Sunday, November 9, 2008

Raptors Realeased at Selah

On Monday, November 3rd, two raptor rehabilitators, Sallie Delahoussaye and Ed Sones, brought a Red-tailed Hawk, and two Great Horned Owls out to Selah to release. Because we have a large ranch there is a good chance that the raptors will be able to explore, find food, and search for a good place to call home without being shot or hurt.

This Red-tail was probably hit by a car and was found on the side of a road with a fractured humerus (that big bone that connects the shoulder to the elbow in most vertebrates.) She was taken to a vet and a pin put in her bone while it healed. It was removed after 5 weeks and a period of conditioning took place in a large flight cage where she could practice flying and prove she could catch live prey such as mice and rats on her own. When she was flying well and had proved herself as a good predator that could feed herself in the wild, she was be ready for release.

The Red-Tailed Hawk (Buteo jamaicensis) is a handsome bird with a heavy bill and strong talons. Juveniles have grey-brown tails with dark bands.  Adults have a red tail, which is easiest to see when the sun shines through the tail feathers. The tail feathers are red on both sides.  Their breast color can vary a lot, from very light to dark. According to the map in my bird field guide, they live over the entire North American continent, except for the far northern regions of Alaska and Canada.

As Ed holds the Rad-tail Hawk she is obviously ready to escape from human care.

As Ed releases his hold on her legs she leaps away from him and heads out across Madrone Lake.

Note the hawk's powerful legs and the muscles of its rump that are used by the bird to direct the tail, which when fanned out can serve a variety of purposes. It can serve as a rudder to steer the bird to left or right, can serve as an elevator, by directing it up or down, and serves as a brake to slow its forward speed.

With a few powerful strokes of her wings she flies down the lake and veers to the right and out of sight.

Sallie also brought out some young Great Horned Owls (Bubo virginianus) that were brought to her as orphaned "fuzz balls". I called her today to find out what happened to them that caused them to be brought to her for care. She told me that they were living in a tree that was either cut down, or they were blown out of the nest in a storm. Young owls with some of their flight feathers are often found on the ground because they are not yet ready to fly, but they are big and can accidently push one another out of the nest. They will often climb back up the tree using their talons and beak.

Owl eyes are huge and fixed in their head, so they must turn their head to look around. They are able to see in very little light and they have very good hearing, so they can hear a mouse as well as see it in darkness.

Great Horned Owls live over most of North American except for the far northern regions of Alaska and Canada. Notice that Sallie has on very thick gloves to protect her hands and forearms from injury from the owl's talons.

In this photographs Sallie is holding the owl so we can see her talons, which are essential for catching prey. They are sharp, curved and very strong. The muscles in her toes and feet allow her to grasp prey and hold on tight while she flies to a place to enjoy her meal, which she swallows whole. After she has digested the meat, she spits out a pellet which consists of hair (or feathers), and bones.

The owl heads away from her rescuers/captors and flies across Catfish Tank.

She gains alltitude as she flies away. "Good Luck" we say as she flies away.

If by chance you find an injured hawk owl or orphaned young hawks or owls, it is best to call someone with training to handle raptors. In Austin, see the site for complete information. Elesewhere, you can call 512-472 9453 (WILD) which will put you in touch with Wildlife rehabilitators, or look up on the website of Texas Parks and Wildlife Department to locate lists of wildlife rescue people by county. To learn more about Wildlife Rescue and Rehabilitation organization check out this link.

If anyone (an adult) is going to try to pick up an injured or orphaned raptor, be sure to have adequate protection in the form of heavy duty gloves, and a box or carrier ready to receive the bird. Those talons are very sharp and very strong, and the raptor will be afraid and not understand that you are trying to help it, and so you could be injured. DON'T TAKE CHANCES!

Pictures were taken by me (Margaret Bamberger) on November 3, 2008 with my Cannon XTI Rebel digital camera. I hope you enjoyed learning about these fasinating and beautiful birds.

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