BLOG OF WILD AT HEART
Updates & Friday Feathered Facts
Friday Feathered Fact
Since it is the height of baby season, we will look at these youngsters. While most hawks and owls take 28-37 days for the eggs to incubate, the time to reach independence varies greatly. The tiny Elf Owl can be out hunting on its own within 5-6 weeks of hatching and the Barn Owl fledglings will leave the parents not long after they are able to fly, which is 9-11 weeks of age. For the larger birds like the Great Horned Owl, the young will be able to fly well at about 3 months of age but are reliant on the parents for food until the age of 6-8 months. During this time, the parents will follow their “teenagers” wherever they go to deliver dinner. In contrast (and noted in an earlier post) some young Harris’s Hawks will forego life on their own until the age of two as they remain “at home” to help raise their newly hatched siblings.
The Harris’s Hawk — named after Edward Harris in the early 1800s by his friend, John Audubon — is unique amongst the hawks. Living in the Southwest of the US and all the way south to Argentina, this raptor lives in family groups. The alpha-female, which is about 20% larger than the male, leads the family group in a “pack-like” hunt, taking turns to chase down the prey. As part of their social nature, the young born last year often stay with the family to help care for their new siblings born this year before setting off to start their own family. It is not uncommon to see a family of up to 6 or 7 Harris’s Hawk perched together. These hawks also tend to have a broader nesting season and may attempt laying 2 or even 3 clutches in a year. As a species, they have been known to lay eggs in every month of the year.
A wolf in the fold? In Arizona, there are two raptors that can look remarkably alike. These are the abundant Turkey Vultures that often soar in large flocks (called kettles) and the uncommon Zone-tailed Hawk. When soaring up high, each bird looks like the other, even to the experienced birder. It is believed they also look similar to small prey animals on the ground. The non-threatening vultures are ignored by smaller animals which may be why the Zone-tailed Hawk often soars amongst the harmless vultures, camouflaged within the group. Of course, the hawk could also just be taking advantage of the same helpful updrafts (thermals) that help keep these birds aloft without flapping.
Friday Feathered Fact
Daytime or Nighttime? The general belief is owls are nocturnal where they sleep by day and hunt by night. However, this is not true for many species of owls. Examples of diurnal (daytime active) owls include our Burrowing Owl and the Northern Pygmy-Owl. Most of their activity occurs when the sun is up. For some other birds, there is different type of behavior known by a nifty word: Crepuscular. Derived from Latin meaning “twilight”, this refers to being active in the twilight hours of sunset and sunrise. The Short-eared Owl is well known for being crepuscular (and sometimes diurnal). And, if you really like biological terms, there is the rather rare “cathemeral”. This refers to species with no preference and that are equally active during any time of the 24-hour clock such as in some amphibians and primitive primates.
One of the trademark residents of the Arizona landscape is a horned lizard. There are actually six (6) different species of horned lizards found within the state. Commonly — but mistakenly — known as the “horny toad”, this is a reptile with dry scaly skin which scuttles along the ground; and, quite unlike the amphibious toads, this lizard cannot hop.
This particular species is known as the Greater Short-horned Lizard (Phrynosoma hernandesi). A very good identification clue as to which horned lizard species is saying “Hello” to the mascot, Widget, is by the prominent gap between the horns on the back of this lizard’s head in combination with a single row of large, white, pointy scales along its side.
This Greater Short-horned Lizard is not strictly a desert dweller. Instead, it is found in semi-desert grasslands and up into pine forests on mountains. This lizard is more tolerant of colder weather and is likely to remain still, relying on its camouflage as opposed to running away. Another very unique defense mechanism is to squirt a narrow stream of blood from its eye at a predator up to three feet away. This blood is also slightly noxious or sickening to dogs and coyotes.
The primary food for all horned lizards is ants. These hungry insectivores will often sit alongside an ant trail, resting comfortably while lapping up the ants as they scurry by. When ants are not available, they will readily eat spiders, beetles, and other insects.
Is that a one-legged owl? Nearly all birds routinely perch or stand on just one leg. The “missing” leg is drawn up close to the body, hidden under the feathers. Why do they do this? We receive several calls each month about a “poor one-legged owl” needing rescue as it just stands motionless. Actually, this is a comfortable pose for an owl or hawk. Better yet, it demonstrates the bird is calm and not threatened. Another more important reason for a one-legged pose is to regulate the body temperature in the cold. Rotating the one-legged stance cuts in half the amount of exposure to the cold air/water and also helps warm up that cold foot.
Gray Hawks: Our Wild At Heart team is nearly one week into their Arizona trek and have completed over 60 miles. This week they are hiking past the Patagonia-Sonoita Nature Conservancy. This area is well known for the Gray Hawk which has a spotty breeding area limited to the wooded waterways of the desert Southwest.
This species is found through Mexico and into Central America but barely crosses into the US, crossing the border counties in SE Arizona, SW Texas, and the southern tip of Texas.
Gray Hawks have a slightly unique diet. In contrast to most other hawks in the US that feed on birds and rodents, Gray Hawks hunt primarily lizards. Snakes will also be hunted. However, this hawk will also supplement its diet with the occasional taking of some song birds, small mammals, and large insects.
The call of this hawk is rather distinctive, with a higher-pitched, whining whistle. You can hear that bird’s call below. Just click on the triangle-shaped play button at the buttom left.
Friday Feathered Fact
Great Horned Owls are nesting! These are some of the earliest nesters, laying eggs in January and February. Our first egg rescue was mid-February with the chicks hatching this Mar 02. Owls never build their own nests or even add material to it. Instead, they confiscate nests of other large birds or, simply lay eggs on a flat surface in palm trees, rafters, or ledges. The eggs hatch after 30-35 days. About 4-6 weeks after hatching, the young may fall or move to the ground where the parents follow, feed, and protect them for many more weeks. The young gain skilled flight about 3 months after hatching and the parents continue to feed them until they are at least 6 months old. And, remember, do not trim those palm trees between Feb 01 and Sep 01. These trees are critical nesting spots for several owl and hawk species as well as for many song birds. It is more than just palm leaves that fall to the ground during that trimming.
Owls have excellent vision. But, do they have four eyes? The two species of pygmy-owls found in the US have a unique adaptation. The back of the head shows two large eye-shaped patterns believed to offer it protection from larger predators that may approach from behind. These small owls are daytime hunters, specializing on other small birds. So, while the pygmy-owl is looking ahead for its prey, the “eyes” on the back of its head deters a predator, fooling it into thinking it is being watched. (video by ktbirding.com)
When most of us see an owl in the wild, we are often impressed at how big it appears. As an example, the Great Horned Owl is the largest owl in Arizona and stands over a foot and a half tall. However, what is not widely known is how little most of Arizona’s owls really are. Of the 13 species of owls found in the state, 8 of them stand barely 8-inches tall or less. These little guys are highly adept at hiding which helps explain why they are so infrequently seen. These photos with Chelsea Kane and two of WAH’s birds show the size difference between two adult species: Great Horned Owl and Western Screech-Owl.
Contrary to popular thoughts, most owl species don’t simply “hoot”, if at all. Burrowing Owls have many types of vocalizations used in different situations. Some are for advertising their territory, sounding an alarm or, announcing a warning. The warning call is an awesome imitation of a rattlesnake’s “buzzzz”, which shares burrows with these owls. A predatory mammal going down a dark hole after a little owl will think twice about continuing. Listen to these examples from the great online library of xeno-canto.
Owls have remarkable hearing as well as exceptional abilities at locating its prey in nearly complete darkness. Two physical adaptations make this possible. First, the ear openings are asymmetric, with one slightly higher on the head than the other. This allows the sound waves to reach the eardrums at different times which allows for more accurate triangulation. Second, the feathers on each side of the face form a natural “bowl” (aka, parabolic dish) that collects and directs the sound towards the ear openings. For more information, read the nice textbook “Birds by Night” written by Graham Martin.
The 12 Days of Christmas and Holidays
We thank everyone for making this another very successful year for Wild At Heart. Through your efforts, interest, education and donations we have been able to rescue and rehabilitate hundreds of our desert birds.
Remember too, that as you shop this holiday season, Amazon Smile provides an opportunity to raise funds for Wild At Heart. Just sign up at AmazonSmile, shop and Amazon will donate a portion of your purchases to Wild At Heart. To learn more, visit AmazonSmile http://smile.amazon.com/gp/chpf/about/ref=smi_aas_redirect….
We start our 12 days of Christmas celebration with Roja, our female Red-tailed Hawk. Roja is often referred to as our “Empress” because she carries herself in such a regal manner. Roja loves to be out in public at our educational events.
Roja came to Wild At Heart almost 14 years ago. She was found on the ground with a severe case of trichomoniasis which is a protozoan organism that unfortunately caused permanent damage to Roja’s mouth.
Red-tailed hawks are one of the most common hawks seen in North America and can often be seen here in the desert circling overhead riding the currents of the wind. The Red-tailed Hawk cry is also one of the most familiar sounds of the raptor family. Its cry is often used in movies and television shows.
When asked what Roja might like to ask Santa for, she responded that she would like Santa to tell everyone how thankful she is for all the support given to our mission here at Wild At Heart.
On our second day of celebration, we would like to introduce you to Diega, our female Mexican Spotted Owl. Diega came to Wild At Heart as a young adult in 2009. She was found on the ground with nerve damage to her wing.
Diega is another of our educational birds, and there is no escaping her beautiful large dark eyes as she gently gazes upon you. There are three subspecies of spotted owls and the Mexican Spotted Owl is the smallest in size with the largest of white spots.
We think that Diega’s holiday list would include the hope that all our wonderful supporters enjoy a warm cup of hot chocolate in celebration of the holiday season, and that we try our chocolate Mexican style with a little cinnamon and spice.
Meet Degoo our male Harris’s Hawk. You might have seen Degoo in our Father’s Day video. He is quite the involved foster parent. It was eight years ago when Degoo met Tafi and since then, they have fostered many different hawk nestlings. When volunteers clean their aviary, they have to hold on to their hats as Degoo likes to steal it and give it to Tafi his mate.
Degoo came to Wild At Heart when he was just a nestling. He had a severe case of trichomoniasis which is a protozoan organism that is commonly found in the mouth, throat, gastro-intestinal tract and upper respiratory tract of birds. He was found on the ground, very sick and unable to eat. Once at Wild At Heart, Degoo was fed through a tiny feeding tube for three months until he finally could eat on his own. Fortunately he continued to improve but the disease left him permanently effected.
The Harris’s Hawk is a medium-sized raptor with dark brown plumage, chestnut shoulders and white at the base and tip of the tail. While most raptors generally hunt alone, Harris’s Hawks will often hunt together in groups. Harris’s Hawks have been known to demonstrate the highly unusual behavior of “back stacking” when 2-3 hawk will stand upon each other’s back while perching.
For his holiday wish list, we think Degoo is looking forward to the Spring when he will take his unusually active role in raising foster hawk nestling. He is a modern father after all.
On this fourth day of celebration, let us introduce you to Scheherazade our female Great Horned Owl who is celebrating her 21st anniversary at Wild At Heart. When asked to share some information about Scheherazade, the staff at WAH said “we just love her, she is really something special.” And then they shared a story about a recent visit to the VA medical center, which as you can imagine was quite a busy place. Doctors and nurses hurrying by, gurneys and wheelchairs passing, and even a large dog approached the WAH table – and nothing phased Scheherazade. She remained calm, composed and ready to meet visitors.
Scheherazade is the main foster mother for the young Great Horned owlets that are brought to Wild At Heart each Spring. Either through injury or sometimes falling out of a nest, the rescued owlets are welcomed and raised by Scheherazade.
The Great Horned Owl is recognized by its two ear-like tufts on its head, its large yellow eyes and its deep and familiar hooting call. While the female is bigger than the male, the male’s hooting call is deeper in tone.
We think that Scheherazade’s wish for the holidays would be that whenever we hear the call of a Great Horned Owl at dusk, that we remember how lucky we are to share this planet with so many beautiful creatures.
Fifth Day of Christmas, the Desert gave to Wild At Heart ….
On this fifth day of celebration, we would like to introduce Meeka, a Cactus Ferruginous Pygmy Owl. You may not be familiar with this tiny but fierce little owl, and that is most likely due to their dwindling numbers in the United States.
This threatened species was place on the Endangered Species list in 1997 but was unfortunately taken off the list in 2006 after developers filed a series of lawsuits. Efforts to reinstate this species on the endangered list continue as does critical research to document their status.
Meeka is 4 years old and was born here at Wild At Heart as part of our species recovery captive breeding program. Meeka was born extremely small and had some congenital challenges. She has therefore remained with Wild At Heart as an educational bird. Until the recent loss of our beloved Saw-whet Owl Tira, Meeka shared her home with Tira and immediately took to her when they were first introduced to each other.
We think that Meeka would ask Santa for a new roommate –an owl as sweet and protective as her friend Tira.
Follow all 12 days of of our Holiday Celebration on out website https://wildatheartraptors.org/news/newsletter/…
On the Sixth Day of Christmas, the Desert gave to Wild At Heart …
Let us introduce you to the beautiful and exotic Zeka, our female Crested Caracara. The Crested Caracara is found throughout the American tropics but only reaches into the United States in Arizona, Texas and Florida. Sometimes called the “Mexican eagle” this striking bird is a common subject of regional folklore and legends.
Zeka came to Wild At Heart as a juvenile in 2008 and shares her space with Mojo, our turkey vulture. This is an ideal pairing since according to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, the Crested Caracara is considered “a tropical falcon version of a vulture.”
The diet of the Crested Caracara is comprised of a wide variety of creatures, caught alive or found dead. The diet can include birds, bird eggs, rodents, skunks, rabbits, ground squirrels, frogs, snakes, lizards, turtles, young alligators, fish, large insects and carrion of all types. So we are guessing that Zeka will be happy with just about anything Santa puts in her dish on Christmas day. Though a piece of fish might be particularly nice.
Seventh Day of Christmas, the Desert gave to Wild At Heart …
On the Seventh Day of Christmas, we thought we would continue the theme of our more exotic raptors and introduce you to Khansha, our female Eurasian Eagle Owl. Now you might be thinking, what is a Eurasian Eagle Owl doing in the Sonoran desert? Well we thought the same thing when a volunteer from the Apache Junction area called us about a very large and extremely emaciated owl that they had rescued. But when they described the “orange eyes” we knew, it was not a Great Horned Owl, but a Eurasian Eagle Owl.
The Eurasian Eagle Owl is among the very biggest owls in the world, measuring up to 30 inches in length with wing spans over 6 feet in width. Yet these powerful and large wings are silent in flight which enables them to stealthily swoop down on their night time prey. This owl is found throughout Europe, Asia and parts of Northern Africa and is well adapted to a wide variety of habitats including the treacherous mountain ranges of the Himalayas and Alps.
We think for Christmas, Khansha’s wish would be for a new squishy football toy. Yes Khansha and many of our birds love to play with toys. So we think she is looking forward to any new toys Santa might bring her.
If you would like to help support Khansha and all our animals at Wild At Heart, we would love your donations. Making a donation in the name of another is a wonderful and unique holiday gift and we are always happy to work with you to make that happen. https://wildatheartraptors.org/get-involved/donate/
Eighth Day of Christmas, the Desert gave to Wild At Heart …
On our eighth day of celebration, may we present, Muri, our male Western Screech Owl. Muri came to Wild At Heart in 2006 with head trauma and an eye injury. Since that time, he has recovered and grown into wonderful educational bird. Out with the public, nothing bothers Muri. He is so adorable in his diminutive display home, that people often think he is a stuffed animal.
Unlike its name, the Western Screech Owl does not screech – it emits a pleasant and accelerating series of short whistled hoots. The Western Screech Owl can be found across most of the Western United States and has a varied carnivorous diet that includes insects, rodents, fish, amphibians and invertebrates. Western Screech Owls nest in the cavities of trees and will readily take to backyard owl boxes.
We think Muri’s wish for the holidays would be that we all consider adding an owl nest box to our backyards so we can enjoy the pleasant sound and beautiful presence of the Western Screech Owl. We will post directions in January, so be sure to check back!
Ninth Day of Christmas, the Desert gave to Wild At Heart …
On this ninth day of Christmas, we would like to introduce you to Sienna our female Swainson’s Hawk. Sienna came to Wild At Heart in 2009 with an electrocution injury, which is unfortunately more common than any of us would hope.
While the Swainson’s Hawk summers on the great plains and open spaces of the western United States, it winters in Argentina. This 12,000-mile roundtrip migration is the longest for any North American raptor.
Coloration can be quite variable, and our Sienna displays the typical light belly and brown chest and upper parts. It is also typical for the female to have a brown head like Sienna and for males to have grey heads. The underwing of the Swainson’s Hawk is characterized by white wing linings contrasted by black flight feathers.
Sienna shares her space with Roja, who we profiled on the First Day of our holiday celebration. And everybody gets along well, as long as everyone follows Roja’s directives. So we are guessing that if Sienna had a holiday wish, it would be the chance to be boss for a day.
Tenth Day of Christmas, the Desert gave to Wild At Heart …
On the 10th day of celebration, we would like to introduce you to one of our favorites, Marty a male Burrowing Owl. Marty has been with Wild At Heart since June of 2011. He was rescued from Cesar Chavez park in Phoenix after suffering an injury to his head. As a result, he only has one good eye. Marty is a pretty easygoing kind of guy and enjoys doing educational programs. His presence gives us a wonderful opportunity to share information about our Wild At Heart Burrowing Owl Program. https://wildatheartraptors.org/recovery-programs/
Western Burrowing Owls are native to Arizona and can be found all around the West from Canada down to South America. Burrowing Owls only get to be about 10 inches tall and weigh about 6 ounces. Their small size comes in handy for finding homes. Unlike most owls, the Burrowing Owl chooses to live in burrows underground. Yup that’s right, underground. They do not dig, but rather appropriate empty burrows left by other animals, or use drain pipes, or anything they can fit into.
The Wild At Heart Burrowing Owl Program is one of the most successful programs of its kind in the world and our events are open to the public. Thousands of children and adults throughout Arizona have already helped build over 6,000 artificial burrow habitats, providing homes for 2,500+ Burrowing Owls. And the need continues to grow each year. Please consider a donation to support these critical efforts and come join us.https://wildatheartraptors.org/get-involved/donate/
Eleventh Day of Christmas, the Desert gave to Wild At Heart …
On the 11th day of Christmas, Christmas Eve and the first night of Hanukah, we would like you to meet Juniper, our American Kestrel Falcon. Juniper came to Wild At Heart in 2010 with a wing fracture. The wing healed but not well enough for Juniper to fly, but Juniper hops quite well.
The American Kestrel Falcon may be the smallest of the North American falcons but it is certainly one of the most colorful raptors. Males have slate blue heads and wings which are contrasted by a rust back and tail. Both the male and female have distinctive vertical face stripes. The American Kestrel is well adapted to a wide variety of habitats including the desert, open grasslands and alpine meadows.
We think Juniper’s wish for Christmas is to share that if you keep an eye out, you just might see a Kestrel here is Arizona perched a top roadside telephone poles.
On the Twelfth Day of Christmas, the Desert Gave to Wild At Heart …
On this 12th day of Christmas and 2nd night of Hanukkah, we are pleased to introduce you to our beautiful, snow white faced, Amigo, a male Barn Owl. Rescued in Anthem, Amigo was brought to Wild At Heart in 2013 with a severe wing injury. He has recovered well and is one of our beloved educational birds. He is pictured here with his buddy Marty, a Burrowing Owl (featured on the 10th day of celebration).
The Barn Owl is considered a medium-sized and is found around the world with as many as 46 different races identified. The North American race is the largest weighing up to 24 ounces, nearly twice as much as the smallest form found on the Galapagos islands. Barn Owls prefer to nest and roost in quiet cavities or man-made buildings such as barns or silos. The Barn Owl requires large areas of open land for their nocturnal hunting. And because of this, their numbers are declining due to habitat loss around the world.
We think that Amigo’s wishes for the holidays would be that we all do our very best to protect this Earth that we all share together and that we all enjoy these holidays with family and friends.
Merry Christmas and Happy Hanukkah to all our friends,
from Amigo and Wild At Heart
Click edit button to change this text.