BARRED OWL EATING A RAT

Reader gcmeninsr shared the following story about a Barred Owl eating a rat in an urban neighborhood, illustrating why rat poison is completely antithetical to controlling unwanted rodents. Rat poison kills raptors.

BARRED OWL EATING A RAT IN DOWNTOWN PROVIDENCE

By Peter Green

Barred Owls are usually found in woodlands and suburbs, but have been moving into cities now too. Why hunt a songbird through the dense trees when there are hundreds of pigeons and rats to eat in the city? (Barred owl makes successful kill in downtown Vancouver). But intruders do have to watch out for the resident Peregrine Falcons. I did once find the entire tail section of a Barred Owl below the nest box of the falcons.

Please never use rat poison – Raptors Are The Solution (RATS). If a raptor eats a poisoned rat, the bird will die too. Here are some alternatives to poison:
https://www.raptorsarethesolution.org/preferred-pest-control-products/

FANTASTIC PETER GREEN PHOTOS AND READ MORE HERE

ABOUT PROVIDENCE RAPTORS

Peter Green is a photographer and graphic designer living and working in downtown Providence. He walks the city, documenting Peregrine Falcons and more urban wildlife from Red-Tailed Hawks nesting on rooftops to American Kestrels hunting in graffiti-covered alleys. These regal, powerful raptors seem perfectly at home among the landscape of bricks and concrete.

GOOD MORNING! BROUGHT TO YOU BY MISS SNOWY OWL (AND SNOW BUNTINGS, AND TURKEYS, TOO)

A fresh-faced and sleepy-eyed Miss Snowy Owl, a flock of Snow Buntings, and a gang of turkeys made for a beautiful morning

The Snow Buntings were too far away to get a good snapshot, but it is wonderful to see their return to Massachusetts from summer nesting grounds in the high Arctic.

Stirring up the leaf litter with their feet.

A great gang of Wild Turkeys (approximately three dozen!), of mixed age, were foraging amongst the leaf litter, using their big feet to kick up the leaves. The first-hatch year poults stayed more to the center of the flock, while the older hens were foraging at the perimeter.

Exquisite iridescence in Wild Turkey feathers.

RATS!

Gloucester’s Animal Advisory Committee recently sponsored an informative presentation by Gary Menin, director of the Massachusetts chapter of the organization R.A.T.S. (Raptors Are The Solution). Gary presented a talk with accompanying slides on the catastrophic effects of rodenticides on owls, hawks, falcons, eagles, and other birds of prey.

Gloucester is a waterfront community and as such, we will most assuredly always have a rat population.  As has been pointed out dozens of times at the AAC meetings, improper handling of garbage is one of our number one problems. Garbage bags not contained in cans that are placed on city streets the night before trash collection attracts and provides food for coyotes, gulls, crows, and rats. Dumpsters not properly closed and maintained also support rats, gulls, crows, and coyotes, as do overflowing beach barrels.

Although second generation rodenticides are banned, exterminators are still allowed to use them. Gary reminded us however that YOU are the client. If all else fails and an exterminator must be hired, tell them not to use rodenticide under any circumstance.

Firstly, if we better manage our trash, we can greatly shrink the nuisance critter population. Additionally, Gary provided an excellent list of alternatives to rodenticides.

1). Snap traps

2). Ultrasonic waves

3). Electrocuting traps

4). Live trap and relocate

5). Dry ice pellets placed at hole entryways

6). Moth balls and peppermint oil as a repellent

7). Goodnature A24 Rat Trap

Under no circumstances are glue traps recommended as they are an unusually cruel method of extermination.

As we have talked about many times on Good Morning Gloucester, the White-footed Mouse and the Chipmunk are the greatest vectors of Lyme disease. Raptors play a vital rope in controlling mice, chipmunks, and other small rodent populations and have proven to be an important link in the fight against Lyme disease.

Gary also mentioned that the city of Revere recently purchased rat-proof garbage cans that every member of the community is mandated to use. The local governing body was fed up with the proliferation of rats because of flimsy trash bags, overflowing barrels, and careless disposal of garbage. You can read more about Revere’s new barrels here: Revere Looks to Put Lid on Rat Problem.

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We can also purchase or build our own owl nest box. With a quick google search you can find tons of DIY videos, plans, and directions online such as this one for a Screech Owl house.

Screech Owl House Plans

Every year we hear Screech Owls in our neighborhood, close-by, and I’m inspired to build an owl house after hearing Gary’s presentation!

 

Last winter Hedwig was seen with almost clock-work regularity departing nightly for her evening hunt. An adult Snowy Owl feeds on average three to five times per day.

The food web graphics provided by R.A.T.S. are terrific and are free and downloadable for anyone’s use.

GREAT BLUE HERON TAKING FLIGHT

Contemplating taking flight, the perching juvenile Great Blue Heron moved its feet slowly, while turning to face the shore, then gracefully lifted its wings and departed, with a very loud and un-elegant QWOCK. 

No sign of Cape Ann’s Great Blue Herons since the big Thanksgiving Day freeze. Two days into the frigid temperatures, the last one observed appeared very unhappy. The unfrozen bits of water were too cold to forage. He seemed so cold, wasn’t fishing at all, and was only standing on the shore, in the glummest manner. I urged him onward, worried his frozen self might look tempting to a coyote, and hope perhaps he departed under the brilliant light of the full November Frost Moon.

INVASION OF THE LITTLE BLACK SCOTERS!

The best kind of invasion–an usual bird invasion! The flock of male and female Black Scoters was fairly far offshore at daybreak. Later in the day I checked back on the scoters and they were continuing their southerly directed swim along the shoreline, but a little closer to the rocky coastline. Oh how I wish we could see them really close-up!

Male Black Scoters sport a distinctive orange-knobbed bill

I call them little because they are the smallest of the three scoters we would see in our area, the other two being Surf Scoters and White-winged Scoters. Even from far off shore I could hear their soft whistling calls.

The little Black Scoter breeds in the northern tundra, wintering along both the East and West coasts, as well as the Gulf of Mexico. This beautiful little duck is a species thought to be in decline, namely because of its susceptibility to oil spills and pollution.

THRILLING TO SEE SWANS FLYING OVER THE TWIN LIGHTHOUSES!

Friday afternoon, after the nor’easter, the sun came out just barely before the skies again darkened with a brief snow squall. I was driving along Atlantic Road during those fleeting in between moments when way off in the distance I spied a flock of birds, with the distinct shape of swans in flight. Swans fly with their long necks extended, unlike herons and egrets, which fly with their necks tucked in. What is Mr. Swan doing out in this wildly windy weather I thought. But it wasn’t Mr. Swan, it was an entire family of Swans! There were two adults and four cygnets. Stunning to see and very uplifting. They flew over the Twin Lights and then further and further until I could not see them any longer. 

 

The first and third swans are the adults, the second, fourth, fifth and sixth are the cygnets, or first-hatch year juveniles.The young swans will retain their grayish brown feathers until their second summer.

Please write and let me know if you saw the Mute Swan family on Friday afternoon. They were flying along the backshore at about 2:15. Or, if you live on the Northshore and know of any swan family with two adults and four youngsters, I would love to learn more about them. My email address is kimsmithdesigns@hotmail.com. Thank you so much for any leads!

Swans and wave crashing

A few more of the Mute Swan family flying toward and over Thacher Island

GREAT BLUE HERONS SOARING

CINNAMON GIRL – HOODED MERGANSER IN THE HOOD!

A spunky female Hooded Merganser was seen for a day, skittering about Eastern Point. Don’t you love her cinnamon-colored feather-do? Her crest looked especially beautiful when she swam into sunlit areas.

Sightings of Hooded Mergansers nesting in Massachusetts are on the rise. Like Wood Ducks, Hooded Mergansers nest in tree cavities. The natural reforestation of Massachusetts over the past one hundred years has increased nesting habitat. And too, Hooded Mergansers have benefitted from nesting box programs designed  to encourage Wood Duck nesting.

Hoodies eat crustaceans, fish, and insects. As water quality in Massachusetts has improved so too has the prey population increased. Additionally, the statewide recovery of North American Beavers has increased nesting habitat for many species of birds, including Hooded Mergansers and Wood Ducks.

I looked for the little Hoodie on subsequent days, but only saw her that one afternoon. The photos included here, of a singular male, were taken in Rockport in 2016.

Male Hooded Merganser (and Mallard), Rockport Harbor

Watch as the one-day old Hooded Merganser ducklings skydive to the forest floor, from a nest cavity five stories high up a tree.

 

Hooded Mergansers, like Cowbirds, often lay their eggs in other bird’s nests, including other Hooded Mergansers. Although a female Hoodie can lay up to 13 eggs, in one nest 44 Hooded Merganser ducklings hatched!

Hooded Merganser Range Map

GRAND HERON OF THE GREAT MARSH: CAPE ANN’S GREAT BLUE HERONS

Mostly elegant, though sometimes appearing comically Pterodactylus-like, the Great Blue Heron is found in nearly every region of the United States, Mexico, and Central America, as well as the southern provinces of Canada.


Its light weight, a mere five pounds, belies the fact that the Great Blue Heron is North America’s largest heron, with a wingspan of up to six and a half feet and a height of four and a half feet. I write elegant because it truly has a grace unsurpassed when in repose or waiting to strike a fish. Images of Pterodactylus come to mind when you see the bird battling for territory with other herons or flapping about in a tree top; the Heron loses all its sophisticated exquisiteness, transformed into what looks like a great winged beast.

Pterodactylus images courtesy wiki commons media

This summer past was a tremendous year for observing herons and egrets on Cape Ann. Our marshes, ponds, and waterways were rife with Little Blue Herons, Snowy Egrets, Great Egrets, Yellow-crowned Night Herons, Black-crowned Night Herons, Green Herons, American Bitterns, and especially Great Blue Herons.

Great Blue Herons, Little Blue Herons, Snowy Egrets and Great Egrets, Cape Ann

At nearly every location Great Blue Herons were seen foraging either with a flock of mixed herons and egrets, or in a solitary manner. Great Blue Herons hunt day and night and I would often find them at daybreak. They will stand quietly for hours, repeatedly striking the water with lightning bolt swiftness, almost always resurfacing with fish or frog. Great Blue Herons are survivalists and their diet is wide ranging, including large and small fish, frogs, insects, small mammals, and even other birds. Because of its highly varied diet, the Great Blue Heron is able to spend winters further north than most other species of herons and egrets. Even when after waters freeze, we still see them on our shores well into December.

Great Blue Herons are sometimes mistakenly referred to as cranes, which they are not. Cranes are entirely different species. Bas relief at Crane Estate, Ipswich.

Don’t you think it amazing how perfectly these largest of North America’s herons meld with the surrounding landscape?

Here are some moments from this past summer and autumn observing the elusively elegant (mostly), and sometimes comical, Great Blue Heron.

Fishing – Great Blue Herons capture small fish and amphibians by plunging into water and then swallowing whole the prey. They also use their powerful bills like a dagger to spear larger fish.


Great Blue Heron Range Map

MIGRATION RIBBON OVER TWIN LIGHTS

Late afternoon after last week’s nor-easter, I drove along the backshore to check out the waves. The breakers were only mildly dramatic but what caught my attention were the ribbons and ribbons of migrating birds flying over Twin Lights, heading toward the backshore. They just kept coming and coming and I think they may have been waiting out the storm before setting out on their night time journey. I followed them along the shore and past Eastern Point Lighthouse before losing sight of the travelers as they were crossing Massachusetts Bay and heading towards Boston.

FLOCK OF WHITE-CROWNED SPARROWS MIGRATING ALONG OUR SHORES

Notice the sparrow’s pointy-shaped head, but where is the white crown on these White-crowned Sparrows you may be wondering? The flock currently migrating on Eastern Point is comprised mostly of sparrows in their first-hatch year. They won’t develop white crowns until next year. White-crowned Sparrows are a relatively large sparrow, with long tails, and a cute little hop they do while foraging.

White-crowned Sparrows are passing through, having departed from their breeding grounds in Alaska and Canada and heading to parts further south of Cape Ann, in the US and Mexico.

White-crowned Sparrow adult, photographed in Gloucester in May of 2017

 

The song of the White-crowned Sparrow is one of the most widely studied sounds in all of animal behavior.The beautiful whistling notes of the male can be heard far an wide, especially during the spring and summer months. The female rarely sings.  
Range map of the White-crowned Sparrow

MONARCHS AND LADIES – LAST OF THE SEASON’S BUTTERFLIES

While releasing the last Monarchs of the season with Charlotte, one landed on her hair and stayed for few moments, just long enough to catch a minute of footage and to take a photo.

Thank you to Patti Papows for our little straggler. Patti’s chrysalis was attached to a plant in her garden, an aster, which had lost all its leaves. She was worried a predator might eat it, so we scooped up the chrysalis and placed it in a terrarium at my home, where the butterfly emerged on October 17.

Will these last of the season’s Monarchs that are migrating along the Atlantic Coast make it to Mexico? Some will follow a path along the coastline, where when they reach the Delaware Bay, winds will begin to funnel them towards Mexico, between the Appalachian and Rocky Mountains. Some will continue on down the coast all the way to Florida. Some of these Atlantic Coast Monarchs will live their days out in Florida, and some will cross the Gulf of Mexico on their journey to Mexico.

Please join me on Wednesday, November 7th, from 1:00 to 5:00pm where I am one of three presenters for the Massachusetts Horticultural Society at Elm Bank. I hope to see you there!

Discover new ways to garden, and new plants to select to make your home more sustainable in three presentations that address methods and plantings that you can adopt to improve your local environment and welcome more wildlife to your gardens. Presentations will review methods of ecological landscaping, introduce you to native shrubs, and share what you can plant to support pollinators.

Register Now!

October Monarchs
American Ladies on the wing during the month of October

GREAT BLUE HERON TIMES FOUR!

Last week we posted a photo of a group of Great Blue Herons, Cormorants, Snowy Egrets, Little Blue Herons, and Great Egrets all foraging together on a rainy morning. The Great Blue Herons are so perfectly camouflaged when perched on the rocky shoreline and we asked how many GBH folks could see. Reader Julie W. saw the most and she even sent the photo back with the Great Blues circled. Thank you Julie for taking the time to do that!!

SHORT BIT OF FOOTAGE OF THE ENDANGERED RUSTY BLACKBIRD FORAGING

As I was filming a Great Blue Heron, and standing as still as a tree, the beautiful Rusty Blackbird flew on the scene, not four feet away! My heart skipped a beat and I quickly turned my camera on the little blackbird. It’s foraging habit of flipping leaves to uncover insects and plant matter was fascinating and my only wish was that he stayed longer than a brief minute.

Scientists only relatively recently became aware of the dramatic decline of the Rusty Blackbird. Reports show that the population of the RB has plummeted between 80 and 99 percent.

As is the case with so many creatures the whole earth wide, two of the greatest threats facing the Rusty Blackbird are loss of habitat and climate change. The birds are elusive, nesting in remote areas of the great northern boreal forest and wintering over in the wet woodlands of the southeastern United States. Over 80 percent of their winter habitat in the southeast has been lost to development. Changes in the ecosystem of the boreal forests has affected nesting and foraging.

Without doubt, global climate change is the greatest challenge of our day. All living life as we know is in danger. Millions of human lives have been directly impacted by the Earth’s warming temperature. We are at risk of losing thousands of species of flora and wild creatures.

Read more here.

Non-breeding Male Rusty Blackbird (Euphagus carolinus)

FRIENDS! STUNNING SPECIES OF WILDLIFE MIGRATING ALONG THE SHORES OF CAPE ANN RIGHT NOW -Today’s Feature: the Rusty Blackbird!

I often think of May as the magical month of migration through Massachusetts, but am beginning to think of October in the same light. At this time of year I don’t have much spare time but when you go out for even the briefest walk, you will encounter beautiful creatures not usually seen. Several days ago it was a Rusty Blackbird! I was only able to capture a single photo, but did catch half a minute of footage. He was pecking vigorously at the water’s edge, lifting and flipping leaves as he darted about looking for insects and plant matter.

Not only do they eat plants and insects, but they have also been documented attacking and eating other birds including sparrows and Robins.

Rusty Blackbirds are migrating through Cape Ann. They breed in the boggy boreal forests of the far north. During winter Rusty Blackbirds can be found at pond edges, swamps, and wet woodlands.

Rusty Blackbirds are mysteriously in sharp decline and sadly, their population has plummeted an estimated 80-99 percent.

Non-breeding Male Rusty Blackbird