Raptor Center In The News

I'm about to head out the door to do a Showcase Minnesota segment on "Yes, it is perfectly normal to see robins in Minnesota in winter."

In the meantime, The Raptor Center is all over the news. There's a piece on snowy owls at the StarTribune, complete with a video of a snowy owl exam--you even get to see its giant ear hole!

Also, TRC has some participation of the upcoming Inauguration:

It is gearing up to be one of the biggest events in American political history and, if you keep your eyes peeled, you'll be able to see a part of the University of Minnesota among the festivities. At the request of the federal government, 11 white bald eagle tail feathers from the University of Minnesota Raptor Center will be used at the presidential inauguration of Barack Obama on Tuesday, Jan. 20 in Washington D.C.

The feathers will adorn a treaty stick that the chairs of the 11 Minnesota tribes will carry with them during the inauguration celebrations.

"We are honored to provide the feathers for this historic occasion," said Juli Ponder, executive director of the Raptor Center. "These feathers are from the same eagles that have graced countless classrooms and events throughout Minnesota as a highly visible part of the university's outreach."

Shortly after Obama won the election, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service contacted Ponder for her assistance in acquiring the rare feathers. For this special occasion, Raptor Center eagle handlers selected and sent tail feathers molted from the ambassador eagles in the education program.

"While our contribution certainly won't be the center piece of the day, we are still greatly privileged to be a part of this moment in American history," said Ponder.

Established in 1974, the Raptor Center specializes in the medical care, rehabilitation and conservation of eagles, hawks owls and falcons. In additional to treating approximately 800 birds a year, the internationally known program reaches more than 240,000 people each year through public education programs and events.

Raptor Center Birds

Since the weather has been below zero degrees Fahrenheit, many of the education birds at The Raptor Center need to sleep indoors at night. For the most part, the birds can sleep outside when it's cold--bald eagles and red-tailed hawks live in Minnesota in the wild, so they can usually take it. However, some species like female kestrels migrate--it's the weirdest thing, most kestrels leave Minnesota for the winter, but a few stay--and they're all males. I met a researcher from Ohio who studied this and his theory was that the female kestrel is larger, needs more food in a day than a male. The females go further south where there's more variety of prey and a little longer daylight (more time to hunt). With the temps getting to -15, all the birds are coming in at night and sleeping in their travel crates. Even if some could survive it, why risk it any chance for frost bite? Because there are so many birds and crates, some of the crates are stacked.

All the owls are getting very hooty right now, mating season is upon us. Yesterday, I was hooting to one of the great horned owls who was in a crate stacked on top of the turkey vulture crate. I had just come in and still had my coat and scarf on as I hooted a response. Someone on our crew pointed to the vulture crate beneath the owl crate:

Nero, the education vulture was trying to sneak through a gap in his door to get to my scarf! Or maybe just me in general. I don't work with him and on the few occasions I've gone in to retrieve old food in his mew, he's displayed some aggressive behavior towards me (he once tried to rip off the tassels on a pair of my capris.

Whirlwind Weekend An 568 Release

Well, this was a whirlwind weekend! The signings at Cardinal Corner went very well. Above is a my friend Kristin--she just came back to Minnesota. Years ago, we both worked for the same children's theater company. There are some autographed copies of City Birds/Country Birds left at Cardinal Corner, so if you would like one stop in or give them a call, they'll be happy to ship one out. We will sell them through the Birdchic Boutique if you would like me to personalize a copy as well. We had some awesome Cinnamon fans show up. And I must say, Cinnamon was having a great time running around in a bird store again. She loves carpeting and she loves spilled seed, to her this was the best book signing she had ever done. The kids above stopped in and brought Cinnamon a bag of some of her favorite treats--an apple, some carrots, and of course--hay! They gave her lots of head scratches too. Thanks, guys!

Sunday morning, my buddy Amber and I got the honor of driving Peregrine Falcon 568 to Duluth for her release. I've never had the opportunity to release a bird for The Raptor Center before, I was really shocked that we got to do it. I was just hoping to get to take some photos and video, but with the timing, Amber and I got the job.

We arrived in clinic on Sunday morning and Terri (left) and Lori (right) gave 568 some last minute tweaking. The feisty falcon thrashed a bit and I wondered if she was thinking "What the heck are they going to poke and prod me with now?" She had no idea that after so many months, she was actually going to leave this place. I wished there was some way we could let her know.

Her boots to keep her bumble foot at bay were finally going to be removed. Lori cut away all the duct tape and took of the padding.

Here feet looked even better than they had on Thursday which was most encouraging. When she would be out in the wild, all the rough surfaces of branches and cliffs she will perch on will help keep the skin in shape.

Falcon 568 had to get a last minute pedicure too. Since she's been in clinic, her talons have been trimmed but they are a little dull. Lori took a nail file and gave them some sharp points--so they would be hunting ready. Boy, 568 really didn't care for that.

Amber and I made the two and half hour drive up to Frank's blind (where she flew in with the injured leg). Her release day was the opposite of her capture day. It was chilly and rainy that day last September. This day was bright and sunny. When we took her out of the box, she was rarin' to go. I think she noticed that this day was different--the boots were off, there was no leash attached and we wondered with a bird's internal navigation system, did she realize where she was? We tried to get photos of her release, but my counting was off (if you can imagine, I was a little excited to release her) and we weren't able to get a photo, but we got the video (I set the camera up behind us):

She flew low and far over the field, and then landed on a tree way over on the other side. We tried to walk over and find her but we did not. I'm sure she landed, roused her feathers and then took off to be as far from us as possible, get her bearings and do a little hunting. Go, 568, go. I don't want to hear from you again for at least a good 15 years when someone finds your band and turns it into the Bird Banding Lab.

Since we were there, we checked on Frank's blind. He wasn't open yet, the blind starts this weekend. We found some evidence of a critter living in there. Check out the chew marks.

Lots of scat was on the blind floor. Amber and I were trying to determine the animal based on what we knew was around there. We had our suspicions and then we found our confirmation:

Porcupine quills! A porcupine has been seeking refuge in the blind. Boy, it's in for a rude awakening this weekend.

Amber and did a little birding. You couldn't spit without hitting a cedar waxwing, they were EVERYwhere. We also found a flock of about 50 kingbirds. Migration is kickin' in. It was strange, since it was a warm beautiful weekend, there people in all the places we hit in the fall and winter when it's typically people free.

These two were the most irritating of all the people. They were driving golf balls into Lake Superior. Seriously, there aren't enough driving ranges, you have to pollute a lake with your crappy golf balls? Amber and I debated about what to do. Was it legal? If we confronted them about throwing crap into the lake, would we get into an altercation? They were much bigger than we are, would they beat us up? So, we decided to just take photos of them and I pretended to be dialing my cell phone. As soon as they saw that, they quit what they were doing and stuffed the golf club and balls into their truck. As he was putting his clubs away, a little boy ran up and cried, "Daddy, I didn't get to do it, can't I do it too, it's my turn?" He gave the young lad a firm, "No, be quiet!" and took out a metal detector and began doing that instead.

Before we headed out, we gave Lori a call at TRC to let her know that all went well. She was pleased and then said, "Hey, would you mind calling a Duluth rehabber, she has an injured falcon that needs to come back to The Raptor Center?"

And so we came up to release a falcon and ended up bringing one back. This bird looked to be a year older than 568 and was also unbanded--where did this falcon come from? Anther tundrius? It flew into a factory window and probably has a fracture on its wing. I have no intentions of following another falcon. I can tell you that this one is still alive and if a bird can survive the first 24 hours, that is always a good sign.

Thanks so much for following 568 with me. I have to admit, I was real thrilled to follow a bird in the blog, so many things can go wrong at any time and it would have been a bummer if she had to be put down, but she survived. If you've enjoyed her story or admired what TRC does, please consider making a donation or becoming a volunteer. And if you don't want to support TRC, consider making a donation to a rehabber in your state.

Peregrine Falcon 568 Release Video

Okay, here is a teaser for Peregrine Falcon 568's release. More later--after I do my State Fair segment on Showcase Minnesota and after I go out and check the bees this morning. I should clarify that in the beginning of the video, I tell her, "Don't fly into anything this time." I meant that this is her second shot at flying in the wild, don't mess it up by flying into a building and breaking a leg. We don't know how she got her initial injury, but most likely by flying into a building or car.

Great News For Injured Peregrine 568

Well, this blog entry is a fun one to put together. First, I just want to say how sweet it was to get photos of Peregrine 568 in the sun and not under the clinic lights. For new readers, this bird has some history in the blog. At the end of September in 2007, I was co-leading a trip to Duluth for hawk migration with Stan Tekiela. We stopped at my buddy Frank's hawk banding blind and they were in the process of tending to this bird--she flew into the nets with a broken leg. Since our group was only up in Duluth for the day, we offered to take her back to The Raptor Center in the Twin Cities for treatment. I volunteer there and was able to follow her progress. The vets at TRC said that based on the color of her bruises, the injury was three to five days old--incredible that she was flying around trying to hunt with that injury for a few days! She's had many ups and downs with her treatment, from having to reset the improperly healed fracture to many bouts of bumblefoot. But now the fracture has healed, the bumblefoot has subsided and after being at TRC for about 11 months, she's about ready to go. For a bird that's been in treatment that long, she needs to be test flown to make sure she's physically strong enough to live in the wild. The vets down in clinic graciously allowed me to tag along with the Flight Crew to test her skills (did you know you can volunteer for Flight Crew at TRC?)

They grabbed Peregrine 568 from her recovey cage and took the bandages and padding off her toes. To keep her bumblefoot at bay, she has been given boots made of padding and duct tape to wear. Birds naturally slough off dead skin in the wild on rough perches. TRC tries to mimic that in clinic, but when a bird has a foot or leg injury, and tends to stand on one foot more often, bumblefoot becomes a problem. For flight, she needs those the boots off so the crew can evaluate not only how she flies, but how she lands, and if she stands naturally on her feet.

After the boots were removed, they put jesses and a leash called a creance on her. The flight crew needed to test her wings outdoors on the University of Minnesota Campus and the creance allows her to fly far away, but they still have hold of her so she doesn't get loose before she is ready. The creance is kind of like a fishing line and pole. They let her fly, but after she lands, they can reel in the line as they walk towards her. The jesses are made of lether and wrapped around right above the toes and is the best way to keep hold of her without injuring her.

True to Peregrine 568's feisty nature, she bit the flight crew while the jesses and creance were placed on her. She's wearing a hood which is supposed to keep her calm and prevent her from biting...she apparently didn't read that in the falconry manuals.

One of the vets, Lori Arent told me that she had "imped some new feathers" onto Peregrine 568's wings. This is an ancient falconry technique of replacing damaged/broken feathers with feathers from another bird of the same species that has died--a feather transplant, if you will. Rather than waiting for the bird to grow in new ones when it naturally molts (sheds old feathers and grows in new ones) this allows a bird to leave clinic sooner. The imped feathers will molt out naturally. What's interesting what that Lori did not have to imp any feathers on the tail, a sheath has prevented the falcon from damaging any of those when moving in her cage.

We walked out and Terry on the flight crew let the peregrine fly. If you saw the video earlier, you could see that she did VERY well. If not, here is another video and you can hear the feisty falcon vocalizing before they let her go.

Again, I highly recommend going to the YouTube page and clicking on the "watch in high quality" button for the full effect of her magnificent flight.

When she made it to the end of the line she landed. The flight crew follows along to make sure that she doesn't go into the streets and to close the gap on the creance line.

This is the tricky part. You have to sneak up on the falcon and grab her without hurting her. But once you get close...

...she flaps a lot and Terry has to grab her without damaging her feathers. Terry's been doing this longer than I've been in Minnesota, so she's a master at it.

The peregrine was test flown about five times and when flight crew volunteer Greg went to grab her, she was ready to go further.

And again, in keeping with that feisty nature, she bit his glove...several times.

Check out that blond head--a clue that she is a tundrius subspecies of peregrine falcon. After all that work, she was panting hard. Unlike humans, birds do not have sweat glands and must pant to regulate body temperature (like dogs). The crew had a squirt bottle handy to keep her cool. They sprayed her feet and even sprayed in her mouth to help keep her hydrated. Here's a video:

You can also go to the YouTube page and click on "watch in high quality" to see it in better detail.

As we were walking back, I noticed we were all wearing Keen shoes. Is this the official birder shoe?

After five flights, it was time to go back to the clinic for one final check. Lori was very pleased with 568's progress and is anxious to get her out before the bumblefoot comes back. Because the peregrine is a tundrius and migratory and because she was found 182 miles north of the Twin Cities, she has to go back towards Duluth to be released. Arrangements are being made at this moment.

Lori gave 568 one last foot check. You can see some scarring from the bumblefoot, but it's healed. She added a bit more ointment to keep her foot progress steady until the falcon can be let go.

The little padded duct tapes boots were added for good measure. Note the ice pack on the tail? That was to help cool down Peregrine 568 during her final exam after all that flying in the hot sun. Lori took one more X-Ray just to make sure the fracture was stable after the test flying. All looks good.

So, if all goes well, in a few days, I'll post photos of her flying away. For good. I have to admit, I've never really wanted to follow a clinic bird in the blog because it would be a bummer to follow her and have her die. I was even more reluctant with a foot injury, but this has turned out remarkably well. And though she's been in clinic a long time, she could still have another 10,12, maybe even 18 years ahead of her.

TRC From Someone Else's Perspective

So, I'm catching up on emails and I found this really cool blog entry sent to my by my buddy Amber. Gretchen Stiches keeps a blog and relates a story of having to intervene with some tree trimmers who were misinformed about the legality of hawk nest removal and what to do with the chicks after they are removed from a nest. It's a great insight as to what some of our great clinic vets at The Raptor Center like Lori do for her day to day job.

Oh Nooooo, They Be Stealin' My Kettle!

Due to my insane travel schedule in May and my training as a part time park ranger, I had to take a leave from my volunteer duties at The Raptor Center. Yesterday was my first day back.

Hey, remember Peregrine Falcon 568? The young peregrine falcon that flew into the banding nets with a broken leg? And then had some experimental surgery? Well, she is alive and well. All the little robotic pieces that were on her leg are off, she's standing and has recently been moved to a flight room with three other peregrines. The above photo is old, I was hoping to get a photo of her in the flight room, but the lights were too low. Good news. From here the clinic will monitor how she stands and perches and make sure that she doesn't have any more bumblefoot issues. If that goes well, it's on to flight training...

Some other changes had happened while I was away. The education department has been training in some new birds like the broad-winged hawk (pictured above) and a red-tailed hawk. When the birds get to the final stages of their training, the staff chooses a name for the birds. The birds really don't know their names or respond to it, but it's a way for us to tell birds apart and say, "Hey, I'm working with Bubo today instead of GHO 14."

The broad-winged hawk was given the name Kettle and the new red-tail is now called Alula--both names made me chuckle. The alula is a part of a bird's wing that is the equivalent of our thumb (it's also called "the bastard wing"). It has a few quills and some species can actually manipulate it a bit.

I love our new ed director at TRC, she's very into "teachable moments" and I would rather have an ed bird's name be an opening for conversation, like Alula rather than, say, Ralph. But I did get the giggles thinking about me being captured by aliens and being an ed human for their planet. Interpretive aliens would hold me in front of their students asking, "What species is this? Human? That's right! And her name is Uvula! That's an unusual name isn't it? Well, it's also a part of her body! Does anyone know what a uvula is on a human?"

The broad-winged hawks name also sent me into a fit of giggles: Kettle. The name refers to a "kettle of hawks" the flock of hawks that you see circling in a thermal during migration. That flock is called a kettle because a thousand broad-winged hawks circling in a thermal resembles peas swirling in a boiling kettle. I once heard someone get their words mixed up and pointed to a bunch of hawks and said, "Hey, Sharon, there's a bucket of hawks!"

So, bucket, kettle, I don't know they just make me giggle...perhaps it's because of the walrus bucket thing...and if you are one of the four people who have not seen the photo and captions:

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Perhaps the source of my giggles comes from too much I Can Has Cheezburger:

To which I answer to the hawk, "No, you no has a kettle, you are named Kettle."

Wow, this blog entry just took a weird turn. I think I should get back to packing for the Potholes and Prairie Bird Festival in North Dakota.

Aaron Eckhart Is A Super Nice Guy

Once again, I marvel at how birds are the best ice breaker! I had an appearance on Showcase Minnesota today and the producer told me that Aaron Eckhart was going to be on. I had an eastern screech owl with me from The Raptor Center to promote the Open House this Sunday.

When his group came in, the whole posse stopped to look at the owl--this worked well for me because I could focus on bird talk instead of blathering like an idiot about him being a good actor and having a cute chin.

I explained how this owl was a partial imprint and more likely to try and mate with a human (like himself) instead of another screech owl. I asked if he wanted his photo with the owl and he said, "No thank you. Unless the owl wants the photo?" I said that I wanted the photo and he very graciously accepted. He then asked, "Should we make out?" and I'm pretty sure that he meant that as a joke in reference to the owl being imprinted, but when I tell the story drunk in a bar, it's totally going be that he said it to me.

Anyway, really nice guy in person.