Monday, January 30, 2012

Raptors in the News: Owl Bounty

This, ladies and gentlemen, is a good example of why the RMRP and I have dedicated so much of our lives to educating Humans about birds of prey and conservation: 1941 Owl Bounty. In Canada in 1941, there were bounties for trapping the "killer class" of Owls because they were eating the local game birds that Humans wanted to shoot and eat.

The Rocky Mountain Raptor Program's mission statement is to inspire the protection and appreciation of raptors and the wild spaces in which they live through excellence in rehabilitation, education and research. The "education" part is where I come in, visiting schools and public events all year round to show people how awesome I am, while the Humans talk about things like how important my niche is in the ecosystem, why it's important to protect wildlife, and how awesome I am.

Just think: if organizations such as the RMRP never had the realization that educating the public about raptors and conservation could save lives and help keep our ecosystems healthy...well, Humans might still be trapping Snowy Owls, Great Horned Owls, and Arctic Horned Owls* for money, simply because they didn't know there was a better way.

Three cheers for education!!

*I had to look this one up: apparently an Arctic Horned Owl is a color variation of the Great Horned Owl; in 1941 it was thought to be a separate species entirely. 

Friday, January 27, 2012

How I came to be at the RMRP - Triage - Part II of IV

I'll never forget the day I was brought into the RMRP's isolation room for triage (that's what the Humans call it when they admit an ingured bird to determine what's wrong with it and how to treat it). I had arrived in a dark box, only able to hear muffled sounds from the outside world. I was weak, unable to stand on my own, resting instead on a folded towel. When the box opened, allowing in the fluorescent light of the iso room, I only had time to feebly hiss once before a set of gloved hands reached in and plucked me out, swiftly wrapping me in a soft cloth and laying me on a table. "Eleven-twenty, skinny," I heard someone say, and I was lifted off the table. The cloth blinded me and muffled the sounds of the iso room, but I was still scared. Most of all, I felt disoriented and nauseous, like flying in a strong and fitful wind.

Then the drape was lifted off my face, and the world was full of light and strange sights. There were two Humans in the quiet room, one holding me, and one staring at me intently with concern on his face. The whole room seemed to shift and rock, and it was hard to focus on anything. Again I opened my beak to hiss, and quick as anything, the male Human in front of me used a small metal tool to drop a tiny white bead into my mouth. I hissed again, angry with him. I felt the white bead begin to dissolve in my mouth, and the feeling of anxiety and fear that was dominating me seemed to fade a little.

In the next five minutes the male Human checked over every part of my body. He mentioned things aloud, and the female Human holding me responded, back and forth, their voices low and calm: ears and mouth ("blood in the mouth"); both wings ("Nothing broken, that's a relief"); all my flight feathers; and my legs and feet, which hurt and weren't taloning the male Human like they should.  They talked the most when looking at my eyes. The male Human held a finger up,starting behind my left side and bringing it around the front of my face. The finger seemed dangerous (what was it doing?), so as soon as it emerged from my left side I followed it, hissing and clacking my beak. For some reason he didn't do the same thing on my right side: on that side the finger just appeared in front of me suddenly, without any warning. "That's not good," I heard him say. "Well, let's wait and see," responded the female behind me.

When the male Human was done with the exam, the female Human placed me in a largish box with a clear front door and plastic sides. I lay on the towels, still unable to stand, glaring out through the clear door at the Humans until they covered the box with a cloth, sending me into a comfortable darkness once again. It was easy to breath in there, and despite my efforts to stay vigilant and aware, I fell asleep quickly.

That night I dreamed of flying.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Raptors in the news: Us!

Want to volunteer for the Rocky Mountain Raptor Program? How could you not after watching this segment! We're always accepting new minions (ahem, I mean "volunteers") for all sorts of position. More info can be found here.

While I was secretly hoping that I would be the bird chosen for this news segment, I must say the Barn Owl did an excellent job with all his head-turning and profile-shots. Maybe it'll be me next time!

Sunday, January 22, 2012

How I came to be at the RMRP – Part I of IV – The Catastrophe

Today is the seven-year anniversary of an event that has had a huge impact on my life. It’s the story that has replayed itself in my mind a million times, but it took awhile to type it out…and not just because QWERTY keyboards were not designed for typists with eight talons.

It’s the story of how I came to the Rocky Mountain Raptor Program. It’s the story of how I came to be injured.

In the winter of 2005, I was a young bird, having only been out of the nest for a year and a half. My two voracious siblings and I had parted ways a long time ago, and I had been living a peaceful existence on my own since then. My territory was on the outskirts of Wellington, Colorado, farming country with lots of open fields and big cottonwoods.

The previous summer and fall had hosted thriving rodent populations, so I entered the winter season fat and happy. But the winter was harsher than I expected, and when the snows became deep and the rodents harder to find…well, I was getting hungry.

On the morning of my accident I was flying silently over snow-covered fields while the rising sun tinged the eastern skies orange and pink. Just as I approached a cluster of cozy-looking cottonwoods, I passed over a small two-lane highway and saw a raccoon that must have been hit by a car a few hours earlier. Since I’d spent the night fruitlessly searching for delicious mice to munch on, I wasn’t about to pass up a golden opportunity for free breakfast.

Banking hard, I curved around and descended toward the road, focusing hard on my upcoming meal. Just as I threw my wings back to brake for the landing, the world exploded.

I still am not clear on what happened that beautiful dawn morning. All I remember is the horribly close roar of tires on pavement, then a sunburst of pain that swiftly faded into a deep, black peace.

I don’t know how long I was unconscious on the side of the road. I remember glimpses of the sun rising higher and higher into a blue sky, then begining its descent towards the west. After that, all I have is flashes of images: a human standing over me, talking in low tones, then something dark and soft covering me; the feeling of being in an enclosed space that rocked and bumped and leaned; then being lifted through the air into the gloved hands of another Human.

I didn’t know it then, but I had landed at the Rocky Mountain Raptor Program in Fort Collins, Colorado, and my life had changed forever.

To be continued...

Saturday, January 21, 2012

2012 Gala Event

I can’t believe I almost forgot! One of my favorite events of the year is coming up at the end of February! It’s the Rocky Mountain Raptor Program’s 19th Annual Benefit Auction and Gala!!

 Once a year, all the minions who work for me at the RMRP change out of their grungy Carhartts and winter coats, and don dress shirts and elegant dresses. Then they all show up at the Hilton hotel for a night of food, bidding and high-brow socializing. Well, okay, it’s not that high-brow—after all, they’re still the kind of people who are willing to scrub bird poop off of walls.

And it’s not just RMRP minions, either. Hundreds of people from all over Colorado come to this event, all to support the RMRP’s work (and to have fun doing it!). There’s live music, a full catered dinner, and an inspirational presentation or two. And, most importantly, there are auction items!

There are usually a couple hundred silent auction items, ranging from art work, to services, to plane tickets. The auction happens in two phases: a silent portion, and a live portion. During the silent portion, the Humans tour the rooms full of auction items, frequently writing their number and bid on a piece of paper before moving on, all while chatting and socializing with the other bidders. The live auction is a whole different beast: all the guests are seated at tables, with the volunteers lining the walls, and the auctioneer (who is so funny, even the Owls chuckle) rattles off the most highly-coveted items of the year. The live auction can get pretty wild, with people jumping up out of their seats in excitement! 

Of course (and this is the most important part of the night) I’ll be there, along with many of my educational ambassador neighbors. We’ll be in attendance all night, and because of the fancy attire of our minions, we'll be looking even better than usual, too.

More information can be found here.

I hope to see you there! 

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Raptors in the news: Justice served in NZ

I realize this may be a silly statement purely because it's so obvious, but here you go: feathers are very important to birds. Damage to the feathers can be harmful to the bird, very possibly leading to death. Now, when someone goes out of their way to harm a bird's feathers with, say, pink paint...that's shameful. And when that person gets caught...well, you can form your own opinion: Farmer convicted over painted hawk.

As an FYI, the bird species being talked about in this article is the New Zealand Harrier. More information on this beautiful bird can be found here

Happy Anniversary!

It's the one-month anniversary of the beginning of this blog! Looking at the statistics that Blogger provides me, I'm very pleased with most the results! Here you go:
  • Total page views: 754
  • Top sites that refer readers to this blog: Facebook (25), (17), and (11)
  • Pageviews by country: USA (685), Russia (50)*, Germany (9), and one each from Canada, France, UK, Indonesia, Latvia, Philippines and Serbia.
  • Total comments: 3
  • Subscribers: 12
Who'd have thought I'd be reaching so many countries? At this rate, I'll have to start learning to hoot in foreign languages. And the total number of pageviews is awesome! The only thing I'm a little disappointed in at this point is the low number of comments and subscribers. Don't be afraid to leave a message about any of the posts...I promise I won't talon you. 

As a reminder, by typing your email address into the box to the right, you'll automatically get an email whenever I post something new, so you don't have to remember to check back all the time on your own. I think it takes a few days to kick in, though. Also, don't forget that I have an email address (talons of doom (one word) at gmail . com)! Got a question for me? Shoot it on over via that email address and I'll go my best to answer it.

Thanks a million for your support, everyone!

*Note: I'm pretty sure the Russian viewers are being directed here via a bogus scamming-type of webpage, so unfortunately, I don't think those views count. 

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Q&A: Do Owls Sleep?

Q:  Today's question comes from Steven, one of my devoted RMRP minions (the Humans call these people 'volunteers'). "Do Owls sleep?" he asks. "I've often heard that they never really sleep, just kinda catnap (pardon the phrase if that makes you hungry)."

A: Well yes, it does make me hungry Steven, but I'll leave the napping cats to my wild brethren and patiently await my dinner of mouse and rabbit. As for your question, Owls do indeed sleep, but not the way Humans do. If someone were able to sneak up on my cage and peek in through the window during the day, they may catch me with one or more of my eyes closed, snoozing away. Of course, no one can do this because I would hear them a mile away. No sneaky-sneaky around an Owl.

But when I sleep, do I sleep like a Human does? Part of what defines deep sleep in Humans (and most other animals) is the presence of a cycle of rapid eye movement, known as the REM cycle. As for Owls, this research claims there are three distinct states observed in Burrowing Owls: one type of awake, and two different types of deep-but-not-REM sleep. In total, the Burrowing Owls were asleep 60% of the time...lazy bums. As for the lack of a REM cycle, Raptors' eyes are fixed in their heads*, whereas Humans and most other animals can move their eyes around. Raptors cannot experience a cycle of "rapid eye movements" with eyes that don't move.

But just because Owls don't have a REM cycle, doesn't mean we don't experience deep sleep. But in that Burrowing Owl study mentioned above, the Owls were in deep sleep for an average of 11 seconds at a time, which only contributed to 5% of their sleeping time. In comparison, Humans enter their REM cycles for as long as 20 minutes.

So, in summary, yes, Owls sleep, and sometimes we sleep soundly. But eleven seconds is a long time when I'm clinging to a perch, so I don't truly snooze for long periods of time.

As a side note, I was going to ask the educational Burrowing Owl about his sleep patterns, but wouldn't you know it, he was asleep. Go figure.

*Interestingly, most birds can move their eyes in their heads. Raptors share the non-moving trait with aquatic mammals and some reptiles. 

PS. For those who are interested, birds are also capable of a fascinating kind of sleep called unihemispheric sleep. More info here

Sunday, January 15, 2012

The Interloper: Squeaking

Remember my suspicions that my sacred cage is being violated by a vile Interloper? I have further confirmation. This morning, right after sunrise, when I was settling into my relaxing day-time regimen of inactivity…I heard squeaking. Alarmed, I swiveled my head around to pinpoint the noise. This is easy to do as an Owl because my ears are asymmetrical, and my enormous eyes are always fixed straight ahead. It’s like triangulation: I move my head around until I can hear the noise equally in each ear; then I know I’m looking directly at the source of the noise. The source of this horrible high-pitched squeaking was…that tunnel.

Is it a mouse or a rat? I don’t know yet. But I’m very sure it’s a rodent, and I’m positive its days are numbered. As soon as it pokes its quivering little whiskers into my cage…well, just wait and see. 

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Twittering Kestrel

The American Kestrel a few doors down has been pestering me non-stop to post again about his Twitter account. (You have no idea how annoying a Kestrel neighbor can be until you owe one a favor. See if I ever ask for his help with uploading photos again). 

You might be wondering what a Kestrel is doing with a Twitter account. Well, it ends up the little snack-sized falcon is quite the gossip hound, as well as very adept at getting information about new-arrivals on the rehab side of things. I don’t know how he does it, but he always seems to be the first to know when a Critical Care bird is about to be moved to the outside cages, or when another success story flies away from here. He also has a lot to say about taloning, biting, feathers, mice, and other very important Raptor-oriented tidbits. I hate to admit it, but it makes for a good read. 

If you’re interested in following his Tweets, he can be found under @RaptorProgram. Now hopefully he'll leave me alone...

Friday, January 13, 2012

Raptors in the news...kind of

How did they know that's the music that plays in our heads when we eat??

Introducing the Q&A Corner

Being an Owl, I am a ­­­fount of wisdom. This is not something that can be quibbled over; it’s a simple fact of nature. Even Humans seem to understand that Owls have inherent wisdom, as can be seen in their portrayals of Owls in media, including this gem:

Recently I have begun to feel that this gift of wisdom may come with a social obligation to help the less-wise creatures of this Earth. To that end, I am launching a new section of this blog, a sort of Q&A corner to answer all the myriad questions Humans have about Raptors and the world in which we live. Do you wonder why us Owls can turn our heads so far around? Want to know what goes into treating a bird with lead poisoning? Having problems with your love life?  Fire away! I and my Owlish wisdom* are here to help.

In an effort to keep the questions off the blog until they are answered (why ruin the surprise?), please send all questions to my email address. And, in an attempt to keep my inbox free of advertisements for keel enlargements and feather-growth tonics, I will cleverly disguise my email address by describing it to you. It consists of three words, but all together into one word (for instance, if the three words were “beak of terror”, the email address would be “beakofterror”). The real three words are “talons of doom” at gmail dot com.

Looking forward to reading your questions!

*and Google searches…

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Neighbors: Common Barn Owls

In this cage complex there are nineteen educational birds, covering fourteen species, from the little American Kestrels, to the biggest beast of us all, the Ferruginous Hawk. Some of us are nocturnal, some diurnal, and others crepuscular (active during the dawn and dusk hours). With all this variety, you can imagine how entertaining it is to live here!

Today's example comes from the cage next door to mine, which houses two Common Barn Owls, one male and one female*. He's been here for ages, whereas she came in about four years ago. Ever since they moved in together, they've been inseparable. They're always cozied up next to each other inside an A-frame, or side-by-side on a perch.

The male is very protective of his lady friend; he is at her beck and call. When food is dropped in the cage, he brings some to her before eating his own portion, and when he is taken out of the cage for enrichment or a Performance, he seems restless and eager to return to her.

I've overheard many of the Humans' theories for this behavior, including that he's been here longer and took her under his wing, or that she needs support and help because she flies poorly. Or, even, that they are in the Barn Owl version of love.

Funnily enough, it's nothing as romantic as that. If the Humans could better understand her hisses and screeches, they'd know that he feeds her before eating his own food because she is a banshee who will scream his ears off if he neglects her for even an instant. In Human language, her screaming is the equivalent of "WHERE'S MY DINNER??? BRING ME THAT MOUSE!!" followed by the sound of a whip cracking.

But don't worry: this is completely normal Common Barn Owl behavior, and they both are happy with the roles Nature gave them. In that way, I guess it is like the Barn Owl version of being in love.

Whichever way you slice it, it makes for interesting neighbors.

*Educational side note: Unlike most raptors, Common Barn Owls actually have an overt sexual dimorphism, meaning the males and females look different. Specifically, the female's chest and face is a dirty white-brown** color, whereas the male's face and chest are snowy white. 
**Please don't tell the female I called her "dirty white-brown", or I'll never hear the end of it. 

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Overheard in the hallway:

Human 1: "A friend of mine claims he saw a Swainson's Hawk on a telephone pole last week."

Human 2: "That's funny, they're all in Argentina right now. What did you tell him?"

Human 1, in a Valley Girl voice: "Swainson's Hawks are sooo last season! But Rough-Legged Hawks are totally in right now!" 

Humans 1&2: Laughter 

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Raptors in the news: Bald Eagle population

Big thank you to our neighbors to the north!  Bald Eagle populations increase

The Interloper: Discovery

I think there is a rodent of some sort sneaking around my cage when I'm not here. I have never seen this creature because, of course, all rodents live in fear of my talons and would never dare venture near me. This one is either particularly dumb or extraordinarily brave for even setting paw in a cage inhabited by an Owl, even when I'm not here.

I first began to suspect the presence of an Interloper a few days ago, when I returned from a Performance and something was...different in my cage. I couldn't quite place it, but something was off. Not just the normal stuff, like when the Humans scrub my mutes off the wall, or when they come in and reattach the perch materials that I [very carefully] shredded and removed. This time it was more of a feeling than a specific change.

It wasn't until this afternoon, when I was returned to my cage after spending an hour under the cottonwoods, that I saw it: a depression in the gravel by the west wall, barely recognizable as the entrance to a small tunnel.

The outrage! How dare a rodent invade my cage without my permission! I will have to keep close tabs on this Interloper until I decide how best to deal with it.

Silly Human...

...let a camera fall out of her pocket! This blog is about to get a lot more colorful!!

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

2011 Stats

Since the Humans assume us birds can neither read nor count (silly Humans), they never give us the reports, charts and handouts they're always going ga-ga over. This assumption becomes especially irksome this time of year when the species and success numbers from 2011 come in. So, over the years, we've developed our own way of getting our talons on the information. Namely, theft.

Which Raptor do we send in to steal from the Humans? A small and darting falcon? No, too noisy. A silent owl, then? No, we can't put our attitudes aside long enough to be productive. Then who?

The Bald Eagle. Yes, that big and noisy bird is actually the queen of kleptoparasitism, or the act of stealing food from other animals. It's not a far leap to adapt those skills to steal documents instead of food. I'm afraid I can't give away any more details without endangering our clandestine operations.

Suffice it to say, she was able to obtain the preliminary numbers from 2011, including admissions, releases, and species counts. Enjoy!

  • Total number of bird cases: 242  (an average number, but plenty to keep the Humans busy)
  • Total number of raptor and vulture species: 22 (again, average)
  • Admissions by species (most notable):
    • American Kestrels: 59
    • Great Horned Owls: 48
    • Red-Tailed Hawks: 43
    • Swainson's Hawks: 27
    • Coopers Hawks: 8
    • Eastern Screech Owls: 8
    • Common Barn Owls: 7 (considerably lower than usual)
    • Prairie Falcons: 7
    • Sharp-Shinned Hawks: 7
    • Turkey Vultures: 5
    • Mississippi Kites: 2 (including the RMRP's first-ever adult)
  • Release rate of birds that survived the first 48 hours: 82%!!!
In total, one hundred and four injured, ill or orphaned raptors were given a Second Chance at Freedom in 2011. They came to the RMRP with broken wings, lacerations, burn wounds, emaciation, head trauma, poisoning, and more, and they left here with wings spread wide, eager (and able!) to touch the skies yet again. This incredible work was completed thanks to the hard work of the staff and volunteers, the generous donations received throughout the year, and, of course, to the remarkable spirit and tenacity of the birds themselves. 

Well done everyone!!  (And a big thank you to the Bald Eagle for her skills in surveillance and lock-picking...)

Want to congratulate us? Have questions about the numbers listed above? Leave a comment, I promise I'll get back to you! 


Monday, January 2, 2012

New Year's Resolutions

  1. Eat more mice
  2. Blog at least twice a week
  3. Cast daily
  4. Educate at least 7,500 people 
  5. Keep talons sharp
  6. Raise at least ten Great Horned Owl orphans
  7. Try yoga
  8. Keep feathers glossy and beautiful
  9. Get a camera
  10. Read the Harry Potter series