Archive for the 'Birds of Prey' Category

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)

As we age we notice that no matter how much we like certain foods, we 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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Sep 22 2014

Highest Hawks

Kettle of hawks, Kittatinny Ridge, PA (photo by Meredith Lombard)

Every dot is a hawk.  Can you count them?  Better yet, can you identify them?

Pennsylvania’s hawk watches see their highest daily counts this month.  On a busy day the sky looks like the photo above, taken by Meredith Lombard at Kittatinny Ridge in September 2011.

Experts can tell you these are broad-winged hawks — except perhaps that white one — but you can accurately guess the species if you know the month and location of the photo.  Broad-winged hawks pass through our state in record numbers in mid September.

Up close they look like this.  Not so blurry.  Actually a bit colorful.

Broad-winged hawk on migration in Pennsylvania (photo by Meredith Lombard)

Why are there so many of them?  Broad-wings are woodland hawks.  What’s the most common and widest-ranging habitat north of here?  Woods.

By the third week in September the bulk of broad-wings has passed by.  The Allegheny Front Hawk Watch had its highest daily total of 1,880 birds on September 14.  Hawk Mountain saw 975 on September 15 and Waggoner’s Gap saw 1,333 hawks on September 16.  None of the sites have seen higher counts since but never fear, great birds are still on the way.  The Allegheny Front will make up for quantity with quality when the golden eagles come through in November.

Where are the broad-wings now?  More than 80 hawk watch sites report in daily at Hawkcount.org where you can find a snapshot of the totals on the home page (scroll down).  Drill into the sites with the highest counts and you’re likely to find the broad-wings.

Last week’s winner was…

Detroit River Hawk Watch in Brownstone, Michigan where there were incredible numbers:  39,720 on September 18, 53,055 on September 17 and 68,655 on September 16 (68,193 broad-wings!).  The site is flat (no mountain, no cliff) but southbound hawks have to cross the Detroit River somewhere and this is it.

Check out the counts at Corpus Christi, Texas.  Some of the broad-wings are already there.

 

(photos by Meredith Lombard)

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Sep 01 2014

For All The Working Birds

Harris' Hawk working as a falconer's bird in Spain (photo by Manuel González Olaechea y Franco via Wikimedia Commons)

Some birds work for a living just like we do. This Harris hawk hunts for a falconer in Spain.

This year’s most famous working bird is Rufus the Hawk who patrols Wimbledon to scare away pigeons.  Click here for the beautiful Stella Artois commercial in which he stars.

Today humans get a day off in the U.S.

Happy Labor Day.

 

(Harris Hawk working as a falconer’s bird at Alcalá de Henares, Spain. Photo by Manuel González Olaechea y Franco via Wikimedia Commons. Click on the image to see the original)

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