Archive for April, 2009

Boring entry, but with diagrams!

Posted in Uncategorized on April 21, 2009 by Dawn

I drove out to the raptor center tonight, mentally prepared to deal with a difficult red-tailed hawk and bitey great horned owl. It was half stormy and half bright and sunshiney, so it was kind of like my mood – happy at getting to work with the birds, but less than thrilled about going out during the first of what will be many spring storms.

I got into the flight cage and tried to catch the owl first, since he did so well last time and I was able to finish with him quickly. He retreated to the very top of his cage, clinging to the wood slats, and dare I say he seemed to be relishing the fact that I couldn’t reach him. I left him for the time being and moved on to the red-tail.

As the red-tail sat on his perch and spread his wings in an aggressive stance, and I noticed that his 7th or 8th primary feather was loose and dangling from the other feathers. I approached him, holding up my hands like I was going to catch him, so he would open his wings again and I could get a better look. Sure enough, something was amiss. See the diagram:

bird wing diagram

bird wing diagram

I could see a very small amount of blood on the light-colored feathers, so I decided not to fly the hawk. I don’t know if that is normal (the feather loss), but I didn’t want to take the chance of causing further injury. I did bring my camera with me this time, and took a photo to share:

Notice the slightly askew feathers on the left wing.

Notice the slightly askew feathers on the left wing.

I moved on to the owl after this. It had started raining at this point, and the owl was still enjoying the fact that he was just enough out of my reach that I couldn’t catch him. I went to the dry side of the cage and waited for him to come down, which he did after a few minutes. I reached up and grabbed him from his perch, and gave him a once-over.

The previous rehabber had written in the log book that the owl had fresh blood on its wing on Friday, and I noticed the very same thing today. From what I could tell, the wrist on the right wing (which was NOT the wing which was originally injured) had been scratched and was slightly bloody. See the diagram below:

The owl had an apparent injury to the RADIALE on his right wing.

The owl had an apparent injury to the RADIALE on his right wing.

I did ten wing stretches with the owl, who glared at me the whole time and tried to bite my hand, armpit, and chest. Once again, I did not want to fly the owl and further agitate this injury so I placed him back in his cage and called it a day.

Here he is, looking fierce and bitey:

Ready to bite whatever gets in his way!

Ready to bite whatever gets in his way!

Hopefully next week I will have more exciting things to report. Until then….


Posted in Uncategorized on April 20, 2009 by Dawn
Saturday was the annual Macbride Raptor Project clean-up day, and for as much as I was dreading it beforehand, I ended up having a very good time.

The day began at 9am. It was sunny and a bit cool but when I started cleaning out Spirit (the bald eagle)’s cage, I got warm real quick. I raked the debris from the gravel, scraped old poop from the walls, and removed mouse/pig/quail/etc. guts, and I swiped a couple of gross little “presents” for my friend Paula, whose birthday was this weekend. When the crew came in with the power washers, I then repeated the process in two or three other cages, none of which were (thankfully) as gross as the eagle’s.

After that I helped clean and spread mulch in the butterfly garden, which was interesting because I hardly ever go over there. Not once in my visits have I ever seen a butterfly in or around the butterfly garden. But now, since I am always one to take pride in my work, I might have to pay that place a visit and admire the finely spread mulch and leaf-less trail.

While in the butterfly garden, I helped some of the environmental education teachers (who were helping us make the MRp sparking clean) re-build the log structure for the butterflies to hide in. We must have disturbed a nest of baby mice, as we found one crawling along one of the logs and one scrambling along the ground. They were incredibly tiny – they were soft gray in color and their eyes weren’t even open yet. When I held the little fella in my hand, he began squeaking teeny tiny little squeaks that broke my heart. We surveyed the area and didn’t see any others, so I picked up the one on the ground and placed him near the other mouse. One of the teachers gathered some pine needles and dry grass and tried to make a little protective nest for the mice inside the log structure. I hope neither of them become dinner for a hungry raptor…but in a place like that, where mice are featured nightly on the menu, it’s hard to be optimistic. At least I had a hand in helping them be safe for the day.

Lunchtime came and went all to quickly, and after that I got back to work mulching, hammering, hanging signs, and replacing the Astroturf on some of the owls’ perches. I learned a valuable lesson about poultry nails, and that lesson is that poulty nails are good for two things: frustration and injuries. I hope to never encounter another poultry nail as long as I live.

I ended up saying long after most of the other volunteers had left and I had one objective: to put Petra back in her cage. I only mentioned it about 10 times during the day to anyone who might have delegation powers when it came to putting all the birds back once the cages were clean, but I hung around by her little box to make sure nobody else jumped at the chance. After putting Otus, the long-eared owl, and the armpit biter great horned owl from the flight cage back to their respective homes, I got Petra leashed up and she rode so sweetly on my hand back to her cage like the wonderful little darling that she is. This year, I had the presence of mind to have someone snap a photo:


So much love!: Petra (Northern Saw-whet owl) and me

So much love!: Petra (Northern Saw-whet owl) and me

Thanks again to Steph for agreeing to be my photographer. It was truly the highlight of my day.

I ended up leaving the MRP around 5pm, which means I put in a good solid 8 hours of manual labor. Like I said, though, despite all the hard work I had a really good time. I did a lot more this year than I did last year and talked to a lot of different people who I hadn’t talked to before, including a woman who is writing a book on owl rehabilitators. I gave her my email address and hopefully she will contact me to be part of her project. After pizza and a glass of wine when I got home, I was dead to the world. I fell asleep on the sofa, and dreamed little feathered owl dreams.


It’s official!

Posted in Uncategorized on April 14, 2009 by Dawn

Today marked the official start of my weekly duties as wildlife rehabilitator at the Macbride Raptor Project. This has been a goal of mine for over three years, and it feels good to have put in the work, training, and dedication needed to pursue my dream. Now, every Monday, I will put myself and my tender flesh up against wild and most likely angry raptors.


juvenile red tailed hawk

I worked with two birds today: a juvenile red-tailed hawk and a great horned owl. I began with the red tail, because I thought he would be easier. I’ve worked with the owl before, and he is surly, bitey, and stubborn. The red tail actually proved to be more of a challenge than I originally suspected. He was easier to catch than I thought he would be, but once I got him into the flying area he made it quite clear that he was unwilling to do any actual flying.

At one point, he resorted to laying down on his back (a stance they take when trying to foot their prey / opponent) and trying to foot me. He succeeded in grabbing my glove but missed my actual hand. He clung to the glove and wouldn’t let go, no matter what I did. I left him laying there – on his back – for literally five minutes, glove in talon. I sat on the bench, waiting for him to boost himself back up but he stayed put. Finally I got up, calmed him down a bit by covering his face with my other (gloved) hand, removed the glove from his sharp talons, and got him back up and flying.

Well, not really flying. He would not move. He sat on the perch, seemingly enjoying the chest and belly rubs I had started to administer. After an hour or so of clapping my hands at him, pleading with him, giving him positive encouragement and space, I scooped him up and put him back in his cage. Next time you will fly, friend. Next time you will fly.

great horned owl in colorful fall leaves

great horned owl

The great horned owl was a pleasant surprise. Like I said, I’d worked with him before and had found him to be a most unpleasant and cantankerous wild animal. Since I’d had issues with him in the past, I was prepared for battle. Thankfully, he was in a good (?) mood. He was slightly less bitey today than in the past (he’s the armpit biter, for those of you who saw the bruises) and was definitely much more willing to fly like he was supposed to. Rehabbing him only took about 30 minutes, but he did manage to bite my arm really hard at the end and leave a bruised welt – through two layers.

Bites, pinches, and scratches are the price I pay. I will always wear my wounds with pride. They make me who I am and come from the birds I love, even if they will never love me back.

FUN FACT: Juvenile red-tailed hawks can be identified by their yellow eyes and their lack of red tail feathers.  As the birds age, their eyes begin to darken to a deep brown and their red tail feathers grow in.