Thursday, June 28, 2012

High Park Fire and the RMRP

Today I'm going to write in response to the numerous questions the Humans have been fielding at the RMRP, and the written questions I've received.  As I'm sure almost all of my readers know, there's a massive wildfire burning just west of Fort Collins, where I live at the RMRP.  The fire began June 9ths from a lightning strike in the forest.  Since then the fire has burned over 87,000 acres and destroyed hundreds of homes.  Finally today the fire is 75% contained, and there are hopes that it will be 100% contained over the weekend.  (By the way, I know all of this because the American Kestrel next door has a Twitter account: @RaptorProgram - subscribe to hear more fun updates from the birds!).

Out of concern for the RMRP, many Humans have been asking what the effect of the fire is on the Rocky Mountain Raptor Program. But before I get into that, I should point out that the fire and the drought/heatwave combined are what are causing all the problems. Colorado (and a lot of other places in the US, apparently) is in the middle of a record-breaking drought.  Hardly any rain this month, and hardly any snow all's scary.  The air tastes dry, and the grasses in the field outside my cage rustle like tinder all day long.  On top of that, we're in the middle of an exhausting heat wave!  And all of the problems feed back into each it's not just the High Park Fire that's the issue here.

The effects of all this on the RMRP hit in three different ways:

1. Effects on the educational ambassadors

Day 1 of the High Park Fire
During the first two weeks of the fire the smoke here in Fort Collins was really bad, and both Humans and birds were feeling the impact.  Everyone was so irritable and so worried!  I'm pretty sure I did nothing but hiss and glare and clack my beak those entire two weeks.  Because birds have more sensitive respiratory systems than Humans, the Humans at the RMRP restricted our activity a lot.  The fist-fed birds were taken out to be fed and weighed, then put right back.  The birds like me that are fed in the cage were completely left alone (except for cage cleaning and frequent checks, of course!).  The Humans just didn't want us to get riled up and start breathing heavily.  Not only are there immediate effects of smoke inhalation, but us birds can have long-term health issues because the low air quality makes us extra-susceptible to a mold called Aspergillus.  The Humans will be keeping a very close eye on us in case any of us gets sick.

In recent weeks the smoke has dissipated and the air is easier to breath, but in its place we've had an intense heat wave!  Of course, the heat and drought of the summer are contributors to the it's all cyclic and bad.  But the Humans are keeping us nice and cool in our cages, and feathers are crossed that the heat will be gone soon.

2. Effects on wild raptors

So first, there was a drought, and the animals in the mountains were already feeling the strain of it.  If there's no food where an animal has territory, the animal will move to better ground.  Add to that the fire which scorched 87,000 acres of previously habitable land (that's twice the size of Fort Collins and Loveland combined).  Now all the wildlife is definitely fleeing.  There have been reports of cougars in Loveland and moose in Fort Collins, and all manner of critters in between.

Now, keep in mind that most raptors currently have chicks in the nest.  What is a month Owl or Hawk or Eagle going to do when she's overwhelmed with smoke and the fire draws near?  The only thing she can do: fly away and save her life so she can have more chicks next year.  And the chicks that are left behind have practically zero chance of rescue because all the Humans that could help them have been evacuated.  It's a terrible loss of life but it's part of nature.

Size of the fire and distance from Fort Collins
So what about the birds that did survive?  They're going to fly until they find suitable habitat to start a new life.  But the problem with suitable habitat is that it's usually already taken.  That means the new arrivals will be competing with the current residents, and everybird involved is going to feel the strain.

And, finally, remember the drought: there's not a big prey-base to begin with this year, so now there are more birds on less land with less prey to go around.  And for the birds that didn't have to flee the fire, they're trying desperately to feed the chicks in their nest, but they're feeling the effects of the competition and if they can't make ends meet they will abandon the nest to save themselves and try again next year.  And the chicks, hungry and desperate themselves, start jumping out of the nest before they're ready in the hopes they'll find food.

No matter how you slice it, it's a sad state of affairs for wildlife in Colorado this year.

3. Overall effect on the RMRP

Aside from the worry and anxiety felt here at the RMRP as a result of the fire and the heat, the Humans are also seeing the more obvious effects of it all.  As usual, the problems manifest themselves in two ways: case load and money.

Immature American Kestrels
Case load:  With the combined effects of fire, drought and heat, the number of immature and starving birds the Humans are admitting is daunting.  How many dozens of Kestrels do we have right now??  And the numbers will only continue to rise as we progress further into the drought, and as the displaced animals begin to feel the effects of the increased competition.

But wait, there's more:  As the birds get hungry they'll start taking bigger risks to get food.  This may lead to an increase in traumatic injuries like car hits.  And, finally, the mosquito that carries West Nile Virus loves this hot, dry weather.  We can expect to see West Nile birds soon.

Money:  It's a worry, like always.  This time the worry stems from all the good and compassionate things that Humans are doing with their money right now: they're donating it to other deserving causes like the Red Cross and the Humane Society, trying to help in any way possible the people who have lost their homes in this fire, and the firefighters and other personnel who have worked so hard to beat back the fire.  With all that money going towards those causes, the donations coming to the RMRP have reduced to a trickle.  The Humans are seriously worried about how they'll pay the basic bills in the next few months.  And it's not that the RMRP begrudges the donations to the Red Cross, etc! Not at all--those people really do need help.  Unfortunately, at RMRP donations are significantly down at a time when our workload and number of patients is ever-increasing.  We simply cannot continue this work without your financial support.

Great Horned Owl

Since, as a Great Horned Owl, I can't go get a job and donate a portion of my paycheck to the RMRP (or anyone, for that matter), I'm going to send out a little plea here:  please help.  This year is almost assuredly going to bring record numbers of starved, injured and orphaned raptors to the RMRP.  If we want to save these birds, we need the financial support to do it.  Please donate here if you can. 

I hope this article has helped answer some of your questions about how the High Park Fire, drought and heat wave are affecting the raptors and the RMRP.  If you have any more questions, please don't hesitate to email me at  Thanks for reading!

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

General Update: 6/27/12

First of all, congrats to the little cat-caught Eastern Screech Owl! He passes mouse school with flying colors (flying fur?) and was released yesterday!

And in other big news, the Humans have officially caught up to and surpassed last year's admissions for this time of year.  They have admitted 93 birds for the year, and it seems like half of those came in just these last few weeks!
Young female American Kestrels
The Humans are up to their ears in baby American Kestrels.  Every day they admit new ones, move the last arrivals out to the rehab cages, move the rehab-cage birds to the large flight cages, and start the large-flight birds on live prey testing.  Whew!  There are dozens of the little falcons to keep track of, all with different colored leg bands on to help ID them.  Thank goodness American Kestrels are sexually dimorphic (males have blue backs, females are all brown), or there wouldn't be enough color combinations on leg bands to give them all a unique identifier! 

Young male American Kestrels
Other recent arrivals include a young Red-Tailed Hawk, a hit-by-car (HBC) Swainson's Hawk, and a high voltage trauma (HVT) Peregrine Falcon.  The Peregrine's injury is old, so he probably won't die from the injuries, but it's unsure whether or not he'll be a releasable bird. Stay tuned: the Humans are trying their best.  He's young, just a second-year bird, and he's very handsome:

Peregrin falcon in a critical care cage
Here's a pic of the HBC Swainson's Hawk.  He's a striking bird, with very pale undersides and a very stark bib.  He's also a fighter (even being hit by a car on I-25 didn't break any bones!), and he's a good reminder that not all Swainson's Hawks are "young and dumb".

Swainson's Hawk in a rehabilitation cage
The Mississippi Kite the with fractured wing has had her bandage removed and is trying it out in a larger cage this week.  So far she's holding it straight and using it well, so feathers crossed that it's perfectly healed!  The RMRP rarely admits adult Mississippi Kites, and usually they're broken beyond repair.  It would be a wonderful thing to give a second chance at freedom to this amazing bird.

Mississippi Kite, holding wings well
Perhaps the best news of all is about the two remaining Bald Eagles.  One was a power line victim, and she had a tough time healing the wound the shock left on her wing.  But the Humans were very determined and creative with her medical care, and the wound is now completely healed.  Soon it will be time for flight training!

And the other Bald Eagle is the one who came in at the end of 2011 scarcely able to walk or stand on her own.  It took weeks to get her to move around flat ground, then weeks to get her to perch on low perches.  It seemed like she was making good progress--slow but steady--when she hit a plateau.  For a few months she made no improvements.  The Humans were almost certain she would never be released, but decided to give her a little more time.  Well, whatever needed to click finally did so a few weeks ago, and all of the sudden she's flying and landing and moving around a double-length flight cage with ease!  Every day a Human goes into her cage to encourage her to fly laps so she'll build up strength, stamina and agility.  She's still a little tentative with her feet, so she's not 100% done with rehabilitation yet, but the progress she's made recently is an inspiration to us all.  Here's a photo montage from today, showing her spread her wings and launch from a high perch in her cage:

Here's hoping she continues making progress and gets out of here soon!  Not only do we want her to fly free again, but she eats a lot of food.

Stay tuned for another update: the RMRP has been receiving a lot of phone calls and emails about the High Park Fire and its effect on the RMRP, and I'll be writing about that soon.  But until next time, wish us luck in rehabilitating and releasing my awesome feathered brethren! 

Thursday, June 21, 2012

General update 6/21/12

Busy season is in full swing at the RMRP.  The Humans admitted 25 birds in the past two weeks, and most of them have come in clusters: five birds one day, none the next, etc.  The majority of the newcomers are American Kestrel chicks: there are currently 18 Kestrels at the center, and 14 of those are this year's young.  Some of the more interesting of the baby Kestrels include the nest of five chicks that arrived in the same box as a nest of baby Flickers--I don't know which family was more scared!  Both of their nests were accidentally knocked down by construction workers, who then boxed the kids up and brought them in.  The Flickers went to WildKind at the Larimer County Humane Society, and the Kestrels are doing well in our flight cages.  The other interesting Kestrel kid is one that was found fending off the advances of a curious Rottweiler.  The bird was on his back, feet lashing out, keeping the mighty beast at bay.

Aside from young American Kestrels, the only other kid admitted this past week was a cat-caught baby Screech Owl (the third Screech Owl brought home by this one cat!).  The unfortunate thing about cats and baby birds is that a bell on the collar doesn't do any good when the bird can't fly.  The chick is fine, but all cat-caught birds are treated with a round of antibiotics because raptor chicks are particularly susceptible to a bacteria in cat saliva.

As for the rest of the birds, the Mississippi Kite with the fractured and traumatized wing is due to get his bandage off at the end of the week: feathers crossed that it healed well enough for him to fly!  The Great Horned Owl with the deep puncture wound in her face is now maggot free and proud to be!  She'll be moving into a cage with the immature Great Horned Owls soon so she can be a role model for the kiddos and show them what to do with those furry things running around on the ground below them.

And, finally, there are the two remaining Bald Eagles.  One was a high-voltage trauma victim (read: shocked by a power line).  She was having issues with the exit wound on her wing, and was unable to heal over the exposed and necrotic bone.  But the vets at the CSU Vet Teaching Hospital were able to scrape away enough of the dead bone to allow new growth to start, and now only the tiniest remnant of the wound remains!  She'll be heading into a large flight cage to build up her stamina soon.

The last eagle is the one who came in unable to use her legs.  For a couple of months she made slow progress in regaining strength and agility, but then she plateaued for a long time...long enough that no one thought she would get any better.  Still, the Humans gave her a chance, and in the past couple weeks she's made huge progress, enough that the Humans are once again hopeful that she might be saved!  She's started flying around and making good landing, something she didn't have the confidence/ability to do for the past couple months.  Her prognosis is still guarded, but everyone is pulling for her!

So, all in all it's business as usual for the birds and Humans at the Rocky Mountain Raptor Program.  The smoke has thinned out, booth and festival season is ramping up, and everyone is excited to be helping the birds!  As always, I'll be sure to keep you updated as these amazing animals are admitted, fixed up and released!  Oh, and I'm sorry about the lack of pictures in this update--I promise I'll post more soon!

*** Is there anything you would like to read about that I've not touched on?  Like West Nile Virus in raptors?  Or maybe raptor anatomy or diet?  Have questions about that strange bird in your back yard, or want to know why raptors can turn their heads so far around?  Want to know more about what some of the injuries really mean, like what "high voltage trauma" actually does to a bird?  I'm here for you, so let me know what you'd like to read!  Leave a comment below, or email me at! ***

Friday, June 15, 2012

Why Bald Eagles Are Amazing!
The Bald Eagle!  Proud symbol of America!  A regal and beautiful beast, with a bit of a temper and a lot of power to back it up!  Now that we're down to just two Bald Eagles at the RMRP, this entry isn't as timely as I had hoped it would be (not that I'm complaining: two Bald Eagles is much better than five).  But here we go anyways, an article dedicated to the awesome Eagle.
Identifying a Bald Eagle is usually a pretty easy task.  First of all, they're enormous, making most other American birds look positively diminutive.  Also, they're strikingly colored: the solid white head and tail contrast starkly with a dark brown body, a color combination that's easy to pick out whether they're perching on a tree or soaring hundreds of feet overhead.  Finally, they have a giant yellow schnoz that stands out like a beacon.
Despite all those obvious markings, there are times when Bald Eagles are not quite so easy to identify...mostly when they're young and look just like Golden Eagles.  An immature (age 0-5 years) Bald Eagle doesn't have the white head and tail, or the solid brown body, and they end up looking almost identical to immature Golden Eagles, which is why both are protected under Federal law.

Bald Eagles live all across the US, but are mostly found in areas with water (salt water or fresh).  While they don't need to eat fish exclusively, they are darn good at catching fish and it makes up a large portion of their diet.  Unlike Osprey, which submerge themselves completely when they dive for fish, Bald Eagle reach in with their feet and pluck fish out of the water.  Also found on the menu are prairie dogs, large animal carcasses, and aquatic birds like geese and ducks.
Bald Eagles reach sexual maturity between ages four and five, and then they mate for life...unless the worst should happen.  Then they will find a new mate and start over.  Courtship displays are something to behold: the eagles lock talons and spiral down towards the earth in a death-defying show. Here are two video clips of the action.
The first is pretty old, but impressive: 

And this one is newer, but further away:

Bald Eagles, along with Peregrine Falcons, really hit the spotlight in the 1940's and 1950's when DDT was wreaking havoc on the population.  In the mid-1950's, there were only ~400 pairs in the lower 48.  Since then, a combination of banning DDT and enacting laws to protect eagles has brought their population back up to normal.  In 2007 they were delisted entirely, and are considered a Species of Least Concern!

In terms of personality, Bald Eagles are timid, easily stressed, high-maintenance and unpredictable.  Only a few Humans at the RMRP are qualified to work with these birds, which is why is was soooo difficult to manage FIVE Bald Eagles all at once.

Okay, now that you know what Bald Eagles are, let's clear up some myths about what Eagles are not.  

First of all, they're not the biggest bird in the US. The Golden Eagle and the Bald Eagle overlap a lot, with both of them checking in at 9-14 lbs (some Bald Eagles can weigh a mere 5 lbs), and with wingspans of 6-8 ft. The California Condor blows them both out of the water with an average weight of 18-20 lbs, and a typical wingspan of 8-10 ft.  And for the record, some Trumpeter Swans are even bigger than that.
California Condor (

Second, they're not just the mighty hunter people believe they are.  Bald Eagles are notorious scavengers of carcasses and dumps, and not just scavengers but thieves!  Bald Eagles exhibit a behavior known as kleptoparasitism, or, in plain English, they steal food that other animals have caught.  For instance, if an Osprey dives into the water and comes out with a large, delicious fish, a Bald Eagle will come along and try to bully it away from the Osprey--and being bigger and badder, the Eagle will usually succeed.  The beautiful picture below shows an Eagle trying to steal a fish from a Great Blue Heron.  They also steal from each other, especially adults from juveniles.

And third, you know that regal screeching sound you hear in the movies whenever a Bald Eagle (or any other bird for that matter) comes into view?  That's not what Bald Eagles sound like.  That's a Red-Tailed Hawk.  Bald Eagles sound like this:
No wonder Humans use a Red-Tailed Hawk screech in the movies! 

That's all I've got on Bald Eagles!  I hope you learned something new, and if you have any questions feel free to leave a comment below or send me an email at 

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

General update: 6/12/12

The Humans have had another busy week taking care of sick and injured raptors at the RMRP.  Not only are there bird cases coming in daily, but there's smoke from the nearby forest fire to contend with (more on that later). 

Since last week, 11 injured and orphaned raptors have come through the critical care unit.  The majority of these are immature American Kestrels.  The Humans refer to these uninjured birds as "young-and-dumb", because there's nothing wrong with them other than making bad decisions during their first flight.  

When the Humans receive a call about an immature bird, the first question they ask the good Samaritan is "Can you find the nest?"  Often times the nest is nearby, and can be found by following either the peeps and screeches of other babies in the nest, or the aggravated screams of mom and dad as they watch over their grounded offspring.  If there's a nest nearby, the good Samaritan on the phone, or one of the RMRP Humans, will move the bird back near its nest, setting the bird on a branch that's off the ground and out of reach of lazy house cats, curious dogs, and hungry foxes. The addled kid will figure out how to get back up to the nest from its safe new perch.  Contrary to popular belief, parents have no problems accepting Human-contaminated chicks back into the nest.  They can't "smell" the Humans on the bird.  In fact, most of us can't smell at all. 

 If there' no nest in the area, the RMRP gets the bird, which is how we ended up with five American Kestrel kids (all from different nests), another immature Great Horned Owl (currently cozied up next to me), and our first immature Red-Tailed Hawk of the season.  They're all completely fine--just young-and-dumb...and hungry. 

Aside from immature birds, the Humans also admitted an adult Red-Tailed Hawk with a broken wing, and an adult Mississippi Kite from Sterling.  The prognosis on the Mississippi Kite (we call them Miki's around here) is very guarded.  We hardly ever see Miki's here, and when we do they're usually immatures.  When an adult comes in, it's usually because they're very injured.  Fingers crossed for the new guy. For those who've never seen one, this is what an adult Mississippi Kite looks like:
In other news, we only have two Bald Eagles!  Unfortunately, one of the original four passed away.  But the other one was a gunshot bird transferred from Wyoming to our large and excellent cage system for flight training and molting.  He soared out of here last weekend.  I'm hoping to nab some pics from a Human who was at the release so I can show you what it was like.  The two Bald Eagles that remain are the long-shot adult with the leg problems and confidence issues, and the high voltage trauma adult with a healing wing wound from a power line.  I'll keep you updated! 

We also kicked out the Turkey Vulture that had been here since last summer.  He flew away to join a kettle (group) of Vultures living in La Porte.  

As for other birds, a lot of the kids (including some of the Kestrels and the one young Screech Owl) are ready to attend mouse school.  As soon as they prove that they know what to do with a mouse [read: catch it, kill it, eat it], they'll be released to the wild.  The Great Horned Owl with the hole in her face is gaining weight (and attitude and strength), and the wound is slowly healing.  The Swainson's Hawks are waiting to finish a molt so they can be released.

Okay, that's enough about birds, how about that enormous wildfire burning just west of here?  For those of you who don't know, a very large forest fire is raging away in the foothills outside Fort Collins.  It's called the High Park Fire, and as of today it's 46,000 acres and 10% contained.  It was started naturally by a lightning strike.  Thousands of Humans have been evacuated, one life has been lost, and well over 100 homes have burned to the ground.  The RMRP has not received any birds from the burn area, but the smoke here in town is a hazard that the Humans are dealing with.  Birds have much more sensitive respiratory systems than Humans (remember the canary in the coal mine?), so the Humans are making sure we're not being disturbed so we won't start breathing fast or heavy.  A lot of the Human staff and volunteers are involved in either fighting the fire, or evacuating from it.  So far no one has suffered any losses.  Here are some pictures from the fire, all taken at or from the RMRP. 

Day 1 (June 9, 2012)

Today (June 13, 2012). The sky would be blue if it weren't so smoky.

Today. The view of the mountains is completely gone. 

Today. Sunbeams shining down through the smoke in the cages. 

On a final note, the Renaissance Festival in Larkspur, Colorado is in full swing.  The RMRP is there every Saturday and Sunday all summer long as "Ye Royal Birds of Prey".  This weekend's theme is Ale Fest!  I can't imagine a better time to visit.  Hope to see you there!

Monday, June 11, 2012

Re-nesting the baby Bald Eagle

Here are a few photos from that young Bald Eagle the Humans returned to the nest a few days ago!
CDOPW gearing up to climb the tree

Bald Eagle chick is in the bag!  No, it's not a pinata...

Mission accomplished! Now the chick and his sibling are ready to defend the nest!

Another successful release.  Thanks for your support for the RMRP! 

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Q&A: Identifying Raptors at Your Birdfeeder

Q:  A reader wrote in with a question about the raptors she sees in her back yard in Denver.  She writes, "I have multiple seed and suet feeders in my yard, which as you many imagine attract many sparrows and finches (among others).  This bird population in turn attracts a certain number of raptors.  Several times I have seen small raptors which I believe to be female Merlins, but on looking at your post concerning Sharp-Shinned Hawks, am now indecisive.  How do I tell the difference?"

A:  An excellent question!  Let's see what information I have tucked up my wing. 

1.  Let's take a look at which raptors can be found munching on songbirds in Colorado: the Merlin falcon, the Prairie Falcon, the Peregrine Falcon, the Sharp-Shinned Hawk, the Cooper's Hawk, and the Northern Goshawk.  We can eliminate the Northern Goshawk (the need much more privacy than a city allows). While it's unlikely that a Peregrine Falcon or Prairie Falcon would pop up in an urban/suburban back yard, it's possible, so we'll include it in this discussion. 

2.  The factor that first comes to mind is seasonality: While the Cooper's and Sharp-Shinned Hawks, and the Prairie and Peregrine Falcons all live here year round, Merlins are only found in Colorado in the winter.  So, if you saw a bird yesterday that you think may be a Merlin, odds are it's something else. 

3.  The next thing to determine is whether it's a hawk or a falcon. All of our falcons (including the American Kestrel) have similar characteristics, the most obvious being the "chin straps" or "mustache marks" below their eyes.  Below is a picture of these marking on each of the falcon species. If the bird you are seeing is sporting a mustache, it's a falcon; if there's no mustache, it's probably one of the hawks.

Another ways to determine if the bird is a Sharpie/Cooper's or a falcon is that Sharpies and Cooper's will be showing a lot of naked skinny toothpick leg when they're standing around. 

Falcons, on the other hand, sit a little closer to their feet, and their legs are stockier and more feathered: 

In that montage, you can also see that falcons tend to have dark eyes, whereas the little hawks have orange, yellow, red, or pale eyes. 

4.  It was hard to find or create a side-by-side comparison of the birds, so instead I drew a picture to help you see the difference in coloration and size.  I compared the size of the birds to a one-liter water bottle:

5.  And, finally, there's habitat preference. In a city like Denver, even on the outskirts, you are far more likely to have Cooper's Hawks and Sharp-Shinned Hawks dining on your backyard songbirds than any of the falcons.  In the winter, a Merlin would be more than happy to help you thin the sparrow population a bit, but if you do see one you're very lucky because they're aren't exactly plentiful or common in these parts.  I'm not saying that it's impossible to see a falcon in your backyard, but it's definitely less likely than the other options. 

I sure hope that helps!  Please comment below or email me at with further questions, clarifications, or even pictures to ID!  Thanks for reading! 

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

General update: 6/6/12

Things are picking up for the Humans at the RMRP.  More birds are coming in daily, and cages are steadily filling up.

The RMRP has admitted 55 birds so far this year, 23 of whom are currently in house.  Five of those birds came in this past week: an immature Screech Owl, two immature American Kestrels, an adult American Kestrel, and a Great Horned Owl.
Kestrel family
Of those birds, only the adult Kestrel is not still with us.  She came in covered in food-grade oil, and then was picked up by a dog.  How she encountered a vat of cooking oil in a person's back yard is unknown, but it does create a public service announcement opportunity: if you have old oil laying around (from deep frying or changing the oil in your car), please don't leave it uncovered.  Animals like me think it's water and we try to drink it (we're not very smart), and the results aren't pretty.  This particular Kestrel, aside from being coated head to toe in oil and unable to fly, had aspirated and ingested  a lot of oil.  There was no saving her.

The Great Horned Owl that came in is this one here:

She's an interesting case.  She was found on the ground and very emaciated, which means she'd been on the ground for a long time.  Even though it's dangerous on the ground, and hunting opportunities are scarce, somehow downed raptors manage to plug along for many days, getting skinnier and more dehydrated.  The really lucky birds (like this girl) are found by a wandering and caring Human, and brought into the center.  The Humans don't actually know if she's a girl, but she has enormous feet, and even horribly emaciated she's tipping the scale at 900 grams. When she fattens up she'll be a beast.  In the meantime, the Humans are trying to get her weight and hydration up, and are treating a nasty, deep hole/wound near her mouth.  The wound was full of maggots (ew), and the bird is receiving treatment for those.  Miraculously, whatever it is that gouged a hole out of her face missed her big, beautiful eyes. Feathers crossed that she'll be okay soon!

As for the old-news birds, I am happy to announce that one of the Bald Eagles has gone home.  The baby eagle that fell from his nest last week was returned over the weekend by a crew of professional tree climbers, wildlife biologists and RMRP Humans.  The [rather large and angry] Bald Eagle chick that didn't fall out of the nest was there to greet the tree climber, but everyone escaped unscathed, and the kid is back with his parents, just how it should be.  So, that means we're back down to an entirely reasonable and manageable FOUR Bald Eagles (by the way, that was sarcasm).  One of those will hopefully be kicked out this week as he is zooming around the cage at top speed, aching to hit the skies again.

The adult from Wyoming that was admitted back in January, the one with leg problems and subsequent confidence issues, had hit a plateau about a month ago, and the Humans were beginning to look for placement for her as a display bird at other facilities. However, this last week she started showing a renewed interest in walking/jumping/flying/perching!  So they're going to give her even more time and more space and more perches, and see what happens.  As the Humans say, "her prognosis is guarded".  Still, feathers crossed...

The Swainson's Hawk that encountered a methane burner and scorched off his beak, talons and feathers last year is finally molting feathers.  See how messed up they are?  Even the body feathers were torched:

The tweaked-out conspiracy theorist Cooper's Hawk was released a few days ago!  Thank goodness for that--it's much calmer in the cages now.  He flew out of his carrier so fast it was hard to tell there had been a Cooper's Hawk in the box to begin with.

The education birds have been making the Humans work hard recently, too, but egg laying season is close to an end.  The female Swainson's Hawk, the ancient 21 y/o matron of us all, managed to squeeze out another egg this year, but she grew bored of sitting on it pretty quickly.  Now that her egg is gone she's feeling much better, and she's back to being in everyone's business:

One of the female American Kestrels popped out FIVE eggs this year, and even though she doesn't care enough to sit on the eggs (her original injury was head trauma, so don't judge her too harshly), the instinct to protect her nest is very much present--she makes a point to fly, posture and leap at anyone who enters her cage.
Fluffy is not cute, fluffy is angry (eggs are in the house on the ground)
Well, that's it for the weekly bird update!  Upcoming articles: Identifying Raptors at Your Bird Feeder, and Why Bald Eagles Are Awesome!  Thanks for reading!  And don't forget, you can get notifications of new posts sent right to your inbox if you subscribe (look for the box in the right sidebar).

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Happy 5,000!!

This blog has officially recorded 5,000 page views!  I'm so happy!
Thanks so much everyone for following the stories on here, and for helping support the amazing organization that takes care of me and all my feathered brethren!  We couldn't do it without you!!  Three cheers for supporters of the Rocky Mountain Raptor Program!  

Friday, June 1, 2012

Why accipiters are awesome!

It's been awhile since I added to the collection of "Why ____ Are Awesome." My only excuse is that I've been busy raising babies. Still, since we have had quite a few accipiters in house recently, I figure I should make the time to talk about them.
First of all, what is an accipiter? It's a fancy name for a fancy hawk. Around here we have three accipiter species: Cooper's Hawks, Sharp-Shinned Hawks, and Northern Goshawks. They have short, broad wings, and long narrow tails (as opposed to buteos like Red-Tailed Hawks, which have long broad wings and and shorter broad tails).

Their proportions allow them to zip through tiny spaces, narrow gaps, and complex paths without colliding with things. Why do accipiters need that adaptation? Because they are bird-eating-birds.

That's what really makes an accipiter an accipiter--it all comes down to eating other birds. And since prey-birds are fast, accipiters have to be fast, too, hence the odd proportions and speed-demon tendencies. It's like they live on fast-forward: fast heartbeats, high metabolisms, rapid wingbeats, zippy flight, darting movements, quick escapes, and lightning feet.

Their feet are particularly cool. Now, as a Great Horned Owl, I'm rather fond of my own feet--they're covered all the way to the toes in warm feathers.  But if I had to choose another birds' feet to have for a day, it would be accipiter feet. Specifically Cooper's Hawk feet (sized up appropriately, of course).  I mean, look at these things! See how long the toes are?

The toes are like that so the Cooper's Hawk can wrap its feet around a little bird in flight and be sure to not let it slip away. And like I said, their feet are fast: I've heard more than one Human yelp when an accipiter's foot got loose!

Now that I've covered accipiters in general, let's touch on each of the three local species in brief:

Sharp-Shinned Hawk:

Sharpies are the smallest of the local accipiters.  They're just 9-15 inches long, including the super-long tail. Like most raptors, the females are larger than the males, but in accipiter species like Sharpies the difference can be huge, up to 50% heavier for females! They may be small, but they're tough as nails, and they take down prey ranging from hummingbirds to grouse. If you have a bird feeder in your yard, you'll probably attract Sharpies as a double meaning to bird feeder!  They live in forested areas like dense conifer stands. They are called "Sharp-Shinned" because of a small ridge that runs down the front of each leg.

Cooper's Hawk:

Coopers are just a tiny bit bigger than the Sharpies, with a lot of overlap between the sexes of each species. They prefer slightly more open forest, and are being found more and more in cities (where delicious doves and pigeons live...and the birds at your bird feeder). Despite being a little bigger than Sharpies, they're just as nimble, quick and high-energy. As a side note: the Cooper's was named by French naturalist Charles Lucien Bonaparte, nephew of Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte. He named the bird after New York naturalist William Cooper.

Now, for something fun about Coopers Hawks and Sharp-Shinned Hawks: they look almost identical! Twinsies! There are some subtle differences, like Cooper's Hawks have a round tail tip (C shaped for Coopers) and Sharpies have straight tails; Cooper's sometimes have a small crest on their heads...other than that there's not a lot to go on. 

photos from

Northern Goshawk:

The last of the three US accipiters is the Northern Goshawk.  We don't see a whole lot of these birds come through our doors at the RMRP, but the Humans get pretty excited when it happens. They're such cool birds! And they're considerably different than the "twins" pictured above.  Not only do they look different, they behave differently. For one, they're much more aggressive, territorial and stubborn than the smaller accipiters. They also hunt differently, dropping on their prey from above, but doing so in forests where there's a lot of clutter between them and their prey. They don't care, they just dart/barrel through it. Also, instead of only eating birds, they're big fans of squirrels, rabbits and even big ol' hares. They live in remote, undisturbed forests, so if you ever see a Goshawk in the wild, consider yourself lucky. Or in danger. They are very aggressive birds.
If you want to see how cool Goshawks really are, take a peek at this video of one flying through tiny, tight spaces:

Alright, that's all I have on accipiters! What would you like to read about next week? Let me know in a comment, or send an email to