The Long-eared Owl (Asio otus) (previously known as: Strix otus) is a species of owl which breeds in Europe, Asia, and North America. Texas lies firmly in its non-breeding or wintering grounds, but sightings are rare. In the twenty plus years that the rehabilitators of the Wildlife Center have been caring for raptors, they have only cared for two or three. Reminiscent of a Great Horned Owl, the Long-eared Owl is much smaller and is considered a medium sized owl. This species is a part of the larger grouping of owls known as typical owls, family Strigidae, which contains most species of owl. Barn Owls form the other family of owls called Tytonidae. While adult and sub-adult Screech Owls are sometimes confused as baby Great Horned Owls, the coloration and eye color is wrong. If the public had greater access to Long-eared Owls, the confusion of a grown Long-eared Owl as a baby Great Horned Owl would make more sense. Should you have the honor of seeing a Long-eared Owl in the wild, note that it is significantly smaller than the Great Horned Owl, the facial disks are orange and the ear tufts are much closer together. In parts of its range, the Long-eared Owl is considered a species at risk, or at some level of being endangered. Habitat destruction is the primary explanation for the decline of this raptor. Boreal forests are being cut down for development, land use is changing from timber to agriculture and tree farms are shifting from soft woods like pine to hard woods. Tree farm management has even impacted the Long-eared Owl’s habitat by thinning the underbrush and undesired trees. The Long-eared Owl nests usually in coniferous forests, but [...]
This medium sized plover boasts one of the most incredible migrations. While many migrating birds visit twice during the spring and fall, the American Golden Plover uses a circular migration route. Therefore it travels through the Houston area only in the spring. In the fall the plover flies offshore from the East Coast of North America nonstop to South America flying over the Atlantic and Caribbean Sea. The American Golden Plover’s wintering grounds in South America include Patagonia, Bolivia, Paraguay and Argentina. They have one of the longest migration journeys which covers 25,000 miles. It is amazing that about 2,500 miles of this is over open seas where the plover has no chance to drink or eat. When these migrating flocks were timed, they ranged in speed from 60-70 m.p.h. In the spring, the northbound birds pass through Central United States stopping to stage in large numbers before their final push up into the northern arctic tundra regions of Alaska and Canada where they will nest and raise their young. The American Golden Plover’s arctic breeding grounds provide safety from humans and many predators due to the starkness of their habitat. They nest on the ground in open dry areas. As soon as they arrive on their breeding grounds, males begin their territorial display flights and pair bonds take place. The males make a nest scrape and line it with soft lichens. The females produce four eggs. There is an interesting split of incubation duties, females incubate by night and the males incubate by day. The chicks, like most ground birds, are precocial and feed themselves with a few hours of hatching. Both parents stay with the young until they are ready to fly. The [...]
Sharon Schmalz, Executive Director of The Wildlife Center of Texas and Patricia Mercer, President of the Wildlife Center of Texas Board of Directors accept a $50,000 donation from Chevron U.S.A INC. presented by Randy Curry, President, Chevron Pipe Line along with Jeff Downing. Environmental Unit Leader Chevron Pipe Line Company. This much needed donation will help to support our non-profit organization and our efforts to save Texas wildlife. We extend a grateful Thank You Chevron!
Wednesday, a family in Richmond saw an emaciated Barred Owl trying to drink from their pool. Upon closer inspection, they noticed that the owl's leg was caught in a steel-jaw leg-hold trap. A call to the Wildlife Center gave them the instructions they needed to safely capture and transport the owl. Veterinarians examined the owl and two of the four toes are badly mangled. Rehabilitation will be two fold; the owl's physical emaciation must be addressed so that the immune system with the aid of antibiotics and daily cleaning can battle any infection and heal the wounds. Click on the photo to see the video.
The Wildlife Center has shifted to its Spring/Summer operating hours and is now open Monday through Friday 9:00-6:00 and weekends 9:00-4:00pm. Sunday was the first full day of spring and it is quite appropriate that a baby Great Horned owl became the 1000th intake of the year. Raptor babies, especially Great Horned Owls are usually one of the first babies to make their appearance each year. This year we were several weeks into baby squirrels before the Great Horned owlets began showing up at intake. This month has kept the Center staff, veterinarians, and volunteers very busy treating and feeding hundreds of squirrels and opossums. The squirrels seemed to fall out of nests when strong winds blew through in March. The Center is also caring for over a hundred little baby opossums who were kept alive by the protection of a mother's pouch, when moms were run over by vehicles. While we are sad the moms did not make it, their heritage is carried on by these resilient little ones. Caring volunteers not only provide these orphans food and shelter, but do so in a manner that keeps them wild so they have the best chance at survival when they are returned to the wild. Baby doves are beginning to show up at the Wildlife Center. They will soon be followed by songbirds and Killdeer. Hopefully, the squirrel and opossum babies will have eased off before the birds hit their peak. A young female bobcat was brought to the Wildlife Center who was hit by a car. She has a severe head injury. Wildlife Center veterinarians checked the bobcat out and she was found to have an eye injury as well as several check bone fractures. She is on medications and is [...]
The grass is growing, the trees are budding and the flowers are blooming. Spring has sprung and the Wildlife Center is full of baby squirrels, opossums and rabbits. Momma rabbits while very skittish know that humans will not prey on their babies and will often build nests against or near habitations. The good news is that rabbits wean at four to five weeks of age, so even if a nest is discovered, the babies will be on their own before you know it. Even if you have dogs, they usually won’t find the nest until the babies are almost weaning age. The size of a rabbit that is ready to wean is about the size of a woman’s closed fist. The reason is that there isn’t much of a scent to attract the dogs or cats until the babies are older. Momma rabbits ensure that animals aren’t attracted to her scent. She intentionally spends as little time in the nest as possible. One of the saddest intakes is a litter of bunnies that have been hit by a lawnmower or string trimmer. So, to prevent experiencing this trauma be sure to walk an area before beginning work. Use the handle of a broom to gently sweep through the grass to see if there is a nest present. The nest will look like a clump of dead grass. Once found, the nest can be protected from family pets with an upturned box. Cut a door in the side to allow the mother access and place some weight on it to keep the dog from nosing off the box. If you are concerned that the mother isn’t returning to her nest, place a few small, lightweight twigs [...]
Scaup are an interesting species of diving duck, two scaup species live in North America the Greater Scaup (Aythya marila) prefers salt water while the Lesser Scaup (Aythya affinis) prefers freshwater. The Lesser Scaup is one of the most abundant and widespread of the diving ducks in North America. The males are easily differentiated because of differences in coloration and conformation. The differences between the females are less dramatic and they are usually identified by the males within the flock. The Scaup can be easily be identified by its rich brown plumage especially the female’s head which looks like velvet, the males exhibit a sheen or iridescence of purple (Lesser) or greenish (Greater). The head is more wedge shaped and the bill is dark slate to dark brown with gray highlights. An unusual white ring of feathers encircle the base of the bill. Without the aid of breeding plumage and the benefit of seeing both sexes telling the difference between female Greater and Lesser can be tricky. Size doesn’t help much since the Greater Scaup is only slightly larger than the Lesser, so this could be a big Lesser or a small Great. The white wing patch is usually longer in the Greater, but again we are out of breeding season, so while the smaller wing patch points to the Lesser, it isn’t definitive. The Greater tend to have a cheek patch of white which varies between almost nonexistent to prominent. This bird doesn’t have a cheek patch, so that argues for the Lesser. Both species winter on the upper Texas Gulf Coast, but the Lesser Scaup winters in much greater numbers. So statistically, the bird recovering at the Wildlife Center is probably a Lesser [...]
Thanks again this year to the 2011 ExxonMobil Community Summer Jobs Program and the 2011 Shell Non-profit Internship Program for awarding the WR&E Wildlife Center grants to hire two college interns for eight weeks this summer! The interns will work with wildlife and learn about non-profit organizations…and help us care for those 7000 wild animals we receive every year. Thanks ExxonMobil and Shell!
Opossum may be aesthetically challenged, but they are probably the single most important wild animal to your backyard ecology. They have remained unchanged since the time of the dinosaur. Why? Because the physiologic model is perfect for its ecologic niche and it doesn’t need to evolve to something better. So what niche does it fill? Sanitation engineer. We’ll never know if the opossum is grateful we are so messy or if they scurry around feeling harassed and under-appreciated. Either way, there is no doubt the lowly opossum should be welcomed with open arms. Why? O let me list the ways. Let’s start out with all the things they eat that we don’t want to share our back yard with. The Opossum are an omnivore leaning towards carnivore and will eat almost anything. They are the only mammal that routinely dines on snakes, including poisonous snakes. Because of their slower metabolism, they are not as susceptible to the venom. They also eat beetles, ants, grasshoppers, grubs, earthworms, lizards, geckos, frogs and fresh carrion. They do not dig up the yard or eat your newly planted flowers, but they will eat the pests that will destroy your grass, kill your bushes and eat your flowers. The animal responsible for turning over trash cans, dragging them half-way across the yard and prying open the lid is the raccoon, not the innocent opossum you see munching away in it the next morning. I’m not suggesting opossums are blameless for they are not above crawling into trash cans (from which they can’t escape) and accidentally turning them over. Don’t be alarmed if you find a opossum in your trashcan, simply tip the can on its side and leave for 10 – [...]
The Eastern Screech Owl is at heart a very lazy hunter. Why sweat the big stuff when then world is filled with big juicy cockroaches and crickets. Life is so easy most of the year that when Houston experiences bitterly cold weather, the Screech Owls suffer as all of their prey scurry to hide in warmer cracks and crevices. During these stretches of cold weather the Wildlife Center receives unusually large numbers of adults in emaciated condition. We have had Screech Owls brought to us by car, bicycle, bus, police car, train (a track runs close to the Wildlife Center) and now by ambulance. The off-duty EMS team noticed the tiny bird on the side of the street. They wrapped it in a warming blanket and brought it to the Wildlife Center. It had suffered a head injury and was very emaciated. Prognosis is good. The Eastern Screech Owl is one of the smallest owls in the United States. Fully grown adults stand about 8 inches tall and are often mistaken for baby Great Horned Owl. As with most owls, the female is larger than the male. They come in 2 color morphs (types) gray and rufus (red). The color isn’t based on sex, location or diet. Sometimes a gray morph will pair bond with a red morph. These little owls rely on camouflage (feather color and pattern blend into the surroundings) to escape detection. The gray Screeches tend to hang out in hardwood trees like oak and the rufus tend to hang out in evergreen trees like pine and cedar. When they feel threatened they stand as tall and skinny as possible so they look like a broken of limb instead of a bird. [...]