Tag Archives: birds

On Turkey Vultures

turkey vulture

Turkey vulture (Cathartes aura)
Courtesy National Park Service /Brad Sutton

by Tracie Hornung

I watched the turkey vulture swerve and bank above the highway, and thought of my friend who cringed when I recently mentioned the species. I had forgotten, until then, that her reaction is quite common.

I imagine it’s that bald red head, looking as if it had just emerged from the bloodied mass of a carcass. (It may have.) Or the silhouette against the sky of sharp wings that appear torn and scraggly. A living, breathing, soaring symbol of death and decay.

But I was surprised when I got to know a couple of turkey vulture teenagers at Rowena Wildlife Clinic. It’s true -– up close they still aren’t beautiful. But the first time I encountered them, I was touched to realize they were shy and not the slightest bit aggressive. In fact, they scampered away as I brought their meal of dead rodents into their enclosure.

In time, they grew to accept my presence but stayed cautious. That’s their innate personality; raptor experts know them to be gentle, but elusive birds. Their only real defense is to vomit a lump of foul-smelling semi-digested meat, which deters most creatures. Fortunately, the teenage vultures at the rehab clinic were never threatened enough by me to do that, but I’m glad they always remained wary.

Once when my husband and I were driving a narrow road through a forest, I commented how sad it was that all the birds in the area, even those away from the road, immediately flew off. But smart, or course. They were, rightly, just working on surviving.

So whenever I see a turkey vulture soaring in a thermal, I don’t see a symbol of death and decay. I see a bird going about the business of being a bird.

For more about turkey vultures visit Cornell University’s All About Birds website.

Tests show no lead: recent bald eagle patient has chance at recovery

Bald Eagle

One of RWC’s recent bald eagle patients. Photo by Ron Kikel.

by Tracie Hornung

Rowena Wildlife Clinic recently got some good news: An injured bald eagle found this week in Hood River, Oregon, is not suffering from lead shot poisoning! See the story of its rescue in the Hood River News, written before tests showed the bird is free of lead.

However, bald eagles and other raptors are still not safe, especially since the new head of the Interior Department, Ryan Zinke, on his first day on the job signed an order to roll back a policy that would have kept lead out of wildlife refuges.

The policy Zinke reversed would have phased out lead ammunition and fishing tackle from national wildlife refuges by 2022. Lead is a powerful neurotoxin that persists in water and soil for years.

Birds are especially vulnerable to lead poisoning. Birds of prey eat animal carcasses that contain lead shot fragments — making lead poisoning an enormous threat for iconic species like bald eagles and California condors. And ducks and waterfowl rooting around the bottom of wetlands accidentally eat discarded lead.

Rowena Wildlife Clinic has often seen the effects of lead poisoning in raptors. In fact, just last winter, despite her best efforts Dr. Cypher lost a bald eagle to lead poisoning. Although no one could say with certainty how the eagle came to ingest the lead, it was a stark reminder that lead poisoning is an ever-present threat to wildlife.

Many hunters and fishers appreciate the necessity of protecting wildlife from lead. But others who complain that ammunition made of other metals cost too much compared to lead shot have won over politicians currently in office.

However, it isn’t just wildlife that suffer from lead poisoning. Humans who eat animals killed with lead shot are vulnerable, too, especially since it has a propensity to shatter into minute fragments. See this video from the Tulsa World

A recent study found that children are even more susceptible to lifelong problems related to lead poisoning, including lower IQ, poor muscle coordination and damage to the nervous system, including kidneys, and/or hearing. See Kids’ Health for more information.

If we can’t convince politicians that wildlife are worth saving from the effects of lead, perhaps they will be more sympathetic to the human threat.

Columbia Gorge Discovery Center offers Earth Day presentation on non-lead hunting

Oregon Zoo’s Non-Lead Hunting Education director, Leland Brown, will present a program from 1 p.m. to 2 p.m. April 22 at the Discovery Center in The Dalles, Oregon, titled “Non-lead Hunting: Continuing a Tradition of Conservation.” Get more info here.

Ski slope staff save freezing Barn Owl

by Tracie Hornung

As employees of Mt. Hood Meadows were on the ski slopes doing their jobs earlier this month, one of them spotted a nearly frozen Barn Owl in the snow. Meadows staffer Carrie Sidwell picked up the poor bird and skied down the slope with it in her arms!

Photo by Nick Adams

Photo by Nick Adams

The owl was transferred to Rowena Wildlife Clinic where rehabilitator Carol Rodrick began first response protocols, including putting it in an incubator to warm up. Although the bird did not appear injured, it was so cold and thin she was afraid it wouldn’t survive the night. But by morning it was standing up in the incubator and looking at her! 

Mt Hood Barn Owl

Photo by RWC

The ski staff understandably wanted to know why the owl was at such a high elevation, especially at this time of year: It’s probably because of Hood River County’s recent weather. It has been an exceptionally long, cold and snowy winter. And in its quest for food and warmth, the owl may have caught a warm updraft that swept it to the ski slope. Fortunately, the ski crew was in the right place at the right time!

The crew named the bird Cutty and it continues to be cared for at the clinic. Carol says she is “guardedly hopeful” that Cutty will recover.

“Thanks to Carrie, Wes and Nick,” Carol said in a Facebook posting, “for picking up the Barn Owl and transporting it to the clinic. We depend upon people like you to look out for our injured wild friends.”

Visit Cornell University’s All  About Birds website to learn more about Barn Owls

Feeding winter songbirds? Here are some tips

by Tracie Hornung

At first blush, feeding songbirds in winter sounds like nothing but a positive activity.

Darkened Junco. Courtesy USFWS. Dave Menke photo.

But I’ve heard the concern that if you start feeding songbirds in winter on a regular basis, you’re dooming them if you suddenly leave on vacation for a few weeks – after they’ve been “spoiled” by their human-supplied meals.

Another worry is that regular feeding of songbirds in winter may ultimately weaken them. Two studies in Europe and the U.K. have found that songbirds fed all winter produce fewer eggs, have fewer chicks fledge – and those that do have lower survival rates. This article in Cool Green Science explores some possible reasons. But because these findings were the result of only two studies, more research obviously needs to be done. 

Regarding leaving your birds for a frolic in the tropics, you can go guilt-free if you can coax a neighbor or friend to feed while you’re gone. Or if that’s not possible, gradually taper off the amount of food you’re putting out before you go. And according to the Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology, birds have adapted to changes in food sources and usually quickly revert to foraging in the wild.

snow

Tracie Hornung photo

If you want to know more about feeding birds in winter view Cornell’s “Bird Notes” publication on Winter Bird Feeding.

 

 

 

Oregon Fish & Wildlife updates species conservation plan

By Tracie Hornung

Pygmy Rabbit

Pygmy Rabbit
Courtesy USFWS

Oregon Fish and Wildlife recently released the first update in 10 years to its Oregon Conservation Strategy.

The update identifies which habitats and non-game species have the greatest need for conservation, how they should be managed and how such management can be funded.

It lists nearly 300 species thought to be in decline in the state, including 58 bird and 29 mammalian species. Fish, amphibians, reptiles, invertebrates and plant species are also included.

Bird species include:

  • Common Nighthawk
  • Western Bluebird
  • Columbian Sharp-tailed Grouse
  • Peregrine Falcon
  • Western Meadowlark
  • Marbled Murrelet
  • Northern Spotted Owl
  • Greater Sage-Grouse
  • Harlequin Duck

Mammals:

  • Several species of bats
  • Wolverine
  • Western Gray Squirrel
  • Pygmy Rabbit
  • Rocky Mountain Bighorn Sheep
  • Columbian White-tailed Deer
  • Gray Wolf
  • Harbor porpoise
  • Gray and Killer Whales

Find out more about the Oregon Conservation Strategy.

 

Conference provides loads of info to wildlife rehabilitators

Attendees settle in at the conference.

Attendees settle in at the conference.
Tracie Hornung photo

By Tracie Hornung

Dr. Jean Cypher and volunteers of Rowena Wildlife Center recently traveled to Salem to attend the one-day Third Biennial Wildlife Rehabilitation Conference, sponsored by the Oregon Dept. of Fish and Wildlife.

Highlights included cutting-edge speakers in the wildlife health and rehabilitation community. Staff members, volunteers and students involved with wildlife rehabilitation centers in Oregon and Washington attended.

It’s always fun being in a room full of “animal people” and this conference was no exception. And it was encouraging to see a broad range of ages – from experts who have been working with wildlife for decades to young students and volunteers just starting out in the field.

A whole lot of information was packed into the eight-hour conference. Physical rehabilitation, pain management, behavior, and recent research pertaining to birds and mammals were among the many topics. But I found the three most interesting were on positive reinforcement training by Cascade Raptor Center, black bear rehabilitation at PAWS Wildlife Center in Washington state, and the ODFW presentation on white-nose syndrome in bats. Bat researchers are trying to find the answer to why white-nose syndrome “jumped” across the continental U.S. from Minnesota to Washington, where the syndrome was found this spring. See the ODFW press release.

Other topics at the conference were:

  •  Release Criteria
  •  Criteria for selection of education birds
  •  Biosecurity and zoonotic disease
  •  Raptor re-feeding syndrome
  •  Seabird facility design and air sampling
  •  Small mammal rehab
  •  Update on regulations

This conference was a worthwhile experience for wildlife rehabilitators, and it’s great that the state clearly values and encourages the work of independent rehabilitation centers.

Postpone tree removal/pruning until fall or winter

By Tracie Hornung

Bird nest


Now that spring is here, one of the volunteers at the clinic says she hears chain saws in her neighborhood and worries that wildlife habitat will be destroyed in the process . . . which, of course, can spell doom for the animal — and possible offspring — whose home has suddenly disappeared.

In fact, that’s just what happened in the volunteers’ neighborhood. A tree trimmer cut down a tree containing the nest of a Western Gray Squirrel and one of the infant squirrels died. She notes that the clinic receives bird nests from felled trees every year, too.

Tree cutting

Don’t do this now!

Although you should wait until fall or winter to cut down trees to prevent destroying nests, you don’t have to curtail your other spring cleaning efforts as long as you use techniques that won’t harm your wild animal neighbors. Check out this “cheat sheet” by The Humane Society on how to do so.

Take a look at some of RWC’s beautiful patients

Rowena Wildlife Clinic is lucky to have volunteer Frank Rodrick of StrayShots taking photos of the clinic’s patients. Below is a small selection of his excellent photographs. Click on them to zoom in.