Wednesday, January 16, 2019

Year of the Bird – 7 Things to Be Thankful for About 2018

by Anna Morris

2018 marked the centennial of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, the most powerful and important bird-protection law ever passed. In honor of this milestone, nature lovers around the world joined forces to celebrate 2018 as the “Year of the Bird.” Now that the year has come to a close, we at VINS would like to celebrate 2018 with a list of some good things that happened this year for the birds.

Bald Eagle, by Vermont Audubon
1) Here in Vermont, it was an excellent year for nesting Bald Eagles. Though the Bald Eagle is still listed on the state’s endangered species list, this year’s crop of young eagles may see the species down-listed or de-listed entirely.

2) In California, a second-generation wild California Condor chick was born, the first in over 50 years.

3) We were treated to the sighting of a very rare bird visiting our northern climes from the tropical south. A Great Black Hawk arrived in Portland, ME in November, a bird normally native to Peru.

4) Detection of migrating raptors at wind farms is getting better and better, thanks to AI technology. The program IdentiFlight could help wind farms prevent the deaths of hundreds of eagles, while producing clean renewable energy.

California Condors, by All About Birds
5) Cities around the United States banned the use of plastic grocery bags, following several states and countries that have already done so, or begun taxing the bags to prevent this waste product from ending up in our ecosystems.

6) We learned about bird migration and helped birds at the Tribute in Light in NYC. This gorgeous memorial poses problems for migrating songbirds, but by collaborating with the city, the Audubon Society and Cornell Lab of Ornithology have been able to make it an opportunity for learning and for conservation.

Wisdom, the Laysan Albatross, by Smithsonian Magazine
7) Finally, Wisdom, a 68-year-old Laysan Albatross who is the oldest known wild bird, laid another egg on Midway Atoll. She was banded originally in 1965 and returns to the island every year to raise one chick.

We’d also like to give a big thank you to everyone who made the Year of the Bird possible, including National Geographic, BirdLife International, the Audubon Society, and Cornell Lab of Ornithology. Thank you for getting us thinking about the ways in which we can live our lives a little better for birds. Happy New Year!

Thursday, January 3, 2019

In Memory of Kentucky

by Grae O'Toole, Wildlife Keeper


Kentucky,  approx. 2004 - 2018.
Kentucky, the exhibit Eastern Screech Owl, passed away overnight on December 25th. Our records showed that he was at least 14 years old, but may have been older considering he came into care as an adult, and there is no easy way to tell the difference between adult and juvenile plumage. Research has shown that the oldest known Screech Owl was around 14 years old, so he certainly lived a long life for such a small bird.

VINS received Kentucky from the Raptor Rehabilitation Center of Kentucky in 2004, where he was initially treated for injuries sustained after being hit by a car. He suffered severe head and eye trauma. His right retina was detached due to the force of the trauma and, unfortunately, he lost considerable vision in that eye, which, could be observed as a mis-shapened pupil. He also had a very noticeable beak malocclusion, in which his upper and lower mandible were not aligned correctly. With all these factors compounded he was deemed non-releasable.

The Screech Owls are a favorite among guests of VINS (if you could spot them!) due to their small size and elusiveness. Their overall camouflaged appearance and preference for tree cavities makes them extremely difficult to see out in the wild. Kentucky could often be seen hiding in plain sight, surprising guests who had difficulty searching for him, only to find, minutes later, he had been perched right in front all along, unblinking and motionless.

His cause of death is not completely known, but it would appear that he died due to heart failure as a result of old age. Our necropsy also showed that he may have had fibrosarcoma, cancerous tissue; developing in and around a bone of his right wing. It is an aggressive cancer, that may be prone to spreading throughout the body, and would have been extremely difficult to treat in such a small, elderly bird.

In his long years here, Kentucky educated many thousands of people on Screech Owls and the environment. He certainly was a great ambassador for his species. His calls will be missed, as well as the daily search to find him hiding in plain sight in his enclosure. This death was especially difficult due to the recent death of another exhibit owl, Louis. The fact that both lived extremely long lives is a testament to the amount of care that all the staff put into these birds day-in and day-out. Both birds were given a second chance at life when they were rescued by caring individuals. We can all revel in the fact that they lived long lives, they were given the best care possible due to the tireless work of staff and generous donation from the public, and they inspired people daily to care for them and their wild cousins in their native habitat.