Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Birdlore: There Be Chickens!

At the World Bird Sanctuary, we share our home with eagles, hawks, falcons, cranes, pelicans, owls...you name it!

Perhaps, the fan favorite of little children and a bird most visitors might not realize we have onsite are the....CHICKENS!

At WBS the children are always fascinated by  the chickens (photo: Gay Schroer)

Why chickens?  That’s actually a pretty frequent question I get asked by visitors when I’m working on our public Display Line.  The very young children gravitate towards the chickens, because they can engage them, unlike the birds of prey.  They love feeding the corn to our chickens (hint: the Turkeys love it too!) and they can pet them when staff members take a chicken to a children’s program.

Chickens like the Bantam Cochin chickens are actually quite easy to train.  They provide a comedic element to the bird shows WBS presents at Zoos, theme parks and aquariums around the nation.  The chickens run like mad across the stage behind the show speaker.

A white Araucana chicken with tufts on either side of its face (photo: wikipedia)

The Araucana chickens are actually a pretty nifty breed.  They are characterized by three distinct traits; tufts on either side of the face, rumpless (no pygastyle, or bony structure that supports tail feathers), and they lay blue eggs.  Araucanas are a wild species that  originated from parts of Chile in South America, dating back before the arrival of the Spanish explorers.  They were bred from two distinct breeds of chicken kept by the Mapuche Indians, the Collonocas and the Queteros.

One of the WBS Araucana flock displaying the rumpless trait (photo: Gay Schroer)

The Collonocas breed carried the traits for laying blue eggs and being rumpless.  The Quetero were tufted and laid brown eggs.  Overtime, these breeds would mix bloodlines to create the Araucana breed of today.

This beautiful member of the WBS flock displays the odd tufted trait – the tufts take many forms (photo: Gay Schroer)

The Araucana tufted gene, in particular, is quite interesting.  Getting lightly into genetic terminology, when you have two alleles (a variant of a gene) of the tuft trait inherited from both parents, a lethal gene is created.  Meaning, the chick will never hatch if it gains two tufted genes from two parents.  So, living tufted Araucanas will only ever carry one tufted gene and have offspring that are both tufted and non-tufted.  Even with only the one tufted gene there is approximately 20% mortality in the developing embryo.

One short story from Greek mythology involves the secret love affair between the god and goddess, Ares and Aphrodite.  To protect their secret, a youth by the name of Alectyron, was tasked with keeping a watchful eye out.  Unfortunately, he fell asleep while on the job and Helios, the sun god, witnessed the scandalous affair and reported the event back to Aphrodite’s husband.  Angry, Ares turned the youth into a rooster to prevent him from failing ever again to signal the rising of the sun.

Submitted by Jessica Bunke, World Bird Sanctuary 

Sunday, October 11, 2015

Fruit Bats Are Important

There are many myths and legends about bats.

We have all heard the stories that bats are blood suckers, evil, and dangerous.   While these stories are very entertaining, they simply are just not true.  Most bats eat insects--not people or other mammals.  If you have any kind of water nearby, having a family of bats live near your house can be very beneficial.  They eat the mosquitoes that can be such a nuisance.

Batty & Scar climbing down from an afternoon nap to get some fruit (photo: Erica O'Donnell)

There is another type of bat that exists called the fruit bat.  Fruit bats are also known as the megabats (because most are quite large) and the Flying Fox.  Fruit bats have excellent senses; they can see and smell where their food is located from afar.  They enjoy eating fruit, nectar, pollen, and sap.  Their sharp teeth help them penetrate the skin of the fruit and get the juice out.  Some of the fruit bats have wingspans that can be up to 5 feet wide.  Wrapping these large wings around their bodies help them stay warm while they are sleeping.  Fruit bats are social animals.  They can be found in very large colonies, and with so many eyes looking out for predators, this makes them feel safer.  After birth, a mother may not wean her newborns for 3 or more months.

So why are these fruit bats so important you ask?  They pollinate many trees and plants.  This process is called chiropterophily.  Fruit bats are responsible for pollinating some of the delicious fruits we consume, such as mango plants and banana plants.  They are also responsible for pollinating cocoa plants.  When the bats consume fruit with small seeds, they do not digest the seeds.  Instead, they carry and deposit the seeds away from the tree source, which leads to beautiful new trees in the rainforest.  So, the next time you come across a bat, there is no need to be afraid.  They help humans in many different ways.

One of WBS's resident fruit bats just hanging around (photo: Erica O'Donnell)

If you want to see a fruit bat up close, visit our Nature Center at the World Bird Sanctuary.  Our straw-colored fruit bats, Batty and Scar, always welcome visitors to come see them.  You can adopt Batty or Scar for $75.00.  This will help to pay for their food and care for the coming year.

Submitted by Erica O’Donnell, World Bird Sanctuary Education Coordinator

Friday, October 9, 2015

The Fab Four

The Fab 4 were four excellent individuals that pursued their internships with the World Bird Sanctuary last summer.  Most of our interns are hard workers, but these four were exceptional.  They pulled their weight everyday all summer long.

No clunkers in this group.  They worked hard every day and gained valuable bird experience.

In the photo above the interns were weed whacking behind WBS’s breeding barn and behind another building where two of the interns lived.  Birds also live in the same building, just farther down the hall.  We have staff and interns living onsite for security purposes, for the birds, and so people are on site 24/7 for immediate response to whatever could happen.

Intern Coordinator Roger Holloway was very pleased with this group of college students hailing from four different universities.  Roger and I admired the team spirit of these budding scientists and naturalists. 

Laryssa Rote recently graduated from Edinboro University in Pennsylvania. Jarod Lueck will be starting his senior year at the University of Wisconsin at Stevens Point.   Allyson Diederichsen will be starting her senior year at Southeast Missouri State University.  Corinne Geekie will be starting her junior year at University of Missouri in Columbia.  In addition to a strong work ethic, all four have a good sense of humor.
We would love to train you as the next intern at World Bird Sanctuary.  You will gain valuable hands on experience as you rotate through all the areas of World Bird Sanctuary--Propagation, Rehabilitation, Field Studies and Education.

If you are interested in a World Bird Sanctuary internship, just fill out the application  on our website and come be part of the team. You will create lifelong friends and have some interesting experiences.

Submitted by Michael ZeloskiDirector, World Bird Sanctuary Director of Education

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Meet Charlie

We have recently started training one of the World Bird Sanctuary’s newest residents and education birds at the World Bird Sanctuary Nature Center.   Charlie the Harris’ Hawk is only 5 months old, and he is one of the first Harris’ Hawks to be hatched at the World Bird Sanctuary in a decade. 

I am super excited about working with Charlie because 1) he is so young and curious, and 2) he is the first bird I have really gotten to train as a Naturalist.  When we received Charlie at the Nature Center, his name was added to the board.  Under his name it said “Trainer: CS, Secondary Trainers: DG, KM.”  Wait a minute, KM are my initials!  I get to train my first bird!  Charlie and I are both fairly new so we are going to learn together.

This photo is a bit of an optical illusion—do you see a raptor or an odd duck-like looking creature?  It’s just Charlie with his head turned a bit upside down.  If you don't see the raptor, try tilting your head to the side.(photo: Kelsey McCord)
Training has so far involved eating food out of the glove, walking around, and crate training.  Eating food out of a glove may sound easy, but when you are as curious as Charlie it can be difficult at times.  There is so much to see and hear that food just isn’t always top priority.  Charlie is always turning his head left, right, up, down, and even upside down to see what is going on around him.  Be it people talking, other birds, insects, or leaves, Charlie has to check it out.

We are also walking Charlie around on the glove so that he is comfortable around people.  He has even appeared in a few special WBS programs; Amazing Animal Encounters and Birds in Concert.  In the Amazing Animal Encounters we explain to the audience that they are helping us train Charlie simply by not running up to him, which a bird could interpret as a threat.  By walking Charlie around groups of people he is learning that he is safe and can trust his trainers and the circumstances.  He has done awesome so far and seems very comfortable around people.  He has even roused (fluffed out his feathers), which is a sign of comfort, at the Amazing Animal Encounters.

When Charlie gets his adult plumage he will look more like this photo of Sheldon, an adult Harris’ Hawk.  (photo: Kelsey McCord)

We are really working hard on crate training with Charlie right now.  We place a piece of meat on the lip of the crate, followed by a small trail of meat leading to a small pile of meat inside the crate.  Charlie steps onto the lip of the crate, eats his snack, then either travels another step in for more meat or turns around ready to get back on that glove.  We then start over: bring some more meat toward the front and put him back in front of the crate.  The more we do this, the more comfortable Charlie will be with his crate.  The further in he goes the better, but going in and out of the crate several times is good, too.  My favorite session was when he went all the way to the back of the crate for me.  He immediately came back to the entrance, but it was a huge step in the right direction.

Once he gets comfortable with being in the back half of the crate we will work on closing the crate door, for just a second or two at first, but then a little bit longer each time.  Charlie will need to be comfortable being in a crate so that he can travel and participate in programs.

Charlie still has a lot of training ahead of him, but he is making great progress and seems to be having fun along the way.

Submitted by Kelsey McCord, World Bird Sanctuary Naturalist/Trainer

Sunday, October 4, 2015

The Top Eleven

The Top Eleven Things You Can Do To Become A Super Bird Nerd!

WBS receives no federal or state funding.  Your Friend membership will help to support all aspects of our mission. In the photo above volunteer Jena Baumgarten educates visitors about Sassy the American Kestrel and her species. (photo: Gay Schroer)

Become A Friend Of World Bird Sanctuary – World Bird Sanctuary receives no state or Federal funding to do all we do.  That includes seeing 400+
birds per year at our wildlife hospital, conducting field studies such as banding and tracking bird populations, breeding birds both for reintroduction to the wild and for education purposes and presenting world class education programs to public and private audiences.  World Bird Sanctuary is a 501(c)(3), non profit, tax exempt organization.

Your WBS Friend Membership Includes:
*            One year’s subscription to our newsletter—the Mews News—printed three times per year.
*            Reusable WBS shopping bag
*            10% discount on all World Bird Sanctuary merchandise in our gift shop
*            10% discount on all public programs offered at World Bird Sanctuary, such as Owl Prowls, Nature Hikes, etc.
*            Invitations to members-only events held at World Bird Sanctuary

An individual membership costs just $35.00, a family membership is $50.00.  Click Here to become a friend.

Your $25 donation feeds me for one week  (photo subject - Captain, a young Bald Eagle) (photo: Dawn Griffard)
*            $25.00 feeds one Bald Eagle for one week
*            $10.00 feeds a Screech Owl for one month
*            $20.00 buys bedding for our rabbit for two months.

Your donated dollars go a long way to take care of our animals.  Click Here  to make a donation.

Your inscribed brick will be installed in our amphitheater and will be a lasting tribute to the honoree (photo: Gay Schroer)

Buy A Brick! – celebrate a special occasion, a bird-loving family member, your business or organization or your family by buying a brick to be installed in our amphitheater for all visitors to see!  Or commemorate the life of a loved one who has passed on.  Bricks cost between $125.00 - $425.00 depending on size, inscription and logos.  Click here to order your brick. 

You can adopt Goblin (or any of our other animals) for a year  (photo:  Dawn Griffard) 
Adopt A Bird! – All of the birds and animals that call the World Bird Sanctuary home are available for adoption.  An adoption fee helps us take care of your specially chosen animal for one full year.  In addition to the warm fuzzies you’ll have knowing that you are helping your favorite animal at the sanctuary, you’ll also receive the following!
*            Certificate of Adoption with a full color photograph of your special animal
*            World Bird Sanctuary sponsorship for one year
*            One year’s subscription to our newsletter – the Mews News – printed three times per year
*            Natural history and life history of your special adopted animal
*            Plush bird toy
*            Reusable WBS shopping bag

*            10% discount on all World Bird Sanctuary merchandise in our gift shop
*            10% discount on all public programs offered at World Bird Sanctuary, such as Owl Prowls, Nature Hikes, etc.
*            Visiting privileges and photo opportunities with your special new member of your family (just call ahead first to make sure your adopted friend won’t be out on a program).

To Adopt A Bird or other resident animal Click Here or call 636-861-3225 and ask for Marion.

Sign Up For A FREE Schnucks eScrip Card – Every Purchase Counts!
The World Bird Sanctuary can benefit every time you shop at Schnucks Supermarkets.
Sign up for an eScrip card and Schnucks will donate up to 3% of every dollar you spend to World Bird Sanctuary.  There is no cost to you!  Just present your card (which you can easily keep on your keychain)

You can get an eScrip card at any Schnucks store and activate it with World Bird Sanctuary as your beneficiary.
Fill out on-line at www.escrip.com
Or download the form and we will send you one – it couldn’t be easier!

Rehabilitation of just one bird is costly .  Help to defray the cost and at the same time personally return a bird to the wild. (photo: Joe Hoffmann, WBS Hospital Manager, looks on as Dr. Stacey Schaeffer treats an injured Great Horned Owl) (photo: Gay Schroer)

Return to the Wild – Take part in the release of a rehabilitated bird!
Returning a bird of prey back to the wild can cost up to $1,000 in care and rehabilitation.  Your contribution of only $150 helps the sanctuary defer some of those costs and gives YOU the opportunity to participate in the release of a wild bird of prey!

Invite family and friends to join you in releasing a bird of prey at your home or nearby park.  Celebrate a wedding, birthday, anniversary, family reunion, school or corporate function with this special gift.

The World Bird Sanctuary Wildlife Hospital is a cornerstone of the World Bird Sanctuary and is entirely funded by donations from the public.

Help us give our patients a second chance to fly.  Click on the following link to sponsor a release today, then click on the Donate button – or call 636-225-4390, Ext. 101.

We train hard to be on the eagle flight team.  Your sponsorship helps to pay for our food, housing and training (Clark the Bald Eagle practices glove to glove flights)  (photo: Gay Schroer)

Sponsor Our Eagle Flight Team
Our Eagle Flight Team flies for special occasions such as St. Louis Cardinal’s ball games, corporate events, St. Louis Earth Day, Veteran’s Day events, and various local, state & government events.

Our team consists of four Bald Eagles:  Lewis, Clark, Buford and Norbert, who need their regular round-the-clock care along with travel and other expenses.  Your team sponsorship helps our eagle team with these expenses, but also celebrates the glory of the Bald Eagle’s survival in the wild in North America!  Together as a nation, we have brought these precious creatures back from the brink of extinction.

Every time our eagles fly it reminds all who experience the sight why these beautiful birds are our national symbol.  To sponsor an Eagle flight Click Here
We are so excited about our newest t-shirts.  They feature photos of our own birds!  Come check them out at the Raptique Gift Shop (photo: Dawn Griffard)

Purchase Items At Our Nature Center Gift Shop – The Raptique
Our gift shop features a variety of items for kids and adults alike.  Choose from plush birds and animals, geodes, pins, patches, hats, custom t-shirts (some featuring our own birds), toys, collectibles, hand painted glass mugs and wineglasses, jewelry and more!  All proceeds for the gift shop go directly to the support and care of our birds and animals.

During your visit ask one of the naturalists how I help the environment…I am a very interesting fella!  (Photo above is Kinsey the Turkey Vulture) (photo: Dawn Griffard

Come enjoy our sprawling 305 acres of oak-hickory forest.  Bring the family, take a hike, have a picnic at one of our picnic tables or under a shelter, talk to our birds and animals, watch the wild birds and animals, chat with one of our staff naturalists or volunteers.  Breathe deep the surrounding sweet air.  Become familiar with us and our animal family – become one of us.

Volunteers fill many niches at WBS-from working in the hospital to doing clerical & carpentry work.  For working with the birds volunteers receive on-the-job training from our experienced staff members.  (photo: Gay Schroer)

The World Bird Sanctuary offers many ways to volunteer with us.  You can be a Naturalist, an Animal Care Technician, a Rehabilitation Technician, a Docent, or assist with bird banding, maintenance or clerical work. 

Junior volunteers can start at age thirteen and can help as a Naturalist, in education programs and with animal maintenance.  To learn more about our Junior Volunteer program or to download a Junior Volunteer application Click Here.

Volunteering with us is a gratifying experience.  Some of our volunteers have been with us for twenty years or more!  Come fall in love with our birds and our lifestyle.  You’ll be glad you did. 

To learn more about our volunteer program or to download an application Click Here.

Submitted by Dawn Griffard, World Bird Sanctuary Naturalist

Friday, October 2, 2015

Meet Coal

The story of how Coal, the Great Horned Owl (Bubo virginianus), came to the World Bird Sanctuary is unusual to say the least! 

Coal, a Great Horned Owl (photo: Gay Schroer)

He arrived in 1984 while still an egg, from a coal plant in Florida.  A female owl had laid an egg under a seldom-used coal conveyor belt!  When they were getting ready to use this area a worker was inspecting it and found the “nest” under the conveyor. The owl had scraped a bowl in the coal dust and laid two eggs in it.

Our founder, Walter Crawford, happened to be in Tampa on business at the time, and received a call saying that there were two black eggs under the conveyor belt.  The concept of black eggs sounded odd so he went to the plant to check it out.  He ended up taking the eggs because they would have been destroyed when the conveyer started, acquired permission from wildlife officials, and brought them back from Florida in his pocket.  He did not really think they would hatch but in the end Coal hatched and his origin is how he received his name.  Surprisingly, he did not have any ill effects from the coal dust.

Having been hatched and raised by humans, Coal is very calm and accustomed to being around people.  This makes him a great member of our education department as they travel all over the country and present hundreds of programs every year.  Each year our programs are viewed by close to a million people, and while Coal doesn’t take part in all of them, he certainly travels a lot!

Look for Coal in the weathering area (photo: Gay Schroer)

Lately, Coal has been busy with our ‘Owl Prowl’ programs, which take place from November to March.  We introduce our visitors to various owl species and then go for a night hike to see if we can ‘hoot’ to find any wild owls that live in the neighborhood.  Coal is a great part of the program because he will hoot at the least suggestion of another owl (or person!) hooting to him!  To hear an owl live and listen for wild ones to answer is such a big thrill!

When we refer to Coal as “he” it is because we believe him to be a male due to his small size.  As with most birds of prey, the females are larger than the males.  To determine the sex, as there are no external indications, we would need to take blood samples, which is a stressful procedure for the birds!

When you visit the World Bird Sanctuary, look for Coal in the weathering area behind the Nature Center.  This is where he usually resides when not traveling to an education program with our staff.

As with all of our animals, Coal is available for adoption through out Adopt A Bird program.  To adopt Coal, Click Here, or call 636-861-3225 and ask to speak to Marion.

Submitted by Gay Schroer, World Bird Sanctuary Volunteer/Photographer

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Weathering Storms

This summer was particularly wet. There was plenty of rain, thunder, and lightning, and while we were likely holed up in our houses, warm, safe, and dry, our wild feathered friends were outside. Although they might not have the luxury of a roof and four walls, birds have their own methods of surviving inclement weather.
A typical Midwest thunderstorm (photo: the wikipedia files)
First and foremost, birds take shelter during a storm. Fortunately most of our backyard birds are small in size, allowing them to take advantage of microhabitats. Hiding in the small spaces inside a hedge or on the lee side of a tree can make all the difference during high winds. Instead of being buffeted by driving wind and rain, a little bird will stay relatively warm and dry.

Preparation for storms is crucial, because birds will not be foraging for food during inclement weather; instead, they will devote their energy to staying safe and warm. Birds may be able to detect changes in barometric pressure, which would explain how they know to increase foraging activity before a storm hits. The extra fats and other nutrients that a bird acquires during this foraging give the bird a better chance of survival.

Of course, some storms are too severe for birds to safely weather. Tornadoes, for example, are so destructive that even taking shelter in microhabitats is not likely to protect a bird. The only sure way to survive a tornado is to avoid one – which is exactly what some birds do. A recent study on migration accidentally discovered that birds that had already returned from migration went out of their way to avoid a storm system that was producing tornadoes.

Warblers (a group of birds within the songbird order called Passeriformes) that had been outfitted with trackers showed something odd: the birds suddenly traveled 400 miles south of their breeding grounds. A day later, scientists noted a massive storm system moving towards the area the warblers vacated. Because the weather conditions were still normal as far as the researchers could tell, they are not entirely sure exactly how the birds detected the storm.   They believe, though, the warblers may have been able to detect the low-frequency sound that tornadoes produce. Such a deep sound, below the hearing capacity of humans, can travel well ahead of the storm and warn any animals that can hear it.

Mother nature can be fickle, and birds must be resourceful to deal with the variety of conditions that nature can throw at them. Especially in a changing climate, birds must be able to adapt, and ultimately evolve, or else perish.

Submitted by JoHanna Burton, World Bird Sanctuary Naturalist

Monday, September 28, 2015

Some People Are Just Mean!

We have all met someone who fits that description. 

Some people might be rude and pushy to other humans, but when someone directs their venom at animals, they are wrong inside and out.  It seems to sometimes be a judgment call on the worth of life. 

A Mississippi Kite recovering from a gunshot wound in our hospital (photo: Joe Hoffmann)

Recently, a group of kids chose to kick an injured hawk around like a soccer ball and a kind young man stood up and stopped them. Then, with the help of his parents, the young man delivered the bird to the World Bird Sanctuary.  Some people are heroes and some we should call ignorant no matter what the age. 

There are so many cases of animal cruelty that we hear of or that we experience, but conversely there are a great majority of cases of people who go out of their way to help animals. 

It is illegal to harm or harass any migratory bird according to the Migratory Bird Treaty Act.  The Bald Eagle and Golden Eagle Protection Act adds more restrictions and penalties if someone was to injure or kill a Bald or Golden Eagle.   Many birds are targeted because of misconceptions about eagles or owls killing livestock or flying away carrying someone’s pet.  These of course are myths and legends; not fact.

Raptors might be seen eating a dead animal, but something else killed it and the bird of prey is just scavenging an easy meal.  As far as a threat to your domestic pets, birds of prey usually hunt the smallest and easiest prey.  Cats kill millions of songbirds and other wildlife each year and feral dogs have overtaken many wild areas.  It is more likely your pet might be killed by a fox, coyote, raccoon, bobcat, or a long list of possible culprits. 

This week we received a hawk from the St. Louis area that was shot by someone because they had a small dog.  This was a juvenile hawk that was just hatched in the spring and was starting to hunt. It was only nearby, but these people felt this was their solution. It is wrong, as well as illegal. 

A few months ago we received two Mississippi Kites from the Affton, MO, area that were shot.  They primarily eat large insects, but the person who shot them thought they might eat the birds in their yard. No matter what someone’s excuse is, shooting these raptors is pure ignorance. 

One of the reasons World Bird Sanctuary is in existence is to help change the minds of people about birds and wildlife.  We have naturalists available from 8 to 5 almost every day of the year that can answer any question anyone may have.  The information almost always helps people learn the correct facts about them, and helps dispel myths and ignorance.  Please give us a visit.

Submitted by Joe Hoffmann, World Bird Sanctuary Hospital Manager

Saturday, September 26, 2015

Keeper Talks

Did you know that you could shadow one of the World Bird Sanctuary’s Keepers on his or her morning feeding rounds every Saturday or Sunday?  No reservations necessary.

Guests following our Keeper on her morning rounds. (photo: Gay Schroer)
Meet one of our Keepers on the front porch of our Wildlife Hospital at 9 am any Saturday or Sunday or catch up with them as they make their way down the exhibit line path.   You can accompany him/her on the morning rounds as they feed the birds on our exhibit line.

As you accompany our keeper you will be given information and backgrounds on the individual birds and their species and have the opportunity to ask any questions you may have about them. 

This is a year-round program and is like having your own informal personalized tour—and it’s FREE!

Submitted by Gay Schroer, World Bird Sanctuary Volunteer/Photographer

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Monarch Miracle

On Saturday, 9/19, I was witness to a miracle that occurs twice every year! 

Monarch butterflies on a Common Milkweed plant (photo: Gay Schroer)

Every year—usually during March in the spring and the last week or two of September—the Monarch butterflies migrate through our yard.  This miracle of nature never ceases to amaze me.  Now I’m not talking about the 3 or 4 Monarchs you may see feeding or resting in your flower garden during the summer months.  These migrating Monarchs are already three or four generations removed from those summer butterflies.  The summer Monarch generations have a short adult lifespan—only three to five weeks, compared to eight to nine months for the migrators, or the so called super generation.

In the spring of the year, usually during the second week of March, clouds of Monarch butterflies migrate from their wintering grounds in the mountains of Mexico to various locations in North America as far north as Canada.  This generation of Monarchs has already survived a long southward flight in the fall.  They have evaded a host of dangers, including predatory birds and vehicle collisions, storms, winds and cold.  Those that reach their wintering grounds in Mexico are the only Monarchs left that can produce a new generation.

As they pursue their migration path north and eastward in the spring they seek out the milkweed plants necessary to the survival of their species, upon which they lay their eggs, recolonizing the southern United States before they die.  Soon these eggs hatch and the emerging caterpillars feed on the milkweed plant, which is so crucial to their survival.  These caterpillars then metamorphose into the familiar orange and black adults, which in turn pursue the milkweed ever northward as winter loses its grip on the land.  They in turn lay their eggs, etc., etc., continuing this life cycle throughout the summer.  Before the summer’s end there are once again millions of Monarchs inhabiting the northern U.S. and southern Canada.

When the late Summer and early Fall generation emerges they are biologically and behaviorly different from their summer ancestors.  The shorter days and cooler temperatures trigger changes.  Even though these “migrators” look like the summer adults, they won’t mate or lay eggs until the following spring when their generation has left the mountains of Mexico.  These are the Monarchs that migrate through my St. Peters, Missouri, yard each late summer and early autumn.

At first you may ask, “What’s so great about that?  Other animals migrate.”  But stop to think—this is a creature that weighs less than a paper clip and is as fragile as a piece of tissue paper; yet it survives a journey of thousands of miles against huge odds.  This is not even the creature that made the original journey.  It is several generations removed from that original Monarch.  How did it know to find it’s final destination—right down to the same specific tree that it’s ancestor rested upon in Mexico several generations ago?  How does it know, each year, to rest for a night in one particular pin oak tree in my back yard—even though there are dozens of trees of the same species in my yard and surrounding yards?   To learn more about the amazing Monarch Butterfly and its life cycle Click Here.
Butterfly Weed, with its striking orange blossoms, attracts other creatures as well as Monarchs (photo: Gay Schroer)

I consider this creature a true miracle of nature—but there is a problem.  As we humans spread out more and more into the suburbs and the surrounding countryside, we destroy the natural growing habitat for the milkweed plant.  In addition, as more and more land is cleared for agriculture, shopping malls, parking lots and other accoutrements of civilization we rely on herbicides to keep the “weeds” down.  There is less and less milkweed to nurture the Monarchs.  In recent years scientists who study the Monarchs have noted an alarming decrease in their populations. 

What can I do, you may ask?  We as individuals may not be able to solve the whole problem, but we can help by growing milkweed in our gardens.  If every gardener nurtured a small patch of milkweed it would give this valiant little flyer a place to lay eggs for the next generation. Milkweed is a sun loving plant, so shade gardens are not to its liking.  However, my husband grows Butterfly Weed in a pot on the deck of our Ozarks cabin, and each year it draws dozens of Monarchs to its bright orange flowers.

 To learn more about growing milkweed in your garden Click Here.  Even though common milkweed presents a containment problem in the garden, this website offers several tips on containment measures.  It also gives information on other forms of milkweed—most notably, Butterfly Weed, which is a very striking plant if your garden has a suitable site for it.

Submitted by Gay Schroer, World Bird Sanctuary Volunteer/Photographer

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

The Philippine Eagle

The importance of a species or what is necessary for a species to survive is one very complicated subject.  Wild animals don’t have stores to buy food and apartments to crowd into.  While we take this fact for granted every day, one of the world’s largest raptors is in a whole lot of trouble.

The Philippine Eagle (photo: the wikipedia files)

The Philippine Eagle (Pithecophaga jefferyi) is one gigantic bird!  Another name for this bird is the Monkey-Eating Eagle because, well, it eats monkeys--primarily Macaques.

When I say this bird is gigantic, what I’m saying is it stands 3 feet tall and weighs around 15 pounds!  I can’t even imagine having an eagle of that size on the glove.  It would be more than half of my height!
This species is, unfortunately, critically endangered and it is endemic (restricted) to the Philippines.  But, over the last 20 years it has been completely removed from all but four of the Philippine Islands: Leyte, Luzon, Mindanao, and Samar.  There are now less than 200 individuals remaining, most of which are located on the islands of Mindanao and Luzon--with only a few nesting pairs being found on Leyte and Samar.  Hunting, habitat loss, and pollution are the main reasons for their decline. 

These birds have always been prized for their size but locals killed them to protect livestock as well.

Deforestation is a major concern; it reduces habitat for their prey, and reduces their available home range.  Philippine Eagles have been known to have a territory of up to 50 square miles.  To date around 80 percent of the rainforest has been lost to deforestation.  Philippine eagles search for the tallest of trees in the tropical rainforest.  Choice trees rise above the canopy and they need those old growth, very large trees in which to nest.  Newly planted, smaller trees just don’t work.

We tend to look around us at all of the trees and think that deforestation isn’t a problem.  We hear about new trees being planted to replace old ones and believe that we are repairing damage; that those new trees make up for the damage.  However, the fact remains that habitat has been lost.  Old growth trees can be hundreds of years old and these birds don’t have the time to wait around for us to mend our mistakes. 

By the time our attempts at reparation reach a real habitat gain this animal may already be gone.

To learn more about the Philippine Eagle and programs that are currently being implemented by the Philippine Eagle Foundation to save this magnificent creature from extinction Click Here.

Submitted by W. Leigh French, World Bird Sanctuary Naturalist/Trainer