Birds bring us so much joy

I want to say ‘Hello’ and ‘Welcome’ to all of you. I do not know how you found this site but I am very grateful that you did. You and I share a passion for birds. We are curious about their lives. People from around the world have joined with you and me to learn about the challenges these fascinating creatures face. We have experienced their triumphs and cried at their loss. Collectively we wept when the Ravens made off with Daisy the Duck’s eggs. Together we worried whether or not Harriet and M15 would accept their little eaglets once they were returned from the wildlife rehabilitation centre. And today we marvel at how these magnificent creatures manage when they are severely injured like our Warrior Eagle in the care of A Place Called Hope tonight. Each of us wonders how we can make their lives a little easier because as each of us knows – the birds bring so much joy into our lives.

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The Polar Vortex is causing extreme weather in Canada and the United States. Europe is also experiencing an extremely cold Arctic air mass that is causing temperatures to plunge. Seattle has had more snow today than they have had in fifty years. In Norman Oklahoma where I grew up, they have more snow than I have in Canada. It is hot and hotter in Florida. These extremes are unprecedented and there will be another system rolling through on Wednesday. That is what the meteorologist on CNN was saying a few minutes ago. Wonder what our birds would say if we could communicate with them?

I am not someone who sits and normally watches the weather as closely as I have for the past several days or a week. Sometimes the days just melt together and you look up and seriously, a week or more has passed as quickly as if you snapped your fingers. So why do I care? Because these severe weather challenges impact every aspect of our feathered friends lives.

This is what it looked like yesterday on the Mississippi River. The image is grainy but if you look carefully, you will see an elongated dark blob with a white head – those are your adult Bald Eagles! And this is near the nest of the Trio up near Fulton, Illinois. The eagles are there not just because of the magnificent old trees but also because there are fish in that river.

Speaking of The Trio, you have only been able to see them from a distance since their tree was destroyed during the heavy winds last year. They have been busy fitting up another one for this breeding season. In celebration of Valentine’s Day someone posted an image of the Trio from last May. Aren’t they just a gorgeous threesome? Starr and her two Valors. They aren’t all lined up proper but you can see how much larger Starr is compared to the two males. Just a beautiful family working it out so that their eaglets grow healthy and thrive.

One of the things I learned last year observing a Red Tail Hawk nest is that the more prey that is brought into the nest the better the offspring do. They grow bigger and healthier. Their feathers are stronger. Researchers have been comparing the amount and type of prey on that RTH nest on the Cornell Campus since 2012. Last spring with the pandemic and a four year old male that is a psychopathic hunter, Arthur brought in almost twice the amount of prey from any other previous year. It is assumed that the presence of humans on the campus impacts the chipmunk population negatively. (People run over them with their cars or scare them away.) These cold temperatures will also impact the intake of food negatively right now. It will add stressors to the birds (and all other animals as well as humans). The advantage for the Trio is that they have an additional eagle to hunt or protect the nest – both much needed.

And that is going to be very helpful now. What you are seeing is an early morning exchange. Yes, Starr laid an egg in that nest for the Valors on Valentine’s Day! How special is that. And, apparently, she laid her first egg of the 2020 season on Valentine’s Day, too.

I don’t know if you have ever thought about it but the ‘normal’ (what is normal anymore????) laying eggs and hatch is normally linked to the onset of spring when all the babies hatch. The prey is waking up from their winter hibernation and there is lots of food. The problem right now is first the bitterly cold winds, the snow that is gathering on nests, and the availability of food.

As you can see in the image below the snowing is getting deeper on that Bald Eagle nest near Kansas City. And as you know, that nest is currently being occupied by a Great Horned Owl who is incubating eggs. She has been on the nest a little over a week. At 3pm today, it was snowing and as you can see it was 0 degrees F. I just checked the temperature there and it is now -7. These are simply temperatures that are unknown. No one is prepared for them. The mice and squirrels that these owls eat hunker down just like everyone else trying to stay warm.

When I posted the picture above it was snowing and 0. It is currently -9 and the snow is actually getting deeper on this nest. These poor animals are not used to this kind of weather but I am told that is what feathers are for. Those eggs are comfy and toasty. That is the benefit of being in the centre of that great big eagle nest. It will hold in some of the heat. I wonder if the owls knew this big storm was coming when they decided to occupy this eagle nest? Owls are smart!

Three other updates for you this morning. Despite the snow on the ground, Big Red, my most favourite Red Tail Hawk in the world is 18 years old this spring. She was banded at Brooktondale, New York, in 2003. She has been at her nest on the light tower on the Cornell Campus in Ithaca, New York this morning bringing in twigs to do some nestorations. You will hear a lot about her and Arthur. I adore this family.

Big Red has some of the most beautiful rich red plumage. You can see her beautiful red tail that indicates she is an adult Red Tail Hawk. The juveniles do not get these until after their first moult.

Big Red lost her long time mate, Ezra, in March of 2017. He was killed protecting her from intruders. She did not raise any eyases that year. But she met Arthur in April of 2017. Apparently Big Red had a lot of suitors. She is a fantastic mother and has an amazing territory. Instead of selecting an older male, she picked Arthur. Everyone thought that the bird was crazy! Arthur was born in 2016. But, by the fall when he had his beautiful red tail they were a couple. He won her over with his flying, hunting, and protecting abilities. Arthur is simply one amazing hunter. A hawk with a jetpack on his wings. And he is one of the best providers I have seen in the bird world. Big Red trained him right.

Have some fun watching this video. Each year the chicks are given a letter of the alphabet for their name. Last year was J. So there were three of them: J1, J2, and J3. They all fledged. J1, the oldest and largest and for sure a female who loved to play with her twigs and work on the nest was reluctant to fledge. She left right after her little buddy J3. Oh, the three of them stayed together and played with pinecones and learned how to hunt. Sadly, J1 was killed when she flew into a building window on the Cornell Campus. I am still not sure that I am over that. It was so avoidable. Because of that you will hear me often talk about window strike and what big businesses and you can do to help stop the birds from flying into your windows.

This year we will welcome the Ks. Eggs normally laid in March with hatch around the end of April.

The Bald Eagle fighting for its life because of high levels of lead and two old injuries – the Warrior Eagle – is eating well this morning. A friend asked if they will be able to return him to the wild. If he survives, that is a good question. I am sure he will be observed closely to see how he can eat with his injured beak. It is an old injury but that may, in part, have lead to an inability to hunt well enough to thrive. Here he is this morning. He is finishing up his breakfast. He is doing so well. Keep sending your good wishes his way. It’s working!

Thank you for joining me today. It is cold in Canada but the sun is out and it is bringing me joy just as the good news on our birds is today. Everyone of our birds is OK. They are monitoring little E24s eyes to make sure he gets to the vet if needed. — And it is definitely a good day when they are all fine or fine and improving.

Stay warm and well. See you tomorrow.

Thanks to A Place for Hope for their images of the Warrior Eagle, to the Cornell Lab’s streaming Red Hawk camera for the images and video of Big Red and Arthur’s highlights of last year. Derek the Farmer provides the streaming camera for the owl in the eagle’s nest and for those individuals who posted the updates on the Trio, thank you.

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