Tuesday, October 18, 2016

VINS Says Goodbye to a Beloved Ambassador, Utah the Great Horned Owl

By Lauren Adams,
Lead Wildlife Keeper

You can hear him even before you get inside the building.  Each day he greets us with the characteristic “Hoothoot Hoot Hoot.” 

“Good morning, Utah,” we reply going about our daily tasks.  It is easy to take for granted a friendly conversation with one of the most fearsome predators of the sky, the Great Horned Owl.  But this is VINS, where our co-workers might have feathers and eat mice for dinner, but are no less important to our jobs than the other humans, and are equally treasured in our hearts.

If I ever forget how amazing it is to be up close and personal with a Great Horned Owl, all I need to do is attend one of our educational programs and observe the joy and awe on the faces of the audience when Utah emerges on the glove addressing the crowd with his deep voice and majestic presence.  He represents his species magnificently as an ambassador from the wild, teaching visitors to VINS about raptors, owls, their habitats and behaviors, their place in their ecosystem, and of course, their calls.

Utah came to VINS in May of 2004 from Salt Lake City, Utah where he had hatched in 2000.  After a collision with a car, Utah suffered permanent brain damage including partial blindness in one eye.  Because of his injuries, Utah remained permanently in captivity where he could live comfortably and safely.  Since arriving at VINS, Utah has been an invaluable member of our education team.  His calm temperament and easygoing personality have made him a favorite of both staff and guests alike. 

Ask anyone who has had the pleasure of meeting him, though, and they will tell you that his best quality was his hoot.  From inside his crate, long before you could see him, you could hear him foreshadow the thrill that was yet to come.  There was always a buzz of anticipation in the air when Utah was scheduled to come out, and he never disappointed. 

My favorite memory of Utah was during a program with one of our educators, Nathan.  On a busy day in mid-summer, to a fully packed room, I recall the enchanted giggles of delight as Nathan demonstrated Utah’s call-and-response, hooting back and forth like they were sharing some private joke, the true meaning of which, we could only imagine.

On Friday, we said goodbye to one of our most beloved birds and friends.  Utah’s injuries and his age finally got the better of him, and he passed away, leaving a hole both in our programs and in our hearts.  It is always difficult to lose a cherished member of our education team here at VINS.  It reminds us of the fragility of the existence of a wild bird, and of how lucky we are to have them touch our lives, even briefly.  It is a little easier, though, thinking about Utah’s immeasurable contribution to VINS and the community.  In his 16 years of life, he reached thousands, maybe more. 

It will be sad to come in to work each morning and not hear his soulful greeting.  But I know how special it was to have heard it at all, and I will never forget the sound.

Monday, October 17, 2016

Peter Guesses "Hooo" Will Be Our 500th Patient!

By Peter Gau
Wildlife Keeper
VINS is abuzz with exciting news from the Center for Wild Bird Rehabilitation. With the intake of patient #491 we’re only 9 birds away from treating 500 injured or orphaned wild birds in 2016! We haven’t been so close to this milestone in a few years- this is a big deal!

The staff has been guessing about the date of our 500th patient. Some say early November, some have even said December 31st. With baby bird season over the days of multiple birds coming in at once have decreased, so I think we’ll be closer to December. My guess for the species would have to be a Barred Owl. During the winter and after Christmas we get many Barred Owls in due to car collisions. Combined with the fact that the Barred Owl is the most common species of owl in this part of Vermont, there is a very good chance that we could reach patient 500 from admitting Barred Owls in the next couple of months.

As for the year so far, we have a top 10 species list admitted to our hospital, they are as follows:
1-      European Starling (EUST)
2-      American Robin (AMRO)
3-      Barred Owl (BDOW)
4-      Rock Dove or Pigeon (RODO)
5-      Mourning Dove (MODO)
6-      Eastern Phoebe (EAHP)
7-      Cedar Waxwing (CEWA)
8-      Mallard Duck (MALL)
9-      Broad Winged Hawk (BWHA)
10-  Common Grackle (COGR)

This year has been a busy one. That is both sad and amazing. It is sad because so many birds were injured, kept illegally, imprinted or starving. The amazing side is that were able to help and rehabilitate many of those birds and give them a second chance at life in the wild. As always if you see an injured animal, do not approach it, call your local wildlife center or Fish and Wildlife Service for instructions. Thank you to everyone who supports VINS and our mission for rehabilitation and education!