Monthly Archives: January 2013

A Screeching Good Time at SOAR’s (Save Our American Raptors) Event

Have you ever seen a bald eagle up close and personal? Watched it raise its enormous wings or throw its head back and cry out a chatter call so intense that you can physically feel it? I recently got the chance to do just that. This one is definitely going on my short list of cool bird events.

On Saturday January 26th, I attended a SOAR (Save Our American Raptors) event in Yorkville, IL. I was aware that the education program would be geared towards younger audiences but that certainly did not deter me from wanting to see raptors and learn something new.

The program was led by George and Bernadette (Berni) Richter, founders of SOAR. They are federally licensed master falconers, raptor banders, breeders, rehabilitators, and educators. After telling us a bit about their organization, Berni led a fun and informative session on birds of prey. As if being a bird rehabiliator wasn’t already enough for me to admire her, she really won me over when she was temporarily distracted by two raptors flying around outside, she just had to pause for a second and take a look. I’d have done the same thing.

Throughout the program, we heard fascinating stories about migration and tracking, like a peregrine falcon found in Ottawa, Illinois tracked from Greenland. We also heard stories about raptor misconceptions, like a farmer who thought that a chicken hawk had been killing his chickens. Ready to kill the chicken hawk, he discovered that the hawk had caught a weasel, the true villain of the chicken massacres. We also learned about our impact on birds, like the barn owl that is endangered in Illinois. When we change the structure of barns, we impact their ability to build nests. When we poison the environment to reduce rodents, we impact their health and ability to find enough food.

Berni SOAR Raptor Program Feather Demonstration

Berni starts the program and later explains the basics of feathers as I sit and wonder how I might get my hands on that collection.

Basic anatomy was addressed, including the raptor’s unique binocular vision to accurately judge distance. Unfortunately this is when they are at the greatest risk of being hit by cars. When they are so focused on prey, they may not see a fast-approaching car in their peripheral. We learned more about raptor diet, division of labor among the sexes, migration, and grooming. A new factoid for me, vultures defecate on their own legs. If you didn’t already know that, you do now! Stomach acids excreted in the waste help sanitize the area and kill microorganisms that the bird picks up from carrion. It is amazing that creatures in nature simply know what to do to care for themselves. It’s a stinky but effective process.

After covering a wide variety of raptor facts and figures, Berni and George carefully moved a crate forward that looked appropriate for containing a few Great Danes. With bated breath, we watched them open the crate door and set down a ramp. As they explained that this bird was too big to lift up and perch on their glove, out came an adult bald eagle. With a collective gasp from the audience, “Deshka” took several steps, opened her wings, and threw her head back as she called out. The whole group was awestruck. It is something you need to experience for yourself in order to appreciate the profoundness of this bird. Deshka, named after the Deshka River in Alaska, fell out of her nest and broke her wing. Fisherman, who originally spotted her on the ground, saw her in the same spot days later and realized something was wrong. They were able to capture her and take her to get help. Her wing did not heal properly and she is unable to fly. Berni told us all about how they came to acquire Deshka and gave us colorful descriptions of the arduous efforts it took to get on the eagle’s good side.

SOAR Raptor Program Bald Eagle

Deshka, SOAR Raptor Program Bald Eagle

Three other raptors came out to inspire and help educate. There was Damsel, a peregrine falcon. These birds hunt from 1000 feet in the air or higher to almost exclusively catch flying prey, and can fly up to 200 mph in a dive down at their prey. Avid voyagers, these birds can rack up a staggering amount of frequent flyer miles in an average lifetime. We also met Candy, an imprinted eastern red-tailed hawk. There is a lot of diversity in the looks among different types of red-tailed hawks. A screech owl that had been hit by a car closed out the demonstration. I was surprised by just how small this adult female appeared despite the fact that she is considered large.

George SOAR Raptor Program Falcon 2

George with Damsel, a peregrine falcon, and Deshka the bald eagle.

SOAR Raptor Program Screech Owl Eastern Red Tailed Hawk

SOAR Raptor Program Screech Owl and Eastern Red Tailed Hawk

In addition to general bird education, Berni and George emphasized what we can all do to help these birds, and as importantly, what we should not do that will help these birds continue to survive and thrive. It was a great presentation that I hope many groups and organizations will add to their programs. I encourage anyone involved with schools, clubs, nursing homes, and religious organizations to contact SOAR or your own local wildlife rehabiliator to coordinate unique, fun, and informative programs in support of wildlife.

Arden Bird Nest

Nesting with flair.

Not five minutes later in the car after the event, this little bird spotted a very large bird with a white head and dark body going westbound over the Fox River in Yorkville. What are the odds that one would “meet” a bald eagle in person and then just happen to see one minutes later cruising over head? I could never have fished my camera out of my purse in time to capture the moment so I just slowed down a bit and watched it go by. I would very much like to believe that this was more than a coincidence.


The Dogged Battle of Frosty Paws

I was supposed to be enjoying a TV show with the mister but my mind was elsewhere. I was thinking about Peanut, our 11-year-old pug, and our ongoing dilemma of how to make going potty outside in the wintertime easier on all of us. Because our little gal insists on finding the perfect spot on which to conduct business, she often takes so long that her little pads get too cold and she gives up the quest before completing the job.

Tried and Failed
Long rolls of plastic grass over scented wee wee pads. I ordered an approximate 5′ x 7′ roll of outdoor synthetic grass that I was sure would be a home run for use during inclement weather.  I was going to trick Peanut into thinking grass magically appeared in the middle of the basement, thus making potty inside acceptable. She refused to step on it indoors and skipped right over it outside, conveniently placed over the snow. This may have worked had we started it years ago.
2. Large tent outside to block wind, rain, and snow. While the tent is plenty large enough for Peanut to trot around inside and select from a number of fine spots, my impression is that the tent walls make her feel like she is still indoors, and she knows that good girls go potty outside. Anyone in the market for a bottomless tent?
Boots  Each brand that we’ve tried (and we’ve tried A LOT) rotates around on her paws when she walks, causing her to trip and stumble.
4. Dog litter box  Again, this may have worked if she was initially trained this way. It basically became a treat box–jump in, get a treat, jump back out and wait by the door to go potty outside.

Last year we had some success using Top Paw dog socks. They are rather thin and not waterproof, but they afford a few extra precious moments that m’lady requires when trotting around on frozen ground in search of that perfect spot. The problem with the socks is that they fall off at least 50% of the time, necessitating us to go on sock-finding missions in the snow and muddy grass.

In an “if only there was a way to keep socks attached like mittens” train of thought, it occurred to me that I could try to keep the socks attached with mitten clips for children. Why not? Since I insist that our little pumpkin wears a coat* to cover her belly, it made sense that I could clip the socks to the coat.

I tried it. IT WORKED!

I’m not sure if we would ever need the socks without the coat, but while mulling over what else we could do to reduce everyone’s stress, I had a vision of body-length elastics with clips for socks or boots. Ah HA! Doggie suspenders! I don’t recall ever seeing such a product in stores. Surely I would have noticed something like that to help solve our dilemma. Completely impressed with myself, I was already envisioning fabrics, designs, and the most darling photos of Peanut on the little tags. With a flutter of excitement in my heart, I just knew that I was going to set the canine clothing and accessories world on fire!

…until the next morning when a simple Google search revealed that such suspenders already exist. Apparently others had this same wonderful vision and were able to execute their vision long before I. Good for them, shucks for me.

There appear to be some excellent canine suspender choices at reasonable prices available online. I have not placed my order however as the mitten clips are actually doing the trick. (I see that there are suspenders for use with dog diapers, too.)

Peanut Coat Socks

Instead of clipping and unclipping all four socks each time I need them on her, I leave everything attached to the coat. The coat goes on first, then I bunch up the sock (already attached to the clip and coat), place quickly under the paw, then pull up or roll up the leg. I keep another coat handy for the times we don’t need the socks.

Over time, and before we came up with the potty tent, we needed to supplement the resistance on Peanut’s right front leg. Because she has such a weak wrist, she would bend and drag off the sock. Resistance from either side helped keep her from walking out of the sock. However, we no longer use any socks since creating the outdoor tent.

suspenders usded for dog boot sock clips

Mitten clips not long enough for your bestie? Try cutting up a pair of suspenders and simply pin the straps to the coat. It’s easy to adjust the length of the strap required for the right resistance without any additional cutting. 

*My homemade coat (pictured above) is another idea I cooked up since not only was it a challenge to find a coat that covered the entire belly, it was, and still is, downright impossible to buy off the rack for the petite and barrel-chested.

July 17, 2015

The addition about the dog coat has moved. I’ve added those details and more here.