Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Raptor ID

For those of you who followed his journey, you can imagine, we received a lot of phone calls about possible sightings of Dakota this past November and December. And in investigating these calls, some of those sightings have been of other raptors than a Great Horned Owl. There are many field guides to birds available which are much more complete, but we thought we’d give you a quick reference to some of these common raptors.

 Dakota is a Great Horned Owl. 22” tall, 44” wingspan, 3.1 lb. Note yellow eyes, ear tufts, white throat patch and horizontal bars on chest as markers. As with all raptors, females are approximately 25-30% larger than males. Dakota is kind of little even for a male. Great Horns are the most common owl in Wisconsin and our largest owls – except when Great Gray Owls or Snowy Owls occasionally come south from Canada in severe winters or lemming population crashes.

A caller was certain they had Dakota. They had an Eastern Screech Owl that had a fractured right furcula (wing bone) and blood in its right eye probably from trauma like being hit by a car or flying into an object. Screech come in 3 color phases : red, brown and gray. 8.5” tall, 18” wingspan, 6 ounces. Note the ear tufts but no white throat patch and much smaller size. But Screech Owls don’t know they are small- Screech’s are very feisty birds.

Barred Owls are our 2nd largest owl common in Wisconsin. 21” tall, 42” wingspan, 1.6 lb.
Note the black eyes. Years ago we got a baby Barred Owl in as a patient and one of our volunteers gasped that it was blind when she saw it. She was used to the yellow Great Horn eyes. No ear tufts, more pronounced facial disk, vertically streaked chest and belly. Even though barred are almost as large as Great Horns in height and wing span, they are about half the weight. These birds are very fluffy.

We also have Short-eared and Long-eared Owls in Wisconsin but they are not as common owls. We may admit one every couple years at WINC. Note that all these owls are stocky with round heads, very little neck definition, and short squat tails. And their heads are big in comparison to their bodies. Owls can see and fly in daylight although they prefer to sit on a branch next to a tree trunk and snooze the day away. If disturbed from their roost by crows, people or activity they will glide away to another location. If owls are having trouble finding food due to inexperience, lack of local food sources, or illness or injury which hampers their hunting, owls will be active in the day in addition to the night looking for food. If you see an owl active in day for several days, that owl may need help. Please call WINC or a wildlife rehabilitator in your area.

We had several calls that Dakota was at the intersection of C and 18, just down the road from our current and our old location. Was he trying to come home? Staff and volunteers have raced to the scene to find a Red-tailed Hawk sitting on a pole. Red-tails are our most common raptor in Wisconsin and we regularly admit them as patients. They often hunt on the roadsides and can be seen often along I-94. Because the ditches are mowed to maintain the roadways, the vegetation that grows there is constantly growing back. That tender new vegetation attracts prey species like Eastern Cottontail rabbits, 13-lined Ground Squirrels and Eastern Chipmunks to feed. The shorter vegetation also makes prey easier to see than dense underbrush. And some of these prey animals get hit by cars and Red-tails are resourceful enough to take advantage of the roadways for all these reasons. Hawks in general are taller and slimmer than owls. They have smaller heads in proportion to their bodies than owls and more pronounced neck and shoulder definition. Red-tails have a white to cream colored throat, chest and belly with faint mottling if any at all. They will soar or sit out in the open in daytime because they are hunting by sight. Red-tails are 19” tall, 49” wingspan, 2.4 lbs.

We began our blog originally to help educate people about native Wisconsin wildlife. When Dakota’s ordeal began it quickly turned into Dakota watch. Throughout the past few months, people have become more aware of owls because of the media stories about Dakota. Not only are we extremely happy for his safe return, he is still teaching people about wildlife even though he has not yet begun to work again!

Dakota, meanwhile, continues to remain well. He loves mealtime and spending daytime hours outdoors so that he can watch the antics of our resident birds and squirrels.

Guest Blogger L.R.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Dakota's Fan Mail

Dakota's "wall of fame" was a place that gave many of us hope in the days and weeks before his return home
Since Dakota’s ordeal began back in the middle of November 2011 the center has received an outpouring of support for both Dakota and the center’s mission itself. One of our favorite forms of support and encouragement came in the form of “Dakota fan mail”.

Children and adults alike sent their well-wishes for Dakota's safe return home. Many were among the 80,000 people that Dakota has educated since becoming a part of the Wildlife In Need Center

The center received cards and letters almost every day addressed to Dakota. (Most included staff and volunteers, but some were just for Dakota!) Cards came to us during every stage. The first cards we got were cards of encouragement for the center to find Dakota and hopes of a safe return. Once Dakota was recovered the get well cards flooded in for Dakota with wishes of a full healthy recovery. Finally, Dakota received cards from people thanking him for all he taught them through his ordeal.

Some of the center’s favorites came from kids and students Dakota has educated over his 11 years of working with the center. 

We wanted to share with you some of these wonderful cards we received. The cards and letters made us smile; we hope they do the same for you.

He even received a packet of get well wishes from second grade students in Ohio that were studying owls when word got down to them about Dakota! Even though these students had never personally met Dakota, because he helped them learn about his wild counterparts they affectionately called him “their mascot.” How amazing!

Students from Ohio who followed Dakota's ordeal via the internet sent him their best wishes for his speedy recovery, calling him their "mascot." He's ours too!

We would also like to take this opportunity to again thank EVERYONE for their overwhelming amount of caring and support for Dakota and the center. Daily words of encouragement were very much appreciated by staff and volunteers as we rescued and cared for Dakota.

Guest Blogger M.F.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Why Doesn’t Dakota Stay Inside All Winter?

Over the years many people have asked the question of whether or not Dakota comes inside in the winter. Now that he’s been inside during his recovery we've gotten the question as to why he would live outside at all.

The simple answer is for his health and well-being. Being exposed to the sun and weather actually helps him maintain good plumage. Exposure to sun also helps him to synthesize vitamin D for his bones, muscles, and eyes and is important to his overall health.

Being outside is necessary for Dakota’s mental health as well. Because he is a Great Horned Owl, and his wild counterparts stay here all year long, they are not only used to the changing temperatures, but are designed to withstand them. Dakota has a covered nest box in his enclosure to provide shade in summer, shelter from rain, and protection from snow and cold winds in winter. He also has multiple perches of various sizes and materials around his enclosure to choose from. But he still sometimes prefers to sit on an exposed perch in all sorts of what we would consider bad weather because he can. Being outside as much as he is, his body acclimates to the change in temperature gradually. In fact, in the past, when Dakota was indoors for programs, especially in the winter, he would often get overheated if kept inside for too long.

Dakota is spending some time getting fresh air and enrichment during the day
While it will still be some time before Dakota moves back outside on a regular basis, being outdoors is good for him. Although many of us consider him a colleague, he is still a wild animal, and being so, he enjoys the variety of the weather, the amusement of watching the birds, squirrels and other animals outside his window, and having some space to himself – most of the time. The enrichment of being outside in our outdoor habitat area watching local animals-squirrel and songbird tv, "talking" with our local owls and also with our staff and volunteers who are outside often caring for patients and other permanent animals is necessary for his overall well-being.

Friday, January 6, 2012

Turtle Town in Winter; New and Improved, part 1

Turtle Town is a pretty busy place this winter! We are currently over-wintering four Snapping Turtles and two Western Painted Turtles. While all wild Wisconsin turtles are hibernating, our patients are enjoying air and water temperatures in the 80’s with daily food service including a menu of fresh Sendik’s salmon, berries and greens. We hope to release all six turtles back to their natural habitats come late spring!

This is our educational ambassador Antoinette. She is a Western Painted Turtle. Here she is showing off her underwater swimming skills!

Guest Blogger C.M.

Our new facility has enabled us to go beyond our old limitations. Stay tuned for more adventures from Turtle Town especially, this winter!