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Test your owl IQ: Owl-o-ween quiz

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Happy Owl-O-Ween!

Test you owl IQ, try to name the owls below without looking at the captions! All of these species can be found in the BPQ checklist area.

I first posted this quiz last year as part of the “100th Anniversary Countdown” but figured it would be fun to post again in honour of everyone’s favorite day to celebrate ghosts and ghouls! And perhaps give you something to do while waiting for the the little goblins to ring your doorbell.

Of course, if you want to join the ranks of those sorts of people who hand out toothbrushes for Halloween, you can ask the kids to name a species of owl before actually giving them any candy! Muhahaha….

Just mouse over an image to see the owl’s name, or click on any image to see them all in a slideshow. 

Gallery of 10 Owls to Know

All images courtesy of Wikipedia

New Year’s Eve Bird Trivia: 5 Birds with Drinking Problems

Bohemian Waxwing
Fermented berries can prove problematic for Bohemian Waxwings and other berry ingesting birds. (Photo: Wikipedia)

Post #63
As we prepare for New Year’s Eve, here’s a bit of cocktail party trivia for you as we head to that age-old Champagne flute clinking tradition at midnight!

Don’t drink and fly is good advice for birds, just as for human pilots. While I’m not sure if birds have an equivalent to “eight hours from bottle to throttle “ as in aviation, it might have served some of the following species well after ingesting fermented berries. Like humans, birds can suffer adverse effects after ingesting alcohol, which in nature can be provided by the fermentation of berries. In addition to  suffering harmful physical effects leading to death, collisions with windows area another potential danger for birds that fly while intoxicated.

5 Birds with Drinking Problems

#1.  It’s Off to the Drunk Tank for Waxwings!

Bohemian waxwings are well documented for getting drunk from eating fermented berries, as noted in a previous post. A drunk tank for birds seems funny but entirely necessary since intoxication can have dire consequences for the birds. This was the case in the Yukon (see the video below) where an influx of Waxwings required wildlife officials to set up a rehab center just for the birds. Another article cites the The Alberta Institute for Wildlife Conservation reporting regular incidences of Bohemian Waxwings (as well as, by the way, Crossbills) colliding with windows after ingesting Mountain Ash berries.

#2. Youthful folly leads to drinking in birds?
it seems it’s not just human adolescents who go on drinking binges with detrimental effects. A report about a case involving Common Blackbirds in England, later determined to be juveniles, were found dead in a school yard and, upon examination, it was discovered that they had ingested alcohol by eating berries. Researchers hypothesized that their young age had something to do with their difficulty in metabolizing the alcohol; that perhaps either older birds where better able to physically metabolize the  substance or learned to avoid the berries altogether.

#3. Are the Robins really singing because they are happy it’s spring?
While many people think the song of the Robin is a sign of spring ( newsflash: they don’t all migrate and can be found here year ’round!), next time you hear one, consider that maybe it sounds so happy because it is reveling from the effects of fermented berries Robins are another species that have been observed in an inebriated condition.

#4. Schnapps verboten for Owls in Germany!
An owl in Germany was picked up by police and taken to a local bird vet to sober up. An observant citizen noticed the owl loitering by the roadside and called police, who determined that the owl had likely imbibed from the two empty Schnapps ( liquor) bottles nearby.

#5. Starlings’ Wine country tour possibly leads to deadly downfall
A huge flock of allegedly “drunk” Starlings wreaked havoc among motorists by causing a massive traffic jam along an Austrian highway. The birds seemed to drop out of the sky and were killed as they crashed into cars. According to an article on the Austrian website Heute.at, officials from Bird Life International speculated in a radio interview that prior to their untimely deaths, the flock had overflown vineyards and stopped to snack on the grapes. Then, as the sugar fermented in the bird’s stomachs, it led to their intoxication, disorientation and, ultimately, their gruesome roadside deaths.

#5. 5. Don’t tweet while drunk! Good advice for Zebra Finches too.
A study involving zebra finches determined that upon ingesting alcohol, these birds had difficulty expressing themselves in song, sort of like humans slurring their speech. The study also determined that after being exposed to alcohol, adolescent finches’ ability to learn complicated songs was impaired. The study was hoping to use the drunken finch study to gain insight on into how human adolescent brains are affected by binge drinking.

On that note, wishing everyone a happy, healthy and bird filled New Year! Cheers, and be careful with that “berry juice” tonight!

Owl Baiting for Fun and Profit: The Ethics of Owl and Raptor Photography

Snowy owl hunting
A Snowy Owl swooping toward a white mouse. Photo: Government of Quebec website page about its provincial symbols.

Post #57 of 100 Days of Blogging

Thanks to the availability of affordable and technically advanced equipment, the opportunity for stunning bird imagery is in the reaches of both amateur and professional photographers. Competition is fierce to produce the most incredible photos and some photographers will do whatever it takes to get a jaw dropping image – regardless of any negative consequences for the subject.

At its core, birding ethics boils down to doing no harm to the creatures you are seeking to view. The ABA’s code of ethics spells out a number of guiding principles to follow in order to ensure this. So how does baiting an owl with pet store (or fake fur) mice, for the sake of a photograph, fit into the equation? From a legal perspective, it is acceptable. From an ethical point of view, the answer to that question depends on which side of the contentious fence you happen to be standing on.

For some, the act of setting some unsuspecting pet-store mouse loose on frigid snow to become prey for a wild Snowy Owl is justifiable, and no different from feeding and then photographing birds at backyard feeders. Others merely see baiting as nothing more than just “cheating” at photography. Then there are those who find it entirely unacceptable.

Consider the following 10 facts about baiting owls. Where do you stand?

#1. The typical scenario of winter owl baiting goes something like this. A group of photographers hears about a Snowy Owl that has been seen at a location as it arrives from the Arctic, likely exhausted and hungry, in search of new food sources. The photographers race off paparazzi style to view the bird and set up their cameras & tripods at the scene. This is often a roadside setting. A live, store-bought white mouse is removed from its warm container and set loose on the frigid, snow covered ground in sight of the owl that is likely perched on a nearby pole. The owl is also in sight of the photographers who are ready to start snapping the shutter the moment the owl flies toward the lens. With “luck” the resulting image will be a dramatic, head-on shot depicting the owl with its wings spread wide and talons stretched out as it moves to grab its prey. This is repeated over and over until the mouse supply runs out. The photographers may or may not return to bait the owl another day.

#2. The Snowy Owl in the above scenario easily becomes habituated to humans and cars. Since baiting stations are often close to roads, this puts the bird at high risk for being killed by a vehicle strike. If not while being baited than perhaps on another day and/or location when it sees humans and cars, which it now associates with a potential “free” meal.

#3. Others claim owls have the potential to become “lazy” and stop hunting on their own as the result of being “spoiled” with food. This puts them at risk for starvation once the photographers’ offerings disappear.

#4. Using a fake or dead mouse is another baiting technique. Likely because it is much cheaper than using live mice, it involves tethering the pseudo mouse to the end of a fishing pole and pulling it along to encourage the owl forward. The mechanics of owl physiology means that before it can eat a new meal, it must first regurgitate its previous meal in the form of a pellet.  The owl’s empty stomach is also devoid of liquid and baiting it over and over without any kind of food reward is cruel; it can lead to exhaustion of its energy supply and dehydration. Read more about winter owl baiting in general as well as its effects on physiology at Laura Erickson’s blog.

#5. To add to the mix, some argue that the mouse, along with a few of its friends, might actually escape being grabbed up in the owl’s talons. In which case, if they are able to survive the harsh winter temperatures, have the potential to set into motion the conditions that lead to the negative consequences of an invasive species. Or a mouse might be tainted and make the owl eating it sick.

#6. On its website, the ABA as part of its birding ethics code, recommends “to avoid stressing birds or exposing them to danger, exercise restraint and caution during observation, photography, sound recording, or filming. If you are attracting birds to an area, ensure the birds are not exposed to … dangers posed by artificial hazards.”

#7. The ABA also recommends to “keep well back from nests and nesting colonies, roosts, display areas, and important feeding sites. In such sensitive areas, if there is a need for extended observation, photography, filming, or recording, try to use a blind or hide, and take advantage of natural cover.”

#8. Audubon advises photographers to “never flush birds (that is, disturb them and make them fly)—either your subject or other birds near your subject. In breeding season, it can interfere with reproduction. In winter, it can cause birds to use up precious internal resources.”

#9. Other experts recommend becoming familiar with the signs of stress in owls. For an excellent overview on this subject please watch this video by the Wisconsin Society for Ornithology (WSO).  If you are pursuing an owl in its natural setting make sure not to get too close. Owls that change their posture, flap their wings or are vocalizing are likely experiencing stress.  Owls that hunt at night and sleep during the day will be stressed if you suddenly wake them up. You may think an owl is resting even if it has only a slit of its eye open. This is a sign that it is watching you and may be stressed by your presence. A safe rule of thumb is to photograph birds at an angle so that they aren’t looking you in the eye ( i.e. into the camera). While this may not seem to be as evocative an image at first, consider aiming for more naturalistic, behavior depicting types of scenes. These can be just as evocative as those with eye contact.

#10. Owls and other raptors may be stressed by being chased from perch to perch. Something to keep in mind the next time you pull your car over on the side of the road to watch or photograph a bird of prey perched on a tree. Ever wonder why they fly to another perch? Quite possibly you are stressing them out by getting too close and they are not just moving over for a better vantage point.

Resources: In addition to the links in the post, here are a few more interesting articles and viewpoints.

The Pathless Wood Blog has an excellent more in-depth view of the above points, check out this post

Laura Erickson’s For the Birds  is a great blog, especially see the link to her page from #4 above.

An interesting article: Baiting raptors for photography is a contentious issue, but what are the real impacts?

Please watch the O.W.L. Observe with Respect video by the Wisconsin Society for Ornithology (WSO) mentioned in #9 above.

HawkWatch International has an interesting blog post about raptor photography ethics here

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