Archive for the 'Birds of Prey' Category

Dec 12 2014

The Falcon Of The Queen

Screenshot of Falco della regina (screenshot from YouTube)

This beautiful YouTube video shows a family of Eleonora’s falcons (Falco eleonorae) at their summer home in Sardinia.

Eleonora’s falcon is an Old World hobby(*) falcon that winters in Madagascar and East Africa and nests on barren islands in the Mediterranean.  It was named for Eleonor of Arborea, national heroine of Sardinia. When you know Eleonor’s history you can see the honor of this name.

Eleonor took over Arborea, a sovereign state in west-central Sardinia, in a moment of crisis in 1383. The Crown of Aragon based in Barcelona had conquered all of Sardinia except Arborea and succession to the Arborean throne was shaken by the murder of Hugh III. Eleonor’s infant son Frederick was next in line to the throne so she rushed to Arborea and became regent Judge at age 36. In the first four years of her reign she united the Sardinians in a war against Aragon and won back nearly all of the island.

Eleonor’s greatest legacy was the Carta de Logu, the laws she promulgated in 1395.  Advanced for its time the laws were a uniform code of justice, publicly available, that set most criminal penalties as fines instead of imprisonment or death and preserved the property rights of women.  The Carta de Logu was so good that it lasted four centuries.

Eleonor passed another important though lesser known law: the protection of this falcon that bears her name.

As the video title says in Italian, this is the Falcon of the Queen.

 

(video posted on YouTube by santonagriva)

(*) Hobbies are smaller than peregrines, larger than American kestrels, and were often used by falconers to hunt birds. “Hobby” does not mean amateur pastime. Instead this word comes from Old French, probably derived from Middle Dutch “hobeler” which means to turn or roll.

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Dec 10 2014

Jackie O

Published by under Birds of Prey

Jackie O, barn owl at Medina Raptor Center (photo by Kate St. John)

Meet the beautiful Jackie O.

Jackie was just a nestling when she was rescued by Ohio DNR who’d arrived to band barn owl chicks at her nest.  They discovered that Jackie’s left eye had been severely damaged, probably by one of her siblings, so she was taken to Medina Raptor Center where she’s lived ever since.

Jackie’s on the small side for a barn owl so the Raptor Center thought she was male and named her Captain Jack (a one-eyed pirate…).  As she matured her plumage looked female and a DNA blood test confirmed her sex so she was renamed Jackie.

The first time Jackie meets you she uses her good eye to check you out (above).   Eventually she shows you her whole face and you can see that her left eye is missing.

Barn owl, Jackie O, at Medina Raptor Center (photo by Kate St. John)

Among all the birds at the Raptor Center Jackie’s story is unique.  She’s the only one whose injury was caused by a bird.  Every other raptor was injured by humans, directly or indirectly — hit by vehicles, crashed into buildings or wires, poisoned, or shot.  It’s very sad that we cause so much trouble for birds.

Jackie O travels to events as an educational bird ambassador, teaching us how to prevent raptor injuries and how barn owls benefit us by controlling rodent populations.

You can sponsor her and other birds at Medina Raptor Center by clicking this link.

 

p.s.  O is for Owl. ;)

(photos by Kate St. John)

 

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Dec 09 2014

Modern Home

Barn owl in flight near its nest box (photo by Chuck Tague)

Since Chuck Tague first posted this on Facebook, his photo of a barn owl near a white box has stuck with me.  As odd as it looks, the box is the barn owl’s home.

Barn owls nest in structures — often in barns — but they don’t need entire buildings to make them happy.  A right-sized hole and good interior space are what they look for when they’re ready to nest.  If you can satisfy their needs with a smaller structure the owls will make it home.

As barn owls declined due to habitat loss, wildlife agencies across the U.S. worked to restore their populations by installing barn owl nest boxes.  This modern-looking box, designed and sold by Pittsburgh-based Barn Owl Box Company, was installed at Lake Apopka Restoration Area in Orange County, Florida.

The boxes are also popular with farmers and vintners who’ve learned that barn owls are a great alternative to poison rodent control.  The owls are tolerant of humans, tolerant of each other (no fights), breed like crazy at successful sites, and focus their hunts on the highest density rodent locations.  Lots of rodents lose their lives to feed the baby owls.

Click on this link to watch an America’s Heartland video of owls patrolling California vineyards where they’ve installed these modern homes.  As they say on the video webpage, “The next time you raise a glass of fine wine, you might want to thank an owl .”

 

(photo by Chuck Tague)

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Dec 08 2014

How To Escape A Peregrine Attack

If you haven’t seen this amazing video yet  …

Do great horned owls swim?  You bet they do if there’s nowhere else to go.

Last week passersby at Chicago’s Loyola Park saw a pair of peregrine falcons chasing a great horned owl away from their territory.  The owl flew out over Lake Michigan but the peregrines kept hammering it.  Eventually their attack forced the owl to ditch in the lake. Only then did the peregrines leave him alone.

Unlike ospreys, owls aren’t built to go airborne directly from the water so the owl swam the butterfly stroke to get back to shore.  peasant1 on YouTube captured it on video.

On the beach the owl caught his breath and dried out a bit before flying to a tree down the street.  Sand in wet feathers.  What an embarrassing mess!

That’s the last time this owl goes near Loyola Park!

 

(videos by peasant1 on YouTube, originally publicized by Fox 6 News)

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Dec 05 2014

They Can Always Eat What They Want

Published by under Birds of Prey

Turkey vultures in Garland, Pennsylvania (photo from Wikimiedia Commons, Creative Commons license)

In adulthood you begin to notice that no matter how much you like certain foods, you just can’t eat them anymore without feeling lousy.  At each new discovery my husband and I say, “You Can’t Always Eat What You Want” (from this parody of The Rolling Stones’ You Can’t Always Get What You Want).

But if we had the guts of vultures we could eat anything!

Vultures eat rotted, bacteria-ridden, poisonously-infected carrion that would kill any other animal but it never hurts them.  Think of this:  Vultures eat anthrax and they don’t get sick!  How do they do it?

The answer is:  Vultures evolved an extreme gut to cope with their disgusting dietary habits.

Since vultures’ faces get really dirty when they take apart a carcass, researchers from Denmark and The Smithsonian teamed up to compare the bacteria on vultures’ faces and in their guts.  If there’s less bacteria in their guts than on their faces, their guts are cleaning up the mess.

According to Science Daily, the study generated DNA profiles from the bacteria living on the face and guts of 50 black and turkey vultures.  On average, the vultures’ facial skin contained DNA from 528 different types of micro-organisms, whereas their guts had DNA from only 76 types.

“Apparently something radical happens to the bacteria during passage through their digestive system,” said researcher Lars Hestbjerg Hansen of Aarhus University.

You bet!

Vultures can always eat what they want.

 

Click here to read more in Science Daily.

(photo from Wikimedia Commons, Creative Commons license. Click on the image to see the original)

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Nov 25 2014

His Name is Cloud

Leucistic red-tailed hawk, named Cloud, at Medina Raptor Center (photo by Kate St. John)

Meet “Cloud,” a leucistic red-tailed hawk at the Medina Raptor Center in Spencer, Ohio.

Cloud is white because there’s no melanin in his feathers, a recessive trait that expresses when both parents pass it on to their offspring.  Cloud is leucistic, not an albino, because he does produce some melanin, shown in his blue eyes (not pink) and yellow legs and cere (not white).

Cloud led a normal life and raised at least one family at a railyard in Ohio until his territorial choice was his undoing.  One day he caught prey on the railroad tracks and did not get out of the way when a train approached.  The train ran over his wing.

His color saved his life.  Because of his beauty he was a favorite with the railyard workers who immediately saw he’d been struck and mobilized volunteers to collect and deliver him to Medina Raptor Center.

Cloud was so badly injured they thought he would die but he fought his way back to health. Unfortunately he will never fly again.  Part of his left wing is missing.

Leucistic red-tailed hawk, back view, at Medina Raptor Center (photo by Kate St. John)

However, he’s now an excellent educational ambassador, teaching people about leucism and the lives of red-tailed hawks.

Thanks to Annette Piechowski at Medina Raptor Center for introducing us to Cloud.  What a beautiful bird!

 

 

p.s. Do you know of any leucistic red-tailed hawks in the wild?  I know of one that used to nest on the Hays hillside in Pittsburgh and another near Millers Pond at Pymatuning.

(photos by Kate St. John)

p.p.s.  You can sponsor Cloud and the other educational birds at the Medina Raptor Center. Click here to see.

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Nov 12 2014

Check Every Vulture

Published by under Birds of Prey,Travel

Zone-taile Hawk illustration from the Crossley ID Guide Raptors via Wikimedia Commons

Last week at the Rio Grande Valley Birding Festival I wanted to see a zone-tailed hawk but the only way to do it was to check every vulture.

The relationship between zone-tailed hawks and turkey vultures goes way back.  Both are South and Central American birds who’ve hung out together for longer than we can imagine — so much so that the hawks now resemble the vultures.  Turkey vultures moved into North America but the hawks didn’t commit that far, only coming to Arizona, New Mexico and southern Texas in the summer.

Zone-tailed hawks (Buteo albonotatus) like to soar with turkey vultures and they easily blend in.  The hawks are slightly smaller, have the same bi-color underwings (dark leading edge and pale trailing edge), and soar with their wings set in a dihedral.

Where I come from a dark, soaring V means vulture so I wouldn’t give those birds a second thought, but look at the three birds soaring at the top left of Crossley’s illustration.  One of them isn’t a turkey vulture.  Can you tell which one?

Our trip leader, Bill Clark, told us how to find a zone-tailed “needle” in the turkey vulture “haystack.” Check each bird’s head and feet.

Turkey vultures have tiny, bald, reddish heads.  Zone-tailed hawks have dark, feathered, hawk-sized heads.  Turkey vultures have drab legs and feet.  Zone-tailed hawks have bright yellow legs and feet.  Turkey vultures have plain tails.  Zone-tailed hawks are named for the white “zone” band on their black tails.

Fortunately my “Life Bird” zone-tailed hawk flew quite close.  I saw his dark head, his yellow legs and feet, and the white zone on his tail.  Woo hoo!

Now that I’m back in Pittsburgh it’s a relief that I don’t have to check every vulture.  ;)

 

(illustration from The Crossley ID Guide Raptors via Wikimedia Commons, Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license. Click on the image to see the original)

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Nov 06 2014

Introduce Me

Published by under Birds of Prey,Travel

Aplomado falcon, Laguna Atascosa NWR, Texas (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

They’re as long as a peregrine but only half their weight.  They fly like accipiters or even nighthawks.  They hunt cooperatively and can use motorcycles to flush prey.

Aplomado falcons (Falco femoralis) used to nest in savannas, grasslands and shrub-steppe from Arizona to the lower Rio Grande Valley but they disappeared from the U.S. in 1952 due to habitat loss and DDT.  They were listed as endangered in 1986.

In 1987 The Peregrine Fund established an aplomado reintroduction program similar to the captive breeding program that restored the peregrine.  Since the 1990’s they’ve hacked 1,500 aplomado chicks in South Texas but restoration has been slow and difficult because the young birds face so many dangers in the wild.

The aplomado is still on the Endangered Species list but now breeds again in South Texas. To help the young survive The Peregrine Fund provides special nesting boxes which the adults prefer because the boxes protect their chicks.

Thanks to the reintroduction program I now have the chance to see an aplomado falcon at the Rio Grande Valley Birding Festival.

He’s my goal this week.  Introduce me!

 

(photo by Elaine R. Wilson from Wikimedia Commons.  Click on the image to see the original)

p.s. I saw them two days in a row!  5 Nov 2014 on Bill Clark’s Valley Raptors tour and 6 Nov 2014 at Old Port Isabel Road.  Yay!

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Oct 17 2014

Who Owns The Sky?

Last week’s sensational bird video showed a red-tailed hawk attacking a personal drone in Cambridge, Massachusetts (above). The drone lost.

Drones are popular because they’re easy to fly and come with onboard videocams.  Open the box, assemble a few pieces, turn on the camera, and fly it up and into … trouble, if you aren’t careful.  Novices don’t realize who owns the sky.

When Amazon Prime announced plans last December to deliver packages using drones it sounded simple but the initial hype failed to mention the regulatory, mechanical and natural hurdles.   Blog posts at Slate and The Atlantic immediately set the record straight.

At Slate Konstantin Kakaes explained how unreliable drones are right now and how much the FAA controls the airspace.  Drone pilots looking for killer video ignore the law to their peril and have been arrested.

The next day Nicholas Lund at Slate and Megan Garber at The Atlantic were quick to mention the bird factor.  Click on The Atlantic link to see five videos of angry bird attacks.

The FAA limits personal drones to a 400-foot ceiling — that’s below the 30th floor of the Cathedral of Learning — but birds of prey limit flying threats to a much lower level than that.  Red-tailed hawks near the Cathedral of Learning are frequently reminded that peregrines own the airspace above the treetops.  Drone pilots could learn a valuable lesson from a bald eagle who strayed into Dorothy’s zone.

Birds have owned the sky for 160 million years.

Take that you pesky airplane!

 

(drone video by Christopher Schmidt on YouTube. Click on Christopher’s link to read more about the hawk video)

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Oct 06 2014

Locate And Protect Eagle Roosts

Published by under Birds of Prey

Bald eagle adult and two juveniles, Crooked Creek (photo by Steve Gosser)

In the winter, bald eagles are more social than your typical bird of prey.  Most raptors are paired or alone in the non-breeding season but bald eagles congregate in large numbers where food is plentiful.  Visit Conowingo Dam in November and you’ll find hundreds of eagles every day.

Eagles have to sleep somewhere so when night falls they roost together.  Sometimes a few choose a temporary location.  Often a large group roosts in the same place every year.

Roosts are so important to bald eagles’ lives that they’re protected by the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act which prohibits disturbing eagles in any way that “substantially interferes with their normal breeding, feeding, or sheltering behavior.”  On paper this protects their roost trees from being cut down even when the eagles aren’t there.

But the Act can’t protect a place no one knows about.  Where are the roosts?

To answer this question the Center for Conservation Biology (CCB) has been mapping bald eagle roosts in North America using their own and others’ eagle tracking data. (CCB and others have fitted eagles with satellite backpacks.)  So far they’ve located more than 1,000 roosts.  Now it’s our turn to help.

Last month CCB launched an online Eagle Roost Registry.  Click here to see a map of the 1,000 roosts.

Do you know of a roost that’s not on the map?  Contact Libby Mojica at the Center for Conservation Biology (ekmojica@wm.edu, 757- 221-1680) or visit the online registry to sign up.

Click here for more information at the Center for Conservation Biology.

 

(photo of bald eagles at Crooked Creek by Steve Gosser)

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