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.

Daisy, more than a duck

After the Ravens had eaten or taken her eggs, Daisy was confused. She ate bits of shell, cleaned up some of the down, looked like she was digging a hole to the bottom of the tree trying to find her eggs, and then filled the nest cup and flew away. Everyone thought that was the last anyone would see of our little Daisy. But, no. She returned to the nest at 20:19, just after sunset. She stayed until 22:46:22. She has not returned.

Daisy is more than a Pacific Black Duck. She is more than a little duck that happened upon a huge nest in the forest and decided to lay her eggs there. Daisy is more than the little duck that thwarted and confused the big White-Bellied Sea Eagles.

Daisy laid her eggs at the beginning of January. Before that there had been tremendous sadness and angst. Just about six weeks earlier, the people who watched the two little eaglets, WBSE 25 and 26, said goodbye to ’26’. Shortly after 26 was born, it appeared that the tiny little fluff ball had a problem with its right leg. No one ever believed that 26 would be able to stand, or walk, or feed itself, or fly, or land on a branch, or fledge. But 26 did it all, in great pain, with feet whose coverings had been torn off in places. Six days after 26 fledged, she returned to the natal nest. Her parents cared for her and she rested and ate. Being in the forest had been traumatizing. One day, unexpectedly, 26 flew out of the nest over to the camera tree where she was harassed by the Pied Currawong. A Magpie even came to help 26 fend them off but, in the end, they chased 26 out of the forest. A storm was coming that night and the next day 26 was discovered on the balcony of a condo 22 stories up in Homebush Bay. She was about a kilometre from the nest. Everyone was so pleased when the wildlife rehabbers, WIRES, were called to evaluate her condition. They were the group that helped the koalas during the fires the year before. We all believed that 26 would get the veterinary care that we had hoped would come. Unfortunately, the leg was broken and it had healed poorly. 26 was in great agony and she was euthanized. It broke everyone’s heart.

The photo below is one of the last images of 26. The Magpie has come to help 26 keep the Pied Currawong away.

Sun pours over WBSE 26 in the last image of her in the forest.

I don’t think that we had even gotten over the numbness of 26’s death when one of our dear friends was diagnosed with terminal cancer. It was this lovely woman who kept us laughing and brought sunshine into our lives. Phyllis was shattered with the death of 26.

Not long after a little duck came into all of our lives. It could not have been a more perfect time. Daisy offered a much needed diversion for Phyllis and all of us. Many felt that Daisy was ‘an angel’. Phyllis took over the ‘Duck’ chat on the ‘Duck camera’ and answered all of our questions. She was on ‘chat’ first thing in the morning to greet everyone and answer questions, and late at night. Tonight, Phyllis is gutted as so many others are. Daisy represented not just a diversion for Phyllis but also something more. There was an innocence about the little duck having her nest on the big sea eagle’s. In a way she washed away the ugliness of the pandemic and gave everyone something to look forward to: Daisy and her eggs had lived another day. We began to make up stories about how we would assist Daisy and the ducklings to the ground, how they might be escorted through the forest to safety at the river. And our dear friend, gr8lakes even thought that Daisy might want some toys for her babies. There was a lot of fun and a whole bunch of joking. That little duck brought such joy.

Phyllis wrote a poem for Daisy:

Our dear Daisy Duck , ever so sweet

Picking out her lovely penthouse suite

Maybe not the best idea she ever had

Because lurking nearby were Lady and Dad

Patiently we waited for ducklings to appear

But Nature brought us all to tears

Daisy I’m sure will have another clutch

I hope she knows we loved her ever so much

For some, the death of 26 was just the beginning of a long line of sadness. The two lovely eaglets born at the Captiva Bald Eagle nest died. A necropsy is being performed but the cause is most likely to be rodenticide. It was, of course, entirely preventable. This rat poison that kills more than rats and eagles kills family pets and other animals. It should be banned. There are other actually more effective ways to get rid of rodents including bringing in hawks and owls. The eaglets were called Hope and Peace. Peace had a piece of fishing line wrapped around her that had a hook. It must have been inside one of the fish that the parents brought in to feed their babies. That line was seen on camera, reported, and the wildlife rehabbers had permission to go to the eaglet and remove it. But, just about that same time, little Peace began to fail. And she died. Eleven days later, Hope, who was a big strapping eaglet flapping her wings one morning, died that afternoon from a broken blood feather. The blood did not coagulate because something Hope had eaten had rodenticide in its system. The father, Joe, removed the body of Peace after a few days of mourning. When Hope died, the mother, Connie, stood over her body poking her to see if there was any life at all. The parents stayed on the nest looking down at their child in complete disbelief and confusion. The wildlife rehabbers removed the body of Hope to find out what had happened. There is now a major campaign to ban rodenticide and to update some archaic wildlife laws that call for a 24 hour wait time to get help for wildlife in danger. That law was written in the 1940s. If passed, the campaigners would like it to be called Hope’s Law.

The image below shoes Hope with her mother looking out over their territory. Hope was getting her juvenile brown colouring. This picture was taken the day before she died.

Hope looks up to her mother, Connie.
Hope spreading her wings and jumping around.

Hope was jumping around and testing her wings only a few hours before she bled to death.

Ever wonder if birds mourn? Many of you know about Ravens and Crows but Bald Eagles do, too.

Connie stands over the body of Hope as Joe looks out to their territory.

As this was happening in Florida, two other eaglets in Texas died of what also appears to be rodenticide poisoning. And just today, one of the most famous Bald Eagle couples, Harriet and M15, in Fort Myers, Florida, had their two eaglets removed by CROW (the wildlife rehabbers) because of their crusted eyes. Swabs have been taken and the eyes have been cleaned. E 17 and E18 were also given antibiotics and fed. They will remain in the care of CROW until the test results return. In the meantime all attention will go towards getting them back with their distraught parents as soon as possible.

E17 ad E18 have eye problems
Harriet and M15 wonder where their eaglets have gone.

Wild life rehabbers understand that the parents will accept their babies up to eleven days. Then it is very tricky. This year we watched Diamond and Xavier a pair of mated Peregrine Falcons look for their Izzi after he had hit a window in early flying lessons and was taken into care. The Australian researcher returned Izzi to the scrape box after his being away for five days for him to fledge again. Xavier and Diamond were joyous and accepted him immediately.

Izzy still brings joy to everyone who watch him. Photo courtesy of Cilla Kinross.

Three people that I know warned me that I had to have a really thick skin if I wanted to get involved with my beloved Red Tail Hawks. Later, when another friend was too upset when one of the juvenile red tails from Ithaca died because she flew into a window on one of the Cornell campus buildings, I told her, “Don’t get said, get mad. And do something about it”. That death of a gorgeous healthy female was entirely preventable. The building is near to the road and the place where the juveniles learn to fly that J1 broke her neck. It is time that all public buildings and corporate skyscrapers are required to have special glass to prevent bird strike. Mandate it on all new builds and get the owners of the other buildings to come into the programme with incentives.

J1 looking up at her mother, Big Red, on Day 1
J1 in the front and J3 with his dark eyes look as J2 accidentally fledges from the light box.

Daisy gave everyone hope. 2020 was a difficult year for the entire world and we closed it with the anticipation that life in 2021 might be better for everyone. There are vaccines for the pandemic that might work but closer to home, people put their faith in a little duck and some baby eaglets. All of the birds have taught us a lot but one thing we all know that life is not to be taken for granted. Hold on to it, every minute because it can slip away as quickly as you can snap your finger.