Trust

To fix Carson’s overgrown beak, we pulled on leather welding gloves last week and restrained the Red-tailed Hawk for a trim. These routine procedures are necessary for healthy birds even though it is stressful. I worried that Carson would hold a grudge after her beak trim and choose not to participate in training sessions. I couldn’t blame her. We spent months building a relationship built on trust: trust that she would be safe and rewarded every time she came out of the mew. I broke that understanding by restraining her.

Bird trainer Steve Martin compares a trust account with an animal (or even another human) to a bank account. Each positive interaction is like a deposit, while negative experiences act as withdrawals. Carson and I have gone through countless rat, mouse, and quail tidbits: each one a deposit in our trust account. I wondered if the withdrawal during beak trimming would erase all of our hard work and slip us back in the red.

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The next day, I started out with an easy training session in the mew. Carson didn’t skip a beat. Two days later I tried to take her outside again. Without hesitation, she stepped on the glove and waited patiently while I attached her leash. We stepped outside and she happily swallowed a mouse. It appeared that our trust account was large enough that the beak trimming withdrawal was relatively small. That doesn’t take me off the hook, though; we’ll continue making deposits, one rat tidbit at a time.

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Aldo ear

Bird ears are normally inconspicuous. Lacking an external ear structure like most mammals, bird ears are simply holes on the side of their head which are normally covered by feathers. I caught a glimpse of this elusive piece of anatomy after Aldo took a vigorous bath on a hot day. His wet feathers matted together and revealed his ear hole just behind his eye. Though his hearing isn’t quite as good as an owl, sounds are still an important way to keep track of his surroundings. Aldo basked in the sun after his bath and the feathers were soon dry and fluffy, hiding his ears once again.

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Carson looking at Aldo

Sometimes I need to collect, create, and construct enrichment to make the birds’ lives more interesting. And sometimes the birds can be their own enrichment. Carson the Red-tailed Hawk loves to sit in her window early in the morning, which gives her a good view of the American Kestrel’s routine. Every morning Aldo comes out of his mew and into the building to get weighed. On the way, I often pause in front of Carson’s window. With just a quick glace at the bigger bird, Aldo prefers to look outside or preen his feathers. Carson, though, is always intrigued by this little bird. She watches him intently and tilts her head – sometimes turning her view completely upside-down – for a better angle. Just in case she starts to get ideas of her next meal rather than a friendly neighbor, Aldo and I don’t linger for long.

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A new perch

Fresh hemlock branches came down in my driveway during the last round of storms a few weeks ago. In what may have looked like debris to some people, I saw raptor enrichment. The birds each received a branch as a natural perch, a new place to sit with a new texture. Aldo took some time getting used to his new mew decorations, but finally decided to give it a close inspection!

Carson was not so shy with her perch. After just 2 days, she had stripped off all of the twigs and shredded them. She even stashed a few on top of her hutch, perhaps saving them for later!

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DIY Humidity

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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!

Straight

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.)

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?”

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