Our Wild Calling
by Gail Cochrane
Liberty Wildlife Volunteer
Richard Louv’s 2019 book Our Wild Calling carries a pressing message to the human world: we must open our senses to animals and nature. He points out that dogs, cats, other domestic pets, and yes, wild animals have been evolving with us for millennia. As surely as they are part of us, we are part of them.
The book details a surging interest in how animals communicate, with each other and with members of other species. “Animals can send mixed signals. They can feel or think something one moment and something else entirely the next. They are capable of nuance. They can show empathy and compassion and selfishness and aggression. We have a lot to discuss with them.”
As we ponder connections with other animals, we might consider the Facial Action Coding System devised by researchers at the University of Sussex. Scientists mapped facial expressions of horses and found them surprisingly similar to humans. Horses smile, pout, raise inner eyebrows in surprise, and widen their eyes in fear. Horses boast 17 different facial expressions, humans 22, dogs 16, and chimps 13. What would life be like if the ability to communicate with animals was brought to the surface of our conscious? Children are generally ahead of adults in reading the cues of animals.
Louv relates the story of Patty Born Selly, a professor and author of Connecting Animals and Children in Early Childhood. Selly’s classroom of third graders was watching the class mascot, a box turtle, drink. Gathered around the aquarium the group saw air bubbles rise from the turtle’s mouth. A little girl exclaimed, “Look! The turtle is feeling joy!”
Time spent with animals can be wonderful therapy for children that have difficulties interacting with other children and adults. Nature therapy for kids ranges from companion or classroom animals to therapeutic horseback riding to nature-based preschools.
Sit spots are a popular tool for engaging children with nature. Sitting quietly in one place for a period of time allows the wildlife that was busy in that space to return. Birds, dragonflies, butterflies and insects can be observed, and sometimes mammals as well. We are all encouraged to consider two spheres when we spend time in nature, one being awareness of our surroundings and the other being the disturbance we have caused by entering this space. Learning to expand awareness and shrink disturbance is the goal.
Jon Young, founder of the 8 Shields wilderness program suggests these tools for engaging children in nature: Wandering – timeless, unstructured exploration, Questioning – asking what, where, and why, and journaling these wonderings, Tracking – pattern recognition, Mapping – considering a landscape from a bird’s eye view, Journaling – recording seasonal records, personal field guides, writing, drawing, even sound recording, Listing – observed animal patterns, and Mind’s eye imagining – reexperiencing events gathered from all senses.
Louv also introduces the idea of the Symbiocene City, where sanctuaries for animals are created in urban spaces. New kinds of cities can serve as incubators of biodiversity with layers of natural habitat such as green roofs, street medians devoted to native plantings, and backyards and corporate grounds serving as centers of biodiversity.
As Bill McKibben comments on Our Wild Calling, “A remarkable book that will help everyone break away from their fixed gaze at the screens that dominate our lives and remember instead that we are animals in a world of animals.”
Did You Know..?
by Claudia Kirscher
Liberty Wildlife Volunteer
- Birds in general have a poor sense of smell, so touching a baby bird to put it back in the nest will not deter the parents.
- A California condor’s wingspan is 9.5 feet.
- The northern harrier hawk is the only hawk with an owl-like facial disc to enable it to hunt by sound while it glides over fields.
- Cowbirds lay their eggs in other bird species’ nests to hatch and raise.
- Cactus wrens build multiple nests. These are used for nesting, night roosting, a second clutch and/or distraction.
- Most hummingbirds weigh less than a nickel.
- It is a myth that in order to extend their lifespan eagles go to a cave where they pluck out their beaks, talons and feathers in order to regrow them.
- Woodpeckers can peck their beak up to 200 times per second.
- Bird temperatures are 7-8 degrees warmer than humans.
- Green herons have been seen luring fish to the water surface by placing pieces of floating bread.
- Penguins have black backs to protect them from predators above them as they will blend in with the darker ocean water below. Their white chests seen from below blend in with the lighter surface if the water.
- A bird’s feathers weigh more than its skeleton.
- Birds don’t fart. They lack the stomach bacteria that builds up gas in the intestines.
- A pelican’s pouch-like beak can hold up to 2.5 gallons of water.
- Some birds lie on ant hills and cover themselves with live and crushed ants. It is thought the formic acid secreted by the ants helps to rid feathers of parasites.
- Crows and ravens are able to preplan tasks, create and use tools for food gathering, and can mimic humans.
- After an Osprey catches a fish, while flying, it maneuvers the fish head facing forward to make the load more aerodynamic.
- The average man would have to eat about 285 lbs of meat per day if he had the metabolism of a hummingbird.
Arizona’s Other Hawk
by Greg Martin
Liberty Wildlife Volunteer
[This article was originally published in the July 2014 edition of Nature News]
The origin of common bird names can be an endless source of speculation. The research is just plain fascinating, along with a good chuckle or two about “What were they thinking!?”. Some bird names were created by colonial immigrants from England, with linguistic roots that come
Arizona is populated by birds of prey beyond reckoning. Residents and visitors alike are blessed to see raptors of every conceivable size, shape, and color. We have numerous owl species, all the North American falcons but one, both North American eagles, and some of the most famous hawks in the world, including the ever-present red-tailed hawk and the unique Harris’s hawk. The former is known as one of the most adaptable, successful avian predators to be found anywhere. The latter completely defies raptor stereotypes by hunting in groups, less like a gaggle of birds and more like a pack of wolves.
But, they aren’t the only big hawks in town. In Arizona, there’s actually one bigger than either, considered the largest hawk in North America. They’re big, strong, and beautiful to behold, yet we never hear anything about them. Harris’s hawks are local celebrities, and red-tailed hawks are the one raptor that everyone knows and nearly everyone has seen. But who, or what, is the ferruginous hawk?
Despite their size, ferruginous hawks are rather inconspicuous fellows, and they sometimes get misidentified as particularly large red-tailed hawks sitting on telephone poles. Their dominant coloring is incorporated into their name: ‘ferruginous’ derives from the root word ferrous, a reference to iron, since their head, back, and wings are rust in color. Their chest and the undersides of their wings are a much lighter white, which is largely why they often get mistaken for red-tailed hawks, since that bird, too, is darker on the back and lighter on the front. But the ferruginous hawk takes everything that makes the red-tailed hawk a powerhouse and ramps it up even more. Ferruginous hawks have a few inches in length and wingspan over their cousins and are usually heavier-bodied, sometimes weighing almost twice as much. Like the red-tail, ferruginous hawks are members of the buteo family, a group of large, broad-winged hawks that are found all over North America. While red-tails have managed to carve out a niche for themselves in just about every kind of terrain, including an urban environment, ferruginous hawks have traditionally been birds of wide-open spaces, where large game like prairie dogs and jackrabbits are in abundance. Once upon a time, the American prairie was their bread and butter. According to Cornell University, their nesting habits were closely tied to the once-prolific herds of American bison. Debris from the herds, whether torn wool or bones from the dead, would be used to construct their nesting sites. The wholesale slaughter of bison herds in the nineteenth century forced ferruginous hawks to change their instinctual habits, but despite the loss of their prairie compatriots, they are still found throughout the western United States, from the open expanses of mid-western farmland to our own desert southwest.
It’s fitting that their very name incorporates a strong reference to iron because their hunting technique is akin to that of a flying anvil. When you’re that heavy and powerful, there’s not much need for subtlety, so they hunt by picking a conspicuous perch and simply waiting for something edible to present itself, whether it be a prairie dog, a snake, or a jackrabbit. Then the anvil takes flight, with all the impact force that metaphor entails. Though they lack the agility of smaller, lighter birds they are still both swift and skilled on the wing. Their size gives them tremendous power behind their wings, which provides an advantage both in pursuit of prey and in flight from predators. Though not threatened by much, the ferruginous hawk does sometimes run afoul of golden eagles, because even though the eagle has an obvious size advantage, they’re both big enough to compete for the same food sources. Yet for every other bird of prey, they are a stoic predator not to be trifled with.
Ferruginous hawks don’t get as much attention from the public simply because they’re content to go about their business without flashy gimmicks. They aren’t as acrobatic as falcons, mysterious as owls, big as eagles, or as widespread as red-tails. They don’t have the novelty of being avian pack hunters like our Harris’s hawks. They do just one thing, and do it well: survive. Actually, they do have one thing that their fellow buteos, and in fact most other raptors, don’t: pants. Whereas most birds of prey have bare legs, ferruginous hawks have a thick, healthy covering of feathers down to their feet, similar to an eagle. So the next time you think you see a red-tailed hawk, take a closer look at its legs: our unsung hero will be the one who looks like they’re wearing a comfortable pair of brownish slacks. And if you do spot a hawk, rusty on the back and white in front, with feathers down to his feet, take a second to appreciate him, and a second longer to watch; it’s not every day that you come across one of the great hunters of the West, and even rarer that you get to see an anvil take flight.
by Carol Suits
Liberty Wildlife Volunteer
This is the second poster* in a series to show that wildlife is everywhere especially in the city! Check out where to look to find nature right out your front door. Read about Trinity Favazza, age 14, and the work she’s done following her experience listening to frogs singing in the spring. Follow her on Facebook (see below) and read about her project, “Amphibians Rock” a great project to try.
*National Wildlife Federation
Action For Amphibians (AFA) is a nonprofit organization founded by teen conservationist, Trinity Favazza. AFA shares information along with educational tools to help promote social and political awareness about amphibian and wetland conservation
Meet your wild neighbors! Find wildlife in the poster.
Raccoon Eagle Squirrel Falcon Pigeons/Doves
What other animals live in your area?
Find a spot to explore. Look on plants, under plants, on trees, on tree trunks, on buildings, under rocks, or fallen leaves. Don’t forget to notice wildlife flying or crawling near you! Make your own list and write or draw what you find.
Play “TELL US” on the poster. What weird wildlife discovery do you want to share??