Sleeping

I went outside to check on the birds one last time before I went home for the day. I peered into Carson’s mew and saw her staring back at me as usual. But this time, she quickly looked away to snuggle her beak back behind her wing to fall asleep. I don’t often see the birds so sleepy, so I was excited to get her “bedtime” on video!

 

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Pellet Schedules

Ready for a rousing game of “Who Cast that Pellet?”  Take a guess with this first pellet:

Pellet #1:

Theo pelletSee the bone fragments poking through this pellet? Theo the Great Horned Owl left this after eating a furry white rat. His stomach muscles and juices broke down the meat, allowing the meal to continue into the intestines. But indigestible fur and bones remained in the stomach where they were pressed together and, eventually, coughed back up. The time required for this process depends on the size of the meal: larger meals take a longer time to process.

Pellet #2:

carson-pellet-variety-e1516220777850.jpg

This pellet has smoother edges and no visible bones. If I split this pellet open, we would only find fur. Carson the Red-tailed Hawk ate the same meal as Theo, but hawk stomach acid is much more acidic and can disintegrate bone. The bones of her rat passed through, but the tough fur was still cast back up as a pellet.

While owl pellet schedules depend on when and how much they eat, hawks adhere to a circadian rhythm. In one study, Red-tailed Hawks cast a pellet at the first light of the day regardless of when they were fed the day before. They are even known to cast a pellet after a fast day with no food in their system. Their routine pellet casting at dawn may reflect their hunting strategy. Hawks require daylight to hunt, so emptying their stomach in the morning will prepare them for a fresh meal. Owls, on the other hand, can hunt during day or night, so their system simply empties after the food has been digested.

Learn more about raptor pellets in this Raptor Physiology chapter.

Changing eyes

Carson eye colors.jpg

Carson’s eyes were the subject of my very first “News from the Mews” article in 2016. I had never met a young hawk before, and her light-gray eyes were strikingly different than what I was used to. Red-tailed hawk eyes darken as they age, and the older hawks I knew had nearly black eyes. We’re starting to see this effect with Carson. Now nearly 5 years old, her eyes are becoming a deeper shade of brown. The lighter shades are still speckled around the iris, and I expect they will continue to darken as she ages.

Snow

Carson and snow.JPG

Since open skylights were installed in the mews in September, I’ve been waiting for one more major weather event: snow. Luckily the second week of December did not disappoint. I brushed off a good 2 inches of fluff from my car on Wednesday morning and was eager to see how it affected the mews.

The center of Carson’s mew definitely looked like winter: snow was piled on perches and on the ground, and tiny snowflakes filtered down through the skylight. Carson sat just next to the snow zone and occasionally a stray flake landed on top of her head. How exciting for her to watch the snow and see her mew transformed overnight!

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.

 

Carson foot tuck.JPG

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.

 

Meal Prep

Our raptors have a pretty easy life in captivity, especially when it comes to food. They get something to eat every day and they don’t even have to kill it. The birds never get live prey because we don’t want them getting hurt; they already have injuries that would make it difficult to hunt, and even a little mouse can bite back pretty hard.

We feed a variety of animals they might catch in the wild like mice, rats, and quail.  These animals are fed whole, including feathers, fur, and even bones. When ingested, feathers and fur become “casting material” to aid in casting (coughing up) pellets. When not ingested, these materials just become enrichment. Carson the Red-tailed Hawk got a treat of a whole quail this week and before she started eating, she dutifully began plucking off its feathers. With no nutritional value, feathers are not very desirable so raptors often take the time to remove a few. I have noticed, though, the hungrier the bird, the more feathers or fur they will tolerate!