Singin’ in the Rain

Aldo the American Kestrel rivaled Gene Kelly’s performance on Tuesday by doing his own sort of dance in the rain. If it were possible, I think Aldo would have been singin’, too!

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Novel Basking

Emory in the grass.JPG

Raptor enrichment is always on my mind as I plan interesting things to keep the birds occupied, but it is easy to forget about the snakes that rest quietly in their enclosures. I found Emory the Great Plains Rat Snake cruising around her habitat one morning and wondered what kind of contraption I could construct to change up her routine. Then I realized there was an easier, ready-made enrichment item: the great outdoors!

Both of our snakes hatched in captivity and are accustomed to living indoors. To create a novel experience for Emory, we went out to the backyard and I set her gently in the grass. She wiggled a bit, free from my grasp, but then lay still. Her tongue flicked out a few times before she rested completely motionless. A snake’s thoughts are impossible to read, but I wondered if she was overwhelmed by this new environment or just enjoying it. The texture of green grass, vibrations traveling through the ground, the bright glare and heat of the sun were new experiences that we will continue to explore through the summer and into fall.

Sitting in the Sun

It wasn’t a terribly hot day, highs in the upper 70’s, but the humidity was thick. I hurried across the short path between the office and the mews to avoid the sun’s heat. I checked on Theo the owl who was sitting on his favorite perch in the back of the mew, Carson the hawk perched on the edge of her water pan with wet feet, and I wondered how Aldo the kestrel was staying cool as I neared the last mew. The door swung open and I was surprised to find Aldo on his rope perch, a place I rarely see him use. He had chosen to sit right in the narrow column of sun peeking through the skylight. In the wild, he would probably be perched, hunting, in an open field, even on a muggy day like today. I was glad he had the option to sun himself, even though it seemed a little crazy to me.

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Bees

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Like parents try to share their interests with their children, I tried to introduce Aldo to my latest fascination: the solitary bee cabinet in front of the Museum.

While researching for our Bee Amazed! exhibit, I realized that I only knew about European honey bees: the colony-nesting bees that dance to communicate and stash large amounts of honey. I soon found out that honey bees have a rather rare lifestyle in the world of bees.

Most native bees in Wisconsin are solitary and many of them nest in tunnels above ground. The female bee works hard to collect materials to line the nest, supply the tunnel with pollen, and lay her eggs. Once she seals the tunnel, her job is done. The baby bees are on their own to eat pollen and transform into adults.

I’ve found it amazing to witness a mason bee nest right outside the Museum. But Aldo only seemed mildly amused by the big yellow cabinet. Just like I never picked up an interest in aerospace technology from my dad, Aldo doesn’t seem to share my fascination with native bees.

 

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.

Ears

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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