Thursday, December 13, 2012

Assistant Animal Keeper

One Friday morning, while I was cleaning the deer and turkey pasture, I had a little helper. The white-tailed deer (Odocoileus virginianus) doe in these pictures is a doe who was raised by a wildlife rehabilitator, an individual who has gone through education and training to be able to assist wildlife with special needs because of being orphaned or injured. After she was found as an orphan and had to be hand-raised, she wasn't able to be released to the wild. Because of this, she's very comfortable around us animal keepers. This, however, is not normal behavior. Most deer prefer to stay away from humans. Because this doe is so friendly and comfortable around humans, or imprinted, she has been in captivity all of her life. Deer in the wild should not be approached or expected to be calm around humans. They are still wild animals who can be quite capable of injuring a human should they feel scared or threatened. This is especially so at this time of the year when it's the breeding season, or what's called the "rut".
hmmm......what might this be?
There must be something good in here, I'm sure of it!

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

New ohhhhh-possum!

It's a lovely day out today, come on out and enjoy the sun! Today we are introducing a new opossum to the outdoor opossum exhibit. The new opossum is a young male that a rehabilitator raised because he was an orphan. He was put out on exhibit this morning for the first time and after such a busy morning, he decided it was time for a little nap.

Monday, December 3, 2012

Turkey struttin'

At the turkey pardoning a couple of weeks ago, I had the opportunity to experience the event from the other side of the fence. Another keeper and I tended to the turkeys before they went out to receive their pardoning from Mayor McKinley L. Price of Newport News.
The crowd gathers in anticipation.....
Turkeys await their debut....
Getting ready to put on a show......
Here we are! Ta-Da!

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Early morning fox

It's chilly out here! Here's a pic of the exhibit gray fox enjoying the sun. Stay warm this morning.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Are you ready to talk turkey?

We have 3 turkeys (Meleagris gallopavo) on exhibit here at the VLM.   All of them came from breeders around the area.  The 2 older turkeys, the male, called a Tom or a Gobbler, and the darker female,called a hen, came from a breeder over in Smithfield. They are both about 6 years old.  The lighter colored hen is a little younger and came from a breeder up in Chesterfield. She's about 2 years old.  Male turkeys are the ones to make the familiar gobbling noise. Females cannot gobble, they can only cluck. Turkeys nest from Mid-April to Mid-June here, the peak of nesting occurring around Mid-May. The male will mate with multiple females.  Hens will lay up to 16 eggs in a clutch and she will do so over a period of about a week or so.  Once all of the eggs have been laid, it takes about 28 days for them to hatch. After those 28 days, the young turkeys, called poults, will move out of the nesting area within a day of hatching. The young are precocial and are able to move around and forage for food with the hen after leaving the nest. Turkeys can live to be 12-15 years old in captivity, and typically only live in the wild for less than 10 years.

Turkeys have interesting features that stand out upon first glance. One of the first things people notice about turkeys are the red, fleshy stretches of skin and bulbous growths located around the head and neck region. These structures are the:
  • Caruncle-fleshy bumps on the head and neck
  • Snood-long flap of flesh that hangs over the beak
  • Wattle-red skin that hangs from the neck
The skin that is seen on the throat and head changes color from a flat gray, to shades of red, white, or blue, depending on how the bird is reacting to it's environment.  The color changes of the skin happen when the bird is distressed or excited or nervous.
Another prominent and noticeable feature of the turkey is its plumage. An abundance of feathers covers the breast, wings, back, body and tail of the bird. Male turkeys also have what is called a beard located in the chest area. Upon sight, the beard appears to be hair, but is actually a mass of thin feathers. It grows from the chest below the neck and consists of black feathers that resemble long coarse hairs. The beard grows longer with age. Hens may occasionally have beards, although they are typically not as well developed as the ones seen on the males. 

Male turkeys have sharp, bony, spike-like projections on their legs called spurs, which can be quite sharp and are used for fighting. I've known of some hens that will actually have small spurs too, but that's not as commonly seen as it is within the males.

They have fewer taste buds than mammals and it is believed they can taste salt, sweet, acid and bitter tastes. Turkeys also have a poor sense of smell as the region of the brain that controls the sense of smell is relatively small.

Turkeys have great hearing, but no external ears. They can also see in color, and have excellent visual acuity and a wide field of vision, about 270 degrees, which makes sneaking up on them difficult.

Turkeys are able to adapt to a wide variety of habitats. However, most turkeys are found in hardwood forests with grassy areas.

A spooked turkey can run at speeds up to 20 miles per hour. They can also burst into flight approaching speeds between 50-55 mph in a matter of seconds. Wild turkeys, since they are a little smaller than domestic turkeys,  have the ability to fly, while domesticated turkeys do not.  Because domesticated turkeys have been bred to have heavier breast meat, this limits their flight ability.

At one time, the turkey and the bald eagle were each considered as the national symbol of America.  Benjamin Franklin argued passionately on behalf of the turkey. Franklin felt the turkey, although "vain and silly", was a better choice than the bald eagle,whom he felt was "a coward".

The ballroom dance known as the Turkey Trot was named for the short, jerky steps a turkey makes.

Turkeys are the only breed of poultry native to the Western Hemisphere.  For more information click here:
The first unofficial presidential pardons were granted to domestic turkeys in1947, and since then every president has “pardoned” two birds (a presidential turkey and a vice presidential turkey) before Thanksgiving. Each Thanksgiving, the President “pardons” a hand-selected turkey, sparing the bird from someone’s dinner table and ensuring the rest of its days are spent roaming on a farm, doing whatever it is turkeys love to do.

If you would like to see the turkeys up close, please come to the VLM and enjoy a turkey pardoning event that will occur the day before Thanksgiving.  The mayor of Newport News is coming to the Museum on the morning of November 21 to participate in a symbolic ceremony to pardon our turkeys. Please check the Virginia Living Museum's website for more information about the event. Gobble, Gobble, Gobble!

Tuesday, November 13, 2012're doing it right

The other day, I was cleaning out the pond at the coyote exhibit and found a critter that doesn't normally stay in the coyote pond for a long period of time. Take a look at the pictures below and see if you can see what I saw.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Whooo are you? Hoo, Hoo, hoo, hoo?

Whoooo, are you? Hoo Hoo, hoo, hoo?

The other night I was out in the woods and I heard a faint hoo, hooo....hoooo! I listened for awhile and I heard an answering hooo, hooo!  This is the time of year when Great Horned owls start advertising their territory in preparation for courtship and nesting.  The ones that are heard most often at this time of the year are males setting up their territory for attracting a female.
In our area, we have a few different owls, three of the most common owls that are spotted around here are the Great Horned Owl(Bubo virginianus), the Barred Owl (Strix varia), and the Eastern Screech-Owl (Otus asio).   The Great Horned Owl is typically somewhere around 22 inches long and is one of our most voracious predators. They will capture many different prey items, from insects, to skunks, to great blue herons.  They may also take smaller owls as their prey as well.The bird is a mottled brown and tan color and has large wide-spaced ear tufts, a white throat that sometimes forms a thin V down the chest, and bright yellow eyes. Male great horned's tend to be a bit smaller than the females. That's really the only way to tell them apart, should you be fortunate enough to see them side by side in the wild. One sign that these owls are in an area is that crows will often mob the owl, and their long drawn-out caws are an indication of the presence of this owl as it roosts in the trees during the day.  If the owl gets annoyed by the mobbing of the crows, it will often change it's location until the crows move off. This is another way to listen to find out if owls are in the area.

At the museum, we have 2 program owls. Perhaps if you visit the museum, you might just see one of the educators taking a great horned owl out for a stroll.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Zoom-a-zoom and hippity hop!

All during the month of October, The Living Museum has been having a walk-a-thon to assist with flood relief efforts since the big flood that came through and produced much damage in August.  This Saturday, October 27, there is going to be an event called "Race to the Finish". It's a big race between the tortoise and the hare, VLM style. Who will win? You might be surprised by this race. Come out and root for your favorite critter and see who wins! For more information about the "Race to the Finish" and VLM flood relief efforts, please visit the Museum's website.  Who will it be, The Tortoise or The Hare?

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Crisp fall weather

Since the weather has been so nice and cool and not so very humid, here's a lovely picture of our female red fox enjoying some autumnal flare from last year. Enjoy the nice weather :)

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Bobcat playtime!

All of the animals here at The Virginia Living Museum are here because they are unable to survive in the wild.  For various reasons, they have been determined to be non-releasable.  Because of this, in order for them to be content as captive ambassadors for their wild counterparts, we spend a good amount of time creating enrichment activities to keep them engaged in a somewhat normal activity.  Enrichment is a process in which we research and think up activities for the animals that recreate experiences they would encounter if they were in the wild.  Enrichment can come in several forms.  It can be something that would encourage the animal to search around in it's home for a "prey" or food item as if they were hunting.  It can be an extra food treat placed in the exhibit when they are let out for the day or it can be an item that we toss into the exhibit for them to "hunt" down and enjoy.  Even though we have been seen placing items in the exhibits from the boardwalk, this is not something that just any random visitor should do on their own.  The items that we choose to place in the exhibits have been researched and picked out because they are safe for the animals.  Most items would typically be something the animal would be able to find in their natural environment or if an item is "unnatural" looking, it's picked out specifically by the keepers after doing research and consulting with other keepers to make certain the item isn't going to be harmful to the animal.  One of the most interesting activities we have come up with is referred to as "Scent" enrichment.  Often, we will pick out different types of scents to see if the animals respond to the scent by rubbing against it, or rolling in it, or just sniffing it. It might be a scent such as cinnamon, vanilla, basil or oregano, or maybe even catnip.   Even though this is a simple form of enrichment, in the end, it's something different in the animal's environment and it gives the animal a moment to pause and experience something that is unusual from the everyday exhibit.  One of our most popular scent enrichment items is a very strong men's body spray. Many of the animals are attracted to the scent and will come over to investigate.  The bobcat is one of the most intense investigators when this body spray is sprayed in various areas throughout  her exhibit.  She will often sniff the area that has been sprayed and will immediately start to roll in the scent.  Next, she will rub her head all over the feature in the exhibit that has the body spray on it and then she will sometimes grab the leaves or hay in her paws off of whatever substrate the spray has been placed upon and pull it in close for a better whiff.


Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Heron gone and back again!

This past summer, during one of the storms that came through, one of our Black Crowned Night Heron Chicks had to be pulled out for some extra care after he fell out of one of the trees in our outdoor coastal plains aviary. Animal care staff found the little guy and brought him into one of our indoor animal areas for a few days worth of care so he could be returned to the exhibit to live with his family out in the exhibit. I'm happy to report that he's been returned to the exhibit and is adjusting very well. He's able to move around the exhibit without any effort and he's enjoying spending time with his bird family.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

A little squirrelly in the hedge

Hey everyone! It's been a bit but I'm back to posting. Have been away from the Museum for a few days. Wow, it's hard to believe that September is here! What a summer it has been. So much going on this year, whew. Remember that even though autumn is on its way, there may still be a few baby animals that might make an appearance. This month is often a time for baby squirrels to come out of their nests to explore and get ready for the winter. There may be an occasion where a squirrel is found out of its nest, and this is part of growing up. Sometimes babies will begin to explore their surroundings and may be nervous or scared and disoriented. If you come across a baby squirrel, it's best to try to leave it out there for mama squirrel to come back. Often, mama has been away getting herself ready for the winter and will occasionally leave the youngsters alone for periods of time while she forages. Much of the time, if the youngster is fussing, mom will hear her baby fussing and will come back after a little while and carry the fussy youngster back to the nest. Squirrels sometimes nest in multiple places and will move their young to different locations as well. It's okay to leave them alone for a bit and eventually mom will return. If for some reason the baby is definitely thought to be abandoned, please call the VLM's animal care line for further advice. But please remember, it may take a little while for the mother to come back and she won't necessarily come back if there's very large and scary invader in her territory. So leave the scene for awhile and come back to check on them later. Most likely, you will find that mom has come back and rescued the baby while you were away from the scene.

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Opossum Spa Day

One of our program opossums has some issues with her skin. Because of this, every so often she has to have a ketochlor bath to improve her skin condition. She doesn't seem to mind too much, thank goodness.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Wolf in the den

This morning I was cleaning the bobcat's den and I found a house guest who was staying with the bobcat. During the warmer weather, giant wolf spiders will seek out cool shady areas to get away from the heat. Wolf spiders are so called because they actively hunt and pounce on their prey, rather than building a web. They are actually quite beneficial to have around as they prey upon smaller types of insects and spiders. They are some of the largest spiders that are found in our area. Although they may look impressive and scary, they tend to be rather shy and would prefer to run away than attack any would-be prowlers. These spiders are not very aggressive at all. Any spider that's provoked or disturbed can bite, so it's best not to try to pick them up or grab them. Quietly observe one of the most impressive spiders and leave them to their own devices, and eventually they will creep away to the dark recesses of safety and refuge in the heat.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Shower time!

On really warm days, we will occasionally run sprinklers to help keep the critters cool in the heat and humidity. Here, 2 of our does are checking out the sprinkler I set up outside their exhibit. Splish splash!

Friday, June 8, 2012

Return of the 'Coons

A couple of days ago, the raccoons were returned to their exhibit after some minor flooding during one of the recent storms. Often, when these strong storms come through our area, the raccoons are pulled from their exhibit because it's so close to the lake. We are slowly recovering from the big flash flood from a few weeks ago that was such a surprise. If interested in helping out in recovery efforts, take a look on our home page for more information.
Trying out the tasty treats given after the return to the exhibit.
Look! It's home :)
One of our keepers unlocks the portal to the return home
Time to explore

Saturday, June 2, 2012


Yesterday, when I was feeding the birds in our mountain cove habitarium, I was greeted by one of our residents.
This mourning dove came to us from someone locally who needed to place him because he was imprinted. He's very fond of supervising us when we're taking care of the birds. :)

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Oh, Deer! Don't fawn over me...

In addition to baby birds leaving the nest, this is also the time of year that deer fawns are being born. Every once in awhile we will get a call about an "orphaned" deer fawn.  Mother deer will stay away from her fawn for most of the day, only coming back at dawn and dusk to feed the youngster. When a fawn is born, it actually doesn't have a scent for about a week after it's born. Mom also stays away from where the fawn rests in order to keep predators and danger away   Sometimes when people take a nature walk at this time of the year, they may encounter a fawn, lying quietly in a patch of grass or woods.  The spots on the fawn's coat help it to blend into it's surroundings to minimize the danger of being spotted.  The best thing to do is just observe quietly and leave the area.  It's best not to disturb the baby.  Eventually mom will come back to check on her fawn and feed it. She is probably somewhere nearby but not right where the fawn is located. There is a wonderful book called" Lost in the Woods: A Photographic Fantasy" by  Carl R.Sams II and Jean Stoick that tells the story of a young fawn who is seemingly lost, but is not.  All of the animals who are around the fawn are afraid that he has been lost from his mother, but in the end she comes to take care of her baby. It's a great story to read to children about how wild animals take care of their young.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Orphaned? (Most Likely) not...

At this time of the year, many baby animals are beginning to explore the world around them. Up until now, many have been safe in the nest while their parents come and go, much like human parents do as their children grow. Mom and dad or a guardian will go about daily business while the youngsters start to learn skills for becoming adults. In the animal world, it's not uncommon for parents to leave their babies unattended for periods of time while they go out to forage for a quick meal, or just spend time away to keep would be predators from raiding a nest. Eventually the youngsters will leave the nest to start exploring the big world outside. For young birds, there is a necessary period of growth called the "fledgling" stage. This is a time when they are out of the nest and on the ground on purpose to start to learn about becoming a successful adult. They can't quite fly because all of the feathers they need for full flight aren't all there yet. They are usually on the ground hopping around and seem to be injured, but in reality, they aren't. Mom and dad will still come around to check on them occasionally and feed them after they have foraged around for a meal for the fledgling. Often, well meaning individuals will remove the baby bird from it's habitat thinking it's orphaned, but in reality,it is not. If these young birds are picked up and taken away, more than likely mom and dad were hiding in a tree or bush nearby watching what was going on, but were too timid to come out. After all, a big human, even a child-sized human, is quite scary. It's often in the baby's best interest to stay out in the wild where mom and dad can teach it the skills it needs to survive to become a successful adult. Mom and dad will bring the right types of foods and help the baby explore the surroundings of the nesting area. Even though there may be a threat of a wandering cat or dog, or even a curious young person, these babies have a better chance of survival if they left alone so the parents can continue the rearing process. In the case of would be invaders, try to keep the household pets and curious children away from the baby for a bit. In a few days, the young bird will most likely have moved on and your family's normal activities, pets and otherwise, in the yard can resume. The babies on the ground are very much like a human's teenage son or daughter. If you come across a young bird that can't quite fly, it's probably a fledgling and will continue to explore and grow with the guidance of it's parents if left alone. If the baby happens to be in an unfavorable location such as a road or sidewalk, it's perfectly acceptable to scoop up the wayward youngster in your hands and place it out of harm's way in the vicinity where it was found. Birds don't really have a great sense of smell, so by a human touching it to help, that won't discourage the parent from coming down to tend to the youngster after the "threat" of a giant human "predator" has moved on away from the baby. Don't be surprised if when the baby is picked up, there is a commotion nearby as the parents scold from above. Enjoy the moment you took to help the young bird to become an adult by returning it to it's natural habitat where the parents can teach it to grow up successfully.

Monday, May 7, 2012

New opossums (somewhat) on exhibit

Fairly recently, the VLM acquired some young opossums from a rehabilitator in Georgia who were nonreleasable orphans. The 2 girls have been out on display and enjoying exploring their new surroundings. Each day in the morning they are put out on exhibit and seem to enjoying moving about and checking out the visitors. They are very entertaining and seem to enjoy playing chase and one of them will occasionally gather nesting material in her tail to carry back to the sleeping log. They are sisters, both about 1 1/2 years old. This is actually getting up there in age for opossums since opossums only seem to have a lifespan of 1 year in the wild. They can live up to 5 years in captivity, but 3 years is about average for an opossum. On a nice day, come by the VLM to see the "new" exhibit opossums. Hope to see you there sometime soon.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

VLM Critter Corner: Hello Critter Friends!

VLM Critter Corner: Hello Critter Friends!: Since spring is a new beginning and as this is a new beginning, I’m starting a little blog here to tell folks about what sorts of activiti...

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Hello Critter Friends!

Since spring is a new beginning and as this is a new beginning, I’m starting a little blog here to tell folks about what sorts of activities and events are going on in the world of the VLM critters and their keepers. My name is Grant Gregory and I’m the senior animal keeper here at the VLM. I'm hopefully going to be writing stories, telling tales, and giving little tidbits of information about the wild furry and feathery neighbors who live in our neighborhoods or who live here at the VLM. Many of our critters have come to us from local wildlife rehabilitators who have raised orphans and have determined that they are non-releasable for one reason or another. Sometimes our residents come from other facilities, or have been born or hatched in captivity. For each critter that comes to the VLM in one way or another, we try our best to give them a home when they cannot be in the wild for various reasons. We appreciate all the support we have from the community, our volunteers, our members and their families, our friends, and other concerned citizens who support the VLM in many ways. I hope that my little corner of information will be informative and entertaining to anyone who takes a moment to check it out.