Eastern Screech Owl

The Eastern screech owl has an average body length of 16-25cm, a wingspan of 48-61cm, and weighs 121-244 grams. As is common with many birds of prey, the females of this species tend to be larger than the males. Eastern screech owls have also been known as Common screech owl, Little Owl, Scritch Owl, Little Horned Owl, Little Grey Owl, and Red Owl.

Eastern screech owls can be found in two distinct color morphs: gray and rufous (a red/brown coloration). Recently a third less distinct brown color morph has been recognized. All of these morphs have darker streaking of color covering the body and allow the bird to easily blend in with tree bark in their habitat. Eastern screech owls have feathered tufts on their heads and feathered feet as well. Juveniles of the species closely resemble adults, but have ear tufts that are not fully developed and may also have light and dark barring on the head, mantle, and under parts.

The two most common calls of the eastern screech owl are the even-pitched trill and the descending whinny. Both of these calls can be heard at night as this animal is primarily a nocturnal hunter.

Related To:
Western screech owls, great horned owls, barred owls

Habitat/Range:  Due to their ability to easily adjust to many habitat types, the eastern screech owl has a large ecological niche. They can readily adapt to living near humans in urban and suburban areas, although they prefer to be located in wooded regions. Being cavity nesters, they easily accept bird boxes as a nesting site. These small owls can be found all along the eastern part of North America from the bottom of Canada to the top of Mexico. Eastern screech-owls are not migratory birds.

Diet in Wild:  Eastern screech-owls in the wild have a greatly varied diet. They catch and eat most things smaller than them including insects, mammals, reptiles, amphibians, and even other birds. These amazing little owls are even agile enough in flight to prey on finches, jays, and doves among other birds. They have also been known to eat the occasional bat, frog, tadpole or lizard. When it comes to mammals, screech-owls frequently consume rats and mice as well as moles and rabbits. If an eastern screech-owl catches more food than it can eat, it may cache excess food in tree cavities to save for other days when hunting isn’t as successful.

These owls have symmetrical ears, which suggest that they hunt primarily using their vision.  They do, however, have excellent hearing as they often capture prey hidden by leaf litter.  They hunt by sitting on a tree branch and waiting to see or hear prey. (http://animaldiversity.ummz.umich.edu/accounts/Otus_asio/)

Diet in Zoo:  Commercially raised and humanely killed mice. Frozen packaging not only ensures freshness but also cleanliness.  All of the Education Birds of Prey are not able to hunt on their own due to injuries, so live prey could never be offered. Diet enrichments ensure stimulation for the birds.

Predators:  In the wild adult eastern screech-owls natural predators included larger owls (such as the great horned owls), hawks, and on occasion even other eastern screech-owls. These birds are also in danger of being struck by vehicles as they hunt along road ways.

As eggs and nestlings, the list of predators increases. Many animals such as snakes, opossums, and raccoons may raid nests to eat eggs or juvenile birds.

Life Cycle And Social Structures: Once they’ve reached sexual maturity at about 1 year of age, eastern screech-owls will select a mate and pair bond to that bird.  Like many birds of prey, most eastern screech-owls mate for life after successful breeding. This means that if a pair is not successful at nesting or raising young, they may switch and pair with other birds. Once they are successful, pairs tend to stay together. On occasion one male may nest with more than one female in a season. To court a female, the male screech-owl will give a trill call while running up and down branches. Once mated, the female will select a nest location.

Eastern screech-owls do not build nests and thus must find already made nest cavities to occupy. They will use anything from woodpecker holes to nest boxes meant for wood ducks and kestrels. The female will settle into what ever debris is in the bottom of her nest and create a depression in which to lay her eggs. Breeding season occurs at the end of February into early march.

Eastern screech-owl females lay eggs over a period of days to more than a week and generally do not begin full-time incubation until the last egg is laid.  As a result, eggs laid first also develop and hatch first.  With larger broods, where newly hatched young may be developmentally up to 8 days behind their nestmates, younger nestlings tend to be killed accidentally or eaten by their larger siblings.  Screech owls lay from 2 to 7 eggs, usually 3 or 4, in a large nest cavity.  (http://animaldiversity.ummz.umich.edu/accounts/Otus_asio/#reproduction)

After hatching, young stay in the nest for 28 days. After this they will leave the nest but remain with the parents until they reach 8 to 10 weeks of age.

These owls are solitary during most of the year except during breeding and winters where mates share nests together.

Life Span:  Wild screech-owls can live for up to 14 years although in captivity these birds have been known to live between 20 and 30 years.  

Interesting Facts:

  • Screech owls do most of their hunting during the first 4 hours after sunset.
  • Like most owls, eastern screech owls have flight feathers that have soft edges so air rushing through them doesn’t create sound.
  • The disc feathers around the eyes serve as sound collectors. Wide set ear tufts can stand up totally when alert or lay flat against head to help funnel sounds into ear slits which are located on the sides of the head.
  • Owls regurgitate pellets (castings) of feathers, bones and fur several hours after they’ve eaten. It’s believed that pellet formation and regurgitation are necessary for a bird’s good health.
  • The screech owl’s eyes are fixed in their sockets. Special muscles in their necks allow them to rotate their neck up to 260 degrees so they can see the area around them.

Conservation Message:  Screech owls like other birds of prey are very important predators.  Screech owls usually consume insects and small rodents which humans consider harmful and pests. They are able to eat 25% of their body weight daily thus being beneficial to farmers as pest controllers.

 What You Can Do:
Do not litter. Birds of prey can be seen hunting along highways all over the country which is very dangerous for them, many of them are hit by cars or somehow injured along the roadways.  Birds of Prey are attracted to the roadways because their prey forages on the trash thrown out of cars that gathers along the roadside.  Everyone can make a positive impact by not littering or even volunteering to remove garbage from the roads.  Although many people may not consider apple cores or banana peels to be “litter”, it can still attract animals the roadside. Taking it home and disposing of it properly can help a bird of prey near you.

Adding a nest box is another way you can help the eastern screech owl. These owls are cavity nesters and will readily move into a manmade nest box. Eastern screech owls can be picky about where their nest box is placed and how big the hole to the box should be, so be sure to check with your local Audubon society or other bird group on the best way to make and place a nest box.


Black Vulture

The Black Vulture has a body length of 60-68cm, a wingspan of 137-150cm, and weighs 1600-2200g.

Black vultures are large birds with dark coloration. Their body feathers are all black (often showing iridescent in the sunlight) except for patches on the underside of the wing. This light patch is caused by the primary feathers being whitish in coloration. The head and neck of an adult black vulture are dark gray, bald, and wrinkled while the juveniles are colored the same but often lack wrinkles. These birds have a dark colored beak with a lighter tip and their dark legs often appear whitish because they are coated in excrement. Black vultures hold their wings flatter and flap more often while soaring than their relatives, the turkey vulture. This in addition to the whitish underside of the primary feathers which looks like the bird is wearing white gloves, and a short, square tipped tail helps to distinguish between the two species while they are in flight.

The scientific name comes from korax, the Greek word for raven; gyps, which means a vulture; and from the Latin word atratus, meaning to be clothed in black, as in mourning. The Black Vulture has also been known as a Carrion Crow, Black Buzzard, and Jim Crow. (http://www.peregrinefund.org/subsites/explore-raptors-2001/vultures/blackvul.html)

Black vultures are generally silent birds although when they are in stressful situations they may make hissing noises.

Related To: Turkey vultures and other new world vultures

Along with the Turkey Vulture, the Black Vulture is one of the most abundant New World vultures. In North America, Black Vultures are known to breed throughout the southeastern and middle Atlantic region of the United States and are often sighted in southeastern Canada. The species also breeds throughout Central America and much of South America. Black Vultures typically occur in open or partly forested habitats, often in close proximity to human settlements. Recently, this species has expanded northward in the eastern United States. Presumably, greater numbers of Black Vultures existed historically when waste disposal, ranching, and farming practices were less regulated. The Black Vulture is a highly gregarious species. Outside of the breeding season they often gather by the hundreds at communal roosts. Traditional roost sites, some of which are used for decades, often are occupied year-round. Other roosts are used seasonally in response to food availability. Roosts are thought to play an important role in the social lives of Black Vultures, both as places for juveniles and adult Black Vultures to interact, and as sites for foraging groups to assemble. There is some evidence that vultures find food by following conspecifics from roosts to carcasses. Turkey Vultures and Crested Caracaras often roost together with Black Vultures. (http://www.hawkmountain.org/raptorpedia/hawks-at-hawk-mountain/hawk-species-at-hawk-mountain/black-vulture/page.aspx?id=642)

Diet in Wild:
While these birds generally feed on carrion, black vultures have also been known to occasionally kill small live prey individually and sometimes go after larger live prey in flocks. These birds also consume vegetable and fruit matter as well as fish and garbage left by humans. Unlike turkey vultures black vultures tend to hunt by sight rather than smell. Because of this, these birds have been known to follow turkey vultures to food sources and then chase them away. These vultures often search for food along a road side where a road kill deer can provide food for several days. They will aggressively defend their meal from other scavengers.

Diet in Zoo:
Commercially raised and humanely killed mice. Frozen packaging not only ensures freshness but also cleanliness.  All of the Education Birds of Prey are not able to hunt on their own due to injuries, so live prey could never be offered. Diet enrichments ensure stimulation for the birds.

Adults of this species are rarely preyed upon. The eggs and young of a black vulture are much more susceptible to predation due to black vultures’ preference to build ground nests. Typical nest raiders such as raccoons and weasels may extract the eggs or chicks form a nest.

Life Cycle/Social Structure:
Black vultures tend to gather in flocks and form strong social bonds with others of their species. They are monogamous and mate for life. They often spend even the non-breeding season with their chosen mates. When selecting a mate, the male and female go through flying courtship displays.

Once bonded and mated, a pair of black vultures will select their nest site and may even perch next to it for weeks to decide if it is an appropriate and safe location to raise young. These birds are ground nesters and will lay their clutch of eggs at the base of a large tree, in rock crevices, under rock overhangs, or any other site with suitable cover and little disturbances from humans and other animals. Black vultures rarely use nesting materials to line their nests.

Each clutch, laid once a year, generally contains 2 eggs. The pale green-blue eggs hatch between 32 and 45 days of being laid to reveal small chicks covered in buff colored downy feathers. Both parents share the responsibility of sitting on the nest. Chicks are fed regurgitated, liquefied food when they are first born but at about 2 weeks of age they also begin to receive some solid foods.

After the young have fledged and left the nest, they often remain with their parents until the next year’s breeding season. Even after leaving the parents, young vultures roost with older vultures and follow them to food. This allows the young to gradually learn to hunt for themselves by watching older, more successful vultures.

Life Span:
Wild black vultures can live up to 25 years in the wild although the average life expectancy is much closer to 5 years of age. In captivity, these birds my live up to 30 years old.

Interesting Facts:

  • Black vultures benefit from human disturbance and they are found in greater numbers near human populated areas
  • Like the Turkey Vulture, the Black Vulture’s numbers are increasing and its range is expanding northward in response to global climate changes.
  • New World vultures, like the black vulture are more closely related to storks.
  • The unusual bald head of the vulture is an interesting feeding adaptation. It prevents bacterial infection as the bird’s head is submerged in a carcass.
  • Vultures are known to defecate on their own legs. This behavior may benefit the bird by cooling it or by killing bacteria that may be on the bird’s legs.
  • On their own a Black Vulture can be dominated by the slightly larger Turkey Vulture at a food source. However, Black Vultures rarely travel alone and a flock of Black Vultures can quickly take over a carcass and drive the more solitary Turkey Vultures away.

Conservation Message:
The Black Vulture is very common but in 1972 it was blue-listed for two reasons: a decrease in numbers of suitable tree cavities for nest sites due to forest fire control, and widespread eggshell thinning from pesticides such as DDT. Its populations have rebounded and it now considered a pest species due to population explosion in urban centers.

DDT (dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane) was a pesticide used in the United States, which was banned in 1972, that caused serious negative environmental affects.  It was spayed on crops to prevent consumption from pests and leached into waterways and soil substrates.  DDT was then absorbed into small organisms.  Once those small organisms were consumed by larger animals, it worked its way up the food chain to birds of prey like hawks, eagles, falcons, and ospreys.  DDT actually became more concentrated as it worked its way up the food chain. This is called biomagnification. It was absorbed into fatty tissue and didn’t kill the birds but created a calcium deficiency.  The lack of calcium caused the egg shells to be very thin so that when adults went to incubate their eggs the eggs would break.  For several generations these birds couldn’t reproduce.  This led to the ban of DDT in United States and Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring which helped lead the environmental movement.  DDT is still used in other countries and is still found in our ecosystems today.  Luckily a lot of Birds of Prey have made a come back.

Since they eat mainly carrion, black vultures are extremely susceptible to lead poisoning from animals shot with lead rounds. They are also frequently poisoned when they consume carcasses set out to poison other scavengers such as coyotes.

What Can You Do:
Make sure not to use lead ammunition when hunting. If an animal is shot and not found afterward, the lead can end up in the belly of a scavenger like the black vulture which can lead to the death of the animal.

Do not use poisons to control problem animals. Animals killed with poison often go off to die away from the site where they originally ingest the poison. These poisoned animals now become carrion for scavengers who then also ingest the chemicals. As the scavenger eats more and more animal containing poison, the poison builds up in their own system causing illness or death.

Do not litter. Throwing trash such as candy wrappers and even apple cores and banana peals along roadsides causes animals to come to these dangerous areas in search of food. When an animal is killed by a car it becomes a food item for black vultures and other scavengers who then also come to the roadside to eat and may in turn be killed by car strikes.


Barred Owl

Barred owls are large owls with stocky builds and no ear tufts on top of their rounded heads. They are from 43-50 cm tall with a wing span of 99-110cm. Barred owls can weigh between 470 and 1050 grams with females typically being larger than males.

 The barred owl is named for the gray/brown and white bars that mark this bird’s body. Horizontal barring is found from the upper chest up to the face while vertical barring is seen lower on the chest. These bars can also be seen on the bird’s wings and tail. Even juveniles of this species show the barred patterns that gave these birds their name.

Barred owls are crepuscular hunters which means they hunt in the twilight hours of dusk and dawn. These owls are very vocal and it is common in to hear them calling at night or even sometimes in the day light hours. The call of a barred owls is very distinct and easily recognized at the “Who cooks for you? Who cooks for you all?” call.

Related To:
Spotted owl, Great gray owl

The barred owl is historically a species found throughout the eastern United States and up in to Canada although during the 20th century, they began to extend their reach further and further west in these areas. The expansion of their range has cause conflicts with the closely related, and threatened, spotted owl in areas where the species overlap and thus compete for habitat. Being the more aggressive of the two, the barred owl is able to push out the spotted owl from habitats they share and thus is contributing to the decline of the spotted owl population.

These owls live in forests preferring to live in areas with mature trees and dense cover near water. They are not a migratory species and generally stay within a few miles of their established home ranges.

Diet in Wild:
Mammals, specifically rodents, make up the largest portion of a typical barred owl diet. Being a species that much prefers to live close to a water source, these owls also commonly eat fish and crayfish. While they typically swoop from trees to catch prey, they are also known to wade into shallow waters in search of food sources.

Like most owl species, the barred owl may cache excess food in a tree cavity or other convenient hiding spot to return to later.

Diet in Zoo:
Commercially raised and humanely killed mice. Frozen packaging not only ensures freshness but also cleanliness.  All of the Education Birds of Prey are not able to hunt on their own due to injuries, so live prey could never be offered. Diet enrichments ensure stimulation for the birds.

When in the nest, as young or still in the egg, a barred owl is much more vulnerable to predation. The nest may be raided by raccoons, weasels, or other species. As adults, barred owls face far less threats. An adult barred owl’s greatest natural predator is the great horned owl. If the two species share overlapping home ranges, the barred owl will often shift to another area to avoid encountering a great horned owl. Another threat to barred owls are collisions with vehicles.

Life Cycle/ Social Structure:
After reaching sexual maturity around the age of 2, barred owls will find a mate and pair for life. The pair will often have territories that are adjacent to each other during the non breeding season, creating an overlap area between the two territories when it is time to nest.

Nests are constructed in tree cavities with the parent owls making little to no alterations to the nest site. If a suitable tree cavity can not be located, a barred owl pair may decide to use an abandoned platform nest created by another species of bird or even steel an old squirrel nest. In some situations, these owls may also use man-made nest boxes.

Once a nest site is selected, the female will lay a clutch of between 1 and 5 eggs which she will incubate between 28 and 33 days. Because not all of the eggs are laid in the same day, they will not hatch on the same day. This can create some size differences between the young in the nest. If food is scarce, nestlings may kill off the smaller siblings in order to survive. While young fledge around 6 weeks of age, they remain dependent on their parents for up to 6 months. While the female incubates eggs and cares for her brood of nestlings, the male will hunt and retrieve food to feed her and the young.

Barred owls are extremely territorial birds and will chase away intruders by dropping down and hitting them with their feet. This behavior is more pronounced, especially by females, during breeding season. If a human interference with a nest occurs, the barred owl parent will either attack or try to distract the intruder by making lots of noise and fluttering wings to lead the person away from the nest.

Because of their predatory nature, this species of owl is often mobbed by crow, songbirds, and woodpeckers if it is spotted flying during the day.

Life Span:
Barred owls in the wild tend to live to be around 10 years of age although one was recorded reaching the old age of 18! In captivity the longevity of a barred owl increases to around 23 years of age.

 Interesting Facts:

  • The belly feathers of some Barred Owls are pink. This coloring may be the result of eating a lot of crayfish.
  • Young Barred Owls can climb trees by grasping the bark with their bill and talons, flapping their wings, and walking their way up the trunk.
  • In the western part of the United States Barred owls have been found to hybridize with the Spotted owl.
  • Like other owl species, Barred owls have specialized feathers allowing them to be silent hunters. On the edges of the feathers are tiny fringes allowing the air to pass through their wings

Conservation Message:
Owls like other birds of prey are very important predators.  Owls usually consume insects and small rodents which keeps the pest population low.  While barred owls do not hunt in fields, their consumption of pest species such as mice can help keep the populations low in forested areas near human homes.

Because of their dependence on large, older trees with cavities for nesting, the barred owl is often used as an indicator species to manage logging practices in and near old growth forests.  If the forest begins to become unsuitable for animals, the barred owl will be one of the first animals to move to a new territory or perish under the new unfavorable conditions.

What You Can Do:
Do not litter.  The Barred owl in Lehigh Valley Zoo’s education department lost 90% of his vision because he was hit by a car.  He went for an MRI and veterinary staff discovered that the bird’s brain was not able to comprehend images. It is believed that all he can see now are fuzzy dark images.  Birds of prey can be seen hunting along highways all over the country which is very dangerous for them, many of them are hit by cars or somehow injured along the roadways.  They are attracted to the roadways because their prey forages on the trash thrown out of car windows.  Everyone can make a positive impact by not littering or even volunteering to remove garbage from the roads.  Although many people may not consider apple cores or banana peels to be “litter”, it can still attract animals to the roadside. Taking trash home and disposing of it properly can help a bird of prey near you.


Barn Owl

Barn owls received their name from their tendency to develop nests in man made structures such as barns. They are also called the monkey-faced owl, ghost owl, or white owl. Barn owls are light in color with no tufts on top of their head. The ventral side of a barn owl is generally white to light tan while the dorsal side a slightly darker brown/gray coloration. Barn owls faces are flat discs containing their dark eyes and are often described as heart shaped.

Medium in size, the barn owl’s wing span is between 100 and 125cm. They generally have a length of 32 to 40 cm and weigh anywhere from 400 to 700g. Like many other species of bird of prey, the males are smaller than the females.

Barn owls are nocturnal predators who glide smoothly over their habitat in search of food. Their unique, raspy screaming call can be heard echoing through the night sky as males fly above. Females are infrequent callers.

There are several subspecies of barn owl throughout the world. They are separated by differences in both size and coloration seen in different geographical locations. The North American subspecies of barn owl is the largest.

Related To:
Masked owl

These owls are found in all of the lower 48 states of the US and South America. There are subspecies of barn owl living on every continent except Antarctica. Barn owls utilize grasslands, marshes, brushy fields, agricultural fields, and other forms of open habitat. They are generally found at lower altitudes.

Diet in Wild:
Barn owl feed on various mammals from rodents to bats and sometimes even rabbits. On occasion they may catch small birds. These owls are known to catch more than they eat and store the excess food (sometimes over a dozen items) in the nest to feed to the young once they have hatched. Being nocturnal predators, diurnal species tend to remain off the menu of barn owls.

As nocturnal predators, barn owls are used to hunting in very low light conditions. With asymmetrical ears, barn owls have excellent hearing abilities and are able to catch prey that is covered by snow or vegetation.

Diet in Zoo:
Commercially raised and humanely killed mice. Frozen packaging not only ensures freshness but also cleanliness.  All of the Education Birds of Prey are not able to hunt on their own due to injuries, so live prey could never be offered. Diet enrichments ensure stimulation for the birds.

These owls have few natural predators as adults. They may be occasional prey for great horned owls but the biggest threat is definitely the potential for vehicle collisions. Barn owls often swoop across road ways to catch prey and may be struck mid flight. As young, barn owls are prey for some weasels, snakes, and other birds of prey such as Great Horned Owls. When facing an intruder, barn owls spread their wings and tilt them so that their dorsal (back) side is towards the intruder. They then sway their head back and forth. This threat display is accompanied with hissing and beak snaps that are given with the eyes squinted. If the intruder persists, the owl falls on its back and strikes with its feet. (Marti, 1992)

When facing an intruder, barn owls spread their wings and tilt them so that their dorsal surface is towards the intruder. They then sway their head back and forth. This threat display is accompanied with hissing and billsnaps that are given with the eyes squinted. If the intruder persists, the owl falls on its back and strikes with its feet. (Marti, 1992)

Life Cycle/ Social Structure:
At one year of age, barn owls will select a mate and will most likely remain monogamous for life. To court a female, the male will call frequently and display himself in flight and by hovering before the female.

Once bonded, the pair will select a nest site in a tree cavity or man made structure (such as a barn) and build a nest lined with shredded pellets. Each clutch contains between 2 and 18 eggs. Incubation starts quickly after the first eggs are laid which means that the first chicks may hatch up to a week or two before the last chicks. This difference in age is also represented in a difference in size. In years when food is limited, the older and more robust chicks out compete their younger siblings.

The young owl chicks may ledge between 7 and 10 weeks, but will return to the nest and remain close by until they are as old as 5 months. While the chicks are being raised, the male is responsible for hunting and returning to the nest with food for his mate and young. The female barn owl feeds the chicks by ripping food into small pieces when they are young and feeding them whole items as they get older. If a pair successfully raises a brood of chicks, they may lay another clutch of eggs soon after. Because of this, while most barn owl pairs raise one brood of chicks per year, some may raise up to three!

Like many other owl species, barn owls often use their nests year round to roost in when they are not raising a brood.

Life Span:
Barn owls in the wild tend to live about 10 years but this number is increased to almost 20 years for barn owls living in captivity. The oldest recorded barn owl was a banded bird who survived to be 34 years of age.

Interesting Facts:

  • Barn Owls have been associated with omens, witchcraft, and death. Throughout history they were used as symbols, in myths, and as part of superstitious potions
  • Because of their asymmetrical hearing, barn owls are able to discern exactly where a sound is coming from. This ability allows them to hunt for food successfully even in total darkness.
  • Barn owls may show sexual dimorphism which means that males and females may look different. It is thought that females will have a more reddish colored chest with black spots, while males will have white chests with no spots.

Conservation Message:
Owls like other birds of prey are very important predators.  Owls consume small rodents which keeps the pest population low.  They are very beneficial to farmers and our ecosystems.

A lot of birds of prey including owls use open fields to hunt for prey. As the open fields become parking lots, shopping malls, and housing developments birds of prey such as the barn owl cannot find enough food to feed themselves and their young. As the fields disappear the owls must hunt in more dangerous areas such as parking lots and along the road side. Hunting in these areas can lead to car strikes and other injuries that may cost the bird their lives. As farm lands get destroyed the old barns on the property are also torn down. Barn owls especially need these nesting sites close to where they hunt to be able to provide enough food to their young. Barn owls are cavity nesters and must have a cavity in order to make their nest and lay their eggs. As fields and barns continue to decrease in pa as well as in the United States these owls will sustain a population decrease.

What You Can Do:
Do not litter. Birds of prey can be seen hunting along highways all over the country which is very dangerous for them, many of them are hit by cars or somehow injured along the roadways.  They are attracted to the roadways because their prey forages on the trash along the side of the road.  Everyone can make a positive impact by not littering or even volunteering to remove garbage from the roads.  Although many people may not consider apple cores or banana peels to be “litter”, it can still attract animals to the roadside. Taking trash home and disposing of it properly can help a bird of prey near you.

Plant Hedge Rows. Barn owls are often struck by cars while crossing road ways in search of food. This is a greater problem for barn owls than other owls because this species traditionally flies low when in search of food which puts them directly in the way of vehicles. In addition to not littering, planting hedge rows will cause the barn owls to raise in elevation when they fly over the road thus being less likely to get hit.

Hang Nest Boxes. Barn owls, like many owls, are cavity nesters. Building a nest box can provide a home for these animals in an area where many natural nest opportunities have been removed.

Help Preserve a field near you. Encouraging State Representatives to preserve Pa farm land benefits local farms as well as barn owls who need the fields to hunt. Preserving old barns and other older buildings on the farms also ensures the barn owl will have a place to nest. Shopping at local farmers markets and farms that use sustainable and ecologically friendly practices can also help the owls and our local farmers.


American Kestrel

American Kestrels are 22-Cm in length and weigh between 2.8-5.8 ounces. With a wingspan between 51 to 61 centimeters, these small falcons are roughly the same size as a Mourning Dove.

Males and females of this species look very different. Both genders are reddish-brown with black spots on their dorsal surfaces and have pale ventral sides. They also have black marks on either side of their pale face. Males have a gray-blue head and wings while females are colored more red-brown in these locations.

Also known as the Sparrow Hawk the Kestrel is the smallest and most common falcon. This bird can be seen “pumping” their tails to aid in balance while perching. Because of its small stature, the Kestrel is often blown in the wind and thus can have an erratic flight pattern. Despite this tendency, this bird is still capable of hovering over a field in search of prey.

The most common call of the American kestrel is a shrill series (generally 3 to 6) of killy notes that lasts just over a second.

Related To:
Peregrine falcon (duck hawk) and Merlin falcon (pigeon hawk), Bird of Prey: Wild Raptor -Carnivore

Kestrels are widely distributed throughout North and South America.  They have adapted readily to humans and nests in large cities throughout the U.S. Their range covers the entire United States, Southern Alaska, British Columbia, Great Lakes, New England, and American tropics.

Their habitats range from open woods, orchards, fields, cities and parks to deserts, grasslands, and alpine meadows. It is very common to see this falcon perched on roadside power lines in more open areas where it can easily hunt for food. They favor any area with low ground vegetation and sparse amounts of trees. They are attracted to man made areas such as pastures, parks, and towns.

Diet in Wild:
American Kestrels regularly eat a large variety of items including Insects, song birds, reptiles, amphibians, and small mammals.  Commonly taken insects include grasshoppers, cicadas, beetles, dragonflies, butterflies and moths. Spiders and scorpions are eaten as well.  Commonly hunted mammals include mice, shrews, snakes, frogs and bats. This species rarely feeds on carrion except for prey that it has previously killed and cached.

Diet in Zoo:
Commercially raised and humanely killed mice. Frozen packaging not only ensures freshness but also cleanliness.  All of the Education Birds of Prey are not able to hunt on their own due to injuries, so live prey could never be offered. Diet enrichments ensure stimulation for the birds.

Great horned owls, red-tailed hawks and prairie falcons. It is mostly eggs and young birds that are preyed on, however adults do sometimes fall prey to these animals. When on the ground they can fall prey to bobcats, skunks, coyotes, and raccoons.

Life Cycle and Social Structure:
Pairs of Kestrels will exchange food as gifts (often male feeding the female) while courting. Before selecting a mate, it is not uncommon for several kestrels to group together for the beginnings of courtship. American Kestrels are obligate secondary cavity nesters, which means they do not excavate their own cavities, but nest in existing natural and manmade cavities, including tree cavities, woodpecker holes, abandoned buildings, cliff/outcrop potholes, creases and cavities, and nest boxes. Kestrels are common in both farmlands and low-density suburban areas, as well as in open and semi-open natural habitats ranging from deserts to woodlands. They sometimes also nest in urban areas. The male is responsible for finding several nest cavity options for the female to see before she decides on a nesting location.

A female kestrel will lay somewhere between 3-7 white, creamy, pink or pale buff dotted brown eggs (35X29mm), which will be incubated for 29-30 days. While males may occasionally take over incubation duties, it is the female that does most of the sitting. The male will feed the female during and shortly after incubation. The young will stay with adults after fledging.

One of the continent’s most widespread raptors, kestrels breed in eastern and western North America, north to the tree line and south into most of Central and South America. The American Kestrel is a partial migrant, with large proportions of Canadian and U.S. populations migrating south in autumn. American Kestrels breeding in northern portions of their range are more migratory than those breeding farther south, and birds in northern areas migrate farther than those in southern areas. Many southern populations are sedentary, and this combination of factors produces a leap-frog migration pattern.

Although larger falcons, like Merlins and Peregrine Falcons, often fly to the tropics to overwinter, most kestrels breed in North America overwinter in the United States and Mexico. A small proportion, however, migrate as far south as northern South America.  Males winter farther north than females, and in more wooded habitats, possibly because females generally arrive on the winter range before males (Smallwood 1987), although it has also been suggested that females competitively exclude males from optimal habitats (Ardia and Bildstein 1997).

Life Span:
In the wild, young Kestrels have a survival rate of about 50% but that rate can go up if the nest is in a man made nesting box which provides better protection. If an American kestrel survives its first few years, it can live to be 9 to 11 years old in the wild. As with most birds, captive Kestrels can live longer than those in the wild, reaching ages of 14 or even 17 years old.

 Interesting Facts:

  • The American Kestrel is the smallest and most numerous of the North American falcons.
  • While the young birds are practicing their hunting skills, kestrels will often hunt in family units.
  • There is a color (plumage –feather pattern) difference between the sexes. The male kestrel has blue on its wings, while the female is mostly brown with streaking, this is called sexual dimorphism.
  • The scientific name comes from the Latin word falco, meaning hook-shaped (falcate) and may refer to the beak or claws, and espervier, the Latinized French word for a sparrow hawk and probably refers to its size and prey.
  • The American Kestrel has been called a Sparrow Hawk, Killy Hawk (for the sound they make), or Windhover (for their ability to hover).
  • The American Kestrel can cache extra food in clumps of grass, tree roots, fences, tree roots, etc. to save for later and to hide it from other animals

Conservation Message:
Kestrels are an animal that prefers open habitats like farmlands and meadows.  Unfortunately due to the increase in development, these areas are being used to create new parking lots, housing developments and shopping malls. Should these large open areas disappear, many species such as the American Kestrel will be unable to adapt to hunting in a different habitat. Kestrels are important to our environment since they are a top predator in the food chain. Kestrels are also important to the agricultural community since they hunt pest species such as large insects and mice that destroy crops.

Trash and litter along the roadways are attracting rodents, therefore attracting BOP like the American Kestrel. Many are then being hit by cars and injured or killed.

What You Can Do:
Because Kestrels cannot make their own nest cavities, these birds lose valuable nesting areas every time a dead tree is cut down or an old forest is cleared. In addition, food sources for these birds are going down in numbers as well. Being a bird that can eats insects, pesticides spread on farms drastically decrease the amount of available prey for the American Kestrel. Building nest boxes on the edge of your lawn or field provides these birds with a safe place to raise their young, close to a habitat suitable for them to hunt. Buying produce from local farms that use sustainable and ecologically friendly farming methods can also help maintain the kestrel population.

Avoid throwing any trash or litter (apple cores banana peels etc outside especially along roadways)You could also volunteer to help with a highway litter patrol to help pick up trash along the highways.

The Peregrine Fund. “American Kestrel” 25 January, 2008.   http://www.allaboutbirds.org/

African Gray Parrot

African Gray Parrots are Africa’s largest parrots. The two main subspecies of the bird are the Congo African gray and the Timneh African gray. The Congo, the larger of the two subspecies, can reach up to 33cm, weighing 400g while their shorter relatives generally reach about 30cm and only weigh 320g. Both subspecies are gray in color with white skin around the eyes and a black beak. The Congo has a more cherry red tail while the Timneh’s tail is darker red, or more maroon in color. They are known for their ability to imitate human speech, as well as a variety of other sounds.

Habitat and Range:

African gray parrots can be found in lowland rain-forests, mountain rain-forests, forest edges, plantations, and farms, in central and west Africa from Guinea to Kenya, and Angola. In West Africa, populations of this species often make seasonal moves out of the dry areas in their natural ranges. They will make their nests in tree holes, often finding holes that were previously made by other birds, such as the woodpecker.

Diet in the Wild:

Diet in the wild includes seeds, nuts, fruits, berries, and vegetation.

Diet in the Zoo:

Mixed diet of pellets, nuts, fruits, and vegetables, fed daily.


Known predators include Palm-nut Vultures, several species of hawks that will prey on both fledglings and adults, and monkeys (prey on eggs and young still in nest).

Life Cycle and Social Structure:

African gray parrots are monogamous and breeding usually coincide with the dry season. Once paired, these birds have been known to be very affectionate toward their mates. These behaviors include regularly sitting next to each other and frequently preening the feathers of their chosen partner.

African grays make their nests in hollow tree trunks where they lay 2-4 eggs in the bottom of the cavity. The eggs are incubated by the female only, but both parents will feed and care for the chicks. After about 2-3 months the young will leave the nest, but they may still be cared for, for another month.

These parrots are very social and live together in large flocks, especially when roosting. When they’re feeding, a couple birds may act like a sentry to ensure the safety of the flock. They will produce a loud screech to warn the flock of any threats. They are also very vocal in flight.

African gray parrots are incredibly intelligent and are capable of mimicking a large variety of sounds. They very commonly learn to imitate the voice of their owner and can have a large vocabulary of words. Some parrots in captivity may choose to mimic sounds other than human speech such as the ring of a phone or the bark of a dog.

Life Span: 40-60 years

Interesting Facts:

  • This parrot is considered to be one of the most intelligent parrots
  • African gray parrots are considered to be non-domesticated.
  • African gray parrots have been kept as pets throughout history by the Greeks, Romans, King Henry VIII, and by Portuguese Sailors.

Conservation Message:

Although they are not currently threatened in their range, the African Gray Parrot is well on its way to a threatened status. Each year thousands of these birds are illegally captured for the pet trade. As pets, these birds have a long lifespan and will often outlive their owners. Re homed birds can develop behavior issues due to stress such as feather picking or screeching. It is a good idea to know where your bird is from, and to only purchase birds that are captive bred, and not trapped illegally. It is thought that up to 20% of the wild population is taken for the pet trade every year.

Removal of habitat by deforestation also threatens this species of bird. Rain forests are often cut down to make room for crops to be grown. People often consider these birds pests, and will kill them if they threaten their crops. In some areas of their African home range, these birds are still hunted for bush meat.

What You Can Do:

When becoming a pet owner, do your research. Select animals that have been bred in captivity and not removed from the wild for use in the pet trade. Also remember to choose your pets wisely. You need to make sure any animal you decide to care for fits into your lifestyle. Do not get a pet unless you can adequately provide for their physical and mental well being for as long as they live.

Supporting rain forest products that are sustainable grown can help to decrease the amount of deforestation being seen in the African gray parrot’s natural home range.



Burnie, David, and Wilson, Don E., Animal, Dorling Kindersley, New York, 2005.

Alderton, David, A Birdkeeper’s Guide to Parrots and Macaws. Tetra Press, Virginia, 1989.

Birds of the World. Parragon Publishing, United Kingdom, 2005.





White’s Tree Frog

Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Amphibia
Order: Anura
Family: Hylidae
Genus: Litoria
Species: caerulea

Status: Least Concern

White’s Tree Frogs are rather large frogs and are generally around 3-5 inches in length. They have the ability to change color, though they are commonly a light bluish green to emerald green. The skin is covered with a thick cuticle that allows it to retain moisture as an adaptation to arid areas. They have large webbed toes and a second finger that is longer than the first. Their pupils are horizontal with a distinctive fatty ridge over the eyes. Males are more slender in appearance than females and have a grayish wrinkled vocal sac that is located underneath the throat region. While they are primarily nocturnal, they have been known to be active during the daytime.

Native to Australia’s north and east and also the southern part of New Guinea, this animal can live in seasonally dry and wet habitats, although they prefer moist forested environments. They have also been found living in suburban and agricultural areas with humans.

Diet in Wild:
White’s tree frogs eat insects, spiders, and sometimes even smaller animals such as frogs and mammals.

Diet in Zoo:
Crickets Monday, Wednesday, Friday

Snakes, birds, lizards, and domestic animals such as cats and dogs are the main predators for these animals.

Life Cycle/ Social Structure:
For most of the year, they call from high positions, such as trees and gutters. During mating season, the frogs descend, although they remain slightly elevated, and call close to still-water sources, whether temporary or permanent. Like many frogs, White’s tree frogs call not only to attract a mate, but also to advertise their location outside the mating season, usually after rain, for reasons that are uncertain to researchers. They emit a stress call whenever they are in danger, such as when predators are close or when a person steps on a log in which a frog resides. Females can lay clutches of 150-300 eggs which hatch in 1-3 days after fertilization. Metamorphosis occurs in 2-3 weeks on average.

Life Span:
16 yrs with the oldest being recorded at 21.

Interesting Facts:

  • Said to be able to alter how much water evaporates from their skin, they may be able to slightly control their temperature (impressive for a cold blooded animal)
  • The scientific name “caerulea” means “blue” in latin

Conservation Message:
Australian law gives protected status to the green tree frog—along with all Australian fauna—under the federal Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999. The IUCN lists it as a “least concern” species, given its broad range and population, balanced habitats, and because it is likely not declining fast enough for more threatened status. Some of the green tree frog’s natural habitat has been destroyed. However, because of the long life expectancy of this species, any effects of a reduced reproduction rate will take longer to spot than they would in a species with a shorter life expectancy. In addition, these frogs have been found to be infected with Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis (BD) chytrid fungus, causing chytridiomycosis. The fungus thickens keratinized areas of amphibians, such as the mouthparts of tadpoles and the keratin in the skin of adults, preventing the healthy transfer of oxygen and other gases across amphibians’ skin. While more species are affected by habitat loss than BD chytrid fungus, the disease causes sudden and dramatic population declines that can lead to rapid extinction.

What You Can Do:
Research pets before you purchase them to ensure they are not being removed from their wild populations. Wash any items you take in waterways (i.e. boats, shoes) can prevent the spread of BD Chytrid fungus and help save amphibians everywhere.




African Penguins

Kingdom:  Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Aves
Order: Sphenisciformes
Family: Spheniscidae
Genus: Spheniscus
Species: demersus

Status: Endangered


Thulani            June 9, 2008                Blue/Orange

Hadithi             May 18, 2007              Pink/White

Greer              December 20, 2007     Pink/Green

Lyden              March 28, 2007           Blue/White

Houdini           March 15, 2007           Blue/Yellow

Kunye             December 2, 2006       Blue/Red

Curtis              October 23, 2005        Blue/Black

Lionel              October 1, 2008          Pink/Red

Clytee              April 4, 1997               Blue/Purple

Cosmo             April 1, 1997               Blue/Green


African Penguins, like other penguins, lack the long feathers used for flight in other bird species. Their feathers are small and dense, covering the body, and are used for insulation. African penguins are also known as black-footed penguins. They stand up to 70cm tall and generally weigh around 3kg. The common call of an African penguin sounds like the bray of a donkey.

They are black and white in coloration with black on the dorsal side and white on the ventral side of the body. The face of the penguin is black but white markings extend up from the throat and around the penguin’s eyes. A black horseshoe shaped marking is found on the penguin’s chest along with black spots. This black and white coloration serves as camouflage for the birds while they swim. The black back blends easily with the dark water below and the white belly, when viewed from below, blends with the sun’s light shining through the water. This means of camouflage is called counter shading.

African penguins have bodies shaped like bowling pins, and their feet are webbed. This makes them perfectly suited for a life of swimming. When on the hunt for prey, African penguins can reach a top speed of close to 12 miles/hr. The distance that African penguins have to travel to find food varies greatly. On the west coast a typical foraging trip could range from 18 to 43 miles for a single trip. On the south coast, foraging birds cover an average of 68 miles per trip. When penguins are feeding their young, the distance they can travel from the breeding colony is more limited. An average dive of an African penguin lasts about two and a half minutes, and is regularly about 98ft in depth, although dive depths of up to 426ft have been recorded.

When the African Penguins go off-grounds, or they are a part of a program, they are guaranteed that they will not be direct contact of any bird that is not a part of the Lehigh Valley Zoo’s animal program.  Individual animals will be transported in individual kennels; and there is also dedicated hygiene required for all equipment.  Constant monitoring of animals is required to ensure when that when an animal is return there are no signs of illness or distress and that any signs will be addressed immediately.  When programs involve other birds from the Lehigh Valley Zoo each carrier needs to be cleaned and disinfected and the penguin will always be transported in a specific carrier just for them.  We have a contract vet, and the birds are monitored daily by staff, they are on vaccinations schedules and malaria tx, if there is a question of illness, they can be segregated from the colony.  The health and safety of the birds is high priority.

Related to: Humboldt penguin, Magellanic penguin, Galapagos penguin

African penguins breed at 25 islands and four mainland sites in Namibia and South Africa. It has been recorded as far north as Gabon and Mozambique. Breeding on Neglectus Island, Namibia, was confirmed in 2001, following the absence of confirmed breeding since 1952 at least, and an increase in numbers since 1995. In 2003, there were thought to be 11 breeding pairs on the island. In the 1980s, the species colonized Stony Point and Boulders Beach on the South African mainland, and recolonized Robben Island. Immigration to mainland sites in recent years has been attributed to an eastward shift in the species’ prey populations. Just seven islands now support 80% of the global population. Its population at the beginning of the 21st century had fallen to about 10% of its numbers 100 years before. The total population was estimated at 141,000 pairs in 1956-1957, 69,000 pairs in 1979-1980, 57,000 pairs in 2004-2005 and 36,000 pairs in 2006-2007. Declines have continued, with the global population in 2009 estimated at just 25,262 pairs, equating to a decline of 60.5% over 28 years (three generations).

Diet in Wild:
The diet of African penguins is made up of marine dwelling animals. These birds have been known to eat over 25 different species of fish including anchovies, sardines, herring, and many others. Other than fish, African penguins may consume some types of squid and crustaceans if they are abundantly available.

Diet in Zoo:
The penguins are fed previously frozen herring, smelt, sardines, and capelin twice daily. Vitamins are provided, 1 to each penguin, daily to compensate for nutrients that may be lacking due to the limited number of species that can be obtained for their diet. Fish is defrosted each day for the next day’s feeds.

African Penguins are preyed upon by sharks and sea lions. Kelp Gulls, Sacred Ibises, skunks, armadillos, foxes, dogs and cats tend to feed on penguin eggs and chicks. Humans often also collect penguin eggs for consumption as a delicacy.

Life Cycle/ Social Structure:
African penguins live in colonies. They start breeding from between two to six years of age, but normally at four years. As with most other penguins, the African penguin breeds colonially, mostly on rocky offshore islands, either nesting in burrows they excavate themselves or in depressions under boulders or bushes. Historically, nests were excavated in the sun-hardened guano that existed on most islands. However, with the removal of the guano for fertilizer, surface nesting and nesting under bushes and other objects has become more frequent. Shelter at the nest site is important to provide shade and for protection against predators of eggs and chicks, such as Kelp gulls and Sacred ibises.

African Penguins are monogamous, and the same pair will generally return to the same colony as well as the same nest site each year.

Both parents continue to brood the chicks, and for about the first 15 days the chicks are constantly brooded by one of the adults. After hatching, the offspring are fed by regurgitation and watched over for eight weeks. These penguins may use a special fold of skin extending from the stomach to cover the eggs and keep them warm.  After this, the chicks attain full control over their body temperature, and no longer need heat from their parents. However, at this stage the chicks are still at risk from predators, and the adults continue to guard the chicks until they are about 30 days old, after which both parents can go to sea simultaneously. Chicks that are left alone often form creches, which serve more to reduce attacks on chicks from adults than to avoid predation. Unlike other penguin species, the African Penguin does not have a creche stage because of the isolative behavior during mating and nesting of the species.
African penguin chicks can fledge (molt) anytime from 60 to 130 days of age, losing their fluff and gaining “blue” feathers. The fledging period is often dependent on the availability and quality of food. The adults continue to feed chicks while they remain at the colony. When the young “blues” eventually leave the colony, they do so without their parents. These juveniles remain away from their natal colonies for anywhere from 12 to 22 months, after which time they return, normally to their natal colony, to molt into adult plumage.

Penguins are adapted primarily to cool aquatic environments, and the need to reduce heat loss is of major importance to all penguins. However some species, including the African penguin, have been able to successfully exploit warm terrestrial environments. Behavioral and physiological adaptations have enabled the African penguin to overcome the problem of being over-insulated for life on land in a temperate climate.

One of the ways in which African penguins have adapted to terrestrial life in the temperate zone is to confine their activities at breeding sites largely to dawn and dusk periods. Breeding birds nest mostly in burrows or under some other form of shelter, such as boulders and bushes, which provide some protection from the intense solar radiation during the day. Birds that are not incubating or brooding chicks, and other non-breeding birds, spend the day at sea or loaf in beach groups and swim regularly. Some birds do remain in the open in the colony; but these birds generally orientate themselves with their backs to the sun so that their feet, flippers and oral surfaces are shaded. Physiological responses to heat stress include panting (evaporative cooling) and moderate hypothermia.
When they aren’t in the tropical waters hunting for food, they live on the rocky shores where they reproduce and take care of their young.  When parents stop taking care of the young, they must learn to fend for themselves. Upon reaching maturity (of which only 40% ever do) they find a mate and remain with them for the rest of their lives. The adults, when hunting in the sea, live in groups of fifty to one hundred. While nurturing the young, however, the adults may live a more secluded life. These penguins live and hunt together and may look for food 50 km from their nesting grounds. African Penguins are able to get this far from shore because they can swim up to 7 km per hour.

An interesting behavior of this penguin is its manner of cooling off in the heat. The African Penguin spends most of the day in the water and spends the cool night on land. If they are unable to reach the water, as is the case when watching over the eggs, the African Penguin can dissipate heat through its flippers, feet, and open beak.

The molt cycle of African penguins is generally more synchronous than the breeding cycle. In South Africa most penguins molt from November to January, while in Namibia most molt in April and May. The entire molt takes about 20 days to complete, with the feather-shedding period lasting about 13 days of this period. Prior to the molt the penguins spend about five weeks feeding and laying down fat deposits, but lose almost half their body weight during the molt process. At the end of the molt the penguins return to sea and spend about six weeks fattening up again.

Life Span:
The average life span in the wild is 10-15 years. In captivity the average is 20-30 years. The oldest known penguin in captivity lived to be 40 years old.

Interesting Facts:

  • Flighted birds have hollow bones, but the penguin have solid bones.
  • African penguins have over 70 feathers per square inch.
  • Only seven islands support 80% of the global population.
  • Out of the 17 species of penguins recognized, the African penguin is the only species found in southern or southwestern Africa.

Conservation Message:
The African penguin population has been reduced by about 97% in the past century and currently only about 120,000 birds remain.  What population is left is still threatened by water pollution and oil spills, guano collection, human encroachment, and feral dogs and cats. Due to the drastic nature of these charismatic bird’s decline, the Association of Zoos and Aquariums selected the African penguin to be among the first 10 species selected for the SAFE program- Saving Animals From Extinction. The SAFE initiative aims to band together zoos from across the country to dedicate resources to selected programs in the penguins’ wild habitat. These programs, including building artificial nest boxes, accurate census measures, fish population analysis, may be the key to this species survival.

How can you help?

Visit your local AZA zoo and support SAFE and other conservation programs. Watch what you eat! Visit SeafoodWatch.org to purchase only sustainably-harvested seafood. Use a Seafood Watch card or download the free app to your smartphone to help guide you in your seafood purchases.