Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Phantom of the Forest

by Sara Eisenhauer
Wildlife Services Manager

VINS Wildlife Services Dept received a mystery bird earlier this month. When the patient arrived, we knew right away that it was a baby raptor – it had a sharp curved tip to its beak, and very sharp talons - but what species of raptor?? Here in our rehab dept, we feel like we’ve seen it all, but sometimes we can still get stumped. This baby raptor was no “wee” baby – it was the size of a small chicken, but had no feathers, just white fluff.  This white fluff indicated to us that it was still very young and helpless.
Stumped or not, we still had to begin the initial exam.
During the exam, I noticed a few things that were different about this bird, compared to other baby raptors we’ve seen:  first of all, its legs were quite long – longer than a Broad-winged Hawk, or a Red-tailed Hawk. Secondly, he would protest by making a “kek kek kek” sound. It sounded so familiar to me, but I just couldn’t place it.  The final clue that gave it away happened when I took a peek into the babe’s mouth - it was purplish/blue in color. Aha!! I knew right away what we had – a nestling Northern Goshawk!!

Adult Northern Goshawk
photo by jacosammie
Northern Goshawks are what I like to call “Phantom Raptors.” I know they’re here in Vermont, but I rarely get to see them, let alone witness them as babies!  Goshawks are an impressive raptor, the largest species of accipiter that is found in Vermont. They prefer to live in dense forests, and are not as common in suburban areas. They’re very fast, aggressive hunters and will pursue their prey to the point of exhaustion, sometimes even on foot! Have you ever wondered what that flash of movement is that’s going after the birds at your feeders? Or who might be trying to make a quick meal out of the chickens in your backyard? It could be the phantom Goshawk. 

Despite they’re aggressive nature, they are a vital part of our natural world, and a bird that I’ve always admired and respected.
So how’s our little Goshawk baby? Well, we did find a small fracture in his left wing, which has healed nicely. He is also eating like a champ and has begun growing in his little goshawk feathers! It will be awhile before he’s able to fend for himself in the wilderness, but we’re more than happy to help him along the way. And I’m glad that the phantom is no longer a mystery.

Friday, July 19, 2013

A Rosie Result

by Calah Beckwith
Wildlife Keeper

Remember the Hairy Woodpecker who needed some VINS TLC after hitting a window? Well, unfortunately, that's an all too common cause of admission for avian rehab patients. Striking a window at full speed can cause bone fractures, head or spinal trauma, internal bleeding, and often death.

We recently admitted a male Rose-breasted Grosbeak who struck a window and sustained severe internal injuries. He had raspy, gurgling breath sounds, and we could see blood in his mouth. He hadn't sustained any other injuries, but internal trauma can be very difficult to recover from. We gave him homeopathic medications to treat general trauma and internal bleeding as well as a medication to help with inflammation and pain. Despite his injury, the grosbeak had a feisty attitude and a good appetite - both very good signs. 

Luckily, as with the Hairy Woodpecker, the Rose-breasted Grosbeak's story has a happy ending. It only took three days for the grosbeak to make a full recovery. Watch this video of the grosbeak's return to the wild.

Photo by Ellen & Tony, this is for the birds
The Rose-breasted Grosbeak is a member of the cardinal family, which includes the Scarlet Tanager, Indigo Bunting, and Northern Cardinal, among others. They have a beautifully sweet song, similar to that of an American Robin, but so perfect and clear it's as though they've had opera lessons. Rose-breasted grosbeak females are members of a very elite group of singing ladies. Most female songbirds do not sing songs to attract a mate or defend a territory, but the female rose-breasted grosbeak has been known to sing and will often exchange quiet songs with her mate.

Photo by mytimemachine
Males of the species are terrific fathers, assisting with nest-building, incubation of eggs and nestlings, and feeding of babies. And they look as though they're headed to a fancy party, sporting a brilliant red ascot and black and white tuxedo. Females are streaked brown all over with a white stripe over the eyes.

If you're lucky, you may have Rose-breasted Grosbeaks visit your feeders. Though they eat a lot of insects and berries, they do eat seed, including sunflower and safflower. And remember, whether you're feeding the birds or just enjoying those who make your yard home, you can help keep them safe around windows by following this advice from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology.     

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

School is Out, Nature Camp is in!

by Kelly Beerman
Nature Camp Coordinator

It is that time of year again for VINS Natures Camps! It was certainly a wet and muggy couple of weeks, but the campers were having too much fun to even care about the weather. Despite the rain and humidity, all six camp sessions had many adventures, with campers hoping to return after their first week to continue their outdoor explorations. Let’s take a look and see what adventures ensued!

Week One: Natural Expressions, Earth Explorers: Adaptations, Aqua Adventures, Radical Raptors, and Eagles on Target/Natural Leaders.
Week Two: Geocaching! 

Wow, what a first week! Natural Expressions campers were busy over in Woodstock at Artistree/Purple Crayon Productions creating arts and crafts based on their observations of nature and even constructing fairy houses! Campers took a field trip and hiked up Mt. Tom to the Pouge, a beautiful pond near the top. If you had visited Earth Explorers and Aqua Adventures over at Storrs Pond, you would have seen that campers were busy learning their frog calls, fishing, making their own minnow traps, understanding the many stages of the water cycle, and just having a great time swimming or canoeing.

Here at the VINS Nature Center, our Radical Raptors group was able to participate in behind the scenes tours of Wildlife Services and raptor feeding times. One of our favorite camps, Radical Raptors gave campers the chance to see up-close how we train our raptors. At the end of the week, these campers also have the unique opportunity to have an American Kestrel sit on their gloved hand – like a real VINS educator (after much instruction and with much supervision of course)! Last but not least, our Eagle campers (the oldest age group) tried out their Robin Hood skills by learning the basics of archery in the outdoors. They focused on proper bow and arrow technique while learning a little bit about the history of archery and some new games! Have you ever played Tic-Tac-Toe with a bow and arrow? 

Our second week was a bit more laid back with just two groups here at the Nature Center and a shorter week because of the July Fourth holiday - but that doesn’t mean they didn’t have just as much fun learning about geocaching! Campers were able to orient themselves by using a compass at first and understand the importance of finding your way in nature. Then, the uses of GPS units were introduced along with the idea that you can use these devices not just in your car for directions, but to go on an outdoor treasure hunt! These two camp groups were able to find an officially registered geocache located somewhere near the Quechee Gorge (we can’t tell you exactly where, that would be cheating) and they also created their own cache for the other camp group to find.

This year, VINS has an even more diverse camp program with over 35 sessions of camps for children pre-K through 8th grade and ranging in topics from habitat exploration to survival skills to artistic expressions of nature. While these first weeks turned out to be tons of fun, we still have more outdoor adventures to come! To see a full list of our camps and to register, please visit our website at www.vinsweb.org/nature-camp. If you’d like to see all of our fun antics at Nature Camp, check out our Facebook page throughout the summer to see our photo albums grow with camp memories! 

Thursday, July 4, 2013

Patriotic Patient

by Calah Beckwith
Wildlife Keeper

It's not a Bald Eagle or even a wild turkey (Benjamin Franklin's legendary choice for our national symbol). Today, America's Independence Day, we received into our care a female American Kestrel nestling. Though she still has a good bit of fluff, this tyke is already sporting some red, white, and blue. 

This little girl had been hopping around on the ground for three days with no parents in sight. She is very skinny and dehydrated, but she is spirited! Baby raptors are very difficult to care for, especially when they are all alone. Even during the fledgling stage, these little ones are extremely susceptible to imprinting - just like the American Crow I recently wrote about. We'll provide similar safeguards - wearing masks and limiting human contact and sounds - to ensure she remains wild and doesn't become too comfortable with people.

She's going to get lots of TLC here at VINS, and we'll keep you updated on her progress.  

Happy Fourth of July!