Wolves help Yellowstone Through Trophic Cascade

Nothing stirs up controversy like wolves.  In the western part of the United States where I live, their reintroduction was met with stiff resistance.  A few of the wolves released have been found dead, their bodies full of bullets. Unfortunately, the shooters may not fully understand that wolves and other predators are essential for the environment. Besides culling the weak, wolves change the behavior of their prey unleashing a myriad of effects. Through the ‘trophic cascade’, the wolves released into Yellowstone have actually affected rivers.  Please watch this amazing video titled, “How Wolves Change Rivers” to learn more.

Problems Associated With Feeding Ducks and Geese at Parks

Recently, I read a paper written by Dr. Dave McRuer outlining the unintended consequences of feeding waterfowl at parks. Good natured people who want to help the ducks and geese with a free meal are actually harming them. Supplemental feeding of waterfowl is actually killing them with kindness. Here are some of the problems associated with this activity:

  1. Overcrowding – Ducks and geese are a lot like humans. When they find out that ‘free food’ is available, they flock to it. When large numbers of any species congregate in one small area, the huge number of animals cause overcrowding. Overcrowding leads to disease transmission and destruction of the environment. It is also bad for the birds. Dr. McRuer states that during mating season, female ducks may drown when they cannot escape the large number of amorous males.
  2. Poor nutrition – In the wild, ducks and geese eat a variety of food. When they live off of people food which is often high and carbohydrates and protein, they suffer nutritional problems. If they are eating high carbohydrate foods such as bread, crackers and popcorn, they often develop calcium deficiency. This causes soft bones that break easily, weak shells when they lay eggs, heart and nerve problems. If they are fed pellets which are high in protein, a condition called ‘angel wings’ occurs.  (More information at https://drnelsonsveterinaryblog.com/2014/08/avoid-feeding-bread-to-ducks-and-geese-to-prevent-angel-wings/ )
  3. Delayed migration – Due to the free food, the birds hang around instead of migrating. When the weather changes, many birds will freeze to death. Others will starve to death when the cold weather forces people inside leaving the birds with no food.
  4. Loss of fear for humans – One of the best defense mechanisms for all wild animals is a healthy fear of humans. Animals of any kind that lose their fear of humans are prone to death from dogs and cats as well as automobiles.  They also may be poisoned by humans who don’t want the mess that comes with a large number of waterfowl.

For these reasons, I must strongly encourage you not to feed wild animals. The Wildlife Center of Virginia has come up with a great saying for this.

“No crackers for quackers!”

Source:                                                                                                                          -McRuer, Dave, Consequences of feeding waterfowl in public parks. 2012.  http://wildlifecenter.org/news_events/news/problem-feeding-ducks

Avoid Feeding Bread to Ducks and Geese to Prevent Angel Wings

‘Angel wings’ is a term used to describe an orthopedic abnormality in ducks and geese. Birds afflicted with this condition have a malformation of the metacarpal joint in their wings.  This makes the ends stick out to the side like an ‘angel’s wings.’ Unfortunately, there is nothing angelic about this condition. Ducks and geese with angel wings are unable to fly and hence, escape danger. Most die from automobile accidents, predator attacks or severe weather. If they are lucky enough to live in an area free from the above dangers, they often die of starvation when they are unable to migrate.


The exact cause of angel wings is not known at this time. It is thought to be caused by an unbalanced diet, too much protein or carbohydrates, causing abnormal growth. According to veterinarian, Dave McRuer, “It occurs when the weight of growing feathers causes rotation of the wing tip by forces exerted on the underlying ligaments and muscles. ” It is usually seen in birds where humans feed them an unbalanced diet. It makes me sad to think the people who want to help these birds are the ones who are hurting them. This reminds me of the marmonts in Glacier Park who die during hibernation because they ate crackers and cookies instead of their normal diet.

Treatment options for angel wings are limited at best. If caught early in young birds, the wings are wrapped back into the correct position and the chick is fed a balanced diet. If the condition is chronic, there are no treatments for correcting the abnormal metacarpal joint. The bird will never be able to fly.

To prevent angel wings, please help spread the word that feeding wild animals people food does more harm than good. For bird feeding, purchase a balanced pelleted diet from your local pet store. Kindness should never kill . . . .

Source:                                                                                                                          -McRuer, Dave, Consequences of feeding waterfowl in public parks. 2012.  http://wildlifecenter.org/news_events/news/problem-feeding-ducks


The Hummingbird Chicks Left The Nest

On May 21, 2014, I introduced you to this family of hummingbirds who live in my neighbor’s courtyard. They started out in eggs that were the size of a jelly bean. Near the time of departing the nest, they barely fit inside. This photo was taken about a day before they left the nest. It has been amazing to see how fast they went from fuzzy chicks to fully feathered adults! The first one left the nest approximately 21 days after hatching while the second one stayed a day longer.





Hummingbird Family

My neighbors have the good fortune of having a hummingbird nest in their courtyard. The hen picked a great spot as the courtyard has a gate to keep wildlife out and it is also surrounded by the home. After she picked the inner branch of a tree, she got right to work constructing a nest. She built it in about 24 hours then laid two eggs.  They remind me of jelly beans. Here are two pictures courtesy of Bernie Hay. Look closely at the second image to find the chicks. Their dark coloring is great camouflage but the orange beaks are a give away. Enjoy!

Coati Mundi at Iguazzu Falls

Coati mundi are small omnivores that are cousins of the raccoon.  I met this mother and son pair at a snack bar while hiking at Iquazzu Falls in Brazil.  Unfortunately, these animals have become dependent upon handouts from tourists.  They congregate around food stands begging for food.  The female below tried to grab an ice cream bar out of my friend’s hand.  They have totally lost their fear of humans, instead viewing people as vending machines for food.  In Argentina, the park officials posted signs warning people about the coati mundi.  If a tourist is bitten, they blame the person for ignoring the posted warnings instead of euthanizing the animal.  I wish the United States would take a lesson from these park managers.  Educate the people instead of punishing the animals. Scroll down to see the warning sign.   


Wild Toucans at Iguassu Falls

One of the highlights of my trip to South America, was Iguassu Falls.  This is one of our world’s most spectacular sites.  It is located on the borders of Brazil and Argentina and is near Paraguay too.  Fortunately, the falls are located in a large park system that protects the beauty of the falls, as well as, the surrounding ecosystem.  The area is home to a surprising number of plant species and animals.  We saw cavies nibbling grass around the visitor’s center, deer grazing along the roadways and coati mundi looking for handouts from the tourists.  But what struck me most from an animal perspective was seeing toucans in their natural home.  Before going to Iguassu Falls, I had only seen toucans in captivity.  Watching them fly with their characteristic wing flaps then glide, was breathtaking.  Especially, when you look at the size of the beak they carry. 

Here is a closeup of one species of toucan, the Toco Toucan, I met at Parque de Aves.  Toco’s are omnivores.  Their diets consist mainly of fruit and insects plus the occasional egg, lizard or even young birds.  While listening to NPR on my way to work last week, they quoted a study from the journal Science.  I learned that big-mouthed toucans play a vital role in preserving the rainforest.  The jucara palm tree is one of the foundational plants in the rainforest eco- system.  Toucans use their beaks to crack the large seeds and then disperse them through their droppings.  As the number of these big-mouthed toucans decreased, the palm started producing smaller seeds that could be eaten by smaller birds.  Unfortunately, these smaller seeds aren’t as hearty as the larger ones leading to a reduction in the number of jucara palms and accelerating deforestation.   

More information, including an audio recording of these noisy birds, is available at http://animals.nationalgeographic.com/animals/birds/toucan/


-Joyce, Christopher. Big-Mouthed Toucans Key to Forest Evolution, NPR, Morning Edition,5/31/2013.

Wild at Heart Helps Endangered Species of Owls

Hidden down a dirt road in Cave Creek, Arizona is a wildlife rehabilitation center that specializes in caring for birds of prey.  Founded and directed by Sam and Bob Fox, this organization is “Dedicated to the conservation and preservation of Arizona’s native wildlife through the rescue and rehabilitation of injured and orphaned birds of prey, relocation of displaced burrowing owls, species recovery programs, educational presentations and habitat enhancement projects.   

When I visited with Bob and Sam last fall, I was struck by the success of Wild at Heart’s Endangered Species Recovery Programs.  In 2007, Arizona Game and Fish documented only six pairs of nesting Cactus Ferruginous Pygmy Owls in Arizona.  Due to success with Burrowing Owls, Wild at Heart was asked to establish a captive-breeding program program for these tiny owls.  Today, there are sixteen Cactus Ferruginous Pygmy Owls who reside a Wild at Heart!

Barn Owls are another species whose populations have declined dramatically in the eastern United States.  Owls from Wild at Heart have re-introduced into Connecticut, Pennsylvania, Massachusetts and New York to re-establish populations of these beautiful birds.


If you would like to learn more about Wild at Heart or make a donation to support their work, please go to www.wildatheartowls.org.  If you are lucky enough to tour their facility, keep an eye out for a Great Horned Owl named Ariel.  She was found at my husband’s office with a fractured wing.  Thanks to the great care she received at Wild at Heart, she survived her injuries and is currently a foster mom for orphaned chicks. 

Source:  Pictures and information used with permission of Wild at Heart, Inc. 

The Arizona-Sonoran Desert Museum

Last month I visited the Arizona-Sonoran Desert Museum, an organization designed to “inspire people to live in harmony with the natural world by fostering love, appreciation and understanding of the Sonoran Desert.”  My friends raved about this place that combines a zoo, botanical garden and natural history museum all in one gorgeous setting.  The animals and plants, which are all native to Arizona, are displayed in large, natural habitats.  All the animals looked calm and comfortable.  I did not observe any abnormal, stress related behaviors.  Please enjoy the pictures and visit their website, www.desertmuseum.org for more information.  Better yet, visit this special site in Tucson in person!

Arizona Desert Wildlife – Gambel’s Quail


Last spring, a pair a Gambel’s quail (Callipepla gambelii) moved into my backyard and set-up housekeeping in a flower pot.  The male placed small pebbles in a pile and the hen covered them with a few feathers.  Two days later, these eggs appeared.  I managed to sneak a photo of them while she left to forage for food.  For 22 days, the hen faithfully sat on her eggs while the male patrolled along the back fence.  Gambel’s quail form strong pair bonds and raise the chicks together.  

On the 23rd day, I heard peeping from the flower pot.  A day later, the hen abandoned the nest with 7 little chicks in tow.  One by one, the chicks jumped off the pot and landed with a thud on the patio.  Thankfully, none were injured.  The male flew down from the fence and escorted his little family out through the gate.  The chicks are difficult to photograph because of their small size and speed.  In most of my photo’s, the chicks are a blur of feathers.  This was the only decent photo I managed to obtain.     


Reference:  Thomson, M 2001. “Callipepla gambelii” (On-line). Animal Diversity Web. Accessed April 14, 2010.