Owl Moon Raptor Festival

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Join us, rain or shine, for the third annual Owl Moon Raptor Festival. There will be live bird demonstrations from Adventures with Raptors, photo opportunities, games and activities for kids, and food and fun for the whole family! Admission is free!

Sunday, November 13th, 2016
Noon to 4:00 pm
Black Hills Regional Park Nature Center
20930 Lake Ridge Dr. Boyds, MD 20841

Our 2017 calendar will be available for sale along with our first ever festival T-shirt.
Tax-deductible donations will be gratefully accepted to provide for the treatment and rehabilitation of injured and sick raptors.

Owl Moon Raptor Center is registered with the IRS as a 501(c)3 non-profit.

Festival photo by Rakesh Subramanian.

Raptor Talk at Meadowside Nature Center

Sir Galahad. Photograph by Suzanne Shoemaker.

Sir Galahad. Photograph by Suzanne Shoemaker.

You are invited to a free raptor talk at Meadowside Nature Center! I will share stories about wildlife rehabilitation and my work with birds of prey. Two of my former patients, Duke (formerly known as “Sir Galahad”) and Sterling, will be there too! You can read Duke’s story here.

Light refreshments will be provided. This event is free and open to the public, but space is limited so please go to the event page or call 301-258-4034 to register. I’d love to see you there!

Wednesday, January 15, 6:45-8:30pm
Nature Matters: Rehabbing Raptors at Owl Moon Raptor Center
5100 Meadowside Lane, Rockville, MD 20855

Master Wildlife Rehabilitator Suzanne Shoemaker shares her experiences and stories from working with raptors at the Owl Moon Raptor Center (OMRC), in Boyds, MD.  Suzanne is the founder and operator of OMRC and an expert on animal behavior, animal adaptations, and ecology. Two of Meadowside’s birds will be present at the lecture — both rehabilitated by Suzanne! Free. Ages 14 and up. Call 301-258-4034 to register. Light refreshments provided.

Zen’s Anniversary Gift: Freedom!

Today Owl Moon is celebrating the one year anniversary of the arrival of “Zen,” the Barred Owl featured on the February page of the 2013 Owl Moon Raptor Center calendar. Zen was hit by a car on the I-70 off-ramp in Mount Airy, MD on February 27, 2012. Wes rescued him on his way to work and transported him to Owl Moon. Today we are celebrating because on Monday, just two days before his anniversary, Zen returned home. He is finally flying free again!

Zen soon after he was admitted to Owl Moon Raptor Center. Photograph by Suzanne Shoemaker.

Zen’s rehabilitation was prolonged and for much of that time we were guarded on his prognosis for a return to the wild. His left elbow was fractured, and the resulting callus reduced range of motion in that joint. We began physical therapy early, and continued even after it appeared that his flight was impaired and release was unlikely. In hindsight, we could not give him a fair flight assessment due to feather damage. Convinced that Zen was not a release candidate, we found him a permanent home as an education ambassador at Meadowside Nature Center in Rockville, MD. Before he could be placed however, Zen went through a molt which replaced his damaged feathers. With time, Zen’s flight improved. We continued to exercise and recondition him. By November his flight had improved so much that we were convinced he could survive the rigors of life in the wild.

While we love nothing more than returning the birds to the wild, it is still a bittersweet moment. When we work with a bird as long as we have Zen. We can’t help but get to know them as individuals, and grow attached. Zen is a boisterous, irrepressible soul. He served as a foster dad for “Little Bear,” an orphaned fledgling Barred owl, and a lively companion for “Lucy”, a female Barred Owl also a victim of a car collision. He was fun to work with and we will miss him. It can be difficult to trust nature to take care of those we’ve grown to love, but because of his indomitable spirit, we know Zen is where he needs to be. We wish him a full and satisfying life, and hope he will raise lots of little Zens.

Zen (right) served as a foster dad for Little Bear. Photo by Suzanne Shoemaker

Monday was a beautiful day here, made even more beautiful by witness of Zen’s release. Fortunately, my daughter Natasha was present. Using a video camera borrowed from her friend, David (thank you!), she was able to capture the happy occasion to share with all of you. Enjoy!

The Calendars have Arrived!

A sneak peak from the 2013 Owl Moon calendar!

A sneak peak from the 2013 Owl Moon calendar!

The 2013 Owl Moon Raptor Center calendars have arrived and they look even better than last year!

Our goal is to raise $2000 by December 31st!

Every year, Owl Moon responds to hundreds of cases throughout Maryland, and into Virginia and Pennsylvania, which involve:

  • Rehabilitating injured raptors
  • Re-nesting young raptors
  • Rescuing trapped wildlife
  • Assisting other organizations with oil-spill response

We rely exclusively on donations to cover our operating costs, including medical supplies, equipment, and transportation.

Donate $25 dollars or more, and you will receive a gorgeous 2013 calendar* (five for $100) as our way of thanking you for your support.

*while supplies last

The calendar features twelve heartwarming stories about Owl Moon patients, together with twenty four evocative full-color photographs, and a Raptor Calendar: the courtship, nesting, and migration dates for raptors native to the mid-Atlantic region.

Please contribute through our Donate page and support local birds of prey!

Part Three: Journey’s New Home

Journey. Photograph by Suzanne Shoemaker.

The next call concerning a grounded Great Horned Owlet came from Melinda. Her husband, an excavator, had brought home this baby from a job site in Thurmont, MD the night before. He had found it on the ground and observed one of its parents defending it from a hawk before retrieving it. Melinda fed it raw beef that evening and morning, and then had to leave it at home when she went to work. She called Second Chance later that morning and was referred to Owl Moon Raptor Center. When I spoke to Melinda I advised her of my goal to return it to its parents, either in the existing nest or an artificial one. In the interim I would pick it up and take it to Owl Moon where it would receive a complete diet of whole mice. Raw beef may be okay in an emergency, but raptor chicks need the whole animal (including bones and organs), for proper nutrition, and will quickly develop metabolic and developmental problems on a diet of raw beef. Melinda agreed, and when I picked the owlet up she told me she would call me with the address and contact information of the people who owned the property where the owlet was found.

The only word I got back was a text saying that trees were being cut down on the nest site property. The tree cutting explained why the baby ended up on the ground, but it provided no useful information for reuniting this owlet with her parents, which was still a possibility even in light of the tree cutting. Alas, this baby, only two to three weeks of age, was now officially an orphan. She needed a foster nest. An orphan can be placed with other parents as long as the chicks are close in age. The foster parents will care for it as if it is one of their own. This was a problem because it is already late in the nesting season for Great Horned Owls in our area. Most young owls, like Twilight and Gylfie, are already leaving the nest. I put out a call for help to all the birding folks I know. I got a great response, but days passed, and no suitable nest was found.  Each passing day increases the risk of a lone young orphan becoming habituated, or worse, imprinted to people. I was taking every precaution to minimize human contact, but I needed to get her with other owls soon, for this baby to have any chance of success in the wild.

Meanwhile, I had visitors! A troop of 12 young Girl Scouts (Brownies) from Iamsville, MD arranged to visit Owl Moon Raptor Center for an ambitious nest-building project. This project was the culmination of a lot of planning and organizing by the girls, and its completion would earn them their Journey Badge. They arrived on Saturday, April 14, in several vehicles, and began unloading the supplies they had gathered and purchased: 12 laundry baskets of camouflage colors, and at least that many trash bags full of green twigs and branches they had clipped from trees and shrubs in their yards. We talked about the need for these nests, and how they would be used to reunite young raptors with their parents. I showed them an example of what we were making, and they went right to work. It is not easy for little fingers to weave twigs through openings in a laundry basket and between other twigs. I was impressed by their strength and determination to do a good job, and persistence to get the job done. We opted to work in teams with parents assisting, and managed to complete seven beautiful nests in only two hours’ time! The girls lined each one with a soft bed of pine needles they gathered and carried from my neighbor’s yard with her consent.

Before we concluded, I showed them photographs of my raptor patients, including the orphaned nestling great-horned owl. I asked the girls to come up with a name for her, and after several great suggestions and discussion, they decided to call her “Journey.” It was the perfect name. The owl was just beginning her life’s journey, as the Brownies were completing their Journey Badge. I told them I hoped Journey would be the first to use one of their nests.

The troop works on nest baskets. Photograph by Pamm Shankman.

Regan and Chasie working on a nest. Photograph by Pamm Shankman.

Wendy and Valerie weaving branches. Photograph by Pamm Shankman.

Abby examines her nest. Photograph by Pamm Shankman.

Abby and Charlene test out their final product. Photograph by Pamm Shankman.

Yup! These baskets should be comfy enough for owls. Photograph by Pamm Shankman.

The troop shows off the results of their hard work. Photograph by Pamm Shankman.

After the Brownies had completed their nest baskets I brought Squeak-toy out for some job training. As an education bird he will need to be relaxed and comfortable in front of groups. Photograph by Pamm Shankman.

As luck would have it, the very next day fate intervened. I got a call from Second Chance about a baby owl found on the ground in Potomac, MD. When I returned the call I spoke with Lee, who had found it on her front walkway that morning. She was not sure what species of owl she had. As I drove to Potomac, I prayed that it would be a healthy great horned owl, the same age as Journey. Lee led me to a box they had sheltered the owlet in, under a tree in their yard. I held my breath when I looked inside. He could have been Journey’s brother!

We searched for the nest by looking on the ground for the remains of prey, such as bones, fur, and feathers, and owl droppings. It was easy to know when we found it. A good chunk of the nest was on the ground on the driveway below a tall White Pine. Owls don’t build their own nests. Instead they use the old nests of crows and hawks, which are often in pretty poor condition. What remained of this nest was at the top, in the crotch of two large limbs. We scoured the yard, and the remaining nest, for a possible sibling, as there are often two and occasionally three chicks in a brood. None were found. This made for an ideal fostering situation for Journey. We could put her in a nest basket with this owlet, who was named “Alan” by Lee’s daughter, Lily. Alan’s parents would take care of both chicks. We would have to wait until the next evening to put the nest basket in the tree, as it was too late to arrange for Jason and Mike to climb that evening. I took this Alan back to Owl Moon, and introduced him to his new sibling, Journey.

That night Journey and Alan were introduced. Photograph by Suzanne Shoemaker.

Jason and Mike already had the climbing ropes in place in a tree near the nest tree when Lee Prouty and I arrived the next evening. We had decided against putting the nest basket in the original nest tree because it overhung the paved driveway. The chosen tree overhung the lawn, and would provide a soft landing should one of the owlets come down a second time. Lee (the finder) and her daughters, Lily and Lexi, looked on and took pictures while Ken Smith, a licensed raptor bander, banded both owlets. Then I gave each owlet a parting meal of mice to hold them over until mom and dad took over feeding duties.  We proceeded with re-nesting, just as we had done with Twilight and Gylfie. Only with Journey and Alan, who were about three weeks younger, we didn’t worry that they would try to “flee the scene.”  They settled into their new nest immediately.

Jason climbs the tree we have chosen to site the nest basket in. Photograph by Suzanne Shoemaker.

I hold Alan so that Ken can band him. Photograph by Ken Smith.

Journey and Alan, banded and well fed, now ready to ride up to their new nest in a soft cooler. Photograph by Ken Smith.

Lee Prouty and I hung around with Lee and Lily until after dark, watching and listening for evidence of the reunion. We heard lots of calling, both adult and juvenile over the next hour or so. Some of the calling was coming from the nest tree, which was an indication that perhaps Alan had a sibling after all. Then we saw an adult fly into the original nest and heard signs of a juvenile responding to a meal, which all but confirmed that we had inadvertently added a third chick to the brood. Great Horned Owls have triplets of their own sometimes, but I would have thought twice had I known in advance. However, under these circumstances, with no good alternative for Journey I probably would have gone ahead anyway. That evening, having just received a meal from me, Journey and Alan were quiet.

Tuesday morning, Lee, Lexi, and Lily were up early, with binoculars on the nest at first light. They “were thrilled to see the wide wingspan of the mother in the new nest attending to her baby, as well as her newly adopted baby!” Alan was back with his parents, and Journey’s new journey had begun!

Rush Hour Rescue: February 24, 2012

Suzanne prepares to hand feed Sonya. Her bandaged leg is clearly visible. Photograph by Jan Lewandrowski.

The collision occurred during evening rush hour between a red SUV and a bird that was “definitely NOT a pigeon.” Josh cringed as he saw the bird drop on the road, almost getting run over several times. He knew he had to do something quickly if the bird was to be saved. Risking his own safety and the wrath of his fellow commuters, Josh pulled over, jumped out, and stopped traffic. He flushed the bird off the road and onto a grassy area. Then, grabbing an old towel out of his car, he scooped the bird up.

Now that Josh could examine the bird up close he saw she was a raptor. He had warned me over the phone that the bird’s leg was pretty bad, and as soon as I arrived I could see he was right. “Sonya,” as he named her, turned out to be an adult female Cooper’s hawk. Examination and X-rays later confirmed that she has a compound fracture of the tibiotarsus and fibula of her left leg, and severe bruising over her breast and abdomen. The bone is in three pieces, but fortunately (in part because she was rescued immediately after the accident), the skin remained intact. As soon as I got her back to Owl Moon Raptor Center, I splinted the fractured leg by surrounding it in a length of foam pipe insulation, and then wrapping that snugly in place with vetwrap. I also treated her with fluids and a good dose of pain medication.

Friday morning I called Opossum Pike Vet Clinic (OPVC) and arranged to drop Sonya off for x-rays and possible surgery. I was not at all sure that surgery would be an option, and had braced myself (and Josh) for the worst. As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, Cooper’s hawks are rarely of suitable temperament for life in captivity. If Sonya’s leg had been irreparable, Dr. Barb and I would likely have chosen to humanely end her suffering. Fortunately, after looking at the radiographs, Dr. Barb determined it was worth a try.  She went ahead with surgery, placing a pin through all three fragments, and setting the pieces in near-perfect alignment. With bird’s legs, however, alignment is only half the battle. Their spindly bones have a tendency to rotate around pins, so Barb added external support in the form of a moldable splint and leg wrap. I am grateful to Dr. Barb and OPVC for providing these services pro bono.

Sonya is now recuperating back at Owl Moon, receiving regular doses of a pain medication, anti-inflammatory drug, antibiotic, and fluids. We cannot be sure that she will recover to the point of being able to hunt and survive the rigors of life in the wild, but we have hope. Sonya has a strong spirit of survival which she demonstrates in her response to handling; instantaneously meeting the offending hand with an adroitly placed talon strike of her healthy right leg!

Suzanne feeds Sonya by hand. Photograph by Jan Lewandrowski.

In other Owl Moon news, the two beautiful barred owls, Mystery and Cheerio, were set free in their respective woodlands on the evening of Sunday, February 12th. Cheerio, who I learned is a juvenile, was first. My friend and volunteer assistant, Lee Prouty, and I took her home to Petersville, MD, where we met Gary, her rescuer, at a barn along his driveway at dusk. I placed Cheerio on a post and she sat there watching us for a minute or two before realizing she was free to go. Next we drove Mystery to her home in Monrovia, MD where we met Daniel and Patti, who rescued her, as well as their daughter and a friend. She flew into a nearby tree to gain her bearings, and then continued on toward a distant line of trees and out of sight.

Cheerio sits on a post after her release. She doesn't seem to realize she is free to go. Photograph by Suzanne Shoemaker.

Mystery looks truely mysterious back in her woodland home at night. Photograph by Suzanne Shoemaker.

The release of the barred owls vacated one of my mews, allowing me to separate Squeak-toy from Soldier-girl and Rufus, the other two red-shouldered hawks. Because Squeak-toy cannot be released, I need to prepare him for life as an education bird. That means getting him used to handling so that he will be comfortable in front of groups for education programs. A relaxed bird is easier to work with, and therefore easier to place in a good program. Squeak-toy has a good start. He is young, and his treatments and physical therapy required a lot of handling, so he is already comfortable being touched by people. He is also handsome, and other than the disability his coracoid fracture left him with, he is a healthy bird. Having him in a mew by himself makes it easier for Squeak-toy and I to work together as we prepare him for a new life.

Squeak-toy on a pearch. Photograph by Suzanne Shoemaker

Feb. 23 Addendum: Exciting news! Squeak-toy had some visitors yesterday, Denise and Jeremy from Hawk Mountain Sanctuary in Kempton, PA. They were looking for a medium-sized hawk for their education programs. Today I heard back from Denise and Squeak-toy convinced them that he is their guy! They will begin right away to prepare the necessary paperwork, and pending approval from the US Fish and Wildlife Service, the transfer will take place in early April.  I cannot imagine a better home for Squeak-toy! Hawk Mountain is a highly respected center for raptor research, education, and conservation. It is also a great place to watch hawks during the fall migration, when thousands pass over the mountain lookout on their way south. Learn more about Squeak-toy’s new home at http://www.hawkmountain.org!

Patient Profile: Sir Galahad

Sir Galahad. Photograph by Suzanne Shoemaker.

Today it is my pleasure to introduce to you a bird who is a true gentleman among raptors. In the three years he has been with Owl Moon he has served as both a host and a role model. Sir Galahad, as we have come to call him, is an adult red-tailed hawk. I think he is male, but in truth I can’t know for sure. His weight is in the range of gender overlap, being high for a male and low for a female. I call him “he” because his behavior is more like that I see in males; less aggressive and less inclined to raise those crown feathers than females. Sir Galahad left Owl Moon last Friday to begin a new life at Meadowside Nature Center in Rockville, MD.
Today, I would like to take a moment to remember our time together.

I first met Sir Galahad on March 19, 2009. Ian had been walking a footpath along the Monocacy River in Frederick, MD when he came upon a hawk on the ground. The hawk didn’t fly off when he approached. Concerned for its well-being, Ian called me.  Ian and a friend walked me back to where they had seen the bird earlier. The hawk wasn’t there, but after searching in widening circles for half an hour, I spotted him on a low branch. He didn’t budge when I reached up and grabbed both legs. So began our long “friendship.”

Sir Galahad was severely emaciated and dehydrated, so I began his treatment as soon as I got him home. There was no immediately visible wound, but there had to be a reason why he had gone hungry. I noticed a slight droop in his left wing, but I couldn’t feel a fracture. After he was re-hydrated and eating again, I brought him to Opossum Pike Vet Clinic where Dr. Barb Stastny took x-rays. No injuries were visible on the radiographs, so I kept him on cage rest for another two weeks and then moved him to an outdoor mews. Outside I noticed he could not fly to the higher perches. Rather, he worked his way up sequentially from lower perches.  After another week, we tested his flight on a creance line. We found that while he could fly on the level, he was unable to gain much altitude.

Sir Galahad. Photograph by Suzanne Shoemaker.

I knew there must be something I was not seeing so I took him to Tri-State Bird Rescue and Research in Newark, DE, where avian specialists took further x-rays and evaluated him. Dr. Erica Miller discovered an inflammation in his left wrist joint. She prescribed an anti-inflammatory drug and suggested I give him physical therapy along with the flight exercise. Erica said if his flight did not improve in two weeks, it probably never would. After the allotted time expired his condition remained unchanged. Sir Galahad needed a permanent home.

Since Sir Galahad is able to fly (though not well), I wanted his home to meet certain criteria for a good quality of life. I wanted his mew to be large enough for him to spread his wings and fly. Additionally, I wanted him to be trained to fly to the glove so he could exercise his wings outside of the mew. Training to the glove would make him more comfortable with people, improving his life and also make him more useful for education programs. There are typically restrictions on how long a rehabilitator can keep a bird if it cannot be returned to the wild. Fortunately, Maryland Department of Natural Resources Wildlife & Heritage Service allowed me some extra time to find such a home.

During that time, Sir Galahad hosted numerous red-tails, who out of necessity shared his home. Every newcomer was treated politely and with respect. Sir Galahad’s quiet dignity gained him the respect of his guests in return. They always behaved congenially towards each other, and with some companions I even saw mutual grooming and other signs of bonding. At times I found it emotionally difficult to separate them when it came time to release the roommate, but each time, Sir Galahad adjusted well and was just as hospitable to his next guest.

Sir Galahad (left) with his companion Hunchie (right). Photograph by Suzanne Shoemaker.

Over the three nesting seasons Sir Galahad spent at Owl Moon, he also became a foster parent to three juvenile red-tailed hawks that, for various reasons, could not be returned to their real parents. Each time, Sir Galahad came through. He treated them well and showed them how to be a red-tail. Two of the juveniles were released here at Owl Moon, and both made visits to the mews from time to time. I like to imagine they were paying a visit to their old mentor, but the handouts I left for them to help them get by while they were learning to hunt on their own probably enticed them as well.

Saying goodbye to Sir Galahad is a mixed blessing for me. I am happy to have the mew open for newcomers, but I will sorely miss seeing him every day. I am thrilled however, that Meadowside Nature Center will be his new home! Meadowside’s large mew and caring staff will provide him an excellent home. The staff is excited at the prospect of training him and providing regular exercise outside the mew. Lisa will be his handler, and I will be helping her learn the techniques of training a hawk to fly to the glove. Best of all, Meadowside is only 20 minutes from my house, so I can visit him often!

If you would like to meet Sir Galahad you can visit him at Meadowside Nature Center.  He will be used in their education programs, and when he has completed training you may even be able to see him fly to Lisa’s glove. Be sure to send us a message or a picture if you do. We would love to hear how he is doing!

Here I (left) am introducing Sir Galahad to his new handler, Lisa (right). Photograph by Maura Wade.