Oh My Word! Baby Birds!

Life is as dear to a mute creature as it is to man. Just as one wants happiness and fears pain, just as one wants to live and not die, so do other creatures. – His Holiness The Dalai Lama

baby bird _house sparrow Newborn We recently moved into a new home. As with most moves, there are circumstances that you cannot control, and we have had our share this move.  Our landlord has been building on an addition to the house since before we moved in, and the construction still continues.  During all of the banging and vibrations, we discovered an active bird’s nest in the exterior wall.  We had been monitoring the nest for weeks, but this weekend we heard the wee cries of new hatchlings!

As exciting as this was, we knew that we had to make a decision quickly because the construction crew was scheduled to come the next day to seal up the exterior wall with insulation and drywall. The nest was going to be sealed in there with live baby birds! We put our heads together, identified the bird species, did some bird fact checking, and came up with the best solution for this species … We relocated the nest.


NOTE: Nesting songbirds are protected by federal law, which prohibits moving their nests!

In the United States it’s illegal to remove or destroy any active nest from any native bird species.  An active nest is defined as “a nest with eggs or brooding adults in it”.  If the nest has been abandoned or no eggs have yet been laid, it can be removed or destroyed as needed.

House Sparrows (Passer domesticus) and  European starlings, are not native birds. This is how we knew that it was legal to relocate the nest.

The images below show how we did it. I am sharing this to help others if they encounter a similar situation with native or nonnative bird species.

If you click on/scroll over the images above, you can see how and what we were doing.  Please note that this entire process happened very quickly, to reduce the amount of stress on the parents and the offspring.  After we moved the baby birds to the new nest area, we c l e a r e d ourselves out of the area, to allow the parents to feel safe enough to explore the area and listen for their offspring.

As we had hoped, Mother Nature and the maternal and paternal instincts saved the day! Just hours later, the cries of the hatchlings were heard and the parents found their offspring!  The mother and father are now guarding their recently relocated nest.

My husband holds the hatchling birds as I prepare a new, safer nest for them
My husband holds the very vulnerable hatchlings as I prepare a new, safer nest for them. Mom and dad watched us the entire time.

The next day we bought a bird feeder and offer them seed they prefer.

We found a very sturdy double seed bird feeder at Lowe's for $5!  I set it up in a tree that I often see the parents hanging out in. I also added some biodegradable nesting material; they have been using it already! yay!

We found a very sturdy double seed bird feeder at Lowe’s for $5! I set it up in a tree that I often see the parents hanging out in. I also added some biodegradable nesting material; they have been using it already! yay!

If you have found this article while searching for help on ‘how to move a bird’s nest’, or ‘how to help a baby bird’ it’s very important that you correctly identify the species of bird (by watching the adult birds at the nest), before you even consider interfering with the nest!  You must determine whether or not the nest removal would be legal according to local wildlife laws.  Native birds are protected species, so tampering with a nest could lead to hefty fines or other penalties.

Although often considered a nuisance species and an agricultural pest, the House Sparrow has proven well-suited for studies of general biological problems such as evolutionary mechanisms, temperature metabolism, and pest control.
Although often considered a nuisance species and an agricultural pest, the House Sparrow has proven well-suited for biological problems such as pest control.

Nests You Shouldn’t Remove

Somenestsshould not be removed regardless of the circumstances, unless wildlifeauthoritiesare consulted, or there are no other options to keep the nesting birds safe. These nests include:
  • Endangered birds that are unlikely to build a new nest if disturbed
  • Raptors or other large birds that will reuse the same nest for many years
  • Natural cavities that would be destroyed in order to remove the nest
  • Any nest in early summer that may be reused for additional broods
  • Learn more about rules regarding Relocating Nesting Birds

 

Bird Nest Facts:

  • Birds usually lay one egg a day.
  • They don’t begin incubating their eggs until all the eggs have been laid.
  • Clutch sizes vary from 2 to 8 eggs for most common backyard birds.
  • Once the last egg has been laid, incubation takes about two weeks.
  • The eggs will usually hatch about the same time.
  • After hatching, it will take another two weeks before the nestlings are ready to leave the nest.
  • To be on the safe side, and to allow for variety in species, allow six weeks before the nest is ready to be moved.
  • Learn more about incubation and fledging time for common bird species in North America.
  • Common questions about Baby Birds

 


What About Touching The Babies?!?

You’re probably familiar with the “rule” that many of us were taught as children: never touch baby birds, or the mother bird will reject her own offspring.  Unfortunately, it’s still generally believed that the mere scent of a human on a hatchling or fledgling bird will spook the mother bird into abandoning her offspring.  Good thing this misperception is FALSE!  This lore may have been invented for keeping children away from birds, in order to ensure the bird’s safety. Also, the parents of the baby bird may be nearby, and could become protective and aggressive when they see children near their nest; parents could have been protecting their human offspring with this tall tale. In fact, birds have a limited sense of smell and even if the mama bird could smell your scent, this would not interfere with taking care of her offspring.   However, if you disturb the eggs in a nest, the mother and father birds could understand that they are facing a danger, and may abandon the nest completely. So please give nesting birds the space they need!

Please help the birds and ignore those crazy myths!

Mother birds will not reject their babies because they smell human scent on them, nor will they refuse to set on eggs that have been handled by a person. Most birds have a limited sense of smell and cannot detect human scent. (If you handle bird eggs while the mother is away from the nest, mama bird will usually notice upon her return that the eggs were disturbed during her absence, and some species of bird will take this as an indication that a dangerous intruder is present and may temporarily or even permanently abandon their nests as a result. Such behavior is relatively rare, however, and in these situations the mother birds are reacting to visual warnings, not olfactory ones.)

 

Learn the Truth Behind More BIRD MYTHS AND MISCONCEPTIONS!


So what should you do if you find a baby bird out of the nest? These graphics should help you!

baby bird out of nest help


found a baby bird

Learn more about What To Do If You Find A Baby Bird


If you have men who will exclude any of God’s creatures from the shelter of compassion and pity, you will have men who will deal likewise with their fellow men. – St. Francis of Assisi

 


Sources:

http://www.worldbirdsanctuary.org/index.php http://www.allaboutbirds.org/ http://bna.birds.cornell.edu/bna

Provide Comfort When They Are Afraid.

Image

(Posted May 2014)

Have the Memorial Day weekend fireworks and celebrations started in your neighborhood yet?  They started here several nights ago, and none of the animals were pleased, to say the least.  As their guardian, it’s my job to take the time to help them cope with the onslaught of noise, and change they way they feel about those sounds.

Unfortunately, a lot of people believe this common myth:  Don’t comfort an animal when he/she is afraid; you’re only reinforcing their fears.

Here’s my science-based response to that myth:  Always Comfort the animal. You cannot reinforce Fear.  Ignoring their fear and terror is borderline neglect.

In this video you will learn (just the tip of the iceberg of) why we *should* be providing comfort when our pets are nervous or scared. You will learn why you *cannot* reinforce fear.

Fear is an emotion, not a behavior.  Comforting a fearful animal will not make the animal more afraid, and it will not “reinforce fear” (unless this is the only interaction the animal ever receives).   Petting, cuddling, or comforting an animal when they are afraid can help them — worse case, it may not do anything.  However, comforting them will not reinforce their fear.

Fact: Animals in a constant state of fear or stress are more susceptible to diseases, and their immune systems are not as effective (cited) .

Because of this, fearful animals must be helped. That’s where we, as their guardians come in.  In the video below Suzanne Clothier explains how and why:

So when the pops, cracks, booms and bangs begin, and you see that the dog/cat/bird, etc. is clearly frightened, remember to remain calm and comfort them.  You are their guardian and protector.  You can help them.  Providing comfort and a sense of safety is the sensible, loving thing to offer to anyone in need, especially our animal companions.

Learn more about why You Cannot Reinforce Fear in these links:

 

TRAINING TIP: A better approach than comforting alone, is investing some time on counterconditioning, a behavior modification technique meant to change the animal’s emotional response toward a feared stimulus by encouraging an emotion incompatible with fear. In Counterconditioning we use food to change the animal’s underlying emotional response to the perceived threat so that he/she learns that “scary things” are now good things. To “condition” means to teach, and to “counter” means to change.

—> If you would like to learn how to do this, check out my tips on how to help your pets cope during fireworks, HERE!


 

Don’t worry about rewarding a scared dog who is behaving ‘inappropriately’. You wouldn’t wait for someone who was drowning to stop screaming before you pulled them out of the water.   – Debbie Jacobs, author of “A Guide To Living With & Training A Fearful Dogs”

 


Do you have any tips for helping your animals when they are afraid? Please share below!

 

Hugs and Hostages?

Image

 

2014

It’s National Hug Your Dog Day!  Let’s dig deep into the science of hugs!

I will be the first to admit: Sometimes I want to hug our dog and cats (and other animals) like the Abominable Snowman in the bit from “Daffy Duck’s Quackbusters” cartoon.   But I don’t.   I know they don’t enjoy receiving hugs as much as I love giving them.  And frankly, I would not enjoy it if someone did that to me without my consent.

Been there; had that.

This might sound crazy, but sometimes a hug to our animal companion is more like holding them hostage.  Obviously they aren’t really our “hostages”, but we may be unknowingly forcing them to interact with us in a way they would not choose on their own.


Don’t just take my word for it.  Do some dog-behavior-digging for yourself: 

Have someone take a picture of you holding your animal hostage (I mean, hugging and squeezing them).  Then look carefully at the expression on their face.  

NOTE:  Before you do this activity, make sure you know the stress signals that dogs display when they are uncomfortable.  Then go back and look at the picture and be really honest.  Ask yourself:  Are they truly enjoying it, or are they tolerating it?


dog behavior
The Dog Behavior Continuum by Colleen Pelar, CDBC, CPDT-KA

 

 

 

 


If I found out that a person I loved to hug only tolerated my touches and squeezes, I would put an end to it.  Mainly because I would feel weird now, but I also wouldn’t want to push myself onto someone that didn’t want my affection in that form.

Most people don’t want to hear this, but animals are no different in that way.   A lot of animals really don’t want to be manhandled and coddled. Most of them will offer and solicit affection on their terms.  And every species has their own unique way of displaying affection.  And within each species, each individual as their own preference for affection. 

As Conscious Companions, we need to be aware of this. 


 

cuddling pets

 


Dog Detective

Let’s look at two dogs receiving hugs from a human.  One dog is not enjoying the hug and one is cool it.  Spend a few minutes carefully reviewing the two photos below.  See if you can identify the emotional state of the dog in each pic.

dog-no-hug

In the top photo, the dog is leaning (or at least trying to lean) away from the human. His ears are held tightly back, his eyes are more tense with a slightly furrowed brow, and his mouth is closed. While there isn’t anything about the dog’s body language that says he will lash out, it is abundantly clear that the hug is not comfortable or appreciated.

In the bottom photo, the golden retriever is not leaning away from the hugger. His ears are relaxed, his eyes are soft, his mouth is open and lips are not tense, and the tongue is draped out in a relaxed pant. (Yes, even the way a dog holds his tongue is potentially a clue!)

dog-ok-hug

 

 

“It takes a lot of experience, it turns out, to be good at reading signs of fear or stress or discomfort on the face of a dog.”  —McConnell.


 

dog behavior_stress signalsjpg
The Family Dog “Cheat Sheet” by Colleen Pelar, CDBC, CPDT-KA

 

 


When you take your dog to the dog park, or even just to a friend’s house where she can play with another dog, how do the dogs greet one another? There are myriad ways dogs say hello depending on if they know each other and are reforming old bonds, or are meeting for the first time and feeling each other out as they establish the pecking order. There is face smelling, rump smelling, tail wagging, play bowing… but there is never hugging. Even among the best of friends. In fact, the closest approximation dogs have to a hug as we know it actually means something other than friendship. —Dr. Patricia McConnell, certified applied animal behaviorist,

 


Beyond Tolerance

If you discovered that your animal companion really didn’t enjoy your hug-a-palooza, would you continue to force it on them?  I hope not.  But what if you learned how your particular pup enjoys receiving and offering affection? That would be a game changer! 

The hard truth is simple.  It’s not in a dog’s nature to show affection by hugging.  Many dogs don’t really enjoy being petted or hugged.  They tolerate it.  

Many very tolerant dogs, who allow the “kidnap cuddle”, can go from tolerant to intolerant very quickly under “the perfect storm” conditions.  We must become dog aware and teach others how to do this as well, especially children.


Conscious Companion_dog safety
Hocus teaching Girl Scouts a more safer and polite way to pet dogs

 

 


Safety Concerns

Children are, by far, the most common victims of dog bites and are far more likely to be severely injured. Most dog bites affecting young children occur during everyday activities and while interacting with familiar dogs. Many bites happen when children are hugging their dog and holding him/her “hostage”.

Studies have shown that dogs who bite children involved familiar children, who were most commonly bitten in relation to food or resource guarding and “benign” interactions such as petting, hugging, bending over, or speaking to the dog.

 

no_hugs1

 

Although some dogs are not reactive about being kissed and hugged, these types of interactions are potentially provocative, leading to bites.  In a study we published in a journal called Injury Prevention, we looked at dogs that had bitten children and found that most children had been bitten by dogs that had no history of biting.  Most important here, familiar children were bitten most often in the contexts of ‘nice’ interactions — such as kissing and hugging with their own dogs, or dogs that they knew. ~ Dr. Reisner, Veterinary Behavior & Consulting Services

 


Different Strokes for Different Species 

One of the biggest hangups with hugs is how hard it is for many pet parents to admit to themselves that their dog doesn’t enjoy their hugs.  I see this resistance and disappointment with new clients a lot.  But here’s the human-doggie deal:  Hugs are a natural and primary way for most of the human species to show affection.

Research on primates, especially chimpanzees and bonobos to whom we are most closely related, reveals that hugging is an integral part in giving and seeking out comfort and affection.  But it’s not in a dog’s nature to show affection by hugging.

primate hug_dog hug
Two juvenile Bonobos embraced in a hug

 


 

If you watch little kids, tiny little kids who are just barely able to stand on their legs, they wrap their arms around another to express affection, empathy and love by hugging. It’s just so hard-wired into who we are and what we do.  And so I think when we tell people that dogs don’t like hugging, it’s like some primal, limbic part of our brain says, ‘You mean my dog doesn’t love me?!’ — Dr. Patricia McConnell, certified applied animal behaviorist


Languages of Love

Just because your pup might not enjoy receiving your hugs as much as you enjoy giving them, does not mean your canine companion doesn’t love you with all of his/her heart.  Dogs love us (and their animal companion friends) in their brilliant and beautiful Canid way, while we, as their humans, love them in our primate way.   

Dogs and humans are two incredibly different species. But, through the centuries, we have become intimately connected.   But thousands of years of co-evolution doesn’t erase millions of years of separate-species evolution.

This is why it’s important to look at the social science of what a hug really means to dogs.


 

—> Please take a moment to check out this brief and insightful post, You’re Making Me Uncomfortable!” to understand how uninvited hugs can adversely affect both dogs AND people! <—

 


 

Check out this video about Dog Body Language:

 

Next time, you go in for that monster love hug, ask yourself:  Is this dog (or cat) really enjoying the hug?  Or is he/she just enduring/tolerating it because they know it will be over soon? 

Consider asking them to come over to you, instead of coming into their space.

Next time you see your child (or someone else’s child) going in for the monster hug to the family dog (or cat), please stop the child and show them safer ways to love an animal.

Let’s encourage our pets and other companion animals to offer affection and attention (that we so deeply appreciate), on their own terms. 

 


Below are some great examples of happy hugs, where both dog and human are enjoying the interaction as a consensual canine team 😉

 

copyright-amy-martin-conscious-companion-dog-trainer-dog-behavior-animal-communication-empath-intuitive

Hugs-from-Toby

Ocytocin_Love hormone_bonding with dog

  One of my dearest friends and her dog Cara, displaying what it looks like when the person AND the dog are enjoying a hug.

princess-elizabeth-hugging-a-corgi-dog-in-july-1936

 


This is a judgement free zone!  All comments and feedback are welcome!  I deeply understand that most parents and guardians are doing the best with what they have, and what they know how to do.  This post is meant to help and educate families living with pets. We would Love to hear from you!

What has been your experience with hugs?


 

Recognizing our own mistakes helps us to empathise non-judgmentally with others and helps enable us to understand their issues.” ― Jay Woodman


 

Recommended Reading/Resources 

 


 

ConsciousCompanion.com

Holy Moly Hormones!

“Why is patience so important?”
“Because it makes us pay attention.” 
― Paulo Coelho

These are a few behaviors that parrot guardians often see during The Season of Hormones!

It’s that time of year again! … Spring is here. The hormones have kicked in. Get Ready.

Many of you know the scenario: One day your affectionate parrot is a content, happy member of your family, and the next minute he or she is acting like a psychotic monster attacking everyone and everything! Hormones are on the rise, feathers are flying, and beaks are gnashing!

These Jekyll and Hyde personality changes are often due to “mating” season (AKA Spring to us humans).  Bird hormones tend to kick into high gear as their bodies prepare for ‘breeding season’. Don’t be mad at your feathered friend. They can’t help it, and their behavior only serves a greater purpose for them in the wild: Hormones dictate breeding success in birds.

Some animals produce more offspring than others. Hormones like prolactin and corticosterone can exercise a crucial influence on the behaviour of birds in the breeding season and therefore on their reproductive success. ~ Princeton University researchers

In the world of birds, the arrival of Spring means one very important thing: it’s time to get their bird breeding on!  Mating is how their species survives!  So strap on your patience pants, and maybe a harness for yourself, because this is most likely going to be a bumpy ride!

For many parrot guardians this is a very trying time of year. Here’s are two things that you can do to get through this without losing your mind – or a finger: be patient and compassionate.  This is a difficult time for your feathered friend as well.  Their hormones are changing to prepare for breeding. This affects their bodies, and their moods. Remember how awful your hormonal years were?? These changes can make them more irritable. You can expect more screaming, biting, more destruction, and more unpredictable mood swings. Again, you must be patient; this won’t last forever.  It will get better if you know how to help them.

Read on to discover some of the common signs of hormonal behavior in birds, and how to help your feathered friend cope with these hormone surges, so you can have a safer, healthier home environment.

It’s very important to recognize the signs and symptoms of a hormonal parrot, so we don’t merely label them as “crazy” or “mean”. Remember that every behavior serves a purpose to that animal.  It’s up to us as their guardians to be the detective and help them cope in our human world.

What To Look For:

• Eye pinning (pupils dilating and constricting)
• Wing flapping
• Tail fanning
• Trembling, with wings dropped low in a ‘begging’ posture (he/she is asking you to feed him as a mate)
• Panting when touched outside of the head and neck area
• Regurgitating for you or for his/her toys
• Increased appetite
• Lifting the vent while cuddling (if female)
• Mounting your hand by gripping your thumb (if male)
• Head-bobbing, hopping/bouncing, or making ‘heart wings’ for you
• Plucking or barbering feathers
• Territoriality over the cage, room, you, or a family member
• Excess aggression; including biting, screaming, and beak-bashing

Hormones (triggered by weather changes, increased daylight hours and a variety of other factors) start coursing through the blood stream bringing about chemical changes in the body and some pretty odd behaviors.

Other companion Bird Hormone Surge signs to be aware of:

Note: Depending on the species, age, and individual animal, nesting behavior can last from a couple of weeks to a month or more.

 

If you are seeing any of these behaviors, read on to learn a few tips to help a hormonally charged bird:

  • Gently avoid encouraging amorous advances from your feathered friend.
  • Be more aware of your bird’s body language; aggression can be avoided if you are paying attention to their signals.

 

Please note: “Serious physical and psychological problems can develop if pet birds remain in reproductive hormone behavior for prolonged periods. Such birds are considered to be in chronic reproductive status (CRS), and owners should seek the assistance of their avian veterinarian and/or a parrot behavior consultant to help resolve this situation.”

 

fearless

Sited Sources:

http://www.birdchannel.com

 

That Guilty Look

 “Calvin : There’s no problem so awful, that you can’t add some guilt to it and make it even worse.” 
― Bill Watterson, The Complete Calvin and Hobbes

guilty dog_dog shaming

 

Common Myth: When our pup puts on that doleful, guilty look, they must be guilty of something, right? He/she clearly feels bad for doing something wrong.

TRUTH: Your dog knows you are angry or upset and is using that particular body posture in their attempt of using dog language to get you to calm down and avoid any punishment from you.

 

The Science-Based Truth Behind That Guilty Expression:

Nearly 75 percent of dog guardians believe that their dogs experience guilt. Just watch Denver Dog, as he is presumed to feel very guilty in this video. It’s a natural tendency for us to interpret animal behavior in our human terms, but when we anthropomorphize (compare animal behavior to human behavior) we can overlook what is really happening.  Guilt is a human emotion.  Humans often project this guilt onto their animal companions.

Dog guardians observe particular behaviors: “avoiding eye contact, lying down and rolling to the side or onto the back, dropping the tail, wagging low and quickly, holding one’s ears down or head down, moving away from the owner, raising a paw and licking” – and owners believe these behaviors correspond with a dog’s feeling of guilty.  However, these are normal and very common dog behaviors that dogs display with each other, depending on the circumstances. These displays are called “appeasement behaviors” – behavior that inhibits or neutralizes aggression in a behavioral partner.

 

When a dog owner reprimands their dog, especially with loud, deep tones, the dog will attempt to calm the aggressive behavior of the owner (note: aggressive does not necessarily mean violent) with appeasement gestures: lowered head, ears, tail and body and squinty eyes. To the owner, this looks “guilty.”

In reality, the dog is only reacting to the behavior of the owner in the present moment and not associating the owner’s behavior with the actions of the dog that occurred hours before. The owner, however, is gratified by the dog’s appeasement gestures, taking it as evidence that the dog has learned he’s “bad.” ~ 4Paws University

 

dog guilt _dog shaming _Guilty dog
Denver the dog is displaying appeasement behaviors to his human. This does not equate to proof that Denver feels “guilty”.

“In wolves, guilt-related behaviors are believed to reinforce social bonds, as in primates, by reducing conflict and eliciting tolerance from other members of the social group. The same could be true of dogs, though their social groups would primarily include humans. Submission serves to keep a social group together, to foster group cohesion.”

 

The “guilty look” — head cowered, ears back, eyes droopy — is a reaction to the minor (or major) tantrum you are now having over the damage fido did hours earlier. They are not making the connection that you must be upset because of that poop they dropped on the rug, or the shoe they chewed that you left out. They only know you are upset about something, so they are doing what dogs do best to appease each other through nonthreatening body language.

The dog’s guilty look is a response to the owner’s behavior, and not necessarily indicative of any appreciation of its own misdeeds.

A study discovered that the “guilty” look people claim to see in their companion animal is directly related to whether or not the person expected to see the look, regardless of whether or not the dog had actually done something to be “guilty” about.  When a dog looks guilty it is because they are reacting to a change in our body language that tells them something is wrong.   This leads to a dog’s body language that appears worried or nervous to us.  In reality the dog has learned to exhibit these behaviors in order to appease humans who display angry or upset body language.  Details of the research studies are here and here.

Unless your dog has been going to canine church behind your back, and has been taught to feel guilty for moral or religious reasons, it’s safe to assume that they are not actually feeling guilty; they are using their canine senses and behavior to carefully appease your anger.

paw print

 You can learn more about this subject from dog behaviorists, and read their take on it here and here.

Learn more common myths and truths about dog behavior in Decoding Your Dog, a new book from the American College of Veterinary Behaviorists. Drs. Debra Horwitz and John Ciribassi.

Myths About Dog Behavior
Myths About Dog Behavior

 Sources:

Scientific American

Discovery

Snakelessness in Ireland

Glencar Waterfall; Co. Leitrim, Ireland
Glencar Waterfall; Co. Leitrim, Ireland


2014

Hello, Friends! 

Tomorrow is St. Patrick’s Day AND it’s also the feast day of the original Cat Lady, Saint Gertrude, so many are celebrating all over the world.

We are not.

Although our family has a deep Irish heritage and we absolutely adore Ireland, I Am not one to celebrate nonsensical traditions.  One side of my family’s heritage is Irish and Welsh, so Saint Patrick’s Day is always quite amusing to me.  People all over the world are celebrating a culture they know very little about.  Here’s just a few facts that most green food/beer consumers know about:

  • The real St. Patrick wasn’t Irish.
  • He didn’t drive the snakes out of Ireland; many see this story as symbolism for banishing the Celtic “heathens”.
  • Adding green dye to food symbolizes not only the green countryside, but also the time of the Great Famine, when Irish people were so deprived of food they resorted to eating grass; people’s mouths were green as they died.
  • March 17th is the feast day St. Gertrude, the Patron Saint of Cats.


Did You Know..?

Lá Fhéile Pádraig (Saint Patrick’s Day) is a religious holiday in Ireland, that happens each year on March 17th.  They celebrate the patron saint of Ireland – Patrick, who lived in the beginning of the 5th century AD.  Saint Patrick is the most recognized Irish saint, however, the real St. Patrick wasn’t even Irish!

Lá Fhéile Pádraig began as a Catholic holiday and became an official feast day in the early 17th century.  But today Lá Fhéile Pádraig represents a week-long (and sometimes longer) celebration of Irish language, music, culture and art.

You can learn more about the history of St. Patrick Day here and here.

The land surrounding one of the castles we stayed at in Ireland


The image below pretty much sums up the silliness of many myths and legends that have been created around this day of celebration around the world.  And the image above sums up the real Ireland. So in honor of the Irish, I wanted to share some insight into where one particular myth about this one came from.

MYTH: Saint Patrick banished all of the snakes from Ireland.

Legend states that Saint Patrick, the Christian missionary, rid the slithering scaly reptiles from Ireland’s icy shores by chasing the snakes into the sea after they began attacking him during a 40-day fast that he had on the top of a hill.  This was just around the time that he had semi-successfully converted the Irish people from paganism to Christianity during the fifth century A.D.

saint-patrick-snakes-ireland_happy st patty day_irish blessings


TRUTH:   No, he really didn’t drive the snakes out of Ireland.  At all. 

Yes, it’s true that snakes do not inhabit the island of Ireland today, but they never did.  Ireland is surrounded by freezing ocean waters. These icy waters are way too cold to allow snakes to migrate from Great Britain or anywhere else around the Irish island.  And as it turns out, we can blame the Ice Age, not St. Patrick for the lack of snakes on the breathtaking green isle.

On the cliffs of Sliabh Liag Ireland
Standing on the cliffs of Sliabh Liag — in Ireland on our honeymoon.


If you have the opportunity to visit Ireland, go.  But do so with respect in your heart for the Irish, for these people are unlike no other.  Be prepared to meet the kindest, most loving and generous people you’ve ever known.  Prepare to see breathtaking scenery, experience delicious food, and enjoy sincere, open-hearted hospitality.  Oh, and prepare to appreciate the best beer in the world.   Ireland, you have my heart.


♣ An Old Irish Blessing:

Go raibh an bóthar ardú suas chun bualadh leat.
Go raibh an ghaoth go brách ag do chúl.
Go dtaitní an ghrian go bog bláth ar do chlár éadain,
agus bháisteach ag titim bog ar do ghoirt.
Agus go gcasfar le chéile sinn arís,
Bealtaine Dia a shealbhú tú ar an dtearmann a lámh.


Brú na Bóinne
Brú na Bóinne, Ireland


Last But Certainly Not Least

Since March is Women’s History Month,  a lot of people celebrate St. Gertrude of Nivelles.  She’s a prominent historical female figure.  Gertrude is the patron saint of gardeners, travelers, widows, recently deceased people, the sick, the poor, the mentally ill, and travelers in search of lodging.  And our fellow Lord of the Rings fans will love this: Gertrude was the daughter of Pippin of Landen.

So, before you go …

check out:

St. Gertrude of Nivelles depicted with mice circa 1530.

The Real History Surrounding Saint Patrick’s Day

Day of the Dragon!

Kadar, our male breeding Komodo dragon at the Audubon Zoo in New Orleans.
Kadar, our male breeding Komodo dragon at the Audubon Zoo in New Orleans.

Today is International Appreciate A Dragon Day!  Yeah, I know.  It sounds crazy, but if there is an international peanut butter day, then dragons can certainly have their turn in the international spotlight.  As soon as I heard that today was appreciate a dragon day, I was really psyched because one very special dragon came to my mind.  He was amazing in every sense of the word.

Because of this dragon, I learned and felt more than I ever thought possible from a 140 pound lizard.  I cared for him, bred him, trained him, enriched him, and during his last days on earth, I held him between my legs as he breathed his last breaths.

His name was Kadar and he was a Komodo Dragon.


Here There Be Dragons!

I was introduced to Kadar on the first day of a very challenging and amazing career path.  I had the pleasure of working at the Audubon Zoo in the Reptile Section for many years.  I was a reptile and amphibian “keeper” (animal caretaker) and an enrichment specialist.  Kadar was one of the many species of reptiles that opened my mind to the depth of intelligence and perfection that many animals have.  He dispelled many myths about reptiles, and showed us how to be more conscious of caring for reptiles in captivity.  Kadar was a gorgeous specimen, and quite a sight to behold!  He was a favorite among many zoo visitors and staff.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
Kadar gently chasing his mate, Kali around their exhibit


Leaping, Learning Lizards!

Force-free training was just barely beginning to be embraced by the zoo community when I was working there.  Thankfully, in 1999 we learned that “even lizards” can be taught to do almost anything because they are incredibly intelligent!  Each day at the zoo, there were scheduled public feedings.  Zoo visitors loved to come and watch us as we climbed to the top of Kadar’s exhibit, and then toss him a deceased rabbit, mackerel, or beef heart into his enclosure.  Kadar would come running over and gobble the gory goodies down within seconds!  The gory (but fascinating) scene was quite a sight to see!

Then a female reptile colleague and I taught Kadar to station where we wanted him to in his exhibit, using a laser pointer.  We also taught him to recall on command so we could shift him in and out of his night den without force.  He learned to target, and to trust people again.  We also learned how to safely work with him without using fear or force.

With training and enrichment we encouraged his natural hunting and stalking abilities by encouraging him to “hunt” for scents all around his enclosure, to mimic conditions that he would have experienced in the wild, on Komodo Island.  Through force-free, choice based training we gained Kadar’s trust, we eliminated fear on both ends of the stick!


Lessons Learned 

One day we needed to perform a medical procedure on Kadar (to remove a few rocks in his belly that he had ingested) and in the process, a vertebrae and some nerves in his neck were severely damaged.  Kadar soon lost his strong, regal gait and was not responding to his training cues.  He was becoming severely challenged while eating and moving around his enclosure.  We did everything we could to help him.  Our hospital staff worked around the clock during those last days to monitor his vital signs and keep him alive.  We took shifts at night breathing for him.

I will never forget the honor and respect I felt, holding him between my legs as I gently pushed air into his lungs, hoping that it would keep his organs and brain functioning.  We even took him to the Children’s Hospital next door to the zoo to perform a CAT Scan and MRI to see how extensive the damage was, but it was too late.  Kadar’s heart was still beating but he was no longer there.  He had passed in the night while in my arms.  We mourned his passing, but we never forgot what he taught us about reptile intelligence, and what he brought to the zoo community.  We all learned something from Kadar.

 


Not All Was Lost.

After Kadar passed, we were all heartbroken, but were able to honor his legacy by continuing the force-free reptile training movement with Kali, his very clever Komodo mate.  We taught Kali to station on a scale, allow nail trims, and to be crated.  Our team created a special crate designed to facilitate safe, force-free annual exams without anesthesia.  In the latter years, Kadar and Kali had to be anesthetized for these important annual exams.  This really cool create enabled the hospital staff to come out to our area for medical procedures such as weighing her, blood draws, radiographs (x-rays), colloquial swabs, and checking for eggs.

6a010535647bf3970b014e8bd6a896970d-500wi


Trained Komodo Dragons!

komodo dragon training reptile force free training and enrichement
Images from The Zoological Society of London

When we trained Kadar, there were hardly any force-free reptile training programs in existence at the time.  Thankfully, now zoos all around the world are utilizing more force-free training with the species that they breed and care for in captivity.  They use everything from laser pointers to target sticks and clicker training!   Below are just a few of the safe and enriching management tools that zoo staff around the world are using with Komodo Dragons to maintain their health and well-being:


One of the enrichment devices that has been developed at ZSL London Zoo’s Herpetology Department, in conjunction with Aussiedog© is a ‘Tug-Toy’.  This ‘Komodo Tug-Toy’ is the first of its kind and it comes complete with a strong elasticised bungee, two removable tug grips and several different bites.  The device was developed after lengthy email correspondence with specialists at Aussiedog©. We discussed every possible component and variable from anatomy, force and bite radius to enclosure size to what colour to use/not use (as Raja, our male dragon, is trained to a white target for example) and we carefully considered what texture and material would be preferable for the detachable bites.  The device can also be hung from a tree or retaining wall, and meat joints can replace the bites to encourage the natural pulling and tearing motions the dragon uses to consume carcasses.

Raja enjoying a game of Tug with keepers. This was a specially made "Tug Toy" safe for the handler and Komodo
Raja enjoying a game of Tug with keepers at the London Zoo’s Reptile House.  This “Tug Toy”  was designed to be safe for the handler and Komodo

Raja even has his own facebook page!

These training and enrichment techniques allow zoo keepers and medical staff to work safely with, and in close proximity to, Komodo dragons in captivity. These force-free techniques facilitate the animals’ well-being through mental and physical stimulation.


Lethal Lizards?

Many people are terrified of Komodos and see them as monsters.  This is not true.  Most komodos in captivity have strong bonds with their keepers. However, safety is always the utmost priority because they do have quite a bite when they are in prey drive!   Any number of their prey would attest to this (if they could). They are not slobbery monsters that will attack you at a moment’s notice.  They are usually calm, clean, and calculating.

Dirty Dragon?

New research from the University of Queensland published in the Journal of Zoo and Wildlife Medicine has found that the mouths of Komodo dragons are surprisingly ordinary for a venomous species.

Venomous Varanus!

In 2009, scientists concluded that komodo dragons (and all monitor lizards and iguanas) produce venom.  Venom is a toxin that’s secreted by glands and injected into an animal by a bite or sting (versus how poison is delivered).  There is a common myth that highly toxic bacteria in a Komodo’s mouth is what’s responsible for ultimately killing the dragons’ prey.  Zoo and reptile management and researchers have long thought that the Komodo dragon kills its prey via blood poisoning from the 50 strains of bacteria in the dragon’s saliva.  Well, it turns out that the bacteria tale has been a “scientific fairy tale”.  They found that the levels and types of bacteria do not differ from any other carnivore; it’s the venom at work:

The dragon’s venom rapidly decreases blood pressure, expedites blood loss, and sends a victim into shock, rendering it too weak to fight.  In the venom, some compounds that reduce blood pressure are as potent as those found in the world’s most venomous snake, western Australia’s inland Taipan.

Fry used a medical MRI scanner to analyse the preserved head of a dead Komodo dragon and found that it has two long venom glands, running down the length of its jaw. They are the most structurally complex venom glands of any reptile. Each consists of six compartments, with ducts leading from each one to openings between the teeth.
Professor Fry used a medical MRI scanner to analyze the preserved head of a Komodo dragon. He found that it has two long venom glands, running down the length of its jaw. They are the most structurally complex venom glands of any reptile!  Each consists of six compartments, with ducts leading from each one to openings between the teeth.

Other venomous lizards, like the Gila monster, channel venom down grooves that run the length of their teeth but the Komodo dragon doesn’t have these – it just drips venom straight into the wounds that it inflicts. The venom itself consists of over 600 toxins, a chemical arsenal that rivals those of many snakes. Many of these poisons are familiar and they greatly exacerbate the blood loss caused by the dragon’s bite. They cause internal haemorrhaging from leaky blood vessels, prevent blood from clotting and cause muscle contractions and paralysis. Fry calculated that a typical adult dragon would need only 4mg of venom proteins to send a 40kg deer into toxic shock from collapsing blood pressure. A full venom gland packs at least eight times this amount.

After the CHOMP,  a Komodo waits patiently, following its bitten prey for miles in a leisurely fashion. He or she then locates the dead animal by its smell.  Like most lizards, Komodo dragons have an exquisite sense of smell.  But it’s not the kind of smell most of us are familiar with.  Like a snake, a Komodo “tastes” by collecting air with its forked tongue, then deposits the collected scent particles on receptors on the roof of its mouth.  Using this method, it can detect a dead animal up to five miles (eight kilometers) away!

The Komodo's sense of smell is its primary food detector. They detect odors much like a snake does. It uses its long, forked tongue to sample the air, which the two tongue tips retreat to the roof of the mouth, where they make contact with the Jacobson's organs. Here the air is deciphered carefully.
The Komodo’s sense of smell is its primary food detector. They detect odors much like a snake does. It uses its long, forked tongue to sample the air, which the two tongue tips retreat to the roof of the mouth, where they make contact with the Jacobson’s organs. Here the air is deciphered carefully.


The chemical analyzers “smell” prey by recognizing airborne molecules.  If the concentration present on the left tongue tip is higher than that sampled from the right, it tells the Komodo that the prey is approaching from the left. This system, along with an undulatory walk in which the head swings from side to side, helps the dragon sense the existence and direction of odoriferous carrion from as far away as 2.5 miles (4 km), when the wind is right.


Varanus komodoensis Komodo
Open Wide! A captive Komodo showing off his clean mouth during an afternoon yawn in the sun

 


Komodo dragons are actually very clean animals.  After they are done feeding, they will spend 10 to 15 minutes lip-licking and rubbing their head in the leaves to clean their mouth. The inside of their mouth is also kept extremely clean by the tongue. ~Professor Bryan Fry, Associate professor from The University of Queensland


The Komodo dragon isn't a filthy, bacteria laden creature, as people believe. They are clean animals that are highly intelligent.
The Komodo dragon isn’t a filthy, bacteria-laden creature. They are clean animals that are highly intelligent.


Komodo Dragon

Scientific Name: Varanus komodoensis

Fast Facts:  

  • Thekomodo dragon is the world’s largest lizard.

    Komodos have a rough, durable skin reinforced with osteoderms (bony plates) protecting them from injuries from scratches and bites.
    Komodos have a rough, durable skin reinforced with osteoderms (bony plates) protecting them from injuries from scratches and bites.
  • They are classified as Vulnerable by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), But with only 3,000 to 5,000 left in the wild the latest data suggests they are endangered.
  • Komodos are native to a few volcanic Indonesian islands of the Lesser Sunda group including Komodo, Rintja, Padar, and Flores. The largest island is only 22 miles (35 km) long.
  • Komodos are called the ora, or “land crocodile” by locals
  • For centuries, a local tradition required feeding the dragons. Hunters would leave deer parts behind after a hunt, or sacrifice goats. In the past, the practice maintained a friendly relationship with the animals. Ancient customsstrictlyforbidharmingthekomodos, which is why they survived on their native islands and became extinct elsewhere.

    Kadar and Kali, our breeding pair, mating on exhibit at the Audubon Zoo
    Kadar and Kali, our breeding pair, mating on exhibit at the Audubon Zoo
  • Female Komodo dragons have been known to give birth without ever mating with a male dragon. Some call these “virgin births” but it’s actually parthenogenesis.
  • They are one of the most intelligent reptiles! They can distinguish between their different keepers in a zoo, by voices and different clothing worn by their keepers. Locals on the islands also say that the dragons know who’s who!
  • Their vision and sense of smell are highly sophisticated.
  • The largest verified specimen reached a length of 10.3 feet (3.13 m) and weighed 366 pounds (166 kg)
  • Komodos have about 60 teeth. Teeth grow back quickly if when they lose any.
  • They use their teeth to cut their prey into sections, and then swallow without chewing.

    When raised in captivity alongside humans, Komodos have been known to be quite docile and curious lizards
    When raised in captivity alongside humans, Komodos have been known to be quite docile and curious lizards
  • They rarely drink water. They prefer to get their fluids from the food they eat.
  • They can consume up to 80 percent of their body weight in one sitting.
  • They will a variety of prey including snakes, other lizards, young komodos, fish, eggs, carrion, deer, pigs, goats, dogs, horses and water buffalo.
  • They prefer to hunt as an ambush predator; they lay in wait, then surprise their prey. Chomp!
  • When hunting large prey, he/she attacks the feet first, knocking the animal off balance. When hunting smaller prey, h/she usually lunges straight for the neck.
  • They are extremely fast for a lizard of their size. In short bursts, they can reach speeds of 12 miles per hour.
  • JuvenileKomodos are very agile climbers. They live a more terrestrial life (in trees)untiltheyarefully-grown and able to protectthemselvesfromotheradultKomodos on the ground.

     Komodo dragons hatched in AZA zoos  are giving a small boost to their endangered population.
    Komodo dragons hatched in AZA zoos are giving a small boost to their endangered population.
  • Komodos can throw up the contents of their stomachs when threatened to reduce their weight in order to flee.
  • Large mammal carnivores (lions, tigers, etc.) tend to leave 25 to 30 percent of their kill unconsumed, (leaving the intestines, hide, skeleton, and hooves). Komodos eat much more efficiently; they only leave 12 percent of their prey. They eat bones, hooves, and the hide. They also eat intestines, but only after swinging them vigorously to scatter the feces from the meal.
  • Because large Komodos cannibalize young ones, the young komodos will roll in fecal matter which seems to be a scent that the larger dragons avoid.
  • Young dragons also have rituals of appeasement; the smallerlizardspacingaroundakomodo feeding circle in a ritualized walk.Theirtailis stuck straight out and they throw their body from side to side with exaggerated convulsions. This helps them to stay near the feeding circle without being attacked.

    Photo by National Geographic An adult Komodo dragon enjoys the view near Indonesia's Komodo village.
    Photo by National Geographic
    An adult Komodo dragon enjoys the view near Indonesia’s Komodo village.


  • Dragons may live up to 30 – 50 years in the wild, but scientists are still studying this.
  • Female Komodo Dragons live half as long as males on average, due to their physically demanding ‘housework’ (building huge nests and guarding eggs for up to six months).
  • Scientists have been searching for antibodies in Komodo blood in order to help save human lives.
  • Poaching, human encroachment, and natural disasters are its greatest threats.

The Denver, Phoenix and Memphis Zoo all successfully hatched Komodo dragons last year. Even the famous Betty White was excited!
The Denver, Phoenix and Memphis Zoo all successfully hatched Komodo dragons last year. Even the famous Betty White was excited! These hatchlings represent a joint conservation effort between zoos: the hatchlings will all go to different zoos for education and breeding purposes.


Recommended Reading for Lizard Lovers!

This book has the latest information on Komodo dragon biology, ecology, population distribution, and behavior.  It also includes a step-by-step management and conservation techniques, both for wild and captive dragons.  This model is a useful template for the conservation of other endangered species.
This book has the latest information on Komodo dragon biology, ecology, population distribution, and behavior. It also includes a step-by-step management and conservation techniques, both for wild and captive dragons. This model is a useful template for the conservation of other endangered species.


This blog is dedicated to you, Kadar.  Thank you for teaching me what reptiles are capable of, what exquisite and perfect creatures you are, and for teaching me more than I could have ever imagined.  You were loved and adored by so many.

dragon


Resources:

“Komodo Dragons, Biology and Conservation” by James B. Murphy, Claudio ciofi, Colomba de La Panouse, Trooper Walsh

http://www.uq.edu.au/news/article/2013/06/fear-of-komodo-dragon-bacteria-wrapped-myth

http://scienceblogs.com/notrocketscience/2009/05/18/venomous-komodo-dragons-kill-prey-with-wound-and-poison-tact/

http://nationalzoo.si.edu/animals/reptilesamphibians/facts/factsheets/komododragon.cfm


 

Pets are not iPads: Thinking Outside the Animal Gift Box

puppy-wearing-red-bowIf you are a last minute holiday shopper, you may be tempted to buy Christmas or New Year gifts for loved ones without doing your homework.  This time of year, parents and partners can be easily persuaded to get the most heart-warming gift of them all: a cute and cuddly new animal.  It may seem like the sweetest gift idea, but often it is not most responsible decision.

Animals are unlike any other present.  They require a level of commitment and responsibility that few other holiday gifts do.  Often because people fail to recognize this, countless dogs, cats, birds, and other animals given as gifts during the holidays end up at animal shelters shortly after the New Year, facing a very uncertain future.

An animal gifted as a present isn’t a Christmas Day gift, it is a life-long commitment.  Let’s be clear here.  It’s not a gift for your life, but their life.  Thinking of getting that teeny, tiny, adorable tortoise?  Are you ready to ensure its care for well over a hundred years?  Do you want a dazzling parrot?  You can plan on 60 to even 100 years of care.  Even aquatic turtles live over 30 years of age.  The average lifespan of a cat is 13 – 17 years.  A dog’s average lifespan is 10 to 13 years.  Are you ready to dedicate yourself to this animal for that long? Animals are not just pets.  They are family members for life.

Ask yourself another tough question.  Have you considered the extent of responsibility, time, care, expenses, education, commitment, and love that this one animal will require?  These responsibilities last far past Christmas day.  Take the time and do your homework on what exactly is involved by adding an animal companion to your lifestyle.

Let’s take dogs for example.  When you decide to bring home a new canine companion, please understand that you are making a commitment for the entirety of that dog’s life.  So many people that have the best intentions rush this very important and life-long decision.

The honest and informative graphic below from The Uncommon Dog should help you and your family decide if you are truly ready to welcome a dog into your home at Christmas Time.

christmas-doggie
Graphic provided by The Uncommon Dog

When the kids, wife, husband, or partner pleads for a new adorable pet, answer their request with a realistic question:  “Are you fully committed to this soul for its life?”  If either of you cannot answer with an unequivocal yes, then you might want to reconsider.

Parents, no matter how well intentioned your child may seem about caring for a new animal family member, the reality is that you will inevitably end up being the true caretaker of that animal.  Deciding to give your son or daughter that puppy or kitten that he or she has been asking for is really a decision made by the adult, to add another living, breathing, needing member of your family – for which you, the parent will be ultimately responsible.  It’s not quite the same, or as easy as investing in an iPad.

kitty gift
After the holidays are over, animal shelters are literally overwhelmed with discarded “Christmas pets”

If you decide that “gifting” an animal isn’t the best decision, consider these options as an alternative:

  • Joining Petfinder’s Foster a Lonely Pet for the holidays program. You can give a shelter dog or cat a much-needed break from the stress of shelter life.
  • Donating in-kind goods; many shelters need used blankets, sheets, and towels to make the animals more comfortable. They often need food, toys, and medical supplies. Call or check online to see your shelter’s “wish list” items.
  • Give a goat and two chickens. Through Animal World Vision, goats nourish hungry children and families with healthy milk, cheese, and yogurt
  • Make a donation to your local shelter or local humane society.
  • Start an animal food drive. This can be for an animal food bank in your community, or in conjunction with other charity drives that may be taking place through your work, house of worship, or other organization.
  • Volunteer at your local shelter. You can help by walking dogs, offer love, affection, and attention to cats, assist with adoption events, and many other ways that are much needed

Think outside the animal gift box. Find another creative, thoughtful way to show your love this season.

The excellence of a gift lies in its appropriateness rather than in its
value. ― Charles Dudley Warner