Fun with Bonnie and Clyde

Great Horned Owls (GHOW) are found all across North America – literally, they exist everywhere from the hot swampy areas of Florida to the deserts of the Southwest to the prairies and mountains of Canada. There is currently no concern for them in terms of declining populations. Just because there is no decline does not mean that the owls should not be monitored. Monitoring means that researchers can see when a decline does happen and they can ask why.

The setting sun on Bonnie.

In the 1970s many bird populations were wiped out due to the use of DDT. DDT was a pesticide and it was banned in 1972 after Rachel Carson wrote Silent Spring in 1962 exposing the issues. It took a decade for change to happen but it did happen.

So the question then is, why in 2014 were birds dying in Michigan with levels of DDT poison so high in their brains that no one could believe the readings? Songbirds such as Robins, European Starlings, and bluebirds were dropping dead in people’s yards. DDT was not only found in the brains of the dead birds in enormous concentrations but it was also found in the worms that the birds ate. A professor at the University of Michigan looking into the phenomena found that the concentrations ranged from 155 to 1043 parts per million with the average being 552. The threshold for death is 30 parts per million. DDT persists in the soil and in the rivers. It thins the eggs of birds so that they break and cannot be incubated. It makes the birds sick and it is not a quick death but a slow painful one. The authorities in Michigan found that the Velsicol Chemical Corporation was responsible. Under their old name, Michigan Chemical, they manufactured pesticides. It is the area around their old plant where the soil, in 2014, was still saturated with the poison.

Today, the raptors – not the seed eating birds – have issues with various types of designer poisons for mice and rats. They are commonly called Rodenticides. In the United States, the name of one of the biggest companies manufacturing this poison is deConn. And, like when we want a tissue for a runny nose, many will ask for a ‘Kleenex’. Owls eat a lot of mice and rats. In fact, they are the absolute best and cheapest way to rid an area of these rodents. Someone could start a company, ‘Hire an Owl’.

And speaking of owls and mice, I have some great shots of Bonnie and Clyde for you tonight. And I have the answer to two questions sent to me by e-mail. I will incorporate those in the text. Thank you to those who wrote and asked – always happy to answer if I can or to help find the answer.

First of all, owls are noctural but like all other raptors they actually do a lot of hunting right at dusk and dawn. Owls do not see colour very well because nature provided them with sensitive dark-light rod cells instead of ones for differentiating colour. During the day, Clyde will sleep just like Bonnie, if she can. Clyde will not bring food to Bonnie during the bright light of day. But you might expect him to come, if prey is plentiful, right after dusk. Let us hope that none of the mice or rats that Clyde brings Bonnie have eaten any pesticides.

Dusk was at 6:39 pm in Newton, Kansas where the Bald Eagle Nest that Bonnie and Clyde are using is located. Between 6:55 and 8:04 pm, Bonnie made three trips off the nest. The first was at 6:55. She raises her head. Did she hear Clyde? She leaves the nest and returns at 7:03. That was eight minutes. She might have needed a bathroom break and she might have had something to eat.

At 7:21, we can see Clyde’s eyes. Clyde lands on a branch. Bonnie hears him.

Bonnie gets up. Clyde has brought her a mouse!

They do a quick exchange.

And Bonnie is back on the nest. It took a whole two minutes.

Bonnie takes another very short break from 7:57 to 8:04. Just like the first time she left this evening, the camera is fixed on the next so we cannot see what happens outside the frame. The temperature has really warmed up from the frigid minus degrees. It is 29 degrees F. The hunting might be a lot better because the mice will not be hunkered down with the cold. They will also be out looking for food while Clyde is looking for them!

Those beautiful big owl eyes are the reason that Clyde will be his busiest hunting within two hours of dusk and two hours of dawn. It is quite possible then that all three of Bonnie’s departures after dusk had to do with food deliveries and bathroom breaks together.

It is dawn, 6:27 am at the nest and Clyde has brought in his last mouse for the night. He arrives on his ‘regular’ branch. You should be able to see the mouse hanging out of his beak.

The pair have this all worked out. Bonnie and Clyde do some hoots and she flies up to the upper branch on the left.

Bonnie then flies up to grab the mouse from Clyde and within a blink that mouse becomes owl and she is back on her nest in two minutes. This couple is extremely efficient!

Besides hunting, Clyde’s other duty is to protect the territory of the nest and Bonnie. He will not be far away!

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Just a couple of quick observations for today and then something special at the end.

The little eaglets on the Southwest Florida nest at Fort Myers, E17 and E18 are itchy. E18 was preening 17 and then they both wake up in the night and start preening. You will see that their flight feathers are just starting to come in. (Note: The dark object is a piece of an armoured fish). Here are a few images of these two itchy characters:

E17 is preening E18
Flight and pin feathers make eagles itchy.

Over at the other eagle nest in NE Florida at St Augustine, little NE24 is getting its pin feathers, too. Sometimes these are called ‘blood’ feathers because they are filled with blood while they are growing. Some of you might remember that Hope, the oldest eaglet on Connie and Joe’s nest at Captiva, Florida died because she broke a blood feather and bled out. That was because of the rodenticide in the prey she had been fed. So blood feathers. Our new words for the day!

I am absolutely in love with this little eaglet. Maybe because it is all alone on that big nest without any siblings. But, at the same time, that is such a plus. There is no anxiety watching this nest. Gabby and Samson do a fine job taking care of this little one. And its eyes cleared up all on its own.

The soft glow of dusk is filtering through the trees in the swamp. NE24 has a nice crop before bed. You can see that the feathers are changing colour from white to grey. You can also see the pin feathers just starting to come in. Poor thing. It will not only have to deal with all those mosquitoes but now these things coming in!

Now for something just a little special. Most Bald Eagles do not start breeding until they are much older than five years even though they can at four to five years. In a nest in Minnesota supervised by the Department of Natural Resources, a four year old Bald Eagle male (called a sub adult) is going to get to see his first egg for the very first time. His beak is still a brown or amber colour instead of the bright yellow and he still retains some of the brown feathers mixed with the white on his head. It is thirteen minutes long – and no, he is not dirty. He is just a youngster. His eyes have not gotten light yet either. Enjoy!

Thank you again for joining with me to learn about the birds we all love so much. It is my pleasure to share them with you. Tomorrow we best check in on some Royal Albatross and what their satellite trackers are showing and we will also try and find Solly ——- and, of course, see what Bonnie and Clyde are up to. The weather patterns are shifting again and I am sad to say that the Bald Eagle Nest in New Jersey is once again covered with snow. This mom with three eggs under her never seems to catch a break.

Thank you to the streaming cams of Derek the Farmer, Duke Farms, SWFL Eagle Cam and D Pritchett Real Estate, NEFL Eagle Cam, and to Lady Hawk for making that great video of our young eagle dad.

January 5 is National Bird Day!

Today is National Bird Day. Did you know? And, if not, you might be wondering what all the fuss is about. Why is there a day to celebrate birds?

National Bird Day seeks to raise awareness about birds. It is that simple. It began fourteen years ago in the United States and spread. So today, Canadians, too, are shouting out the love for our feathered friends. Everyone is joining together to find ways to enrich the lives of these, the closest living relative to the dinosaurs, better. And why should we care? Well, there are lots of reasons but let me begin with the fact that we have over fished the oceans, made the waters toxic and decreased the amount of fish that was present at the end of the nineteenth century by 80%. We have populated the world and allowed cities to sprawl, taking away the normal territory of the birds to hunt prey and survive. We spray our lawns so they are green, use toxic pesticides, construct buildings with gorgeous winds that are not strike proof (they could easily be), while driving fast and well, quite honestly, some people go out of their way to do harm. The coffee we drink, for 94% of that grown, comes from crops grown in direct sunlight. Yes, drinking coffee causes deforestation! So part of today is to examine how we can deal with these issues and offer protection and survival to our feathered friends. Did you know that 12% of the 10,000 bird species are in danger of extinction? There is a doctor from Studio City, California traveling the world to try and photograph every species of hummingbird before they are gone. Her name is Carole and she runs Hummingbird Spot, a bird cam and chat on youtube to raise awareness.

Kakapo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

So what can you do to help? You might think about bird adoption. I am particularly fond of the work that the Kakapo Recovery do to help the only remaining 208 kakapo. Have you ever heard of the kakapo?

The kakapo is also called the ‘owl parrot’. The forage around on the ground of the forests in specific areas of New Zealand. They do not fly! And they are extremely endangered. Every Christmas the Kakapo Recovery issues certificates for adoption. You get a photo of your kakapo and a plushie along with other swag. The purpose of the adoption is to help fund the Kakapo Recovery. Cost of adoption ranges from $100 to $500 NZD. The birds wear transmitters that require annual or semi-annual changing of batteries. Those transmitters allow the researchers on the islands to find the birds and check their health. Today, there are only 207 Kakapo. Their existence was compromised due to habitat destruction. Today, they are threatened by disease and intruders. Don’t want to adopt a kakapo? why not buy a great beanie that comes with a really beautiful Kakapo pin?

If you have been one of the millions enjoying watching wildlife make their nests, lay their eggs, and raise their young, you can donate to the wildlife cams that make this happy. You can donate just as much as you can afford. Cornell University runs a multitude of bird cams partnering with others around the world. They monitor the lives of Osprey, Royal Albatross, Red Tail Hawks (my favourite), along with countless other species living in manmade cliffs in Bermuda to fruit eating birds of Panama. Check them out! The bird cams are free! In 2020, during the pandemic, millions watched and discovered great empathy with these beautiful feathered creatures. They also learned many things. Did you know that the parents of the Royal Albatross chicks being incubated talk to their young before they hatch? Did you know that a damp nest can cause disease killing the young? If you have ever watched any of these birds feeding their young, you will marvel at how those big beaks can get such tiny pieces of food into the nestlings mouth! You will marvel at how they grow and you will come to imagine that humans might want to be so focused at the dining table. One of my favourite falconers, Laura Cully, thinks that every human should have to watch hawks raise their eyases before the humans commit to having children. Bird cams are wonderful but along with the joy there is also sadness. The norm is that only 1 out of 3 juvenile birds will live to see its first birthday. Those watching the camera of the pair of Red Tail Hawks, Big Red and Arthur, at Cornell University in Ithaca, New York were thrown in despair this past summer when the big beautiful female, who had recently delighted everyone with her baths in puddles, was killed when she flew into the window of a building. And those who watched the two White Bellied sea eaglets growing in the nest in Sydney Olympic Park, WBSE 25 and 26, learned what determination was. SE26 had its leg broken shortly after hatch. For over a month it could not stand. It would scoot on its ankles. But, the eaglet persevered and forced itself to walk despite the pain. It branched, learned to feet itself, and fledged. SE 26 returned to the nest six days later much to the delight of everyone who thought they would never see her again.

Last photo of WBSE 26 I took off the screen.

Many who watch the bird cams contend with their own physical issues and it was very easy to identify with SE26. Everyone hoped that when she had overcome everything to fly that she would be able to be a real sea eagle living in the wild. The day after this photograph, WBSE 26 was found on the balcony of a condo, 22 stories up. She was taken into care. It was determined that she was in a lot of pain, there was scar tissue on her feet, injuries to both from overcompensating only using the left leg, and the break had not healed properly. She was euthanized. It broke everyone’s heart. If anyone were to suggest that the life of a bird is one of fun and freedom, I would have them watch a bird cam for awhile.

What else can you do in your own area? You can donate money or items to your local wildlife rehabilitation centre. The one near Winnipeg is Wildlife Haven. Check their website for what they need. Take a drive out and see their resident Bald Eagle who was found in NW Ontario and who now is one of their ambassador birds. You can attract birds to your back garden. You can add feeders and bowls of water. They will thank you immensely. Crows and Blue Jays love grapes, dog kibble, hard-boiled eggs which are good for them. Avoid feeding birds bread. It is like Junk food to them. They love it and will fill up on it but will ultimately die of starvation. If you see plastic mesh bags or the plastic tops that hold cans, cut them and put them in the garbage. Avoid the use of balloons at all cost. Birds die from getting tangled in them. And last, three ideas. Coffee. Do you drink it? Do you know where those coffee beans come from? 94% of the world’s coffee is grown in the sun with only 6% grown in the shade. Coffee grown in the shade does not destroy the habitat of birds and animals. In Canada, you can order ‘bird safe’ coffee from birdsandbeans.ca It is not any more expensive than some of the other leading brands and if you order $45 worth, the shipping is free. It is also delicious, organic, and fair trade.

Only one of the signature blends at BirdsandBeans.

If you live in the United States, you can order directly from the Smithsonian who certifies the coffees that are grown in the shade.

And if you really want to get into the politics of wildlife, then go and read the website of the Albatross Task Force. You might never eat factory fish again! Lobby your government to make these fishing trawlers comply with standards so that there is no bycatch. What do I mean by bycatch? Sea birds are attracted to the fish used as bait and they get caught on the industrial hooks if they are not protected. A Wandering Albatross is decapitated every five minutes. The goal of the Albatross Task Force is to get every industrial trawler to use bird scaring lines, fish at night, and add weight to the long lines. These are inexpensive remedies meant to save 80% of the bycatch and protect the growing number of endangered sea birds.

Get a friend to join you! Have your children enter many of the bird contests. Join in on Bird counting days. Read about birds and nature. We need to protect the birds and their habitat so that they can help protect us.