Sunday, November 30, 2014

Will You Change the World?

We humans, by nature have generous souls.  We want to help others and the world be a better place.  As Colorado Gives day, on December 9th brings financial charity into focus, we all look at where our money should go.  Most of us are working with limited finances.  We want what money we have allotted to giving to go to a place that it will make the most impact.  With governments loosing funding for different services, more and more non-profits are taking up the task to provide those services. That leaves us with the difficult decision of surfing through thousands of those non-profits to figure out where we should place our money; where it is used wisely and will make the biggest difference. 

What will that difference be when you donate to the Rocky Mountain Raptor Program?  That difference, no matter what amount, is huge.  All funds coming into the RMRP are managed very carefully so that nothing is wasted.  Your money makes it possible to save and inspire lives.

Your money will make it possible for a child to see a Great Horned Owl up close and learn how it can turn its head around backwards and look over its shoulder.  Your money will make it possible for a hawk, hit by a car, painful and starving, to receive comfort and the chance to once again touch the skies.  Your money will make it possible for the RMRP staff to talk with landowners, to educate and to help them figure out how to leave that hay stack in place until the nest within it of 6 baby barn owls has grown up and fledged.  Your money will help the RMRP run that lead test, measure that wing length, submit that blood sample for West-Nile virus testing so that we can continue to contribute to scientific pools of data on raptors, how they live and survive.

But most importantly, your money will keep our doors open.  Open for You; so that when you find an injured falcon, you have someplace to bring it to so it can receive compassion and care. Open for You; so that when you need to remember our world isn’t only traffic, cell phones, bad news and strife, there is a place where wildlife and the wonders of nature are the focus.  Open for You; so that when your kids need to get in touch with nature, that at times seems so distant, you can know that the raptors are close and right in our own Fort Collins back yard.

I am writing this now because I feel so much passion for the impact that the raptors have on the lives of anyone they touch.  Yes, I am a staff member.  I am not a writer; I mostly work behind the scenes organizing stuff.   But, here in my jammies, drinking coffee, on my day off, I am still full of passion for the blessings I have received working with these amazing raptors and all that the RMRP does for our world.  I see it in the eyes of a child and adults that sees these birds up close and discovers wonder and awe.  Now, in our world so full of stress, we need that wonder and awe and beauty of nature daily.  Your donation to the RMRP is such a great way to show your support for that wonder that we all need. Your donation will make it possible to do so much.  No matter what the amount you give, it makes a huge difference, every day, with every life that comes through our doors, whether human or feathered.  Please consider allocating some of your charitable funds to the RMRP on Colorado Gives Day.

Humbly submitted by my cat and I, Lisa Winta.

 Colorado Gives Day

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Thursday, November 13, 2014

Extreme Cold Requires Extreme Adaptations

We know that all of our fans out there are wondering how the birds in our care are doing in this extreme cold.  The short answer is OK.  But there is more to the story.  It does take some extra planning and work to help them survive such killer cold and to help them thrive.

All of us in northern Colorado have taken the arctic plunge as temperatures dived below 0°f on Tuesday, Wednesday and today.  As I am writing this now, we have warmed up to a balmy -4°.  Between Sunday and Tuesday the temperature dropped 80°.  That is pretty extreme.  The challenge with this extreme drop is that the animals have had little time to adapt to the cooling temps. Normally we have a nice slow decline in temps allowing all creatures time to adjust, put on extra fat, grow in extra down and get used to the cold.  This year, that is not the case.  We are worried about those in the wild and how they are managing.  For those of us who care for the animals, we must be extra attentive to what their needs are.

In the wild, the natural instinct of the birds will be to hunker down in a sheltered area to ride out any storm and bouts of extreme temperatures. This instinct remains intact and serves them well even in captivity.  This allows them to conserve energy and heat.  They will fluff up their feathers, trapping air under them which serves as an insulating blanket.  Some of the birds will lie down on their feet to keep them warm.  Or they will balance on one foot with the other one tucked up in the feathers keeping it warm.  Then they switch off allowing the other foot time in the feathers to get warm.  All wildlife is much more in tune to barometric pressure changes and other signs from the natural world that a storm is approaching or leaving.  Prior to a storms arrival the birds will be busy hunting, trying to get a good meal to put on calories.  Calories equal warmth.  Then after riding out the storm, they will head out to hunt to regain any reserves lost during the storm and cold.  Therefore, during the storm it is not unusual for the birds to not eat.  After all, it takes energy to eat and to digest. 

For the birds in our care we have to manage that delicate balance determining how much energy is expended vs. energy conserved.  For most of the larger bodied birds, such as eagles, great-horned owls, and buteo’s this is not too difficult.  Those guys have lots of mass that helps them to keep warm and most of them are well adapted to cold weather.  We pay extra attention to patients that are recovering from injuries or illnesses, the birds that head south for the winter like Turkey Vultures and Swainson’s Hawks and all the small birds.  Any bird barn owl size and smaller we need to start worrying about.  When thinking about an American kestrel that only weighs about 100g, if they lose much weight while waiting out the storm that can leave them severely depleted in energy.  It is these little guys that we spend extra time making sure they are eating enough during this cold weather.  This includes feeding them twice a day and in some cases hand feeding them so they have enough calories to keep them warm.  We make sure we disturb all the birds as little as possible to limit them having to burn energy.

At this point a lot of you readers may be asking; Why don’t you just move them all inside?  Moving them inside is a temporary fix and can make things harder on them in the long run.  It is quite a shock for the body to move back and forth from cold to warm and then to cold again. You all have experienced this yourselves I’m sure.  That first time you step from your nice warm house out the front door the cold hits you as if ice daggers are plunging through your system.  If we move a bird inside, it often can’t go back outside for many days longer than the duration of the storm.  In some cases that could mean it would be inside for weeks.  That will add stresses to the birds by being in such an unnatural environment and more closely exposed to human presence. 

For many of the birds we do make adjustments to their enclosures to help them stay warm.  Most importantly we make sure they all have a sheltered spot and that they are using it.  This may be a simple a-frame in the cage that they hunker into.  In some cases, like with our burrowing owl, we will move carpet into that shelter and give them a Snuggle Safe heat disk. These disks are awesome and an important part of any wildlife care facility.  They are heated in the microwave to slightly warm, not hot.  We can put that into any enclosure and the birds get some ambient heat from it. It doesn’t make the space or the bird too hot and it doesn’t involve electricity.   The disk gradually cools off and the birds acclimate.  Our beloved old turkey vulture did move into a smaller, more sheltered enclosure that makes it easier for him to stay warm.  He first re-arranged the carpet to his personal style then he settled in, laid down on his feet to keep them warm and has stayed comfortable.  

All of the birds with the RMRP, including the birds living at the ELC are being well cared for, daily.  We have amazing and resilient volunteers and staff that are able and willing to brave the frigid weather.   Sometimes we have so many layers of clothing on we look like Randy in “A Christmas Story”, barely able to move our arms. But we are there, providing the much needed food for the birds and making sure they are healthy and safe.   You can help us to provide the food and care for these birds by donating today at  Your dollars will translate into calories that will keep those birds warm in this unexpected cold. Please consider a donation today.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Bird Rescues

The person on call with our Raptor Emergency phone line receives a call from Hudson, Colorado.  They say that there is a Red Tailed Hawk on the ground that cannot seem to fly.  The person that takes the call asks for a picture of the bird, and gets back an image of an adult Red Tailed Hawk that has its mouth open in stress and is standing on the ground.  The bird does not fly away as the person calling approaches it cautiously to take the picture.

As an intern, I am doing chores around the center after morning treatments.  The on-call person checks a map (where *IS* Hudson Colorado?), and asks me to make the one hour drive from Fort Collins to catch the bird and bring it back to the center. As my first bird rescue, I am both excited and nervous at the same time as I drive there.

During the drive, I reflect on how exciting and interesting my internship has been at the RMRP. I not only get to see broken birds come in, but for the ones that survive the first 72 hours, I get to see them get stronger until they are able to be released into the wild again.

Once I arrive at the location, I talk to the people that called. The bird is on their property, and I ask them to fill out a form that will give us a little more information about the situation. As I move in to catch the hawk, it tries to back away, and then goes on its back to bear its talons in a weak characteristic defensive posture. I catch the bird quickly and gently release it  into the pet carrier I have brought along. Immediately, the Red Tail lies on its side in the carrier, and closes its eyes. I thank the good Samaritans and carefully drive back to the center, bird in tow.

Another intern is at the center, waiting to help me admit and examine the bird.  Upon admitting the bird, it is protocol to administer fluids, needed medications, and assess the bird’s condition. We have to efficiently figure out what brings this bird in to us… Is it a wing fracture? West Nile Virus?  Is the bird a baby? In this Red Tailed Hawk’s case, it is extremely emaciated, and is holding its wings in a weird position, but no significant fractures are found. Once the bird is released in a small enclosure in the Critical Care Room, it lays down and closes its eyes again.

If the people in Hudson had not seen this bird and reported it to us, it would not be possible for the bird to be rescued. Being on the ground, it would have become prey for another animal or starved to death. Upon being admitted to RMRP, this bird will start on the path toward healing.

If you see a raptor in trouble, call our Raptor Emergency phone at 970-222-0322.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Why do I Volunteer?

In 2009 at the Annual Rocky Mountain Raptor Auction, as we were eating dinner, my friend, said, "why don't you join, this would be right up your alley".  So I went to the volunteer meeting and the rest is history.  It has been 5 years of excitement, knowledge, meeting new friends, learning how to gut animals and not let it bother me and handling our magnificent birds.  The birds have effected me spiritually and emotionally.  Even though they are wild and don't particularly like us, you can't help get attached.  I think sometimes I have a favorite bird, but it all comes down to I love them all and their special attitudes.

When I was an E1 trainee, it was time to get Swainson's Hawk Female out to feed and weigh.  Jean was my trainer, we went in together, and SWHAF was very patient with me.  Jessing and so on went well, but once on my fist, I took a step backwards into a log and fell on my butt.  I made certain to keep my left arm up in the air, she never moved.  I was astounded.

RMRP Volunteer

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Spirit Takes Flight

By Carol Dollard

On Veterans Day 2005, I got word that my dear friend & coworker, Mike, had been killed in the war in Iraq.   The news was heartbreaking.  A few days later on the way to my regular Sunday morning shift at the Raptor Center I picked up a newspaper – there on the front page was a half page article about Mike & the sacrifice he had made for the rest of us.  I sat in the parking lot looking at the pics and reading the article with tears rolling down my cheeks.  I collected myself and went in for treatments only to learn that we were going to release an American Kestrel that day – right there on the grounds of the center.  In honor of Mike, the crew let me be the one to actually release the AMKE.   As I pulled back the drape to release him, the bird gave me one backward glance & then took off – vocalizing & circling over our heads several times before settling in a nearby tree.  There was something incredibly healing in that moment.  To this day I cannot see an AMKE without thinking of Mike.  

P.S. For the record it made me tear up just to type up this story.

Carol Dollard is a long time supporter and volunteer at the Rocky Mountain Raptor Program.  Her husband and two daughters have all volunteered for RMRP and one daughter had held a staff position for some time.  She shared this story with us as a way to reflect on how much working with the raptors has impacted her life.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Get the Lead Out!

The Raptor Center, University of Minnesota
Having lived as an Educational Ambassador at the RMRP for as many years as I have, I am well acquainted with the tragic and often often fatal effects of lead ingestion in raptors.  In an effort to Get the Lead Out, this blog post is all about lead ingestion in raptors: how it happens, effects of lead in the system, what the RMRP does with lead-positive birds, and how you can help Get the Lead Out.

How It Happens: 
Radiograph from Hunt et al. (2006) shows lead fragmentation in
thorax of white-tailed deer killed by a standard copper-jacketed,
lead-core, soft-point hunting bullet
Did you know Bald Eagles are not just predators, they're scavengers as well?  In fact, scavenged food makes up a large portion of a Bald Eagle's diet.  Turkey Vultures are, of course, purely scavengers, getting all their food from animals that have already died.  Other raptors also scavenge when they get the chance, and can you blame them?  It's a hard life hunting for survival, and when a free meal offers itself up, any raptor intent on survival will take it.

Unfortunately, while dining on the carcass, these birds will accidentally eat anything lodged in the meat, including the material left behind if the animal was shot.  And if bullet used to kill the animal was lead (lead bullets tend to fragment into many pieces upon impact), the birds can end up eating lead with their breakfast.

Lead shot in a Bald Eagle's gizzard (biological
Why It's Bad:
Because lead is toxic!  Remember how you aren't supposed to lick lead paint?  Well, same goes for eating lead bullets.  In Bald Eagles, the largest raptors in the United States, it only takes a piece of lead the size of the tip of a pencil to cause lead poisoning.  Now think about a fragmented lead bullet, and how much lead could be left behind in an Elk carcass, and how much of that lead could make it into an eagle's system with one beak-ful of food.

Once in the system, lead can affect the body by interfering with a number of processes, and by damaging many organs and tissues, including the heart, bones, kidneys, intestines, and nervous system.  A bird suffering from lead poisoning shows signs of weakness, organ failure, impaired movement (especially use of legs), heavy breathing, confusion, and in severe cases, seizures and death.

At the RMRP, birds showing the above symptoms have their blood drawn to test for the presence of lead.  If the results are positive, the bird is given doses of Calcium-EDTA, a compound that binds to lead in the system, and can then be passed out of the body in the urine.  The process is called chelation.  Usually, one round of chelation doesn't remove all the lead, so multiple rounds are given until blood levels are back to a reasonable value.  While the bird is undergoing chelation, supportive care is given to keep the bird nourished, hydrated, safe, and comfortable.  Unfortunately, lead poisoning can have chronic effects, and in some cases the bird never regains its full health.

Golden Eagle at the RMRP
What You Can Do:
The two most significant ways raptors ingest lead are through lead bullets used for hunting (explained above), and lead weights used for fishing:  lead weights often fall off fishing lines, or are left on discarded line.  The sinkers then fall to the bottom of the stream or pond, where they are accidentally ingested by ducks and other bottom-feeding waterfowl, or by waterfowl looking for stones for their gizzards.  The waterfowl then get sick and die, and are scavenged by raptors, or they are killed by a raptor while ill.  Either way, the lead eventually makes its way into the raptor.

As a hunter, and depending on your location in the world and within the United States, you can consider not using lead bullets.  Copper and steel alternatives are available, and while copper is a little more expensive than lead, it doesn't have the potential side effect of killing more animals than you intended.  If the higher price is the only deterrent in your situation, please think about the money saved by using a lead bullet instead of a copper bullet, then think about the value of the lives lost by ingesting that same lead bullet--perhaps the more expensive bullets will be worth it.  More information on non-lead bullets here.

Fishermen, you can save lives by not using lead sinkers.  Non-lead alternatives are widely available.  You won't just be saving raptors, you'll be saving ducks and loons and all manner of other water birds.  More information here.

The Good News:
Sub-adult Bald Eagle at the RMRP
The good news is that, while lead bullets and lead sinkers accidentally claim thousands of lives each year, awareness is growing.  As a result, alternatives to lead shot, bullets and tackle are becoming available, and legislation regarding the issues are being brought to the table.  One way to help is to spread the information as much as possible, and to take action on the information when possible.  Every action you take can save lives.

We've admitted three lead-positive eagles with already this year, and it's only February!  Please help us save these birds and all the other 250+ raptors we admit each year by donating here.

Want more science?  Here's is a literature review on the impacts of lead on the environment produced by the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources.

Interested in lead-related legislation?  Check out this site.

Don't forget to follow the RMRP on Facebook and Twitter.  Also, check out our official website.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Happy/Sad Story

I have uplifting news and I have sad news.

The sad news first:
Earlier this week the Humans admitted a critically injured Red-Tailed Hawk.  The bird had been rescued in Berthoud after being hit by a car.  Unfortunately, its injuries were too severe, and the bird died the same afternoon it was admitted to the RMRP.

The uplifting news:
Whenever a bird is released from the RMRP, the Humans band one leg with a numbered US Fish and Wildlife Service band.  That way, if anyone ever comes across the bird again, the Humans can look up the band number and find out the bird's history.
Red-Tailed Hawk with a banded leg
The Red-Tailed Hawk that died was already banded.  Given the activity of the RMRP in the area, odds were good that it was one of our bands.  Sure enough, our Medical Director looked back in the records...and looked back further...and a little bit further...and found the history of this bird in our own facility's records.

The hawk had originally been admitted in late 2007 with head trauma, probably from another car strike, and was released in 2008 as a fully healthy bird.  When admitted in 2007, the bird was already an adult.

Why do I think this news is so good?

Because it means the RMRP took in an injured raptor, gave it everything it needed to heal up, and sent it back out to the wild for a Second Chance at Freedom.

Because the already-adult hawk lived another five full years instead of dying that day in 2007.

Because during those five years, the hawk was able to live a wild existence, rich with hunting and soaring and raising nests of new Red-Tailed Hawks each spring.

And I don't know about you, but I think that is something beautiful, something special, and something worth being happy about.

To donate to the RMRP, click here
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Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Welcome back!

Really, I'm welcoming myself back.

As you may have noticed, I haven't been posting for the past month!  It's not that there's been nothing to report, but rather than I was taking a well-earned vacation from being an educator.  For one month I took a break from school visits, tours, blogging, and tweeting (still plenty of hooting, though).  I watched the Humans celebrate the holidays with funny hats and lots of food.  I saw fireworks over the city usher in the new year.  I saw the final bird for 2012 be carried through the doors, and the first bird of 2013.  I saw volunteers travel away from the RMRP to visit their other family and friends, and I saw them come back, eager again to brave the cold, early mornings, and long, frigid days for the sake of us birds.

Now the weather is warmer, my vacation is over, and I'm ready again to regale you with tales of the RMRP. First off, a summary of the holidays:

Our final number of admissions for 2012 was 265 birds.  Not the most ever, but certainly a high caseload, and a particularly challenging range of species and injuries.  More details and stats on the 2012 cases (species composition, injuries breakdown, release rate, etc) coming sometime in the next few weeks, so stay tuned.

Bald eagle with lead poisoning and a wing injury
The first admission for 2012 was a Bald Eagle, and the last admission was a Northern Harrier.  For 2013, the first admission was, again, a Bald Eagle.  He's probably a fourth year male bird, suffering from lead poisoning, an eye injury, and a wing droop.  The Humans treat lead poisoning with chelation, a process which uses Calcium-EDTA to draw the lead out of the bloodstream.  He's finished with his first round of chelation, is taking a break for a few days to allow remaining lead to come out of the woodwork, so to speak, and he'll move on to a second round soon.  Lead poisoning often comes with neurological side effects, which could be causing the wing droop, so hopefully that will resolve as the lead is cleared out of his system.

If you remember, January 2012 had us taking care of four sick and injured Bald Eagles at one time, a scenario the Humans hope to not repeat this January.  Here's hoping these amazing creatures stay happy and healthy in the wild, and don't have to visit the RMRP for care.

Weighing the Merlin on a cold day - see her breath as she vocalizes? 
The cold temperatures over the past few weeks proved very challenging for birds and Humans alike.  In cold weather like that, Humans have to think about a wide range of care-related issues that aren't usually so critical.  Can we avoid disturbing the bird, so the bird can conserve its heat and energy?  Is the bird's food going to freeze before it has a chance to eat?  Can we clean with water today, or will it instantly freeze and create hazards for birds and volunteers?  Are the little birds with high metabolisms maintaining their weight in these cold temps?  Fortunately, the Humans at the RMRP have plenty of experience with conditions like these, and the birds were extremely well cared for, as usual.  As for the Humans themselves, they dealt with the cold with many layers of thermals and Carhartts, hand warmers, insulated boots, hot water bottles, and good attitudes despite the frigidity of their work.

At last, here we are, experiencing some warmer temps and sunny days as a reward for the past few weeks.  The warm weather has provided an opportunity to deep clean the cages, use the hoses again instead of just buckets, and de-ice the pathways and parking lots.  In the past couple of weeks, the Humans have admitted the Bald Eagle mentioned above, a Cooper's Hawk, and an American Kestrel.  In exchange, they've released a female Merlin that recovered from a broken wing, a very handsome male Great Horned Owl that came in emaciated, and a Red-Tailed Hawk that was admitted with a skull fracture and massive head trauma.

That last case, the Red-Tailed Hawk, is truly amazing.  You may remember her from this picture:
Red-Tailed Hawk with skull fracture and damaged eye
The head trauma rendered her right eye useless and problematic.  After prey-testing her to be sure she could hunt with just one good eye, she was brought to the Vet Teaching Hospital to have her eye removed.  She recovered well from the surgery, and went back to hunting live prey like she still had two good eyes.  Seriously, that bird was a killing machine, and she often tried to use her skills on the Humans taking care of her.  She was released last week, and, true to form, she spun around and tried to attack her releaser one last time before flying away to go kill more appropriately-sized prey.

One-eyed Red-Tailed Hawk after release! 
Everything else at the RMRP is tripping along nicely.  As always this time of year, the Humans are busy, busy, busy planning and preparing for the annual Gala and Auction event.  Auction items are coming in daily, so be sure to come to the event to snag the best of it!  Details on our website here, including information on Early Bird tickets, which are only available for a few more days.

I'll be writing again soon to post more pictures of birds and other goings-on, so be sure to check back soon! Also, I'll be creating a new page on this blog with profiles of all us Educational Ambassadors for the RMRP, so stay tuned for those as well.