Birds Impaled By Sticks

Below is actually a repost of a blog post made back on September 25, 2006 (holy cow, how is my blog that old). I wanted to link to it on the Facebook page but because it's on the old blogger platform and it's not letting me grab just that particular blog entry. Screen Shot 2013-08-21 at 2.53.31 PM

I'm reposting it because there's a news story of a young bald eagle that got caught in a tree because it was impaled by a branch as it was learning to fly. You can read about it here or watch a video here. Above is a screen grab of the video that shows you what a dire predicament the eaglet was in--way at the top of a dead cottonwood tree--almost too dangerous to climb.


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We need to give a medal to this guy, Gordon Sasa, an arborist who risked his life to climb the tree and grab the bird.

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Look at Gordon go, getting that eagle!

But birds getting impaled on branches does happen.  I think we don't see it all that often because they die or get scavenged. But this old post from 2006 shows a sharp-shinned that survived impalement.

All the photos below this entry are courtesy of Frank Taylor.

I just got in a weekly banding report from Frank Taylor. In it was a an interesting account of a first year sharp-shinned hawk that had impaled it's wing on a twig. Frank said that it had healed up with a bit of the twig still in the wing!

They didn't try to pull out the twig, just clipped the ends that were close to the wing. The bird seemed to be doing just fine and they didn't want to stress it out with a trip to The Raptor Center down in the Cities. Frank used to be curator of birds at TRC and has been a master falconer for longer than I've been alive. He knows a healthy flight in a bird when he sees it, and with a high strung bird like an accipiter, letting it go gave it a better shot at survival than time in a rehab facility.

The injury was healed, I wonder how long ago it happened? Perhaps when it was learning to fly.

Another fine example of how birds will survive no matter what. It would never occur to this bird that, "Hey, I've got a stick in my wing, I don't feel like hunting and heading south to find food. I'm just going to hunker down and sleep today." Birds just do what has to be done in order to survive. I love that.


Birds and Electrocution

Well I had two very interesting things hit my inbox that are somewhat related. One is kind of a gruesome photo but fascinating: Electrocuted Hawk and Squirrel

The above photo was taken by Lili Taylor (woman after my own heart, she takes pictures of dead stuff). In the photo, we have a dead squirrel and a dead raptor on top of a transformer. Based on the tail feathers, it looks to be a hatch year red-tailed hawk. It's a shame, the bird graduated from the nest, figured out how to hunt down tough quarry like a gray squirrel and then landed to eat it only to be electrocuted on a transformer.

I also got a notification that he U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Avian Power Line Interaction Committee have released their updated guidance document Reducing Avian Collisions with Power Lines: State of the Art in 2012. This manual is supposed to identify "best practices and provides specific guidance to help electric utilities and cooperatives, federal power administrations, wildlife agencies, and other stakeholders reduce bird collisions." So it seems there are things that can be done to prevent this and it's up to the power company to take that initiative to make adjustments. I think in this case of the hawk on the transformer that you could try and call the power company to alert them so they could at least remove it and encourage them to maybe put a cover over it to prevent further electrocutions.

It's fascinating to follow some of those links. The APLIC offers workshops on this subject and you can even download a copy of an Avian Protection Plan (a working document that states with the risks are to birds and how to mitigate that). On page 30 it gets into construction guidelines.

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The document points out what the risk is to a bird landing on the transformer but also points out way that could fix it easily:

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The hard part is tracking down the power company responsible for the transformer and getting them to come out and fix it. It's in their best interest to do so, they could be fined or something like this could lead to a costly power outage.


Wet-tailed Hawk

In the midst of all the last minute planning for The Big Year Birds and Beers I still have to work and I'm in the middle of 3 different bird surveys.  One is my fall waterfowl surveys in conjunction with the National Park, US Fish and Wildlife, MN DNR and WI DNR and the others are for bird monitoring for private companies.

And it's totally an adventure to fly over thousands of ducks on the Mississippi River, but I do enjoy surveys on the ground, enjoying the autumn air and the last ambient sounds of leaves rustling in the wind.  Almost all of yesterday was perfect.  Most of my survey spots are on the side of the road so if rain comes I can quick duck in.  I have one survey spot that is almost a mile walk from the car on uneven terrain.  It's a lovely walk and very birdy, but I don't mind it.

Even though I do have to wriggle under an electrified fence on my walk there. Just adds a bit of adventure to my work...and as someone mentioned on Twitter, it's also excellent motivation for not eating too much...Non Birding Bill texted that it looked like a storm was approaching.  Normally, it's so quiet out here I can hear a storm when it's still 40 miles away.  I didn't hear anything until a half hour before I was supposed to leave.

On the walk back, I could see the storm moving my way fast.  I hustled to get back to the car...except at the electric fence, I took my time there.  I could see hills disappearing and fading as the rain came closer and closer.  Just as I was putting my scope in my trunk, buckets of rain hit.  I made it just in time!  I drove to my next survey point and the hard and fast rain soon passed.  When it was finished, I noticed a couple of odd shapes.

Closer inspection revealed waterlogged red-tailed hawks.  I saw about three different birds, all in this posture.  If you've ever wondered what birds do after a rain--spread out the wet wings so they can air out the feathers.

Poor wet-tailed hawk!  Drenched feathers have to affect flight and one's ability to hunt.  It's gotta be uncomfortable too.  I wonder if they get frustrated the way humans do when rain hits after they water their yard.  Do hawks think, "Dang it, I just bathed 2 hours ago in that pond and of course it rains!"

Many of the smaller birds took refuge in the remaining corn stalks.  Warblers, sparrows and juncos were all over the leaves after the rain passed.  Above is a winter plumage chipping sparrow.  It kept flipping its wings--I would guess to try and flip off extra water on the feathers.

I have one more day of surveys today and then tonight it's our Birds and Beers and Big Year event.  NBB though not a birder has been a huge help in the last minute preparations.  When we got the Swarovski 10x30 CLs yesterday he posted them so people could see them...and to taunt me a bit.

They are a sweet little pair of binoculars...complete with a Batman-like insignia.


Why I Shouldn't Go Birding Without Coffee

Last week, before I headed to Horicon Marsh, I stopped at Mr. Neil's house to check our bees and some warbler watching.  The plan was to check the bees Thursday afternoon, spend the night, bird in the morning and then hit the road to Horicon.  Being British, there's not a lot of coffee around the house.  I thought this would be a good motivator--if bird watching is awesome, I will linger and be late.  If I don't have coffee, the withdrawal will force me on the road.  The birding was awesome and one of the things I did was check out a red-tailed hawk nest that's across a ravine from the house.  The leaves were quite out and if I positioned my scope in just the right way, I could look directly into the nest:

That's the nest visible through my spotting scope.  It looks like the female has a fairly light head.  The male has been very vocal chasing anyone who dares cruise through his patch of sky.  Thanks to his vocal and merry chases, I've discovered that a red-shouldered hawk sometimes glides through (new hawk for Neil's yard).  To give you an idea of how well hidden the nest is, here is where my scope is aimed:

Here is an arrow for guidance:

Neil's house is on top of a ravine, down below is a creek and the red-tailed hawk nest is in a tall pine on the other side. Since the nest is a challenge to actually get in the scope, I left it set up there while I gathered my things and repacked them in the car.  I showed groundskeeper and the housekeeper the nest and continued gathering my stuff.

When I was about about an hour of away from Horicon, I received a call from Neil, "I was just looking through your scope that you have set up on the nest, it's lovely.  But don't you need this for the festival."

I pulled over and realized my error and shouted a loud, "BLERG!"  Figuring that shipping it overnight it would be impossible, I decided to drive back.  Neil's assistant Lorraine gave the groundskeeper her car and he drove and met me halfway--which was quite nice as he had plans to go the opening of Thor that day.  But thanks to all, I got the scope and made it to the festival and learned that coffee is a good thing for me to have when birding in the morning.

Sometimes I think it takes a village to manage a Birdchick.




Cooper's Hawk Attacks Owl Nest

Well, Friday morning turned out to be far more exciting than I anticipated!  I had to work at the park service in the afternoon and evening and I was meeting a friend for a late breakfast.  I thought that since it was warm, I'd peek at the great horned owl nest in my neighborhood and see if the owlets were more visible...

One owlet was easily visible with the naked eye on approach.  Great horned owls do not build their own nests, they take over old squirrel, hawk or heron nests.  They don't even make any renovations before they use it, they just squat.  As the chicks grow, the nests soon shrink.  Between the dwindling nest and the larger chicks, the female no longer fits very well and perches near the chicks.

It appears that the nest contains two owlets!  When I arrived to the general nesting area, I could hear the crows heartily mobbing.  I saw the male fly over with a flock of about 20 crows in tow.  The chicks showed a bit of interest in the commotion but mostly laid low.

The female was very interested in the crow activity as she watched the crows surround the other owl.  What was interesting was that I thought the crows were chasing one owl, I later ran into a fellow birder who was close the crows and he said the crows were after two great horned owls and a third flew in.  I wonder now that as I was watching her keen interest in the crow activity, if she was responding to an intruding great horned owl into her territory rather than the corvids gathering around her mate?

She soon left the nest to try to get a better look at the mobbing crows but still would turn around to keep an eye on her chicks.  It was so strange to me to see a secretive owl perched out in the open in the middle of the morning.  Not long after I took this photo, she bolted off into the middle of the flock of crows.  The owls all went in separate directions and the crows split their murder into 2 smaller groups, diving and cawing at the owls.

With the female away, the young owlets closed their eyes and assumed an upright position.  I wondered if this was all part of a camoflauge instinct?  With the adults going after the crows, it stirred up the surrounding birds.  Robins began giving their alarm calls and then an adult Cooper's hawk flew in.  The hawk missed its intended prey...then suddenly noticed one of the owls and started diving at it and screaming its call.  If you're not familiar with a Cooper's hawk mobbing an owl, let me remind you of the video of the Cooper's hawk mobbing a plastic owl (they never work to scare birds away).

The Cooper's hawk then made a wider pass and went straight for the owl nest, hell bent on mobbing the chicks.  First it bounced off the nest and then started to make a second dive, by that time, the female great horned owl was back on the nest and ready to kick some serious accipiter ass if it tried it again.  I have never seen a great horned move so fast in my entire life.  I've always referred to them as the Sunday drivers of the raptor world...I got schooled--they can move very fast when they need to.  The above photo is on the Cooper's hawk's second attempt at a dive on the nest.  The blur above the nest is the female owl defending her chicks.

The angry Cooper's hawk perched nearby and shrieked out angry, "kek kek kek kek kek keks" at the great horned owl.  I suspect this bird has a nest nearby.

The great horned owl stood at her nest above her chicks and hooted back her retorts after every kek the Cooper's hawk gave her. The owl even barked a few times in warning at the hawk.  It was the weirdest argument I'd ever heard.  As the two continued, a few crows gathered nearby to continue their remarks on the two predators they detested.  Then, out of nowhere, a broad-winged hawk screamed nearby.  Three raptors all at once! An owl, a buteo and an accipiter.

The chicks nestled against the female as if to say, "Yeah, my mom is awesome."

I wondered, how long was this battle going to last?  The suspense was killing me...then I got my answer.  I heard a helicopter coming fast and approaching low.

This was not digiscoped, this helicopter was THAT low.  It was Metropolitan Mosquito Control dropping their corn pellets full of Bti and Methoprene to kill of mosquito larvae.  The helicopter skirted the tops of the trees, the owl, crows and hawk scattered.  The adult female owl apparently thought, "Cooper's hawk, yeah, I can kill that," but when the helicopter appeared her attitude shifted to, "yikes, too big for me kids, you're on your own, see ya!"

After the raptors scattered, pellets rained down and bounced off my body.  I could hear nearby woodpeckers give low warning noises to each other.  Robins were on high alert.

A couple of nearby mallards seemed to dig the pellets and tried to eat them as soon as they hit the water--they were the only birds who seemed to be unaffected by the strange aerial machine.  The city assures me that the pellets are harmless both to me and the wildlife that might consume it.  I was tempted to start running around like Cary Grant in a Hitchcock movie, but it's not so much fun with a spotting scope in tow.

The helicopter made a few more passes and a few moments later, one of the owls flew back with a few pesky crows hot on its tail.

She perched right above my head and the crows still followed.  She looked over to see her chicks were still in the nest and I think scan for the Cooper's hawk.  Most of the crows lost interest, but a few hung around to caw out their angst.  I couldn't stay, I had to get to my breakfast meeting, but things seemed to be settling down and I'm sure she went back to the tree.  After a Cooper's hawk and a helicopter, crows were merely an annoyance.

One of the chicks was scratching itself, but it almost looks like it's trying to give a high five.  Note the large gray feathers in the nest.  Looks like the owls have been eating some pigeon.  And based on an owl pellet that Non Birding Bill near the nest, some other surprising species...but that's for future blog entry...

Red-tailed hawk nesting

The sexual tensions between pairs of red-tailed hawks was palpable today. They were either paired up on light posts or females were on the nest while a male was perched nearby keeping watching. I passed this particular nest in a ravine just off of a county road in Hastings, MN.  I got out to get a photo of the bird facing the road in the morning light, only to discover my battery dead in my Nikon D40--DOH!  I ended up hand holding my point and shoot Canon Camera and got a reasonably good photo.  I will definitely need to come back and get another photo before the leaves come out.

After my time on the Outdoor Talk show, I was driving home and chuckled when I stopped at the end of the exit for Hwy 7 off of southbound Highway 100.  Just to the upper right of the traffic signal is a red-tailed hawk nest.  It's a long light, so I took a crappy photo with my cell phone.  I had time to scan with binos and could see a red-tailed hawk head sticking out of the nest.  I imagine this is going to be a distracting place when the young learn to fly.


Cooper's Hawk Attacks Fake Plastic Owl

I've never been a fan of fake owls.  They rarely do the intended purpose of "scaring" birds away. Birds either figure out that they are fake or it can attract crows...or the occasionally very dense Cooper's hawk: [youtube][/youtube]

We sometimes use fake owls to get the attention of passing raptors to come down to the nets during hawk trapping season but they generally figure out their fake in less than a minute. According to the description of the video, the Cooper's hawks were nesting and kept trying to drive off the owl statue from the nest...but you would think that they would figure out the bird was fake. It also says in the description that the owl was removed because the hawks simply wouldn't leave it alone.

I love the accipiters, but they don't always think so clearly.

Hazards of Hand Feeding Raptors

Warning! This video gets kinda gross...especially for me.

After we banded birds this morning at Carpenter Nature Center, I was asked if I could help feed some of their education birds of prey. Their red-tailed hawk is a very easy going imprinted bird. He eats easily from the hand, so I thought I would take a quick video so you could get an idea of what it's like to watch a red-tail up close as he eats a gutted mouse. Well, he got a chunk of mouse lodged in the wrong way and tried to gag it out as if it were a pellet...

And there you have it, the chunk of mouse nailed me right in the kisser. I don't know if you caught it, but you can see a red smudge on the right side of my mouth--from the offending piece of regurgitated mouse.

Here's what hit me. It's bad enough feeding peregrines who pluck feathers all over you, but leave it to a red-tail to up the ante and nail you with actual flesh.
Yuck. The price I pay for cool birding experiences.

Red-tailed Hawk Encounter

I just have too many photos that I took Tuesday during what the local weathermen are calling "an inconvenient snow" (because it was only 2 inches that fell, but it hit during rush hour snarling traffic in the worst way). The first was the snowy owl and then I headed over to the Minnesota Valley NWR Visitor Center. I figured the feeders would be active between the snow and the sub zero temps.

They were so active, I have to divide up what I saw, otherwise we might get 45 photos in one blog entry.

One of the coolest things that happened was as I was leaving the visitor center. A young red-tailed hawk (young because the tail is brown and stripey, not brick red like it would be on an adult) was perched on the parking lot security camera. I wanted to get home because it was after 3pm and I knew with the snow, traffic would be snarled. I took a few shots and walked to my car.

I tried not to stare at the hawk while I walked to my car. Staring can make a bird nervous and this one seemed to be actively hunting and I didn't want to add to its effort in the cold and snow. It paid very little attention to me and I digiscoped one more image before my aching, freezing fingers alerted me that they had had enough. I opened my car door and turn to load in my scope when I heard what I can only describe as hawk wings hitting something (I hear it from time to time at The Raptor Center and at the hawk blind). I looked up and saw that the red-tail was no longer on the camera post and at first thought that it had flown away, but that would not account for the sound I heard. Then I looked to my left and just a few yards away in the grass I saw...

The hawk with some sort of prey, I think it's a mouse! Fortunately, my scope was still up, I quickly slid the camera adaptor back on the scope (thank goodness for that DCA adaptor) and got the above photo. My camera batteries finally died right after I took it but I watched the hawk swallow the rodent whole and then it took off.

It took a good five minutes before feeling returned to my fingers and I got stuck in traffic, but it was so worth it to see that!

Afternoon Buteo Call

Yes, I did just make that joke.

It was hard to contain any Twin Cities resident indoors today. After sub zero temps, the weather really warmed up to the twenties and thirties over the weekend and today it got to the low to mid forties--whoot. And we need to gather our rosebuds while we may, because tonight it's rain that turns to ice as the temperature is supposed to plummet to a low of 3--which as coincidence would have it will be our high for tomorrow, with the temps going somewhere in the neighborhood of -14. That's about a 60 degree change in the next twenty-four hours--how do we not a get winter tornado with that?

So, it was take the spring like day while you can. I took a quick jaunt over to the Minnesota Valley NWR. When I arrived, I could hear an angry red squirrel squeaking and general angry bird chips. I wondered if the sharp-shinned hawk was around and dashed behind the Visitor's Center.

Well, it wasn't a sharpie, but a young red-tailed hawk (not the yellow eye and the lack of red in the tail). It was half heartedly preening its feathers and bobbing its head watching was moving below. It was close, but not in the best light.

Some of the birds seemed to sense that they weren't high on the prey item list for this species of hawk and returned to the bird feeder. But, young hawks are unpredictable because they'll try anything once, so birds that did brave the feeders, keep a watchful eye towards the hawk.

I think the red-tail got tired of the squeaky red squirrel and it flew down the hill towards the river--which was great because I could get a photo with a better background. The only problem was that it was facing away from me. So, I did my best whistled impersonation of a red-tailed hawk scream and it looked at me. Great day with a great hawk. And with that, I left it to hunt in peace.