Harry Potter’s Owls
by Karen Foerstel, The Nature Conservancy
The much anticipated movie Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets
features a wide variety of owls delivering mail for their wizard owners
at the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. “Muggles”
(non-wizards) can see many of the same owls in forests and prairies across
the United States, but growing threats to owl habitat, such as development
and the loss of old growth forests, are making it ever harder to spot
these stealth flyers.
There are 19 species of owls that inhabit North America, ranging from
the tiny elf owl, which stands less than 6 inches tall, to the great gray
owl, which reaches nearly 30 inches in height and has a wing span of about
50 inches. Scientists working to protect owls hope the Harry Potter craze
will spark a renewed interest in conserving owl habitat across the country.
“Human population growth and development are destroying the owls’
natural habitat in many places,” said Charles Duncan, an ornithologist
with The Nature Conservancy (Conservancy), “and owl populations
are on the decline due largely to habitat loss.”
The burrowing owl of the American Great Plains is listed among the Conservancy’s
“Unlucky 13"—those grassland birds whose populations
have declined to dangerously low levels in recent years. Burrowing owls,
which nest in animal burrows and other ground crevices, are inextricably
linked to the livelihood of ground insects and small mammals such as prairie
dogs and ground squirrels. The recovery of this owl’s population
hinges on sustaining the habitats of burrowing mammal populations.
The Conservancy also is working with Kevin Dodge and his students at
Garrett College in western Maryland to monitor travel patterns of owls
to better determine what lands should be protected to save these birds.
During the fall months, the scientists set up mist nets for the nighttime
capture and tagging of northern saw-whet owls lured in by tape recordings
of the owl’s calls. Birds tagged in Maryland have been tracked to
Florida, Wisconsin, Michigan, and Maine.
Together with government agencies such as the USDA Forest Service and
the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Conservancy is protecting landscapes
that are most critical to declining bird populations. Owl lovers can visit
Forest Service lands, national wildlife refuges, and Conservancy preserves
across the country to observe these fascinating birds. Many of the Conservancy’s
facilities conduct owl-sighting tours and educational programs year-round.
One of the best places to spot owls is in Arizona at the Conservancy’s
Ramsey Canyon Preserve, where seven species reside. Owls can even be seen
in some of the country’s most cosmopolitan areas. The Conservancy’s
New York chapter offers guided walks through Central Park where visitors
can learn more about owls and, with a little luck, catch a glimpse of
a wizard’s courier.
For more information, contact Karen Foerstel, The Nature Conservancy,
4245 North Fairfax Drive, Arlington, Virginia 22203, (703) 841-3932, firstname.lastname@example.org.
A Lucky Test Flight
by Ben Ikenson, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
Sporting gangly legs and a long neck, the young chick awkwardly poised
on a tiny island in a Florida marsh may not seem a significant presence,
but it was the first nonmigratory whooping crane born in the wild in the
United States since 1939 to fledge.
Success was confirmed on June 7, 2002, when the 87-day-old crane flew
some 300 yards across a marsh in Leesburg, Florida, where it was hatched
and reared. When his sibling was killed by a bald eagle, locals nicknamed
the surviving chick "Lucky."
“Lucky’s flight is encouraging,” said U.S. Fish and
Wildlife Service Whooping Crane Recovery Coordinator Tom Stehn. “Flight
ability is the most important asset for a bird to escape predators.”
The Kissimmee Prairie has hosted a nonmigratory whooping crane population
since 1993. Each year, between 10 and 50 captive-raised birds are released
here. From this population, four chicks have hatched in the wild: two
in 2000; two in 2002. Lucky is the only survivor.
“Lucky is the first whooping crane to be raised in the wild by
captive-reared parents,” said Steve Nesbitt, project leader for
the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. “This validates
the entire concept behind the captive-rearing approach to saving whooping
cranes, which began at the Patuxent Wildlife Research Center in Maryland
in the 1960s.”
Once believed to number more than 10,000 in the United States, whooping
cranes historically wintered on the East Coast from New Jersey to Florida
and along the Gulf Coast, and summered in Canada as far north as Hudson
Bay. The birds were over-hunted and their nesting areas drained. In 1941,
15 remaining birds that wintered in Texas survived only because they summered
in a remote area of a Canadian national park inaccessible to humans.
Recovery efforts have been slow but steady. Today, there are three main
populations of whooping cranes in the wild, totaling 265 birds. There
are also 131 birds in captivity, putting the species' entire population
“The backbone of recovery efforts is the Aransas/Wood Buffalo flock,”
said Stehn. The flock is so named for the 2,500-mile sojourn it makes
every April, from Aransas National Wildlife Refuge on the Texas Gulf Coast
to Wood Buffalo National Park in Alberta and the Northwest Territories.
This population now totals 173 birds. The second whooping crane population
is the nonmigratory flock in Florida, consisting of 88 birds.
In the fall of 2001, biologists introduced a third flock of whooping
cranes to the wild. Ultralight aircraft biologist/pilots gave eight birds
their first lesson in migration, leading them from Necedah National Wildlife
Refuge in central Wisconsin to Chassahowitzka National Wildlife Refuge
on Florida’s west coast. Five of the new flock's original eight
survived the winter and returned on their own to central Wisconsin in
the spring of 2002. Seventeen more juvenile cranes started the next migration
led by ultralight in the fall of 2002.
Recovery biologists are encouraged by the appearance of the Florida population's
newest flight-savvy recruit and are hopeful that Lucky will pass his fortune—and
his fitness for survival—on to his descendants.
For more information, contact Steve Nesbitt, Biological Administrator,
Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, 4005 South Main Street,
Gainesville, Florida 32601, (352) 955-2230, email@example.com,
or Tom Stehn, Whooping Crane Coordinator, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service,
Aransas National Wildlife Refuge, P.O. Box 100, Austwell, Texas 77950,
(361) 286-3559 extension 221, firstname.lastname@example.org, or Brian Johns, Whooping
Crane Coordinator, Canadian Wildlife Service, Prairie and Northern Wildlife
Research Centre, 115 Perimeter Road, Saskatoon, Saskatchewan S7N 0X4,
(306) 975-4109, email@example.com.
Nonmigratory Whooping Crane Reintroduction Project Partners
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission
U.S. Geological Survey
Canadian Wildlife Service
International Crane Foundation
San Antonio Zoo
Learning by Doing
by Tildy La Farge, Ducks Unlimited, Inc.
One of the things we take for granted in the United States is access
to practical training in resource management. In Latin America, a student
interested in becoming an anthropologist or a biologist can get a degree
at one of the universities with plenty of classroom training, but opportunities
for hands-on experience are still scarce.
A highly successful program has emerged to fill this gap. It’s
called RESERVA and it’s the first internationally focused, hands-on
training program for natural resources professionals in Latin America.
This program is a joint enterprise among Ducks Unlimited de México
(DUMAC), Ducks Unlimited, Inc., USDA Forest Service, and U.S. Fish and
Wildlife Service. These partners, which have a history of working together
on conservation projects in both the United States and Latin America,
came up with the idea for this type of training program in the 1980s and
officially opened the doors in 1989.
RESERVA brings professionals of many different disciplines together to
show them how they can parlay their knowledge base into effective management
of parks, reserves, and sanctuaries in their respective countries. The
program is offered annually to professionals working for government agencies
and nongovernmental organizations, and is held in Celestun, Yucatan, at
the DUMAC headquarters.
To date, RESERVA has graduated 190 professionals from 22 countries in
Latin America, the Caribbean, and Africa. During the course, students
can participate in 13 training modules that focus on a variety of topics,
including geographic information systems mapping, fundraising, agro-forestry,
wetlands management and conservation, wildlife sampling, and modeling
“I believe the program’s success is rooted in the fact that
a private, nonprofit organization and two federal agencies are working
together to teach collaboration in the field. The business of resource
management is highly collaborative on many levels. Now, we’re throwing
international partnering into the mix, so it’s getting really interesting,”
said Eduardo Carrera, DUMAC’s national director.
Cooperation and collaboration with natural resources conservation partners
in Latin America and the Caribbean are essential for one reason: we share
migratory species, particularly birds. If we are to sustain these resources
for future generations, we must all work together.
Participation in this 2-month training course is determined through an
application process. The cost of attendance is US$7,000, which includes
airfare, lodging, meals, materials, and tuition. A limited number of full
scholarships are available from the program for eligible students. The
2003 course is being held April-June.
For more information, contact Eduardo Carerra, Ducks Unlimited de
Mexico, Avenida Vasconcelos 209 Ote, Residencial San Agustin, Garza Garcia,
Nuevo Leon, Mexico C.P. 66260, (52) (818) 335-1212, firstname.lastname@example.org.
by John Cancalosi
For people who live in the wetter parts of the world, a trip to the arid
lands of the Americas can seem like a journey to another planet. Vegetation
is sparse and most of the plants present a forbidding arsenal of spines.
My introduction to cactus country came in Arizona’s Sonoran Desert,
where I had purchased a home. Here I found a welcoming committee of a
host of spiny plants, which all too frequently impaled various parts of
my body. How can animals, and for that matter photographers, such as myself,
cope with the difficulties of living around cacti?
Gradually, I fell under the desert’s spell. I was fascinated most
by the abundance of animal life. These creatures have found ways to solve
the thorny problems presented by their environment. To some animals, cacti
and other spiny plants are merely obstacles to be avoided, but others
use them to their advantage. Birds are especially adept at living in prickly
surroundings. Although some birds merely use a cactus as a convenient
perch, others rely on these succulent plants for food and nesting sites
and probably couldn’t survive without them. They have turned potential
problems into opportunities.
Taking my cue from these savvy survivors, I focused my photographic efforts
on the “thornbirds.” My travels were limited to areas of the
American Southwest, where cacti occur most abundantly. Like the birds
I photographed, I tried to turn adversity into advantage.
I did much of the photography from a convenient location—inside
my house at the edge of the desert surrounding Tucson. I kept several
lenses mounted on tripods near windows, using the drapes to create a blind.
I apologize to those of you who prefer the romantic, hardship-driven image
conjured up when you hear “wildlife photographer,” but window-watching
Not all images were captured so easily, however. Photographing raptors
nesting in giant saguaro required considerably more effort. First, I had
to find the remotely located nests. Then, I had to haul scaffolding, bit
by bit, to erect a tower with a blind. I entered the blind at night and
slept 30 feet above the desert floor. My tender flesh delighted the local
vampires—blood-sucking cone-noses! These inch-long insect atrocities
would pierce me nightly, gifting me with a nice collection of welts by
Once, I was awakened in the middle of the night to the sound of an approaching
thunderstorm. Hmmm. . .lightning, huge metal tower—my steel-trap
mind sprang into action. I was sure I could find my way back to my truck
in the dark. Wrong. After several hours of wandering aimlessly, watching
for rattlesnakes and cacti, I was finally rescued by the Sun.
I learned a valuable lesson in photographing the thornbirds. I may be
forced to deal with thorny problems in life, but with persistence, hard
work, skill, and a little luck, things seem to work out. At an unexpected
moment, a hawk lands on a nest to feed its young or a cactus wren sings
atop a cholla—these moments never last long, but they are worth
the wait and the struggle.
For more information, contact John Cancalosi at email@example.com.
They’re in the Pink
by Jay Huner, University of Louisiana at Lafayette and Nancy Camel
One editor called them “neon beauties.” Many of Louisiana’s
Cajuns call them “pink flamingos” or “Louisiana flamingos.”
But, by any name, many consider the brilliantly colored roseate spoonbill
the most gorgeous of the wading birds in the southeastern Atlantic and
Gulf Coastal regions of the United States, despite the large, spatulate
protuberance, otherwise known as a beak, emanating from its head.
In Louisiana’s Acadiana region, locals don’t bat an eye at
herons, egrets, ibises, and storks. These populations are large and expanding,
thanks to the half-million-acre rice, rice-crawfish, and crawfish agricultural
wetland complex. The arrival of migratory spoonbills, on the other hand,
attracts the attention of most everyone, not just avid birders.
Although a species of concern throughout Florida, the roseate spoonbill
population in Louisiana has been expanding, with several hundred breeding
pairs nesting in rookeries 30 to 70 miles inland, near Lafayette and Ville
Platte. Post-breeding dispersal finds these spoonbills making their way
to northeastern Texas, southeastern Oklahoma, northeastern Mississippi,
and southwestern Tennessee.
The first reports of the spoonbills’ inland forays in Louisiana
came in the late 1980s. Nesting activities were first noted in the early
1990s at The Nature Conservancy’s Cypress Island Preserve at Lake
Martin near Lafayette and in a rookery on private property in the Miller’s
Lake area, near Ville Platte.
Some spoonbills winter along Louisiana’s Gulf Coast, but as spring
arrives, their numbers are reinforced by the northerly movement of their
brethren from Texas and Mexico. During March and April, monogamous pairs
will establish nesting territories within a rookery. The breeding ritual
requires the male to present the female with sticks and twigs, from which
she builds a large platform nest lined with greenery and dry matter. Both
the male and female incubate the eggs, relieving each other two to three
times daily, and both tend to the young. Semi-altricial chicks hatch after
a 22- to 23-day incubation period. Young are flying 35 to 42 days later.
During the nesting and rearing period, adults have been documented foraging
10 to 20 miles from their rookery.
Visitors to south-central Louisiana can count on seeing roseate spoonbills
from late March into early July at the Cypress Island Preserve rookery.
Elsewhere, crawfish ponds and ricefields at mile markers 40 through 46
on I-49 between Lafayette and Alexandria often host foraging spoonbills,
sometimes numbering more than 100 birds. We should warn you, however—prepare
yourself to be dazzled.
For more information, contact Jay Huner, Director, Crawfish Research
Center, University of Louisiana at Lafayette, 1031 W. J. Bernard Road,
St. Martinville, Louisiana 70582, (337) 394-7508, firstname.lastname@example.org,
or Nancy Camel, 10761 Misty Hollow Avenue, Baton Rouge, Louisiana 70810,
email@example.com, or The Nature Conservancy of Louisiana at www.louisiananature.org.
Spoonbill: Up Close and Personal
Length: 32 inches
Wingspan: 50 inches
Weight: 3.3 pounds
Sexes: similar plumage
Eggs: two to three, white, dark spots and blotches
Habitat: marshes, tidal ponds, sloughs, and mangrove swamps
Diet: fish, crustaceans, insects, some aquatic plants
by Richard King, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
They say the inspiration for “Woody Woodpecker” came to cartoonist
Walter Lantz while honeymooning in the Sierra Nevada. I don’t know,
but I’d be willing to bet that the inspiration really entered his
subconscious much sooner, when in 1927 he traveled from his boyhood home
of New York to his adopted home of Hollywood. If he passed through some
of the Midwest’s savanna habitats, Lantz might have witnessed the
antics of red-headed woodpeckers, which bear a remarkable resemblance
to his imaginary pal.
Just like its animated cousin, everything about the red-headed woodpecker
is loud. Its brilliant crimson-colored head sharply contrasts its snowy-white
breast and charcoal-black back and wings. And all territorial invaders
are greeted with a searing alarm reminiscent of Woody’s “Ha-Ha-Ha,
The red-headed woodpecker drives off all invaders—robins, flickers,
jays. It does not discriminate. Introduce an equally tyrannical foe, like
the kingbird, and the conflict can escalate to a battle. These spectacles
are played out in the arena of an open savanna, where the woodpecker’s
aggressive nature is easily observed.
Unfortunately, these scenes are increasingly rare. Midwestern savannas
are now limited to less than 1 percent of their former range, and this
ecosystem is considered globally imperiled. One of the few places red-headed
woodpeckers can still be seen in wide-open savannas is at the Necedah
National Wildlife Refuge in central Wisconsin. Refuge staff have already
restored 500 acres of this rare habitat and are currently restoring 3,000
more acres. When completed, these restorations will have established the
Midwest’s largest contiguous savanna.
The Sand County Foundation (Foundation) has worked with refuge staff
to bring back the savannas. “Without the Foundation’s support,
our savanna restoration work would not have been possible,” said
Refuge Manager Larry Wargowsky.
The Foundation, through its Savanna Partnership, not only established
plant-survey plots on restoration areas but also assembled a group of
experts from across the country to review the refuge’s habitat work.
“The refuge’s savanna restoration program is one of the Nation’s
finest examples of adaptive management made possible through the partnering
of private- and public-sector conservationists,” said Brent Haglund,
Sand County Foundation president.
The refuge is taking restoration monitoring one step further by studying
the habitat requirements of nesting red-headed woodpeckers. Only 1 year
into the study, important discoveries have already been made. Most notably,
red-headed woodpeckers will colonize an area immediately after an initial
timber-thinning operation, which indicates that they will use habitats
that only structurally resemble a savanna. This finding could have significant
range-wide implications: the needs of red-headed woodpeckers could be
incorporated into commercial-forest management. If across the woodpecker’s
range, the practice of clear-cutting could be modified to leave a few
scattered mature trees, red-headed woodpecker habitat would increase exponentially
while having minimal impact on the overall revenue of each individual
timber sale. If done range-wide, Woody may soon be coming to a neighborhood
For more information, contact Richard King, Wildlife Biologist, U.S.
Fish and Wildlife Service, Necedah National Wildlife Refuge, W7996 20th
Street, West, Necedah, Wisconsin 54646, (608) 565-4402, firstname.lastname@example.org.
What’s in a Name?
by Kenneth Damro, Traditional Nesters Research Project
Because it used large, hollow tree snags of the eastern forests in which
to roost and nest, Chaetura pelagica found itself in an adapt-or-die
situation with the arrival of Europeans. Settlers cleared forests to farm
and erect towns. Fortunately, a settler’s home had one or more stone
or brick chimneys—they weren’t hollow tree snags, but they
would suffice. Its ability to adapt and use a new cavity structure gave
the bird its common name: chimney swift.
These cavity dwellers seen swooping through the air never voluntarily
touch ground nor are they able to perch. Chimney swifts bathe, drink,
feed, and live most of their lives on wing. They gather nest sticks by
clutching and breaking a single dead twig from a tree with their feet.
The twig is transferred to the bill in flight and carried into a deep
cavity, where it is glued with saliva to a stick nest attached to the
Studies show that the swift is declining throughout its range, possibly
due to a steady decline of suitable masonry chimneys and air shafts. As
old buildings are razed, crucial habitat is lost. Paul and Georgean Kyle,
of the North American Chimney Swift Nest Site Research Project, have been
working with lay scientists across the continent who build and monitor
experimental nest boxes. The Kyles also have spawned efforts to save and/or
restore old chimneys in cities—a new form of habitat conservation.
Though chimney swifts are considered urban nesters, there are small traditional
nesting populations across the eastern United States. While the bird is
not approaching near-extinction, the populations using native habitat
may be. If we allow these populations to become extinct, a question arises:
Can swift populations dependent on human dwellings reassociate with traditional
habitat? Purple martins provide circumstantial evidence for the answer:
there are no known traditional-nesting purple martin populations east
of the Mississippi.
Because chimney swifts require roosting and nesting sites with an inside
diameter of at least 11 inches and a depth of at least 6 feet, large,
mature trees are important to this species. The Traditional Nesters Research
Project’s goal is to survey for active swift nesting and roosting
tree snags. Recording characteristics associated with an active snag and
surrounding habitat is needed for management and conservation of traditional
nesting chimney swifts. The project needs volunteer nest/roost searchers.
This research is focused in Wisconsin and Upper Michigan; however, data
from other states and Canada are welcomed.
Volunteers finding an active nest site will be asked to complete a detailed
field report and tag the site so it can be field checked. Searchers should
be able to identify chimney swifts, tree species, and habitat types; read
and interpret topographical and plat maps; interpret swift behavior; estimate
distance and height in meters; and tolerate biting insects. Searches take
place from May through September. Volunteers are provided the necessary
forms and guidance in searching for nests. Volunteers provide whatever
else may be needed in the field—they will do it all in the name
of the chimney swift.
For more information, contact Kenneth Damro, Traditional Nesters
Research Project, P.O. Box 543, Florence, Wisconsin 54121, (715) 696-6630,
email@example.com, or Paul and Georgean Kyle, Driftwood Wildlife
Association, North American Chimney Swift Nest Site Research Project,
1206 West 38th Street, Suite 1105, Austin, Texas 78705, (512) 266-3861,
We’re All Over the Map
by Carey Smith, Pacific Coast Joint Venture
The North American Waterfowl Management Plan’s (Plan) Pacific Coast
Joint Venture just keeps on expanding. Of all the Plan’s habitat
joint ventures, our boundaries now extend the farthest north, south, east,
Last year the joint venture’s management board recognized the coastal
area from San Francisco Bay to the Yukon River as an ecological continuum
that shares migratory bird populations, coastal habitat types, and, consequently,
similar resource problems and opportunities. In keeping with the 1998
Plan update’s theme of “Expanding the Vision,” the board
moved to stretch the joint venture boundary north to Alaska’s Yukon
River. This expansion encompasses five of the 1986 Plan’s “waterfowl
habitat areas of major concern” and more closely aligns our boundaries
with shorebird, waterbird, and landbird planning areas.
Since the expansion, Alaskan joint venture partners have contributed
more than $13 million in matching funds to successfully compete for six
National Coastal Wetlands Conservation Act (NCWCA) grants and four North
American Wetlands Conservation Act (NAWCA) grants, totaling $3.7 million.
Partners used the funds to acquire about 50,000 acres of coastal wetlands
habitats. Their most ambitious acquisition was a 42,000-acre addition
to Izembek National Wildlife Refuge, which includes the largest eelgrass
bed in the United States. The refuge is a crucial fall staging area for
virtually the entire population of Pacific brant (150,000 birds) and emperor
geese (55,000 birds). It also was among the first four U.S. sites designated
as Wetlands of International Importance under the Ramsar Convention on
The joint venture’s work in Alaska will help to provide nesting
and migratory habitat for Alaskan waterfowl and shorebirds, but a limiting
factor for several of these species is the availability of wintering habitat
on Pacific islands. Many species, including the bristle-thighed curlew,
golden plover, and wandering tattler, are dependent upon decreasing wetland
habitats in the Hawaiian Islands. Historically, the islands had 71 taxa
of endemic birds; 23 are now extinct, and 30 are listed as endangered
or threatened. Six of those listed are endangered wetland-dependent species,
with populations below 2,000 individuals: Hawaiian duck, Hawaiian coot,
Hawaiian moorhen, Hawaiian stilt, Hawaiian goose, and Laysan duck. Predation
by introduced species, invasion of nonnative vegetation, and habitat loss
due to development are factors affecting their status. Some agricultural
practices such as taro farming and aquaculture are wetland based, but
they provide only marginal habitat.
In 2002, the Plan Committee endorsed the joint venture’s petition
to allow a boundary expansion to include the Hawaiian Islands. Since then,
Hawaiian partners have received three NCWCA grants and one NAWCA grant,
totaling $2.1 million matched by $4.2 million in partner contributions.
Partners will use the funds to acquire the third largest wetland on Maui
and to restore more than 1,000 wetland acres on federal, state, and private
lands on Oahu. In addition, the joint venture has purchased heavy equipment
for a refuge and helped fund predator and wetland-management research
and an interagency wetland workshop.
Although the joint venture has no immediate plans for further expansion,
Pacific Rim Joint Venture has a nice ring to it.
For more information, contact Carey Smith, U.S. Pacific Coast Joint
Venture Coordinator, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, 9317 NE Highway 99,
Suite D, Vancouver, Washington 98665, (360) 696-7630, firstname.lastname@example.org.