Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Patient Profile: Eastern Phoebe

by Becca Novello
Intern, Center for Wild Bird Rehabilitation

Species: Eastern Phoebe

Age: Fledglings

Cause for Admission: Abduction - Healthy birds removed from nest and parents

These three Phoebes came to us on June 17th as fledglings, but their road to rehab actually began ten days before that. After finding their nest at a construction site, some members of the public took the nestlings into their own care. Though the intentions were good, the Phoebes became seriously malnourished over the course of those ten days – baby birds require a very specific diet and can’t develop properly without it.*

By the time they arrived in our care, the Phoebes were in bad condition. Their feathers were tattered and broken, so the birds were unable to maintain their waterproofing or regulate their core temperature. They would have had no way to protect themselves from the weather in the wild, and they would have been forced to spend precious energy producing heat that they couldn’t even hold onto. Beyond that, some of the birds hadn’t grown any tail feathers at all, though they were old enough that those feathers should have been well developed. 

Proper tail feather development is important to all birds, but Phoebes in particular rely on their tails to facilitate some pretty impressive maneuvering. They primarily eat flying insects, so they have to be able to catch their prey right out of the air. They watch closely for insects from low perches; when they see a potential meal passing by, they flit off the perch, snag it in their beak, and swing right back to home base. They sometimes even hover in midair to glean insects off of foliage! Their quick changes of direction require incredible control of movement, and Phoebes use their long, thin tail like a rudder, constantly making tiny adjustments. Without the proper feather condition and fully-grown tails, these Phoebes wouldn’t stand a chance on their own. And besides, what would a Phoebe be without its characteristic tail twitch? 

Status: Ongoing assessment with an expected release
Though the consequences of the Phoebes’ malnutrition will take time to overcome, their overall condition has improved greatly since their arrival. We’ve had them on a proper diet that’s rich in protein, and their tails are growing in beautifully! They’re in an outdoor enclosure now, developing skills that will be necessary to them as adults in the wild. They make longer and more controlled flights each day, and they recently figured out how to smack their prey against their perches to kill it – including their cooked egg and soaked kitten food. Over the coming days and weeks, we will be evaluating their flight and watching for their tails to fill out. We’re hoping that a release is in the cards for these guys – we’ll think of them whenever we hear a raspy “PHOE-be!” through our windows.

*Please remember: Besides the fact that wild birds require incredibly specific and intensive care, keeping them without a license is illegal.  If you see a bird that you believe to be injured, ill, or orphaned, call the VINS hotline immediately! We can advise you on how to best deal with the situation and what to do if interference is necessary. If we aren’t there to answer the phone, be sure to leave us a message with your name, number, and situation, and we’ll get back to you as soon as possible.

Friday, June 19, 2015

Dinosaurs in Your Backyard

by Annie Harmon
Education Intern

Have you heard the news? 

Birds aren't just birds anymore—they're also dinosaurs!

I'm not just saying this because I'm excited to see Jurassic World. This summer at the VINS Nature Center, we're tracing the family tree of birds all the way back to prehistoric times. We're gaining a deeper appreciation for the birds we love and discovering that, in fact, “Birds Are Dinosaurs!” If this sounds strange to you, fear not: the evidence is clear, if you know where to look.

Let's take a virtual tour through our new exhibit and discover the ancient past of chickens and chickadees!

As we enter the exhibit, we are transported back in time to the dawn of dinosaurs 252 million years ago. The air is full of snufflings, grunts, and roars that could only belong to dinosaurs. But the brightly-colored, feathered creatures around me look nothing like the scaly, smooth, dull-looking dinos I remember from elementary school science classes. Our understanding of dinosaurs has advanced dramatically in the last several years!

To get acquainted with these unfamiliar dinosaurs, we'll stop by our interactive magnet board. Recreate real dinosaurs, or use the feet, heads, bodies, tails, and wings to “evolve” a new creature!

As we walk through the exhibit, we move forward in time and meet different members of the dinosaur/bird family tree. Each species has characteristics in common with modern birds.

Some dinosaurs had sharp, curved claws,
 like modern birds of prey.

Other dinosaurs had toothed "beaks" and birdlike eyes.

Many dinosaurs even had feathers, which are clearly visible in their fossils.

These fossils provided some of the best evidence for the theory of evolution, and they changed the ways in which we think about dinosaurs, birds, and all of the evolutionary history of this planet. Small, gradual changes over time allowed big, carnivorous, terrestrial dinosaurs to evolve into the enormous diversity of birds we see today.

Bird-like characteristics allowed dinosaurs to hunt powerfully, move efficiently, and reproduce successfully. Paleontologists can determine an incredible amount about prehistoric life using fossils: bodies, footprints, and eggs preserved in rock. Some of these creatures have tongue-twisting names, but you'll also see familiar faces. Even the famous Velociraptor belongs on the bird family tree. In fact, Velociraptor had feathers (despite what you'll see in Jurassic World!).

Excavate a fossil in our Dino Dig
and be a paleontologist for a day!
Does Velociraptor deserve its reputation as a cunning, fierce hunter? To find out, you'll have to visit!
At the end of the exhibit, chirps and whistles fill the air. A bright cloud of birds escorts us back to the present.  Of course, Velociraptor and Archaeopteryx cannot follow us into the modern era, but their descendants surround us. So the next time you see a raptor program at VINS, or hear a cardinal singing in your backyard, remember that you are in the presence of dinosaurs that never went extinct.

What a handsome dinosaur.