Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Barred Owls: Round Two

We're getting our second wave of emaciated, hit-by-car barred owls admitted as patients at the VINS' Wildlife Services department.

In the photo to the right is a barred owl who sustained a fracture in his left wing (and has a wing wrap on to stabilize the bone), as well as damage to his right eye. The owl pictured below came in with major head trauma, and was bleeding from his mouth.

Deep snow layered with ice is making hunting for rodents very difficult for owls and other raptors. Rodents often scurry to and fro beneath the snow, which acts as a protective barrier against predators. With the snow so deep and icy, raptors have a tough time punching through that snow with their feet to get to their furry meals below.

In these hard times, you'll see barred owls and other birds of prey hanging out closer to your home and by the highway -- both sources of food. Bird feeders at your home attract rodents, which attract the owls. And discarded food and trash along the highway attracts rodents and again the owls. With starvation setting in for many of these down-and-out birds, you'll find raptors and scavengers (crows and ravens) being a little more bold. They're less likely to fly away when you approach if they've found a source of food. Giving up their meal may mean giving up their chance at life.

The owls pictured in this blog represent just two of the 10 barred owls we've gotten into our care in the past 7 days! Unfortunately, we had to make the decision to euthanize the owl with internal bleeding. After three days he showed no signs of improvement, and his symptoms indicated his organs were shutting down. The owl with the fracture, however, is steadily improving. His eye has cleared up and in a few days we'll be removing his wing wrap to check on the wing's healing.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Scientist for a Day: the Great Backyard Bird Count

By Ian Miyashiro
Environmental Educator

Growing up I wanted to be a scientist, traveling around the world studying animals. I ended up being more of a science teacher, but from time to time I get to help with projects that allow me to be a scientist for a day. The 14th Annual Great Backyard Bird Count (GBBC) is one of these projects anyone can take part in.

The two biggest names in the study of birds, Audubon and The Cornell Lab of Ornithology, have teamed up with Bird Studies Canada to collect data from birders throughout the United States and Canada. Last year more than 97,000 checklists were submitted, totaling 603 species and more than 11.3 million birds observed.

VINS will again offer the opportunity for those visiting the Nature Center February 21 to be a citizen scientist for the day and add to our observations and final checklist. From expert birders with spotting scopes to first-time birders, all are welcome. Binoculars will be available for those without.

From 11:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m., we will be taking surveys every 15 minutes and tally the highest number of individuals from each species observed. At the end of the day, we will add our list to the tens of thousands of others. Last year’s data showed many changes in species and their numbers seen, seasonal pattern changes in migrations, and even alterations in the range of species over time.

Our VINS GBBC headquarters will have staff on hand to assist with identification, crafts for kids, and plenty of information to help you be a citizen scientist throughout the year. Check out the GBBC web site, the VINS event page, and be ready to count with us at VINS February 21, 11:00 a.m. - 2:00 p.m.!

Photo above by Michele Black, OH; GBBC2010.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Waxwing Poetic

I can't help but wax poetic when it comes to one of my favorite birds: the bohemian waxwing.

Named "bohemian" for their nomadic movements, these northern birds travel in flocks like gypsies from one fruited tree to the next -- never staying anywhere long enough to officially establish breeding territories. The "waxwing" part of their name comes from the wax-like red-orange tips found at the end of some of their wing feathers. See a photo of the wax tips.

Bohemian waxwings are rare to Vermont, spending their summers in northern Canada and Alaska, and occasionally making their way to Vermont during the winter months. They look similar to the cedar waxwing, which are quite common in Vermont, but bohemians are larger and have even more beautiful feather coloration (in my opinion, anyway).

This particular waxwing -- pictured above -- flew into a window, suffering eye and ear damage. We're currently treating the bird with homeopathics and an anti-inflammatory to combat the swelling and pain. He's eating well, gobbling down chopped grapes, Maine blueberries and mealworms aplenty. We have high hopes this beauty will return the wild.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Enjoy Nature in a Meaningful Way: Join a Camp Adventure with VINS

By Amanda Charland
Camp Program Coordinator

Just a few weeks ago, my days were full of wolves howling on hilltops, bears lumbering through meadows, and occasionally, the need to dodge stampeding bison. I had the luxury of many amazing experiences in Yellowstone National Park, where I worked as a naturalist guide. There I discovered what John Muir meant when he said, “In every walk with nature, one receives far more than he seeks.”

Apparently, I was not the only one. Some visitors to the park sought out nature, only to end up with more than they bargained for. One visitor took a close-up photo (too close!) of a 2000-lb bison, while another tried to pet an elk -- she thought the park animals were on leashes. Needless to say, both of these visitors left with some bruises.

I mention these accounts because while amusing, they are also common in wild places all over the world. Many people want to appreciate nature in a meaningful way, but don’t quite know how. I’ve come to find that enjoying wilderness is a learned skill. It’s a never-ending education and one that offers great rewards.

As the brand new Camp Program Coordinator at VINS, I’ll be spending the remaining snowy Vermont months creating exciting nature adventures for the hundreds of campers who will join VINS during the warm summer months. These special weeks spent at VINS’ Nature Camps this summer will foster meaningful experiences in nature for children -- experiences that will allow them to go forward into life with an appreciation for and understanding of our Earth, and their important role in it.

Quite simply, the best way to learn to enjoy nature is to be in nature. VINS summer camps are the perfect opportunity to help kids learn about the wilderness that surrounds them. From looking for salamanders in the deep dense forests, to creating works of art inspired by nature, to learning how we are connected to nature through the food that we eat: VINS camps foster wild curiosity in all children.

Find more information on our camps online here, (http://vinsweb.org/index.php/discover/nature-camp), and check back on our blog for detailed information on our upcoming camp season. Come explore with us at VINS -- we’re sure you’ll find more than you seek!

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Red-tail Hawksicle

When we lifted this bird up to examine him late one afternoon last week he was motionless, his feathers caked with snow and ice. He'd been found weak in a snow bank with severe hypothermia, his mate in a nearby tree.

Have you been following his story on Facebook?

We immediately got to work thawing him out, using hot washcloths to melt the ice off and towels to dry his feathers. Once the ice was removed we put him in a small enclosure with a heat pad to warm him up. Despite the fact that he was rather thin, we did not give the usual round of fluids so as not to shock him system further.

Happily he was warm and dry the next morning, and looking alert.
He eagerly ate the solid food we offered after four days on a fluid diet. We hope to get him to an outdoor enclosure within the next couple of days to increase his strength for life back in the wild. Check out VINS' Facebook page for photos of his mate.

What's With The Tail?

Last week a Cooper's hawk was brought to Wildlife Services after she hit a window on a dairy farm. After its examination it was determined to be emaciated and a bit bloodied from the collision. She was given vitamins and a fluid diet to treat the emaciation.

Her size and coloring indicate that she is a first year female. When she matures, her coloring will transform completely, turning from the current brown and white to bluish-gray with an orange breast. Her eyes will turn from yellow to red.

You may be wondering why the bird's tail looks a little funny in the photo. Our Cooper's hawk is wearing a tail guard made out of stiff X-ray film and masking tape to protect her tail while she is in captivity. Not all raptors get this peculiar treatment during rehabilitation. Cooper's hawks and other accipiters, such as northern goshawks and sharp-shinned hawks, have a reputation for being very high-strung in captivity, flapping around and banging their bodies into walls. To prevent this bird from harming herself, we've taken the precaution of protecting her long, narrow tail. Accipiters hunt smaller birds in forests, and are adapted for quick, darting flights between trees. If this Cooper's hawk is to properly hunt again she will need that tail intact to stay agile for forest hunting.