Friday, July 27, 2012

Babies and Releases

I know it's been awhile since I've written--the heat has me lazy, and the afternoon storms are distracting--but some pretty exciting stuff has been happening recently and it's well past time to give you all an update!  First of all, check out this progression:
The Tiniest Kestrel is all grown up (except for the head fluff)
Can you believe how quickly they grow up?  The little Kestrel is now flying like a champ and is due to start live prey testing this week.

Next in line, the baby Cooper's Hawk.  He's not quite as fluffy as he was a week ago, and would you look at the size of those feet?  Cooper's Hawks are accipiters, a certain group of Hawks designed to hunt and kill birds on the wing.  The super-long toes help them reach out and grab their prey in flight.

Baby Cooper's Hawk
The Humans have also been admitting lots of baby Swainson's Hawks, most right on the cusp of fledging (learning to fly).  It is expected that more and more of these kids will be coming in over the next few weeks, looking for a safe place to finish their flight and prey training.  By "safe place" I mean not in the middle of a road or parking lot, which is where a lot of them are found.  Orphaned Swainson's Hawks who come in this time of year simply need to grow up and get kicked out.  However, if a broken Swainson's Hawk comes in towards the end of the summer and doesn't heal in time for the fall migration, the bird will be overwintered in our large flight cages.  We currently have three of last year's birds in there, mostly waiting for better feathers to grow in.  They include the Swainson's Hawk that had all his feathers burned off last year.  He's growing in new feathers like a champ, but he still has a ways to go.

Baby Swainson's Hawk 
An interesting Swainson's Hawk story is unfolding in cage R-14 right now:  there was an adult Swainson's Hawk, probably male, brought in a couple weeks ago with bodily trauma but no broken bones or wounds (likely hit by car).  He was moved out to a small flight cage, R-14, pretty quickly.  Then a grounded immature Swainson's Hawk was found in a parking lot just six blocks away from where the adult male was found.  The Humans put the kid in the cage with the dad, and wouldn't you know it, the kid rushed up to dad and started food begging instantly!  And when the Humans go in to catch the kid, dad gets really defensive and protective over him.  Usually, "foster" raptors act more as role models than parents, so the overt parenting behavior in this dad probably means the two are related.   Looks like a family was reunited! 
Probable Swainson's Hawk father-child reunion 
In other news, lots of birds are being released these days.  Instead of twenty-something Kestrels in the cages, there are only about ten!  Kids are growing up left and right.  And another very exciting release just happened: the beautiful adult Mississippi Kite that was admitted with a broken wing was released in good habitat in Sterling!  The RMRP only sees a handful of Mississippi Kites in a year, if any, and they're usually immatures that fell out of a nest.  The fact that the RMRP got an adult Kite, and were able to successfully heal and release the bird has everyone feeling warm and fuzzy--except for me.  The only time I feel that way is when I have something warm and fuzzy in my talons. 
Mississippi Kite progression and release
And, last but not least, the Peregrine Falcon that came in with a wing injury is flying circles around her cage, building up stamina and  hopefully looking forward to a release soon!
Peregrine Falcon
That's it for now.  I'll honestly try to stop being such a perch-potato and start writing more blog posts!  And remember, I'm always willing to answer questions and take on requests, so email me at whenever you want to, or leave a comment below!

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Why Ferruginous Hawks Are Awesome!

By request, I'm going to write today about one of my favorite feathered brethren.  I live with many birds here in the Educational Ambassador cage complex, ranging from Screech Owls to Rough-Legged Hawks to Peregrine Falcons to Barn Owls.  But the bird just down the hall from me is easily the Queen of the Hawks.  She reminds us all what it means to be a fierce and wild predator, and consequently I have a deep respect, sight unseen, for any of her species that come through the RMRP's doors.
That species is the Ferruginous Hawk, a large and majestic Hawk that sometimes seems more like an Eagle. While the Great Horned Owl is the baddest of the local Owls (yeah, that's right!), the Ferruginous Hawk is the baddest of the Hawks.

What makes them so impressive?  It's a combination of appearance and attitude.  Say you are walking in the plains and you surprise a Ferruginous Hawk.  There are probably two things that you notice right away:  it's huge, and it's coming right for you.

Let's start with appearance.  The Ferruginous Hawk is the largest hawk in the world (well, it's a tie, actually, between the Ferruginous Hawk and the Upland Buzzard of Asia), measuring 4-5 feet from wingtip to wingtip, and weighing 2-5 pounds.  In comparison, small Golden Eagles have 6 ft wingspans, and weigh ~5-6 pounds.  Ferruginous Hawks stand tall and proud with a regal posture, which perhaps is why their Latin name, Buteo regalis (royal hawk), fits them so well.  They're so big that they're often mistaken for Eagles.  In fact, numerous species of Eagles around the world are actually smaller than Ferruginous Hawks (it's takes more than size to qualify as an Eagle).

Jo Matson
Along with being big, they're also beautiful, with striking coloration and features.  The most prominent color on their undersides, whether they're flying or perching, is white (except in dark morph varieties).  Their backs and the tops of their wings are darker, with rusty-reddish upper backs and shoulders, and rusty-reddish feathers on their legs.  The rusty leg feathers are what give the bird its common name, Ferruginous (iron, rust).  The feathers on their legs are doubly notable because only one other Hawk in North America has feathers all the way down to its feet: the Rough-Legged Hawk.

David Quanrud
But it's when you look at their face that you see what an amazing bird this is.  They have pale eyes that look right through you, long beaks, and a giant gape (mouth).  This all lends a very dinosaur/predator/no-nonsense look to them.

Then there's the attitude.  If they're mistaken for Eagles based on size, the same mistake could be made in regards to attitude.  Ferruginous Hawks are mean and wild, and have no qualms whatsoever about defending themselves.  When the Humans are taking care of an injured Ferruginous Hawk here at the RMRP, only very experienced catchers take on this bird.

The reason for this intense attitude could stem from where these birds live: on the plains.  While nests will be built in trees if they're available, Ferruginous Hawks usually nest in open areas such as rock outcrops, or simply on the ground.  The plains environment just doesn't provide many protected nesting opportunities.  Since nesting sites are so exposed, the birds have to be able to defend themselves not only from aerial predators like most Raptors have to, but also from terrestrial predators like Coyotes.  And if the chicks are on the ground for the first month of their lives, you can expect the chicks to be as fierce as the parents.

Baby Ferruginous Hawk at the RMRP. Chicks have a buff-colored bib. 
Being a plains bird, the Ferruginous Hawk's diet includes a wide range of Prairie critters.  The staple food items are the Black-Tailed Jackrabbit and the Prairie Dog.  Other prey includes anything from tiny Meadowlarks to enormous White-Tailed Jackrabbits, which weight twice as much as the Hawk.  The birds hunt in a variety of styles, including hunting from tall perches or low rocks, soaring, or even waiting on the ground next to a rodent burrow for lunch to appear.

Ferruginous Hawk on a power pole
As you can imagine, with Prairie Dogs making up a large portion of the Ferruginous Hawk's diet, the Human penchant for exterminating Prairie Dog towns has been hard on the Hawk's population.  While the birds are hovering around "species of concern" status in the US and Canada, the birds are officially classified as Threatened in the state of Colorado (along with Burrowing Owls for similar reasons).  Not only is their prey-base disappearing, but so is their habitat as much of the land is cultivated, irrigated, developed, or ranched.  With such large wingspans, these birds also have frequent run-ins with power lines.  Sadly, many Ferruginous Hawks are shot, as well.

If you see a Ferruginous Hawk in the wild, consider yourself lucky!  Be sure to appreciate its awesome beauty and power, and wish it the best of luck out there in the harsh plains environment.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Thank you! Have some pictures!

Huge thank you to everyone has donated since I wrote my baby Kestrel plea earlier this week!! It's been very helpful!

And, as promised, an update of the tiniest Kestrel!  Except...he/she's not really very tiny anymore.  Her/his weight has stabilized around 130g, and that's just three weeks after being admitted at 29g!  Those youguns can really pack it on. 
At 29 grams and ~7-10 days old = cute!
At 130 g and ~1 month old = not so cute? You decide. 
The chick is still covered with lots of fluff, but has begun growing in flight feathers, which is where most of the calories are going for now:
Flight feathers growing in on the left wing
And now that the chick is old enough to live with a role model, he/she has been given a roommate, a male Kestrel also at the RMRP for rehabilitation:

Chick and father-figure

Again, thanks for the donations!  I'll keep posting pictures!  Also, check back soon for pics of the newest young kid: a baby Swainson's Hawk!

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Why Mississippi Kites Are Amazing!

It's been awhile since I've done an installation of "Why ___s Are Amazing", and I apologize for my tardiness.   Perhaps it's because most of the birds at the RMRP right now are American Kestrels, and I've already covered that species?  Whatever the reason, I decided to make it up to you by covering a bird that's really unique: Mississippi Kites.  Okay, so they're not actually that unique.  They're actually quite common birds--just not around here, which is what makes them "unique" to us.

So, the funny thing about this article is that I knew nothing about Mississippi Kites before writing it, so in order to find all the information I wanted to tell you, I (GHOW) interviewed a Mississippi Kite (MIKI) here at the Rocky Mountain Raptor Program.  This bird is currently healing an injured wing.  Here's what I got!

The interviewee
GHOW:  Thank you for joining me today.  How is your wing feeling?
MIKI:  Squeak-choooo!

GHOW:  Oh no, do you have a cold as well?
MIKI:  Squeak-chooo!!

GHOW:  Well, that's terrible luck, isn't it?
MIKI:  Squeak--no cold--chooooo!

GHOW:  What?! Oh! You're not sneezing, that's just how you talk!
MIKI:  Squeak--That's right!--choooo!

GHOW:  Okay, I'm getting the hang of it.  You know, that's funny, you sound just like a squeaky toy!
MIKI:  Har. Har. Har.  Like I've never heard that before. Squeak-choo!!
GHOW:  Right. I can see we started off on the wrong wing, so let's try again.  How is your injury?
MIKI: Better, thank you, but I still have a ways to go.  Squeak-choo!

GHOW:  Glad to hear it's improving.  So, where are you from?
MIKI:  Well, I'm from Mead, but I have a lot of relatives in Sterling and in Pueblo.  But most of my species live further east, in the Midwestern plains and down south.

GHOW:  I see, so that's why I've only met a handful of Kites?
MIKI:  Yep, that's right!  We're kind of new to the area.

GHOW: Well, welcome!  Glad to have you! It sounds like you're pretty social birds?
MIKI:  Absolutely!  We live in communal roosts, like Turkey Vultures.  So wherever you see one Mississippi Kite, you're likely to find more.  Squeak-chooo!

GHOW:  Now, correct me if I'm wrong, but I think I overhead another bird say that you only eat insects??
MIKI:  Squeak-chooo!!!!  That's mostly right.  I loooove grasshoppers and dragonflies, but the smaller bugs are good, too.  Occasionally I'll nab a small mouse, or maybe a lizard, but bugs are my meal of choice.

GHOW:  Blech, you can have them.  I'll take a tasty rabbit any day.  Of course, you might not be big enough to take down a rabbit.  How big are you?
MIKI:  Last time the Humans weighed me I was 250g, so about twice the size of a Kestrel.  However, some of us are a little smaller, and some are a bit bigger, about three times the size of a Kestrel.  But even though I'm bigger than a Kestrel, check out my feet:  they're pretty small, right?  So I don't think I'll be hunting rabbits anytime soon.

GHOW:   How do you hunt bugs, anyways?
MIKI:   On the wing, like a swallow, but instead of catching bugs in my mouth, I catch them with my feet, and that makes me a Raptor!  Squeak-chooo! 

GHOW:   Fascinating.  So tell me a little more about your lifestyle, like where you like to build your nest, and stuff like that.
MIKI:   We build our nests in trees, so we always live near woodland.  Out here in the plains we try to find a little riparian forest to call home--after all, water is important for the bugs we hunt.  We make our nests out of twigs, and I must say, they're pretty good by Raptor standards.  The lady-Kites usually lay two eggs per year, and the young are out of the nest nice a quick: one month in the egg, one month in the nest, then fledged and gone.

GHOW:   Do you make a migration?
MIKI:   Yes, most of our populations do. We fly to tropical South America in the winter!

GHOW:  By the way, I just wanted to comment on how beautiful your eyes are.  Most Raptors have dark eyes, or yellow eyes, but yours are bright red!
MIKI:   Cool, huh?  The immature Mississippi Kites don't have red eyes--they're brown.  In fact, immature Kites are streak-brown all over, with none of this striking grey-and-black motif of the adults.

Immature MIKI  (
GHOW:   This has all been very educational for me--especially learning a new language!  I only have one more question for you:  what makes Mississippi Kites awesome?
MIKI:   I can't name just one thing!  How about three?  1) Our aerial acrobatics when we're catching bugs on the wing,  2) Our appearance (a lot of Humans think we look a bit like Owls, and most Humans don't even recognize us as Raptors), and 3) Our unique call!  Squeak-choo!! 

Well, folks, there you have it!  Now you know a little bit about Mississippi Kites.   Until next time, squeak-choo! 

Saturday, July 7, 2012

General Update - belated!

I know I sound like a broken record, but it's busy season!  If you've ever been to one of our awesome Behind the Scenes Tours then you'll have seen our main treatment room where all the birds' medical records (called SOAPs because each entry addresses four key items: Summary, Observations, Assessment, Plan) are stored in a large wall rack.  If you toured the facility a couple months ago, you would only have seen ~20 SOAPs on the rack.  Now there are ~40-50 on any given day, and the big dry-erase board with the cage map on it shows birds in almost every cage.

First of all, like usual, let's celebrate releases!  The Humans released ELEVEN birds since the last time I wrote!  Most were young American Kestrels who came in orphaned and...well...young.  They progressed through feather growth, flight training, then Mouse School, and were then released back to the wild.  Other birds that were released were an immature Red-Tailed Hawk, an immature Swainson's Hawk, and an immature Screech Owl.

Of course, being busy seasons, the Humans admitted 22 birds in exchange for the 11 released.

Specifics: there are currently twenty-three American Kestrels in house!  Most of those are kids who lost their family or had their nest destroyed.  A few of them have more difficult injuries, like broken wings and head trauma.  For more info on baby Kestrels, see the previous post.  Four of the baby Kestrels currently in residence include a nest of four kids which was disturbed when someone moved the tractor their parents had built the nest in.  What can I say, us Raptors aren't always the smartest animals out there.  Also, the 100th bird admitted this year was an American Kestrel kid.  Surprised?

Another bird is a second-year Peregrine Falcon with high-voltage trauma (HVT).  He's actually doing really well, which is surprising for HVT birds. Those injuries are usually horrible, but they don't express themselves for a few days.  But this guy is doing alright, and feathers are crossed that he'll heal well enough to be released.  The only thing holding him back is some damage to his patagial tendon, the one that plays a key role in wing retraction.  As long as that heals, he'll be a free bird.  Again, feathers crossed.

Also, there's the Eastern Screech owl that was admitted a couple of weeks ago.  He's the sibling of the one that was released last week.  This little guy is a pistol, and you can be sure he'll never be caught by a cat again.  In fact, maybe he'll teach the cat that's brought in three Screech Owl kids so far this year a lesson or two.

And, finally, remember the Bald Eagle that has taken so long to remember how to perch, fly and land?  She's doing so well!  The Humans have removed all the "easy" perches from her cage, so now she really has to work to coordinate flight and perching, and she's excelling at it all.  A release soon?  Let's not jinx it!

Despite being busy season, that's all the bird news I have!  In other news, the High Park Fire is 100% contained, the smoke level is bad only ~ 1 day a week any more, and there had been lots of rain recently.  However, rain in a burn area is bad news in it's own right, and Humans are now dealing with flash floods.  Sigh.  No one is going to forget the summer of 2012 any time soon, are they?

Thanks for your support!  Don't forget that you can subscribe to the blog with the email link in the right-wing bar, and that I can always be reached by email at

PS:  Only two weeks remaining in the photo contest for next year's calendar! Details here.

Friday, July 6, 2012

The tiniest Kestrel--an update

Last week the Humans admitted their youngest bird yet for the year--a tiny baby American Kestrel approximately one week old.  He was found after some Humans moved some machinery, revealing the little ball of fluff with oversized feet.  There were no other birds (parents or siblings) around, so the Humans brought the chick to the RMRP to raise him. 
6/27/12 - 29 grams
I know the baby and I aren't even the same species, and that in the wild I'd be happy to have him as a midnight snack (I'm too well-fed for that kind of stuff, now), but I have to say: he is so flippin' cute. 

The baby came in weighing a mere 29 grams, and has steadily been putting on weight. A few days ago he weighed 66 grams! In recent days he been putting on 11 grams a day! Us birds don't waste any time growing up.  

When he first arrived he wasn't old enough to eat on his own, but already he's figured out how to eat on his own from a small pile of chopped mouse placed in front of him.  He'd fed only mouse because a single mouse provides all the nutrition a growing bird needs.  While older birds can have a diet supplemented with rabbit and chicken and prairie dog and goose, babies really do need mice.  For instance, I'm fed one mouse with my meal twice a week, and the rest of the week I get other food.  Why is that?  Because mice are expensive, and those other foods are either cheaper or free (thanks to generous donors). I'll explain how they're expensive:  

In order to put on that much weight every day, the baby is eating 1 oz of mouse each day.  As he gets older and starts growing in feathers, he'll require even more food to make up for that energy-expensive process, about 2 oz per day.  Since this bird came in so young, he'll be staying with the RMRP for about 60 days.  One mouse (about 1 oz) costs $0.75.  Let's figure he'll eat 75 mice while he's here.  That's $56 just for that one bird, just for food.  Factor in the time taken to care for him (tiny babies require a lot of attention), the cost of live prey when he attends Mouse School...he's racking up quite a bill for a non-profit organization. 
But here's the kicker: the RMRP currently is taking care of 23 American Kestrels, most of whom are young and voracious.  Let's figure 50 mice per bird for all those other younguns, and that equals $826 (just food!) for only those birds (we see way more than 23 Kestrels each year, those are just the ones currently at the RMRP).  Some of those Kestrels are young and broken, so they require additional healing time (and more food) as well as medical care (antibiotics, pain killers, homeopathics, bandaging materials, etc).  In the end, it's quite a lot of money to take care of these kids. 

7/4/12 - 77 grams!
Don't get me wrong: the Humans love taking care of these birds, and they'll turn backflips to make sure ends meet all year long.  It's just that some times of the year are more expensive than others, and that makes some times of the year are scarier than others.  This is one of those times. 

So here's the deal: for the next fifty days I'll keep posting pics and stories of this awesome little kid as he (or she!) grows up, and in exchange maybe you could throw a few dollars towards his lunch money, and towards the lunch money of all those other kids blown out of their nests, starved out of their nests, or knocked out of their nests by clumsy Humans or clumsy siblings.  What do you think?  Sound like a deal?  If so, the link is here.  Thanks in advance! 

Stay tuned for more pics!