Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Oh, how they grow!

Would you believe that this bird is the same little guy that came in as a feather-less, pink baby just one month ago? Baby birds grow quickly... very quickly! Look here to see how this bird appeared when he was first brought to VINS in October.

For the past month, VINS' wildlife services team have been "Rock Dove Mom" to this young bird, making sure he is kept warm and feeding him as his mother would -- which, in the dove world, is no small feat! Instead of the rock dove mom placing food into the baby's mouth as other mom and dad birds do, the baby rock dove will stick his head into his mother's mouth -- way down deep into her crop where she stores food that she herself has gobbled up. To simulate this odd feeding style in a rehabilitation setting, we fill a bottle with hull-less seed, and cover the top with a soft fabric. We then cut a slit into fabric top. The baby bird will stick his beak (and occassionally his whole head!) into that slit while we hold the bottle upside-down. The bird opens his mouth up wide and the seed slides right in. It brings a whole new meaning to bottle-feeding a baby. This juvenile rock dove is now eating on his own. He's been seen flapping his wings and getting some air beneath his feet. In no time, this bird will be able to fly, and we'll return him to his home in the wild.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Let’s Take a Walk

With the beautiful fall days we’ve been having, it’s a great time to get out for a walk in the woods. Some may think of November as a dreary month, but all around us life endures. In full display this time of year are the Clubmosses, one of several species of plants that belong to the plant family Lycopodiaceae. Princess pine, ground cedar, tree clubmoss and running pine are all members of this same family, and are often referred to simply as Lycopodiums. Among our favorites is the princess pine or flat-branched tree club-moss (Dendrolycopodium obscurum) shown here.

If you brush your fingers against the plant, a small cloud of yellow spores fills the air. These little plants – and their tiny spores - actually have a big place in the history of early commerce. The mature spores are flammable, and give off a small flash explosion when ignited, leading to their extensive use in early flash photography and even in fireworks! The spores are so tiny that they were used at one point as a way to measure things on the microscopic level. And they have even been used in medicine!

So take a walk in the woods today. Explore your backyard, your favorite hiking trail, or better yet come to VINS and enjoy our scenic trails. You never know what you might find.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

VINS Says Goodbye to a Friend

Fourteen years ago, an American kestrel was born, beginning her journey into the public eye as an ambassador to her species through VINS' educational programs. On November 4, this elderly bird took her last breath and passed away, leaving behind the great accomplishment of connecting people from all walks of life to the wonderment of nature.

A charming little falcon, this kestrel served in numerous VINS’ education programs throughout New England. Due to her gentle (though occasionally feisty) nature and small stature, she was the first bird that staff and volunteers trained with when learning how to handle VINS' education raptors.

Born in the summer of 1995, this kestrel was taken illegally out of the wild as a baby and raised by humans, leaving her imprinted. Once imprinted, a bird cannot return to the wild as it will not know how to survive on its own. In June that year, she made her way into VINS' care where she spent the rest of her life meeting everyone from young children at school programs to elderly citizens at nursing homes.

VINS Nature Center Programs Manager Chris Collier reflects on the kestrel’s life.

“My memories go back to when she was a flight program bird,” Collier said. “We’d take her on the road along with a barn owl -- also flighted -- and a hawk. We’d display the hawk on glove and then would fly her and the barn owl. She was not always a consistent flyer, being upset by big scary robins and the like, but many ‘oohs’ and ‘ahhhs’ were pronounced when she came out of the crate.”

And she was quite the adventurous soul. In September 1999, the kestrel flew away during an educational program, only to be found two weeks later in the neighboring town of Woodstock! Luckily, she returned to us in good health.

“Overall, I think about the vast numbers of people that interacted with her,” said Collier, “either by being an audience member or being one of the many staff and volunteers that worked with her. She had a big attitude at times for such a diminutive creature, which -- just like the attitude of a red squirrel -- made me like her even more. It would be a very difficult calculation, but thousands of people learned about raptors and falcons though her.”

Please join us at the VINS Nature Center, in Quechee Vermont on November 28 at 12:30 p.m. to pay tribute to this lovely and important bird. To support the work of VINS and the care of our rehabilitation patients and education birds, please visit our website at