Latest Bobcat Videos

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Just a reminder to anyone following our running story on Belle, the bobcat struck by a car in Belleville in March, and Bobbie, the kitten she gave birth to while recovering at TreeHouse: videos chronicling the first 13 weeks of Bobbie’s life are available on YouTube.  The latest video can be found here.  We have now confirmed that Bobbie is male, and he is growing like a weed!  He spends his days running, climbing, playing, and generally learning from his mother how to be a bobcat.  Be sure to check back on our YouTube page over the next week or so, as more videos will be posted in the next few days.

Off in a Flash

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Yesterday, we released a young Cooper’s hawk at The Nature Institute in Godfrey.  The hawk was one of this year’s orphans, raised at TreeHouse until it was old enough to hunt for itself in the wild.  This hawk came from Bond County, where it was found grounded and in need of help.  It has been in a flight training cage at our Brighton facility for the past few days, building up its flight muscles and practicing hunting.

Adele get the Cooper’s hawk set for release at The Nature Institute.

We are currently experiencing a bit of a pinch with our flight training for young birds ready for release, since we do not yet have the full funding required to build our new flight cage at Dow, but the old flight cages in Brighton are nearly unusable, as weasels and mink can get in through many of the cracks and gaps.  Despite their small size, weasels are formidable predators, and they are able to kill large adult owls with ease.  Great horned owls, barred owls, Cooper’s hawks, waterfowl—not to mention tiny screech owls and kestrels—all can fall prey to weasels when young or in a confined space.  For this reason we are presently cutting the time our birds spend in the flight training cages to a minimum—as soon as we establish that they are able to hunt, the birds are released.

Fortunately, Cooper’s hawks are among those, based on Adele’s 30+ years of rehab experience, that pick up the skill of hunting the fastest.  Cooper’s hawks are accipiters, a genus of raptors that have broad, rounded wings, very long tails, and relatively delicate feet and talons.  Accipiters are extraordinarily fast, maneuverable flyers, and their primary prey consists of other birds, which they are adept at catching while in flight.  The most common cause for admission of Cooper’s hawks at TreeHouse is collisions with windows—they fly so fast that when they hit something, they hit it hard.  They are extremely high-energy birds, and they are usually high-strung in captivity, constantly bouncing off the walls—literally.  All they want to do is fly.

The young hawk we released yesterday proved that it was more than delighted to be out in the open as it pelted toward tree-line.  After weeks or months of caring for an animal in rehab, releases, while always both exciting and gratifying, can sometimes be a bit anti-climactic.  Mammals, especially, have a tendency to be pretty wary of leaving their box.  This Cooper’s hawk, however, did not disappoint.  A brief video clip of the release can be found on our YouTube page.  Even though the hawk was gone in a flash, it put on a brief but spectacular show of accipiter flying prowess as it wheeled over the treetops and out of sight, presumably in search of a flock of little birds to hunt.

You can find information about donating to our cage-building fund here or by calling TreeHouse at (618)466-2990.

Beating the Heat at TreeHouse

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Oh, who am I kidding?  There’s no beating this heat.  After a solid week of temperatures in excess of 100 degrees, animals and volunteers alike at TreeHouse are pretty desperate for some relief.  Thankfully, the main building at TreeHouse, which includes our education center and our indoor rehab facilities, is air conditioned.  But of course, most of our animals live outside, and volunteers are out in the heat taking care of them.  Also, although we’ve temporarily suspended work on cage construction, we’ve been hard at work over the last couple of weeks raccoon-proofing our outdoor rehab cages.  Still, at least our human volunteers can always take a break in the AC.  Our animals have to find other means of beating the heat.

I’ve spent a lot of time over the last few days carting ice out to the various outdoor cages.  I started out by putting some ice in Einstein’s water bowl, and he was so delighted with it that I decided the other animals would probably enjoy it was well.  Belle and Bobbie seem to particularly like it–each time I’ve brought them ice so far, they’ve both headed straight for the water as soon as I opened their gate, and they’ve been soaking in it before I even walk away.  As hot as it’s been, though, regular ice cubes don’t cool the water off for long, so I’ve started freezing milk jugs full of water.  In the picture below, one of the coyote pups investigates a jug of ice.  You can also see a video clip of him playing with it here.

The coyotes have shade in parts of their cage, but the foxes and bobcats are lucky enough to have pretty dense shade for most of the day.  For the most part, they seem content to curl up for a nap in a shady corner.

Bobbie seems largely unfazed by the heat.  He (or she) is still an inquisitive and playful kitten that spends most of her (or his) time looking for mischief.  Belle, meanwhile, seems to spend most of her time passively keeping watch from above.  You can see the most recent collection of video from the camera in their cage here.

As for the birds, their cages are mostly in the sun, but we considered all kinds of weather when we were building the cages, so they all have shady places they can go.  Spartacus, our Barn Owl, is always pretty intolerant of the sun, and since this heat wave rolled in she’s pretty well spent her days tucked into the darkest corner of her nest box.  Mocha, our Short-eared Owl, has a cool nest in a shady corner of her cage.  Short-eared Owls nest on the ground in prairie-land, and Mocha has built herself a wonderful nest in the grass that is growing up in her cage.  If you visit TreeHouse and have difficulty finding her, that’s probably where she’s hiding.

Nearly all of our animals are native to this area, so they’re at least reasonably well-equipped to deal with the heat.  Socks, however, is a Rough-legged Hawk, a species that will often travel into Illinois during the winter, but which nests in the far north.  Socks loves to be showered with water from the hose.  When we mist his cage, the other hawks will typically flap around agitatedly, trying to get away from the water, but Socks will bask in it with his wings outstretched and his face upturned.

The heat and drought also mean that we have to be especially sure to release animals in a place where they’ll have a reliable source of water.  As creeks and wetlands dry up, animals converge at the larger bodies of water.  Earlier this week when Adele took a couple of kestrels to release near Horseshoe Lake, she said the lake was packed with hundreds of Great Egrets, drawn there by the fish trapped in the shallows.  A small group of Little Green Herons also seems to be making a home at TreeHouse’s pond.  But even though this weather might afford some interesting wildlife viewing opportunities, I think we’re all ready for it to end!

Turkey Vulture Boot Camp: Part VI

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It’s been a while since I’ve given an update on Einstein’s training progress, but that doesn’t mean we haven’t been working with him.  In fact, Lisa has come to TreeHouse each of the last two weeks to work with him, and she plans to come for training on a regular basis this summer.

Overall, Einstein’s demeanor is vastly different from what it was last fall when he first came to Dow.  The difference is partly in his behavior and partly in the way we respond to it.  He can be stubborn, and he is always trying to make everything into a game, trying to manipulate our behavior through his own actions.  He understands the cycle of events in which his attacking our legs causes us to walk out of the cage, then his returning to the correct perch causes us to come back in, give him a treat, and start the process over.  So, he often turns it into a game in which he chases us out, then almost immediately goes back onto the perch, asking us to come back.

Of course, in a way I think it’s great that he wants to play with us and he makes up his own games.  But at the same time, when we’re trying to work on getting him to go in the crate or let us put jesses on him, it’s not very conducive to a productive training session if he’s constantly trying to play tag with us.  So, now we’ve changed up our strategy a bit—we hold our ground when he starts to play his games, pushing his head away with the target stick and reminding him that we’re bigger than him and he is not the dominant one.

We also hit a bit of a road block during early spring, when he suddenly became extremely territorial and aggressive.  We quickly realized what was going on—it was breeding season in the wild, and our confused, captive human imprint didn’t seem to know quite what to do with himself.  Once when Lisa came for training during this time, he actually flew onto the top of her head and started beating at her with his wings and trying to pull at her hair.  Luckily, Lisa is pretty unfazed by anything any bird does to her.  Also, I should note—although I typically refer to Einstein as “he” for the sake of convenience, we actually have no idea whether “he” is male or female.  His behavior is an oddball mix of behaviors that we would typically consider “male” and “female”.  During breeding season, his intense territorial aggression might lead us to believe that he is in fact male, but he also displayed nesting behavior, and he does a strange little twirling dance with his tail feathers raised, leading several of our volunteers to believe he is female.  Ultimately, behavior is NEVER a reliable indicator of sex in birds—even wild birds.  And a human imprint like Einstein is just extra confused and even more likely to throw you a behavioral curveball.

Einstein in territorial aggression mode, saying “Get out of my house!”

Anyway, breeding season is over now, so he’s gone back to his usual behavior and we’re back on track with his training.  The crate that he was so terrified of when we first introduced it is still causing some problems.  He isn’t really afraid of it anymore, and it is now basically a permanent fixture in his cage.  I’ll often walk by and see him standing on top of it.  He will also go inside the crate, but only if there’s food inside, not just because we ask him to.  That’s OK, really, except that he also refuses to go all the way in if we’re in the room with him.  He’ll stretch his neck in there to reach a treat, and he’ll even take a step over the threshold if we’re really patient, but he won’t go far enough in for us to shut the door.  It seems that he doesn’t quite trust us—he seems to think that as soon as he goes all the way inside we’ll close the door and he’ll be trapped in there.

Of course he’s right.  That is exactly our plan.  But it’s only because we need him to learn that the door can be closed and he can be stuck inside and nothing earth-shattering will happen, and we won’t keep him in there forever.

Lisa tries to coax Einstein into his crate.

Once he learns to go into the crate without making trouble, we’ll be able to focus on getting jesses on him.  Jesses are leather straps that go around a bird’s ankles, allowing us to tether the bird to an anchor, sometimes on a perch stand and sometimes on our belt.  When we can get him jessed up and crated up, we’ll be able to bring him along when we set up booths at events and give educational programs.  We’re all pretty confident that Einstein will find that absolutely wonderful.  Most of our education birds merely tolerate the crowds, but Einstein is a social bird who thinks he is human, and he loves nothing more than being the center of attention.  Any time we have visitors in the education center, where his cage is, he is always right at the glass, peering through at anyone who will come down to his level.

There have been times over the past months when Einstein’s stubbornness and sporadic aggression have made working with him pretty frustrating, but most of the time it’s a lot of fun.  Every day when I go in the education center, pick up the target stick and clicker and clip the pouch of treats onto my jeans, there he is on his perch or at the door, watching me with his head tilted to one side, asking me to come in and play.  It’s hard not to like a bird that so obviously wants to be friends.

Einstein wants to play.

Chuckles Moves to Dow

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We hit a landmark in the move from Brighton to Dow this week—TreeHouse’s Internet celebrity, Chuckles the red fox, finally came to our new facility.  Her cage is not totally completed yet, but it is operational, and we were anxious to bring her over because she acts as a foster parent for any orphaned foxes we admit.

We currently have two young foxes that were ready to move outside, and they joined Chuckles in the new cage today.  As any of our current animal care volunteers at Dow can attest, these two REALLY needed to get outside.  They’ve been so rambunctious and playful that their freshly cleaned cage would be torn apart before we could even leave the room.

The new cage is much more spacious than Chuckles’ old cage at Brighton was, and she seemed pretty delighted by it.  We gave her a little while to get used to her new surroundings before we introduced the two kits.  The two are near the same age, but they are not siblings, and they have very different personalities.  The first one we admitted, which you can see here, is very bold and constantly in motion.  As soon as we opened the crate we had used to carry them outside, he darted out and started running up and down the length of the cage.  The minute he saw Chuckles, he ran up to her and greeted her as though she was his long-lost mother.

The older kit tries to get Chuckles to join in the fun.

The second kit is much more timid by comparison, and it was a few minutes before he left the crate.  Still, when he did, he too began running around and around throughout the whole cage.  The two kits always got along reasonably well, but the shyer one, who is slightly older, sometimes would be obviously annoyed with the younger one’s antics—the younger one never gave him a moment’s peace.  But when they were both running around outside, chasing each other and playing, all I could see was pure joy from both of them.

For hours, they ran and ran—around logs, up the ramps and onto the shelves, into the den box, around Chuckles.  When I checked on them just before dark, they were still at it.  For the most part, Chuckles just watches them, though every once in a while one of them will try to get her to join in.

You can see a video of Chuckles and the two kits here.  If you come out to TreeHouse, you will be able to see them, although as long as we have orphans getting ready for release in there with Chuckles, there will be a fence around the cage to give them a wider perimeter.  Visitors can view them from outside the fence, though, and Chuckles is always worth paying a visit!

The youngest fox plays with a tee-ball.

Fluffy Little Monsters

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A couple weeks ago when I was writing about our serendipitous discovery that one of our kestrels will act as a foster parent, I was having a great deal of difficulty staying on topic.  I kept wanting to write about the morbidly fascinating behavior we see these lovely little birds displaying every day.

As you can probably imagine, the people who visit and work at TreeHouse tend to be pretty big animal lovers, and sometimes it’s hard for them to see the freezers full of dead mice, rats, chickens, deer—whatever we have on hand at the moment.  It’s important to understand, though, that some animals eat other animals, and you will never convince a hawk to turn vegetarian.  We care for a lot of carnivores at TreeHouse, and we want to give them as wild and natural a life as possible.  It would be totally impractical to provide our permanent residents with live prey regularly—for one thing, many of them have injuries that impede their ability to hunt.  Still, we try to feed them as naturally as is feasible.

For anyone who is particularly sensitive about this sort of thing, it might be wise to avoid the kestrel enclosure around feeding time.  Kestrels are beautiful birds, and their small size gives them a deceptively delicate appearance.  But when they hunt—and when they eat—they turn into little killing machines.  Personally, I find it fascinating.

Hawks kill their prey with the talons of their powerful feet.  Kestrels, however, as falcons, catch their prey with their feet but kill by breaking the neck with their beaks.  When one of our kestrels gets a mouse, its first move is always to carry it to a perch and begin tearing at the neck with its beak.  Then it rips the head off.  Actually, to be more precise, it tears at the neck until the head is just dangling by a thread.  Then it proceeds to eat the brain.  I’m not really sure why they go for the brain first.  Maybe it tastes good.  I’ve also heard anecdotally that the brain will decay more quickly than the rest of the body, so maybe it has to do with eating it while it’s still fresh.  In any case, this leads to one of the more disturbing things our kestrels do: they don’t usually eat the whole head; instead, they leave the facial bones and flesh intact.  Then, often, they leave the faces on the platform where we feed them.  I don’t know if they’re trying to make some sort of statement or if it’s just convenient—probably the latter.  Either way, it’s super creepy.

Braaaiiins!!!

Once the kestrel is finished with the head, it moves on to the rest of the meal, gleefully ripping out entrails and chunks of meat.  If it’s really hungry, it will eat the mouse whole, later coughing up the fur and bones in a pellet.  Other times, it might be pickier.  Being “pickier” means that along with the face, we might find the spine, with tail still attached, lying on the platform.  Maybe I’m just weird, or maybe any 80s or 90s kid would have the same response, but when I see that, the “spine rip” move from Mortal Kombat always pops into my mind.  I think if a kestrel could play video games it would probably like Mortal Kombat.

If the kestrel really isn’t hungry, it might not be able to finish a whole mouse.  In that case, it will save its leftovers for later.  Our kestrels save their leftovers by hanging them in the Christmas tree.  Like ornaments.  To explain, the Christmas tree came with the house when we moved to our new location.  We wanted to find a use for it, and we thought that it would be perfect for the kestrels, as it would contribute to the diverse, naturalistic habitat we were trying to create for them.  And apparently it has.  They sometimes roost in it, and they frequently drape pieces of their food in it.  Like tinsel.  It’s a little bit gross, but mostly interesting.

Trimming the Christmas tree.

Ultimately, if hippos are the killer clowns of the animal kingdom, I’m pretty sure kestrels are the psychotic serial killers who keep trophies of their victims in the basement.  Though they say it’s always the quiet ones, and kestrels are anything but quiet.  Really, they’re just wild animals—predators that are supremely well-adapted for the niche they fill in nature, catching birds in flight and other small, fast things.  When I’m driving down a country road and I see a kestrel shoot through a flock of sparrows and grab one out of the air, I feel a twinge of pity for the sparrow, but mostly I’m delighted to witness nature in action.  It’s the circle of life!

Belle & Bobbie: Week 5 Video

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The latest collection of pictures and videos from our bobcat cam is now up on YouTube.  Due to technical difficulties (a dead battery, actually) we do not have a week 4 video, but I think week 5 is well worth the wait!  Bobbie has grown significantly and has become much more active and inquisitive.  In the video, you’ll see her first couple of excursions outside the den box–as well as her first ridiculous failure of an attempt to get out of the den.  Belle is obviously a very attentive mother, keeping close tabs on her baby at all times.  It’s so exciting for all of us to watch Bobbie grow and to have the opportunity to observe a wild bobcat rearing her kitten.  I hope you enjoy the footage as much as I did!

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