Wednesday, September 17, 2014

So you want a pet bird...

Pet birds can be a great source if joy, but can also teach you to be responsible, especially if you're a kid. I'll assume you want  parakeet, also known as the Budgerigar. Birds need to be maintained - well fed, fresh water and new newspaper. Daily. But before we get into that, you need the supplies. What are they?
  1. Bird cage - you bird's cage should be at least two times taller and two and a half times wider then the bird itself, to give him/her some room to fly around.
  2. Food - Do you know what type of food to get your bird? PetSmart and Petco both have a wide variety!
  3. Water - Spring and purified are the best, because there's no chlorine. The chlorine in your tap water can severely shorten your bird's life.
  4. Newspaper - Any newspaper will do good. Its a lot easier to have newspaper in the bottom tray than a handfull of bedding. Bedding is expensive, anyway!
  5. Toys - Birds get really bored really easily, so having a couple toys is good. Nothing fancy, but a chew toy and a bell or mirror would do it. If you like to have them out, then maybe consider a play gym.
  6. (Maybe) another bird - It takes double the maintenance, but having another bird is really fun. They might like each other! Plus, if you have a male and a female, then they might mate and you'd have a bunch of budgies then!
If you're just a kid and you're reading this because you want a pet bird, you probably have no idea what you're getting yourself into. But if you get help from Mom and Dad, that's definitely a huge weight off your shoulders. And for parents: I know you think birds are messy, but they make a lot of cute noises, they look nice, and most birds (especially parakeets) are really easily tamed! I know because I have one of my own. It makes kids really happy to have such a cute little animal perched atop their shoulder.

Now that you've read this (I'll assume you didn't just skim over the negative parts), you probably want one. If Mom and Dad are okay, then get out there and choose one!


Wait, wait, wait! I forgot the most important part of buying a bird: Choose wisely. At places like PetSmart, you only have a fourteen day money back guarantee. Choose the youngest male, as they're the easiest to train and handle. And when you get him home, leave him alone. A lot of kids reach right in there after they bought them. The new little guy will be really stressed, so after a week approach the cage slowly, and just stick your hand in there until he relaxes. then you can get him out. Even after that, he'll be freaked out. He'll fly, so if they give yo an option to clip his wings at the pet store, go for it.

Have fun with your new pet!

Monday, September 15, 2014

What makes a bird a bird

Blue macaw feathers.
What defines a bird? That's a really short question with a 
  1. Eggs - Birds lay eggs, but so do reptiles, amphibians, insects and platypuses. (Platypusi? Platypus?)
  2. Bipedalism - Birds walk on two feet. But so do we.
  3. Beak - All birds have beaks, also known as bills. But turtles have them too!
  4. Wings - They have wings too, but so do bats.
  5. Feathers - Now, besides birds, can you think of a single animal that has feathers? No.
Feathers are very complex. There are a ton of parts to each type of feather - And there are a couple feather types!

I'll start with the type most commonly found and prized feather, the primary flight feather (There are secondaries, too, but those are generally just shorter). There is the pennaceous region, the part where all the itty-bitty barbs stick together. The barbs are the main branches that stick out from the central shaft, or rachis. The calamus is the hollow base of the central shaft where the muscles attach. Finally, the plumulaceous region is that really fluffy part at near the bottom of the feather where the bars don't interlock like the rest of the feather.

I would talk about all of the feathers if I had time, but I don't, so let's move on. What's something that differentiates birds from other organisms? The syrinx. We have a larynx. Basically our vocal cords. Ours look like a long tube. But birds' vocal cords look like a tube that splits at the bottom, thus letting them generate two noises at once.

I know I didn't explain a lot about either of these subjects, so if you want more info, visit All About Bird Biology by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Northern Illinois Raptor Rehab presentation

Yesterday I went to a program in a local forest preserve that was hosted by the Northern Illinois Raptor Rehab. It was, of course, on raptors. They had a bunch of cool birds. I think there were 7 species there. They had a great horned owl, a barred owl, two Eastern screech-owls, a Northern saw-whet owl, a barn owl, a peregrine falcon, and two American kestrels.

Cathy, the speaker, spoke on a variety of subjects: "What are raptors?" "Are they in my backyard?" "How many species of raptors are there in Illinois?" And she answered those - plus more - fully.

Like most of the raptors they had there, Ulysses (above) was imprinted. Being imprinted makes you unreleasable. It means that when any bird opens its eyes, the first thing it sees, to the bird, is its mother.

That's Stella, the peregrine falcon. I think Cathy said that Stella was a retired falconry bird. Falconry is the old sport of training a falcon or hawk to hunt food, then bring it back. She has raised six foster chicks. There is also something wrong with her foot. She's a really flighty bird! As she came out of her box and alighted on a handler's glove, she just started flapping like crazy! As she started flapping, she quacked like a duck. Maybe that and their food (ducks) is where they get the old name, duck hawk, from.

Sky is a female red-tailed hawk with a broken wing, I think. Notice how she holds her right wing higher than the left. That's because of her break. There's not a lot to say about her.

Orion and Ophelia, the two Eastern screech-owls, are really, really cuddly. Orion (left) is imprinted. Ophelia (guess where she is) is blind in one eye and has a broken right wing. She was hit by a car. I can't even remember how many foster chicks they've raised. Well over ten!

I don't remember this big guy's name. I think he's imprinted. There's not much to say about him, either.



Then there's the two American kestrels. I don't remember their names either (don't blame me! Those were a lot of weird names). I think they were imprinted, too.

And last but not least, there's the barn owl. Barn owls are endangered in Illinois, yet they're the most widely distributed owl in the world! He was spooky. But when he looks right at you, he's kinda cute!






So now that you've seen all of these birds, maybe you wanna come to one of the NIRRRE's presentations! They're really cool, and you learn a lot. Their full name is the Northern Illinois Raptor Rehabilitation and Education. They "rescue, rehabilitate and release." Click here to go to their website.