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Thursday, June 3, 2010

Hummingbirds are a Buzzing!

Something new has been added to the garden spots around the bricked area near the Visitor Center at WPSP! Seven hummingbird feeders were donated by Jim and Deb Parrott from Wild Birds Unlimited (located in Willow Knolls Shopping Center) and have been strategically place in an effort to attract a larger population of Ruby-throated Hummingbirds. It is hoped that by placing these feeding stations in and around our natural wildflower habitat, we will encourage more of these winged beauties to the Park and possibly be a host site for an Illinois Audubon Hummingbird (IAS) Festival in 2011.

This Festival is a family event where attendees would be allowed to watch as birds are trapped, banded and then released. The purpose of banding is to determine how far into Mexico or Central America the birds go for winter, where they stop during their travels, how long they live, and whether they come back to the same sites year after year. The bands are numbered so the birds can be traced and data is then coordinated with the United States Geological Survey. Participants may also "adopt" a bird at the Festival by making a donation of a certain amount to the IAS's land acquisition fund; this fund is earmarked for the protection of Illinois wildlife habitat. Donors will receive a signed certificate, be given the privilege of releasing their adopted bird and be notified if their bird is ever recaptured.

The new feeders at WPSP are being closely monitored by volunteers and staff to assure that the birds are offered a clean, fresh supply of sugar water, and sitings are being tracked.

Park visitors have already seen our first hummingbirds visiting our feeders in May, so come visit us soon and see how many you can spot!

Here are some strange but true Hummingbird Facts!

  • Ruby-throated Hummingbirds are so light that you could mail 8 of them for the price of a 44 cent stamp.
  • They can beat their wings 40-80 times per second & fly backwards & upside down!
  • During the day their heart rate is 500-1260 beats per minute, at night it will drop to 50!
  • Females build their nest & rear the young with no help from the male.
  • Besides nectar from flowers & feeders, they also consume a variety of insects.
  • Spider webbing & moss are commonly found in the construction of the nest.
  • The eggs of the Ruby-throated Hummingbird are about the size of a Tic-Tac!

Tuesday, June 1, 2010


Have you seen it? Take a look at the incredible artwork on the back of The Ice Cream Exhibit at Wildlife Prairie State Park! This mural was created by the Park's own naturalist and artist, Melissa Sauder. Assisting her are two ICC students, Jamie Morrow and Katie Garrison; both of these women are members of the Vagabond Art Club at ICC and together have volunteered over 60 hours of their artistic talent! A big thank you from WPSP for their efforts!

Melissa's goal for the mural is to give onlookers a sense of how all life is intertwined. "By exaggerating the size of the smaller animals, and by having so many animals "watching" visitors as they approach the main area, I hope to create a feeling that life is much greater than just one being," Melissa said. Making the mural even more special to the Park, is that most of the animals featured are the Park's own residents: Ollie the Owl, Mikitcha the Eagle, Allie our Albino Rat Snake, Dakota one our of wolves, and Tipper one of our cougars.
This mural is an ongoing project, so visit the Park often and look for new additions!

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Update: Animal Rescue & Rehabilitation - Red Fox Kit

If you read our story earlier in the month on Red Fox Kit, we introduced you to our newest member of our animal rescue nursery. Here is an updated photo of Red Fox Kit now at 5 weeks old...he has grown so much under the experienced care of our animal rehabilitator! He continues to grow by leaps and bounds and keeps our animal rehabilitator very busy with his inquisitiveness and boundless energy.

Red Fox Kit is still on formula because in the wild, the mother fox will nurse her pups until about 10 weeks old. However, just like a momma fox would do, he is being introduced to meat to get him familiar with what will be a main part of his diet. Did you know that mature Red Foxes not only eat meat like squirrels, mice, rabbits and some birds, but also eat eggs, snakes, frogs, fish, corn, berries, and nuts? They bury their food in caches and with their remarkable sense of smell, can relocate these hiding place when they need the food.

In the wild, Red Fox Kits are independent at the age of 7 months. At one year, they are considered adult and able to reproduce. Red Foxes are about 3' in length, and their big, bushy tail is about 13" and serves as a warm blanket insulating their body against the cold in winter, a counterbalance while running and jumping, and is also used to communicate with other foxes.

Notice how large Red Fox Kit's ears have grown. In a mature Red Fox, these ears constantly move to improve his hearing reception...they possess extremely acute hearing particularly in the low frequency range which is useful in detecting small mammals in undergrowth and deep snow to within a few centimeters.

Other sensory features are elliptical pupils that contract more fully providing an excellent opportunity to detect movement in the dark and long whiskers on their snout and wrists, called vibrissae, that serves as more tactile information to supplement their vision at night when they hunt. The Red Fox also have semiretractable claws which is a remarkable feature distinguishing them from other members of the Canid family. This feature helps keep the claw sharp by reducing their contact with the ground.

Check back in with us in a few weeks for updated information on Red Fox Kit!

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Animal Rescue & Rehabilitation - Great-Horned Owlet

Two weeks ago, a baby Great-Horned Owl was brought into Wildlife Prairie State Park. Our licensed animal rehabilitator has been caring for the owlet with the intent to release him back into the wild. This photo is what baby Great-Horned Owlet looks right now...notice the beginning of "horns" (actually tufts of feathers) on his head! Even though this baby looks big, he is only approximately 5 weeks old...remember, mature Great-Horned Owls are 20" high and have a 4-5' wingspan!

Great-Horned owls begin pair formation and nesting in mid-January to mid-March. The young remain in the nest for about 6 weeks and then climb out on nearby branches. They begin taking short flights at 7 weeks and can fly well at 9-10 weeks. An interesting fact, both parents feed and tend to the young for several months more!

Our licensed rehabilitator hand-feeds Great-Horned Owlet on a regular schedule throughout the day. Cut up pieces of mice or rat are his favorite food! Mature Great-Horned owls eat primarily mammals such as rabbits, skunks, and rodents. However, they will eat a variety of birds including quail, ducks, and smaller owl species. To a lesser extent, amphibians, fish, and insects.

Great-Horned owls' call are given in a series of four to five deep, resonant hoots: hoo-hoo-hoo, hoo-hoo. Calls are heard most in the evening and predawn. They are mostly nocturnal, but may be seen during the day also.

Remember, many owlets are fledging (leaving the nest) at this time of the year, which does not necessarily mean they are abandoned! Please call WPSP at 676-0998 if you have any questions. Also, please consider a donation to our Animal Rescue & Rehabilitation...spring is a busy time of the year for our animal rehabilitator and caring for so many rescued friends is costly. We, as well as all the animals thank you for your support!

Friday, April 9, 2010

Animal Rescue & Rehabilitation - Red Fox Kit

Every Spring, the Park begins another year of wildlife rescue and rehabilitation, and 2010 is no orphan red fox baby (called a kit) was brought in recently to the Park. His eyes and ears were still closed which indicated he was approximately 1 week old...weighing only a few ounces, this little guy fit right into the hand of our state and federal licensed animal rehabilitator as seen in the first photo. In the second photo, this is red fox kit now...almost 2 weeks later...look how he has grown! His eyes and ears are now open. His nose has grown longer for a more characteristic fox look, and his fur color is lightening up just a bit. He is still a little wobbly on his legs, but just like most mammal babies, he will get more steady as he practices his walking. He is being fed and cared for until he is old enough to be safely released back into the wild.

Notice his dark coloration...he does not look much like a red fox! Red fox kits are born dark in color to blend in with the ground (where the den is located) as protection from predators. As he matures, his coat will change and could range in color to from a deep orange-red to a light golden color. In Illinois, the red fox breeding season takes place in January through early February (approximately a 52-day gestation period). Litters are then born late March through April. The mother fox is called a vixen.

While the rescue of the red fox kit was done properly, in that the individual monitored the kit to see if the parents came back and contacted WPSP for advice, many well-meaning people rescue animals they believe are orphaned or abandoned. Most baby animals are not abandoned, even though you might not see their parents. That is because many animal parents leave the nest to forage for food for the babies and themselves. Other animal parents stay away from their babies as much as possible to avoid attracting attention by predators. Sometimes, all it takes is a simple call to WPSP...we can advise you on the best choice of action when it comes to animal rescue.

Each year, WPSP receives or rehabilitates many, many animals and care is given by our animal rehabilitator and support from our staff. While the Park provides room and board, food and other supplies are funded primarily by our rehabilitator. Please consider supporting these efforts by our dedicated staff as a friend of wildlife rescue! Please call our main phone number at 676-0998 and make your donation. We, as well as the animals, thank you!

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Wildlife Is Meant to Be Wild - Helping Without Hurting

Spring is finally here! The grass has returned to its emerald green color, daffodils are blooming, and the buds on trees are falling away to unveil their leaves. Spring is also the time of year when wildlife reproduction is at its highest.

Every year, well-meaning individuals happen to come upon or find what they believe is to be an orphaned bunny, fawn, chick, duckling, turtle, or other wildlife young. There are also those of us who take a young animal out of the wild because they want their children or grandchildren to have a "learning" experience, or they want to share it with the neighborhood or classroom. Whatever the reasons are, in most situations, the animal should be left alone. The only exception should be if the animal is clearly in danger of being injured or killed; e.g., if your cat is about to pounce on a baby bird--grab the cat!
Nature has several ways of protecting its young. Many animals blend in with their surroundings and are well camouflaged as they hide from possible danger. Other animals, such as very young fawns, have no scent that could attract predators. For example, a mother deer, called a doe, will leave her fawn hidden in long grass, shrubs, etc. while she looks for food, and the fawn will remain perfectly still and quiet until mom returns. Someone may find this fawn and think that it is an orphan; out of concern, they will take it with them--actually doing more harm than good! Stress can also cause problems for animals, so if you notice a fawn hidden someplace, please resist the urge to call over other people for show and tell--just keep it your little secret and know that you have helped a wild animal survive.

We often get phone calls from people who have discovered a bunny or several bunnies that they think have been abandoned. Mother rabbits, also called does, may leave their young for long periods of time, only occasionally returning to nurse. As with the deer, the important thing to remember holds true of all wildlife and their young--unless it is known for sure that the mother is dead or injured, it is best to leave the babies alone.

Other calls we frequently receive are from people that have found a baby bird on the ground and do not know what to do. If the bird is able to move on its own and is fully feathered, it may be a fledgling that is trying to leave the nest. If it is very small, does not have full feathers, and is extremely helpless, then it might have fallen out of the nest or might have been pushed out by a nest mate. In this instance, if you can safely reach the nest without causing harm to yourself, carefully put the chick back into the nest and leave it. for birds such as robins, blue jays, etc., you can return the chick to the nest without worrying about your scent causing a problem. An interesting note, the Turkey Vulture is the only bird in North America with a strong sense of smell!

The wonderful thing about wildlife is that is wild! Yet, that does not stop us from wanting to get closer to it, or learn more about it, or even help it out a little--it is human nature. As much as it might hurt our feelings, remember that in most instances, wildlife is better off without our help. However, if you see an animal that really needs help, is in danger, or you are not sure of a situation, please do not hesitate to give the Park a call at 676-0998. Thanks for being a partner with us in the proper care of all wild things!

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Return of the Turkey Vultures!

April's warm temperatures mean the return of the Park's animals from their winter homes. The bison and elk will soon be back in their summer pasture up close to the visitor's Center; the goats, horses, and sheep will come back to the Pioneer area; and two of our birds will be moved back into their summer enclosure in the Aviary across from the eagles. These two birds are resident turkey vultures and yesterday was their big move. In the early morning, Marilyn and Pamela were caught looking out the window eagerly awaiting the Animal Department's truck to come and pick them up!

The staff carefully transported both of the girls to their Park enclosure. Once free, Marilyn and Pamela stretched their wings in the warm sun. Both soon quieted down and perched upon their their favorite spot, side by side.

To some people, turkey vultures may not be the most attractive bird, but the next time you are at the Park, take a good look at these beauties. Notice how big their wingspan is--6' wide--and the coloration of their feathers is a striking black, white, and gray. Their red-colored, bald heads are made for eating carrion (dead animals) and keep them from getting unwanted bacteria on their feathers. They are great recyclers in the ecosystem!

An interesting fact, turkey vultures lack a syrinx--the vocal organ of birds--so their only vocalizations are grunts or low hisses. But, their keen vision and excellent sense of smell (the only North American bird to have this) make them one of the most effective scavengers on earth.

Come out and visit our resident turkey vultures, Marilyn and Pamela, at the Park soon!

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