Hawks Aloft Inc.
PO Box 10028
Albuquerque, NM 87184
Phone: 505 828-9455
Fax: 505 828-9769
E-Mail: gail@hawksaloft.org

Logo: Hawks Aloft Inc.

Hawks Aloft Blog

Blog Topic: Outreach Events

Leucism in Birds

Several weeks ago Hawks Aloft staff made the trip to Monte Vista, Colorado for the Monte Vista Crane Festival. Upon their arrival they started to hear rumors of a Red-tailed Hawk haunting the edges of the wildlife refuge. But this was no ordinary Red-tailed; defying the colors that dominate the species, this was a largely white Red-tailed Hawk, with only the occasional rust or brown feather that birders might expect when it comes down to identifying such a bird.

The leucistic Red-tailed Hawk spotted in Monte Vista, Colorado. Image by Larry Rimer

The leucistic Red-tailed Hawk spotted in Monte Vista, CO. Image by Larry Rimer

This particular hawk—a leucistic one—isn’t an entirely common sight, and Hawks Aloft staff and volunteers were thrilled to spot it on their first day out. It is hard to get an accurate grasp on how common leucism is in birds, but Project FeederWatch, an extensive online database of bird species observed and reported by citizen scientists, has recorded only about 1,600 leucistic birds of any species out of 5.5 million distinct birds indicated. But what exactly is leucism? And why does it happen at all, albeit infrequently?

Leucism is a blanket term for abnormal plumage conditions caused by genetic mutations. This genetic inheritance prevents a pigment—melanin—from being carried and deposited in the bird’s plumage. This condition can end up looking like the Red-tailed Hawk spotted in Colorado, or it can also be displayed as white patches throughout the body, in places where they wouldn’t normally occur in a species. Sometimes the condition also manifests as an overall paler plumage in the bird, as if its color was diluted.

Leucism is quite different than albinism, another similar (and similarly unusual) condition in birds. Considered to be extremely rare in the wild, albinism is marked by a total lack of melanin. Leucism, notably, only impacts the bird’s feathers, while albinism is apparent in the feathers and elsewhere. For example, albino animals almost always sport red eyes, as well as pale pink or red skin, feet and bills. Leucistic birds usually have normally colored eyes, skin and feet; the condition of leucism only impacts the feathers.

Image by Larry Rimer.

Image by Larry Rimer

Although it is quite exciting to see a leucistic bird in the wild, they do face certain challenges that make their lives difficult. These birds, without the protective camouflage that other animals have, become more vulnerable to predators. Additionally, plumage colors play an important role in courtship and mating; as such, many leucistic birds may be unable to find suitable mates. Last but not least, the dysfunctional melanin production in leucistic bird’s feathers may even make it harder for them to fly. Since melanin is an important structural component to feathers, birds lacking the proper amount of this pigment may have weaker feathers that are more prone to breaking and less able to insulate the body against cold and damp.

Leucism can be a great burden on the bird, however, it does remain rare. As such, when a birder spots a bird such as this, it allows for a moment of pause as we consider the great complexity of avian life, and the beautiful and observable variety among these amazing animals.


Maggie and Idaho

Maggie Grimason is senior editor and an educator at Hawks Aloft

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Adventures in Education Series – Fall 2014 Overview

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This fall has been a whirlwind of activity in the education department at Hawks Aloft! In August,we began classroom visits at our Living with the Landscape (LWL) schools. We have successfully completed all classroom visits at Hawthorne, La Luz, and MacArthur Elementary Schools. Our fourth school, Mountain View, will have their final visit in January. We have reached approximately 1,400 students and 100 teachers  with this year’s LWL program. It is offered to Title One schools in the Albuquerque area through an application process.  We present lessons on bird anatomy, migration, bioaccumulation, and watersheds. It has been an absolute pleasure getting to work with each class and their teachers and we are looking forward to taking students on their field trips in the spring!

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Prairie Falcon, Sunny, at Festival of the Cranes.           Picture taken by Tammy Maitland, Educator

In addition  to LWLt, we also presented eight bird of prey programs reaching 748 students in Albuquerque, Ruidoso, and Cimarron, NM. We conducted nine outreach booths.  Some were local, while others were more distant such as  Bosque Del Apache National Wildlife Refuge and Las Cruces; we reached 1,544 participants at these booths. Overall, we have reached approximately 4,000 people face to face since the end of August through our education programs.

We greatly appreciate the support of our volunteers that make our efforts so much more effective and enjoyable.  Thanks to everyone who has helped.

 

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The HAI Flier – Our Monthly Online Newsletter

Sandhill Crane in Flight.  Image by Doug Brown.

Sandhill Crane in Flight. Image by Doug Brown.

Sandhill Cranes will be returning to the Middle Rio Grande Valley any day now.  Did you know that the Rio Grande and the adjacent bosque have become de facto refugia for these magnificent birds because no hunting is allowed within the urban areas.   Read about this issue and more in the October issue of the HAI Flier.   It is your way to keep in touch with all of the studies and education programs of Hawks Aloft, and membership activities too.

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Tour de Cure 2013

Hawks Aloft staff and volunteers participate in many birding events throughout the year to show off our educational birds and to explain to the public what we do.  But we don’t just work at birding events.  Earlier this summer, we manned a water rest stop at the Tour de Cure cycling ride. This “family fun ride” raises funds to benefit diabetes research. Liz Roberts was there with her two children, Brandon and Rhianna, as were volunteers Laurie Marnell and Consuela Osborne. (below)

Laurie and volunteer

Here, Laurie and Consuela slice oranges for the riders.  We also provided granola bars and water.

Laurie, Brianna, Brandon, and volunteer

The riders were doing a 100 mile, 100 km, or 25 mile ride, depending on their stamina!  We manned the first break station about 10 miles into the race where all the riders passed by our station.  Brandon and Rhianna enjoyed handing out water cups.

Laurie, Brandon and volunteer

We brought along two of our educational birds, our American Kestrel and Western Screech-Owl, and talked with some of the bicyclists – the ones that needed a break after 10 miles, and other passers-by about the birds.  We were there for about 5 hours, we had a great time, and it seemed like the cyclists did too.

Hawks Aloft members Ed and Mary Chappelle rode the metric century (100 km or about 65 miles) and found the HAI water station to be just what they needed!  It was HAI board member Mary’s idea to combine two organizations with which she has volunteered and supported  — American Diabetes Association and Hawks Aloft.   She wanted to support the ride and get out a little information about HAI at the same time.  Gail thought it would be appropriate for us to work the station in the bosque, as that is where we do so much of our work.

Many thanks to Laurie, Consuela, Liz, Brandon and Rhianna for their hard work and also to Laurie for the photographs.

 

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Monte Vista Festival of the Crane 2013

Education birds on display at the Monte Vista Festival of the Cranes 2013

Education birds on display at the Monte Vista Festival of the Cranes 2013

First of all, I’d like to apologize for the lack of posts the past three months!  Our website was attacked by malware and it took a Herculean effort to rid the pest from our website.  Don’t worry, you were not in danger of contagion!   Thanks to Michele Hymel, Eugene Rooney, Rick Valles, and the services of Sucuri Monitoring Systems for all their work.  All of our sites are now monitoring regularly and offensive material removed immediately. 

One of our most favored events is the Festival of the Cranes in Monte Vista, Colorado in the heart of the San Luis Valley.  The National Wildlife Refuge and surrounding open fields provide critical stopover habitat for cranes on their spring and fall migrations.  And, each year on the second weekend in March, we bring a cadre of our educational ambassadors to display at the sumptuous space that they provide for us. It is only here, where we are the only bird group, that we have the luxury of displaying 10 or more birds at one time.

Big birds all lined up!  Ferruginous Hawk, ruphous morph Red-tailed Hawk, Harlan's Red-tailed Hawk, and Rough-legged Hawk.

Big birds all lined up! Ferruginous Hawk, ruphous morph Red-tailed Hawk, Harlan’s Red-tailed Hawk, and Rough-legged Hawk.

The other wonderful thing about all this space is that even our more nervous birds sit calmly atop their display boxes because there is adequate distance  between them and the viewers.  Most of them are happy to perch all day long in this indoor environment.

Harlan, our Harlan's Red-tailed Hawk made his debut at this event in 2013.

Harlan, our Harlan’s Red-tailed Hawk made his debut at this event in 2013.  Image by Mike Quaintance.

During the summer of 2012, we were thrilled to receive a non-releasable Harlan’s Red-tailed Hawk from the Cascades Raptor Center in Eugene, OR.  Already an adult when he was injured, this event is perfect for the nervous fellow.  Harlan’s Hawks are mostly found nesting in the far north and are generally only found this far south during the winter months.  They are classified as a subspecies of Red-tailed Hawk although there is controversy over this matter and some people believe they should be elevated to a full and separate species.

Quemado, our light-morph Red-tailed Hawk was injured when he contacted live electric lines as a juvenile.  He is one of only a handful of birds to survive this type of injury.

Quemado, our light-morph Red-tailed Hawk, was injured when he contacted live electric lines as a juvenile. He is one of only a handful of birds to survive this type of injury.  Image by Mike Quaintance.

Perhaps it was the electrical current that coursed through his body, resulting in the loss of his left wingtip and a toe on his right foot, that makes Quemado (which means burned in Spanish) so nervous.  This beautiful male Red-tailed Hawk WILL NOT sit on a gloved hand for any reason. However, in this arena and many others, he sits contentedly all day long.

Ferrug, our 16 year old male Ferruginous Hawk, is another one of our nervous Nellie types.

Ferrug, our 16 year old male Ferruginous Hawk, is another one of our nervous Nellie types.  Image by Mike Quaintance.

He was found on Rowe Mesa, near Santa Fe New Mexico, alongside a dirt road.  He had suffered a broken wing that was not repairable.  We have never solved the mystery of how it came to be that our Ferrug was struck by one vehicle on a small, two-track rural road where it’s not easy to travel more than 25 MPH and then rescued by another.  He’s not talking either!  A valued member of our education team, he is the only educational  Ferruginous Hawk in New Mexico that we know of.

The Hawks Aloft Team (l-r): Gena Esposito, Education and Outreach Coordinator, Chuck Brandt, co-founder and volunteer, Chellye Porter, volunteer, Lizzie Roberts, educator, Maurice Mackey, volunteer, and Erin Greenlee, Ornithologist.

The Hawks Aloft Team (l-r): Gena Esposito, Education and Outreach Coordinator, Chuck Brandt, co-founder and volunteer, Chellye Porter, volunteer, Lizzie Roberts, educator, Maurice Mackey, volunteer, and Erin Greenlee, Ornithologist.

Here are the human members of our 2013 Monte Vista Crane Festival Team and some of our smaller educational ambassadors (l-r),  female American Kestrel, Burrowing Owl and Eastern Screech-Owl.  Not shown are Ty Sutherland and Mariah Oeser, who drove up early Saturday morning in a snowstorm and then drove back home on snow and icy roads  on Sunday morning. We couldn’t do it without you guys!

Thanks!

 

 

 

 

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Educating Via Live Raptors

Image by David Powell

Diurnal raptors show sexual di-morphism in size.  The females can be up to 1/3 larger than the males, depending on the species.  We love to show comparisons among the species and among individuals whenever possible.  We often take two or more of the same species to an event so folks can ‘really’ see the differences.  At Festival of the Cranes at Bosque del Apache NWR our two Red-tailed Hawks sat side by side on the same perch.  The size difference is clearly visible when they are this close together.  These two birds, Jamaica (female), and Quemado (male) have shared living space in their expansive outdoor flight cage for many years.  Both are the calurus subspecies, or typical Western Red-tailed Hawks, exhibiting the characteristic belly band and dark head typical of this subspecies.

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Help Hawks Aloft Win a new Sienna in the Toyota 100 Cars for Good Program!

Image by Bill D’Ellis

We don’t know much about her early history other than that she hatched in 1989, making her now 23 years old!  Our educational Swainson’s Hawk is a very handsome representative for her species and a huge hit at our educational programs statewide, ranging from pre-kindergarten to adult.  She is one of 25-30 raptors and one American Crown that comprise our feathered staff of avian ambassadors.

But for her, life revolves around parenthood!  Each year, she builds a nest and lays 2-3 infertile eggs that she patiently incubates until we remove them 2-3 months later.  Why do we leave them with her for so long?  Well, because the presence of ‘the’ eggs keeps her in motherhood mode in case any orphaned buteos find themselves in need of a mom!  She has raised babies for many years, of several different species too, Red-tailed, Ferruginous, Harris’ and Swainson’s hawklets!

We are a finalist in the Toyota 100 Cars for Good Program.  Our voting day is July 28!  That’s tomorrow!  Please go to the Toyota website on Facebook and vote for us!  Just to whet your appetite, check out our video about why we want to win a new Toyota Sienna.

Thank you for voting for us!  Please help us spread the word by sharing this with all of your friends and asking them to vote too!!!!

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Become a Citizen Scientist by Monitoring Raptors in your Neighborhood

Adult Cooper's Hawk. © David Powell
No reproduction of any kind without written permission.

It’s the gray bird with the rusty-colored breast and the blood red eyes. She’s the one that greets you each morning when you leave for work with a hearty Kek-kek-kek! She likes that big tree in the park too but spends much of her time hanging out in your back yard. Interestingly, no little songbirds come to your feeder while she is around. She is a Cooper’s Hawk, our most common urban nesting raptor. They seem to be in every neighborhood that has at least one large tree. Each year, they raise 1-4 babies. If you are lucky, you might get to watch them grow up, from little white puff balls to gangly, long-legged youngsters flapping furiously on the side of the nest. Later, you might see them learning to hunt, chasing everything that moves, but rarely catching anything.

Hawks Aloft is conducting a study of the hawks and owls that nest in your neighborhood and also in the Middle Rio Grande bosque. This includes Great Horned Owls, American Kestrels, Swainson’s and Red-tailed Hawks, Screech Owls and Burrowing Owls in addition to Cooper’s Hawks. We are seeking volunteers who are willing to locate and observe nests throughout the breeding season (April – August). These citizen scientists will be responsible for visiting the active nest or nests that are nearby and documenting nesting activity such as when the female is incubating, when young can first be seen, the number of young and the dates that they leave the nest.

We will conduct a free training class for citizen scientists:
Thursday, March 15 6:00 – 8:00 p.m.
New Mexico Department of Game and Fish
3841 Midway Place NE, Albuquerque, NM 87109

We also seek volunteers to work with our education program, assisting with programs to schools in the community and outreach booths geared to the general public. We hold raptor handling training classes at 10:00 a.m. on the third Saturday of each month (March 17, etc.) at our office, located at 6715 Eagle Rock Avenue NE, STE A.

For more information or to register for one or more classes, please call 505-828-9455 and ask for Amelia, Cristy, or Gail.

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In the classroom: the gular flutter

Teaching about the gular flutter © HAI
No reproduction of any kind without written permission.


Amelia and one of our Great Horned Owls demonstrate the gular flutter together. Gular fluttering is a cooling behavior in which birds rapidly flap membranes in the throat to increase evaporation.

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Join Hawks Aloft at the Festival of the Cranes

Sand Hill Cranes © David Powell
No reproduction of any kind without written permission.


Hawks Aloft Lectures and Refuge Tours for Festival of the Cranes

Raptor ID Tour
Wednesday, November 16: 9:00am – 11:30am

Bosque Visitor Center
Join Erik Andersen from Hawks Aloft to scout out some of the many species of raptors that winter in the Rio Grande Valley. We’ll visit public areas of Bosque del Apache and possibly travel some of the back roads of Socorro County in search of rarities such as Harlan’s Red-tailed Hawk and more. Limit 22. Meet at the Visitor Center bus stop.

Raptor ID Lecture
Wednesday, November 16: 1:00pm – 2:30pm

Fidel Center, Socorro
Have you always wondered about the mysterious world of raptor identification and just what that large hawk flying overhead might be? Join Erik Andersen for an enlightening look into the world of raptors and how to distinguish them from one another. Plumage characteristics, season, behavior and habitat all provide clues to their identity. Thanks to the wildlife photographers that donate their work to Hawks Aloft, this program promises to be a visual art show. Limit 50.


Songbirds of the Rio Grande Valley
Friday, November 18: 9:00am – 10:30am

Fidel Center, Socorro
Have you ever seen a yellow-billed cuckoo? Or heard the hauntingly beautiful song of the hermit thrush? Did you know that it is possible to identify some birds by the sound of their feet scratching in the leaves? Some of the habitats of the riparian woodland along the river support incredibly high densities of birdlife, from common species to seldom seen or heard rarities. Other areas support tragically low numbers. Hawks Aloft’s Trevor Fetz will show some amazing photos and share fascinating information about the many birds found here and how they adapt to an ever-changing environment. Limit 50.

Life and Times of Rio Grande Raptors
Friday, November 18: 3:00pm – 4:30pm

Fidel Center, Socorro
The sandhill crane and the golden eagle in a life and death encounter; fledgling Cooper’s hawks and American crows forming a juvenile pack; Swainson’s hawks feasting on bats; burrowing owls and Ferruginous hawks sharing the same prairie dog towns: both predators but one also prey. Erik Andersen and volunteers from Hawks Aloft will share real life stories and fascinating life histories of some of the raptors that call New Mexico home. They’ll bring several of their live educational raptors so you can get up close views and photographs, too.

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