“Big Owl Babies!”

Blog_GHOWL_B_Jun2016Some of the biggest babies wildlife rehabilitators at the Outer Banks Wildlife Shelter in Newport are raising this season are Great Horned Owls. We have admitted four to date and unfortunately, we were unable this year to return any to their Momma as a successful re-nest. Like many bird babies, Great Horned Owls, make a move to do some things before they are truly ready and find themselves on the ground instead of remaining in the safety of their nest, high in the air and away from danger and predators. Great Horned Owls are one of the earliest spring nesting birds. Eggs may be laid in January or February through April. They use abandoned stick nests of a hawk or heron or crow, but also nest in rock alcoves, hollows of trees, abandoned buildings, or sometimes on the ground. Mated pairs are monogamous and defend their territories with vigorous hooting, barking, chuckling, growling, hissing, screeching, screaming or by clacking its beak. Generally 2-3 white eggs are laid. Both the male and female incubate the eggs for 30-35 days. The young are fed by both parents who fiercely defend their nest against intruders. If a young owl falls out of the nest prematurely, the adults will feed the bird on the ground, however, if a human finds an owl youngster in a precarious situation, they usually choose to transport the young one to the shelter for safety reasons. Such was the case when an infant Great Horned Owl was found on the ground at the port city harbor in Morehead City. Although the fluffy one had pressed himself against one of the huge, bulk shipping containers, it was apparent that his parents and he would be dodging quite a few pieces of heavy equipment and vehicular traffic, if in fact he and they could! The good Samaritans monitoring his plight could not take that risk and brought him to the shelter. It’s the general consensus that he may have fallen from a nesting area untypically constructed on the top of a crane. Another baby Great Horned was found nesting aboard a boat taken out of storage that was well under way. Blog_GHOWL_Jun2016_DSC00037Infant GHO’s arrive as huge balls of fluffy feathers with big round, yellow eyes and exceptionally large, feet with sharp taloned toes that they eventually grow into. Great Horned Owls are fierce and powerful predators who usually hunt at night by listening for sounds that betray their prey’s presence, and they have such strong talons that when clenched, it takes the force of about 30 pounds to open them. That is a deadly grip. They hunt using their incredible hearing and a “perch and pounce” method. Great horned owls eat a wide variety of prey, both small and large. Cottontails seem to be a prominent food, but they will take squirrels, shrews, jackrabbits, muskrats, mice, weasels, skunks, gophers, snakes, domestic cats, bats, beetles, scorpions, frogs, grasshoppers and a wide variety of birds, from small juncos and sparrows to crows, wild ducks, geese, pheasants and even other owls. If you ever hear an agitated group of cawing American Crows, they may be mobbing a Great Horned Owl. Crows will gather to harass a Great Horned Owl for hours. The crows have good reason because the Great Horned Owl is their most dangerous predator. It seems that the world is one big buffet to a Great Horned Owl. After an owl has eaten, its stomach forms a pellet of fur, feathers, exoskeletons, and bones that they cannot digest. The owl then “upchucks” this pellet. Our shelter keeps these pellets on hand for the teachers in our area who request them for their science classes. Students can dissect them and identify what the owl has been eating. At the shelter, the little-big babies’ diet will consist of rats and mice until release. Fortunately, Artemis, our non-releasable, adult Great Horned Owl resident doesn’t mind fostering the owlets and teaching them what they need to know to be the best owls they can be! Blog_GHOWL_A_Jun2016As adults, Great Horned Owls are large birds weighing 3 to 4 pounds, standing 18-25″ tall with a wingspan of 36-60 inches. Males and females are similar in appearance, except the female is the larger of the two. The plumage of the Great Horned Owl varies regionally, from pale to dark. In general, they have brown body plumage covered with darker brown spots and white throat feathers that contrast with the dark cross-barred under parts. The white feathers stand out like a collar against the darker underside feathers. Some great horned owls may be very pale underneath, but still the white collar stands out. The Great Horned Owls facial disk may have orange or grayish feathers, and whiter feathers that form a V between the yellow eyes with black pupils. Contrary to popular belief, owls cannot turn their heads completely around, but they can rotate their heads 270 degrees, thanks to extra vertebra in their necks. Their eyes are fixed in their sockets, so they can’t move their eyes up or down or side to side. Owls have to move their whole head to compensate for the fixed eyes. Their ear tufts are large and set far apart on the head. Just like a dog, Great Horned Owls use these ear tufts or “horns” to convey body language, indicating their mood. When they are irritated the tufts lie flat and when they are inquisitive the tufts stand upright. So, those “horns” or “ears” are not really ears at all! These feather tufts are also part of the owl’s camouflage. They can make the owl look like part of a tree. The owl’s real ears are slits on either side of its head, just behind the facial disks. Blog_GHOWL_C_Jun2016For identification, four good field marks for the great horned owl are: size, eye color, ear tufts and the white collar. Their call is a series of deep hoots, from 3 to 8 notes long, and sounds like – “Whose Awake, Me Too,” with the “Me Too” part descending in tone. Like a coyote howl, the call of the great horned owl is a classic sound of the wild and can be heard from far away. When nesting pairs of Great Horned Owls call, the female has the higher pitched voice. Great Horned Owls can be found all over the United States and most of Canada, and southward to Central and South America to the Straits of Magellan. They are one of the most widespread species of owls. They mostly reside year round in their territories, but owls from far north move southward in fall or winter. The Great Horned Owls’ main enemy is man. Many owls die in collisions with automobiles or power lines. Mice and other rodents that have been exposed to pesticides may also be fatal to Great Horned Owls. If they can stay clear of perilous situations humans create, they usually live to be 12 – 15 years of age. The oldest Great Horned Owl on record is said to have been nearly 30 years old and from Ohio. There is so much to know and learn about Great Horned Owls, and it’s all amazing! They are gorgeous, incredible and magnificent raptors, but as magical and Harry Potter like as they are, remember the Great Horned Owl’s prowess as a predator and if they are present in your area, please keep your puppies and kitties inside!

best always,

Linda Bergman-Althouse

Author of “Save Them All

“The Tiniest Need Our Help!!”

Blog_CSMag_BabyBirds_The incubators are filling up at the Outer Banks Wildlife Shelter (OWLS) in Newport, NC because the tiniest need our help! Baby birds aren’t the cutest little critters to come through the doors of the shelter, but they are the most fragile and definitely will not make it on their own if abandoned or displaced. If they are newborns, we might not be able to make the call on what they are until they develop a little more because many baby birds start life looking quite similar and the smaller the bird species the more similar they look at birth; a skin blob of a body with no feathers, a limp neck trying to hold up a tiny head with a beak that shoots straight up to let Mom or Dad know when it’s hungry. When we admit newborn birds, we might even refer to them as UBBs (unidentified baby birds) until we hear a sound we recognize, the shape and coloring of their beak becomes more pronounced or they start to feather. Then we will know for sure!Blog_CSMag_BabyBird_
Larger song bird babies are easier to identify. When the nursery is full of baby birds, it becomes a full time job for baby bird feeders because these little creatures eat every 30 minutes because their metabolism is so fast and they develop much more quickly than mammals do. Also keep in mind, their meals don’t stop, this is seven days a week! Most people outside the shelter probably do not have the time to devote to this strict feeding schedule. If you add “day olds” or newborns to the mix, the feeding schedule for them is adjusted to every 15 minutes! We also need three shifts (morning, afternoon and evening until the sun goes down) to get the job done because that’s the way their parents would do it! There is no down time for the nursery workers. By the time you finish one round of feeding, it’s time to start all over again. Along with feeding, of course, is cleaning, because just like human babies, baby birds spend all their time eating, sleeping and pooping. Mom and Dad would be cleaning their nest area continually, so wildlife rehabilitators will do that as well. Recently, a nest of five House Finches were displaced when their nest gourd fell apart and the babies found themselves on the ground, four infant Carolina Wrens were discovered in a propane tank, a featherless baby Grackle was found sitting in the road (how that happened is anybody’s guess) and two Nuthatch babies were sighted inside a screen door with no Mom around. When you don’t see how it happened, it’s all speculation and pure wonderment on our part. There will be more baby bird calls and more to join the nursery this summer. Blog_CSMag_I7Z1049__Of course, when someone calls the shelter to tell us they have found baby birds on the ground or their nest is in a dangerous or precarious location, we initially give instructions on how to re-nest the little ones because that would be best for the whole bird family, but when that is impossible, we ask them to bring the youngins in for the care and safety they will need to survive. Wildlife rehabilitators are so important in the equation of raising and giving songbirds the second chance that they definitely deserve because, quite frankly, it’s usually human interference that displaces the little ones and causes a perilous situation for birds that are so important to our ecosystem, and as we are all aware, songbird numbers are on the decline. Blog_BabyBirds In NestWildlife rehabilitators are well trained and licensed, so they possess the “know-how” to provide appropriate species specific diets and habitat, as well as, anticipate and monitor species unique behaviors that when evaluated will let us know when bird youngsters are ready to spend the time needed in an outside enclosure to perfect perching, flight and eating on their own, which is one step away from a wild release. The Outer Banks Wildlife Shelter raises them all! We are not bias on which species to accept. Need is the key word!!! So, in our nursery in any given Spring, we house the tiniest of our feathered friends from Hummingbirds (although rare) to Finches, Wrens, Nuthatches, Titmouse, Warblers and Sparrows and the larger songbirds (who are usually the easier babies to raise because one: they are bigger and two: aren’t as ‘flitty.’) Larger nursery birds would include Eastern Blue Birds, Northern Mockingbirds, Robins, Blue Jays, Brown Thrashers, Cardinals, Gray Cat Birds, Starlings, Grackles, Boat Tailed Grackles, Chimney Swifts, Purple Martins, Fly Catchers, Barn Swallows, Red-Winged Blackbirds and the biggest nursery babies; a variety of Wood Peckers or Flickers, Mourning Doves and Pigeons. They are all so different, and they all have special needs!Blog_CSMag_I7Z1054__ Some are bugs and worm eaters (and we go through thousands of meal worms per week!), while others prefer seeds and berries, then again, some are omnivores and will include all the choices in their diet, but yes, we proudly raise them all!

Please enjoy your Memorial Day and always remember the reason this day has been set aside to be honored by those of us who owe so much to sacrifices made by others.

Best Always,

Linda Bergman-Althouse

author of “Save Them All

“Sweet Release!”

Blog_BarredOwlRelease_IMG_1091EWhen a Carteret County gentleman, on his way to work in January, straddled what he thought was road kill with his tires, he was shocked to see a lifted and outstretched wing in his rearview mirror, basically motioning, “Hey, I’m still alive here.” Dale stopped immediately and returned to find an adult Barred Owl in fact, alive, in the middle of the road! He placed the injured owl in his car and took him home to get assistance from his wife. She was surprised to see her husband walk in the house with a large owl under his arm, but it certainly wasn’t a challenge to find a kennel cab to place the owl in since their extended family includes five Pugs. It did not look good for the Barred Owl because he appeared weak, could not stand and who knew what internal injuries he may have suffered as a result of a collision with an automobile. She placed him in the pet carrier, believing he probably would not make it. Imagine her surprise when she checked on him a while later and he, although leaning against the carrier, was on his feet! At that point, the “great” Samaritan, Lori, figured the owl had a chance and transported him to the Outer Banks Wildlife Shelter in Newport, NC. An examination found no broken bones, lacerations or puncture wounds, but a concussion was quite evident due to his inability to stay steady on his feet. He received medicinal therapy to diminish brain swelling caused as a result of impact and to prevent any permanent neurological damage. When providing treatment, timing is critical when dealing with any injury but especially a head injury. Day after day he continued to improve and despite taking his sweet time, he eventually became his wild Barred Owl self again. He cooperatively ate well, packed on some weight and passed hunting school with flying colors. Then the day arrived that all wildlife rehabilitators look forward to; Release Day! Honestly, there is no better day at the shelter! Coordination with the family who found and brought him to the shelter for the care he urgently needed made it possible to release the Barred Owl back to his home area which is filled with tall trees and wide fields. Blog_FullSizeRender_EThe family was thrilled to participate in his “Sweet Release,” and it became a joyous family and wildlife rehabilitator affair. Everyone stood back, away from his enclosure, giving him a wide birth to leave in any direction he wanted to go. After the door opened, he sat for a bit and peeked out before taking wing to open sky. Blog_BarredOwlRelease6EIt didn’t take long for him to be completely out of sight. Releases are usually quick, and you dare not blink or you’ll miss it. Very seldom does a wild animal look back during release, for they are doing what they were made to do – avoid us! It’s an emotional few seconds for those taking part in a wildlife release for so many reasons and yes, there are tears. It’s always heart-warming for compassionate rescuers, who had put their day on hold to help an animal in distress, to see that because they cared enough to ensure the animal was taken to those who could help, a magnificent wild animal received a second chance at life. Wildlife Rehabilitators get a little weepy too because we know how tedious the animal’s care has been and how hard an animal has to fight to recover in captivity. Blog_FullSizeRender2_E_They have to stay “wild-strong” and want to recover as much as we want them to, although despite our most heroic efforts, a second chance doesn’t always come. Releases are Graduation Day whether rehabilitation has taken only a few weeks or many months. The compassion, efforts and strengths of everyone involved, to include the animal itself, has come full circle. Release is definitely a time to celebrate, whether it’s a very quiet moment between only the animal and rehabber or with others looking on. Our shelter says “Thank You” to all rescuers who stop in the middle of their plans during the day or night to take the necessary time required to intervene when an animal is obviously suffering. Wildlife rehabilitation is truly a joint effort that relies on the public’s eyes, ears and compassion because it would be impossible for the shelter staff to do what they do, if it wasn’t for kind, caring and generous rescuers like Lori & Dale of Peletier, NC.  Blog_BarredOwlRelease_4L5A5529EIf you aren’t familiar with Barred Owls, they are large, stocky nocturnal raptors with forward facing, soulful brown eyes and a hawk-like beak. They have no ear tufts like Great Horned Owls, which makes them look very round in appearance. Owls in general have binocular vision and their eyes are fixed in their sockets, so they must turn their entire head to change views, but turning is no problem. They can turn their head 135 degrees in either direction. Basically, they can look behind their own shoulders. They have very acute senses of hearing and sight. The feather pattern of the Barred Owl’s gorgeous brown and white striped plumage allows them to fly soundlessly with their four foot wingspan. Barred Owls have strong, yellow feet with sharp dark talons that look like the tips have been dipped in black ink. When you’re out for a night walk or sitting on your deck enjoying the stars and hear a call in the distance that almost sounds like someone is saying “Who cooks for you, who cooks for you all,” you have just identified a Barred Owl!

Release day is the Best—– Always!!!!!

Linda Bergman-Althouse, author of

“Save Them All”

“The Earliest Babies!”

A_CSMAG_2016Feb_OWLSSquirrelsXE
Squirrels! It’s always infant squirrels and usually Eastern Grays, who arrive on the baby train first at the Outer Banks Wildlife Shelter in Newport, NC. That train pulled in on February 5th this year and the babies onboard still had their umbilical cords attached. Late January and early February, they are brand new to the world and out there in the trees with Momma Squirrel doing her best to keep them fed, safe and warm in the dead of winter. Gray squirrel litters, which occur in the Spring and Fall, number between three and five infants, and as newborns they are commonly referred to as pinkies because they are born pink and hairless. Within one week their skin turns gray because fur is developing under their skin. The first sign of hair emerges as little whiskers. Flaps of skin open and become ears the third week of life. Their eyes don’t usually open until they are between four and five weeks old. These little ones generally stay in the trees quiet and unassuming until Mom allows them to venture outside the nest unless something bad happens that Momma cannot control. It could be Mother Nature playing queen of the mountain with a tornado or hurricane that topples a tree where squirrels reside. Even if the tree is not damaged and remains intact, high winds could cause the nest to fail, expelling squirrel babies. Most Mother squirrels have back up nests when the need arises to move their litters. Predators such as cats, crows, snakes or raptors can attack the nest or sometimes it’s another adult squirrel exerting dominance that causes infant squirrels to tumble to the ground. If you find a baby squirrel on the ground, it’s best to look around (under pine needles and leaves) while stepping very carefully to ensure there are no more displaced infants needing your help. A_CSMAG_IMG_7908XEFido or your cat, LuLu, may also bring a baby squirrel home uninjured, so it’s best to try to reunite the baby(s) with Mother because sometimes healthy young squirrels found on the ground or transported by your pet are not orphans. They simply need help being returned to their mother, and if you monitor the situation to ensure the youngin’ is not in danger, you’ll witness the mother squirrel “rescuing” the fallen healthy baby by carrying the infant with her mouth by their scruff back to the nest. Even when the baby looks too big for Mom to handle, she will manage. There are those occasions, unfortunately, when Mom doesn’t make it back to the nest due to meeting her demise by predator, automobile or some freak accident. Let’s assess the situation first. If the baby you’ve found is bleeding, covered with fly eggs (they look like grains of rice) or ant bites, extremely cold and crying nonstop (their alarm sound is like a shrill whistle and when you hear it, you’ll never forget it!) or presents with puncture wounds, the infant squirrel is more than likely orphaned. When a baby squirrel loses its mother, it is in desperate trouble because squirrel infants are totally dependent upon Mom. A baby squirrel has the best chance of survival when it is cared for by its mother, however, when Mom is removed from the equation, foster Moms, such as wildlife rehabilitators, are their next best option. If you find you truly have a case that supports orphan status, you will have to step in and take over for Mom to save this baby’s life. Get a shoebox or box about a foot square or a large Tupperware container (without the lid on) or another small suitable container. Place some soft fabric at the bottom but not towels as they can get their claws stuck in the loops and end up twisting legs trying to free themselves. Put on some leather gloves (they probably don’t have teeth yet but just to be safe). If they are pinkies, there’s no need for gloves and don’t worry about the fabric used, just choose a soft one. Gently pick up the baby and place it in the container. Put the container on a heating pad on its lowest setting and choose a dark and quiet area in your home (a closed door bathroom or closet is good) to house the little one. Then, contact your nearest wildlife rehabilitator or wildlife shelter for transport instructions. If you do not have a heating pad, place a plastic bottle filled with warm water and wrapped in a dish towel in the box. Make sure the lid is on tight and the water is not too hot. Do not attempt to feed the infant squirrel, and keep the baby or babies away from any other living beings such as dogs, cats, parrots, children or larger humans. A_CSMAG_IMG_7909EIf, at dusk, you find a cold baby that exhibits no conditions requiring medical attention, it would be best to keep the little one in that dark and quiet area on the lowest set heating pad, as stated earlier, over night. Most Mothers will be settled in for the night at dusk anyway to ensure her litter remains quiet and safe from predators. The next morning, place the baby at the base of a tree close to where it was found and earnestly monitor a reuniting attempt with Mom (1 to 2 hours). Most of us have heard the old tale that has become a widespread misconception that wildlife Moms will not accept the baby back if it emits human scent, but that IS NOT TRUE! She will just be happy to have her baby back. If the reunite does not happen the next day, you will need to give the infant its best chance of survival with a licensed wildlife rehabilitator who will most likely have other young squirrels to litter-mate with your rescued squirrel. If the young squirrel you found or who found you by running up to you is eyes opened and fully furred with a bushy tail, he or she needs to be taken to the wildlife shelter right away. Juvenile squirrels will not be running up to you unless they are in trouble, mainly orphaned. The juvie needs to be with other squirrels to ensure behaviors required to survive in the wild are learned. All wildlife, including squirrels, have developmental, nutritional, housing and handling requirements that are species specific and must be met if the animal has any chance of survival, and it’s important to keep in mind that raising a wild animal in captivity is illegal in North Carolina unless you have a state permit. Squirrels are weaned between six and seven weeks of age, but will continue to nurse until ten to twelve weeks. A_CSMag_2016SquirrelInfantEWildlife rehabilitators also follow the same developmental process by extending syringe feedings of formula until the juvenile weans and will continue to provide squirrel formula in a dish to be lapped along with offering a variety of fruits, vegetables, seeds and nuts until they are behaviorally capable and ready for release. Yes, they are cute and it’s tempting, but squirrels need other squirrels to be raised properly and to live the longest and best squirrel life possible!

best always and Happy Spring!!

Linda Bergman-Althouse, author of

SAVE THEM ALL!

 

“For The Love of Birds!”

A_CSMag_SparrowAtWindow_BlogMany of us enjoy watching wildlife in our yards, especially gorgeous songbirds that frequent our feeders and birdbaths. Some we might even feel like we know, we see them so often! Our hearts go out to these tiny and fragile creatures who seem so capable in their efforts to thrive and outwit danger. Unfortunately, because wild birds are maneuvering around our homes or businesses while flitting from trees to feeders they occasionally fly smack dab into a window and are knocked unconscious, possibly injured or tragically die. That ‘glass smack’ is always a horrible sound for those of us who have come to recognize it. For birds, glass windows are worse than invisible because they reflect foliage or the sky, making them inviting places to fly into. Glass does not discriminate. It will take the fit as well as the unfit of a species. Most birds will crash into windows during the day when they mistake the reflection for landscape. At night, bird collisions also happen when nocturnal migrants hit lighted windows that appear in their airspace. Sometimes, although not as serious and far less likely to cause injury, birds, such as American Robins, Northern Cardinals and Towhees, will attack its reflection while defending its breeding territory. A_CSMag_CardinalatWindow_BlogAt the Outer Banks Wildlife Shelter in Newport, we receive calls from people throughout the year who’ve experienced a ‘bird smack’ and aren’t sure what to do because “the bird is just lying there.” Fortunately, there are some procedures to follow that just might save a life. It’s very hard to tell whether a bird has been knocked out or has died on impact, but it’s best to proceed as though you are the emergency medical technician willing to give that little bird his second chance and a shot at recovery. It’s true, no matter what you do, you might lose a few, but to the one you save, it will mean everything! The first thing you must do is gently place the bird in a box that blocks all incoming light (a shoe box is a good size) lined with a washcloth or dish towel to ensure the bird is removed from external stimuli and predator danger. If the bird is only stunned and continues to lie there, cats or wildlife could very well take advantage of its immobility. The cloths will be used for traction rather than allowing the bird to nervously sliding around in the box when it comes to. The box should have a lid with breathing holes in it. Take the box inside and place it somewhere dark, quiet and warm such as a closet or bathroom. Darkness helps calm the bird, lower its heart rate and lead to a faster recovery. When a bird is unconscious and has not passed, it still has sustained head trauma and will need that safe and tranquil place to relax. About every 20 minutes check the box by listening for movement from within the box. Please refrain from interacting with the bird, which is very stressful for the injured bird and can compromise any chance of recovery. It’s also not a good idea to open the box inside. If the bird has recovered, it will zoom out of the box and be inside your home, which is another problem entirely. Once you hear movement, take the box outside to remove the lid. A_CSMag_IMG_0185_Blog If the birdie flies away immediately, you should pat yourself on the back for giving that little life the valuable time needed to recover from a traumatic incident and return to the wild and his family. If the bird appears unable to fly due to injury, please contact your nearest wildlife rehabilitation center for transport instructions. Keep in mind, it is illegal to keep a wild bird in your possession indefinitely, however, you may keep it for a couple of hours to allow it to recover from a potentially fatal concussion. None of us want these glass strikes to happen, but when humans coexist with wildlife the stage is set for these unpleasant and sometimes, tragic incidents. You may be thinking, what can we do to decrease or prevent these extremely dreadful occurrences? Awareness of what could happen is powerful, because that propels us toward making changes in our environment that can make a big difference in how often these “glass smacks” occur. Moving a feeder is a consideration. If your feeder is moved closer to the window, birds won’t be able to pick up enough velocity to hurt themselves if they fly into it. If the feeder is quite far away, the bird will be more likely to recognize that the window is not part of their natural environment. Ideally you should place your feeder either less than 3 feet from the window or more than 30 feet from it. A_CSMag_LT_0152_BlogInstalling curtains or blinds (white is best) will obstruct a reflection that, otherwise, could draw them in. Another idea is to place decals on your window no more than 2 inches apart horizontally and 4 inches apart vertically or vertical tape strips no more than 4 inches apart, but that means you won’t be seeing much out that window! Bug screens have been touted as very effective in reducing the reflectivity of glass and if a bird does ignore the screen, it will serve as a cushion if hit and reduce the chance of injury. Wind chimes or wind socks near the glass can also deter birds from coming near the window. Some folks have even smeared soap on their window to fog any reflection which is a little messy, but if it works, why not? There are other products such as one-way transparent film that appears opaque and ultraviolet technology that only birds can see when applied to glass and are said, although pricey, to be quite effective. If you have suffered through the sadness of a songbird losing its life after hitting your window, try any of these methods. It can only help!
A_CSMag_LT_2887_Blog_edited-1According to the Bird Conservation Network more than 100 million North American birds die every year from window collisions, but “For the Love of Birds,” we can all do our part in reducing that huge number just by caring and making a few changes. Our wild birds entertain us year round for a mere handful of millet and sunflower seeds. To nurture our appreciation and love for our feathered little friends, let’s coexist in a responsible way by helping to keep their airspace safe and ‘glass smack’ free. Only after ensuring we’ve checked the box on some of these preventative methods, can we puff our chest and say “Not gonna happen, Not on my watch!”

Happy Bird Watching and Best Always!!!

Linda Bergman-Althouse, author of

Save Them All

Meet the Purple Gallinule!

Blog&FB_PurpleGallinule3As we ring in a royal New Year, we might as well go purple! This bird may very well be a new one for you. So, let me introduce the rarely seen in this area, Purple Gallinule. The Purple Gallinule, also known as a Water Hen, is a beautifully colored, wetlands bird found mostly in southern Florida and the tropics. American gallinules usually winter in Argentina or Brazil, but singles are known to stray off course occasionally, especially when migrating after breeding season. Purple Gallinules are one of the most frequent American marsh birds to wander and despite appearing very clumsy in flight, can find themselves as far away as South Africa. Who knows how or why that happens? Maybe a visit to see their larger species cousin the Swamp Hen was in order. In North Carolina, the Clapper Rail is close kin. Even knowing their propensity to roam, it was still a surprise to admit an injured Purple Gallinule to the Outer Banks Wildlife Shelter recently and just as unexpected for the Good Samaritan caller to know the identity of the bird she found walking on a road in Emerald Isle. To be totally honest, the transporter did volunteer at our shelter in Newport years ago, before her work schedule became too tight, and we do train them well! A paved road is not natural habitat, so she knew as soon as she saw the gangly but gorgeous bird limping along that the PG was in trouble and quickly theorized the gallinule had probably been clipped by a car. After an examination at the shelter revealed a fractured femur, our evaluation and assessment was the same. Where you would see this magnificent, multi-colored bird of the rail family is walking on top of floating vegetation or awkwardly high stepping through dense shrubs rather than on a roadway. Extensive wetlands with still or slow-moving shallow water, lots of dense marsh cover with plant life buoyed by water describes their habitat best. This slight of weight bird with extremely long toes is capable of standing on floating lily pads without sinking. The unusual Purple Gallinule swims on the surface of water like a duck but walks on those floating plants like a chicken. Although they are called “Purple” G’s, they are such a rainbow of colors, one might think they are more parrot than rail. Purple is the dominant adult color, but you will also see a green back, red triangular bill tipped with yellow, a fleshy plate of light blue on their forehead, white under the tail, bright yellow legs (one of the reasons they are locally known as Yellow-Legged Gallinules) and big yellow, non-webbed feet and long toes which they not only use for sprinting but to hold their food while eating. Blog&FB_PurpleGallinule2Those toes are also capable of the manual dexterity it takes to flip over lily pads to find prey underneath or to climb bushes or trees to find food. Both sexes of adults sport the same stunning plumage and physical appearance. Downy chicks are black and as juveniles, they turn a buffy tan with some dull colorations just starting to vividly bloom. Adults measure 10-15 inches in length, span 20-24 inches across their wings and weigh between 5–10 ounces with females averaging the fuller weight. Gallinules fly only short distances and let their legs dangle rather than hold them straight as an arrow like egrets or herons do. Purple Gallinules are omnivorous, therefore, along with consuming a wide variety of plants, seeds and fruits; insects, frogs, snails, spiders, earthworms, eggs and fish round out their diet. Clambering noisily through marshes and waterside trees while squawking, cackling and using their guttural grunts, the Purple Gallinule will flick its short tail anxiously as it forages for food. With its strong legs and long toes, the PG runs around on open shorelines aggressively in search of provisions (not quite the secretive and stealth hunter his cousin the Clapper Rail is). Purple Gallinules are the most inquisitive of the rail family, almost to the point of being inappropriately curious which can get them into trouble. They appear bold and eager, rather than cautious, when exploring something new in their environment with seemingly no regard for their own safety. Blog&FB_PurpleGallinule1During breeding season, which can be any time in the tropics but only Spring and Summer in North America, both Purple Gallinule parents build their bulky nest, comprised of cattails, grasses and sedges, anchored firmly to floating structures in a marsh at water level or 1 to 3 feet above it. Between 5 and 10 tan eggs with brown spots will be laid and incubated by both parents for 22-25 days. After hatching, the young will be fed by the parents and assisted by other gallinules, sometimes as many as 8. It is believed that these feeding helpers are previous offspring and that the assistance is needed because the parents have a second nest of eggs or hatchlings they must attend to. Juvenile gallinules of less than 10 weeks of age have been known to feed baby chicks. The youngsters start to eat on their own after 7-10 days and are capable of flight around the 9th week. A Purple Gallinule’s longevity is up to 22 years, as long as it can stay alert and outwit boas in the tropics and alligators and turtles in North America. Although this species is not considered globally threatened, their numbers have decreased due to aerial spraying of pesticides and wetland loss in the United States as well as in South and Central America. If you ever come across a brilliantly colored Purple Gallinule that looks a little more like a Disney character than wildlife, you are not hallucinating!! They do exist, but not usually here. The one you are seeing is probably migrating or just in the mood to roam!

HAPPY NEW YEAR, EVERYONE!!!!

Linda Bergman-Althouse       author of “Save Them All

“The Gift of Gannets”

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We don’t see them often and when we do, they are in trouble. The only reasons a Northern Gannet comes ashore will be injury, illness, starvation or blown off course by a storm. When one becomes too weak or unable to fly, it will float on the ocean until the tide carries it to shore. Northern Gannets are the largest indigenous seabird in the North Atlantic with wingspans of 68 – 70 inches and weigh in at 6 – 8 pounds. They spend most of their lives at sea. This magnificent pelagic seabird, that reaches adult maturity in 5 years, is known for its gorgeous pale blue eyes accentuated by a ring of bare, bluish-black skin and contrasting snow white body with black wing tips and is so strikingly beautiful it’s a visual gift. CSMag_Northern Gannet2EGannets are among the world’s most renowned divers, descending from heights of up to 130 feet as they plunge into the ocean at 60 plus miles per hour. 68% of the world’s population of Northern Gannets breeds off the coasts of Great Britain and Scotland, but there will be ‘companies’ of Gannets wintering off North Carolina’s coast with some of our local Solan Geese, which is a name of Scandinavian origin given to Northern Gannets. Some colonies will be as large as 60,000 pairs. Occasionally a Gannet will be admitted to the Outer Banks Wildlife Shelter in Newport and upon receipt of the bird, we know it will be a touch and go situation. Recently that was the case when a Good Samaritan rescued a beached adult Gannet, unable to fly who showed no signs of injury when examined but was only half his expected body weight. Gannets eat any small fish such as sardines, anchovies, haddock, smelt, Atlantic Cod and the young of larger fish species. Squid is also a menu choice for these vertical divers. They dive into the sea as straight as an arrow with wings and feet retracted and tucked tightly against their body. The Gannet has highly developed lungs, secondary nostrils that close and a long, strong sternum protecting their internal organs when impacting with the water. These anatomical features are perfect for the high speed and deep diving they are capable of. Individual Gannets have a subcutaneous fat layer, dense down and tightly overlapping feathers that help them withstand low temperatures. CSMag_Northnern Gannet4EThe reduced blood flow in the webbing on their feet also helps maintain their body temperature when they swim. Their feathers enjoy a higher level of waterproofing than other seabirds that need to dry out between foraging sessions. Northern Gannets produce an impermeable secretion in their sebaceous glands which they spread across their body using their beak or their head. Gannets breed in large colonies along the Atlantic, and boaters have witnessed spectacular displays of plunge-diving for fish by Gannets in the hundreds. Once beneath the water, it uses its wings and feet to swim in pursuit of a meal. They grab food with their long, strong, conical bill and always eat it under water. They never fly with a fish in their bill. Northern Gannets nest offshore, and most often, nests are found tucked into inaccessible cliffs. Some breeding colonies are recorded as being located in the same place for hundreds of years. The cliffs containing gannetries, when seen from a distance, appear to be covered in snow, due to the extraordinary number of nests present. Constructed of compacted mud, seaweed, grasses, feathers and their own waste matte, a Gannet’s nest is definitely a testament to the value of recycling! The males usually collect the materials necessary for nest building. Off the coast of North Carolina, because cliffs are not available, Northern Gannets will nest on islands or flat surfaces, however, they find it more difficult to take off from these locations, requiring them to often cross an area occupied by an adjacent nest which causes stress and aggression from the pair occupying a trespassed nest. Despite bold assertions of the group toward one another, Gannets always nest close together. CSMag_NorthernGannet1EThere are no loners during breeding season. Northern Gannets will lay only one egg rather than 2 or 3 like most seabirds. If two eggs are found in a Gannet’s nest it’s the result of two females laying an egg in the same nest or an egg has been stolen from another nest. Incubation takes 42 to 46 days and occurs under the webbing of their feet, flooded with warming blood. An infant can take up to 36 hours to break through the thick eggshell. At this time, the adult will release the egg from its feet to prevent the egg from breaking under the adult’s massive weight. Northern Gannets learn the hard way in their first breeding year that if they aren’t cautious about that, the chick may die. The warm webbed feet are also used to cover the newborn, which is rarely left alone by the parents. A hatchling will spend about 13 weeks in the nest with the parents where it is fed regurgitated fish and is fiercely monitored to prevent attack or death by Black-Backed Gulls, Herring Gulls, Ravens, Ermine, Red Fox or other Northern Gannets. Nature can be harsh! Fledglings are brown with white wing tips, and they have white spots on their heads and backs. Once a Northern Gannet fledges from its nesting colony and is on the water, it will remain there for as long as two weeks because it has not learned how to take off from a water runway yet. While flying muscles comprise 20% total weight for most seabirds, Northern Gannets’ flying muscles are less than 13% which demands they warm up before they fly and that they calculate and rely on the wind, especially wind produced by the front of a wave. Bobbing in the water is also a safer place for a youngster to be than risk accidently tripping into Gannet breeding ground. They are not sturdy on their feet as land walkers due to the location of their legs so far back on the body. Gannets are swimmers and flyers! The young have a fat reserve, allowing them to go without eating for up to 2 weeks, but don’t worry; the parents are still close by for further fishing and flying training. The maximum lifespan known for a Northern Gannet is 35 years. Adult Gannets are not heavily preyed upon, but when it happens, an eagle, shark or seal is usually the bandit. If you ever get the opportunity to see a Northern Gannet, savor that momentary visual gift because it may never happen again!!

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year Everyone!!

Linda Bergman-Althouse, author of

SAVE THEM ALL