Friday, March 27, 2015

Mindfulness Walk

WBIR Live@5@4 reporter Emily Stroud

Join me for a Mindfulness Walk tomorrow at Ijams at 1 PM. No talking. No cellphones. No cameras. No stressful distractions of any kind. We will simply be in-the-moment, at peace in the woods, practicing the health enhancing Eastern disciple of Shinrin-yoku, Japanese for "forest bathing," just like WBIR Live@5@4 reporter Emily Stroud and I were discussing Wednesday. 

But wait a minute! Is that someone's cellphone ringing? Watch the interview for the perfectly timed, albeit unplanned mindfulness-busting ring. Click: ring-a-ding.  

To register, call Ijams, (865) 577-4717, ext. 110, but leave your cellphone at home.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Why we remember Rafinesque

Imagine that you find yourself in a new world, brimming with life. Others may have explored it, but you bring a pair of fresh, learned eyes; you bring an attention to detail like none other.

You are a naturalist, thrilled by everything you see and virtually everywhere you look, you discover something you have never seen before. Dare I say, a plant or animal that’s new to science.

While at the same time, the scientific community itself is experiencing something of an overhaul. Swedish botanist and zoologist Carolus Linnaeus had adopted a new system of naming all plants and animals. Prior to him, the names of species were wordy polynomials, i.e. long descriptive paragraphs. Linnaeus’ Systema Naturae published in the late 1700s provided a new, simpler method. Known then as Linnaean taxonomy, today we call it binomial nomenclature or simply binomials. Hence fore, every living thing was given a unique two-part scientific name generally in Latin. The first word designated its genus, the second its species.

The Southern red oak in your front yard became Quercus falcate, while the related, but different chestnut oak beside it became Quercus prinus. The family dog was designated as
Canis familiaris, while you and I are Homo sapiens. Often the original describer would be honored in the binomial itself as is Linnaeus in the red maple, Acer rubrum L or Tennessee’s own State Tree, the tulip tree, Liriodendron tulipifera L.

Into this world entered Rafinesque...

For the rest of my article about early American naturalist Constantine Samuel Rafinesque-Schmaltz, check out the current issue of The Tennessee Conservationist.

Thank you, editor Louise Zepp! 

Sunday, March 22, 2015

quest completed


Ijams American woodcock searchers and soup-eaters enjoyed Peg's belly-warming soup then completed their quest, finding the elusive squat, upland shorebirds just before darkness fell last night.

American woodcocks are migrating through the county on their way to their breeding grounds to the north. A few nest in East Tennessee, we are at the southern edge of their range but who the heck could find a nest. It's hard enough to locate the re-peenting displaying males.

"Superbly camouflaged against the leaf litter, the brown-mottled American Woodcock walks slowly along the forest floor, probing the soil with its long bill in search of earthworms. Unlike its coastal relatives, this plump little shorebird lives in young forests and shrubby old fields across eastern North America. Its cryptic plumage and low-profile behavior make it hard to find except in the springtime at dawn or dusk, when the males show off for females by giving loud, nasal peent calls and performing dazzling aerial displays," states the Cornell Lab of Ornithology website.

Superbly camouflaged, indeed. And finding them in the twilight is always a challenge. This is an annual pre-spring ritual at the nature center.

Special thanks to all who accompanied me out into the mud.

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Lynns in conjunction

We had a very rare “planetary alignment” of three of the four "Lynns" that routinely work or volunteer at Ijams Nature Center this morning.  And oddly, each spells their name a bit differently.

Flanking this Stephen Lyn is volunteer naturalist Lynne Davis on the left and on the right is Ijams children's story time reader Lynn Keffer. If only wildlife rehabilitator Lynne McCoy had been there, it would have been all four Lynns in conjunction.

Photo taken by Lynn's son. 

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Woodcock supper walk

American woodcock. Photo Wiki media

Each year is marked by passages: the return of chimney swifts to my chimney, the first blooming Mayapple in my woods, the first hummingbird at my feeder.

And to that end, sure signs that winter is giving away to spring are the calling of spring peepers (extra loud today) and the displaying of male American woodcocks
 (Scolopax minor), stocky camouflaged upland shorebirds that "peeeeeent" to find a mate.

Join me for this annual rite of spring! This Saturday, March 21 at 6 p.m.
(Because of the recent rain and mud we moved it to the 21st) is Ijams' annual woodcock walk in search for the displaying males. It's open to all ages. Join as we search for the secret locations for the whimsical mating display of male woodcocks, a.k.a. timberdoodles. Filled with struts, peents, flutters and tweets, it is one of the most unique performances in the birding world.

Plus Peg’s kitchen will also be serving a traditional soupy supper to warm our bellies before we go adventuring. And NO we do not eat the woodcock. 

The fee for this program is $10 for Ijams members and $15 for non-members. Dress for MUDDY conditions and bring a flashlight. Please call (865) 577-4717, ext. 110 to register.

Each year we search at twilight in big boggy fields. Here's a peek a woodcock walk search in 2013. Click: Woodcocks in March.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

the color of sky

A fortnight ago, we had two weeks of snow and ice. A last slap of winter.

On a walk at the nature center yesterday, I found several clusters of a low-growing speedwell in bloom.

Although they appear delicate, they are blooming in the cold and damp of late winter, official "calendar" spring is a few days away. I was lightly bundled; they were not. The flowers are tiny, the size of crowder peas, easily overlooked, just little splashes of color as though dropped from Claude Monet’s brush. Middens from one of his masterworks.

Drop. Drop. Drop. A spot here, a spot there, sprinkled on beds of verdant green. It's a watery shade of blue known by some artists as the color of the "sky after a rain."

Need I say more?

Monet's painting "Impression, Sunrise" led to the term for the art movement he founded: impressionism. Note the same blue.

Saturday, March 14, 2015

little spitfire

Trust me. She's a cold-blooded killer.

In the past 17 years, I've worked with several birds of prey at the nature center. All have been injured in some way, that's why we have them. All have had different – for want of a better word – personalities.

The dictionary defines feisty as: full of animation, energy, or courage; spirited; spunky; plucky. This American kestrel, le petit tigre, is all that plus she's loud! She's got cap A attitude. Female kestrels weigh roughly four ounces. If she was as big as a golden eagle, this little spitfire could dismember me in seconds. If you find yourself in a street fight, you'd want this bird on your side, she's a four ounce pitbull.

Kestrels eat small rodents and insects. In the summer, they love crunchy grasshoppers.

I know she's cute. Once called sparrow hawks, not because they ate sparrows but because they're petite like sparrows, kestrels are now known as falcons. Yet, recent genetics studies indicate that the falcons are more closely related to parrots than to hawks, so she's parrot-pretty. But the Ijams kestrel ain't no Polly, she's too pugnacious. She'd make a great scrappy faux parrot, sitting on the shoulder of a rogue pirate captain like Jack Sparrow...hawk. 

Even though it is raining off and on, stop by Ijams today for one of our Creature Features at 10 am, 2 and 3 pm. They are free! 

All photos by Chuck Cooper. 

If you're a grasshopper, this could be the last face you ever see.

You want a piece of me?
Female American kestrel—parrot pretty.

Friday, March 6, 2015

snowy eagle

Photo: Pennsylvania Game Commission

Glen Spidell sent me this story and photo of a parent bald eagle protecting its clutch from this week's winter storm and almost being completely buried in the snow. Needless to say, parenthood endured!

No one I have ever spoken to says that parenting is easy. Done properly, it's selfless. Done improperly is selfish.

Join me in the morning at Ijams for a Birding & Breakfast program about Nesting Birds. And no, it's not easy raising a family of hungry nestlings. Try regurgitating a lump of partially digested insects into a newborn's mouth some time.

This story nicely ties into the great horned owl story posted earlier. It is simply my experience that bird parents are loyal parents. They rarely abandon their clutches. 

Here's the link: snowy eagle.

Thanks, Glen.

Thursday, March 5, 2015

Rose Glen 2015 was Saturday last

The sixth annual Rose Glen Literary Festival was held last Saturday in Sevierville at the Convention Center on Gists Creek Road off Hwy 66.

Rose Glen is designed as a vehicle for local authors to come together once a year and talk about and sell their books. I've been a part of Rose Glen since the beginning, even serving as the initial keynote speaker at the luncheon. Since then, local authors Dr. Bill Bass, Fred Brown, Bill Landry and News Sentinel columnist Sam Venable have keynoted. This year's keynoters were a married duo, author Wendy Welch and her husband Scottish folk singer Jack Beck.

Special thanks to Carroll McMahan and Brenda McCroskey and the rest of the staff of the Sevierville Chamber of Commerce for organizing Rose Glen.

One of my favorite aspects of the festival is getting to meet and talk to other writers. Three years ago, I met Luke Copas, promoted as the youngest author there. He penned and illustrated a book about the tragic sinking of the world's most famous ocean liner called, "Facts for Kids about the Titanic." Luke is well on his way of becoming a Titanic historian; he's now working on his third book about the 1912 disaster.
Wendy Welch author of "The Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap: A Memoir of Friendship, Community, and the Uncommon Pleasure of a Good Book" served as keynote speaker. The title says it all. Welch spoke of her book and the perils of starting your life over, opening a bookstore without any books in a town of only 5,000 people and succeeding against all odds. But, heck, who pays attention to the odds?

Event organizer and historian Carroll McMahan has a book of his own, "Elkmont's Uncle Lem Ownby: Sage of the Smokies." Growing up in Gatlinburg, I remember when everyone's Uncle Lem still lived upstream from the Elkmont Campground. He had sold his land to the national park movement in the early 1900s but with the agreement that he got to live on it until his death. And Uncle Lem lived a long time. 

"Jellybeans for Breakfast?" The author, Shawn Cline, wrote the story and paired up with illustrator Teresa Glaze to produce this beautiful children's book. This book is educational in a fun way. Shawn's love of children and animals inspired her to write about animals and nutrition. Teresa Glaze, with her love and artistic talent has beautifully illustrated this story. Together Teresa and Shawn bring the story to life. 

When asked how many books he has written, everyone's favorite Sam Venable usually replies "a bunch." He isn't being glib, he probably doesn't know off the top of his head. I have several on my shelves and I'm lucky that he wrote the introduction for my first book. Sam's "A Handful of Thumbs and Two Left Feet" is a collection of his outdoor stories.

Multitalented Elyse Bruce is a musician, composer, singer-songwriter, visual artist, illustrator, playwright and the author of the “The Missy Barrett Adventures” book series, “The Missy Barrett Conversations” book series and the “Idiomation” book series. "The Secret Ingredient" is the third book in Bruce's Missy Barrett Adventures. In it, Missy visits Grandma and makes Nôhkom’s Artisan bread and chocolate chip cookies and learns what's Grandma's secret ingredient.

Since I also illustrate my books, I generally spend time at Rose Glen talking to young people about drawing. All kids draw, some, like me, do it all their lives. I met Jordan Roberts several years ago at the festival (she's gotten taller, I grayer) and enjoy seeing her every year to talk about art. She likes to draw animals, as I do.

And to all of the dozens of authors I didn't get to meet and talk to this year, there's always next year's Rose Glen set for February, 2016.

Author Wendy Welch

with Faye and Glen Cardwell author of
"The Greenbrier Cove Story" and "A Dream Fulfilled: A Story about Pittman Center."

Annetta, budding young artist
Sam Venable with my high school friend Ruth Carr Miller
Artist Jordan Roberts
Author Shawne Cline
Scottish folk singer Jack Beck
Author Elyse Bruce
with authors Luke Copas and Carroll McMahan

Monday, March 2, 2015

ice age melting

The ice and snow of the past two weeks have all but disappeared and the last herd of American mastodons (Mastodon americanum) was seen walking back across the melting Bering Sea land bridge towards Cincinnati and Big Bone Lick State Park at Big Bone, Kentucky. The name of the park comes from the Pleistocene megafauna fossils found there. The mastodonsfrom the Greek meaning "beast" plus "tooth" for obvious reasonsare believed to have been drawn to the Big Bone location by a salt lick deposited around sulphur springs.

Now ice and mastodon-less here in East Tennessee we're reverting back into our normal past time—throwing Clovis spear points at passing trains.

Last of the snow.

Sunday, March 1, 2015

coming in March

March is here. If the prognosticators are correct—and I think the groundhogs got it wrong—it's coming in like a soggy, wet lion replacing the snowy, frozen saber-tooth of the last two weeks.

To celebrate the coming spring, here's what has been scheduled for me on Saturdays, this month at Ijams:

Saturday, March 7, 9 a.m.
Ijams Birding & Breakfast: Bird Nesting

(All Ages) Join me for this indoor program on "Bird Nesting." Bluebirds need pine needles, titmice need hair, wrens need a hidey-hole and robins just need a flat surface and mud. Learn quick tips on how you can help your backyard birds nest successfully. Plus, Peg will also be serving a traditional breakfast. Fee: Ijams members $7, non members $12. Call 
(865) 577-4717, ext. 110 to register.

Saturday, March 7, 2 p.m.
Hike the South Loop with Ijams

(Ages 10 and up) The Knoxville Urban Wilderness South Loop now features a network of over 40 miles of hiking and biking trails. Join the Ijams Hiking Club with Eric Johnson and me for an exploration of a portion of this Urban Wilderness. Join other friendly and enthusiastic explorers in the Ijams Hiking Club for a fun trip around the trails. This program is free for Ijams members and $5 for non-members. Please call (865) 577-4717, ext. 110 for registration and information.

Saturdays, March 14, 21 and 28, 3 p.m.
Red-tailed Hawk presentation at Ijams
(All Ages) Learn all about our most common Buteo and all hawks in general. Free. No need to register. On the Plaza at the Ijams Visitor Center.

Saturday, March 14, 6 p.m.
Woodcock Birding & Supper Walk at Ijams

(All Ages) Join me for an outdoor walk in search of displaying woodcocks. Peg will also be serving a traditional soupy supper to warm our bellies before we go adventuring. Fee: Ijams members $7, non members $12. Call (865) 577-4717, ext. 110 to register.

Saturday, March 21, 9 a.m.
Backyard Birding Basics

Studying birds can open up a new world of outdoor exploration. This hands-on workshop will take you into the field to learn more about the practice of birding as well as how to identify common bird species. Fee: $29. This is an UT Non-credit course. To register go online to or call (865) 974-0150.

Saturday, March 21, 1 p.m.
Junior Backyard Birding Basics
Studying birds can open up a new world of outdoor exploration. This hands-on workshop will take you into the field to learn more about the practice of birding as well as how to identify common bird species. Must be age 10 or older and minors must be accompanied by a parent or legal guardian. Fee: $29. This is an UT Non-credit course. To register go online to or call (865) 974-0150.

Saturday, March 28, 1 p.m.
Shinrin-yoku: Mindfulness Walk at Ijams

(Recommended for adults) Stressed out? Feeling too disconnected? Then perhaps you need an exercise in
shinrin-yoku, Japanese for "forest bathing." Modern living is too hectic. Ijams Mindfulness Classes will help you reconnect to the moment, using only your senses to take in your surroundings. Slow meditative walks in nature lower cortisol (stress hormone) levels and blood pressure. The mindfulness walks are led by me and I'll prompt you to be aware of what nature offers: its scents, textures, sounds. There are only two rules: no talking and no cell phones or cameras. This program is $7 for Ijams members, $10 for non-members. Please call (865) 577-4717, ext. 110 for registration and information.

Friday, February 27, 2015

live long and prosper

"Once you have eliminated the impossible, 
whatever remains, 
however improbable, must be the truth."

Rest in peace, Mr. Spock.

(Never enough Vulcan in me to do the proper goodbye
without a piece of tape.)

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

snow monkeys?

Heated Birdbath

When the weather turns wintry, a must for your yard is a heated birdbath. It can be harder for your backyard birds to find water than food when the temperature doesn't climb above freezing for days. The water is only warmed enough not to freeze so it's not like Myrtle Beach. 

Perhaps, it's cabin fever but I keep looking out expecting to see Japanese macaque. The famous ones that bath in the hot springs near Nagano. The so called snow monkeys "live in areas where snow covers the ground for months each year – no other non-human primate is more northern-living, nor lives in a colder climate."

If our new Ice Age continues, I also expect to see a wholly mammoth pass the house on its way to Florida.

If I see either, it would be a lifer. I'll keep you posted.

Cabin fever is a funny thing.

You got any salsa in there?

Monday, February 23, 2015

Hawks of the Smokies

"The native Cherokee have a legend of a great mythic hawk: the Tl’nuw’, a blue-gray bird of prey as large as a wild turkey. It flew high above a flock of passenger pigeons in flight, eyeing them. The lordly bird would swoop down from overhead and snatch a victim from the flock, a quick strike, instant death with a puff of scattered feathers that would slowly pirouette to the ground like falling maple samara, its seeds.

"The Cherokee’s great hawk would then eat its meal on the wing without having to land. Such agility and power had to be eulogized. Although rarely seen this far south, the story loosely fits today’s northern goshawk, from the Old English gsheafoc or "goose-hawk." If I could time-travel, and go back to the late 1800s to visit my great grandfather Jim Bales, whose home site is today preserved upstream from his brother Ephraim’s on the Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail..."

For the rest of my article "Free and Easy: Hawks of the Great Smoky Mountains" check out Smokies Life magazine, Volume 8, Number 2. 

Special thanks to The Great Smoky Mountains Association, Contributing Editor Steve Kemp and the others that put together this wonderful, wonderful magazine of my ancestral homeland.

Sunday, February 22, 2015

a beech's toffee

If you could be any tree, which would it be?

I've asked this question before, mostly of myself. Today, after six days of below freezing temperatures and alternating ice, snow, ice, snow, ice over that time frame, I ask it again. 

Cabin fever has me feeling fanciful. 

So my answer is the American beech because of its resilience, its tenacity. Fagus grandifolia, from the Latin Fagus for "beech," grandi meaning "great" and folia for "leaves." And there they stand still clinging on to those dead dried leaves long after others have dropped theirs. But why? I simply cannot fathom. But assuredly there has to be a practical reason. Somehow it benefits the tree.

The beeches behind my house stand stoic, sober in the snow. Still decked out. 

The soft brown leaves, the color of toffee, are beautiful today. Simply beautiful on a day I'm craving a little color and perhaps a little toffee. 

Friday, February 20, 2015

can't beat a redhead

Call me old-fashioned, call me old-school, but you really can't beat a redhead. They're just so striking, real head-turners. 

Ooh là là! (In French, it actually means, "oh dear, oh my, oh no.")

Floating out in the middle of a pond, you cannot help but notice. Jason Dykes recently visited the Alcoa Duck Pond at Springbrook, and boom, there they were.

Redheads are diving ducks, not dabblers, that only migrate through East Tennessee, generally they do not stay long. Their breeding grounds are north and northwest. Not here.

When it comes to ducks, you really can't beat a redhead (Aythya americana). Although somewhat troubling, many (but not all) of the females have the tawdry habit of not building their own nests, choosing rather to lay their eggs in other ducks' nests forcing some to cry fowl. (Sorry. Been waiting 20 years to use that line.) I must assume that the redheads raised by non-redheads soon depart to seek out the company of other true redheads or how else would they know how to be redheads? I must assume. 

Redheads. They're not gadwalls, you simply cannot misidentify one, at least the males. Female redheads are trickier, more complicated. But isn't it always the way? 

Thanks, Jason.  

Monday, February 16, 2015

maryville's twice rescued owlet

Orphaned owlet alone back in nest.
Photo: Janet McKnight
Perhaps all great horned owlets look like they need rescuing. They do resemble stuffed animals at a county fair. This owlet was saved twice. 

After the first premature rescue, wildlife officials returned the owlet to its nest in the hopes its parents would return. 

After all, the best parents for a baby bird is its real parents.

By law it had to sit there 36 hours with no sign of either parent attending it before it could be truly rescued. It was a tense 36 hours. I kept in touch with people on the scene. A wildlife official watched from a truck parked nearby.

The tension ramped up when the temperature dipped into the mid-20s last Thursday evening—its last night on the nest. Would it survive until Friday the 13th, traditionally feared as an unlucky day? Many worried it would freeze to death or starve even though the same wildlife officials had placed proper food in the nest for it. 

I feared the worst, my thoughts were with it. I felt the shiver. Janet McKnight sent me a photo oozing with pathos. Stoic little thing. Now all alone on the nest braving the cold. Three weeks old and all alone.   

Did its parents stay in the area, even though their nest had been emptied two days earlier? Would they come back one last time to check?

In the end, 36 hours passed and no parent returned. The wildlife official climbed back up the tree and, this time, rescued the owlet for real. 

It was taken to a local rehabber to care for. They will keep human contact to a minimum. But can it be habituated to return to the wild? Maybe, but it is not easy with no real avian parents to tutor it on the ways of the world. More than likely it will spend the rest of its healthy life in a cage. Perhaps we should name it "Pathos." 

Thanks to all who kept me informed. 

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Follow-up: great horned owlet

Wiki: "The eyes of great horned owls are amongst the largest and most
powerfully acute in the animal kingdom." They see everything moving
around them. 
Photo: US Fish & Wildlife.

Folks that know me know that I am very easy-going, amiable. But this story has really piqued my ire. And I understand that everyone involved is big-hearted including me.

I have been in the “bird” business a long time. I’m so lucky to work at Ijams Nature Center and not only conduct classes in birds of all kinds but help care for six injured birds of prey. We do not do rehab, but we are licensed by TWRA to accept birds that have gone through rehab and deemed unreleasable back into the wild.

Lucky me. Best job in Knoxville.

Since I am an interpretive naturalist (and by creed have to interpret) here are a few additional thoughts on the topic of the Maryville great horned owl nest:

Around the world animal populations are in trouble especially many species of birds.

But not in this country. Yes, populations of bobwhites, whip-poor-wills, cerulean warblers and a modest list of others are on the decline. And if I were to go outside today and see a flock of evening grosbeaks in my woods, I’d have a coronary, but not before I’d send out an alarm to come see them.

While, Bachman’s warbler, Eskimo curlew and maybe even my beloved ivory-billed woodpecker may all be now extinct.

But as a whole, in America, our birds are doing well. Why? Because we have a 100 plus year history of conservation and strong laws to protect birds.

The law: Nesting birds are federally protected. It is illegal to take any baby bird from its nest, away from its parents unless you are 100 percent sure the parents are gone for at least 36 hours. Then that bird has to go to a licensed rehabber. To my knowledge, the only species not covered by this edict is the European starling, so if you want a pet captive bird there you go. The composer Mozart reportedly had a pet starling and loved it.

Abandonment: It is my experience that very, very few parent birds abandon their nestlings. Other than cowbirds, bird parents are great parents. They may grow to hate their choice of a nest site, but they hang in there until the entire family can fly away. I’m not saying it never happens, but I’m saying it rarely happens.

Mated pairs: In a few species, ruby-throated hummingbirds to name one, the female does all the work but in most species the male and female work together to feed the young. Sometimes one is killed, but the sole remaining parent raises the young alone.

Neglect: First-time parents may be a bit inexperienced at raising babies, they may choose a poor nest site but they somehow muddle through. They get better as time goes on. My Mom says she was better with my younger sister because she made all the mistakes on me.

Sitting on the nest: When nestlings get older, the parents/parent does not always sit on the nest with them. It can get crowded, plus Mom needs a break. She’s nearby watching.

Nest failure: It happens. Not all nests survive; a lot do not. I recently read that up to 40 percent of all robins’ nests fail, yet robins have one of the fastest growing populations in the country. Why? The increase in suburban lawns.

Habitat: Great horned owl (From the Cornell website) “The broad range of habitats they use includes deciduous and evergreen forests, swamps, desert, tundra edges, and tropical rainforest, as well as cities, orchards, suburbs and parks.” Notice three of the last four and those are full of people.

The Maryville great horned pair chose that site perhaps because all other suitable habitat was taken. It tells me that the great horned owl population around Maryville is thriving or why else would it choose there? If the nest is successful, in the future, there may be other great horned owl nests up and down the greenway. Wouldn’t that be grand?

As a general rule, many species of animals and birds are moving into the cities because the country is crowded because we have great conservation laws in this country.

Diet: Owls are nocturnal; they hunt primarily at night, that’s also when the small mammals are out foraging. Great horned owls are noted for killing skunks at night. (They have a poor sense of smell.) They doze during the day and may look “neglectful.”

But, “Scarcely anything that moves is safe from this owl. It will eat prey as small as insects and scorpions or as large as domestic cats, woodchucks, geese and great blue herons. This owl's diverse diet may include small mammals to rabbits, birds and reptiles to fish and amphibians. It will take carrion when the weather is bad. It regularly preys on smaller owls and has been reported to attack and kill even red-tailed hawks. It has no predators and will eat anything from crayfish to young foxes.” Great horned owls rarely starve.

People: Will the many on-lookers cause a nest to fail? Maybe, but I doubt it. People have been respectful and kept a safe distance. Read my last post about Pale Male in New York City. And it’s the “City that never sleeps.” Everyone I have spoken to says the parent looks pretty nonchalant about the folks watching.

The Rescue: You simply do not rescue a baby bird with its parent/parents watching. That's kidnapping. The dad was probably dozing somewhere waiting for nightfall and the hunt to begin. 

The Maryville owlet: Eye witnesses tell me that the owlet was fat and chunky, appeared healthy and cared for and even was still clutching the remains of its last meal in its talons. (It appeared to be a towhee.) As I understand it, US Fish & Wildlife officials have placed it back on the nest. Pray for it. Let’s hope its parents have not fled the area because someone kidnapped their baby. Would you hang around a crime scene?

But make no mistake, the best parent for a baby bird is its parent.

As I understand it, if the parents do not reappear in 36 hours, the owlet will be rescued for real, and have to spend the rest of its life in a cage. And that’s a shame considering it’s totally healthy. A rescued baby would have a very low survival rate in the wild as an adult. It did not have its parents to teach it the necessary survival skills.

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

urban birds of prey

Maryville great horned owl. Photo by Jason Dykes.

A few thoughts on the great horned owls nesting in downtown Maryville and birds of prey that choose to live in the city.

Sometimes parent birds choose poor nest sites because there's no more suitable nesting territories available, or, perhaps, they are young parents that make a poor choice. If so, they learn their lesson. 

Predators like coyotes, foxes and raccoons have become very common in our cities. Why? There's food available: mice, rats, pigeons, chunky sweet starlings, to name a few.

And, with greater frequency, birds of prey are choosing to live in cities also. Peregrine falcons can be found in several large U.S. cities, many also have very popular peregrine cams watching their nesting activities. 

New York City's Pale Male
The most famous urban-dwelling bird of prey in the world is Pale Male, a red-tailed hawk hatched in 1990, that took up residence on ritzy Fifth Avenue across from Central Park in New York City in 1991. The next year, he found a mate and they successfully raised a clutch, feeding the young nestlings city pigeons and rats, with hundreds of people watching from the park.

Pale Male became famous, raising the awareness of raptors and their role in the environment. He became a goodwill ambassador for all hawkdom. A fan club grew around him. There was a book written about him: "Red-tails in Love" (1998) by Marie Winn, which I have read. There was also a PBS Nature documentary, "Pale Male" (2004) which I have seen multiple times.

Guess what? Pale Male is still there at 927 Fifth Avenue, in the heart of one of the world's largest cities, with hundreds of people watching and taking photos for over two decades. He is the most documented red-tailed hawk in history with oodles of photos online. The most recent photo I could find was taken eight days ago: click February 2, 2015

Audubon magazine: March-April 2005
Since 1992, he and his mates have raised dozens of young redtails with hundreds of people watching his activities every day. Although he has had several mates over the years, 25-year-old Pale Male thrives in "The city that never sleeps." Perhaps he knows that a Fifth Avenue aerie is pretty posh digs, apartments there rent for millions. 

Who, could have predicted his success? No one. But it's not for us to prophesy the future. Nature itself makes these choices.

Today there are several redtails living in and around Central Park in the Big Apple. Pale Male was a pioneer.  

Perhaps I am comparing apples to oranges, but I don't think so; more like Winesaps to Granny Smiths. Great horned owls are not red-tailed hawks, but Maryville is not New York City.

If you truly, truly, truly know the nest has been abandoned, then you attempt a rescue. But you simply cannot under any circumstances assume the nest will fail and do a rescue. That is kidnapping. It's cruel and illegal even if it is done with some witnesses applauding.  

Can birds of prey survive in cities with people watching? Yes. Should people tamper with their nests, i.e. Mother Nature? No. 

Besides, their nests are federally protected. It's against the law to tamper.

Thank you, Janet Lee.

For more recent photos click Pale Male