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Albuquerque, NM 87184
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Hawks Aloft Blog

Building Better Futures for Birds, Linemen, and Customers

Photo by Aaron Dailey

Photo by Aaron Dailey

Earlier this month the Farmington Electric Utility System partnered with a number of other agencies to successfully relocate existing nests of Osprey near Navajo Dam and create safer artificial nesting sites. The project stands to create a ripple of positive effects—successfully creating a safer environment for birds and humans, as well as allowing for better service to be delivered to subscribers throughout the area. Below, environmental scientist Aaron Dailey of Farmington Electric Utility System unpacks the importance of this project.

How did you come to this project?

Dailey: We have been seeing an increase in Osprey breeding pairs coming in to the Navajo Dam area and trying to build nests on FEUS (Farmington Electric Utility System) energized powerlines … It has been difficult to remove nests [and] reduce the birds’ and human linemens’ risk associated with dealing with these large nests.  Pole fires have become a frequent problem due to [them].  We had one platform installed at the base of Navajo Dam, so last year, we decided to get a wholesale project going in earnest to prevent Osprey from building nests on FEUS power poles and associated equipment. We strategically planned the locations to be more attractive and higher up than the existing nests in hopes [of] luring the birds to the alternative platforms.

Working with Navajo Dam State Parks, USBR (US Bureau of Reclamation), and NMDGF (NM Department of Game and Fish) we were able to set up a well-coordinated project plan and execute this plan prior to the migratory Osprey returning in spring 2017.

Photo by Lindsay Balmer

Photo by Lindsay Balmer

What were your specific concerns when it came to these birds and their choice of nest?

Will the Osprey prefer the alternative platforms and cease building nests on FEUS poles/equipment?

Will this increase the population of Osprey such that new breeding pairs that survive and reproduce [will] be an issue down the road?  What is the carrying capacity and did we plan the proper amount of alternative platform locations to provide for this?

Can we maintain the continued level of inter-agency cooperation to monitor and prevent Osprey from building nests on FEUS poles and ensure they nest on the alternative platforms?

We also ensured that the platforms and materials used will withstand several decades of use.

What was the process like from surveying until completion?

It took about a year from start to completion. This was mostly [to] ensure that all agency needs were met and approvals through all agencies were obtained.  A detailed project plan was provided, conference calls were planned and conducted, site surveys were done, then the big event–where we showed all the FEUS management, agency stakeholders, representatives, and [other] interested parties how we were constructing these platforms–occurred on March 9, 2017.  Everyone got to help build one [and] felt a sense of accomplishment and inclusion, [as well as gained an understanding of] how sturdy and well-built these platforms are.

The USBR wanted to ensure that they could continue to perform dam maintenance activities.  At first, the USBR did not want any platforms installed in the Primary Jurisdiction Area because they felt that they had been admonished one time by USFWS as they were performing maintenance activities too close to an Osprey platform.  Through discussion with USFWS PhD level biologists and other agency members, the USBR allowed for two alternative platforms to be installed in the Primary Jurisdiction Area, as this was agreed by all to be the best management practice here.

Photo by Aaron Dailey

Photo by Aaron Dailey

How do both birds and humans stand to benefit from this project?

This will reduce the birds’ risk of being electrocuted.  They will be able to have nests that will not be removed once they take to the alternative platforms.  FEUS ensures compliance by not moving nests once these nests are active, so pole fires are less of a concern at this point.  Also, FEUS linemen will not have to risk going up and battling pole fires, risking their safety by going up … to remove old nests, etc.

The strategically placed nest platforms can be viewed easily by the public at a distance, which should interest birders that visit NM State Parks.  One alternative nest platform is located right by the Navajo Dam Marina Visitors Center.

It is a win-win for all.

What do you think was particularly exemplary about this mitigation?

The level of cooperation from State Parks, NM Department of Game and Fish, US Fish and Wildlife Service, and the US Bureau of Reclamation was outstanding.  We were able to pool our resources in order to make this mitigation a success and save money along the way.  State parks was able to do the cultural surveys, and USBR was able to the environmental assessment, and FEUS was able to donate the labor and platform hardware in order to save money, time, and effort overall.

What is the current status of these nests?

We have six alternative Osprey platforms installed and ready for Ospreys to inhabit.  Where there were existing nests on FEUS powerlines, these have been removed and placed on the new alternative Osprey platforms.

Photo by Aaron Dailey

Photo by Aaron Dailey

What do you hope others stand to learn from your work on this project, and in other similar projects?

That through cooperation and collaboration these projects are possible and everyone wins, especially the birds.

For more background on this project, check out the coverage provided by the Farmington Daily Times below or download a PDF of the article here!


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Maggie Grimason is a senior editor & educator at Hawks Aloft. 

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Walk Softly: Free at Last!

Once in a while a really nice thing happens and I was fortunate to share in one particular instance’s successful conclusion. In mid-December in Ontario, Canada, Scugog Councillor Betty Somerville and her husband Len were driving on Simcoe Street north of Port Perry and noticed a large bird, obviously in distress, on the side of the road. As they watched, the bird flopped around in the ditch, clearly injured, so Len cautiously approached the bird and placed a coat over it to calm it. Wild birds can be very stressed when injured, so it is critical to first decide if you can catch it without causing further harm or if you should seek help from a professional first. Due to the location of the bird near a busy highway, as well as the remoteness of the location, Len and Betty decided to try the rescue. They knew they needed to act fast as the injuries appeared severe, so they drove to the Scugog Animal Hospital, where Erin Forget, a registered veterinary technician, examined the bird. Clear signs of trauma were noted and the bird appeared weak, spastic, and had trouble holding its head and wings in place. After some preliminary x-rays, it was confirmed that the bones were undamaged–lucky! Soft tissue damage and trauma could be dealt with, but not at the vet clinic.

So, the bird was carefully bundled up and sent off to Pefferlaw, where Gail Lenters of Shades of Hope Wildlife Refuge, a privately run wildlife rehabilitation center, and Dr. Sherry Cox of the National Wildlife Centre in Caledon East, took over the care. Their examination and x-rays likewise confirmed that the bird didn’t have any broken bones but was traumatized, had suffered severe bruising and exhibited some neurological signs of head trauma, but no permanent harm was expected. Slight bleeding in the eye and an inability to perch added to the treatment considerations. The hawk was very thin, which is often noted in young birds which haven’t learned how to hunt effectively. Administering fluids, anti-inflammatories, food (cut up into bite-size morsels), TLC, and patience showed rewards, and in a few days the bird was eating well and starting the long road to recovery. Time and care would heal the bird for its eventual release.

The young Red-tailed Hawk in flight after being released. Photo by Geoff Carpentier

The young Red-tailed Hawk in flight after being released. Photo by Geoff Carpentier

Once Gail was satisfied that the damage had been repaired, the swelling had subsided, balance re-established, and the bird was gaining weight, rehabilitation began in a small outdoor cage where the hawk would learn to use its wings again and regain strength. From here it was transferred to Sandy Pines Wildlife Centre in Napanee, where Sue Meech took over the rehab. A large flight pen allowed the hawk time and space to hunt and gain full wing strength. After about two weeks, back he went to Pefferlaw for the final stages of treatment and then back to Betty and Len. Wow–what a journey!

The rehabbed Red-tailed awaits release in Ontario, Canada. Photo by Geoff Carpentier.

The rehabbed Red-tailed awaits release in Ontario, Canada. Photo by Geoff Carpentier.

On February 20th, I was invited by Betty and her husband to share in the release of the bird—now confirmed to be an immature male Red-tailed Hawk—at their Scugog farm, near where the bird had been found in December. Resting on the bed of their pick-up, the hawk cowered in the transport cage for a few moments as we patiently waited for it to realize that freedom was at hand. Soon it took the cue and flew out of the cage, circled over our heads, panicked some pigeons on the barn and then tried to land in the wild for the first time in almost two months. But the landing was flop. Heading straight for the barn, it tried to land on the roof, but it was a metal roof and it was slippery! Instead of perching safely and then leisurely taking time to get its bearings, panic set in as the hawk slid down the slick surface, as if on a toboggan. Realizing the peril, we watched in anxious anticipation but the hawk took care of his own fate and lifted off, circled again and this time landed in a tree. As it preened, it searched the area for landmarks it knew. In the distance, another Red-tailed Hawk flew past, not seeing our little guy, but he saw it! Maybe, if it is a female, he will have a family of his own this year. I suspect the first lesson he will teach his young is to avoid those big shiny cars that can hurt you. Perhaps the second will be: Don’t land on metal roofs! Thank you so much to Betty, Len, Erin, Sue, Sherry, and Gail for caring so much about our wild things! All these organizations rely on donations and public funding to support the great work they do. Please consider supporting them when deciding on your gift-giving choices.

A bad place to perch. Photo by Geoff Carpentier.

A bad place to perch. Photo by Geoff Carpentier.

As a side note, please remember that your good intentions may not always be the best option. If you find a wild bird or mammal don’t always presume it needs your help. A baby bird fallen from the nest may be just fine if left alone. Injured animals on the other hand need help, and often the best action you can take is to call someone like Gail, Sherry, Sue, or Erin to seek advice and then decide what to do. If harm is imminent then you should act as Len and Betty did, but always be cautious in your zeal. Never ever try to keep wild animals as pets. It is illegal without special permits and never advantageous to the animal. Their place is in the wild. Whatever you do, if you find an animal in distress, thank you so much for even caring enough to try to help.

Red-tailed Hawk - rehab. bird released in Scugog Twp. 2017-02-20 4-09-27 PM 2692x2767

At home again in the wild. Photo by Geoff Carpentier.

For more information or if you need help with a wild animal:

Shades of Hope Wildlife Refuge – www.shadesofhope.ca

National Wildlife Centre – www.nationalwildlifecentre.ca

Sandy Pines Wildlife Centre – www.sandypineswildlife.org

On another quick note, thanks to one of my readers I was alerted of a Great Gray Owl here in Durham–finally! Please keep me posted on other owl sightings!


Geoff Carpentier is a published author, ecotour guide and environmental consultant. Visit Geoff online at www.avocetnatureservices.com and on LinkedIn and Facebook.

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A Walk through Ridgecrest

I recently had the pleasure of housesitting in Southeast Albuquerque, near Nob Hill in the Ridgecrest area. A far cry from where I reside in East Downtown, this neighborhood is comparatively lush with trees, birdfeeders, sprinkler systems and birds. In my neighborhood, the list of bird species that I’ve tallied is fairly minimal—mostly species of dove, namely Rock and Mourning. During my time—and the many walks I took with the dog in my care, Pegasus—I was pleased to spot a few common birds that I don’t often see in my neighborhood.
I was happy to see among these a Downy Woodpecker. As Pegasus and I ambled through a pocket park (of which there are many in Ridgecrest) I heard the staccato cheeps of the bird less than four feet over my head in the low bough of a small tree. Easy to identify, with their checkered black and white wings and a flash of red on the head, I was thrilled to get a close look at the woodpecker before it no longer tolerated the presence of a human and an excitable dog, and flew off.
Downy Woodpecker

Downy Woodpecker

As we strolled down the sidewalk of a residential street, I noticed movement in the bushes that bordered an adobe wall that separated the street from someone’s yard. Pausing, and carefully looking into the scrubby foliage, I saw a round-chested gray bird with yellow eyes flitting about, and then pausing to anxiously look back at me. It was a Curve-billed Thrasher, which I have had occasion to see in the foothills, but not often in a more urban environment. The most widespread of western thrashers, this species can make their home in a variety of terrain, which explains its welcome presence in many a yard throughout the city.
Curved-billed Thrasher, Image by Doug Brown

Curved-billed Thrasher, Image by David Powell

Ridgecrest, like East Downtown, is not without its doves, though I spotted a larger population of White-winged Doves in Ridgecrest than other varieties (though I heard many Mourning Doves, too). These lovely square-tailed doves, with perfect scallops of white along the wing edge perched above Pegasus and I along powerlines and in high trees. Increasingly common across the west, you can find these birds
not only in urban environments, but also in open woods and desert thickets.
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American Robin, Image by Gail Garber

This neighborhood also boasted a lot of American Robins—which are always a pleasure to hear in the morning—and American Crows. Common as these two are in nearly any neighborhood (literally any neighborhood—just look at a range map for these two species) both resilient birds are fun to watch as they make their way through the world. I suppose that’s the joy of birding in your own neighborhood,
wherever that may be. A walk down local streets, taking time to pause and appreciate what’s common, may present a moment of realization of how amazing it is to coexist so closely—in our own yards and neighborhoods—with such diverse and interesting species of animal.
What birds have you seen in your neighborhood lately?

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Maggie Grimason is a writer and editor at Hawks Aloft.

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All About the Christmas Bird Count

The Christmas Bird Count (also abbreviated as CBC) is the longest running citizen science project in the United States. Sponsored by the National Audubon Society, the count is performed annually near the end of December. Many bird experts and aficionados, as well as those of us who simply find ourselves dumbfounded and staring upwards quite regularly, commit to the count each year—but who started it? And why?

The first Christmas Bird Count took place in 1900. It was born in response to a burgeoning environmental movement, but also as a reaction to a noticeably dwindling number of birds. This population decline may have been related to a strong tradition of bird hunting for both sport and sustenance. In fact, prior to 1900, there had been a long-running tradition of going on a bird hunt every Christmas day. (This was known as a “Side Hunt” for some obscure reason.) Frank Chapman, an official at the American Museum of Natural History and an early member of the Audubon Society dreamed that instead of using all that man power for something destructive, like hunting, why not arm people with binoculars and do something productive, like a bird count?

A portrait of ornithologist Frank Chapman, taken for the American Museum Journal

A portrait of ornithologist Frank Chapman, taken for the American Museum Journal

Chapman worked hard to advocate for the Christmas Bird Count and, that year, 27 birders headed out into the field on Christmas morning. From that first bird count, the tradition has held strong, and today, a huge database of information exists from the annual Christmas Bird Counts. Participants from all over the world have joined in, and now these population gauges guide important conservation decisions and research, contributing to the protection of both birds and their habitat in a huge array of regions.

In Albuquerque, there are many established ways to get involved with the bird count.  For example, Valle de Oro National Wildlife Refuge will be holding one on December 17 from 7am-4pm. More information on that here.  The Albuquerque Count will take place on December 18.  You can also find details on how to participate independently, or look for more groups in your area on the National Audubon Society’s Christmas Bird Count webpage.

Photograph by Frank Chapman, from his book "Camps and Cruises of an American Ornithologist," published in 1908

Photograph by Frank Chapman, from his book “Camps and Cruises of an American Ornithologist,” published in 1908


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Maggie Grimason is a writer and educator at Hawks Aloft.

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Sandhill Cranes Return Once Again

Image by Steve Vender

Image by Steve Vender

I remember the first Sandhill Crane I ever saw vividly—it was the first winter I lived in New Mexico, nearly six years ago now—near the Rio Grande on south Fourth Street. It was an amazing sight, and continues to be. Second in size only to the Whooping Crane, how could anxious watchers ever cease to be impressed these large, graceful birds? Their gurgling call and shadows cast over the wintry high desert is a sure indication of the changing seasons; without fail, they return year in and year out to New Mexico. Though these large, red-capped bird dependably herald the changing seasons, there is still much to learn about their migration patterns, especially in the face of a warming planet.

Image by Steve Vender

Image by Steve Vender

In New Mexico, the Rocky Mountain Sandhill Crane population’s migration habits are being closely studied by students and researchers at New Mexico State University. As the birds respond to changes in climate that have created water scarcity and loss of wetlands (meaning less habitat) they have taken to traveling back and forth between several wintering areas in New Mexico, in order to find more opportunities for foraging. This is just one observable difference in the behavior of cranes responding to a changing world, and a clear indication of the importance of this kind of research, which reveals essential details about survival rates.

Image by Steve Vender

Image by Steve Vender

With a range that encompasses distant places like Alaska all the way up to Siberia, these stately birds make their way south each autumn to winter in places like New Mexico, even as far south as the state of Durango in Mexico. Winter flocks usually consist of several nuclear families; Sandhill Cranes mate for life, so these may be comprised of parents, their young, and maybe even “grandchildren.” Typically these loose groups will overnight in shallow waters, and during the day forage for a variety of insects, snails, plants and amphibians.

Image by Steve Vender

Image by Steve Vender

A particularly good place to stand in awe of these impressive birds—one of the most ancient species on Earth—is, of course, at Bosque del Apache. Even if you missed out on the Festival of the Cranes, don’t worry, there are still plenty of months to see Sandhill Cranes; they likely won’t start their departure until March. If you have your heart set on a festival, you can put the Monte Vista Crane Festival in the San Luis Valley of Colorado in your planner for March of 2017. Hawks Aloft will be there! Otherwise, just head out your front door to the Rio Grande bosque and look up, you’re likely to glimpse them near water and hear their trumpeting calls, too.

Image by Steve Vender

Image by Steve Vender


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Maggie Grimason is a writer and educator at Hawks Aloft

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Call for Volunteers!

As we work toward expanding our raptor rescue program to areas in southern New Mexico, in communities like Las Cruces, the need for volunteers to help ensure the wellbeing of raptors of all shapes and sizes is becoming more and more apparent. Raptor rescue coordinators and mitigations experts Emiliano Salazar and Lisa Morgan have already conducted trainings in the Las Cruces area and have equipped a team of local bird-lovers with all the knowledge they need to assess, rescue and transport injured birds in desperate need of attention.

However, Las Cruces is a long drive down I-25 from Albuquerque. Currently, the greatest need that we have in this arena is for transport of these birds from relay points in Socorro and Truth or Consequences to Albuquerque and the expert care of our rehabilitators. If you reside in or around these flashpoint cities, we could use your help!

As a volunteer, you’ll receive recognition in our online newsletter, which is delivered to thousands of bird enthusiasts around the country each and every month. You’ll also receive basic training and the satisfaction that comes with knowing you’ve done some essential work to give an animal the best possible chance at a healthy life.

To get involved as part of our raptor rescue team, contact Raptor Rescue Coordinator Emiliano Salazar at emiliano@hawksaloft.org for details, training dates and more information on how you can help wild birds of prey across New Mexico.

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Flammulated Owl Revelations

flam-2

Photograph by Larry Rimer

“After hearing a female Flammulated Owl on Oso Ridge in 1996 while conducting a Spotted Owl survey, I returned to look for nest sites and found three Flammulated Owl nests in the first three cavities I checked!” David Arsenault explained of one of his first encounters with the small raptor. After that, he was hooked. For eleven years in a row he banded hundreds of Flammulated Owls each season on Oso Ridge, learning about their movements and territoriality. David has transferred his interest in the petite owl to his work for the Plumas Audubon Society in Northern California, where he employs a variety of strategies to learn about the secret life of the species.

The Flammulated Owl is the second smallest owl in North America, after the Elf Owl. These dark-eyed raptors breed in montane forests in western North America before traveling to Mexico to winter. Secretive and quiet, especially when a human is detected in the area, Flammulated Owls were once thought to be rare. Improved research strategies, however, have indicated they are common, though populations are declining overall.

 

David Arsenault in the stud area, photograph by Larry Rimer

David Arsenault in the study area, photograph by Larry Rimer

Since that fateful encounter 20 years ago, David has sought to study the migration patterns of these neotropical migrants with geolocators, genetics, and mark-recapture, as well as resolve questions around mate fidelity, nest site selection and distribution, the impact and use of nest boxes, and the varied effects of forest thinning on Flammulated Owl populations.

David spent a considerable amount of time in New Mexico, studying Flammulated Owls and other bird species for Hawks Aloft. Despite the fact that most of his work is in California these days, it recently took him to the Zuni Mountains in northwestern New Mexico, and he invited Hawks Aloft volunteer and photographer-extraordinaire, Larry Rimer to tag along and encounter this rarely photographed bird. “Other than the almost impassable dirt roads (even [when] dry) and the countless bug bites, it was fantastic,” Larry said about his experience, expounding on the mixed forests and the solitude of these rarely visited mountains.

From 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. every day, the research group—which included university students, as well—checked known cavities and nest boxes, while searching for other possible nesting sites. The group averaged about ten miles on foot daily. Just before nightfall, the group would head out again, setting up mist nets to capture the owls and gather data—their weight, wing size, sex, etc.—before banding and re-releasing them.

flam-3

Photograph by Larry Rimer

 

The trip was a success. “Usually in California, they manage to capture three birds in three weeks,” Larry said. “Here we managed to capture 15 owls in 4 days.” This bodes well for David’s research. “I was concerned that more cavities were being lost to fallen trees and branches each year than were being created by Woodpeckers, so I put up … nest boxes,” David explained. Noting the success of the nest boxes he put up in New Mexico, he continued the project in California, where many were taken over by flying squirrels, but are utilized by Flammulated Owls as well.

In addition to the measureable success of the nest boxes, David’s research has also illuminated the migratory habits of these secretive birds—one of the geolocators fixed to an owl in northern California tracked the bird as far south as Jalisco, Mexico. The research that David is spearheading on the Flammulated Owl isn’t just providing new insights into how they live, but providing rewarding experiences for those who work with the birds, as Larry said, “This was a once in a lifetime learning experience. [I] feel so very lucky to have been allowed to be a part of it.”

Photograph by Larry Rimer

Photograph by Larry Rimer


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Maggie Grimason is a writer and educator at Hawks Aloft 

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A Young Red-tailed Hawk’s Saving Grace

For two years, long-time Hawks Aloft friend and volunteer Larry Rimer monitored a Red-tailed Hawk nest site on the western edge of Rio Rancho, butting up to the escarpment near a network of large, high voltage power lines. When the nest revealed just two nestlings this year—as opposed to three the previous year—Larry paid closer attention to the site, visiting it at least weekly to “marvel at their beauty and study their behaviors,” as he put it.

On one recent auspicious Friday morning, Larry decided to check on the nest for the last time before heading out on a week-long research trip. The chicks “were close to fledging and [I] was hoping to see them fly,” he explained. Yet, when he arrived, only one of the chicks was in the nest. He lingered, observing the remaining nestling, realizing that it was not yet ready to fly, and worrying over what had happened to the missing chick. Maybe it had been predated by a Great Horned Owl?  Larry kept his vigil for more than two hours before deciding to head home. “Just then [I] noticed out of the corner of my eye something fluttering down at the base of one of the huge poles,” he explained. There, mired in the tar applied to the wooden electrical poles to keep them from rotting, was the other young Red-tailed Hawk, his feet and chest stuck in the now hardened tar. The previous day there had been a storm, and Larry’s best guess is that the gusts had knocked the bird from his nest and into harm’s way. “I couldn’t believe my luck in being in the right place, looking in the right direction, at the right time to find him,” Larry said.

The young Red-tailed Hawk stuck in tar. Photo by Larry Rimer.

The young Red-tailed Hawk stuck in tar. Photo by Larry Rimer.

 

The hawk's feet, covered in tar, before cleaning. Photo by Kariana Jones.

The hawk’s feet, covered in tar, before cleaning. Photo by Kariana Jones.

Larry called Hawks Aloft where he was advised to take the bird directly to Petroglyph Animal Hospital. Larry worked patiently under the watchful gaze of the adult Red-tails until the youngster was free. He then transported it Petroglyph, where Dr. Kariana Jones treated the bird for dehydration, and gave him an initial cleaning. Later in the day, the bird was taken to a Hawks Aloft rehabilitator, Jim Battaglia, who, along with Larry, Steve Elkins, Tony Giancola, Gail Garber, and Dean Balmer continued cleaning the bird with mineral oil, Dawn dish detergent, and Goo-Be-Gone.

Photo by Tony Giancola

Photo by Tony Giancola

 

Jim Battaglia hard at work. Photo by Tony Giancola.

Jim Battaglia hard at work. Photo by Tony Giancola.

 

Photo by Tony Giancola

Photo by Tony Giancola

After being thoroughly cleansed of tar, the young hawk recuperated overnight. The following morning Larry, along with his wife Kim, Steve Elkins, Tony Giancola, and others, took the bird back to his nest site and released him. He lingered on the ground before climbing a nearby fence pole, all the while calling for his parents. After a time, the parents showed up with a huge rabbit for breakfast and the young hawk called out joyously. He flew nearly 30 feet to a nearby post, and at that time, Larry left the family to their privacy.

The Red-tailed Hawk just after release. Photo by Tony Giancola.

The Red-tailed Hawk just after release. Photo by Tony Giancola.

 

The hawk's sibling looks on. Photo by Tony Giancola.

The hawk’s sibling looks on. Photo by Tony Giancola.

 

Photo by Tony Giancola

Photo by Tony Giancola

“I’ve had such a strong bond with this raptor, I’ve watched him grown from an egg to an almost flight ready hawk … It just couldn’t have turned out any better, with so many things falling into place to allow him to survive and be released back to his home nest,” Larry said of the experience. “It gives me hope for future rescues. I am one very lucky guy to have experienced this and [I] wouldn’t trade it for the world.”


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Maggie Grimason is a writer and educator at Hawks Aloft

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Raptor Vocalizations

We’ve all seen and heard it. In commercials for an all-American truck, in movies about the wild, wild West. All too often producers depict a soaring bird, frequently an eagle or even a vulture, and tracked over the shot is the call of a Red-tailed Hawk.

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Image by Larry Rimer

Raptors are thought of as strong and tenacious animals, but that doesn’t always mean they have the vocalizations to match—the ubiquitous cries of the Red-tailed Hawk being the exception. Most raptors in fact have a weaker, high-pitched call. For example, here is a common vocalization of the fierce Bald Eagle:

Image by Doug Brown

Image by Doug Brown

You may think that, if the Bald Eagle doesn’t have a sharp, robust cry, then surely the Golden Eagle does. However, you may not find this to be true either. Take a listen:

Most of the studies done on bird vocalizations emphasize, unsurprisingly, songbirds. Oscine birds (a subset of Passeriformes) include the Brown Thrasher, Hermit Thrushes, and Starlings who illustrate great range with their complex voice boxes. These birds often emit sounds ranging from buzzes and clicks to trilling and warbling.

Birds of prey’s calls don’t tend toward the musicality displayed by songbirds, but are still interesting, varied, and quite often beautiful. Take for example this lovely, common call from the Red-shouldered Hawk:

Frequently film makers will even use a shot of circling Turkey Vultures paired with the cry of a Red-tailed Hawk. However, Turkey Vultures are largely silent birds, and vocalize primarily when very agitated and then it sounds a great deal more like a hiss, even a roar, then a cry.

Image by Doug Brown

Image by Doug Brown

 

Surely no one expects a Hollywood movie to truly reflect reality, and the objective of truth in advertising is often overlooked. A quick review of raptor vocalizations illustrates these points in a simple, often funny way. The next time you hear the cry of a Red-tailed Hawk emitting from a television or movie screen, take a moment to quietly fact-check the content of what you’re seeing, or better yet, head outside to find the authentic music of raptors and songbirds across New Mexico.


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Maggie Grimason is a writer and educator at Hawks Aloft 

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If You Find a Baby Bird

Robin Fledgling 6-12

A Robin fledgling discovered by Hawks Aloft Executive Director, Gail Garber

As spring progresses and the promise of summer takes shape in the form of longer, warmer days, a flurry of activity is taking place overhead. Birds are breeding and nesting, and soon, all the effort of courtship and nest building will come to fruition as a new generation hatches. For outdoor enthusiasts and bird lovers—especially those who have taken the time to provide a habitat for local birds in their yards—it is not uncommon to find a young bird, seemingly helpless and marooned. Yet, weak and clumsy as they may seem, it is a rare occasion when these youngsters need our help.

Frequently, young birds found on the ground are recent fledglings. This means they are just testing out their flight skills and it is not uncommon for them to end up grounded. If the bird appears to be mostly fully feathered, usually with short tail feathers, able to hop around and take short flights, it is likely a fledgling. If there is no looming danger to the young bird, leave it alone. Fledglings, while taking their first flights and gaining independence, are still in the care of their parents who are likely nearby. Keep pets inside and allow the bird to find its own way home. If this is an impossibility, perch the bird in a shrub or the boughs of a low tree.

Young Ferruginous Hawks

Young Ferruginous Hawks

Occasionally a nestling may fall from, or be pushed from the nest before it is ready to fledge. If the bird is naked, or with very few feathers, it is safe to assume it is a nestling. If uninjured, take some time to try to spot the nest. If possible, simply place the nestling back in its home. The pervasive myth that if a young bird is handled by a human its parents will notice the scent and abandon the young is just that—a myth. If the nest can’t be located, you may engineer a small, makeshift nest from something like a berry basket or another small container with a few channels for drainage in the bottom. Line the container with soft materials and then secure it to a tree as near as possible to where the bird was found.

There are some exceptions to these general rules, however. If you find a bird, any bird, that has been injured by a cat, call a local wildlife rehabilitator. Almost always, a bird that has been attacked by a cat will need antibiotics. At Hawks Aloft we have a 24-hour raptor rescue hotline for birds of prey, and Wildlife Rescue, Inc. is also an option for birds and other animals that need rehabilitation. In addition, if the young bird is quite evidently injured (i.e. bleeding, wings drooped unevenly) or if you are absolutely certain that the bird’s mother is dead, secure the youngster in a warm, dry, and dark space and contact a wildlife rehabilitator immediately.

Young Northern Harriers

Young Northern Harriers

The impulse to help the animals we love is strong, but sometimes that care and concern isn’t in the best interest of those we seek to help. Often, the best thing we can do for the young birds we discover grounded is to resist the urge to intervene. If you have any doubts or questions about the appropriate course of action if you’ve found a baby bird, don’t hesitate to contact Hawks Aloft or a another local wildlife rehabilitator.


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Maggie Grimason is a writer and educator at Hawks Aloft

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