Oodles of Raptors

Quick Quiz--Guess My Feet:

Tuesday's Wild Raptor: red-tailed hawk on hwy 36, being mobbed by crows.

Non Wild Raptors that sat on my arm: 2 male kestrels, 1 female kestrel, 1 barred owl, 1 great horned owl, 2 peregrine falcons...not all at the same time, but whew is my arm tired.

Today I got to hand feed one of the education peregrine falcons at The Raptor Center. I don't actually tear off bits of rat and quail and hold my fingers up to the peregrine, I take forceps and place the food across her feet and she feeds while sitting on my gloved hand. I have never gotten tired of this. It's time consuming, sometimes the birds are more interested in the goings on than in the food on their feet--but it is so cool to watch a peregrine feed up close! Also, it's incredibly messy to feed a peregrine. Red-tails and great horned owls tend to swallow food whole, peregrines rip it apart usually starting with plucking the feathers first. If their are any boney bits left at the end, they fling those to the side. So, when you are finished you area usually covered in quail feathers and bloody bone bits (see the photo of my leg above). Still it's a privilege to have this bird feed while on your fist and it's fascinating to watch the process. From the snap, crackle, crunch sound she makes to the meticulous choosing of the reddest, bloodiest bits to eat first.

The imprinted great horned owls were even more hooty this week than last week! Holy cow, one was hooting non-stop when you passed his mew. At one point he sat on his perch, flapped his wings and just kept hooting over and over. I would hoot at him and he would hoot right back. When great horned owls are really excited and hootin' away, the area right under their bill puffs up like a frog, and they lean forward and raise their tail straight up in the air--they kind of look like a large, deranged wren. You can see one of the imprinted owls in the photo at the right in mid hoot. Note the inflated white pouch. I asked Kate the bird curator if it would be okay for me to walk inside the mew with my camera to take a picture. She said that with this particular bird, as long as I kept a safe distance and didn't appear threatening (per my training) I should be fine. However, true to form, as soon as I stepped in the mew with my little point and shoot, the hooting ceased. Probably because the owl thought, "Dude, I have been hooting to announce my territory to you and now you are closer. What's that all about?" I tried hooting to see if he would hoot back, but was met with the look as seen in the photo below.

Looks as though he is thinking, "Do I look like I am in the mood to hoot?!"

Again, birds aren't known for being cooperative photo subjects. I decided to leave. The owl got a sense of "Ha, it's still my territory, you weakling" and hooted some more as I left the courtyard.

Remember last week when I talked about Samantha the white phase great horned owl that is an education bird at The Raptor Center? I got a photo of her this week (below) so you can see how she compares to a more common brown or gray great horned owl. She has a wing injury and is not able to fly well enough to hunt on her own so she is a permanent resident. I'm always amazed by the color variations of the great horned owl. Every one that we have for education has different plumage, some extreme, some kind of subtle. Samantha is one of our largest great horned owls at TRC, even if she were brown I think we would still be able to tell her from the others because of her size.

If you haven't guessed, the photo of the feet above are of a great horned owl. They have feathers that go all the way down to their talons to keep warm when diving into snow after prey. I also think it helps protect their feet when hunting and encountering problems with prey that tries to fight back. Great horned owls will tackle just about anything, which is one of the reasons they are known as the "tiger of the woods".

I was told a story once about an emu farmer in southeastern Minnesota who was having a problem with one of his emus periodically turning up dead and missing a head. The farmer felt certain their was a satanist in the neighborhood using the heads for some kind of odd ritual so he scheduled a stake out with the local sheriff and a his vet. That night as they were watching, they watched a great horned owl land on a fence post in the emu pen. The owl then flew over to one of the emus and landed on the back of the head and clamped its talons where the head connected to the spine. The emu thrashed about but was essentially helpless and eventually fell to the ground, presumably by having been chokes by the massive strength of the great horned owl's feet and talons. The great horned then proceeded to rip off the emu's head and fly away with it. Birds of prey love to eat brain, it's very nutritional and with emus being so large, that owl must have found quite a treat. I got that story from a very reliable source, but I have not had the opportunity to find out who the farmer was, let alone what county. This is one of my favorite great horned owl stories and it certainly isn't out of the realm of possibility, but I wonder if this is more an urban legend than actual fact.