Houston, the Eagle has Landed

If there is a bird that can hold one in thrall, it is the Bald Eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus). The raptor simply radiates an aura of power and control. The Bald Eagle is classified as a sea eagle because it prefers to snatch fish from the water as it swoops across the surface of the water. It loves fish so much that it has been known to wade into shallow streams in pursuit of salmon. In regions where fish isn’t as plentiful as Alaska and the coastal northwestern states, the eagle will supplement with waterfowl and small mammals. It is the only eagle unique to North America. The Bald Eagle that came to the Wildlife Center had lost little of its regal poise even though it was so weak that it could barely fly. Wildlife Center veterinarians arrived within minutes of the bird and began examination and rehydration immediately. The eagle was treated for a parasitic nematode and placed on cage rest. Radiographs revealed an old break of the scapula that had not healed well. Examination with an opthalmascope revealed damage to one eye. Sexing birds that are not dimorphic (male and female do not look alike) is always a tricky business, but veterinarians believe that based on the shape of the pelvic bones that this bird is a male. It is believed that the single largest cause of mortality for the Bald Eagle is man and man-made creations. The Bald Eagle population in the lower 48 states began to decline as soon as humans moved in and began changing the habitat and competing for the same game birds and fish as the eagle. Unlike falcons that have adapted to and in some cases exploited human habitation, [...]

Does Bird Feeder = Hawk Feeder?

When it comes to bird feeders it's always something. If it isn't the squirrels eating the seed, it is the hawks eating the birds. While we all know that hawks need to eat, we just don't want them dining at OUR bird feeders. The only way to truly make a feeder hawk proof would be to build a cage around your yard that has openings big enough for the birds, but too small for the hawks. Since that is clearly impractical what are the alternatives? For the last 14 years a pair of Red-shouldered Hawks has called the land around my house their territory. There have probably been many pairs, but there is always a pair claiming our yard as their territory. They scream out their territorial challenge from the abandoned Martin house in my neighbor's yard on a daily basis. Despite this there have been less than 5 instances where a hawk or other predator has taken a bird from my back-yard. Why? Maybe I got lucky with my feeder placement, but my neighbor hasn't complained about hawks taking his birds either. What do the placement of my feeder and my neighbor's feeder have in common? Absolutely nothing - and maybe that is the point. My yard has enough cover that straight line shots are minimized. My neighbor has several large trees, but they are grouped together leaving lots of straight line shots, especially from the abandoned Martin house. My theory is that I have physically made it harder for the hawks to snatch from my yard and my neighbor has made it psychologically more difficult because prey feel exposed and jumpy. Most hawks scope out potential food sources (i.e. your birds) from a nearby perch. [...]

Let's Go Fly a Kite!

A newly hatched Mississippi Kite is a fearsome sight, despite its poufy white down. The beak leaves absolutely no doubt that this bird is a raptor. Which is a little odd since it grows up to prefer grasshoppers and cicada caught on the wing to mice and rats or rabbits. Only the smallest raptors, such as Screech Owls prefer insects and amphibians to mice and rats. The Kite doesn’t really fit the bill. The Mississippi Kite is a small to medium raptor that is about the size of a Peregrine Falcon. However, the falcon can weigh as much as three times as much. The eating habits aren’t the only slightly odd habit. Mississippi Kites migrate long distances to and from central South America in a groups of 20 – 30 individuals. They also nest near each other as a group. Mississippi Kite arrive at the nesting site as mated pairs. Many raptors don’t migrate and those that do usually don’t do so as a flock. The Mississippi Kite isn’t a well known raptor. People that see them often mistake them for other birds because the Kite’s gray coloring is so different from other more well known raptors. The head and back are a beautiful pearl gray which darkens along the sides and out the wings. The wings are unusually long (up to three feet) and narrow. The undersides of the wings are a lighter gray. The tail is long and a very dark gray or black. Juveniles have dark brown mottling or stripes and dark brown banding on the tail. This group of juveniles look much like more “traditional” raptors because of their brown markings. They have been released from the large flight cage, but [...]

Who's at the Wildlife Center?

Earlier in the year we told you about a Great Horned Owlet that had been blown from a damaged nest and its sibling that was still in the precarious nest. In follow-up comments we let you know that the sibling was blown down in the next storm. Neither was injured in their fall.  The siblings have grown strong and their downy white baby feathers have been replaced with lovely flight feathers. WR&E is proud to report that they are now in a pre-release 50 foot flight cage. They are exercising their flight muscles and are enjoying their new digs.  This past week the WR&E Wildlife Center received three more Great Horned Owlets who will stay at the Center until they are ready for a pre-release cage.  One owlet arrived early in the morning from a couple who were driving through the Houston area and had heard about the Wildlife Center.  Another owlet was brought to the Wildlife Center by a Texas Parks & Wildlife game warden.  The owlet had a leg and wing injury.  Dr. Antinoff from Gulf Coast Veterinary Specialists quickly came to the Wildlife Center to exam and x-ray the baby.  We are waiting for the surgeon to determine what the course of treatment will be for this little one.   The third owlet is a larger baby who will be joining the first two in the pre-release cage as soon as it gains weight.

The Stories They Could Tell

The Peregrine Falcon loved city life. It ran in his family, he was born high atop the U.S. Bank building in Milwaukee, Wisconsin during the spring of 2007. Humans banded his leg before he could fly on May 31st, the band read (b/g) E/43, but the researchers called him Samson. He grew strong and learned to fly. He beat the average mortality rate of 60 – 70% during the first year. He was sexually mature the spring of 2008, but because he had established a bountiful territory, he probably waited until his second year to mate. We’ll never know the astounding aerobatics he performed to attract her, but we know that she probably accepted his proposal of lifelong devotion by flying upside down to accept a gift of prey from his talons. In April of 2009, Samson and his mate appeared at a next box constructed on the top of the Engineering and Mechanical Sciences Building on the campus of the University of Wisconsin – Milwaukee. We know this because the nest box was constantly monitored via webcam. The nest box was constructed at that site a year earlier in hopes that peregrines would eventually make use of it.  Over the course of several days, Samson’s mate laid 4 eggs. You can only imagine how excited the students of the University of Wisconsin and researchers were as they followed the family’s progress. Mom incubated the eggs, but sometimes Samson took a turn. The eggs began to hatch on May 16. All four of the chicks survived and flourished. On June 8, the humans came and banded the legs of all of his offspring. They grew strong and fledged – the circle was complete. We know [...]

What’s for Dinner?

The Northern Crested Caracara is of the family Falconidae, subspecies Polyborinae or Caracarinae depending on the source. In Latin it is known as Polyborus (eats almost anything) plancus (eagle). But it is also known as the Caracara Cheriway, Audubon’s Caracara or the Mexican Eagle. Five genera are recognized and most are listed as threatened. Classified as a falcon, the Caracara is quite an unusual bird. A beautiful bird in a palette of black, white and a yellow that blends to orange or red, it seems to straddle the families of falcon, vulture and well…chicken. Once identified, it is impossible to mistake the Caracara’s striking silhouette, either at rest or in flight. At rest, the Caracara is obviously a powerful raptor; very long of leg, powerful talons, a distinctive beak and bushy crest. In flight; the long neck and tail in combination with the broad wings give it the appearance of a “flying cross”. Considered a medium sized raptor, the Caracara in 19 to 23 inches in length and weighs 1 ¾ to 3 ½ pounds. The wingspan is approximately 48 inches. On average they are heavier than a Red Shouldered Hawk, but slightly smaller than Red Tailed Hawk. At maturity, the cere (a fleshy area along the top of the beak) is usually red or dark orange. When excited this area takes on a distinctively yellow coloration.  The cere also give indication of the bird’s maturity and sexual readiness. The Caracara is a slow hunting raptor that prefers an easy meal of fresh carrion, but is just as satisfied with large insects, reptiles, amphibians, fish, birds and mammals. It is often seen walking along the ground or wading in shallow water looking for prey. Believed to [...]

By |December 23rd, 2009|Categories: Caracara, Species Article|Tags: , |0 Comments

Hawk Shatters Window

Over the Thanksgiving week a first year Red Shouldered Hawk flew into a window.  The window shattered and the hawk was severely cut.  The homeowner gently scooped the bird up and contained it.  By the time it got to the Wildlife Center it was in shock.  An initial exam showed a gaping hole in its neck which was deep enough slice open its esophagus.  The hawk was rushed into surgery where Dr. Brenda Flores skillfully stitched up the inner wound.  The external neck wound was cleaned and attended to.  The day after surgery the hawk was standing and feeling feisty.  He will be gavage fed for several days while his wounds heal.  Miraculously its wings are in fine shape and no other injuries were found.  He will spend the next several weeks in rehabilitation and it is hoped he will have an end of the year release.  This year the WR&E Wildlife Center was honored with the task of rehabilitating many of these amazing creatures.  The Houston area experienced a late spring and summer drought that brought many young Red Shoulder fledglings to the Wildlife Center.  These birds were hydrated, fed, and flight conditioned.  Thanks go to the team efforts of rescuers, caregivers and donor supporters that so many of these awesome birds of prey were given    A Place to Grow   A Place to Heal   A Place to be Wild.

Status Update: Pelican & Osprey

Numerous inquires about the Brown Pelican that presented with numerous problems including a treble hook in his mouth and the Osprey with the burned feet and feathers has prompted this update. “Buddy” the pelican (as named by his rescuers) is now healthy and strong. The old badly healed wing break still prevents him from being released into the wild, but Gladys Porter Zoo in Brownsville is still waiting for Buddy and his two companions. All they are waiting on is paperwork and a ride.           The Osprey whose feathers and feet were burned (perhaps by a flare)  is holding her own. She doesn’t like the same type fish that the other fish eating birds adore, so a volunteer frequents a fish market for tempting meals. While she’s not out of the woods yet, we are very hopeful.

Swainson's Hawk Release

WR&E released an immature Swainson's Hawk (Buteo swainsoni) the morning of November 1, 2009. It was delivered by a caring rescuer to the Wildlife Center and presented with an injured wing. The WR&E Center cared for him for several months while the fractured bones healed. The next step of the healing process was several weeks in a large flight cage for flight conditioning. After a few weeks, it was amazing to see him maintaining flight and gliding in the flight cage. When he left the hands of the WR&E volunteer on Sunday morning all they could see were the dark flight feathers and the buffy wing linings as he soared above them. It was hard to determine who was happier - the Swainson's Hawk or the proud WR&E volunteers. Some interesting facts about the Swainson’s Hawk: They congregate in flocks numbering into the thousands for migration. Their migration begins in Canada and ends in Argentina. It is the longest of any American raptor (only tundra breeding Peregrine Falcon travel longer distances). Small pockets of Swainson’s Hawk along the Texas Gulf Coast and the Florida Coast either got lost or chose to settle in for extended periods. The immature birds are easily tracked to their wintering grounds because they stay together in groups, but it is not known exactly where the adults winter. They are a medium sized hawk with a stout body, broad rounded wings and a medium long rounded tail. Dark flight feathers provide a stark contrast to the pale inner wing, the tail is light with multiple thin dark bands; one darker and broader near the tip of the tail. The face is white with a dark crown. Sometimes confused with the Broad Winged Hawk and [...]

Cooper's Hawk Release

Three juvenile Cooper’s Hawks were released Saturday October 25, 2009. Two had been rehabilitated from head injuries and the third from a wing injury. The Cooper’s Hawk, Accipiter cooperii, is a medium sized hawk of the goshawk family. Often misidentified as a Sharp-shinned Hawk, the Cooper’s Hawk is slightly larger (21 to 36 inch wingspan) and has a tail that is rounded in appearance. Juveniles start as cream and brown with a brown crown and yellow eyes. As they mature, Cooper’s Hawk develop the characteristic gray back, reddish brown and cream banded chest, black crown and deep red eyes. While Cooper’s Hawks share a diet that is similar to other raptors, they tend to prey on other birds such as pigeon and dove. Their wings are designed for dramatic aerobatics and can be seen flying with quick short strokes with relatively brief glides. They hunt almost entirely by surprise. Until recently, the rehabilitators of WR&E rarely saw baby or juvenile Cooper’s Hawks. Instead, they only saw adults injured during migration. It has been noted that the increase in the number of White Wing Dove (a larger dove than the more common Mourning Dove) has coincided with the increase in baby and juvenile Cooper’s Hawks. This suggests that as prey has increased in the Greater Houston area, the Cooper’s Hawks have followed.

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