IN THE NEWS: Snowy Owls and Airports
Snowy owls are coming into the US in record numbers this year, and are being seen as far south as South Carolina! If you enjoyed reading about the current irruption of Snowy owls last month in our newsletter, you might be interested in this news story.
Snowy owls like hunting for food in open areas, like airfields, and birds and jet aircraft don’t mix well. If you saw the news story in early December about the Snowy owls at JFK airport, you may recall that the Port Authority who manages the airport, decided to kill 5 Snowy owls that were near the field, much as they do Canada geese and other birds who pose a potential safety hazard to aircraft.
Birdwatchers who had come long distances to see the owls were shocked at this decision, as Snowy owls at other airports, such as Boston’s Logan airport, are trapped and released. Additionally, the biggest safety issue involves birds in large flocks that are sucked into jet engines and can more readily cause an accident. Snowy owls are solitary and pose far less of a threat than do flocking birds, so this decision to shoot the owls near JFK was perceived as a bit extreme.
With the help of many NGO’s including NY Audubon and Friends of Animals, as well as many New Yorkers who contacted the Port Authority protesting this inhumane treatment, the Port Authority very quickly agreed to stop shooting the owls and provide for a non-lethal way of getting them off the field. JFK will now be safe from owl strikes and it will be done humanely. Thanks to everyone who made their feelings about this known to the authorities. New Yorkers don’t want owls killed!
Posts Tagged ‘animal rescue’
Birds that migrate long distances need your help!
There are fun and easy things anyone can do and they can make a big difference to wildlife. If you like taking a stand for the right thing – animals like the Red knot and horseshoe crabs need you to stand up for them to keep them from disappearing. Take Mike Hudson in Maryland, for example. At 14 years old, he and some friends started a letter writing campaign to the US Fish and Wildlife Service asking the Red knot be listed as an endangered species. You can visit his website Friends of the Red Knot to see what he is doing. For his effort he has gained a great reputation and he now assists researchers gathering data on these birds – something he really loves to do. Are you good at social media, maybe Facebook or Twitter? Start your own social media campaign and get your friends involved to contact lawmakers and let them know how important it is to not harvest horseshoe crabs, and to get Red knots federally listed as endangered. Birds like the Red knot need your help and it’s fun to do!
If you live near any grassland or prairie area – they used to exist all across the US – take a look to see if there is anyone restoring the original prairie, like Citizens for Conservation in Illinois. There is a lot of this going on and prairie restoration can be a lot of fun to do! You work with a group of people to get rid of the bad invasive plants and put in the native ones, plant seeds and sometimes create ponds and marshes. Grasslands can start recovering fairly quickly and the work you do helps birds and animals in a very big way by giving them more areas to nest and use as stopovers during migration. It’s a great family project that will leave you incredibly satisfied at the end of the day.
Please let us know what you are doing to help migrating birds. We would love to let our readers know!
I was walking on the beach looking for the first piping plovers of the season, when I looked down. There was a small dark shell with a tiny turtle inside. What to do? I knew it was some kind of land turtle, and I also know they dont live at the beach. The gulls were paying a lot of attention to this inch and a half
of terrapin who was desperately trying to hide in his little shell. I picked him up and within a few seconds he started squirming and walking from hand to hand as I took him home. I placed him in a bowl and kept his shell wet while I made calls. I just wanted to find out what he was and where to release him.
I am delighted that Harriett Forrester – a terrapin biologist and rehabber – answered my call and gave me directions where to release him. She also told me he was a diamondback and about year old. That he had already gone through a hibernation, so this was a teeny turtle with experience and fortitude. She told me that diamondbacks are tied to salt marshes and this little guy was probably out exploring and got swept away. He may have washed up on the beach or some well-meaning human found him and decided he needed to go into the ocean from which he fled.
Harriet told me he needed to be in a salt marsh far away from humans, and I thought of the perfect spot. Bowl in hand, we sped off and within a few minutes, my diamondback was free from gulls and my pink bowl. And I hope he has found true happiness in salt marsh muck.
P.S. In watching him for a while I see how he could have been exploring and gotten way off track. He was very curious and surprisingly not shy for a young turtle recently out of hibernation. And, if you find a turtle on land that seems to be out of his element and needing help always check to see if the turtle has feet and claws or flippers. Feet means they live on land, flippers in the sea. Then call an expert like Harriet. I am glad I did as I had a lot of well meaning suggestions for others and every one of them was not the right advice.
It’s that time of year when land turtles are nesting, crossing roads to get from the marsh to the beach where they lay their eggs. If you see a turtle crossing the road, before moving her, make sure you are taking her the direction she wants to go! If you don’t want to pick the turtle up, keep traffic away from her until she has finished her crossing. And remember that if you find a turtle that needs help, call a licensed rehabber. They know exactly what to do and it actually is illegal to keep wildlife without a license. So, check out this list and call the right person for the help you need.
Hawks and eagles are top predators. But that doesn’t mean they don’t have challenges — most of which come from humans. From hitting power lines and being injured or killed in windfarms while hunting birds to being hit by cars, shot (often intentionally) and poisoned, raptors needs our help – even more than most other birds. If you see a hawk that needs help, what should you do?
Most importantly, if you find an injured bird, don’t try to handle it yourself! Both you and the hawk might be injured. Plus, there are laws governing wildlife and there are people specifically licensed to take care of injured wild animals. There are wildlife and some specific raptor rehab centers across the US and the folks there are trained and licensed to handle these birds safely. Call a local center immediately and let them know what you have found. They will take the bird and try their best to rehabilitate it which means they will try to return the bird to the wild. This doesn’t always work as sometimes the bird has too much wing damage, for example, and will never be able to hunt. But don’t make this determination yourself. Make the call and let the pros take it from there.
I had an experience several years ago with a juvenile Red-tailed hawk. It was Thanksgiving and the bird was sitting on a low fence in the backyard. When I went out to see him, the bird didn’t fly away. This wasn’t normal and when I looked closer, I discovered the bird was very thin and had bones sticking out of his mouth — his last meal had gotten caught in his throat and he hadn’t been able to eat in some time. Despite it being Thanksgiving day, I was able to reach a rehabber who came out immediately and took the bird. They were able to cut the bones sticking out of his mouth and push them down, letting nature do the rest. They kept him for a few months and then released him back to the same location where he has been bothering the songbirds ever since. This may have been a story with a very different ending if he had not gotten help right away.
Rehab centers sometimes will let you visit them – but sometimes they will not as they may have birds or animals who are fragile or easily agitated. Often they don’t have the staff to take care of visitors. They are often funded by private donations, so if you want to visit and they permit that, offer a donation for this privilege. Even if you can’t visit there are always ways to connect with the centers, and by becoming a member, you can take advantage of what they have to offer. If you call with a bird that needs help, if you are able, please try to give them some financial aid as it costs a lot to take care of an injured wild animal. But if you cannot, don’t let this stop you from calling for help! It’s more important to get the bird in need help right away.
Here is a listing of some wildlife rehab centers across the US. Check online for more licensed wildlife rehabilitators.
Another 1000 African Gray parrots were discovered earlier this month in crates about to leave the airport in Cameroon for transport to Bahrain and the Middle East. This is the second illegal shipment of these parrots intercepted in two months in Cameroon. The total number of birds discovered numbers over 1500 between the shipments – all sent to Limbe Wildlife Refuge for rehabilitation. The birds who are alive and who are able to be released will be. Many have already died from being crushed or glued or just general rough handling and fear during the “shipment.”
These are all wild caught birds of the endangered species variety. They are CITES II which means trade in them is restricted because their populations in the wild are so low that they cannot sustain any trade. I spoke with Dr. Irene Pepperberg of The Alex Foundation who has done the seminal work on the intelligence of African Grey Parrots. She told me that when there is this high a number of birds being poached, it means there are a number of large flocks from which the adults are taken. Stripped of their teaching population, the younger birds remaining in these substantially decreased flocks are left trying to learn to survive in the wild on their own and it makes these diminished flocks extremely vulnerable. If any of the birds that eventually are released are young, they have an equally challenging situation in that they also need adult birds who will teach them how to survive. But in this case it’s even trickier because these unrelated birds being released will need to know to search out and find adults who are willing to teach them. Add to this the fact that, according to research done by Dr. Pepperberg over a 30 year project, African Grey parrots have an emotional equivalent of a 2-3 human child and the intelligence of a 5-6 year old human child, and seeing these birds tightly crammed in baskets and crates is even more heartbreaking.
Limbe is charged with caring for over 1000 parrots right now – a financial and time burden they never expected. The best way to stop these kinds of killing shipments is to end the market for wild caught birds. It can start with each of us. Triple check your desire for an exotic bird before buying one. Make sure you are prepared for the commitment. It can be up to 80 years of commitment and you can expect your life to change dramatically to accommodate the bird – you cannot reasonably expect the bird to accommodate your lifestyle and still have any kind of satisfying life for either of you. If you still must get one, then be absolutely certain the bird was domestically bred and raised and there are several generations of domestically bred and raised birds in his or her lineage. Wild birds make terrible pets anyway. Those domestically bred and hand raised are more accustomed to human interaction and there is generally less aggression than with a wild caught bird. We can avoid unwittingly aiding and abetting the poaching of exotic birds by shrinking the market for them. The birds are much happier when they remain in the wild. And, it would be a travesty for a regal bird like the African Grey to disappear because of his ornamental value in the pet trade.
Photo credits: Limbe Wildlife Refuge
Apparently there are no animals too small be bet upon in forced fighting rings. The latest bust, this one in Massachusetts, of illegal immigrants who keep finches in intolerable conditions, get them worked up , sharpen their beaks and then get them fighting, is a sad testimony to what goes on. Who would have thought finches weighing just grams could be considered fighting instruments with which to make money? This article in the Boston Herald tells a tough story about an improbable, but apparently not uncommon form of animal abuse.
photo credit: Boston Herald
The Chicago Tribune wrote this story about a hawk who had gone to her roost for the night, expecting to have a cool but quiet nights rest. Sadly for her, she was sleeping in a tree that happened to be near the location where a small plane crashed, killing both passengers. Upon impact, the plane exploded in flames, and the hawk was blasted from her roost to the ground – the blast burning off all her feathers. Most news reports would have reported the fatal crash and left it at that tragedy. But in this case, one of the police officers on the scene saw a bird standing in the snow not far from the wreckage and had the compassion and presence of mind in the turmoil to call someone to rescue the hawk which had been badly burned but was still alive. It’s a good reminder that sometimes the end of the story isn’t really the end. Bravo to the police officer who found the bird and thought to call for help for her, rather than to just leave her in the snow. And thanks to Dawn Keller of the Flint Creek Wildlife Rehabilitation Center for taking her in and caring for her. As a result, the crash which was a terrible tragedy was not a complete one, and this innocent bystander – nicknamed “Phoenix” – now has a chance at survival.
Photo Credit: Chicago Tribune/Chuck Berman
You may not be happy about your neighbor feeding cats that roam through your yard and attack the resident bird population. Often this starts out as just someone feeling sorry for a kitten they see that needs a meal. The next thing you know, there is a colony of a dozen or more cats hanging out in the neighborhood – often wreaking havoc, or even more frequently, finding themselves under the wheels of a car or dealing with some illness – life in the wild can be tough. But, how do these cats get there to begin with? Many of them are owned by the neighbor down the street who thinks Tabby needs to be free and opens the back door so he can have a happy life outside. Others are pets who have been abandoned when the family leaves town and leaves Kitty behind thinking she is a wild creature and able to fend for herself. Sadly, though, in North America there never were small wild cats and the family Tabby cat patrolling the neighborhood constitutes an introduced exotic (not a naturally occurring critter) and his daily strolls threaten the lives of the naturally occurring creatures who are not designed to defend themselves against cats. It is estimated that cats outside of the home in the US are responsible annually for the death of tens of millions of birds plus frogs, lizards and rodents.
Some compassionate people leave dishes of food out for these cats – often hopeful that they will stop eating the birds at their feeders. But feeding the cats really doesn’t make much difference in their hunting habits. The responsible feral cat carer will trap, neuter and release (TNR) all the cats that come to her home, including Tabby if he continues to hang out there. In this way, the hope is that through attrition, the colony size will dwindle. But most people don’t want to be bothered, and so the group of cats just continues to grow.
Many people call animal control to have the cats removed and euthanized. The pound has little choice as these cats are all pretty wild and they generally cannot even be approached much less adopted. But, some people see things a little differently. There is an amazing woman in northern New Jersey, Christine Margo, who runs K.I.S.S.(Kitties In Need of Someone Special). She knows that young kittens can be socialized and become great family pets, so she takes in feral kittens up to the age of 8 weeks and finds them good homes. How do I know this? Because she has helped me get a couple of feral kittens I knew about off the street. Knowing how much work it is to capture and get these kittens ready for adoption, I took care of getting 3 kittens trapped and neutered and given shots, (same for the parents who we were able to identify and trap) and then took the kittens to her 2 days later along with a donation for their care. Christine took care of the rest and got the kittens ready for their new lives. Less than 2 weeks later, one of them had already been adopted by a loving family with 2 kids. Jackpot! Both for family and kitty – in this case Calypso (pictured here with her new family).
Getting good adoptive homes for feral kittens is almost unheard of, but Christine and her organization K.I.S.S. are pretty unusual. Not only does she help give a decent life to a feral cat, she also helps the adoptive family get ready for their new arrival.
Ultimately, the solution to eliminating feral cat colonies is keeping pet cats indoors and taking them along as part of the family move. But until that day, there must be TNR and people like Christine to help. What Christine does is a near miracle and should be celebrated. Thank you, Christine!
If you live near K.I.S.S you can save a kitten who might otherwise be on the street by giving it a good home. Stop by some of their adoption weekends and see the adorable kittens available.
Calypso and her brother and sister on their first day at KISS
I logged into my Facebook account tonight to discover that there was a post from my friend, Shirley McGreal who runs the International Primate Protection League in South Carolina. During the days when Shirley lived in Thailand (which is where she started helping primates over 30 years ago), she developed a love for Asian short-clawed otters. Here in the US, the IPPL has become a spot where not only gibbons but also these beautiful otters who need a home can live out their lives peacefully. Shirley told me that two Asian short-clawed otters from the Monterey Bay Aquarium just arrived at the IPPL. Everyone has been anxiously awaiting their arrival as after many years of attrition at the IPPL otter population, there remained just one lone female. These two guys (Dua and Satu) will keep her company, and so everyone is excited about them being there. It also appears that Dua has acquired a creative talent in California that may prove both useful and attractive. He has learned to play the piano.
Many zoos these days are paying attention to the quality of life of the animals who live there, and keepers are challenged to find ways to replicate some of the usually intense stimulation of life in the wild in a more sterile captive environment. Especially for animals we just don’t know very much about, it can pose all sorts of questions and difficulties. It does appear, however, that the keepers at the Monterey Bay Aquarium noticed that these otters have pretty dexterous “fingers’ on their feet, and decided tickling the ivories might be an interesting option. Now, I don’t know if this kind of musical talent will continue to be encouraged at the IPPL. However if it is, I guarantee you that the otters have a built in primate chorus with the gibbon population there. Every morning, there is a beautiful dawn chorus of song from these gibbons and I suspect that a little musical accompaniment might be a nice addition.
Photos by Mike Turco