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Aldo preens in the sun, one foot comfortably tucked in his belly feathers, after taking a bath.


The mew remodeling last fall improved the bird’s experience in their enclosures. They can look out the window and soak up the sun, and choose to sit in the rain or snow under the skylight.

We also wanted to improve the visitor experience. Instead of being a nondescript, mysterious building in the backyard, visitors now have a chance to see the birds and learn about them. This informational sign was just installed this week, along with species labels for each mew, so visitors can read about raptors and hopefully see one of the birds looking back at them.

Thanks to Volunteer Larry for installing the sign!

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DIY Humidity


Caring for animals often requires a DIY spirit. Sometimes it stems from a desire to save money, other times the materials are just not available commercially.

My most recent DIY project was creating a humidity box for the snakes. Extra humidity helps soften their old skin so it comes off in one piece. With both snakes preparing to shed, I headed to Rondeau’s and perused a variety of plastic containers, finally finding one that was just the right size.

The transformation from storage box to snake hide was simple with a pair of scissors. I carved out a hole in the plastic, filled in a layer of damp moss bedding, and set the box in the snake’s habitat. Emory the Rat Snake soon found her way inside and coiled herself in the tropical microclimate. A few days later, I found her perfectly shed skin wrapped around her enclosure. It worked!


Aldo the American Kestrel has grown to be quite comfortable at the Northern Great Lakes Visitor Center. He is a regular visitor during the annual Chequamegon Bay Birding and Nature Festival in May, allowing birders a closer view than any wild bird would offer.


Though he is an easy-going bird, the busy visitor center can be challenging for him. Raptors feel safest if they can be above the commotion and have a solid wall behind them. It took some experimenting to find where Aldo felt most comfortable.

During last year’s festival, we were stationed at the bottom of the spiral staircase. Aldo blasted his alarm call almost constantly, afraid of seeing people peering down at him from one or two stories above.

This year we traded tables for a location with a ceiling to give Aldo a better sense of security. While he was more comfortable without potential threats from above, people could walk around the table on three sides. He still alarm-called frequently when he was surrounded by activity. Then I tried stationing his perch in front of the Museum’s tri-fold display to limit his field of view. We found his sweet spot where he could not see the crowds of menacing bird watchers above or behind him. Instead, he could focus on the audience in front of him. He even put on quite a show at times, preening and trilling, a welcome sign of comfort in the midst of chaos.


IMG_7104.JPGTwo large feathers fell to the ground in Carson’s mew this week, marking the beginning of her annual molt. Over the next few weeks she will drop all of her feathers to grow a new set. This most recent molted pair of feathers mirrored each other: one curved to the right, one curved to the left. The shape tells me the feathers came from her wings: one from the right wing, one from the left wing.

The asymmetrical shape is most pronounced in the primary flight feathers, those farthest out on the wing where her fingers would be. If we take a look at “P10,” the outermost primary feather, we can clearly see the center shaft running closer to one edge of the feather vane:IMG_7111.JPG

As the bird flies, this is the first feather to cut through the air and the narrower vane (the top side in this photo) will be the leading edge. (So we know this feather came from the right wing.) The asymmetrical shaft assists with aerodynamics and feather stability in flight. One of the next primaries has a slightly different shape:IMG_7110.JPG

The shaft is still asymmetrically placed, but both leading and trailing edges have notches that make the tip of the feather more narrow. When the wing is spread, these outer feather tips separate like individual fingers to reduce drag. It seems amazing that these feathers are so well designed to optimize efficiency in flight.

Find out more about identifying feathers at The Feather Atlas website.

In Blue

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Both snakes were “in blue” this week as they prepared to shed their skin. The phrase refers to eyes that turn cloudy, sometimes with a bluish hue. The rest of their body turns dull, too, as a thin layer of fluid separates the outer skin and new layer forming underneath. The snakes are more vulnerable with impaired vision and can be more likely to bite, so we minimize handling to avoid upsetting them.

Emory the rat snake usually has cloudy eyes for about a week. Then two or three days pass with clear eyes before she sheds her skin. If she keeps to this schedule, she should shed very soon (hopefully in time for her program in Ashland at the end of the week!).


It should be easy to measure a snake, right? A snake is, after all, just a long skinny tube. Unfortunately they can be rather stubborn when I bring out the yardstick and refuse to stay in a straight line.

Great Plains Rat Snakes like Emory have strong muscles for climbing and holding prey. This time she used them to resist my attempts at straightening her long body to get an accurate measurement. I once tried measuring her skin after a shed to avoid this struggle, but found that the thin membrane stretched and was longer than her actual length. I think I’ll have better luck catching the snakes striking a candid pose in their habitats as they travel flat against the glass. Digger was kind enough to offer this opportunity yesterday (with an official length of 29.5 inches):

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(No reasonable measurement was accomplished with Emory.)