Hoots, Howls, and Hollers – September 26, 2023
Sentinels of the Desert
Assuming you are a desert dweller and were asked to depict the Sonoran Desert to someone from another country like England or France, what would you put in your picture/story? Probably one of the first characters in the scene would be the stately and iconic saguaro cactus. And, there is good reason for that. The hero/heroine of our desert is this gentle giant, the keystone species that makes provisions for at least 100 other species. Everything from a number of bird species, bats, deer, javelina, rabbits, rodents, desert iguanas, chuckwallas, tortoises and insects like ants.
Saguaros also conjure a migration milestone for me. When I see the saguaro cactus bloom in late April to early May, I start looking for the return of the white winged dove who feeds on the fruit. When nests sights are in demand during breeding season, the saguaro plays a significant role in home/nest availability and acquisition for red-tailed hawks, great horned owls, crested caracaras. The cavity nesters like woodpeckers and flickers can dig into the outer layers of the rib area of the cactus, which then emits a chemical that seals off the cavity, making it the perfect spot to raise a family. Elf and other small owls and assorted non-native species like starlings and English sparrows move in if the cavity is unprotected. Prime real estate can be hard to find in the desert. But, thanks to our heroine, the stately saguaro, relief is in sight…mostly.
A few years ago during a nasty desert fire, fueled no doubt by intensive hot burning invasive grasses called buffle grass, hundreds of thousands of mature saguaros were decimated. Invasive buffle grass, brought in to supply food for cattle took off on its own and found everything it needed in the Sonoran Desert, and now, because of its abundance, fires spread more easily, burn hotter and longer, and the only survivor is the buffle grass that emerges again later. All of the benefits, not to mention the beauty of the saguaro are gone for many, many years. It takes as much as 150 years to refill the desert with the full benefits of the saguaro. From baby cactus to its grown up state the saguaro needs a long time to provide the benefits and fulfill its role as the great provider of the desert. That is a long time to be without all of the benefits they provide to their fellow denizens of the desert.
You don’t have to look long or hard to find these stately characters suffering from a challenged environment. Cascading climate events have resulted in drying and warming in the Sonoran Desert. Saguaro arms are lost, tops are blown off, bases are uprooted allowing the cactus to topple to the ground taking everything in its path in neighborhoods and the surrounding desert. This isn’t something that you can expect to fix in a season or two. Planting saguaros is tricky business….and nature does it best. However, with at least two good monsoons, an intervening wet winter, and some healthy nurse plants to stand guard for a while, we might be able to see a greatly needed regeneration.
If you have a saguaro in your environment, be sure to follow the ‘best care’ provisions. The watering should be sparce, placing a hose 3 to 4 feet from the base and only during the hot, dry season. Do not let the base sit in water. Notice if sunburn becomes an issue with dark spots and decay allowing for infection to enter the wounds. Roots can be fed, but only by foods specific to the needs of the species. Consult experts like the folks at the Desert Botanical Garden. Do whatever it takes to keep the Guardians of our desert galaxy safe and providing for the other 100 species that are depending on them.
Remember, for what it’s worth, we are all connected.
This Week @ Liberty – September 26, 2023
We’re inching our way closer and closer to that holiday season. For us, that means intakes are less and less, and our hospital has some time to breathe before our next baby season is upon us. For our education team, this is the start of field trips and off-site programs and zoom programs, where we talk about our permanent residents and all they have to offer in Arizona (and wherever else they might be from!). It also means our Public Hours will change to our ‘normal’ time (10am-1pm), starting on October 4th!
Either way, we’re so happy to have so many dedicated people, including all those who come to see us on-site, and bring us injured wildlife that needs our help.
Bald Eagles in the Arizona Desert
If you’ve never seen a Bald Eagle in the wild, they’re a sight to behold, indeed. Finding their homes mostly near bodies of water, these large raptors have no qualm about interacting with their human counterparts. Videos are many on social media of these birds hanging out near docks waiting for discarded carcasses or stealing fish right from a fishing line.
You might be surprised to find we have as many as we do; in fact, we have so many that in 2008, AZ Fish and Wildlife was able to remove them from the Endangered Species list the following year. Though that doesn’t mean the department doesn’t keep a close watch on them, their increased population in the Sonoran Desert shows the amazing recovery of their species with the help of careful management and conservation.
It’s one of many reasons why, when we get a call on a Bald Eagle, it’s all hands-on deck. These birds are no joke—weighing anywhere between six to fourteen pounds, with a wing span of six to seven and a half feet—it takes a team to ensure they are stabilized enough for care.
Hailing from Tonto National Forest, this Bald Eagle was found near Saguaro Lake with an injured wing. AZ Game and Fish was quick to find the means to get to him and bring him to Liberty Wildlife. At just under six pounds, this male was banded in 2003 up in San Carlos, and once he reached adulthood, made his way down to Saguaro Lake, where he and his mate have nested yearly since 2009, producing three chicks each year.
Unfortunately, we do not know the circumstances behind the radius/ulna (think forearm) fracture on his right wing. Dr. Lamb, alongside Jan and Dr. Coonrod, were able to carefully sedate him for X-rays and surgery, where the team was able to pin both bones, and place an external fixature, to help mend the fracture.
For now, a dose of anti-biotics and anti-inflammatories, along with pain management, are on the menu. Add that with some fish and rats, and the care of the Liberty Wildlife team, and we hope to have this Bald Eagle outside within the next several weeks. There, he’ll learn to fly with his newly mended bones, and hopefully, soon after that, we’ll be able to release him back at Saguaro Lake, where he can hunt and mate for many more years to come.
Molting is a word we hear often here at Liberty Wildlife. For those of you who don’t know what that is, it’s when a bird replaces some, or all, of their feathers. And since feathers are made of keratin—just like our hair and nails are—damaged feathers are unable to heal themselves. A molt helps provide birds with a set of new, healthy feathers, which also helps us to pinpoint their age or sex and even the time of the year (in some cases, but not all).
There are a lot of variables to a molt. Sometimes a molt happens when a bird grows from a juvenile to an adult, leaving them with plumage that is completely unrecognizable from their younger selves. Sometimes it’s a few damaged feathers that simply need to be replaced. In either case, growing new feathers requires quite a bit of work. Most birds are likely to only go through this process when they’re past things like nesting or migration.
Even though our permanent residents here at Liberty Wildlife don’t migrate or nest, they will still go through this process. And the most wonderful thing about this is, our Non-Eagle Feather Repository is able to take these discarded feathers to provide Native Americans with a source of feathers for religious and ceremonial purposes. You can see these feathers on our campus, too, during Public Hours on Wednesdays, Saturdays or Sundays during our summer hours (currently 9am-11am).
As always, it’s an honor to have you here with us! Thanks again for reading and making it to the end of this week’s blog. I know this one is a bit short and sweet, but I promise there’s always more to come in the future!
Without further ado, here are this week’s notable mentions:
Brie the Golden Eagle comes out for some sunbathing (2 pictures)
Lizards galore found their way into the classroom, and we’re promptly escorted out to better hunting grounds aka outside (2 pictures)
Aldo the American Kestrel hangs by the water feature (where Zelda, our Grey Hawk, has now been moved to) (1 picture)
A Sonoran Mud Turtle hides his legs to keep from getting his anti-biotic shot (1 picture)
Until next time!
Posted by Acacia Parker
Public Outreach Coordinator