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


“Blockheads; Loggerhead Shrikes”

The Good Samaritan had no idea what type of bird it was, but knew it was a baby, on its own and on the ground with cats in the area that would soon be checking it out or worse. With no parents or nest in sight, it was time to scoop up the little one and get it to safety. After leaving a few messages at wildlife centers with no return calls (it’s baby season, so everyone is very, very busy!), she decided to jump in her car and drive over two hours from her home in Dunn, NC to the Outer Banks Wildlife Shelter in Newport. During the infant bird’s admission, discussion threw out possible identities such as an odd Blue Jay or Northern Mockingbird because the colors were similar, but after research his true identity was revealed; Loggerhead Shrike and the first of its kind to be admitted at our shelter. Loggerhead Shrikes are native to North America and have been introduced to some island groups such as the Bahamas or Caicos. Initially we placed the LHS youngster with four young Mockingbirds since they were all the same size, however we learned that a Loggerhead Shrike is indeed a songbird, but with raptor habits. So, we knew that the togetherness they now shared could not last forever. After a few weeks of growing, he was moved to his own playpen for the Mockingbirds’ safety. A Shrike eats many insects to include grasshoppers and beetles which is similar to the Mockingbird’s diet, but they also eat lizards, snakes, frogs, turtles, mice, shrews, small mammals, roadkill, carrion and other birds. They will also not shy away from poisonous food items such as monarch butterflies or narrow-mouthed toads, but will wait about three days before eating them to allow for the poisons to break down. Shrikes prefer to hunt on cold mornings when insect prey are immobilized by the chilly temperatures. Therefore, working smarter not harder! A Loggerhead Shrike is smaller and more slender than an adult Robin, but larger and longer-tailed than a Western Bluebird. The head of a LHS is unusually large in relation to its body which is where the name Loggerhead, a synonym for “blockhead,” came from. They have gray feathers on the upperpart of their bodies and paler gray underneath. They wear a black feathered mask and their throat is white. Their 11 – 12” wingspan, flying low and swift, exposes black feathers with white patches. Sometimes, while hunting on the ground, they will flash those white patches to startle prey out of hiding. The tail is long and black with a white edge. To look at a Loggerhead Shrike, you would not think they are the heavy hunters they are, but it’s their bill that is very ‘raptoresque!’ It’s thick, strong, hooked like a hawk’s and features two pointy tomial teeth. Shrikes use their hooked bills to break the necks of vertebrate prey and can carry an animal as large as itself with its feet or beak. This masked predator hunts from utility poles, fence posts and other perches in much the same way raptors do. They do lack talons that hawks use for holding a meal in place while they eat, therefore Shrikes utilize a very unusual method for presenting their kill for eating. Shrikes will skewer their prey on thorns or barbed wire or wedge them into tree limbs for safe keeping, easy eating or caching for later consumption. So, if you see a large insect or a mouse impaled on barbed wire or possibly a thorn, that was no accident. You have a Loggerhead Shrike, sometimes referred to as a “Butcherbird,” in the area! They enjoy open country, including grasslands and shrub-steppe areas, where there are scattered trees, tall shrubs, fence posts, utility wires or other lookout posts. They tend to nest in northeast or southeast facing ravines in open country such as agricultural fields, pastures, prairies, golf course and cemeteries. Both sexes help find a nest site, inspect many locations before choosing and together they gather nesting materials such as twigs, bark strips, grasses, feathers, moss, fur, lichen and even flowers. The nest is about six inches round and the depression is approximately three inches deep. Loggerhead Shrikes often build their nests in thorny vegetation, which may help keep predators away. In the absence of trees or shrubs, they sometimes nest in brush piles or tumbleweeds. The average height of nests above the ground ranges from 2.5 to 4 feet. A clutch of five to six grayish buff eggs with yellowish brown markings are laid and incubated for 15 – 17 days. After hatching, the young will be fed by both parents for nearly three weeks before leaving the nest. Once fledged, the parents will continue to tend to their young Shrikes for three to four weeks by feeding them and teaching them adult hunting behaviors. The youngsters will practice hunting by picking up various objects and repeatedly press them against branches as if they are trying to make them stick.   The Loggerhead Shrike is recognized as a “common species in decline” due to habitat loss, harsh winters, collisions and human disturbance. It needs a large range for hunting and to accommodate their social grouping. A flock of Loggerhead Shrikes is known as an “abattoir” or a “watch” of Shrikes. There are groups across the U.S. who have implemented LHS breeding and release programs to increase their population. The longest living Loggerhead Shrike on record was a male from California who enjoyed 11 years and 9 months on the planet. Our little “Wild One” at the shelter is doing very well on his own in the nursery, demands his daily flight time and consumes his share of hearty food while awaiting his release day!!

best always and hope you are enjoying your summer!!!

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

“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

“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”

“Where Eagles Fly”

BlogJan2014_CSMag_IMG_0634The largest and most majestic bird we admit and treat at our shelter in Newport is America’s national bird and national animal, the American Bald Eagle. Before 1982, North Carolina had no breeding pairs, but due to eagle restoration work and eagle population expansion in neighboring states, North Carolina now has more than 125 nesting pairs. Since Bald Eagles are becoming more plentiful in North Carolina, we are increasingly seeing injuries in this species. Most recently an eagle was spotted walking in a field for a few days. Raptors will land when hunting, although eagles usually fish, so it’s unusual to see them in the same place and on the ground for days in a row. Ryan Taylor, Carteret County Wildlife Enforcement Officer, got involved and managed to capture the mature eagle, who could not fly, and transport him to our shelter. After a thorough examination, including x-rays, we found a dislocated elbow. He must have been in a lot of pain, but wild animals hide their suffering from other animals, including humans, who could possibly do them more harm if they appear distressed or injured. We gave the Bald Eagle anti-inflammatories, fluids and contacted the Carolina Raptor Center in Charlotte to see if an eagle size enclosure was available to house our recently admitted Bald Eagle for an extended stay. After stabilizing our patient, one of our volunteers (subject author) headed over the road with eagle in tow to meet a Carolina Raptor Center volunteer at a half-way point, which happened to be Winterville. BlogJan2014CSMag__MG_5130The exchange went as planned and the eagle is in the Raptor Center’s care for the recovery time required. When healed and ready to travel, he will be returned to our coastal area for release. It is thought that eagles mate for life, so his partner might still be waiting for him. Speaking of bird relationships, Bald Eagle courtship is quite an impressive show involving elaborate, spectacular calls and flight displays that include swoops, chases and cartwheels. They have been seen flying high, locking talons, free falling and separating just before hitting the ground. Their call consists of rapid-fire, chirping whistles, kleek kik ik ik ik, somewhat similar in cadence to a gull’s call. Younger birds’ calls tend to be more harsh and shrill than adults. Bald Eagles are big. Although North Carolina eagles aren’t as large as Alaskan eagles, they still stand up to 40 inches tall with a 6 to 7 foot wingspan. Females are generally 25% larger than males. The only larger species of raptor-like birds is the California Condor. Something interesting to note is Bald Eagles increase in size the further they are located away from the Equator and the tropics which, coincidentally, is in keeping with Bergmann’s Rule. Bald Eagles are not actually bald. ‘Bald’ makes reference to the “white feathered head” that becomes evident in maturity, which occurs between 4 and 5 years of age. The yellow eyed adult is dark brown with white head and tail. Their yellow hooked beak is large and their feather free feet are also bright yellow. Eagle toes are short but bear extremely long talons. The plumage of the immature eagle is brown and it sports a black, yellow-tipped beak. You will find Bald Eagles, also called Sea Eagles, mainly near large bodies of open water with an abundant fish supply. Although fish comprise the majority of their diet, the Bald Eagle is an opportunistic carnivore who will dine on a variety of prey such as mammals, eggs and other birds, mainly water birds. They are also known to engage in kleptoparasitism, which means they have the rude habit of pirating prey from other predators. If meals are hard to come by they will scavenge campsites, picnics or garbage dumps. Healthy adult Bald Eagles are not preyed upon in the wild, so they are considered apex predators, alphas, right up there with alligators, grizzlies and Orcas. These huge raptors require old-growth coniferous or hardwood trees for nesting. The Bald Eagle builds the largest nest of any North American bird and the largest tree nest ever recorded for any animal species was found in Florida and measured 20 feet deep, 10 feet wide, weighed more than 2000 pounds and belonged to mated Bald Eagles. Selected trees must have good visibility, close proximity to prey and be over 66 feet tall, unless built over a swamp. Those trees can be shorter. BlogJan2014_CSMag_IMG_6084wThe same nest may be used for years but usually less than 5 years due to degeneration from weather and the elements. Bald eagles breed earlier than most birds. Egg laying is often late February and both males and females take turns incubating the eggs, although the female does most of the incubation. The parent not incubating will hunt for food or look for nesting material, mainly large sticks, during this stage. Eagles usually lay 2 to 3 speckled ivory, tennis ball size eggs in staggered, one a day succession. Hatching occurs from mid April to early May with youngsters fledging late June to early July. Youngster eagles learn everything from their parents through observation and sometimes, tough love is necessary before they will venture from the nest to acquire their own meal. Instinct is one thing, honed skill is another. A young eagle will spend its first 4 years wandering North America looking for summering and wintering areas where food is accessible and eventually settling within 250 miles of the nest where the eagle hatched after choosing a mate. The average lifespan of Bald Eagles in the wild is 20 to 25 years, with the oldest confirmed at 28 years. In captivity, they often live longer. One captive Bald Eagle is said to have lived nearly 50 years. Eagles are protected by the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act and the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, both federal wildlife statutes. Violations of these statutes carry maximum criminal penalties up to $100,000 and/or one year in federal prison. January is National Bald Eagle Watch Month across the country and now, North Carolina is a good place to watch Bald Eagles, thanks to restoration projects. One of the first conservation projects undertaken in our state was restoring Bald Eagles at Mattamuskeet National Wildlife Refuge in 1983. The last update from the Carolina Raptor Center declares our dislocated elbow eagle is doing very well and should make a full recovery. Although we are lacking “Mountains High” on our coast, we will still be able to see “Where Eagles Fly” when our big boy returns sometime early 2014. There is so much to know about this extraordinary animal and unfortunately, it can’t all be said here.

HAPPY NEW YEAR EVERYONE!!!! Wishing you the best that life has to offer in 2014 and beyond!

Linda Bergman-Althouse,   author of “Save Them All

“Coming Together”

FB_BlogMG_8133_Dec2013Plenty of rescue stories come through the door at the Outer Banks Wildlife Shelter in Newport that volunteers and staff repeat over and over again because they bring us joy and an opportunity to recall the 2nd chances we help make happen. But sometimes a wildlife memory is produced at the shelter that has nothing to do with an injured or distressed animal admitted to our clinic. In this season of giving and reflecting, it’s a great time to share this once in a lifetime story, so let me tell you one of our favorite memories. If there exists such a thing as a normal, or let’s say routine day at our wildlife shelter, especially in the winter, it would be one of manning the phones and admit desk, examining incoming patients, preparing specie specific diets for delivery at meal time, administering medications, cleaning and disinfecting kennel cabs, sweeping, mopping, taking out the trash, locking every patient in for the night and setting the alarm. If there’s a moment of down time in all of that, the small crew of two or three rehabilitators come together to discuss patient care or the latest happening in each of our lives over a spot of afternoon tea in the humans’ kitchen. One winter day started ‘average’ enough, but turned out to be anything but routine. We witnessed an “in the wild” incident so rare it begged for a camcorder bolted to the top of a helmet, similar to those worn during extreme sports or the super bowl, which I should surely be required to wear while tending to tasks at the wildlife shelter. Of course, no one at the shelter wears one, but without videotape, who will fully appreciate or believe our story without seeing it play out for themselves. Still shots can only do so much but here goes.  Passing through the kitchen, I stopped to watch the over wintering hummingbird hover near the nectar feeder outside the window. My hummingbirds at home in Jacksonville packed up and left for Brazil or Costa Rica months ago, but this little chubby guy was still hanging tough in our 40-degree weather. At the same time, a Great Blue Heron passed over the building, straight as an arrow, his long thin legs dangling after him like the tail of a kite. I ran to the gift shop window to see if he was coming down to our pond. Although Herons find swampland more suitable at mealtime, they visit our pond occasionally, and he did. I didn’t know if he would stay long, though. Being solitary hunters, the presence of so many ducks and geese may prove annoying for the lanky fisherman. I yelled for Maria to come watch and through binoculars we saw him gracefully move into position behind the bare limbs of a bush whose roots drink from the pond. With head lowered, he stalked all movement under the water and despite twenty geese paddling over to nose into his business, within minutes his head shot into the pond, catching a six-inch Bluegill with his spear-like bill. He immediately took flight over the building with the fish tightly clamped in his mouth, so we hurried to the back window to see him go. By the time we reached clear pane, he was turning around and heading back toward the pond with no fish. The fish was way too wide to swallow whole in flight, so we figured the large, gray seabird dropped the fish, but wondered why he didn’t just come down and get it? Maria and I decided to go outside and look for this fish out of water. If it were still alive, we’d throw him back in the pond. Come on, it’s what we do. Donned in puffy vests we spread out and walked toward the aerial path taken by the Heron. “Stop. Don’t move,” Maria whispered loudly. Within 25 feet, we stood face to face with a stout and sturdy Redtailed Hawk on the ground, her talons securely embedded in the fish the Heron accidentally dropped, or quite possibly, the aggressive, territorial bird of prey caused the Heron to drop it. We will never know for sure, but something told us it was probably the latter. With her mouth open, the Redtail, North America’s largest hawk, looked at us, then down at the fish and back at us. Since her eyesight is eight times more powerful than a human’s, we knew she was seeing us and our intent much more clearly than we were seeing her. We backed away slowly and like a CH-46 Sea Knight helicopter, the heavily built Redtailed Hawk lifted to a sturdy pine branch, Bluegill in tow and proceeded to dine on fish.  RB_BlogRedtailDec2013We weren’t sure if she’d ever eaten fish before, as they usually feed on small rodents and an occasional snake or frog. After watching her tear into her alleged stolen food for a few minutes, we went back to the gift shop window and found the Heron, planted and waiting patiently in the same fish blind he’d used before. The geese had lost interest in his presence. It only took a few more minutes until the Great Blue surfaced an even bigger Bluegill, at least 8 inches, which he toyed with a bit before seriously making short work of his lunch. Even in nature, good karma is present (at least for the Heron . . . not so much for the fish). This extraordinary experience was compelling, absolutely powerful and took all of ten minutes or less. Those precious moments were a once in a lifetime “coming together” of Heron, Hawk and Humans. Though brief, a strong message was sent and well received . . . . We should all be walking life’s journey fully awake.


Linda Bergman-Althouse

author of “Save Them All