Hoots, Howls, and Hollers – June 6, 2023
Feeding Wildlife is Illegal. Or is it?
This is a reader alert. It falls in the category of do as I say, not as I do. I will openly admit to falling short in this arena. So, try not to judge me too harshly.
Recently, a visitor from out of town wrote to me commenting on the dangers of feeding ducks at the man-made lakes or the canals that afford us the water we need to survive in the desert. As it happens, many ducks and other waterfowl have found the plenteous water inviting. With that, good- hearted people have taken up the cause of making sure there is food for them to eat.
First, let me address the kind of food issue. Whatever you do, do not feed ducks bread. It is just wrong. It isn’t nutritious. It doesn’t move easily from their crops where it sours. It doesn’t serve them well in any way. It could cause angel wings…those funky little non-functional stubs that permanently ground the birds and afford them no ability to escape through the air. Just NO! And, what isn’t consumed sinks to the bottom causes problems on its own. SO, no bread. Now, more nutritious food is available if starvation was the issue…which it isn’t…Addressing this, the informed visitor further explained:
“I’m wondering if you could put out a general notification to all of your volunteers to never feed wildlife regardless of the formulation because there’s much more to it than what you are feeding them. Ducklings eat insects and arthropods, not specially formulated food and they should be learning to find their own food and survive in the wild and not become habituated and lose their natural fear of humans. Feeding them causes them to overeat and therefore poop a lot and pollute waters. That’s just part of the cycle as I’m sure you are aware.”
She also stated that feeding wildlife is illegal, and that is part of her concern I want to address.
While it is unlawful to “intentionally, knowingly or recklessly feed, attract, or entice wildlife into an area”, you are allowed to feed birds and tree squirrels. This is where it gets sticky. Ducks are birds so unless it is otherwise stated (which some specific cities do), it isn’t unlawful to feed ducks. It is possibly adding to the problem by making them dependent on people and not fearful of them. This can add to their obesity and help them become malnourished leading to deformity among other things. Adult geese are known to be aggressive if they lose their fear of humans and it isn’t pretty. All of this unnatural feeding could facilitate the spread of disease… all of this is sort of in the category of no good deed goes unpunished. Feeding javelina, bears, coyotes, raccoons, foxes, deer, etc. is NOT ALLOWED. That is a whole different issue.
Now the area where I am known to sin is feeding the birds in my yard. I limit the amount. I try to buy the best quality. I research what each species needs. And, I revel in their visits to my feeders. The hummingbirds, hooded orioles, gold finches, cardinals, house finches, mockingbirds, sparrows, verdins, thrashers, towhees…all of my avian neighbors take part in the feeding, but what they enjoy with wild abandon is the array of fountains….probably the real draw. I consider the feeders incidental activities…it is the water they crave. And, surprisingly, I don’t have a single tree squirrel to worry about.
I was fearful that the spilled seeds would sprout on the ground causing unsightly weeds, but the quail and the doves make sure that isn’t an issue. The rodents leave hungry and go somewhere else…YAY!
I am conscientious about weaning my avian visitors off the feeders when food is plentiful in the yard. I am careful to plant the native things they need to feed themselves and their babies. I thoroughly enjoy the occasional visits of begging juveniles as mom and pop turn up their beaks insisting that it is time for kids to be off the dole. Life can be tough, and I will help the cause by holding back on the free stuff until the kids learn that there isn’t always going to be a hand out. So, technically, I am not breaking the law of the land, even if I might be challenging the law of nature for my own little selfish desires…but I love sitting in my happy place in the early morning and waning light of day to observe the visitors to my yard. Shame me if you will, but I don’t think I will stop.
I will not feed the ducks, however.
This Week @ Liberty – June 6, 2023
Is it seriously June already?! Well, apparently it is, and as you can see, our intake numbers are on the rise. Of course, we’ve planned for this (as we do every year!); thankfully, not only do we have dedicated volunteers willing to spend their time learning, caring and assessing the animals who come through our doors, we also have volunteer veterinarians doing the same.
The level of care we see on a daily basis is a wonderful thing indeed. It’s a constant reminder the good we can do for our native wildlife, and what that dedication can do to get them back out into it.
I’m sure you know there’s a ton of different jobs here at Liberty Wildlife. From Orphan Care volunteers who take care of baby birds in four hour shifts, to Daily Care volunteers who handle the cleaning of cages and food prep and feeding of various animals, there’s never as shortage of jobs to do. Which includes a job I don’t talk much about: the Owl Team!
The Owl Team is much like Daily Care in the sense they’re here to clean enclosures, refresh waters, and feed the animals in our care. The biggest difference is the time of day they come in (around 4pm!) and, you guessed it, they only deal with owls; Barn Owls, Great Horned Owls and Western Screech Owls, specifically (sometimes other ones too, but this is a good place to start!).
A lot of that reason is because of the way these raptors hunt; unlike our falcon and hawk friends, who are diurnal (they hunt during the day), most owls are active at night. Great Horned Owls are crepuscular and are typically out and about at dawn and dusk; if you’re looking for them, that’s a great time to spot them. Barn Owls are nocturnal and tend to do most of their hunting at midnight or later (they aren’t always great friends with the Great Horned Owls). And while Western Screech Owls can hunt throughout the day, they tend to be most active throughout the night.
Which is why it’s so great for us to have a group of volunteers so willing to come in, on a windy, hot summer day, so late in the afternoon. They keep our rehab owls watered and fed, and of course, make sure those babies are getting plenty to eat, too!
Bird Nerd-dom: Identification and Watching
If you can’t tell from the description above, I’ve become quite a “bird nerd.” There’s something to be said about spotting a bird out in the wild and being able to identify it. Admittedly, it’s one of the ways I realized I had gone from passive bird fan into full bird nerd-dom. My husband and I were out four wheeling with friends, and low and behold, we happened upon a large, soaring bird out in the desert. There were some guesses as to what the bird might be, but I knew it was a Red-Tailed Hawk because of the patagial mark on the underside of its wings (more on how to identify this shortly).
Trust me when I say, they had a good laugh when I explained it, as they too realized the plunge I’d taken.
Still, there are times identification can be difficult. Sometimes they’re too high, or the angle isn’t right, or maybe you know you have Cooper’s Hawks and Sharp-Shinned Hawks in your neighborhood and from a good distance, they can certainly look similar. While I can’t give you the end-all-be-all list of every identifying mark of our native raptor species, here is a few guidelines on identifying some of our most common:
- Red-Tailed Hawk:
- How to identify them: one of our most common hawks; typical identifiers are its brick red tail, a dark bar on the leading edge of the underwing (the patagial mark), a ‘belly band’ of dark streaks across a lower, lighter belly, and a light ‘V’ on the back of the wings. Please keep in mind not all Red-Tails have these markings; there are fourteen different subspecies, which means there are lots of different ‘looks’ to be had!
- Where to look: These raptors have adapted well to city life due to open space for hunting. You’ll want to look up high, so think streetlights, telephone poles, saguaros, and trees. They hunt primarily by sight, so chances are if you look up and see a large, soaring bird with a light belly and that dark mark underneath their wing…it’s likely a Red-Tail.
- Harris’ Hawk:
- How to identify them: this hawk is a chocolate brown with a distinctive mark of white bands at the rump and at the end of the tail. It’s wings, shoulders and legs are reddish brown, and they can have wingspans of almost four feet.
- Where to look: these hawks are only found in the southwest (Arizona, New Mexico, Texas). Not only are they perch hunters, they are also one of the only birds who hunt in packs; chances are, if you spot one, you’ll see other’s too. They’ve had good success with groups of five, so you’ll want to keep a lookout for a group perched up high, looking for their prey.
There are a lot of great resources online for those of you looking to head out and spot some of these raptors. Make sure to grab a good book and a good set of binoculars, and of course, some patience. It might take a minute to find them, but once you do, it’s so worth the wait.
And don’t worry, more descriptions to come soon!
It’s that time again! If you’re coming to visit us in person, remember we’re open to the public on Wednesdays, Saturdays and Sundays from 9am-11am. Most features on our campus are outside, so make sure to stay hydrated and wear lots of sunscreen, it’s that time of year! I know our animal ambassadors are hanging in the shade, and enjoying that time with their evaporation coolers on.
Without further ado, here are this week’s notable mentions:
A Northern Cardinal makes a pit-stop in Triage (2 pictures)
A Great Horned Owl received surgery on an injured leg and was placed in a “trash bag nest” to prevent further injury (1 picture)
Volunteer Doris weighs Animal Ambassador Sundance (Swainson’s Hawk) (1 picture)
A rescuer dropped off a juvenile America Kestrel who was eager, and hungry, for his mouse (1 picture)
Juvenile Great Horned Owl unwrapping himself. (1 picture)
A juvenile Greater Roadrunner gets some afternoon sun (1 picture)
As always, thank you for reading and hanging with us every other week. We appreciate you!
Until next time!
Posted by Acacia Parker
Public Outreach Coordinator