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May 12th Update: Preening, pooping and mantling...and legislation to protect our raptors

by Bob Sallinger

kgw.com

Posted on May 12, 2009 at 8:23 AM

Updated Wednesday, Nov 4 at 2:39 PM

The chicks are now 26 and 27 days old respectively. One writer asked when the feathers will change color so that they look more like the parents. The feathers are actually growing in below a thick layer of down---They have far more feathering than is apparent but each day they are becoming increasingly visible as they emerge through the downy layer. However they retain the downy layer until fairly late in the nesting process making them appear less developed than they actually are. During the first year of their lives, their tail feathers will actually be brown. They do not get their red-tails until their second year.

They are exhibiting a variety of interesting behaviors at this point.You will see a lot of feather preening--basically combing their feathers with their beaks. This helps remove the down and helps the new feathers emerge from their sheaths. For feathers that are harder to reach with their beaks, they will use their talons to scratch. look for this behavior after mealtime. Also when the birds poop, they will move to the edge of the nest and aim their buts over the side---this keeps the nest clean and makes for an interesting pattern in the fire escape and sidewalk below. They are now mantling over their food---this is a behavior in which that stand atop their food and drop their wings to keep it hidden. Right now they are protecting their meals from one another but they will continue this throughout their lives to protect their prey from other predators. At Audubon we often get calls from concerned motorists who have seen hawks with "drooped wings" by the side of the highway and assume that they have been hit by a car. In fact most of the time they are just sitting on prey . Many hawk species like to hunt along highways because when rodents scurry across the road they have no cover and are easy prey.

On another note, today I am off to Washington D.C. to testify in front of the House Subcommittee on Oceans, Insular Affairs and Wildlife on house Bill 2062, The Migratory Bird treaty Act penalty and Enforcement Act of 2009. This bill was introduced by Congressman DeFazio. It would make it a felony to intentionally and maliciously kill a protected bird species. It is amazing to think that somebody would intentionally kill a bird like a red-tailed hawk. Unfortunately we see this type of incident far to often at our Wildlife Care Center. Two years ago a US Fish and Wildlife Service undercover investigation revealed that "roller pigeon clubs across the country were intentionally killing birds of prey including peregrine falcons, red tails and Cooper's hawks to protect thier pet pigeons while they flew free in the environment. The Fish and Wildlife Service estimates that these folks were killing 2000-3000 birds/ year in the Western United States using the most sadistic methods imaginable. The investigation resulted in charges against 16 individuals in Oregon, Washington, California and Oregon. This new bill would increase the penalties allowed for this type of egregious behavior. Kudos to Congressman DeFazio for taking the lead on helping protect our birds.

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