Hoots, Howls, and Hollers – January 19, 2021
You are no doubt aware of the fact that we do rescues. Generally speaking, it is birds, with smaller mammals and reptiles. We even ‘rescued’ a fiddle backed spider that we were told was a brown recluse that someone brought in to us…..ahemmmm.
However, the rescue of a couple of weeks ago was huge, literally. One of our board members, Tracey Westerhausen, wanted her family to honor their mother who had recently passed, and she recognized that we didn’t have a saguaro cactus on our property. How did that happen? She was on a mission.
I loved the idea. She set about looking for an appropriate cactus, which isn’t really all that easy. But, the Cactus Doctor had a possibility. His folks had been called to remove a large saguaro that would have fallen prey to the blade as the piece of land was soon to be developed.
Even if you haven’t lived in the Sonoran Desert, you can recognize the saguaro cactus as it is as much a symbol of the west as boots and cowboy hats. In reality, saguaros only live in the Sonoran Desert and usually below 4000 feet. They like it hot, but even a saguaro has its limits and total drought and desert fires take their toll on this regal plant….as does development. Saguaros are the epitome of sustainable existence and are designed to take advantage of every drop of rain and store if for later use. Their taproot holds them steady while their other roots skim just below the surface of the ground to take advantage of every drop that falls. Their hefty ribbed design allows them to expand and safely store the water. They bloom in the late spring and early summer and a first bloom at about 35 years of age indicates that the cactus has probably reached puberty. The growth of an arm indicates that the cactus is in the range of 50 to 70 years old. Our grand lady has three arms. Not only do these blooms provide pollinators with pollen but the cactus also acts as nesting spots for birds of prey and other cavity nesters.
Insects, reptiles, bats and other mammals use the cactus in a variety of ways. It is an integral part of our desert home.
Our cactus had stood next to a large boulder for, they think, about 90 years. It took a drive into the wiles north of Tucson and all of finagling needed to move two and a half tons of vegetation and stored water to its new home in Phoenix. Then it took two trucks and a lot of man-power to ready the ground and place the cactus that is about two stories tall and in possession of three arms going every-which-a-way into the hole previously prepared. A second truck arrived to turn the cactus to insure that it had the correct and same orientation that it had lived its entire 90 years. It was propped up to allow time for its root system to adjust and attain stability.
Now, she stands proudly welcoming everyone one of you to Liberty Wildlife. This grand symbol of our desert also represents Jo Westerhausen. Her three arms are symbolic of the three children she sheltered through her life. She is to be remembered by all who pass by this denizen of the desert. Her spirit will continue….the cactus is to pick up where she left off.
Thank you to the Westerhausen family for this gift. I personally have a bank of memories that are awakened every time I drive by and hope to build a continual set of new ones in.
This Week @ Liberty – January 19, 2021
The new year is starting off slowly, which is probably a good thing. Everybody knows that in a couple of months, it will be raining baby birds and the joint will be jumping! Of course, all the planning and catching up on projects is complicated by the constraints of the COVID-19 situation, but we’re all getting used to the unexpected being the norm. Everybody just does the best they can so the animals continue getting the quality care that Liberty Wildlife provides to the wild denizens of our state. As for now, we’re getting in mostly the species common to our area, like red tailed hawks, great horned owls, and kestrels. If anything interesting comes in, I’ll try to get some pictures for the next update. In the meantime, I hope everyone doesn’t get overly bored with more shots of great horned owls and red tailed hawks, but hey, they’re still beautiful birds, getting help from dedicated volunteers and in that, our primary function never really changes. To paraphrase the motto of the RAF, “Per Ardua Ad Avium!”
There are basically thirteen species of owls living in Arizona, the majority of which are smaller than people realize. One of the most common of the smaller variety is the western screech owl. The one pictured above came in presenting a wing injury most likely caused by a collision with a window or possibly a cat attack, hazards all birds face in the wild. Fortunately, with tiny bones, sometimes a correctly applied wing wrap can produce a mended fracture without more complicated procedures.
The burrowing owl has an injured leg which we know all too well was caused from trapping out by Luke Air Force Base. It seems that all things that fly are perceived as a “bird strike” hazard by the Air Force and according to a federal permit, are routinely caught and removed. The traps catch the birds by their legs, causing injuries especially if they are not carefully extricated quickly. All manor and sizes of native birds are brought to us each week after being snared, many of which do not survive the damage from the traps. Hopefully, this little guy will be among the lucky ones.
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Another of the common patients we see at all times of the year are kestrels. The smallest falcon in North America, kestrels are found on every continent except the Antarctic. These colorful little raptors are often thought to be “baby hawks” by the public who brings them in to us. This little guy (yes, we know it’s a guy from the color of his plumage!) presents a wing unjury of unknown origin. But with skillful wrapping, he should heal well and make it back out in time for breeding season.
The Coper’s hawk required an x-ray to confirm the fracture of his left radius. Cooper’s hawks are notorious for collision injuries from hitting immovable objects as they pursue their prey (other birds) in a frantic display of aerial prowess, weaving in, out, and around things like trees, buildings, and windows. During this flying steeple chase they often experience tunnel vision, only watching the target, unmindful of things that intrude into their flight path. Hopefully this young bird will heal well enough to be released in time.
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On the non-raptorial front, we saw this little cattle egret in the last posting. He’s still with us and got a new wing wrap this week. Known for flying close to the ground and around large animals, they kind of put themselves at risk as they look for the insects they eat, but that’s how they have evolved. Let’s hope he can be released soon. (If not he might be an addition to our outdoor aviary!)
We do tend to see ravens more frequently than we’d like. They are so tolerant of humans that they sometimes get too close to humans. In this, their stellar intelligence works to their disadvantage as proximity to human activity is a dangerous thing for most animals. This guy has a badly fractured wing and is being treated for the break. Fingers crossed for this bird!
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Hardly a week goes by without seeing some great horned owls arrive for care. This guy presented a leg/foot injury from and unknown source. No overt trauma was discovered so after checking for leg extension, Jan tested his foot for reaction to pain. A slight pinch is administered with a forceps to judge if there is normal sensations to this stimulus. Fortunately, he reacted to the pinch which meant there was nerve activity and blood flow. His foot was then wrapped and he was sent back for cage rest and observation. His prognosis is guardedly optimistic at this time.
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As ubiquitous in North America as great horned owls are red tail hawks. This is to be expected as these two species can actually share a common territory. There is not much competitive overlap as the hawk hunts the animals that are active during the day, and the owl takes over as the sun sets and hunts the creatures of the night. As long as they don’t meet at the time clock, everything is peaceful. They do, however, face different challenges as they ply their trade and this bird, a full adult, probably suffered a collision of some sort, possibly from an automobile. For now, her wing is wrapped and she is resting in a warm, dark enclosure under observation and medication. Again, breeding season is approaching rapidly and an experienced hunter like her needs to be contributing to the red tailed hawk gene pool!
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The Rob and Melanie Walton Campus of Liberty Wildlife was recently the recipient of a gift of this saguaro cactus in memory of Jo Westerhausen, long time supporter of Liberty Wildlife. This cactus only grows in the Sonoran desert, and the blooming flower of the saguaro is the state flower of Arizona. How fitting that this beauty will now live here at Liberty Wildlife and provide home and habitat for generations of small creatures that live in our state.
Read the full story above in Hoots, Howls, and Hollers.
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Posted by Terry Stevens
Liberty Wildlife Volunteer