I AM NOT A HAWK!

While enjoying the activity at his bird feeder a few weeks ago, a Beaufort, NC resident witnessed a distressing bird on bird attack. Most of us are aware that some birds such as hawks eat other birds, mainly songbirds, and this appeared to be a hawk on hawk situation. By the time the man ventured outside, the larger hawk, which we theorize to have been a Cooper’s Hawk, was gone and the smaller hawk, lay injured on the ground. The Good Samaritan scooped him up and transported him to the Outer Banks Wildlife Shelter (OWLS) in Newport for evaluation and treatment. It turned out to be a species that had never been admitted to our shelter before, because the only time we see a Merlin, which is a Falcon rather than a Hawk, in this area is when they are passing through during migration. You may be asking, what’s the difference between a hawk and a falcon? Falcons have notched beaks while hawks have a curved beak. Falcons also use their beaks to attack prey, while hawks use the talons on their feet to kill prey, so their hunting methods are completely different. Also, hawks are generally larger in size than falcons. A thorough examination of the admitted Merlin revealed a laceration under one wing and numerous puncture wounds from the larger bird’s talons. He was treated for shock and his injuries cleaned and dressed to prevent infection, as well as to promote healing. From the beginning of his stay with OWLS, he was a good eater (down-right famished!!) In the wild, Merlins eat a variety of birds from sparrows to quail, and large insects, such as dragonflies, don’t go unnoticed. After calculating that the time needed for him to recover and get back into shape for his return to the wild will be extensive, the decision was made to transfer him to Cape Fear Raptor Center for the extended stay he required. In addition, it will give him the opportunity to work with the Falconer they have on staff at their center. Merlins are small but fierce falcons who are powerful fliers. They look similar to the more common American Kestrel familiar to this area, especially in coloring, but the Merlin is broader and heavily built, with females stockier than males. Male Merlins are dark gray with a lighter chest that almost looks striped or mottled in dark brown. Females and immature Merlins are more brown all over than gray. A Merlin is 9 to 13 inches long with a wingspan of 20 to 29 inches. They have pointy wings and a medium tail that is dark in color and sports thin, white bands from rump to tip. Their eyes and beak are dark and their slender feet are yellow with black talons. This specific bird of prey has the least amount of markings than any other type of hawk or falcon. Merlins usually nest in forested areas and along waterway edges but have adapted to loss of habitat by moving into towns and cities up north. During migration, we may see them in our coastal regions where flocks of small songbirds or shorebirds reside. It would be very rare to see a Merlin nesting in eastern North Carolina because of their very northern breeding range. Even Ohio is considered south of its breeding range. It is interesting to note that after a male Merlin has wooed and won his mate with his “extreme” acrobatic displays, they look for a “pre-owned” nest together rather than build their own. They simply search out an abandoned crow’s, hawk’s or woodpecker’s nest and move in. The female usually lays 4 to 6 rusty brown eggs that are incubated for 28 to 32 days. In another 30 days after hatching, the young will fledge but still be dependent upon their parents for another four weeks or more. It’s tough out there for infant Merlins though, because statistics show that only one in three infants make it to adulthood. We, wildlife rehabilitators at the shelter, feel honored to have played a role in saving this one! Merlins have had a few nicknames since Medieval times and used to be referred to as Pigeon Hawks or Lady Hawks, although they are not hawks at all. They have also been called “The Falcon for a Lady” when used as a falconry bird because of its petite size. The greatest threats to Merlins are pesticide use, loss of habitat, predators such as larger birds of prey and speed injuries. Although they are reported as capable of the most agile aerial maneuvers of all hawks and falcons, they sometimes focus so intently on their prey when hunting that when they swoop in at top speed for the catch they have been known to suffer collision with an obstacle in its path. Merlins are powerful, straight path fliers who don’t understand the words glide or pause. The oldest Merlin on record is said to have lived 13 winters. That is one careful or lucky falcon that may have figured out the need to glide and pause occasionally!! Merlins are widespread during migration, but seeing them is very unpredictable, so when you are out for a walk or driving by and suddenly see a flock of birds burst into flight from a bush, tree or shoreline, you just might have a Merlin in the area. You will have to scan the sky quickly because they are so fast they will be out of range in just a few seconds. Good Luck!

best always and Happy Thanksgiving!!

Linda Bergman-Althouse

author of “Save Them All

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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

“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