Falconry terms in common language

I’m learning how to handle birds in the Raptor Internship at Flint Creek Wildlife Rehabilitation. A lot of the terms used in handling birds of prey come from falconry. Did you know that some common English-language idioms actually originate in falconry? I took the following chart from Wikipedia.

Expression Meaning in falconry Derived meaning
in a bate bating: trying to fly off when tethered in a panic
fed up of a hawk, with its crop full and so not wanting to hunt no longer interested in something
haggard of a hawk, caught from the wild when adult looking exhausted and unwell, in poor condition; wild or untamed
under his/her thumb of the hawk’s leash when secured to the fist tightly under control
wrapped round his/her little finger of the hawk’s leash when secured to the fist tightly under control

I’d never heard the phrase in a bate before, but I do find the other connections fascinating. I especially would never have guessed fed up, under my thumb and wrapped around her little finger came from falconry, but really, they make perfect sense!

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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. 😛

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. 😉 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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Gull Frolic 2010

Today we spent a few hours at the Illinois Ornithological Society Gull Frolic at the Winthrop Harbor Yacht Club.

Alvaro Jaramillo talked about Slaty-backed Gulls and his own road to becoming a larophile. Alvaro is a great speaker and I really enjoyed his presentation. I still need some work on my gull-love, though.

Well over 200 birders were in attendance and the gulls did not disappoint with at least seven species identified.

It was cold and snow fell for most of the morning and early afternoon. Larophobes like me could ask IOS members for assistance in locating and identifying gulls. They were easy to spot in hot orange hats.

It was warm and cozy inside the yacht club. Birding facilities should be so comfy.

There was a spread of pastries and doughnuts for breakfast, and a nice lunch buffet to warm up cold birders.

It was our first Gull Frolic and we heard it was more crowded than recent years. Kudos to the sponsors for organizing a great gathering!

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Crow in the snow

Yesterday Arthur and I visited Chicago’s Shedd Aquarium and before we went inside I spent some time watching a small group of American Crows that was hanging around the entrance. Mostly they were flying from tree to tree, making the typical crow racket, but I noticed this one beaking around in the snow. I’m not sure if he was looking for something or just playing, but it was fun to watch and wonder.

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Raptor Internship Week 6

During this week’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. 🙂 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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Where are the hides hiding?

When Arthur and I first started becoming interested in birds back in Holland, Arthur’s father told us about a site he’d seen called vogelkijkhut.nl, which I kind of like to think was our spark thing (no spark bird). Vogelkijkhut means bird-look-hut or bird hide, and the website is a totally awesome directory of the all the bird hides in the Netherlands. The site is also integrated with waarneming.nl, similar to North America’s eBird. There is basic information for each entry, including type of site (blind or hide, screen, tower, etc), whether there is parking and if it is accessible via public transportation. Further details are provided per site, including user-submitted photos, detailed driving or public transport directions, habitat, and recent bird and wildlife sightings via the waarneming.nl link. The site is naturally in Dutch, but if you look at the page on our favorite local birding spot, Starrevaart, you can get a good idea of the wealth of information on the site. There are 376 locations listed in total.

Vogelknip bird hide @ Vogelplas Starrevaart
The entrance to the hide at Starrevaart. Note how the path to the door is also blinded from wildlife.

We would base weekend outings on bird hides we found on this website. Since vogelkijkhut.nl is linked to waarneming.nl, we could look on the site at the hides close to our home or intended day-trip location and see what birds were recently seen from that hide.

Our interest in birding grew as we easily found new birding sites within our reach, with loads of data about each site available at our fingertips. Birding from hides meant that we could sit and enjoy great views of birds that would go about their business – without noticing all the bird groupies that were watching their every move.

Bird hide @ Doñana National Park
Bird hide with low windows at Doñana National Park in Spain

As our interest continued to grow, we would bird farther and farther afield, and during the years we lived in Rotterdam and Leiden we were able to take several trips within Europe where we usually tried to fit in some birding. A lot of this birding was also done from hides.

Bird hide in the Loire Valley
Exiting a bird hide in the Loire Valley, France

When we moved back to Illinois in late 2008, we looked forward to American birding, presumably some of which would be from some good American bird hides (I guess we call them bird blinds, here?) – boy were we wrong!

Why aren’t there bird blinds here? Why are the majority of bird observation areas we come across locally open decks? Why are there so many hides in the Netherlands and Europe? This question has been on my mind a lot lately, and I can’t really come up with one good answer.

Of course, I’ve only got experience birding around our local counties (Lake, McHenry and Cook) and a very little bit of birding in Florida and Ohio (just a few day’s worth), so it could be that there are more wildlife observation blinds in other parts of the country. It’s just the near complete lack of them in our own birding excursions is so disappointing. I mean, birding by butt is so comfy, am I right?

Wildlife Observation Hide
Open “blind” at Merritt Island NWR in Florida

I started a Flickr pool for bird hide images a little while ago. Unsurprisingly, most of the photos are from hides in Great Britain, the Netherlands, and other parts of Europe. (If you’ve got photos of bird blinds or other wildlife observation constructions, I would love for you to add them to the pool.)

If birding is such a popular hobby here in the United States, why aren’t there more comfortable hides from which birds and other wildlife can be observed?

America has a lot more conserved land than Europe, so one reason may be that wildlife viewing opportunities are more restricted across the pond, and providing a blind from which to view animals 1) makes the chance of seeing some wildlife more likely and 2) is less likely to disturb the birds and animals that are living in the restricted natural area. In the Netherlands there seems to be a bird hide at every natural park or wildlife area we came across, while here in Lake County I only know of one true blind, a small building on the Tamarack Trail at Volo Bog (also the smallest hide I’ve ever seen).

Bird Hide at Volo Bog
Observation blind at Volo Bog

There are, however, several sites in the county where bird or wildlife observation areas are set aside. At Rollins Savanna there is an open viewing area with a couple of scopes. A platform was recently built at Prairie Wolf Slough for viewing the wetland.

Viewing platform
Viewing platform at Prairie Wolf Slough

Could weather be a factor? It rains a lot in the Netherlands, much more than here in northern Illinois. Are there a lot of covered bird blinds in the Pacific Northwest of the United States?

Are there a lot of bird or wildlife observation blinds at your favorite local birding patches? Do you have any ideas as to why we seem to lack blinds here while Europe uses them extensively? I would really love to hear your theories!

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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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