Meadow Mueller 07/2003 - 04/2015

Meadow Mueller 07/2003 - 04/2015

November 23, 2011

Backyard Terrors... but I love them

So as the cold weather moves in for another season, I definitely notice some changes in my bird feeder activity. You know, some species fly further south until next Spring and for other species this is their southern region. And another change I see is the increase in Hawk activity as it gets more difficult to find mice with the colder weather. And when the snow hits, it gets even worse for them. So, what's a Hawk to do? Check out some local bird feeders for another natural food source... smaller birds!

We get a pair of Coopers Hawks when the snow stays on the ground. And they enjoy a Pigeon feast under my feeders. And personally this doesn't bother me really. I don't hate the Pigeons but there's more than enough of them around and really their etiquette is quite rude.

But before the Coopers pair arrive, I normally see a Sharp-shinned Hawk. And he/she arrived almost on schedule a couple weeks back. And it's funny that with the smaller the Hawk, the bolder they seem to come. Look at him here, just giving me the stare down...

At this moment all I kept thinking was "please don't poop on me".

The above shots were quite a comical moment actually. I was outside filling some bird feeders and since it was a pleasant morning, my little side-kick Meadow joined me. She just loves to partake in anything her daddy does outside or anywhere else really. Ask Angie how Meadow is when we move furniture, set up the Christmas tree, etc.

So, I am filling the feeders and Meadow is looking off to the yard next door as some House Sparrows are bouncing about. Meadow is on a leash/harness set-up and has about 25 ft of length to go about where she chooses... and she's perfectly fine with that.

Suddenly from out of the pines right behind the house comes this Sharp-shin Hawk! And he's swooping right down at Meadow! It's happening so fast but it's like slow motion too. I am frozen as I watch this. Now Meadow is 15 lbs and this Hawk is maybe 3 lbs after a couple Sparrows for lunch. The Hawk really cannot do too much in way of trying to make Meadow his next meal with lots of leftovers. And as he gets close over Meadow, he veers up and over the fence to the yard next door. And my cat is completely oblivious to what had just happened until now as she notices him perched in front of her and staring her down. I can see the excitement in Meadow's face and it's like "oh boy, look at this big bird!" And seconds later the Hawk is coming at Meadow again. Only this time Meadow is ready and jumps up at the Hawk! I wish I was videoing this whole ordeal. Of course Meadow did not catch the Hawk and thankfully with the first strike, the Hawk did not connect his talons with Meadow's back. Sure he couldn't kill/eat Meadow but he could do a serious number on her back and a costly vet bill to me.

The shots above were right after that bit of action as he sat himself on a branch above me and was rather vocal. At first, I did have some idea that this Hawk was starving and desperate. But watching him for some time I realize this was more about a territorial thing and getting a cat out of his potential feeding grounds.

Another morning and another attitude stare at me.

Many backyard bird enthusiasts get pretty upset when a Hawk comes to visit. It creates havoc out there, the little birdies get upset, occasionally get caught and eaten, and for days after the backyard can become pretty quiet. This last bit happened with me after two weeks of this Sharpie hitting my yard for meals. I saw no birds for nearly a week. Was I upset? No. This is the natural way of things. And really, it's something most of us never get a chance to see.

I find Hawks to be beautiful birds. And they do contribute to some population control of certain bird species. See, I get a pair of Northern Cardinals, a pair of Downy Woodpeckers, a pair of Blue Jays and 30 to 50 House Sparrows and European Starlings. I would bet on a Sparrow or Starling getting nabbed over the "special" birds.

On a cold winter morning, sitting in my kitchen with a nice hot coffee; why turn on the television when I have the best nature channel on in the neighbourhood right outside my back door.

This Red-tail Hawk has made a few appearances recently. And she sends everyone running and flying for their lives. She makes the Squirrels cry as they cling tightly to the tree trunks. And she is the one bird of prey that comes around that would have me putting Meadow inside.

I leave you with that thought... to never leave your pets unattended outside, and really no matter the season, because you never know who is watching.

November 19, 2011

Stealing an Owl ain't cool... and you suck if you disagree!

I met an Owl recently, actually met her a few times over the past couple years; but with my last visit, I was reminded on how important it is to keep knowledge of anything to do with Owls pretty much a secret from most people.

You might tell someone you totally trust, and they honestly may have the same care/concern for these mystical creatures; but all it takes is to tell one wrong person somewhere down the line and bad things can happen.

I only have bits of this Owl's actual story and will piece it together how I can imagine it unfolded. And after reading this, perhaps another person will realize the importance of protecting these birds from the yahoos of the world.

A Great-horned Owl pair nested in a wooded area near town. People had heard the Owls with their familiar "hoo h'hoos" from dusk til dawn.

A couple who lived very close to where the nightly calls were made let their curiosity get the better of them and decided to seek out these Owls. And luck have it, after a couple nights, they pin-pointed a location and set out the next morning with daylight over them to find the nest. Success! And what a surprise to find a pair of Owl chicks in the nest!

Not wanting to be selfish and keep this marvelous find to themselves, they brought a couple friends to the nest to see it for themselves. And these couple friends told a couple more friends and before long a lot of people knew and saw this nest.

Somewhere through the lines of communication, the nest was told to a couple younger males who also came to see the nest. It was atop a rotted old tree stump not much more than 10 ft or so above ground. After a couple visits with the Owls over a few days, they got talking about how easy it would be to climb right up to that nest. As the conversation continued, ideas on how cool it would be to have an Owl as a pet were brought up from the depths of one's mind. And before you know it, people coming to see the nest discovered that one Owl chick had gone missing. People figured this is the natural way of things and perhaps this young Owl was sick and fallen prey to something through the night. What else could it be? Sure it's unfortunate but that's nature for you. And people watched the remaining chick grow over the next number of weeks.

Little did they know that not too far off, in a shed at a neighbour's home, there were the two males with the missing Owl chick. The Owl being very young quickly became "human imprinted" and mistaking these lads as it's parents. No more was this a wild Owl. It was a human, so it thought. And it seemed perfectly normal to sit in this enclosure (shed) with it's parents and have food and beverage brought to it. Isn't that what all parents do for their young? All the kids love potato chips, soda pop and McDonalds cheeseburgers! This is awesome!

But after a 10 days or so this idea of keeping an Owl as a pet became stupid, boring and too much work. So the boys confided in another man from town and he thought he could do much better with this Owl in his home, not just a shed. No more potato chips for this Owl, it's a meat eating bird, and it shall have meat everyday! Steak, pork chops, chicken thighs and still them cheeseburgers because even the adults about town love them McDonalds cheeseburgers too! Unfortunately the man had a bit of a drinking problem and as he consumed his daily dozen of his favorite brew, he became quite generous with the suds and began feeding the Owl beer as well.

This of course didn't last too long as word got out in the small town. The local veterinarian got involved and figuring that he took care of sick cats and dogs, that he'd be better suited to care for this Owl, and even perhaps save it's life. Humans cannot live on junk food and beer for as long as they hope. How can one think it would be good for an Owl? Yes, without a doubt this Owl surely would die sooner than later under a non-vet's care.

This non-avian doctor did what he could for the Owl. Uncooked ground beef and chicken livers was a daily dietary source must. And water.

I'd like to believe this vet had the Owl for less than a week before his good judgement, and being a doctor for our animal friends, had him make the right decision to turn this Owl over to people who could care for her properly now. And through some contacts and phone calls, the young Great-horned Owl was soon in the care of a Raptor Centre in our province of Ontario.

The Owl lives in an environment now where her happiness comes above all else. She is fed properly with more natural food that an Owl eats in the wild... mice, young chicks, etc... all humanely destroyed (sorry), frozen and fed later on thawed out.

She can never be freed to fly where she chooses, to hunt for her own survival and feel that sense of freedom and independence. Now don't go feeling bad for her now because really, she doesn't know any better.

We cannot paint everyone with the same brush in that town or anywhere else. But really, do we need to take that chance?

Owls are an extremely rare sighting in the greater Toronto area for most people even though Great Horns and Screeches are year round residents. Half a dozen or so of the 11 species in this province only come to the area for the winter months (3 to 4 months tops) make it a special treat for those of us who appreciate and respect them. But some get a little too "goo goo ga ga" over the birds and forget about the Owl's safety, or just do not know, and while it's really cool to see one, we must protect them with a code of silence... unless you REALLY REALLY trust another or perhaps you are twice their size and a tad off balance and will tear them a new one if they did something which could bring harm to the Owl.

Anyways, as I said, I've pieced together a few tid bits of what her story was and made my own tale from it. I hope you enjoyed and maybe took something from it.

And now meet Octavius the "stolen" Great-horned Owl 5 years later...
 Here she is last December at a private photo shoot Angie and I took part in.  All money goes to the birds.
You may visit her at Mountsberg's Raptor Centre in Campbellville, just west of Milton.

November 14, 2011

Northern Saw-whet Owl... life list went up by one!

On Saturday Angie and I took part in a road trip out Kingston way and were fortunate enough to see our very first Northern Saw-whet Owl in the wild.

We sponsor Luna, the Telus Owl (you may have seen the ads) from the Muskoka Wildlife Centre. And while we have had many visits with Luna, and the last one had her sitting on my head, on my camera lens and on Angie's shoulder... it still doesn't count to us for our life list. We prefer to see one flying wild and free, sitting in a tree. And we need a good 30 seconds or so of viewing a bird, absorbing it into our memory, before we add such bird to the list.

Anyways, we had a good lengthy look at this guy and let's just say Angie got quite emotional about it. They are the most adorable Owl species to be seen in our area. Size comparison would be to a can of Pepsi, only slightly bigger.

I don't know a whole lot about Saw-whet Owls since I've never seen one before until this day.

Here is what I do know, and some other tid-bits I am picking up from

Much like other Owls, they prefer coniferous trees (trees that don't shed) which include Pines, Cedars and Spruce trees. They might use cavities bored out by Woodpeckers too.

They are incredibly tiny for an Owl, or so I think. And the cutest things I have ever layed eyes upon!

They seem to roost on the lower parts of the trees which keeps them out of view of larger Raptors like Great-horned Owls as an example who unfortunately don't mind have NSWOs for a meal when available.

If you ever come across one of these little Owls, they will sit very still on the tree branch, right up against the trunk. Do not take this for being tame and unafraid. They are actually quite terrified and hope you really aren't seeing them.

Their preferred diet is mice... Deer mice which are a small species. Larger mice that are caught are often eaten in two meals.

So if you ever chance upon seeing one of these beautiful little Owls, please keep a respectable distance from it. And if the Owl starts to make some movement of any kind, you probably have crossed the line and best back away for the safety of the Owl.

There actually is a code of ethics regarding viewing Owls in the wild. It's a special code made for them because of the thrill with people finding Owls and perhaps not realizing the stress they are creating for the Owl. It includes as I said keeping some distance from it, not viewing the Owl for much longer than 30 seconds, flash photography is not acceptable especially on darker days because their eyes are very sensitive, and if you happen to find one at night, no flashlights in their face as you will temporarily blind them... and if frightened they may fly off blindly, injuring themselves by hitting a tree as they flee. And it is important to not share the Owl's location to the world, perhaps to someone you really trust, who also understands the code; because unfortunately far too many people will do what it takes for them to get "that shot" which may harm the Owl and definitely stress them out.

So, here is one photo I got of the Northern Saw-whet Owl. It wasn't easy getting a photo with the dense brush/branches but I am happy with it because it is the very first NSWO I have seen in the wild.

Thanks for looking!