of the road.  The Humans couldn't put that bird back in the nest because he was more flighted than his younger sibling. If they tried, the Humans would place him in the tree near the nest, he'd instantly fly away again because of the Human in his face, he'd end up on the ground, and the cycle would begin again.  Therefore, when the RMRP gets in mostly-flighted babies, they have to keep the baby until it's fully-flighted. So the mostly-flighted baby is here at the RMRP, finishing growing in feathers and learning how to be a fearsome creature.  Hm, I wonder where they put him?

Poor wing position, but excellent flight! Can't judge a book by it's cover...
--The Great Horned Owl with the luxated (dislocated) elbow is doing surprisingly well.  Despite the fact that he holds his wing out at an awkward angle, he's doing laps around his cage like nobody's business.  Soon he'll graduate to a cage with fewer perches to depend on.  Then he'll attend mouse school, and if he passes that he'll be released!

--The Red-Tailed Hawk with the broken foot is out of his splint and beginning to use the foot to grab the perch. That's excellent news because while wings need to be perfect for release, feet only need to be functional enough to grab perches and food, and this guy is well on the way to two functional feet.

--There are still FOUR Bald Eagles in house. Enough said.

SWHA's nest-building skills at work
--As for Educational Ambassadors, the female Common Barn Owl is busy rolling and tending her fake eggs, and the female Swainson's Hawk is contentedly arranging sticks in her cage.

And that's all the news for this week!  Time for me to get back to my baby.

Overheard at the RMRP

Human 1: "Huh, that was crazy how we couldn't get a blood draw on that Red Tail. There was no blood in his veins. Is that even possible?"
Human 2:  "I don't know. How can you be alive and not have blood in your veins? Unless..."
Human 1:  "...unless he's undead?!"
Human 2:  "Oh my god, that explains it. An undead Red-Tail!"

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

I have a baby!

This morning I was taken out of my cage for some quality outdoor enrichment. After half an hour of hissing at Humans and jays and squirrels, I returned to my cage and was completely surprised by...a baby!

Specifically, there's a small wooden cage/box that extends into my cage, and inside that box was a young Great Horned Owl. I vaguely remember having some bizarre thoughts like, "Gee, when did I lay eggs?" but those thoughts were swiftly replaced with the truth, which is: I have a baby.

This changes everything.

Stay tuned...

Monday, April 23, 2012

Interview with an Educational Ambassador Red-Tailed Hawk

This past weekend, a friend of mine went to his first outdoor exhibit here in Fort Collins.  He's a Red-Tailed hawk who came to the RMRP in 2010 with multiple fractures in one wing. The wing didn't heal correctly, so, like many of us educational ambassadors for the RMRP, he can't fly well enough to be released. But he did have the right personality to become an educational bird, and he progressed through his training well, and over the past few months he went out to numerous small educational programs, like hour-long programs at libraries and schools. Saturday's exhibit was a much bigger accomplishment for him because exhibits are long, outdoors, and full of all sorts of colors, sounds, sights and people.  Seeing as I'm an old hand at the exhibit thing (not much surprises me anymore when I'm out in public), I figured I'd interview the new kid and see what he thought of the whole thing!

Great Horned Owl (GHOW): How did the day begin?
Red-Tailed Hawk (RTHA): It started very normally, except that my handler was talking to me more than usual, using soft, encouraging tones to tell me I would "do great today". Well, of course I'd do great--I'm a Red-Tailed Hawk, I'm great at everything. I didn't realize then how much I was going to see that day! It started by being jessed in the cage, then weighed on the scale, then getting into my travel box like I was going to a program. The car ride was pretty short, although I don't really care how long car rides are when I'm in my travel box--it's so calm and quiet in there. And when I came out of my box, I was smack dab in the middle of town! Surprise!

GHOW: What was your first impression of the exhibit?
RTHA: There was so much going on! Cars and people and tents and trees...I had a hard time keeping an eye on all of it all the time, but I tried my best. I just looked and watched and took stock of the whole world around me, and pretty soon it became more understandable and less scary. Nothing bad happened to me, of course--the Humans would never let that happen! But there was a lot to take in.

GHOW: Describe the place you were perched.
RTHA: I was standing on a low perch, just about one wing-length off the ground, and my leash was attached to the perch (I tested the leash out right away, and found it was two wing-lengths long, and that I could easily fly to the end of it, stand in the grass for a second, then jump back up to the perch, no problem). Above me and behind me was a white tent, so I was in the shade all day. Around the three open sides of the tent was a thin red rope. I think the red rope holds great power over the Humans because no one crossed it except my Humans from the RMRP. Beyond the tent was a large grassy area, lots more tents, and a lot of people. To one side there was a road and a sidewalk.

GHOW:  I'm sure you learned a lot throughout the day, so let's break it all down individually: what did you learn about vehicles?
RTHA:  There are a lot of different kinds and they make a lot of different sounds! There were regular-sized ones that the Humans called "cars", but some of them made really loud noises that rumbled and roared like a thunder storm, and others made loud but whiny noises that were very surprising. And they all moved so fast! No wonder we birds have a hard time with cars. There were smaller two-wheeled things that the Humans called "motorcycles", and a lot of those were even louder than the cars. Then there was a train, like the one that passes by the RMRP, but this one as closer and much louder. Oh, and then there were "bicycles", which are kind of like motorcycles, but much quieter. The bicycles came really close to me sometimes, but they never tried to hurt me. I stopped noticing all the vehicles after awhile because I learned they weren't going to hurt me while I was with my Humans.

GHOW: What did you learn about dogs?
RTHA: There are lots of different sizes of dogs, too! All of them were attached to Humans by leashes, kind of like mine but longer and thicker. Some Humans kept their dogs really close, and other Humans had to be asked to reel in their dogs so they wouldn't come over and scare me. At first the dogs were scary, but when I realized that my Humans were making sure none of them could get near me, I relaxed and started noticing how funny looking they are! Some had spots, some had stripes, some were huge and others small, some were really excited to see me, others didn't care about me, and others were so oblivious they never knew I was there. Silly dogs.

GHOW: What did you learn about children?
RTHA: Children, also called "kids" and "Hey!", are highly revered by Humans. They're escorted around in colorful wheeled objects called "strollers", and the big Humans push the kids around in these all day. And whenever a kid wants to do something, the big Humans help the kid do it. I also learned that kids are very noisy. But even though the kids were noisy, they were also really interested in me and asked the Humans lots of good questions about how cool I am. Some of them were small enough to walk right under the red rope, but even they stayed on the far side of it! My favorite kids were the ones who sat down in the grass by the rope and spent a lot of time talking to the Humans about me. I think kids are okay!

GHOW: What did you learn about noise?
RTHA: I think I learned that Humans really like noise. I prefer quiet so I can hear bird sounds and listen for mice in the grass, but Humans prefer constant music and lots of talking. Once I got used the constant noise, it didn't bother me much.

GHOW: What questions did people most often ask?
RTHA: Everyone asked what kind of bird I was, and a lot of people asked if I was an Eagle, which made me laugh inside. Wouldn't the Golden Eagle get a kick out of that question? After that, most people wanted to know how I hurt my wing. Then there were a lot of different questions, like how can I turn my head so far? When does my tail turn red? How old am I? What so I like to eat? Those questions were great. I think my favorite question is when the Humans ask "How much does he weigh?" and my Humans ask back, "How much do you think he weighs?"  The Humans on the other side of the rope almost always say something like "Twenty pounds", and when my Humans say, "Nope, two and a half!" I like to watch the surprised reactions. Gets them every time!

GHOW: What was your favorite part of the exhibit?
RTHA: It was really fun getting out there and seeing all those different things! Humans have such odd habits. I was tired when I went home, but next time will be even easier, and I'm really looking forward to it!

So there you go, straight from the beak of a new educational bird! Hope to see you at our next exhibit!

Thursday, April 19, 2012

General update

Here's this week's news from the birds!

The Humans have had to deal with multiple eagles at a time over the years, but usually there are multiple Golden Eagles, not Bald Eagles.  Bald Eagles are much more high-strung and fussy, and overall just more difficult than Golden's.  So now that there are four Bald Eagles in rehabilitation, everyone is talking about it.

There are two Bald Eagles transferred from another center who require the large, excellent caging system the Humans built here to finish their recuperation; there's a new guy who had the unfortunate luck of completing the circuit on some powerlines; and then there's the young knucklehead I've written about before who is blessed (cursed?) with a big eagle attitude.  With any luck we'll be kicking some of them out soon.

By the way, those Eagles eat a lot of food, and they're tearing through nearly a pound of fish a day each! If you have any leads on a safe, clean, healthy, sustainable fish source contact the Humans (, or if you'd like to simply donate money to help us buy safe, clean, healthy, sustainable fish, click the "donate" link to the right!

Let's see, other birds:  the immature Turkey Vulture the Humans admitted last year is about ready to head out.  He had to be over-wintered here because Turkey Vultures are migratory, and releasing him in the winter wasn't an option.  He originally came in unable to use his legs and with a high level of lead in his blood.  Last week he passed his final I'm-a-Turkey-Vulture-and-I-can-survive-in-the-wild test: he was given a whole prairie dog (they have very tough skin) and had to figure out how to get to all the meaty goodness inside.  It took a day or so (maybe he was letting it season?), but he found the soft spot in the armpit and managed to pull all the delicious insides of the prairie dog out through a hole he made there!  Big congratulations to him, I'll let you know when he's released!

A Great Horned Owl with a luxated (dislocated) wing impressed the Humans by flying upward to a high perch when he was moved to a large flight cage. Luxated wings can be tricky to heal, and the fact that he has good lift with his bad wing is great news for him!  Stayed tuned for news on that guy.

Other than that, the female Swainson's Hawk I mentioned in an earlier post is almost ready to lay eggs, and she's letting everyone know about it by screaming and talking all the time.  It's hard to concentrate here in the spring!  I'll see if I can sneak over to the nest she built and take a picture of it--she did a fine job with her stick arrangements this year.

That's all for now!

Monday, April 16, 2012

Why Osprey Are Cool

I don’t get to see too many Osprey here at the RMRP, but when I do I’m always amazed…and a little worried for them. They’re tenacious and strong like the rest of us, but they don’t seem to adapt as well to temporary captivity as some of the other birds. The Humans appear to feel the same way about Osprey—amazed and anxious. I can usually tell when an Osprey is admitted just by the change in energy among the Humans, that feeling of awe and concern that surrounds them. But the concern pays off--we have a good track record with Osprey.

Arthur Morris / Birds as Art
So why are Ospreys so awesome? What makes us all so excited to be in their presence? It’s a combination of their cool adaptations and their quirky personalities. Let’s start with the cool adaptations.

First I guess you need to know that Ospreys are fish-eating birds. They live near water and eat fish almost exclusively, so their neat adaptations are all related to fish-catching. To catch a fish, they fly or hover over the water from pretty high up (30-100 feet), spot their prey, then plunge in feet-first, submerging themselves completely in the pursuit of sushi. Then they fly out of the water to a safe place where they can eat the fish. Sounds simple, right? Wrong. If I, a Great Horned Owl, were to try to plunge into the water and catch a fish, I simply could not do it (not to mention I wouldn’t want to do it—water is…wet). Here are some of the traits that help Osprey get their dinner, and get it with such style!

From the top down:

See how lanky they are?

  • The flying/hovering thing: Ospreys have long, narrow, strong wings that enable them to fly in place so they can take their time scouting out the water and fish.
  • Their nares (nostrils) are also long and narrow, and capable of closing when the bird dives in. You can imagine how handy that must be when hitting the water at speed! 
  • Those long, narrow wings are critical for getting back out of the water--they're designed that way so they're extra-powerful as they try to swim/fly to the surface and break out of the heavy water with a heavy fish in their talons (now, try putting a bandage on an Osprey with a broken wing and see how long it stays on...)
  • Their feet--the fish-catching tools themselves--are very different from most other raptors:
    • Their toes are all the same length (as opposed to, say, Sharp-Shinned Hawks, who have a reaaaallly long middle toe) for more uniform grabbing of the slippery fish.
    • Their talons are uniformly rounded instead of edged like most raptors, and extra-hook shaped. 
    • One of their front toes can switch around to be a back toe (so, two in the front, two in the back, instead of three in the front and one in the back). As an Owl, I should mention that Owls can do that trick, too!
    • The feet are covered in rough spicules, like really course sand paper, that help them grip the slimy, wiggling fish.
    • Their tarsi (leg bones) are longer than other raptors so they can extend their legs far in front of their faces when diving in feet-first.
  • Their feathers are particularly rigid and strong. If I hit the water like that, I'd destroy my feathers.

So, pretty cool, right? Can you see why we get excited to see them? 

The quirky personality that I mentioned is just that--quirky. They're high-strung and finnicky, they take a lot of persuasion to eat when in rehabilitation, and they make the silliest noises and expressions. And they smell funny. And they prefer to be roommates with Turkey Vultures. I'm not kidding. They get along famously. Honestly, it's kind of hard to take Osprey seriously...and then you remember how incredibly skilled and perfect they are in their natural environment, and suddenly it's easy to be in awe again.

Let's see, what other cool stuff did that last Osprey we rehabbed tell me...oh yes--they live on every single continent except Antarctica! They're like the Peregrine Falcon in that regard. Except, while the Peregrine Falcon has many distinct subspecies and variations, there's really only one Osprey. There are a couple of "variations" out there, but they're a bit too vague for uncontested subspecies classification. What that means is that the Osprey does what it does really well. So well that it has never needed to be tweaked for different regions. c/o NASA
The Osprey has had one hiccup in its success story, at least in North America: DDT. Osprey populations were affected the same way that Bald Eagles and Peregrine Falcons were, and, like the Bald Eagle and Peregrine Falcon, has since recovered. 

A little bit of natural history: Osprey live near waterways, are migratory, primarily dine on freshwater fish (and are therefore good indicators of ecosystem health), mate for life, build big, ugly, ungainly stick nests (rather like a certain Owl I know...cough...), and lay 2-5 eggs. 

Caught in baling twine Thompson Photography 2008
They're picky about their nesting locations, and to help out with the Human encroachment on viable Osprey-nesting land, Humans have been building artificial nesting platforms all around the world, and the Osprey appear to like them just fine (the one at Willox and Shields here in town is a good example). Also, I don't know why it is, but Osprey have an affinity for that orange baling twine that farmers use to bale their hay. They use it in their nests, then get tangled in it and need help. Great Horned Owls don't seem to have this problem...just Osprey. But it's a big problem for them, so on behalf of the non-blogging Osprey I ask you to please take in your baling twine each season, cut it up and throw it away.

So, now that you know all about why Osprey are cool, watch this video on YouTube and see one in action! I especially like the flounder-hunting scene, when the Osprey extends his feet so they're exactly in front of his face--perfection. 

More locally, the Osprey are back in Fort Collins, home from their winter migration. They're on their nests and probably incubating eggs, so keep an eye out for chicks in the next couple months! That's it for now. Next installment will falcon. Yes. The American Kestrel! The guy with the Twitter account will just love that. Maybe I'll convince him to write it for me so I don't have to hear him talk about himself all day? 

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Spring is in the air

I apologize for my lack of posting recently. There has not been all that much happening at the RMRP these past few weeks, so I've just been perching by the window and enjoying the spring air.

Lots of other birds here at the center are also feeling the effects of spring. For some birds, like the pair of educational Common Barn Owls, that means laying eggs. The female has popped out six of the suckers already--I don't know how she does it!

The female Swainson's Hawk, now 21 years old, is not letting age get in the way of egg-laying season.  She's been over in the her cage twittering away to herself. She's spending most of her days taking sticks and rearranging them, a sure sign that she's feeling broody.

On the rehabilitation side of things, the Humans are still anxiously watching the door and waiting for the flood of babies.  We Great Horned Owls got around to things a little late this year, so now it looks like orphaned Great Horned Owls and orphaned American Kestrels could be arriving all at the same time, a prospect which has the Humans on tenterhooks.

Remember the Red-Tailed Hawk that was found with his head wedged in the grill of a truck after being hit? Well, he survived his massive head trauma and skull fracture and flew away on Monday! It's always good to see such a success story as that one.

Also, the Swainson's Hawk that had all his feathers burned off in a methane burner has finally begun to molt. Once he has a new set of feathers, the Humans will be more able to assess his prospects.

The only other news is that the RMRP is now the cool place for Bald Eagles to come hang out, like Camp David or something. There are three of them at the center right now! That's a lot of Eagles to feed. Interested in helping the Humans buy food and medical supplies for the injured birds? Check out the "wishlist" page at the top of my blog, or the "donation" link on the right sidebar.

Alright, I'm going to go back to my window now and watch the spring evening steal over the meadows.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Egg Laying at the RMRP

While watching the Kestrel's twitter account (@RaptorProgram), I noticed that he's been posting about the number of eggs being laid by the educational female Common Barn Owl (she's up to four!) and realized you Humans may have some questions about egg-laying. To that end, I've created a list of egg-related questions and answers:

1. When is egg-laying season?
Female Barn Owl in her nest box
Egg-laying season is different for every bird, and a little bit different every year. This winter was warm and mild, with lots of tasty mice running around, so the Owls have been able to start breeding (and therefore laying eggs) earlier than usual. Typically, at least around Fort Collins, the Common Barn Owls lay eggs in mid-April, and the Great Horned Owls in February (although it can be as early as January). This year Barn Owls are sitting on the eggs right now, and Great Horned Owls already have chicks! In fact, a briefly orphaned Great Horned Owl chick was brought in to the RMRP two weeks ago, but was able to be returned to the nest that same day.

Male Barn Owl standing guard over his lady
2. Do captive birds lay eggs?
Yes, we will lay eggs, but only some of us, and only in the right conditions. It takes the perfect combination of conditions (food base, stress, and age key among them) for a raptor to lay eggs, even in the wild. In captivity a raptor has a steady, healthy diet, so that usually isn't a factor, but if the raptor never gets completely comfortable with being in captivity, she simply won't lay eggs. On the other hand, some birds take to egg-laying in captivity like an Owl takes to nighttime. We have numerous educational birds that lay eggs each year, and those birds often lay large clutches since they have the diet and care to support the effort.

3. What does the RMRP do with eggs laid in captivity?
Common Barn Owl eggs
According to the Humans at the RMRP, it takes a lot of work, permitting and money to breed raptors in captivity. They have decided to not follow that path for a number of reasons: they already have enough work and permits to worry about, and none of the species the RMRP cares for have at-risk populations that require captive breeding. So in order for the Humans to not break the law when the educational birds do lay eggs, they have to destroy them. What this usually means is taking the eggs from the nest and replacing them with fake eggs, or taking the eggs from the nest, making them unviable, then returning them.

Young Great Horned Owls with "mom"

Here's the great part of this process: because the parents are allowed to sit on fake eggs and stay "in the zone", they're ready to take on mom-and-dad duty when orphaned raptors are brought in to the center! When it comes down to it, we raptors are only as smart as our instincts. So if one day we wake up and there are baby birds in the nest, even though they seem a little old for new hatchlings, and gee, I never saw them actually hatch...we don't care! We're wired in one way: if it's an egg, sit on it; if it's a baby, feed it. Through this quirky process, the RMRP is able to supply orphaned raptors with real-life role models. The educational birds teach the kids how to eat (and what to eat), how to keep feathers in good condition, how to hiss and strike at Humans, etc. It works out for everyone.

4. Why don't you hand over the orphaned raptors to other birds in rehabilitation, instead of giving them to educational birds?
Young Great Horned Owl reacting appropriately to a Human
 Well, not all raptors are good parents. Add to that the stressors of being new to captivity, and healing from a traumatic event...they certainly don't need to be raising babies, too. The educational birds are tried-and-true parents, and the Humans know the educational birds aren't going to kill the babies, or steal all their food. Here are some amazing numbers to prove it: the Grey Female Great Horned Owl who passed away a month ago raised ~50-75 chicks with her cage-mate during their time at the RMRP, and the pair of Common Barn Owls have raised over fifty babies between them! And don't worry: the Humans are very careful about how they interact with young birds, so all those chicks were released to the wild with a healthy level of Human-hate.

5. How many eggs do captive raptors lay?
Baby American Kestrel eating lunch
It varies from bird to bird, and from year to year. Last year the female Barn Owl laid six eggs and the female Kestrel has laid as many as 10 in one year. The female Swainson's Hawk (at the ripe age of 21) still produces ~2 eggs each year! The normal clutch size for these birds in the wild is typically 4-5 for Common Barn Owls, 4-5 for American Kestrels, and 2-3 for Swainson's Hawks. In a really bumper year for the prey base, some Barn Owls will lay a second clutch to take advantage of the conditions!


Those are all the questions I've come up with today, but if you think of any more, feel free to email me ( or simply post a comment below, and I promise I'll answer! And stay tuned for details and pictures of eggs and, eventually, baby owls.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Raptors in the News: Forensic Vultures!

I should go back and update what I wrote about Turkey Vultures after reading  this

Who'd have thought that Vultures would help the progress of forensic anthropology? I especially like the closing sentence: Hamilton said he used to hate Vultures. "But now I kind of appreciate what they do, how they dispose of decomposing animals on the landscape," he said. "They perform a really serious function." 

I can't wait to see if they use this in the TV series, Bones. Yes, I'm an Owl with Netflix. And I think my choice in TV shows is fitting. Don't judge. 

Monday, April 2, 2012

Raptors in the News: Ancient owl

And here I thought I was putting on years...

A Great Horned Owl at the San Francisco Zoo turned 50 years old today! Read more here