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Raptor Internship 2.0

This week the new classes of raptor interns started their 12-week course with Flint Creek Wildlife Rehabilitation. I wrote about my experience on my own first day exactly one year ago: Raptor Internship Week 1.

Today I helped out a bit as the Saturday group had their first class, along with my new good friend Kim. We did some (icky poo) cleaning up after showing the interns six of FCWR’s education birds. I handled spry 0511 (Red-tailed Hawk), lovely large lady Pennsylvania (Great Horned Owl) shortly, and the distinguished senior Darwin (American Kestrel).

While I was waiting to “go on” with 0511 and Darwin, I waited in another room and took the chance to snap a few pictures with my Android phone.



Check out this extremely cool plumage adaptation in American Kestrels – a false face! As Darwin is looking the other way you can see his extra pair of “eyes” on the back of his head. The illusion of a face is even aided by the beak-shaped dark triangle in between the eyes. Pretty neat, right?

False Eyes

This plumage adaptation is found in other bird species, too. Mr. David Sibley writes more about false faces in birds here and here.

Unfortunately I won’t be able to help out each week of the internship. For most of the day today I was sure it was Tuesday, so that may be for the best. ๐Ÿ˜‰

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Raptor Internship Week 12

Last Tuesday was the final day of the Raptor Internship I took at Flint Creek Wildlife Rehabilitation this spring. After 11 weeks of lecture, study and handling work, we spent the first part of week 12 taking our 150-question test and practical examination. After passing the practical portion we were able to take a walk with Old Red, FCWR’s wise old Red-tailed Hawk, on our own. This was the first time we were able to walk solo with a such a big bird. She was magnificent! I did get a few photos during the day, but not of raptors – and I’m saving them for a future post on a different subject. Instead, here is a collection of some photos taken throughout the internship.

During the second week we learned about equipment and put together our own falconry gloves. I was distracted by Meepy, who I could see from my classroom chair.

Meepy resting in her mew

In week 4 we worked with the equipment and got to practice removing and applying equipment with Pip, a Barn Owl with a lot of character.

Posing with Pip after the exercise

In week 5 I went to take Meepy out of her mew. This was the first time I took a bird onto my glove. Luckily there was a student reporter in our class with us who documented it (and my awkwardness) in photos.

Meepy thinks about getting on my glove

In week 6 we got to work with Junior for the first time. I was happy to have another stroll with Meepy, too.

Junior and me

Meepy and me

In week 7 I got to walk with a bird on my own for the first time. Darwin the American Kestrel was a perfect gentleman.

Darwin and me

During week 9 I was lucky enough to get to hold a Red-tailed Hawk for the first time. 0511 was a bit restless. I love this photo, even though it’s blurry. I’ve got a look of surprise on my face – I’m feeling 0511’s strong talons on my hand. You can see Dawn, behind us, has a big smile on her face. She’s laughing at my reaction to 0511’s incredible strength.

0511 and me, with Dawn in the background

In week 10 I got to hold Meepy while she was having her beak coped. Later I held FCWR’s longtime resident Old Red.

Meepy and me after the deed

Old Red and me

I enjoyed the internship so much and I’m really sad it’s over. I highly recommend the Raptor Internship! Before it began I wasn’t sure if I wanted to do it and I was late signing up, but I’m so glad I did.

Along with Arthur I’m volunteering with Rescue & Recovery during the spring migration. I hope to continue volunteering at FCWR going forward and I’m sure you’ll hear all about it here on the blog!

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Raptor Internship Week 11

My Raptor Internship at Flint Creek Wildlife Rehabilitation is winding down. Since this week was the first session since the initial class that I didn’t take any photographs, this will be a very brief summary of the day. The lecture for this week focused on rehabilitation and medical issues. We also spent some time reviewing previous material in preparation for the final exam next week. (eek!)

In the afternoon we had the usual cleaning duty and handling experience. I took Meepy out of her mew. I heard her vocalize for the first time and I suddenly understood the meaning of her name. She meeped at me! She actually seemed a bit out of sorts and it took me a few tries to get her on the glove. After a walk on the FCWR grounds I put her into the weathering yard and my fellow classmates then all took turns practicing equipment removal and assembly with Meepy. Part of our exam next week will be practical so I think we were all happy to have the extra bit of practice. Until then I’ll be studying my notes!

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Raptor Internship Week 10

The Raptor Internship at Flint Creek Wildlife Rehabilitation is starting to wind down — there’s just two more weeks to go! Week 10’s lecture focus was medical care for raptors. There were two coping demonstrations and then we all got in some handling practice. Three students from the Saturday class joined us, so there were eight of us on Tuesday!

The rehabilitation activities at Flint Creek are on the rise as spring babies get into trouble and need help. The first baby squirrels of the season were in Dawn’s care and we got the chance to see them being fed. Look how tiny!

Around lunchtime, Zen came in for a visit. Zen is FCWR’s Cooper’s Hawk.

Two birds had to be taken from their mews, and we drew cards to see who would get them. My card said “JR” so I went out to get Junior, the Great Horned Owl. I was warned that he might give me some trouble, maybe by hanging from the ceiling or by just flying from perch to perch as I would try to get him on the glove. Well, ‘some trouble’ was an understatement. I stepped into his mew and he hopped up to a high perch. I moved my ladder to him and climbed up to offer my glove. He flew up to the ceiling and hung there like a bat. For a very long time. I would climb up towards him and he’d fly off to another perch. This went on and on for some time, most of it with me looking up at Junior hanging completely upside-down from the ceiling. He was getting tired and so was I.

Finally he flew down to the floor of his mew and I could get one jess in. He was standing on my arm very awkwardly and as I stood up to adjust and get him down onto my glove, he bated. I held tight onto the jess while he flopped around until he was finally hanging prone. I lifted him up and got back to work. I got so hot and sweaty out there trying to get Junior, and when I was done I had to hand him over immediately to Karen, one of FCWR’s volunteers, so he could be brought inside.

I had been outside for so long I think I missed some lecture about coping. Coping is the term for clipping, filing and otherwise reshaping beaks and talons. In the wild, raptors wear down their beaks and talons on natural rough surfaces. Coping is a part of regular maintenance for education raptors.

I was happy to finally sit in my chair, relax, and see what other interns would be doing. Classmate Connie had drawn the ‘hold Meepy’ card, which meant she would hold and control Meepy while she was being coped. Meanwhile classmate Lee stood at the back of the room, holding Meepy. She asked to be relieved and, well, without thinking really I kind of jumped up with my glove to get her, practically before Dawn asked if someone could take her. I figured I would just hold her for a minute before passing her to Connie and Dawn for coping… like some positive reinforcement for me after my ordeal with Junior (because, well, I just love Meepy).

When it was time I brought Meepy up to the front of the room and Dawn thought maybe she could try coping Meepy on the glove. Very, very cool! But then I felt very, very bad for having jumped up to take Meepy in the first place. Meepy’s talons didn’t need any work but her beak did, so Dawn worked on clipping and then filing smooth Meepy’s beautiful Barred Owl beak.

As usual Meepy was a star – she did great! She got a mouse for being so good.

When Meepy was done, it was time to work on Junior. First Dawn put him into position on the table and covered his head. Covering the eyes helps a bird to relax in a stressful situation. Fellow student Kristi then held Junior while Dawn clipped and filed his beak.

Later we took turns walking with birds and then got to hold Old Red, another FCWR Red-tailed Hawk. First I took Meepy for a long walk and then held onto Red before she was put back into her mew.

Big thanks to all of my classmates who were so kind to grab my camera to take photos of me holding Meepy and Old Red. Special thanks to Kristi for sending me pictures of Meepy being coped.

Next week: more on medical care, rehabilitation, and review for the final exam!

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Raptor Internship Week 8

The focus during this week’s Raptor Internship was training education birds. The brief lecture covered how to glove and flight train a bird, and training using positive vs negative reinforcement.

Two volunteers, along with Pip, then demonstrated flight training using a creance.

Pip on the glove, prior to a flight

Barn Owl flight
Pip in flight

Pip about to land on the glove

The trainers face away from each other between the flights. During this time the receiver prepares the food reward on the glove and the bird finishes the food it has just received from the last flight. When the bird and the receiver are ready, both trainers turn around and the receiver blows her whistle to signal the bird to fly.

Here’s a closer look at the creance. It’s a piece of capped PVC pipe with some sand (?) inside to make it the appropriate weight for the bird in training.

Dawn explained that lures may also be used to flight train a bird, and she showed the following two examples. The pigeon might be used for training a bird like a Peregrine Falcon, while the black and white “skunk” might be used for a Great Horned Owl.

In the afternoon we had more handling experience. I took Pip first and since he had flight jesses on, I had to change his equipment, which went pretty smoothly. Next I walked with Meepy, and finally with Darwin. All of the students were walking around the grounds at the same time; it was like a parade of raptors.

After the raptor walkies, it was time to clean out a couple of the mews. I hadn’t cleaned while a bird was in its cage before, but I got to pick up waste and change the water in Zen’s place while he watched me warily from the corner. Next I worked in Junior’s mew. Junior’s a bit horny these days, which might mean he could be aggressive towards people. While I was picking up, volunteer Karen kept an eye on Junior and stood guard in case he got any bad ideas. For those keeping track, I found another two headless mice while cleaning out the mews this week. ๐Ÿ˜‰ Next week: feeding and nutrition!

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Raptor Internship Week 7

Wow, I can’t believe the Raptor Internship is already over the halfway point! This week’s lecture was about housing requirements for raptors, and about transporting birds. As usual, in the afternoon we had handling experience.

First we observed as Dawn and volunteer Karen changed the anklets on 0511 (“oh-five-eleven”), one of Flint Creek’s resident Red-tailed Hawks. Here’s 0511 before the procedure. She’s so beautiful!

Then we all took turns walking with Darwin. Darwin was the first bird we handled, back in week 3. Here he is on a classmate’s glove before going outside. Isn’t he gorgeous?

When we weren’t walking, we were scrubbing & cleaning. The highlight for me was finding a headless mouse in Darwin’s mew. ๐Ÿ˜›

After everyone had a turn walking with Darwin, it was nearly time to leave for the day so we were dismissed. One classmate and I stayed a bit longer so we could walk with Darwin alone. Our first solo walk with a bird! Thank you Connie for taking a few photos of me with Darwin. Here’s my favorite.

During the walk I passed a man and his daughter who were interested in Darwin. I told them he was an American Kestrel and was going to say more but the man started to approach me and I suddenly got nervous. Raptor education FAIL. I politely asked the man and his daughter if they wouldn’t mind to continue their walk. Later I passed another man walking on the path; he offered to stop and let us pass. I had the idea he had been walking there before and passing someone with a bird on the glove wasn’t so remarkable to him.

After everyone had left, Dawn asked if I wanted to put Darwin back in his mew, and feed him. Oh, sure, I can do that. ๐Ÿ˜‰ Dawn handed me a mouse and I walked into Darwin’s mew. I set the mouse on a stump and removed his equipment. It had been a while since I’d worked on removing a leash extender so I it took me a minute. Then I raised my hand to let Darwin fly to his perch. I didn’t open my fingers enough and he was a bit stuck for a moment before his jesses were free from my glove. I felt bad about it but Darwin wasn’t hurt and I certainly learned from my mistake – that won’t happen again.

Next week: training (and hopefully less mice than this week).

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Raptor Internship Week 6

During this weekโ€™s Raptor Internship at Flint Creek we finished covering the natural history of raptor species. In the afternoon we had more handling practice.

First we wrapped up discussing the diurnal raptors and then covered the nocturnal raptors of North America, again with a focus on the birds most commonly seen in Illinois. During part of the lecture Dawn had Turkey, Flint Creek’s resident Turkey Vulture, on her glove. Turkey likes to stand with his wings spread out. While Dawn was lecturing, he yawned several times. I guess he’d heard it all before.

Before the lunch break I asked who we would be handling in the afternoon. Just then Junior, one of Flint Creek’s Great Horned Owls, was being brought into the building by a volunteer. As if to answer me, right at that moment he hooted loudly. I had my answer – we’d get to work with Junior!

Junior came to Flint Creek via RAPTOR, Inc, in Ohio. He’s got quite a history, a big part of which you can read over at Susan’s blog: The owl who loved me. Junior has been at Flint Creek since 2007. The past two winters he has had a female Great Horned Owl outside his mew and trying to get in, apparently interested in his amorous calls (she would move on, eventually). From what I have seen, Junior is very vocal. The boy loves to hoot.

One thing we heard about Junior was that although he is fully flighted, he has a tendency to not correct himself after a bate. Before we took turns walking with him, Dawn brought him into the classroom to see if he would bate, so she could demonstrate how to help him back up. He was not immediately cooperative.

Once outside, just before handing him off to the first student, he bated. He didn’t self-correct so the other students ran over to watch Dawn demonstrate getting him upright again.

While one student was walking with Junior, the rest of us helped a bit with mew maintenance (ie cleaning up poop, pellets & leftovers, scrubbing and replenishing water).

Finally it was my turn to walk with Junior.

Junior and me

He was so relaxed during our walk around the grounds. I was kind of hoping he would bate so I could correct him, but he was just chillaxing, giving a hoot here and there and looking around. And it was a nice day for a change, with lots of sun breaking through big white clouds, not too cold.

Back inside I took a few more photos of him. Gratuitous glam shots:

GHOW Junior

GHOW Junior

Later we all got to walk with Meepy again (squee!) and take a second walk with Junior. Meepy was like a different bird, she was so much more relaxed than last week. I was also more relaxed, and I was able to keep my arm in position much better than before. I could see a big improvement in myself from last week to this week. ๐Ÿ™‚ Still need to work on my arm strength though.

Meepy and me

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Raptor Internship Week 5

First, here’s a picture of me with Pip from last week’s class.

During this week’s Raptor Internship at Flint Creek we learned about diurnal raptors. In the afternoon we had our third handling experience.

The lecture focused on eagles, falcons, and some hawk species (the rest will be covered next week). Birds most commonly found in northern Illinois were covered in depth, while other North American raptors were briefly discussed. Besides telling us about field marks and habitat, sometimes Dawn would talk a bit about concerns with particular species in captivity. For example, American Kestrels, particularly females, are prone to obesity in captivity. Dawn also told us about the Peregrine Falcon monitoring that is done in Chicago, which is coordinated via the Field Museum at expedtions@fieldmuseum.

After lunch we got to handle Meepy, Flint Creek’s resident Barred Owl. Meepy has been at the Itasca facility since 1992. She was being raised illegally when she was brought in, so she is imprinted on humans. She used to free fly in programs and indeed she is fully flight capable. I was practically bursting all morning after I learned we would get to work with Meepy. When it was time to start I was eager to go first (I don’t think my classmates minded)!

This was the first time any of us handled a raptor outdoors. I took Meepy from her mew, so it was also the first time I got to take a bird onto my glove and put on all of the equipment from scratch.

Inviting Meepy to step onto my glove

Barred Owls have a lot of feathers on their legs, so it was a challenge to get her jesses in. Like Darwin and Pip, Meepy was extremely patient as I struggled with her equipment.

Working through the fluffy leg feathers

Eventually jesses, leash extender and leash were secured and I took Meepy out of her mew. Together with Dawn and Tawny, a journalism student who joined our class for the day, we walked around the Flint Creek grounds. It was snowing so all was quiet and beautiful. (Many thanks to Tawny for all of the Meepy photos in today’s post).

Outside the mew, finally

During the walk we talked about how to handle potential hazards when out walking with a bird, like dogs, strollers and bikers (apparently Meepy is afraid of all three). There was no one else using the paths on Tuesday, but the Saturday class (with nine students!) had a hazard for everyone. Meepy also bated a few times, so I got to practice raising my arm during a bate and waiting for her to settle before walking on.

Walking with Meepy

After the walk we returned to the classroom. I learned how to take a gloved bird through doors (bird first) and then handed Meepy off to Dawn. Boy was I tired at the end. I really need to work on my arm strength – I was pretty disappointed in how quickly my arms tired after carrying such a light bird (Meepy is probably no more than 2 pounds)!

There were just four students in class this week, and we all got to walk with Meepy outside. I think it went really well for everyone. Fortunately we were able to leave a bit early for the day, as the snow never stopped on Tuesday and we ended up with well over a foot of accumulation. The drive wasn’t easy but being able to leave early sure did help.

Next week: more diurnal raptors and more handling! And hopefully, after two Tuesday snows in a row, no more snow!

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Raptor Internship Week 4

The focus during the fourth week of the Raptor Internship at Flint Creek was more handling (following basics, equipment, and handling part one).

After a brief review of what we learned last week, we practiced putting equipment on a bird by using only our dominant hand. Dawn devised a contraption made of Velcro strips and pencils (kestrel) or markers (hawk) to simulate a bird’s legs. Using this, we were able to thread anklets with jesses, attach leash extenders to jesses, and thread leashes to leash extenders. Boy, was it great to practice in this way. We worked in small groups and could help each other remember to keep our “bird” level and secure while we worked. Dawn told us she first learned to apply and remove equipment like this with a Red-tailed Hawk on the glove. Wow! (Many thanks to my classmate Lee for taking the video and photos below)

Working from behind, here a jess is being threaded through one of the “hawk’s” anklets

Here the jesses are being inserted into the slit of the leash extender.

Working a jess into one of the “kestrel’s” anklets

After everyone got to practice with both sets of equipment, Dawn showed us how to tie a falconer’s knot. After observing Dawn several times, we all took turns trying it out. I had a really hard time seeing what Dawn was doing exactly with her fingers and the leash, but once it was my turn I picked it up pretty quickly. Here’s what it looks like:

The piece of leash between the metal loop and the leash extender should be shorter – I need to practice that!

After lunch and another brief lecture about special handling situations, it was time for us to work with a bird once again. This time Pip, a Barn Owl, was bought in and placed on a low perch. Pip’s parents were part of a captive breeding program for Illinois. While his siblings were released, Pip was held back to be used as an education bird. He is fully flighted.

We took turns taking Pip onto our glove and (much to our initial horror) removing all of his equipment except for one jess. Pip was so relaxed he was mostly either preening (it was so very cool to hear him ‘zip’ his feathers so close!) or near sleeping as we worked on the equipment.

I think we all did really well with this exercise. The ability to practice with the Velcro birds really helped prepare us all for working with Pip on the glove.

It was another great class – I’m so glad I signed up for this internship! Next week we’ll look at the natural history of diurnal raptors and get more handling experience. I can’t wait!

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Raptor Internship Week 3

Last Tuesday morning during my drive to Flint Creek Wildlife Rehabilitation I saw two American Kestrels. One was diving from a utility wire down to the ground; the other was perched and bobbing its tale as kestrels will do. Little did I know then that later in the day I would hold my first bird on the glove, and it would be a beautiful American Kestrel.

Our instructor, Dawn, brought a carrier into Flint Creek as the class participants were arriving. The patient in the carrier was Phoenix, a remarkable bird that we would later get to see being treated.

The focus for the third week of the Raptor Internship was handling techniques (we earlier covered basics and equipment). We began with a lecture and viewing photos of the basics of proper raptor handling. There is a lot to keep in mind when handling a bird, and all of the proper techniques are practiced in order to keep both the handler and the bird safe at all times.

After the lecture, Flint Creek’s beautiful American Kestrel Darwin was brought into the classroom.

Darwin’s information sign outside his mew at Flint Creek Wildlife Rehabilitation

Dawn demonstrated taking the tethered bird from perch to glove. Then each student took a turn doing the same. We were each able to spend several minutes with him on our glove. Dawn had to talk us through each step but I think we all did very well. I know the other ladies in the class all looked like naturals once Darwin was in place. I was so nervous when it was my turn but both Dawn and Darwin were so patient. It was hard to take my eyes off of him when Darwin was perched on my glove – I was awestruck!

Once the handling practice was over, it was close to noon, which meant it was time for Dawn to take care of Phoenix once again. We got to watch Dawn and her patient through the clinic’s one-way glass as Dawn administered medicine to Phoenix and fed her. I was so moved not only by this exceptional bird’s will to live, but by Dawn’s extreme professionalism in handling the bird. This beautiful bird has a long road ahead in her recovery. Please consider donating to Flint Creek Wildlife Rehabilitation for all of the remarkable work they do.

After lunch the rest of the class time was spent finishing our gloves from the last class and making equipment. We cut jesses, leash extenders and anklets from practice leather. Later I helped condition a few leather jesses in jess grease (kind of messy!) and even got to cut a few jesses using kangaroo leather.

Practice leash extenders, jesses and anklets (left to right)

Jesses made from kangaroo leather

Next class: Handling Part 2!

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