Friday, September 28, 2012

General Update: Welcome Fall

I have been so wrapped up in writing about awesome owls, I have completely neglected to keep readers updating on the going-ons of the Rocky Mountain Raptor Program.

Golden Eagle admiring the fall colors
The biggest, most noticeable recent change is that fall is here in a big way.  The weather slipped almost instantaneously from long, hot summer days to brisk days and brisker nights.  Rain has at last returned to Colorado, washing the dust from the leaves just as they're donning their autumn colors.  When the Humans go around for morning bird check these days, they often find us birds perched with one foot tucked up in our feathers to keep it warm, and our feathers all fluffed out for added insulation.  As the day warms up, we slick our feathers back down to cool off.  

The change in season has brought about two other annual changes for the RMRP: a change in the species being admitted to critical care, and a change in the injury/illness types.  During the latter part of summer, the bulk of the birds admitted to the RMRP were immature Swainson's Hawks, with the usual scattering of the other species.  But in the first couple weeks of September, all the Swainson's Hawks kettled up for migration and flew south out of Colorado for the winter.  The Osprey have also hightailed it out of the area, and Turkey Vultures will be next.  To replace them, Rough-Legged Hawks and Merlins (falcons) will be migrating to Colorado soon.

Sunrise outside my window
The Humans were able to rehabilitate and release the majority of the injured Swainson's Hawks before migration, releasing the youngsters into existing kettles so they would have guides to Argentina, the destination of their trip.  However, not all of the birds were ready to be released, either because they are healing from serious injuries and need time to regain flight strength and stamina, or because they suffered feather damage from West Nile Virus and need to complete a molt or two before being ready for the wild.  These birds (there are eight of them at the most recent count) will be overwintered in a large flight cage.  While this gives them all the time they need to perfect themselves for next season so they can rejoin the population, it's also a long time to support the care of these raptors.  Between the eight of them they are eating ~40 oz of food each day (that's 2 1/2 pounds of meat).  If you would like to support the RMRP in caring for these awesome hawks, please donate a few bucks to the cause.

Immature Swainson's Hawks overwintering at the RMRP
As for injuries, the end of summer saw the Humans admitting large numbers of birds with West Nile Virus.  The final numbers aren't in yet, but it was definitely the worst West Nile year in Colorado since 2003.  Fortunately, the numberof birds being admitted with the virus is tapering off as mosquitoes die and more birds gain immunity to the virus.  Unfortunately, the West Nile birds are being replaced with broken birds.  The end of summer and beginning of fall is when the RMRP starts to see a lot of birds with more severe injuries.  Many of these birds were starving to begin with, a result of a hard, dry summer among other things.  Hungry birds are desperate and confused birds, and many of them start wandering into moving cars while searching for road kill and hunting along roadsides.  Hit-by-car birds with treatable injuries often require x-rays and occasionally surgeries to rehabilitate them.  They also require a lot of supportive care to get them back up to a healthy weight.  Again, the RMRP needs donations to be able to heal and release the birds, so please consider contributing.

Peregrine Falcon release
In more heartening news, the Humans have been able to release numerous birds.  Most recently that included a Great Horned Owl with a fractured coracoid and head trauma, and a Common Barn Owl with similar injuries.  An immature Mississippi Kite was released to its group a few weeks ago, just before they migrated south for the winter.  Numerous Red-Tailed Hawks are going through Rat School right now, and all appear to be killing with great zeal and skill, so they should be out of here soon, as well.  A Peregrine Falcon with high-voltage trauma (power line encounter) hit the skies again a few weeks ago.

Great Horned Owl regaining use of her legs
Other interesting cases include a Great Horned Owl who was on the losing end of a fight with another owl on Colorado State University's campus.  It appears the bird had already experienced some sort of bodily trauma before the battle.  He's healing up with daily care for his puncture wounds and road rash.  Another Great Horned Owl is in critical care trying to regain strength and the ability to use her legs and feet.  She's slowly returning to an upright position, demonstrating the great tenacity and spirit Great Horned Owls are renowned for.  Similarly, a Great Horned Owl that was admitted months ago, completely unresponsive and unable to move or feed herself, is outside in a recovery flight doing much better.  It took a long time for her to come this far, and she still has quite a ways to go, but she's an inspiration.

And, finally, there's the education side of the RMRP!  The last weekend of September (29th and 30th) is full of public exhibits, including Elk Fest in Estes Park (all day Saturday and Sunday), the Northern Colorado Birding Fair at Fossil Creek Reservoir (Saturday 7am-2pm), and the Irish Festival here in downtown Fort Collins (Saturday and Sunday all day).  They're fun and educational festivals to attend, and the RMRP hopes to see you there!

As always, you can email me with questions or comments at talonsofdoom@gmail.com, follow me on Twitter @RaptorProgram, check us out on Facebook (Rocky Mountain Raptor Program), and find out more information and stories on our main website.  If you would like to subscribe to this blog, use the box in the toolbar to the right.

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