April Blizzard

A blanket of snow covered the mews after last weekend’s hefty snowstorm. Even Aldo’s mew, where the skylight is covered for the winter, had a dusting thanks to the strong winds carrying a taste of the blizzard inside. Carson and Theo got the full force of the storm through their open skylights. I saw footprints on the ground and ramp in Theo’s mew; in typical owl fashion, he didn’t seem to mind. Carson the Red-tailed Hawk chose to stay elevated on perches. Her snow piles remained untouched until I swept the ramp clear with my mitten. I wondered what she was thinking as I took this photo.

She might share the same attitude as most people that spent the April weekend shoveling. “Are you kidding me?”

Or does she appreciate the snowfall as a magnificent form of enrichment? “Isn’t this interesting!”

Or, perhaps more likely, she thought of more pressing matters. “So, when will my food be delivered?”



Digger’s new view

The snakes and salamander returned to the Curiosity Center yesterday after weeks of construction. While a new wall went up, they were tucked away in the classroom, safe from all of the sawing, sanding, and painting. Plenty of work remains for the main exhibit, but they returned home once the Curiosity Center was put back together. For them, the move was easy. Digger, Emory, and Scuba got to rest in their travel crates while volunteers hefted glass terrariums from the classroom to the exhibit hall. Then heating pads had to be plugged in, light timers reset, rocks and branches rearranged, and water bowls filled. After all of that, I hope Digger enjoys her new view of the cheery orange wall and entryway!Diggers new view.JPG

Signs of Spring

Despite the chilling temperatures this week, spring is in the air. I was glad to hear the chickadees singing their “Spring’s Coming!” song as a reminder while I shoveled an inch of fresh snow off the sidewalk.

Some migrating birds are returning, including my first-of-year (or “FOY” to serious birders) red-winged blackbird singing last week. I also saw my FOY American Kestrel as Aldo and I drove to Ashland for a program on Monday. That kestrel looked like a fluffy cotton ball as he balanced on a powerline, feathers puffed out to stay warm. I wondered if he regretted coming back so early!

PEFA cam Pleasant Prairie WI.JPG

Peregrine Falcons in southern Wisconsin are well into their nesting season with many pairs already sitting on eggs. I caught a quick glimpse of an egg on this camera in Pleasant Prairie, Wisconsin and have been checking back regularly to try spotting it again. While we don’t know how long our snow will last, birds farther south and optimistic migrators like the kestrel remind us that “Spring’s Coming!”



Preening in the Sun

Sometimes I use the birds as an excuse to get out of my office, stretch my legs, and bask in the sun. I figured Aldo would be a willing accomplice as he joined me this week in a sunny spot. If Museum Director Deb had walked by, I might have justified this basking as necessary enrichment for Aldo, but I think those springtime rays were just as enriching for me. It also gave Aldo the perfect opportunity to preen those hard-to-reach areas under his wings!

Aldo and Mollie

Over the past few weeks, Aldo has quickly made friends with the Museum’s Curator Naturalist, Mollie Kreb. We had a bit of a time-crunch when she started in February since I planned to leave two weeks later for a conference in California.

She worked with the birds daily, quickly learning how to prep food, use raptor equipment, and weigh Aldo. Luckily Aldo seemed quite happy to hop on Mollie’s glove and I didn’t doubt that the birds – and Mollie – would be just fine when I was traveling. She will continue working with the birds so they know another familiar face when I’m out of town.



IAATE Conference

In late February, I checked into the hotel in Redding, California and tracked down the registration table. I received a warm welcome to the International Association of Avian Trainers and Educators (IAATE) annual conference and learned the details of schedules and meals for the 3-day event. And the host added, “feel free to sit in on the end of Steve Martin’s workshop in the ballroom, there’s about an hour left.” My ears perked up because I knew she wasn’t talking about an actor/comedian. This Steve Martin is a well-known bird trainer and leader in the organization. I have read his articles on trust accounts, weight management, and connecting with audiences; I couldn’t wait to hear his presentation.

An hour later, pages of notes were filled and new ideas were already swirling around my head. That trend continued over the next three days as bird trainers from around the world shared their training and education success stories. I came away with ideas to improve our programs and ways to change our birds’ perching, enrichment, and training to make the wildlife program at the Museum more effective. It will take some time to implement any changes, but these ideas should keep me busy for a while!

It was great fun to see and hear about the amazing things trainers are doing with their birds. Some of the highlights included:

  • Conference host Turtle Bay Exploration Park showed off their program animals with a Crested caracara demonstration. This bird was trained to pick out a purple wooden block to demonstrate birds’ color vision:IMG_2333.JPG
  • Educators at the Oregon Zoo found that parrots displayed on natural perches, rather than on the presenter’s hand, had the most impact on the audience’s desire to help wild parrots.
  • Research by the Peregrine Fund shows a slow and steady decline of American Kestrels over the past 50 years. Since 1966, kestrel populations have declined 47%.
  • American Kestrels at the Peregrine Fund and Cascades Raptor Center were trained to hover on cue, a behavior wild kestrels use while hunting. I think Aldo could do this someday!
  • A flock of penguins at SkiDubai (in United Arab Emirates) learned many husbandry behaviors so they can willingly participate in their own health care. They allow nail trims, eye drops, and even x-rays without restraint, making their lives more stress-free.
  • Though not bird-related, one of the highlights of the conference was meeting Timber the Beaver! Born at the Minnesota Zoo, Timber was hand-raised and loves people, as long as you have a tasty biscuit! Turtle Bay Exploration Park offers Timber encounters to the public as a fundraiser.Image may contain: Haley Appleman, smiling, outdoor

I had some time for birding and sight-seeing between conference presentations, and a few days of vacation north of San Francisco. It was my first time in northern California and the landscapes were stunning! Here are a few more photos from my trip:

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Foot Tuck

Carson foot tuck.JPG

I am always looking for signs that the birds are relaxed. Any time their head is down (while eating) or covered (while preening their wings or sleeping), they are more vulnerable to a threat. A predator might take that opportunity to launch a surprise attack, so they only risk covering their eyes when they feel safe. Other comfort behaviors, like Carson’s foot tucked in the photo, indicate that they are comfortable and and not worried about their surroundings.