Mission: To promote the appreciation of wildlife and increase harmony between humanity and nature.

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Sunday, November 25, 2012

Capitol Hill Snowy - Photos

Yesterday, Dan Reiff sent in the following email with up close and personal photos of the Capitol Hill Snowy Owl from the night before it was rescued.

"Hello Larry,

Here are a few photos from video I did at East John and 11th. The Snowy fed on the Glaucous-winged gull adult about every 45 minutes. It appeared to be a healthy, hungry bird that successfully took out the adult gull. It was sleeping in the photo where you will see it's eyes closed.

I do not have a web site to post the photos.


Dan suggests that if you click on the photos you can see a larger, brighter version.

Dan, Thank you for being there and for sharing your photos!

The photos make it obvious that the Capitol Hill Snowy Owl would have been safer with its prey on top of a nearby flat-roofed building or even up in a tree. I suspect it lacked the strength to move the gull's body to a safer location. In the Arctic a lemming is the normal prey of a Snowy Owl. Lemmings are from 3 to 6 inches long and weigh 1 to 4 ounces according to Wikipedia.  The Cornell Lab of Ornithology indicates a Glaucous-winged Gull can weigh 2 pounds or more.

Last summer one of the Broadmoor bald eagles took a gull near the 520 bridge. While carrying the gull in flight the eagle clearly labored under the load. 

Even though the nest was less than a half mile away, the eagle stopped to rest three times on the way back. 
Given that an average bald eagle has a wingspan about a fifty percent larger than a Snowy Owl and weighs about twice as much, it seems likely that the CHSO was simply unable to lift off with the dead weight of the gull. 

According to what we were told, the CHSO did not fly when it was rescued. Whether it was hurt or just too hungry to leave its food supply, either way it was at risk. Since the Owl allowed a human to capture it, it seems likely that it might not have left its prey if approached by a dog or a raccoon. Either of these creatures could have made short work of the Snowy Owl. I am sure we all agree that it is good that the Capitol Hill Snowy Owl will live to hunt another day. Thank you to the Sarvey Wildlife Care Center.


Odds and Ends:

Last week Janice, another local reader, also sent in an interesting email. This email was in response to the story about the Cedar Waxwings.

I forwarded your query about the CW to our son-in-law in Berkeley and here is his response. "My CW" refers to our grandson (who is named), Cedar Waxwing!

"The Cedar Waxwing is one of the only birds that can survive exclusively on fruit.  The pigment "wax" on its wings and tail are extracted from the fruit pigment it consumes.  It is not really wax.  I've examined dead waxwings and the wax tips are composed of feather elements/fibers. The red pigment on the wingtips can be orange or even yellow depending on the type of fruit that the particular waxwings are consuming.  Maybe the pigment is a signal to other waxwings as to what types of fruit the bird has been consuming: "come with my flock, we eat delicious YELLOW berries!"

More likely it is a signal to potential mates that the bird is healthy and will be a good supplier of genetic material.  But Larry's question is really along the lines of an inquiry into why evolution provides such strange and beautiful characteristics to the natural world.

Why are a monarch butterfly's wings orange and black?  Why is an orchid such a beautiful shade of [supply the appropriate color]?

This is why we (used to) have religion, so one could just just have faith that god made it that way for a reason.  Now we are such modern (evolved) creatures, and I include myself, that we need to have a logical reason to explain all of the beautiful mysteries around us.

Sometimes I think my Cedar Waxwing is trying to survive exclusively on fruit."


Click HERE to see the photos and read the Cedar Waxwing story.

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