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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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.

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Perch Variety

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Aldo tried out two new perches this week to spice up his time indoors. First he sampled a flat block perch for an afternoon, then he tried out a small hemlock branch that I bent over his normal perch. New substrates keep him engaged, test his balance, and promote foot health. Wild raptors perch on a variety of branches, wires, fence posts, and ledges, constantly changing how weight is distributed on their feet. Captive birds also need options; otherwise they risk developing pressure sores that can develop into swelling called bumblefoot. Aldo has one favorite perch, but it is beneficial to switch things up every once in a while.

Falcon pellets

Learning about digestive systems and pellet schedules is interesting (at least for me!) and it is also useful to know when caring for the birds. This week Aldo the American Kestrel wasn’t interested in training and wouldn’t take any food from me. This odd behavior could have multiple explanations. Did he suddenly decide to boycott quail? Was he overweight or sick? Or did he just need to eject a pellet? Soon enough, he opened his beak. With a little cough, he shook his head and flung this tiny pellet at my arm. He simply had to empty out his digestive system to make room for more food.

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Occasionally Aldo’s pellet isn’t a pellet at all. Sometimes he coughs up a few pieces of gravel. Oddly enough, this is a normal behavior, especially for falcons that often pick around feathers, fur, and bones on their prey. Without these materials to form a pellet, falcons replace them by ingesting small stones to clean out their crop. Knowing this tidbit of their natural history keeps me from being alarmed whenever it happens with Aldo. Instead I marvel at a bird’s ability to take care of itself, even if it means eating gravel from the floor of the mew.

 

Cat TV

It can be challenging keeping Aldo entertained when he needs to come inside during cold weather. This week we tried a fun new form of enrichment. I propped up my phone on Aldo’s table and started up “Cat TV.”

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This series of videos is designed to keep cats entertained with scenes of squirrels and songbirds. It proved interesting for Aldo, too! Having something to watch is very stimulating for raptors. They would spend most of their day in the wild simply sitting and looking around, so these videos are a way to replicate wild behaviors in an indoor setting.

Chilly Mornings

The first thing I do every morning is check on the birds to make sure everyone is okay. There’s always a little voice inside my head that echos “what if?” and I subconsciously worry that something terrible might have happened overnight. Luckily, I always find three healthy birds staring back at me.

Peeking in at the birds eases my mom-like concerns and also gives us the chance to say “good morning” to each other in our own way. Theo’s mew often has evidence of his busy night and, as the sun comes up, the owl tries to get some shut-eye. When I look in, he responds with a hiss as if telling me he wouldn’t like to be disturbed.

 

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I make my way to the next mew to check on Carson the hawk, who on this morning was basking in the sunshine at her window. The air felt colder than my car thermometer indicated and Carson seemed to agree. She sat with her feathers all fluffed to increase the effects of her down insulation. One foot was balled up, relaxed. Soon that foot tucked up and disappeared into the cloud of feathers to keep it nice and warm. Her eyes followed me as I continued on to the last resident.

Aldo the kestrel is always the most alert and active at sunrise – a real “morning bird.” I peek into his mew and he flies straight toward me, landing on the perch in front of the window. He trills and I imagine he is saying “good morning!” right back to me.