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Woman's love leads to new birds of prey exhibit at Texas Zoo

By Gheni_Platenburg
Oct. 17, 2011 at 5:17 a.m.

Avelyn, Brandy and Marina Vrana watch owls and hawks at the new Birds of Prey exhibit at the Texas Zoo.


Scientific name: Buteo jamaicensis.

Sizes: Length is 17 to 22 inches with an average of 19 inches. Wingspread, depending on the species, ranges from 43 to 56 inches. Weight ranges from 1.5 to 3.3 pounds, averaging 2.4 pounds.

Colors: Adults are typically dark brown and the immature ones are gray brown. TFive different species of hawks are in the United states and several more around the world. Their colors vary slightly. They have a quite noticeable shade of red on their tail end. A few species are black, but it is rare.

Habitat: Hawks are a common type of bird that can be found in every habitat in North America except in the high arctic and in extensive tracts of dense forests. The ones that live in the far north migrate south in autumn (when the cool days begin). They can get down all the way to Mexico and South America. They don't stay in the snow and ice. They return in the spring, which is the breeding season. Hawks live in both open and wooded areas, particularly wood edges. They are often seen perched conspicuously on a treetop.

Reproduction: Hawks start breeding when they are one year old. The breeding season is in the spring, and the eggs are laid six to eight weeks later. The mother keeps the eggs warm for about a month before they are born in the late spring. There are normally three eggs in a nestling. Weasels sometimes attack the nest, killing and/or eating the nestling.

Flight: Active flight is with slow, steady, and deep wing beats. Hawks soar with wings raised slightly above horizontal. They hover and kite on moderate wind.

Diet: While still young and living in the nest, hawks will eat worms and beetles. They will also eat frogs, mice and snakes. As they get older, hawks prey mainly on rodents but also on insects and their larvae, fish, and larger mammals such a rabbits, hares, and squirrels. They will also eat carrion.



Scientific name: Buteo albicaudatus

Size: White-tailed Hawks are about 2 feet long. If they spread them out, their wings would be about 4 ½ feet wide.

Colors: Their back is a dark gray with a patch of white on its wings. If you were to see it flying overhead, its underside would look white with tiny black lines. They have a white tail with a wide black edge on it.

Habitat: They live in the United States, Mexico, Central America, and South America in desert areas, open country and prairies.

Reproduction: The female lays between 1 and 4 white eggs once a year. The eggs hatch in a month. They build their nests are made of sticks and twigs on a low spot of the tree.

Diet: They hunt during the day. They like to eat rabbits, grasshoppers, insects, and mice. They sometimes eat dead things.

What are their problems? Habitat loss and pesticides have caused problems for the white-tailed hawk.

Interesting facts: They reuse their nests each year.




SIZE: Body length of 16-24 inches, a 3 1/2 foot wingspan, and weighs 1 1/2 to 2 pounds.

HABITAT: Typical Barred Owl habitat consists of forests with some mature trees near open country. The historic range encompassed the eastern half of the United States, but recently the owl's range is expanding into western North America.

DIET: Barred owls are opportunistic foragers and they eat a wide variety of prey. Rodents make up the bulk of the owl's diet, but they will also prey upon opossums, rabbits, weasels, bats, birds, reptiles, amphibians, fish, crayfish, and insects. Barred owls swoop onto their prey from a perch or while hovering, or will wade into shallow water to snatch prey.

REPRODUCTION: Barred Owls do not migrate and will defend their nest territories throughout the year. They prefer cavities in trees, but on occasion will use open nests built by crows, ravens, hawks, or squirrels. The female lays 2 - 4 eggs that are incubated for 28 - 32 days. The young owls fledge at 6 weeks, but may not become completely independent of their parents for several months.

INTERESTING FACTS: The Barred Owl is a vocal bird and it can utter a wide variety of vocalizations from hoots to screams, and barks to laughter. Its most distinctive call sounds similar to "Who cooks for you, who cooks for you all." As the barred owl moves into the Pacific Northwest, it is breeding with its close relative, the spotted owl, to form hybrid birds.



SCIENTIFIC NAME: Bubo Virginianus

SIZE: The great horned owl has a body length of 18 - 25 inches, a wingspan up to 5 feet, and weighs 2 - 5 pounds.

HABITAT: Great horned owls are found in a wide variety of wooded habitats, including forests, swamps, deserts, rocky areas, farmland, and urban areas from sea level to 12,000 feet, throughout much of North and South America.

DIET: This owl eats a variety of small to medium mammals, birds, amphibians, reptiles, fish, insects, and occasionally carrion if other food is scarce. Great horned owls hunt at dusk and during the night from a perch, while flying low over the ground, walking on the ground, or wading into water.

REPRODUCTION: Great horned owls nest in other birds' stick nests, natural tree hollows, man-made platforms, or on cliff ledges or cave entrances. The female usually lays 1-3 eggs that are incubated for 26-35 days. The young birds start to wander away from the nest in six-seven weeks, but don't fully learn to fly until about 10-12 weeks of age. The fledglings are tended by the parents for up to five months. This owl typically matures in two years.

INTERESTING FACTS: The great horned owl is referred to as "the tiger of the sky" because of its fierce nature and ability to capture a variety of prey that may be larger or heavier than the owl. The great horned owl is one of the few species that occasionally preys on skunks. In humid habitats, the plumage of this owl tends to be darker brown, whereas in arid areas the great horned owl may be lighter in color. This is a typical plumage color trend in many animals.


Annette Rohde always had a love for animals.

As a pre-teen, she began riding horses. As an adult, she raised Australian shepherd dogs, showed Arabian horses and took care of raccoons and box turtles.

Even when she was diagnosed with brain cancer in March 2010, the longtime Inez resident continued to express her love for animals by adopting a couple of red-footed tortoises to accompany her in her battle against cancer.

"She had gotten sick and wanted an animal she could have close to her," said Jennifer Jackson, Rohde's daughter. "She was eating a lot of organic food, and she could feed them the scraps."

After she passed away from complications related to her illness in November 2010, her family chose to memorialize her legacy by asking that in lieu of flowers, donations should be made to the Texas Zoo, where Rohde visited frequently with her granddaughter.

"It fit perfectly," said Jackson, 34. "It was something my mom loved."

The donations were put toward the creation of a new and improved birds of prey exhibit, which opened to the public on Sept. 27.

The estimated $3,000 exhibit was funded by $2,400 in donations made to Rohde's memorial fund and donations made by Rohde's family.

Groundbreaking on the exhibit took place in June.

"There's no way we could have done this without their funding," said Andrea Blomberg, executive director of the Texas Zoo. "It's heartwarming to have someone give to the zoo in memory of someone. It also speaks about how much she touched this community. It says a lot about the woman."

Situated in the front part of the zoo directly in front of the tiger exhibit, the renovated birds of prey exhibit, which was built by zoo staff and community service workers, is home to a red-tailed hawk, a white-tailed hawk, two great horned owls and two barred owls, all of whom are considered threatened species by the International Union for Conservation of Nature.

The structure, which was designed to provide the birds with more room to exercise and provide the public with a better view of the birds, features longer cages for the birds and a sidewalk that runs though the middle of the cages to provide zoo-goers with an up-close look at the exhibit's inhabitants.

Careful inspection of the exhibit reveals that much time and thought was put into designing the exhibit to meet each of the rehabbed birds' individual needs.

Because Cherokee, the red-tailed hawk who is missing part of a wing, can fly for only short spurts, her cage is filled with short tree branches that provide her with an opportunity to fly from branch to branch.

Meanwhile, Vincent, the white-tailed hawk who is also missing a part of his wing, is unable to fly at all, so his exhibit is filled with long, full-length tree branches that provide him access to walk throughout his entire cage without ever having to lift a wing.

The detailed attention to the rehabbed birds' cages is something Rhodes, an avid animal rehabber who once rescued and nursed a red-tailed hawk back to health, would have likely appreciated.

Plans are under way to construct birdhouses within the cages to provide the birds with protection from the elements and to affix a formal plaque to the exhibit to commemorate Rohde.

The new location of the exhibit, as well as the keeper chats, have proved helpful in educating the public about the importance of birds of prey, said Michael Magaw, animal curator at the Texas Zoo.

"You would never see these animals up close in the wild," said Magaw, as he described the important role the birds play in rodent and snake control. "By being here at the Texas Zoo, they serve as ambassadors to their species so that people can learn about them and appreciate them so much more."

Although the birds are diurnal, Magaw suggested zoo visitors try to visit the birds during morning hours.

So far, the exhibit has received rave reviews.

"I liked it," said Brandy Vrana, 34, of Victoria. "I like the sidewalk. It really brings you right up to it."

Vrana's daughters, 4-year-old Marina and 2-year-old Avelyn, oohed and aahed as they pointed at the owls.

The exhibit also caught the attention of Aaron Lopez, who was at the zoo to complete community service.

"I like it. It's neat and professional," said Lopez, 20, of Victoria. "The zoo looks nice nowadays."

Other upcoming changes to the zoo include building of an inverted bird gazebo, a new aviary that will allow guests to feed birds using sticks, a renovated animal kingdom building and an expansion of the lion exhibit.

"This is another step toward supporting our mission of conservation through education," said Blomberg.



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