Thursday, December 23, 2010

New Projects and New Faces

We haven’t updated our blog in a while—forgive us! We’ve been busy with a few exciting new projects, and some new permanent resident raptors that are settling in as part of the Education Team.

First, the projects: if you stop by the park, you may notice that we’re under construction yet again! While construction offers a host of interesting problems to overcome when the site is surrounded by sensitive species and permanently non-releasable birds of prey, we are very excited about the result: four new free-loft pens, a new trail, and a brand-new ‘off display’ area for the birds to get a rest in between public appearances. Special thanks to Conservation Halton’s dedicated construction team, our own incredible volunteers and staff who are working alongside them, and the donors who made this possible in the first place!

These new mews are replacing old and worn-down tethering places, and are certainly an improved use of the space. We’ll let you know when construction is complete and the birds have moved in!

Other exciting and upcoming projects include an Osprey Cam on our osprey tower, ready to catch next year’s breeding season. Our Osprey are an important part of our park, and a pair has been nesting continuously on the Mountsberg Reservoir for more than 15 years. Our last Osprey Cam was hit by lighting in 2000, so after 10 years we’re excited for the chance to closely observe this fantastic and unique Ontario raptor.

As for our new permanent residents? We have welcomed three in the past few weeks: "Freeway", a one-eyed red-tailed hawk who survived her injuries after being hit by a truck on Hwy. 402. Freeway, who came from Salthaven Wildlife Rehabilitation Centre with the help of the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources, is a young bird who is settling in nicely, but still has much to learn about adapting to her new visual limitations.

Two captive-bred owls have joined us as well— "Cedar", a long-eared owl, and "Sage", a short-eared owl. These owls are in training currently, and we hope they will be able to join the Education Team in the spring. If you’re lucky, you may catch a glimpse of them if you book a Raptor Encounter Program!

Wishing all of our readers an excellent and safe holiday season—if you’re looking for something to do, we hope you drop by! Mountsberg Conservation Area’s gates are open every day except Christmas Day (Dec. 25th), and the Raptor Centre has shows at 12pm and 2pm every day between December 25th and New Year’s Day.

See you on the trails!

Monday, June 14, 2010

Name the Kestrel Contest - Winners!

Conservation Halton is thrilled to announce that our young American Kestrel finally has a name to call his own— “Bean”! It was one of the most popular submissions we received during the contest, and Raptor Centre staff agree that the name— short, sweet, and cute— suits this little bird’s personality perfectly. Additionally, since the United Nations proclaimed 2010 to be the International Year of Biodiversity, and with the Biodiversity Education and Awareness Network (BEAN) supporting the naming suggestions, it was a perfect fit!

However, there were many other submissions that deserve recognition—submissions that were touching, humorous, or downright appropriate. Notable runners-up were “Captain Jack Sparrow” (another popular suggestion, with key points being the American Kestrel’s colloquial name of ‘sparrow-hawk’, the association between pirates and being blind in one eye, and the dark eye markings around the eyes being reminiscent of Johnny Depp’s character in Pirates of the Caribbean), “Hathaway” (after a classic advertisement with a man wearing an eyepatch), and “Horus” (after the Egyptian falcon-god). Staff favourites include “Polyphemus” (both a Cyclops in Greek mythology and a beautiful moth), “Amadeus” (From Falco’s hit “Rock Me Amadeus” and tied in with the kestrel’s latin name “Falco sparverius”), “Hawkeye” (after Alan Alda’s character in M*A*S*H) and “Fortinbras” (from Shakespeare’s Hamlet).

Winners have been contacted individually to arrange their Raptor Centre tours. If you submitted one of the winning names above and have not heard from us, please check your spam filters and email to let us know. In the meantime, those who entered the contest are invited to download a printable Certificate of Participation as a heartfelt “thank you” from all of the staff and birds at the Mountsberg Raptor Centre.

Click here to download your Certificate of Participation!

See you on the trails!

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Spotlight on Flying Season!

When you visit the park at this time of year, you may see Raptor Centre staff out in the Flyway with the birds. Often visitors wonder why they see us walking back and forth, calling birds to the glove and sending them to a perch, over and over again. Sometimes they see the birds respond quickly, and sometimes they see them ignore us entirely. It may look funny, but we’re actually very busy!

In spring and early summer, staff and birds are getting ready for “flying season”, which is an important time of the year at the Raptor Centre. During the winter months, our non-releasable birds are kept at a weight that allows them to be comfortable and cozy despite the cold weather, since many of them live outside year round. Because of dangerously low temperatures, we do not flight train our birds in winter-- instead, we allow them to exercise themselves. Summer is a different matter, and active training in the summer months keeps our residents healthy and fit. It also allows for an exciting flying demonstration-- it's truly amazing to have a Barn Owl ghost silently right over your head! Although there’s a lot of work involved, it’s sometimes hard to tell who is having more fun-– the staff, the public, or the birds!

Getting the birds in shape for flying season after they have been off on winter vacation is all about healthy diet and exercise. We start by weighing the birds daily to ensure that they are in good condition and to monitor weight changes as they occur. Then we begin actively exercising the birds inside the Raptor Centre—this is done by getting them to jump on command to a gloved fist for a food reward. Depending on the bird, this can be more difficult than you’d think! It requires repetition, patience (from both bird and handler), and trust. All of our birds are trained with positive reinforcement techniques.

After the birds are performing reliably indoors, it’s time to go out to the Flyway. The birds do short flights at first, getting their bearings, and then we increase the distance as days go by until they are flying the full length of the Flyway. Before you know it, they're ready for show time! For a bird like Ellie the Turkey Vulture, who has been part of our flying demonstrations for many years, getting back into summer flying is an easy task – all she needs to do is get rid of some winter weight and build her strength back up. However, for birds like our soon-to-be-named American Kestrel—who has never done this before—it can be a big job. He has had to learn how to land on the glove, how to navigate the Flyway, where the perches are located, what to do when there is a person sitting between him and the perch he wants to fly towards, and how to concentrate on his flying when there are so many other interesting things going on around him. That said, he is doing extremely well so far, and we are excited to show off his flying skills this summer!

Our flying demonstrations officially start on July 1st and continue until Labour Day, but some lucky park visitors have already been treated to sneak peeks during their visits. Our birds hope to see you out at the park soon, so that they can show off their flying skills! Well, except for Scout the Merlin, who would actually prefer it if nobody but his favorite trainer watched him fly, but that’s a story for another blog entry....

You can find information on Raptor Centre Show Times by clicking here.

See you on the trails!

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Help us name our American Kestrel!

Conservation Halton needs your help! The Mountsberg Raptor Centre has a young male American Kestrel that needs a name, and we want your suggestions!

American Kestrels are North America’s smallest falcon - they’re active, agile predators that can snatch a sparrow right out of the air! They also feed on large insects and small rodents. American Kestrels have black “malar” stripes under their eyes to protect them from the glare of the sun - just like football players.

This little kestrel is blind in his left eye due to impact trauma sustained in an accident when young. He’s very interested in his surroundings and, despite his disability, he’s learning to fly in the Mountsberg Raptor Centre shows and is doing quite well. The Mountsberg Raptor Centre team is very proud of this little fellow, and can’t wait to have an official name for him.

How to Enter

Entries are open to people of all ages and are not restricted in any way. You may submit multiple entries. Please submit your chosen name along with a short description (200 words or less) of why you’ve suggested it. Deadline is Thursday, June 3rd at midnight, EST. Winners will be announced on Friday, June 4th, and contacted to arrange their tours.

1. Facebook – Click on the ‘discussion’ tab of the Mountsberg Raptor Centre Facebook fan page, and add your suggestion to the ‘Name the Kestrel’ discussion thread. You can also post your suggestion directly to the Wall.
2. Email – Send an email to with your suggested name and a description of why you’ve chosen it.
3. In Person – Are you at the park? Drop by the Raptor Centre and give your suggestion in person. Staff will take your information, telephone number and / or an email address where they can reach you if your suggestion is chosen.
4. Ballot – Guests attending the Conservation Halton Awards Night on June 3rd will be able to submit an entry by ballot that evening!


Aside from choosing the winning name, the successful entrant will have the opportunity for a unique behind the scenes tour of the Mountsberg Raptor Centre, and a photo of themselves holding the newly-named American Kestrel on their gloved hand. Three runners-up will also be chosen for a Raptor Centre tour and photos with the birds.

About the Mountsberg Raptor Centre

Tucked within Mountsberg Conservation Area, the Mountsberg Raptor Centre is currently home to 14 different species of native birds of prey. Many of the Raptor Centre's resident birds of prey have permanent injuries that have left them incapable of surviving on their own in the wild. In many cases, these injuries were caused by human activity. With the help of these feathered ambassadors, the Mountsberg Raptor Centre teaches the community about the native birds of prey that share our environment and how to reduce the negative impact we can have on them.

Mountsberg Conservation Area is located on Milburough Line, 5 km west of Campbellville, ON, between Hwy 6 south and the Guelph Line. For more information, visit the Mountsberg Raptor Centre webpage.

Friday, February 5, 2010

Spotlight on American Kestrels

The American Kestrel (Falco sparvericus) is North American's smallest falcon. As in most other species of raptors, the female kestrel is larger than the male-- but unlike most other raptor species, American Kestrels are sexually dimorphic in colour, which means that the males and the females have very different markings. These quick little birds were once known colloquially as 'sparrow-hawks', and although they are not a hawk, they do prey on birds such as sparrows, finches, warblers, and even doves! They also hunt large insects and small rodents. They are the only North American falcon that often 'hovers' in the air while hunting.

The Mountsberg Raptor Centre is proud to announce a new resident American Kestrel-- a young male. Male kestrels make up for their small stature with their excellent maneuverability and brightly coloured plumage. With a blue cap and wings, this as-of-yet-nameless male cuts a dashing figure at only nine months of age. In captivity, kestrels can live as long as 15 years. The new male (picture at left) joins current Mountsberg resident kestrels Conan, Lizzie (pictured below), and Katy. Keep an eye on our Facebook Page to receive future updates on this little boy and all the other Raptor Centre residents!

Ontario has four native species of falcons. In order of increasing size, these species are the American Kestrel, the Merlin (Falco columbarius), the Peregrine Falcon (Falco peregrinus), and the Gyrfalcon (Falco rusticolus). Of the four, the American Kestrel is the most common species, and is relatively easy to spot in Southern Ontario. American Kestrels often perch on power-lines, telephone wires, and roadway signage. To see one, keep your eyes open for a robin-sized bird that repeatedly bobs its head and flicks its tail while perched-- chances are, it's a kestrel.

The next time you visit the Raptor Centre, be sure not to miss this diminutive but unique bird of prey. See you on the trails!

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Owl Prowls!

Owls have captured human imagination for thousands of years. They are often depicted in myth and legend, playing both positive and negative roles depending on the originating culture. Athena, the ancient Greek goddess of wisdom, is often described with an owl in attendance; the Greeks considered owls (particularly the Little Owl, who gains its latin name, Athene noctua, from the goddess) to be sacred. But while owls have been considered symbols of wisdom and intelligence in some areas, they have also been considered stupid, foolish, or symbols of madness. In many cultures, owls are traditionally considered an ill omen, or even a sign of impending death.

How can one creature inspire so many-- and such paradoxical-- interpretations? Perhaps it is due to their nocturnal nature, their excellent camouflage, their haunting calls. Maybe it is because of their silent flight, their fixed wide-eyed stare, or their measured movements. All of these characteristics, and likely many more, may contribute to the feelings of fascination and curiousity which owls inspire.

Learning about these fascinating creatures is easier than you may think! There are over two hundred species of owls living world-wide, with an incredible variety of shapes, sizes, and features. The smallest owl on the planet, the Elf Owl is not much larger than a house sparrow-- but the largest, the Eurasian Eagle-owl can weigh up to 10 lbs and is able to prey on young deer and sheep!

Ontario has eleven native owl species, ranging in size from the tiny Northern Saw-whet Owl to the powerful Snowy Owl. The Mountsberg Raptor Centre currently provides a home for representatives of six of our native species-- including the Barn Owl, one of Ontario's Species at Risk.

Late winter is one of the best times of the year to seek out owls in the wild, and it's also the best time of year to take part in an Owl Prowl! The Mountsberg Raptor Centre is proud to host our upcoming Owl Prowl programs at the park. These programs are a wonderful opportunity to learn more about Ontario's native owl species-- including habitats, calls, and behaviour-- as well as meet some of our resident owls up close and 'nose-to-beak'! The adult program takes place on Friday, January 29th, while family night is Saturday, January 30th. Please call the park for program details and registration. It'll be a 'hoot'!

(Photos © 2010 B. R. Murphy - used with permission)

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

New Years Updates and Noah's Story

Mountsberg Conservation Area rang in the new year with our New Year's Hoopla event-- and two of the Raptor Centre's resident owls were in attendance! Chomper the great-horned owl met with families out in the barn for an evening chat, while Teddy, one of our barred owls, took part in family photos.

Seventeen different families chose to have a New Years photo taken with Teddy, and the Willis family was kind enough to allow us to share theirs in our blog! We hope that our guests had as much fun attending the Hoopla as we had hosting it, and that everyone enjoyed the opportunity to see two of Ontario's native owl species up close while we rang in 2010.

In other raptor holiday wrap-up news, we are very pleased to announce that Otus, one of Mountsberg's eastern screech-owls, has fully recovered from the illness mentioned in our last update. We are very grateful to the staff of the Avian/Exotics clinic for the excellent care he received at the Ontario Veterinary College. Otus, for his part, was feeling well enough to get into the holiday spirit-- in fact, he was reluctant to get out! Of the tree, that is:

We would also like to share an inspirational story with our readers, and at the same time give our heartfelt thanks to a very dedicated young man. Raptor Centre Resource Interpreter Lara Butt writes:

"In July of 2009, our Raptor Centre was booked to visit four Wellington County Libraries over a three day period. There the families were able to see four different native raptor species up close and learn loads of interesting facts from our resident birds of prey. During our visit to Erin Library, a young, budding raptor enthusiast was 'hatched'!

As caretakers and educators of our 31 non-releasable birds, we encourage people to help in this process through such ways as our 'Adopt-a-Raptor' program or volunteering. Several of our brochures, pamphlets, and Species at Risk posters were passed on to the families after the session and one recipient was an 8-year-old fan, Noah! Captivated by our beautiful birds, Noah studied our Adopt guide and took it upon himself to raid his piggy bank for coins and during a family get together managed to collect almost $25 towards the 10 birds listed in the guide.

We were contacted by his family to arrange a time for Noah to present us with his fantastic donation and visit our birds up close and personal! As a token of our appreciation, Noah was given the opportunity to hold one of our screech owls, Echo, perched on his hand.

Following this, Noah continued to email us with his attempts to organize a fundraiser at his school. He waited anxiously for a response from the school council but unfortunately this was not an option at that time. Noah, only motivated further to find another opportunity to raise funds, asked his Mother if he could celebrate his 9th birthday party at Mountsberg. Instead of his invited guests bringing gifts, Noah suggested a donation towards our 'Adopt-a-Raptor' program. With four friends attending he received $100.00! Unselfishly, he also collected his own money to create small amounts for the 21 of our resident raptors. In total Noah has generously donated to 28 individual birds. His collective sum came to $149.75!! With this amazing donation, Noah has enabled us to do such things as purchase food and provide new building and housing material for several birds.

The Raptor Centre staff are very grateful for the tremendously thoughtful ideas and initiatives that such a young, keen friend like Noah has contributed! Thank you so much, Noah, for your efforts and passion for wildlife, and keep up the great work!"

Individuals like Noah make it possible to maintain and improve on the excellent care and housing we provide for the Raptor Centre's non-releasable birds of prey. His story is an inspiration to all of us here at Mountsberg, and we hope that all who read it will be encouraged towards an interest in Ontario's native raptors.

See you on the trails!