Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Baby Bird Season Begins at VINS with lots of Barred Owlets

By Jordan Daley
Science Outreach Coordinator

Did you know that Barred Owls are Vermont's most common owl? They inhabit our old forests and wetland areas. They love large dark trees with cavities and plenty of prey around. These silent flyers will sneak up on anything they can get their talons on, from rodents to crayfish.

They are fascinating birds with striking patterns and huge dark eyes that make even the most calloused birder melt. Their calls are wild and varied depending on their age and season, but the "who cooks for you, who cooks for you all?" is a classic! Like most owls, they've got an air of mystery. They're nighttime hunters, relying on their camouflage during the day and their excellent sense of hearing at night.

And if the adult version doesn't entice you to absolutely adore these amazing raptors, maybe the baby version will.

Meet our first baby barred owl of the season: BDOW 16-055. (A charming name, I know. We don't name our rehab patients. The goal is to return them to the wild.)

This bird was brought to us after falling from a nest. The nest was located but the little guy was just too small to climb or fly back up and after careful observation and a couple attempts to reach the 50 ft cavity, we made the call to admit this baby. He's already been at VINS for about two weeks and is growing healthy and strong!

He didn't get to spend much time alone in his cozy little enclosure.

An enormous thank you to our Vermont State Game Wardens, who presented our second baby barred!

BDOW-16-063 came to us just a few days later. He was presented by Warden Carey who brought him in from Chittenden, VT. This little guy had a similar story to our first patient. He also fell from a nest, but we were unable to locate either a nest or parents.

Game wardens are our partners in wildlife conservation. We regularly receive patients that they've rescued from illegal possession scenarios, accidental or malicious gunshot wounds, our simply displaced babies. In this case, lots of people worked together to get this young owlet to a safe place for care.

Side-by-side these two chicks started feeding together and interacting as siblings in the nest.

Welcome to Owlet #3, a tiny Barred Owl from St. Johnsbury!

A couple stumbled upon this tiny fellow while hiking in the Northeast Kingdom. It is unclear how this bird came to be on the ground, but in our dense Northern forests, it can be difficult to locate a barred owl nest. This chick was initially discovered by the couple's dog who picked it up. Luckily this dog was gentle and the owlet didn't sustain any puncture wounds.

This couple logged over 20 miles on trails to get this bird safely to VINS. So young that his vision still isn't developed this bird has taken to his older nest-mates well and often looks to them for food and warmth. We're happy to see him habituating nicely and grateful for the long hours the presenters put in to get him to safety!

UPDATE: Baby Barred #4 is here! 
This fellow came in a little bigger than we had expected and that is because he had been living in human hands longer than we knew. If there is any important lesson we want our friends and readers to learn it's this: humans don't make good wild animal parents. Not only that, but when you have rescued a raptor or any other protected bird, it is a legal requirement that you report the finding to your state wildlife agency or a licensed wildlife rehabilitation facility within 24 hours. 

While we appreciate the rescuer's good intentions, the wisest step they took was bringing the owlet to us. Most people don't keep their kitchens stocked with owl food- but luckily we do! Most people don't have owl masks and puppets for preventing feeding- but VINS does! Most families don't have time to feed baby birds every 15, 30 or 60 minutes, let alone the correct mix of nutrients and tools we use to mimic feeding in the wild- but our rehabbers are experts! For now this baby barred owl is doing well with his fellow nest-mates but we'll be watching closely for signs of imprinting.

Thank you again to everyone who is keeping an eye out for orphaned and injured birds! You're the first step in a line of care that is essential to returning those birds to the wild. Please consider helping to support these owls with a donation to the VINS Center for Wild Bird Rehabilitation!

Stay tuned as these owlets grow up healthy and strong and return to the wild! We're updating our friends on social media using #babybarredvt

What can you do to support our rehabilitation facility? Adopt a raptor!

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

National Poetry Month: Wild Words from a VINS Fan

By Jordan Daley
Science Outreach Coordinator

April is National Poetry Month and VINS staff, volunteers and fans are celebrating! We recently received a letter from Gabby Baker, a 4th grader who loves VINS. She included a poem that she composed for her fourth grade class.

Miss Baker's poem got me thinking. Poetry has long been the way we ask and attempt to answer big questions about our world. What are we? Where did we come from? What is the earth? How does it work? What is the nature of life?

In my experiences as an environmental educator and an outdoor explorer, I've often turned to poetry as a way to convey things I understand but can't explain, or things that strike me as so beautiful, that my description should sound just as special. Sometimes, it's the poetry that I've read that connects my mind and body to the nature I'm exploring. The words of writers like Walt Whitman, Lawrence Collins, and Annie Dillard ring as true and timeless as the mountains I've climbed.

I think of the tall pines swaying in my childhood backyard when I read Gary Snyder:

"in the blue night
frost haze, the sky glows
with the moon
pine tree tops
bend snow-blue, fade
into sky, frost, starlight..."

There's no denying the powerful connection between the natural world and poetry. But this isn't just the Vermont Institute of Nature, we're the Vermont Institute of Natural SCIENCE, and poetry is a part of that too. From Lucretius's "On the Nature of Things," and epic about atoms, to Michael Symmonds Robert's "Corpus," reflections on mapping the genome, throughout human history, poetry has zoomed all the way in to our microscopic observations and all the way out to our cosmic theories to help us explain the way the world works.

This month VINS staff and volunteers will be sharing their own poems about the natural world, science and our work. We invite you to join us!

Send your poems to us via Facebook (Vermont Institute of Natural Science (VINS)), Twitter (@VINS_Tweets), Instagram (@vinsraptors) or by e-mail at

We can't wait to hear from you! And with that I leave you with one more verse exclaiming the diversity of life on earth, from Erasmus Darwin's "The Temple of Nature".

"ON rapid feet o'er hills, and plains, and rocks,
Speed the scared leveret and rapacious fox;
On rapid pinions cleave the fields above
The hawk descending, and escaping dove;
With nicer nostril track the tainted ground
The hungry vulture, and the prowling hound;
Converge reflected light with nicer eye
The midnight owl, and microscopic fly;
With finer ear pursue their nightly course
The listening lion, and the alarmed horse."