Southeastern Kestrel Management on Fort Polk

September 10, 2013 by  
Filed under Features

In 1992, Fort Polk banded its first juvenile kestrels, which were from a nest located in an enlarged RCW cavity. The kestrel nest tree was within 100 feet of an RCW nest tree, which indicates that RCWs and SAKs prefer the same type of nesting habitat. Both the RCW and kestrel had successful nests and fledged chicks.

The SAK often hunts over large openings in the forest. Fort Polk has a large number of openings in the forest, called firing ranges that are utilized by the SAK for hunting. Our most successful nest boxes are located on the edge or near firing ranges. Another favorite habitat on Fort Polk is Longleaf pine seedtree stands that have approximately 20 mature pine trees per acre. On Fort Polk, we thin our pine stands down to a basal area of 60, sometimes lower, and we have a three-year rotational prescribed fire program. Not only does this habitat management benefit the SAK and RCW, it also benefits other species of concern including Bachman’s and Henslow’s Sparrows, and the rare Louisiana Pine Snake.

Since 1993, we have placed 20-25 SAK nest boxes on Fort Polk. The boxes are placed 20 feet above the ground on pine trees. It is very important that a snag or telephone lines are located near the nest boxes; the SAK uses them for perching and hunting. Our nest boxes usually have 5-6 successful nests a year, producing 3-4 young each. In addition to our nest boxes, we usually find 3-6 nests located in natural cavities each year. Nearly all the nests are found in enlarged RCW cavities located in living or dead cavity trees. All chicks are banded with a U.S. Fish and Wildlife aluminum band and a combination of color bands. There is a lot of competition for the nest boxes from other bird species and squirrels. We usually have more Eastern Screech Owl nests than SAK nests. We have also found Great-crested Flycatchers, Tufted Titmice, and Eastern Bluebirds nesting in our boxes. If we find other bird species using the boxes, we leave them alone, but Fox Squirrels and Southern Flying Squirrels are removed. Flying squirrels are a big problem. It is not uncommon to find 4-8 flying squirrels occupying a nest box. The number one nest predator on nesting SAKs is the Texas Rat Snake, a great tree climber. We have found adults, young, and eggs consumed by the rat snake. To limit predation, we place aluminum sheeting (4 ft. wide) at the base of each nest box tree. The slick aluminum prevents the snake from climbing the trees and reaching the nest boxes.

With proper management, SAK populations should remain stable and possibly increase in the future on federal lands, including Fort Polk and National Forest Service lands. It is critical that regular prescribed fires and timber thinning continue into the future. Not only is this necessary for maintaining healthy populations of SAK, but for other rare species that share its habitat.

Contributed by: Kenneth Moore

Also by Kenneth Moore: Southeastern American Kestrel in Louisiana

Explore Berkshire’s Beale Wildlife Park

May 7, 2013 by  
Filed under Features

Referred to locally as “The Peacock Farm”, Beale Wildlife Park and Gardens was founded in 1956 as a private park by Gilbert Beale – a collector and breeder of peacocks, many of which still roam freely in the park today. Located alongside the River Thames between the villages of Lower Basildon and Pangbourne in Berkshire, England, Beale Wildlife Park offers a spectacular venue for a day of family fun, with landscaped gardens and woodland, children’s play areas and an impressive collection of farm animals, small exotic animals and a variety of birds, including some that are threatened with extinction, such as the Bali Starling, Green Peafowl and Mountain Peacock Pheasant.

The Bali Starling, also known as Bali Mynah and Rothschild’s Mynah (Leucopsar rothschildi) is a medium sized bird, almost completely white in color apart from black tips on the wings and rail. It has blue skin around its eyes, with grey-colored legs and a yellow bill. There is very little difference between the male and female. As the name suggests, the Bali Starling is endemic to the Island of Bali in Indonesia. It is the official fauna symbol of Bali and is featured on Indonesia’s coinage.

Found in the tropical forests of Southeast Asia, the Green Peafowl (Pavo muticus) is a strikingly beautiful bird. In breeding season, the male develops its colorful upper tail which extends up to two meters when fanned out and is decorated with ocelli “eye spots”. Outside of breeding season, the male and female are similar in appearance, but nonetheless still eye-catching with their iridescent coloring. The Mountain Peacock-Pheasant (Polyplectron inopinatum) is a blackish-brown pheasant with long graduated tail feathers and small ocelli. Endemic to the Malay Peninsula’s mountain forests, the numbers of these attractive and elusive birds are dwindling primarily due to habitat loss.

In addition to viewing these interesting birds, visitors to Beale Park will enjoy the many themed aviaries scattered around the venue, including the Madagascan aviary and the owlery, as well as African, Australian and Asian aviaries.

The zoological collection at the park has a number of unusual inhabitants, including Tamarinds, Meerkats, Capybaras, Wallabies and Arapawa Goats. The Beale Railway takes visitors on a tour of the park, while the play area keeps the little ones busy and the on-site restaurant provides refreshments. Be sure to check out the new Pirate Island at the park. Certainly, an outing to Beale Park Wildlife Park and Gardens offers an educational and entertaining outing for the whole family.

Create a Safe Haven for Birds in Your Garden

November 20, 2012 by  
Filed under Features

As urban areas become more and more built up, birds and wildlife are increasingly being forced out of their natural habitat. Gardeners can do much to alleviate the plight of birds by putting some thought into planning a garden that will make their feathered friends feel at home. This need not be complicated, and certainly need not be costly, as even a small bird-friendly spot in an urban garden can be a life-sustaining oasis that will more than reward the gardener for his, or her, efforts.

In planning a bird-friendly garden there are a number of points to bear in mind, one of the most important being to provide a clean source of water in a spot where birds have an easy escape route should they be disturbed by a predator, such as the neighborhood tabby. Recent statistics published by the RSPB noted that it is conservatively estimated that cats in the United Kingdom catch up to 55 million birds each year, with the most frequent victims being house sparrows, blue tits, blackbirds and starlings. A birdbath on a stand, placed beneath a tree, allows birds a view of their surroundings while they splash in the water, while giving them a quick escape route into overhanging branches should they feel threatened. Spiny and prickly plants such as holly can be grown around and beneath feeders and bird baths to discouraged cats from lurking there. Ensure that the bird bath is free of algae and filled with fresh water.

When choosing what to plant in your bird-friendly garden, it is best to go indigenous, as this will provide local birds with what they need, when they need it. Of course, birds are very adaptable and will make use of exotic plants as well, if it suits their needs. A good garden center in your area should be able to advise you on what to plant to attract birds, and a mix of indigenous and exotic plants can work well. Give consideration to including plants to provide food such as seeds, nuts, fruit and berries in all seasons, nesting materials and shelter. Food can always be supplemented with strategically placed feeders and nesting boxes are often welcome.

It should go without saying that pesticides should never be used in a bird-friendly garden. Given enough time, nature will take care of its own pests, and until ecological balance is reached, gardeners may need to put some extra effort into controlling pests organically and removing them by hand. Birds are great at keeping creepy-crawlies in check, so invite them into your garden and enjoy their company, while they enjoy the safe haven you have provided.

Solitary Eagle’s Nest Discovered in Belize:Part 2

August 13, 2012 by  
Filed under Features

To travel horizontally, a static soaring bird must descend and subsequently ascend using convective currents as an elevator, often in a slow cyclic pattern. The bird will enter a rising column of air at the bottom, ascend to the upper limits of the thermal, and then set its wings in a shallow, descending glide slope to move a linear distance. When the bird exhausts the momentum of its descent or nears the ground, it must intersect the bottom of another thermal to gain height and repeat the process. A bird that travels in this manner may have to work many thermals in succession in order to travel great distances across the landscape. Thus, soaring birds are keenly aware of the location, timing and prospect of air currents in their home territories; they will often use the same geological features or localities known to produce such currents and exploit them as “aerial highways”.

Two primary air currents used by the male Solitary Eagle–one an updraft and the other a downdraft–straddled the Orange-breasted Falcon hack site on opposite sides. The hack site was positioned on a peninsular, highland ridge, directly overlooking an unnamed river at the height of 2,000+ vertical feet, not far from Thousand Foot Falls, a popular tourist attraction. The eagle would ascend from the north, often carrying prey, soar directly over the hack site, and then descend the opposite side to the south in order to intersect another thermal further down the river valley. This initial descent, so near to the observation blind, gave one the impression that the eagle was “landing” in the forest directly below the hack site. Such a conclusion would be a mistake and is precisely the reason this particular Solitary Eagle’s nest went undiscovered for nearly a decade. Previous raptor biologists had erroneously searched for the nest in the forested slopes of this southern drop zone.

Only a person who could correctly interpret the eagle’s flight patterns would be able to ascertain a final descending glide into a nest. When a soaring bird is truly landing, it will stiffly set its wings, rotate the feet forward, angle the head and body toward the intended perch and glide in a fast, direct fashion. It will not ascend lazily into the air again. Once the general landing area of the food-carrying male eagle was defined, it was a simple matter of setting up surveillance points along its route of travel to pinpoint the nest location. The Peregrine Fund attendants manned three observation points that intercepted the eagle’s trajectory for four days before locating the actual nest tree.

The male Solitary Eagle was first seen at the hack site on 7 June 2011, the day the attendants arrived to prepare the hack tower for the Orange-breasted Falcon release. Regular sightings occurred at the hack site every two- three days thereafter between 1000 and 1500 hours, when wind and thermal activity was at its peak. After two weeks of continuous observation, surveillance points were marked along the eagle’s known flight path by 27 June 2011, and sightings began to occur daily, as the attendants drew closer and closer to the nest. Roni Martinez was invited by the author at that time to assist in the search–after the general nest location and flight path were known–to help the hack site attendants monitor surveillance points with an “extra set of eyes”. As a native conservation officer, Roni was also needed to negotiate passage through a military weapons training area adjacent to the suspected nest site, as it was decidedly foolish for American foreigners to be caught trespassing across this dangerous, and possibly restricted, zone without permission.

Continued in Part 3

Article contributed by Stacia A. Novy

Photo: The Peregrine Fund Crew

Caption: The “Solitary Eagle Search Team” employed by The Peregrine Fund,
Boise, Idaho

Solitary Eagle’s Nest Discovered in Belize:Part 3

August 13, 2012 by  
Filed under Features

On the morning of discovery, Stacia, Matt, Audrey and Roni hiked across the military exercise area, northwest of Baldy Beacon, to access a new observation point that was closest to the predicted nest location. Roni brought along a spotting scope, while Stacia draped a trusted, high-powered 10 X 50 Swarovski binocular about her neck. The Peregrine Fund owned a Zeiss spotting scope, but theirs was needed for observations back at the Orange-breasted Falcon release site, which Camille and Jon were scheduled to manage that day. Therefore, Roni had to bring his own scope for use in the field, as the attendants’ scope was not available. The three hack site attendants indicated the hillside of greatest interest to Roni: a thickly forested slope that had shown the greatest amount of eagle activity while under observation and, thus, most likely to contain the nest. Roni scanned the slope with the spotting scope and just happened to see the male Solitary Eagle swoop in carrying a yellow snake at that precise moment. Roni later exclaimed that he “never would have seen the eagle against the dark backdrop of trees if the snake hadn’t been so brightly colored”.

However, the scope had so narrow an angle of view that the position of any tree on such a distant hillside could not be determined. All Roni could see was the tree, and the tree was so far away that it could not be seen with the naked eye. Roni wrung his hands and nervously paced back and forth in the field, shouting, “Don’t touch the scope! Nobody touch the scope!” Even the slightest tilt of the lens would have offset the view and the marked tree would have been lost in a fuzzy sea of green. So, the author performed an old falconry trick: she calmly placed her wide-angled binocular on top of the telescope lens barrel to view the nest tree with all the distinctive landmarks around it. With those features in mind, the author was able to lead Matt and Roni through the rough, forested terrain until they got close enough to see the actual nest.

This same method works with trained falconry birds as they will tighten their body conformation and fixate their eyes on quarry before launching an attack, most likely to triangulate a position. Before the hunting hawk flies off the fist, the falconer can place a binocular on the bird’s head to see what it is looking at. Since birds-of-prey possess binocular vision–as do humans and manufactured optics–the technique works. It is commonly used throughout the falconry community both in North America and abroad. Audrey remained behind at the final observation point, but watched the three others progress to the nest tree through the spotting scope. When the nest was finally found, the good news was radioed back to Jon and Camille, as they were a part of the original “Peregrine Fund Solitary Eagle Search Team”, but could not participate on the day of discovery.

As The Peregrine Fund/World Center for Birds of Prey was the first organization to document the presence of Solitary Eagles in the region so long ago, it seems a fitting conclusion that subsequent employees of that same organization confirmed the first breeding record for the country of Belize 22 years later. Following on the heels of this phenomenal find, the South American and North American classification committees of the American Ornithologists’ Union recently agreed to subsume the Solitary Eagle’s old genus Harpyhaliaetus, into the genus Buteogallus. Recent DNA studies have confirmed that the Solitary Eagle is so closely related to the Common Black Hawk (Buteogallus anthracinus) and Great Black Hawk (Buteogallus urubitinga) that reclassification is warranted.

Editor’s Note: This is not the first time the author has located a rare raptor. In 1996, while working for The Peregrine Fund on an Aplomado Falcon repatriation project in Laguna Atascosa National Wildlife Refuge (NWR) in Texas, she discovered a Collared Forest-Falcon (Micrastur semitorquatus). It was the first record of that tropical species for Laguna Atascosa NWR and was documented in their archives.

Article contributed by Stacia A. Novy

Photo Title: Peregrine Fund Vehicle
Caption: “The author returns after a successful day of searching for the
Solitary Eagle’s nest”

Birding Along the Great Rift Valley Flyway in Israel

July 31, 2012 by  
Filed under Features

Located at the point where three continents meet, Israel has reported sightings of more than 500 species of birds, many of which stop-over during their migration between Europe/Western Asia to Africa along the Great Rift Valley flyway. So, a recent announcement by the Israeli government that it will be investing NIS 37 million (US$10 million) in developing a network of centers along the migration route is welcome news for birding enthusiasts. Three existing bird watching centers are to be upgraded – Kfar Rupin, Eilat and Ma’agan – with four new centers planned for Ein Gedi, Hatzeva, Lotan and Sde Boker, as per the proposal put together by the Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel (SPNI) and Tel Aviv University. The project, which will include a web-accessible computerized bird monitoring database, aims to attract up to 100,000 bird watchers to the region annually, while raising environmental awareness and promoting education and research.

An estimated 500 million birds stop-over in Israel during their autumn and spring migrations, between mid-March and mid-May and November to December. The area of Galilee, with its kibbutz farms and fishponds located on the banks of the Jordan River, hosts migratory birds that take a rest period of several days before completing the last stretch of their trip which spans three continents and covers thousands of kilometers. During this time bird watchers can expect to see vast flocks of pelicans, storks (up to 85 percent of the world’s stork population) and other birds setting up temporary rest-stops.

The Hula Valley Nature Reserve is one of the country’s most famous birding sites and well worth visiting if you plan to go birding in Israel. The reserve, which is listed by BBC Wildlife magazine as one of the world’s most important wildlife observation sites, has an interesting history. In the 1950s most of the lake was drained to make way for farming, with devastating results on the ecosystem and endemic plant and animal life. In 1994, in an effort to restore the balance, part of the lake was re-flooded and soon attracted birds again. Today the reserve is home to tens of thousands of aquatic birds representing more than 200 species and welcomes birders with an informative visitors’ center and a floating bridge with blinds from which birds can be viewed. Hula Nature Reserve stands as testimony to nature’s ability to recover when given the opportunity to do so.

Mynahs as Pet Birds

May 22, 2012 by  
Filed under Miscellaneous

Mynah’s make fascinating pets and are the best mimics in the world of birds. Categorized amongst the softbills, these playful birds require special care, especially when it comes to diet. It is also important to note that they are very active birds and require a lot of space. If you think a mynah is the bird for you, then read on.

It is important that you obtain your mynah bird from a reputable domestic mynah breeder, so as to avoid supporting wildlife smugglers, who are responsible for the deaths of vast numbers of birds captured in the wild. Because mynahs can, and should, only be obtained through domestic breeders, it may be a challenge to obtain one; however, there are a number of online resources that will assist you in locating a good breeder.

The most popular pet mynah species are the Greater Indian Hill mynah and the Java Hill mynah. Java Hill mynah’s are the larger of the two and are notable for having a clearer, more human-like voice. On the other-hand Greater Indian Hill mynahs are known to be easier to handle. Mynah’s do well on their own, but a pair is also acceptable. They tend to make more noise when there are two, and do better in an outdoor aviary.

It is advisable to house your mynah in a large cage with a few perches made of natural branches, as they do not climb but only fly and hop. A cage with a grated floor is best as it allows for easy cleaning of the newspaper lined catch tray. A shelf and a nest box will make your mynah feel right at home. The mynah’s cage should be put in a busy part of the home as they are gregarious and enjoy company. Avoid drafty spots and direct sunlight. Include a bathing dish in the cage, along with a water bottle or dish. Be sure to keep both sources of water clean. Supply your very active bird with toys such as mirrors, bells, swings, bottle caps, paper and so forth. Be careful of rope toys as these may catch the tongue of your mynah.

Mynah’s require a specialized diet as hemochromatosis is common. This is a disease that causes too much iron to collect in the bird’s liver, resulting in the bird being poisoned. As such, the mynah must be fed a low iron diet, preferably softbill food that has been formulated to meet their needs. Avoid things such as parrot food, red meat, acidic fruits, seeds and live foods. Recommended fruits to accompany the pelleted diet include apple, banana, melon and grapes, with the seeds removed. Keep the food dishes clean and the cage free of uneaten food items that may spoil. You may wish to give your mynah distilled water if you are concerned about the iron content in your water.

While there are number of considerations to take into account before bringing a pet mynah into your home, if you do decide to do so you will find it a truly rewarding experience.

Feathers, Fashion and Conservation

May 8, 2012 by  
Filed under Features

Chosen in 1953 as the symbol of the National Audubon Society in the United States, the Great Egret (Ardea Alba) represents an inspiring conservation success story. Had it not been for the dedicated efforts of bird-lovers, this majestic bird would have been hunted to extinction – all in the name of fashion. In the 19th century, the snowy white plumage of the Great Egret made the bird a target for hunters who were supplying the fashion industry in North America. Records indicate that their populations plummeted by up to 95 percent before action was taken to prevent their extinction. Today, they are protected by legislation in the United States and are among the birds listed under the Agreement on the Conservation of African-Eurasian Migratory Waterbirds (AEWA). The Great Egret’s conservation status is now listed as ‘Least Concern’ on the IUCN Red List.

This elegant long-legged, startlingly white bird with its S-shaped neck is found throughout North and South America, as well as in many other parts of the world. They are typically found near both fresh and salt water as they feed in wetlands, tidal flats, streams and ponds. They stand still for long periods of time waiting for their prey to come to them, whereupon they snap it up and swallow it whole. Although they primarily feed on fish, they will also eat amphibians, mice and reptiles. These monogamous birds nest in trees near water, where both parents take responsibility for incubating and raising their young.

Feathers have long been used by humans as a fashion statement, features of traditional dress or in tribal customs. While examining the remains of a Neanderthal dwelling in the Fumane Cave in the region of Verona, Northern Italy, paleontologists discovered more than 600 bones of birds dating back some 44,000 years, neatly laid out in layers. Thorough examination of the bones revealed that they belonged to twenty-two species of birds, with clear evidence that the feathers had been cut off in a manner that would preserve them intact. While it may be easy to conclude that they had killed the birds as a food source, research reveals that the birds from which the remiges (flight feathers) had been cut, were poor food sources, and considering that feathered arrows had not yet been invented, it was concluded that the feathers had been used for decorative purposes. It’s a sobering thought that when killing or maiming birds simply for the purpose of using their feathers, humans today are displaying behavior in keeping with our Neanderthal ancestors.

Bird-lovers who want to make a positive contribution to the conservation of our feathered friends should contact their local Audubon Society.

Avian Edutainment at Weltvogelpark Walsrode

April 10, 2012 by  
Filed under Features

Covering more than 24 hectares, with more than four thousand birds representing 675 species from all around the world, Weltvogelpark Walsrode is a birding enthusiast’s paradise. Promoted as the largest bird park in the world, both in land area and number of species, Weltvogelpark is located near the town of Walsrode in Lower Saxony, Germany. The park is celebrating its 50th anniversary in 2012 with a host of events and special displays, one of which is more than three million spring flowers – a picturesque palette of vibrant color.

With special emphasis on conservation, Weltvogelpark offers an outing that is both entertaining and educational. The walk-in free-flight aviaries allow visitors to observe the birds in their natural habitat, while flight demonstrations demonstrate the amazing skills of birds, and feeding times provide insight into the needs of various species, including pelicans, penguins, vultures and flamingoes. The park offers special events and classes for school groups, while ensuring that visitors of all ages and levels of mobility have access to the features of the park. Experienced rangers are on hand for guided tours, and boards detailing interesting facts about the Weltvogelpark’s feathered residents are placed throughout the spacious reserve.

The park is also involved in research and conservation projects, and has had a measure of success in breeding some endangered species, including the Andean condor (Vultur gryphus), and Shoebill stork (Balaeniceps rex). While breeding is generally allowed to take its natural course at Weltvogelpark, sometimes it is necessary to intervene, particularly with rare and endangered species. In these cases the eggs are artificially incubated and the birds are hand-raised, ensuring that they bond with their own species as soon as possible to avoid being imprinted by humans. In 2011 more than 600 young birds hatched out – clearly they are happy in their environment.

In addition to the outstanding facilities for the park’s birds, Weltvogelpark Walsrode boasts one of the largest botanical gardens to be found in Northern Germany. More than 70 species of roses and 120 different species of rhododendron are features of the botanical gardens, with hundreds of different trees, flowers and shrubs, both indigenous and exotic, providing color throughout the year.

Macaw Mountain Bird Park – A Haven in Honduras

January 3, 2012 by  
Filed under Birding Tips, Features

Consisting of nine-acres of old growth forest, the Macaw Mountain Bird Park & Nature Reserve offers visitors the opportunity of viewing a wide variety of tropical birds in their natural environment. Located near the town of Copan Ruinas in Honduras, the large flight aviary is home to just about all the species of parrots and toucans to be found in this beautiful South American country, and many of its feathered inhabitants are so tame that visitors are able to interact with them at leisure.

While providing a haven for rescued, abandoned and endangered birds, the Macaw Mountain Bird Park is dedicated to educating the public about these beautiful animals and their vulnerability caused mainly the by destruction of their natural habitat. In a region known for its excellent birding opportunities, the Macaw Mountain Bird Park offers an unforgettable bird watching experience. Visitors to the park will enjoy strolling along the network of pathways which allow easy access to the entire area throughout the year. Interaction with the park’s birds allows visitors to appreciate their beauty and intelligence, while at the same time being made aware of the obstacles and dangers they face in the wild, which have brought many species to the brink of extinction.

Quite a number of the parrots and macaws found in the park were at one time household pets, but oftentimes people who buy these birds have no idea how long they live – parrots have a lifespan or 50 to 60 years and macaws can live for a century – or that because of their intelligence they require a lot of attention. So, when the birds become too much to handle at home, they are donated to sanctuaries such as the Macaw Mountain Bird Park & Nature Reserve. Birds to be seen in the park include the scarlet macaw, buffon’s macaw, green-winged macaw, yellow-lored Amazon, white-fronted parrot, red-lored parrot, mealy Amazon, yellow-crowned Amazon, white-crowned parrot, olive-throated conure, red-throated parakeet, keel-billed toucan, chestnut-mandibled toucan, grey hawk and great-horned owl.

The Copan region of Honduras is home to more than 330 species of birds representing 51 families, and has become a popular destination for keen birders from around the world. Although birds can be seen in the wild in the vicinity of the park, bird watchers should include Macaw Mountain Bird Park in their itinerary to experience up-close interaction with the birds of Honduras.

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