NGLVC

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.

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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.

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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.┬áHe 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.┬áThis 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.