“Snakes get NO RESPECT!!”

blog_redbelliedwatersnake3eSnakes are amazing creatures, but unfortunately, snakes are also among the least popular of all animals. Many people have a natural aversion or fear of snakes while others simply choose to hate them for reasons they may or may not know. The negative stigma surrounding snakes is quite undeserved, and it is believed by wildlife biologists and those who work with snakes that this cold-blooded vertebrate is most assuredly a misunderstood animal, especially when you consider it is known by conservation professionals that snakes are extremely beneficial to our eco-system and our environment. Recently a Red-Bellied Water Snake, attacked by a shovel attached to a human, was admitted to the Outer Banks Wildlife Shelter in Newport. The 4-foot snake received her second chance after a neighbor quickly realized what was happening, intervened and transported the reptile to our shelter, but not before the snake had suffered quite a few lacerations. The water snake was not in the best shape when she arrived, but receiving her immediately following the attack helped to minimize further damage and a treatment plan of medication and generous applications of antibiotic ointment was urgently administered. A full examination assessed the cuts were not as deep as they could have been and her vital organs had been spared. The slithery one was quite lethargic at first due to the trauma and shock of her ordeal, but she is doing very well now. The pretty girl is perky, fast, loves her soaks and is putting away quite the number of small fish during a feeding. Around the world there are more than 2600 species of snakes and most are nonvenomous. Fossil records show snakes have been around for over 130 million years. blog_molesnakeeSnakes are valuable components to the communities in which they reside as they play the roles of predator and prey. Most snakes, other than water snakes who like fish and other aquatics, prey heavily on insects and rodents. When snake populations decrease, the numbers of rats and mice increase which causes serious problems for people. Stories have been told where someone thought it a good idea at the time to eradicate an area of all snakes, only to eventually become overrun when the rat population exploded! It proved to take years, hundreds of people hours and tens of thousands of dollars in equipment and harmful chemicals to remove rats without natural predators such as snakes. Rats and mice reproduce often and destroy gardens, crops, homes, start fires by chewing electrical wires and can also spread harmful diseases. Snakes are very effective at hunting small rodents because they are designed to crawl into small burrows and other areas used as rodent shelters. These places are too small for other predators to maneuver. All snakes are described similarly; long, linear shaped reptiles covered with a skin of supple, living scales. They are legless with staring eyes that never blink, and they sport a great marvel of nature; the flickering forked tongue used to perceive scents, which is their main sensory organ. Snakes present in every color you can think of depending upon the type. blog_corn-snake1eThey have fangs that will or will not deliver toxic venom, depending, also, upon the snake species. As defense mechanisms, even the shyest of snakes can hiss, coil, puff up or bite when threatened by a human. These behaviors alone may very well scare people, but the best thing to do if you encounter a snake is LEAVE IT ALONE. blog_black-racer2eSnakes usually prefer to retreat when confronted but can become defensive if provoked. Although most snakes are not poisonous, they can still bite and snake bites usually occur when people try to capture or kill them. Snakes are known to swallow food much larger than their heads. This is possible because the lower jaw of a snake is loosely attached to the skull, allowing snakes to open their mouths very wide. As an extra adaptation, the lower jaw bones of snakes are not joined together at the front. This allows each side of the lower jaw to move independently and helps the snake stretch its mouth over large prey. blog_rbwsnake3Then the snake alternately moves each side of its jaws over the prey until swallowed. Most snakes belong to the Colubridae family and are found on every continent except Antarctica. Colubrids are much smaller than Boas and Pythons, move very fast and will eat once a week to once a month. Quite often eating depends upon opportunity and the faster the snake’s metabolism the more often they will need to eat. Snakes use their highly-developed senses of sight, taste, hearing and touch to track and locate prey. They are highly mobile creatures, able to move over sand and rocks, burrow in the soil, squeeze through cracks and crevasses in rocks, climb vertical rock walls and the thinnest tree branches and even swim with great speed. You may have heard a gruesome saying that the “only good snake is a dead snake,” Well, we need to debunk that old myth! Snakes deserve respect because they help maintain a high level of biodiversity that is extremely important to all life on Earth. blog_rosyratsnakeeThey are middle-order predators that help keep our natural eco-systems working. In addition, they become prey for other wildlife such as hawks, eagles and other raptors that could simply vanish if snakes were not a viable food source. Venomous snakes, albeit a bit more touchy subject, deserve props too for the great work they do in the medical field. Snake venom is used to treat excessive bleeding, cancers, heart disease and stroke victims, Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s, which saves millions of peoples’ lives every year. When our Red-Bellied Water Snake is released, please watch out for her, for she is only going to do good things! She will probably bulk up a little before the end of autumn and you might see her grabbing a warm sun spot in the driveway or on the patio before dormancy, which is another term for hibernation, during the winter. When left alone, snakes present little or no danger to people, so adapting to live safely with snakes is doable, as long as you control your fear factor. LET THEM BE! When you get the chance, stop by our shelter to meet Blanca, our resident leucistic Rat Snake. blog_blancaowlsjul09xeDeprived of her natural camouflage coloring at birth, she has become a hefty, white beauty who is a fascinating Wildlife Ambassador! Total respect!

Best Always and HAPPY THANKSGIVING!

Linda Bergman-Althouse

Author of “Save Them All

A Wild November Night!!

fboct2016_redtailedmg_3990xfPlease check the date and put us on your calendar for next month for a crazy fun and wild time with great food at our biggest annual fundraiser! The Outer Banks Wildlife Shelter’s (OWLS) Art and Silent Auction will be held on Friday, November 18th, from 6 pm (doors open), 6:30 dinner to 10 pm at the Civic Center in Morehead City, NC. How timely for the auction to be held a month before Christmas, because who doesn’t need a few special gifts for their special folks and what a fun way to shop! The money earned from this event is spent to assist with feeding, providing medical needs, transporting, housing and eventual release of thousands of wild animals admitted to our clinic each year and also to teach fellow North Carolinians and tourists how to happily and peacefully coexist with wildlife. fb_oct2016_ghoWhile OWLS has all the proper permits necessary to legally care for wild animals, we receive no state or federal funding. It is through the generosity of the public that we have been in business and continue to support a necessary service to the community since 1988. Since our founding, OWLS has admitted more than 25,000 patients, facilitated numerous educational programs for primary and secondary schools, as well as, civic organizations and has provided a series of wildlife camps during the summer that are extremely popular with school age children. fboct2016_fox-squirrel_ji7z1275All our programs and camp weeks allow our campers to get up close (but not too close!) and personal with some amazing animals that they may never see in the wild and learn how to help wildlife by “going green.” fboct2016dTickets to our annual fundraising event are only $35 per person and include a scrumptious dinner provided by generous and compassionate restaurants from Carteret County, a happy open bar, excellent live entertainment (that just might move you to get up and dance) and a thrilling, nail biting silent auction. Our dinner, which we call the “Taste of Carteret” is always plentiful, the auction items are “must haves” for you or someone you choose to gift and the opportunity to hang out with old friends and make new ones by meeting our volunteers and staff, priceless! Some friends & family have made our wildlife party their annual reunion time!! So, you don’t want to miss this gala event. There are so many stories to share about unique wild animals who have been admitted to our facility for rehabilitation this year! fb2016lilgirl_img_4733This year we have been and still are giving our “best effort” second chances to numerous baby squirrels displaced during storms & hurricanes, such as Hermine and a boat load of infant opossums orphaned by hit & runs or baby possum ‘fall-aways’ that occurred while their Mom was beating feet from a precarious and life threatening situation, as well as, so many seabirds such as Northern Gannets & Pelicans and raptors to include owls of all shapes, sizes and colors. This year some ‘most unusuals’ came through our clinic doors as well. Not one, but two Yellow-billed Cuckoos needed medical attention, and we’re happy to say, they both made it despite severe cat attack injuries. A tiny Tern was washed down guttering from his rocky nest situated on a rooftop. He handled being in our care very well and ate us out of house and home! fboct2016_img_0248Please get your tickets today to hear their stories (and take the opportunity to tell a few wildlife stories of your own) and celebrate with some of the Wildlife Ambassadors attending, such as Dinah our resident Barred Owl (who fostered many baby Barred Owls over the years, including this year), Sweet Isabella or Little Girl our adorable Virginia Opossums or Isabeau, our elegant Red-Tailed Hawk, one or more of our gray or amber Screech Owls and one or more of our turtles will surely be onboard, too. fboct2016_img_4085Their human caretakers & handlers will be ready to answer all your questions and eager to share each animal resident’s story! Our education animals enjoy being the center of attention and our event attendees love taking pictures of them!! The Outer Banks Wildlife Shelter in Newport has been a safe haven for our down east wildlife locals and those passing through during migration who become orphaned, ill or who suffer injury for many years now, and having the means to give these animals the second chance they deserve is essential! Help us help our North Carolina wildlife by calling the shelter at 252-240-1200 to lock on your reservations. Can’t wait to see you there for a “Wild November Night!”

best always,

Linda Bergman-Althouse

author of “Save Them All

“Living With Coyotes!”

fbsep2016_img_9062They are here and live among us! Although we do not rehabilitate the Coyote due to North Carolina Wildlife Commission regulations, we do receive calls at the Outer Banks Wildlife Shelter in Newport on sightings and inquiries regarding how to coexist with this wild animal that looks and sounds so much like a dog. The Coyote is a member of the dog family and is native to California but has made its way across the United States during the past two decades creating the widest range of all wild canine species found in our country. It is considered the hardiest and most adaptable species found in North America. There is much to be said about the Coyote and not all of it is pleasant or positive, but we wildlife rehabilitators recognize the Coyote as a living being just trying to get by with lessening habitat and minimal means. So let’s take a look at the Coyote and assess how we can maintain a healthy and safe environment for our family (including our pets) and our livestock and property knowing a coyote family may be living close by. From a distance (and distance is a key word here – always keep your distance) you might think you’re seeing a dog while in reality that 20 – 45 pound canine with pointed and erect ears and a long, slender snout with a bushy, black tipped tail is a Coyote. Their gorgeous fur and coloring is typically dark gray but can also be blonde, reddish and sometimes black. They stand about 2 feet tall at the shoulder and 4 feet in length. Males are usually heavier than females. Mating occurs in February and five to ten pups are born in April or May. fbsep2016_coyote6pupThey will nurse for about 10 weeks, then begin hunting training with Mom and Dad who will provide them “catches of the day,” and at 7 to 8 months they will leave their parents. The American Indians call coyotes “song dogs” because they have a high-pitched, yodel like yapping sound that can travel up to 3 miles or more and is very similar to that of a domestic dog, hence the scientific name “Canis Latrans” which means “barking dog.” Coyotes in North Carolina look similar to red wolves, but coyotes are smaller.fbsep2016_coyote8 The Coyote is generally a carnivore but also an opportunistic feeder, so it will feed on a variety of food sources; usually that which is easiest to obtain. Garbage, road kill and pet food left outdoors are not out of the question. However, they prefer rodents such as mice and rats which make up 80% of their diet. On a positive note, the Coyote provides “natural” rodent control which is always preferred over the use of poisons. Coyotes also eat insects and have saved many farms from insect take-overs. Fruit, berries, rabbits, birds, snakes and frogs are found on the Coyotes menu as well. They are active during the day and night but usually more at day break and when the sun goes down. Highly territorial, coyotes will run off any non-family members to protect their claimed land and hunting grounds, and they are year’round hunters, so they do not hibernate. Their exceptional senses of smell, vision and hearing lend to their successful methods of finding food. Because the coyote can adjust so well to changing environments, its habitat can range from meadows and fields to an urban setting. You may recall the story of a coyote found sleeping in a subway car in New York City last year. That tells us coyotes have adjusted to human presence and although still a shy animal, may not be as afraid of people as we’d like them to be. We might need to remind them that hanging around two legged human animals is not a good thing. To coexist safely with coyotes please review and apply these 15 guidelines: 1) Never feed coyotes and discourage other people from doing so. 2) Do not allow your pets to roam free (they may appear as potential food items, cats and small dogs are prime targets). 3) Do not leave pet food outside. 4) Make your garbage inaccessible to all wild animals. 5) Manage your bird feeding station. Spilled seed attracts rodents who in turn attract coyotes. 6) Don’t allow coyotes to approach people (especially small children) or pets. Be aggressive in your behavior by standing tall, waving your arms, making loud noises and throwing rocks or sticks. Do not run from them; you will look like prey. 7) Fencing your yard is helpful if your home is adjacent to known coyote presence. The fence should be taller than 4 feet and extend 6 inches into the ground. 8) The brush and grass around your property should be kept short to eliminate protective cover for secretive coyotes. fbsep2016_coyote4 9) If you have chickens or ducks, make sure they are locked in the coops at night. Your rabbit hutch should have a solid bottom (rather than wire). 10) If you have horses, cattle, pigs, sheep or alpacas, you might want to think about adding a few donkeys or llamas to the mix. Research tells us there is an innate hatred between coyotes and donkeys to the point where the donkey gets the upper hand! Llamas have been known to kick coyote butt, as well. Farmers who have enlisted the help of donkeys or llamas state a huge decrease in coyote presence and some say, “not even a sighting.” 11) Close off crawl spaces that could become a great place for a Momma coyote to raise her young. 12) If you have fruit trees, pick fruit as it ripens and remove over-ripened fruit from the ground. 13) If your coyotes become bold and exhibit no fear of people, you need to call the nearest Wildlife Control Officer for assistance. 14) DO NOT attempt to pet a coyote. Keep them wild and away! 15) Please pass these tips on to your neighbors. Due to the loss of natural habitat by development, coyotes, commonly referred to as ‘Top Dog’ these days, are forced to cohabitate with humans, but please keep in mind, coyotes contribute many benefits to our ecosystem and our quality of life in general. Although humans are the coyote’s fiercest enemy, coyotes certainly do humans more good than harm. They are intelligent and adaptable creatures that are interesting to observe and photograph in the wild, helpful to farmers, ranchers and gardeners by decreasing insect and rodent numbers thereby keeping the balance of nature in order and they, in general, are not nearly as dangerous as domestic dogs when it comes to reported canine attacks; statistics prove that. It may very well be possible to live in harmony with the coyote who like us just wants a safe place to live and raise their family. fbsep2016_coyotewithpup2However, in most potentially troubling situations where lack of knowledge is key, education will be the solution to our coexistence. Stay safe and out of trouble, “Top Dog!”

Best Always,

Linda Bergman-Althouse

author of “Save Them All

“Catchin’ Flies”

Blog_GreatCrestedFCXESeldom seen but always appreciated are Great Crested Flycatchers who perch high and wait diligently while bobbing their heads in all directions in search of summer insects that vulnerably flit among foliage. Flycatchers may drop or crash into a bush to seize a bug but usually feed high by catching their prey on the wing. They are also capable of stopping abruptly in midflight to hover over an insect covered leaf or tree limb, picking them off like . . . . . well, you know. As their name suggests, Great Crested Flycatchers are primarily insectivores and one would think that flies are their staple food source, but flies make up only a small percentage of its diet. GCFs prefer butterflies, moths, spiders, beetles, grasshoppers, crickets, katydids, bees, wasps and sometimes small lizards. Blog_GreatCrestedFCXXEWhen admitted to the Outer Banks Wildlife Shelter in Newport, usually as nestlings who have been displaced by bad weather or predator nest attack, their diet will consist of meal worms mainly, which is a great protein substitute for what they might grab and go in the wild. They also enjoy small portions of fruits and berries which they consume whole, and the pits or seeds are regurgitated later, occasionally quite a few at one time. They are usually very cooperative birds in the nursery who eagerly snatch meal worms from tweezers when offered, and their vocalizations are quite soothing compared to the shrillness of baby Cardinals or Mockingbirds! Flycatchers sing a fairly low-pitched, three-part song of “wheerreep, whee” and end with a soft, low “churr.” They also have an alarm sound, like most birds do when stressed, that is a series of a fast and higher pitched “huit, huit, huit.” Great Crested Flycatchers are reddish-brown-gray above, with a brownish-gray head, gray throat and breast, and bright to subdued lemon-lime belly. The brown upperparts are highlighted by rufous-orange flashes in the primary and tail feathers. The black bill, which is fairly wide at the base and flanked by black whiskers, sports a bit of pale color as an adult. Blog_GreatCrestedFCPerchedEThey have a powerful build for a medium size song bird with broad shoulders and a large head with a crest that is not prominent and somewhat underwhelming compared to that of a Blue Jay. GCF’s do not display sexual dimorphism like Cardinals, Bluebirds and House Finches do. The male and female GCF look the same in color and size, so it’s easier to tell the girls from the boys by observing their behaviors rather than their physical appearance. Adult Great Crested Flycatchers are about the size of an American Robin and usually measure between 6.7 – 8.3 inches in length with a wingspan around 13 inches and weigh in between .95 – 1.41 ounces. Although slight in weight, the GCF is a mighty insect predator! Flycatchers don’t seem to be too romantic when it comes to finding a mate. Courtship and the mating ritual may only involve a tenacious male swooping after a female in and among the trees until she finally gives up the chase. So, they are not flashy and over the top with courtship displays but what they do counts because they are monogamous throughout breeding season and for years to come. Great Crested Flycatchers live in woodlots and open woodland, particularly among deciduous trees. Nesting occurs mid-April and the nest site is usually a hole in a tree, either a natural cavity or an old woodpecker hole found 20-50′ above the ground. Blog_GreatCrestedFC3EGreat Crested Flycatchers are the only Eastern flycatchers who nest in cavities, but they may also choose man-made sites such as birdhouses, nest boxes, drainpipes or hollow fence posts. Both sexes help build their nest, although it has been observed that the female constructs the majority of the nest while the male stands watch. They carry in large amounts of material to bring the nest level up close to the entrance of the cavity. The nest foundation is made of grass, weeds, strips of bark, animal fur, rootlets, moss, feathers or other debris and lined with finer materials. GCF’s have the odd habit of weaving in or lining their nest with pieces of shed snakeskin, and sometimes they add onion skins or pieces of litter such as clear plastic wrappers. The male defends the couple’s nesting territory with loud calls and if that doesn’t work, he may have to fight other males. Great Crested Flycatchers lay a single clutch of 4-6 creamy white to pale buff eggs, marked with splotches of brown, olive and lavender, per breeding season. The eggs are incubated for about two weeks by the female only. Both parents will bring food for the hatchlings for the next 12 – 18 days. Around 18-20 days after hatching is about the time the youngsters experience their first flight. Blog_GCF_4L5A0613E Nestlings rarely return to breed near where they were born, but once yearlings have chosen a breeding area, they often return to that same area year after year. The Great Crested Flycatcher is a bird of the treetops. It spends very little time on the ground and does not hop or walk. It prefers to fly from place to place close to the ground rather than walk. So, if you are trying to locate one based upon their distinctive, rolling call, you should probably look up! Great Crested Flycatchers live along the edges between habitats, so they don’t need big stretches of unbroken forest canopy to thrive. This is a rare occasion when logging and development practices that increase forest fragmentation actually work to a bird’s advantage, rather than in sharp contrast to other birds that dwell deep within the forest. Although GCF’s breed in most regions of the United States, they are migratory birds who, when the temperatures drop in Autumn, head south to Florida and Cuba, as well as, Mexico and South America. The oldest recorded Great Crested Flycatcher was at least 14 years, 11 months old when it was found in Vermont way back in 1967. It had been banded in New Jersey in 1953. Blog_GreatCrestedFC2EThese little birds can be around for quite a long time barring troublesome hawks who give them the stink eye and loss of habitat or insect food sources. Insects procreate in crazy numbers, especially pesky flies!! It’s a good feeling to know that these ‘great’ little Flycatchers are out their making our world a better place!

 

Best Always,

Linda Bergman-Althouse

author of “Save Them All

 

“Not So Cuckoo!”

A_CSMag_Yellow-billedCuckooBBEYellow-billed Cuckoos aren’t really that cuckoo!! That statement is quite evident when we find that a Momma Cuckoo has chosen another bird species’ nest to lay an egg or two. In this bizarre way, Cuckoos are propagating, but another set of parents will do the hard work necessary to raise an “odd bird” that is sometimes, much larger than their own nestlings. Recently, a Yellow-billed Cuckoo fledgling was admitted to the Outer Banks Wildlife Shelter in Newport who appeared to be cat or hawk attacked. The more interesting than sad part of this story is the fact that when the Good Samaritan rescuer found the Cuckoo, it was still on its feet, on the ground and being fed by Mom and Dad Robins. The only explanation to that scene is the young Cuckoo hatched in a Robin’s nest. Upon admittance to the shelter, a large gaping hole was found in his neck area during examination. Other than that, he was alert, healthy, still eating well and after ensuring the injured area was cleaned and remained clean the wound managed to close and heal itself within a week. Of course, we, at the shelter focused on everything we could to make sure the YBC remained healthy, but we have to thank the Robin parents for what they did to get him to the hardy condition he was in before the attack, which helped him survive something so traumatic. Our YBC is doing very well, eating so many meal worms it’s difficult to keep count and his vocal chattering roll is quite a pleasant addition to the bird sounds in the nursery. A_CSMag_DSC_0153-267x400EYellow-billed Cuckoo infants will grow into fairly large, long and slim birds. Right now his slightly down-curved bill is all black, but it will turn mostly yellow as he matures and is almost as long as his head. When fully feathered, they will have a very long tail, dark in color on top, but black with white oval spots underneath. Their wings appear pointed and swept back in flight as they fly in a straight path using sharp wing beats with only a slight pause between them. Yellow-billed Cuckoos are warm brown above and whitish below. Their charcoal gray face sports yellow eye-rings as an adult. In flight, the outer part of their wings will flash brownish red. Their coloring allows them to sit well hidden in woodlands that offer gaps and clearings as they wait for prey such as caterpillars (their fave), cicadas, beetles, crickets, grasshoppers, katydids and other flying insects to come into view. YBC’s will wreck havoc on webworm infestations. In one sitting, a Yellow-billed Cuckoo can put away 100 webworms or tent caterpillars. So in that way, they are environmental partners who keep insect numbers down and save trees! They may also feast on small lizards, frogs, eggs of other birds, and berries such as elderberries, black berries and small fruits. During winter, with the absence of insect prey, fruit and seeds become a larger part of their diet.CSMag -YBCuckoo9E They are slow, methodical hunters who hang out in treetops that line water sources. Yellow-billed Cuckoos are easy to hear, if you know their distinctive call, but very hard to spot. People have referred to the Yellow-billed Cuckoo as a “Rain Crow” because they are often heard on extremely hot days, and it’s imagined by humans that the Cuckoo is calling for rain. In courtship, the male feeds the female. Their chosen nest site is in a tree, shrub, or vines and usually 4-10′ above the ground, sometimes up to 20′ or higher. In the east, Yellow-billed Cuckoos nest in oaks, beech, hawthorn and ash. The small, loosely-made platform of twigs and stems, with a thin lining of grass, pine needles, leaves and other materials constitutes the nest which is made by both male and female. Cuckoos lay 1-5 pale bluish green eggs and remember, not always in their own nest! When they do incubate their own, it will take 9-14 days and the infants will be fed by both parents. After hatching, they can fly in about 3 weeks. The Yellow-billed Cuckoos’ status is listed as “Threatened” due to a general decline in their numbers occurring in the last few decades. The cause of decline is attributed to vast habitat loss and the rise and fall of insect outbreaks, which is their food source. As long-distance, nocturnal migrants, Yellow-billed Cuckoos are also vulnerable to collisions with tall buildings, cell towers, radio antennas, wind turbines and other structures. Although approximately 84% of the world’s Yellow-billed Cuckoos breed in the United Sates, in the western states, sightings of YBC’s have become very rare. A_CSMag_yellowbilledcuckoo2EGenerally shy and elusive, the Yellow-billed Cuckoo can be easily overlooked, but its calls are usually loud and often provide the best evidence to their presence. The next time you are taking a walk or doing a little bird watching in Carteret County, listen for that nearly eight second chatter of “ka-ka-ka-ka-ka-kow-kow-kowlp-kowlp-kowlp-kowlp” followed by a soft cooing, then a “kow, kow, kow.” It just might be “one in the same” released Yellow-billed Cuckoo who spent some rehabilitation time with us at the shelter. Don’t forget to throw him an appreciative wave, while thanking him for eating those pesky insects that are more than an annoyance and definitely unwanted in your neck of the woods.

best always,

Linda Bergman-Althouse

Author of “Save Them All

“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