Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Half-a-Wing Shy

This northern saw-whet owl -- who came to VINS with a fracture in his left wing complete with nerve damage -- has had quite a row to hoe during his recovery here at VINS.

See a video of the owl getting his stitches removed.

You may recall this little fella from an earlier
post on our blog about weighing him.
Turns out the nerve damage was non-reversible, and the tip of the owl's wing became necrotic (or dead). The owl began to gnaw at his own wing -- trying to remove the dead weight. We had no choice but to partially amputate the wing up to the elbow.

Had we not amputated, the owl would've continued to chew on his wing, causing infection and likely death. With a partially amputated wing, he cannot return to the wild. But don't despair! This lucky guy has a forever home at Windows on Wildlife, a non-profit educational organization based in Massachusetts.

So although he leaves us half-a-wing shy, we are positive this special owl will thrive at his new home. Good luck, little bird!

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Owl Release at Winter Carnival

One by one the barred owl patients in Wildlife Services are recovering from their vehicle collision injuries. On Saturday, visitors at the Vermont Institute of Natural Science were treated to an owl release as part of the day's Winter Carnival festivities.

Watch a video of Saturday's release here.

Snow was falling as VINS Wildlife Services intern Kasey Hopkins told the crowd the story of how the owl came to us. Then Education Programs Coordinator Hannah Putnam released the bird towards the woods in honor of her birthday. Happy Birthday Hannah! After Hannah released the owl it stayed for a long time in the tree before flying off. We often get the question, "Do the birds hang around here after being released?" The answer is no. They don't stay long, and although we have no way of knowing where they do go, we know that we don't see them again after releasing them.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Look For It Now: Common Redpoll

If you've got feeders up this time of year, it's not unusual to see flashes of pink and red in the feathers of your regular visitors. Purple finches and northern cardinals give the white winter landscape of Vermont some much-needed color.

But don't assume that these birds are the only ones with color stopping for a spot of seed. Keep your eyes peeled for the common redpoll, a small bird from way up north. This wintertime visitor is considered an irruptive species, and makes it down to places like Vermont about once every two winters... making their sighting all the more special.

To ID this fine-looking finch, look for a red cap on their forehead, and a black spot of feathers beneath their yellow, conical beak. Both sexes have brownish-black stripes on either side of their body, with a white breast. Males' chests are topped with red. These birds travel in charms (which is the word used to describe a group of finches -- how delightful!), so you'll see large numbers of them at once.

These seed-eaters have been steadily enjoying the sunflower seed at my tube-feeders, and I've been enjoying having this uncommon visitor as a daily guest outside my window! Look for redpolls now!

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Hairy vs. Downy Woodpeckers

Today at the Vermont Institute of Natural Science we released a female Hairy Woodpecker that recently recovered from a cat attack. You may see this species at your feeder this winter. But you also may see the Downy woodpecker, which is virtually identical. So how do you tell them apart?

Downy Woodpeckers are smaller, averaging at about 6.75" in length, while a Hairy is about 9.25". But size can be a frustrating factor if you don't have the two species side by side to compare. I suggest looking at two other identifying characteristics. First, look at the bird's bill. A Downy Woodpecker's bill is short and stubby. It's only about half the length of the rest of the bird's head. A Hairy Woodpecker, on the other hand, has a long bill that as long as the head. Still stumped? Next check the tail. Both species have black feathers and white feathers on their tail, but only the Downies have black bars on the white feathers. In the photo, you can see that a Hairy Woodpecker has both pure white tail feathers and pure black tail feathers, but no mixed-color feathers. Do you have any other tricks for identifying woodpeckers?

Sunday, January 9, 2011

I Shall Be Released

Last month we had a surge of barred owls admitted to wildlife services, each one the result of a car collision. We are happy to report that we have begun to release some of them. Watch a video of the latest barred owl release here.

The numbers are in: car collision was the top reason for admission in 2010. That's 17% of all patients admitted to our facility last year. We're still not sure why all those barred owls got hit by cars that week in December, but we are glad that so many concerned Vermonters brought them in to us for care.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Avian Rehabilitation Workshops at VINS

If you are working toward your rehabilitation license or preparing to begin earning your license, VINS is hosting a series of workshops geared toward avian rehabilitation. The classes include a presentation and hands-on lab led by longtime Vermont avian rehabilitator Allison Stark.

This workshop series, which includes six courses beginning Jan. 22 and running through April, covers topics ranging from treating leg and foot fractures to emaciation treatment.

For a complete list of courses in detail, as well as information on registration, time and location, please download this registration form.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Look For It Now: Tracks in the Snow

By Katie Christman
VINS Education Intern

One of my favorite winter activities is looking for animal signs. I relish putting on my snowshoes, breathing in that cold winter air and searching for the clues of the person or animal who was out in the
snow before me. The best part about looking for animal signs is that anybody can do it!

When I go looking for animals signs I like to take out with me a few items. My camera, a notebook and pencil, a measuring tape and Mark Elbroch’s Mammal Tracks and Sign: A Guide to North American Species are my tools of choice. With the appropriate winter gear (lots of layers, please!) and a backpack full of hiking essentials, I am all set to explore whatever signs have been left in the snow.

I find the best time to explore is in the morning, when signs are fresh and hopefully have not been disturbed by weather or humans. As you’re walking through an area, look for footprints, scat (poop), chew marks, tunnels, fur, pinecone remains and anything else that you think could potentially be a sign. Take the time to observe the sign and jot down notes in your notebook. Note the conditions of the day. Write a description of the sign. With the tape measure, measure the sign (so you have something for scale) and take a picture. This way you can always remember what the sign looked like and others can look at the sign as well.

Overall, though, have fun exploring what’s in your backyard, your driveway or at your local nature center. A few days ago I was on the trail here at VINS and saw signs of animals ranging from the size of a mouse to a fox. Come on out to VINS and brave the cold. You might be surprised by what you find!

Photos clockwise from top left: a tape measure next to a dog track; pine cone chewings from a red squirrel; and tooth marks from a red squirrel biting into a striped maple to drink sap.