Monday, November 25, 2013


A doe and one of the turkeys enjoy an early morning snack
Hello, Fine feathered friends! This Wednesday is the 4th Annual turkey pardoning ceremony.  The weather forecast is calling for fowl weather, but hopefully that won't fowl things up to badly.  The ceremony will occur rain or shine, but activities may be moved inside depending on what the weather is doing that day.  Come start your Holiday season a little early and visit our fine feathered fowl.  According the website,, here are a number of explanations for the origin of the name of Thanksgiving's favorite dinner guest. Some believe Christopher Columbus thought that the land he discovered was connected to India, and believed the bird he discovered (the turkey) was a type of peacock. He therefore called it 'tuka,' which is 'peacock' in Tamil, an Indian language.
Though the turkey is actually a type of pheasant, one can't blame the explorer for trying.
The Native American name for turkey is 'firkee'; some say this is how turkeys got their name. Simple facts, however, sometimes produce the best answers—when a turkey is scared, it makes a "turk, turk, turk" noise.

If you are willing to brave the elements, come over to the VLM for the annual turkey pardoning ceremony. We hope to see you there.

Come see the turkeys!

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Can you spot the raccoon?

This morning, while out on the boardwalk, our female raccoon was taking refuge from the rain showers up in one of the trees in the exhibit. She's checking out her surroundings to see what's going on. Can you spot the 'coon in the tree?

Female raccoon nestles on the tree branch amongst the autumn color

Friday, November 1, 2013

Wood Ducks!

Around the middle of  July, the coastal plains aviary became home to 2 families of wood ducks.  The ducks came to us from a breeding facility down near the North Carolina border. Both families are doing quite well.  In both batches of wood ducks, there are a few young birds that look a bit different from the usual colors you see in the wood duck population.  They are a lighter variation that has a grayish silver appearance. They are very unusual and unique looking birds.

The first indication that the wood ducks were actively brooding a batch of babies was that we noticed the female wood ducks coming and going quite frequently from the nesting boxes that were donated by Wild Birds Unlimited and placed in our coastal plains aviary for the ducks to use should they want to raise some little ones:
Mama duck peeking out of the nesting box. Photo: Karl Rebenstorf
Once we were certain that there were eggs in the nesting box, we kept monitoring each day to see what was in store for our expectant duck parents:

Inside the nesting box, all was nice and cozy. Photo: Karl Rebenstorf
After the ducklings hatched, we kept them in an area behind the scenes for a bit so they could grow a little more before going out on exhibit with all of the other birds on display.
This is the setup for keeping the young ducks and their mother in preparation for going on exhibit when the babies got a bit older
After awhile, once mom and the ducklings were doing well, we returned them to the exhibit to be on display for the visitors to enjoy. As mentioned earlier, these ducklings show a bit of genetic diversity not commonly seen in the wild populations. They are a striking silvery color, and are very noticeable out in the exhibit.   

Genetic diversity can be found in some populations of wood ducks
These young ducks are currently on display in the coastal plains aviary for visitors to see how unusually unique these birds are.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Shoo Fly! Don't bother ME!

During the warmer days and months, the red wolves often have fly strikes on their ears.  Because of this, we often place fly cream on the tips of their ears.  The two younger wolves are familiar with the procedure and don't seem to mind us working with them to cover the tips of their ears to relieve some of the discomfort the flies create.   They actually seem to enjoy the whole process.  I recently assisted in placing fly cream on the ears of the 2 younger red wolves that we have on display here at the Virginia Living Museum.  First, we set up the supplies so that we can access the items we need to place the cream on their ears. We have a paddle that has been created specifically for this purpose. The paddle is a large tongue depressor taped to a long dowel rod. On the paddle, we will place the fly cream in such a way that we can easily put it on their ears. 

Pink fly cream is placed on the end of the paddle in preparation for putting it on their ears.

Once we've gotten the fly cream and applicator set up, we go into the enclosure with the young wolves and confine them to the den while we apply the fly cream. Fortunately, they are very cooperative during this procedure.

This young wolf waits patiently while the fly cream is placed on his ears

a closer look reveals how the cream looks on the ears

Once the cream has been placed on the ears, we exit the holding area and get ready to let the young wolf out on exhibit with his new colorful look: 
getting ready to go
After the application process, the wolf goes out for the day to the exhibit. Although the fly cream may look a little odd, it helps to keep the ears covered and protected from the pesky flies.We will put fly cream on the wolves' ears a few times each week during the warm summer months.  During the cooler weather, the flies are not as active, so we don't need to place the fly cream quite as often. 

Time to play!

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Where did the summer go?

Hello folks,

Well, what happened to summer? The time has gotten away from me, it's hard to believe that it's September! The owls are starting to call to establish territories, the leaves are beginning to change color, the days are getting shorter and the animals are beginning to prepare for the winter.  I've seen the squirrels gathering nuts, the wasps building one final nest before going dormant in cooler weather, birds are beginning to migrate south, and the deer are starting to get into their winter coats, as well as the other critters. The last time I posted was way back at the beginning of June. We've had a rather busy summer this year with lots of happenings.  One of the biggest events that occurred was that in July we had 2 batches of wood ducks hatch out in our aviary, and all seem to be doing well.    In a few weeks, some of the second batch of wood ducks will be transferred to another facility. We've been working on improving our enrichment and training programs for the animals as well as getting ready to undergo reaccreditation with the AZA.  So autumn looks to be a bit of a busy season too, but I do hope to be able to be more diligent in posting updates here on Critter Corner.  Until then, enjoy the cooler weather and I look forward to telling you more about the critters. 

Saturday, June 1, 2013

Killdee! Killdee! Killdeers!

Recently I was out at a friend's farm and had the experience of finding a killdeer's nest in her gravel driveway!

These cute little birds look a bit like a bird that would be found near the seashore. They tend to nest in the fields and as you can see, the eggs look very much like their surrounding. This protects them from potential predators since they aren't easily seen. But, if danger threatens, the killdeer has a reputation for putting on quite a show. She will run away from her nest to get you to chase her away from the nest. When she runs away,she will flop over on her side and look like an injured bird. She drops her wings, to make it look like her wings are broken in an attempt to get the threat to chase her rather than disturb her nest. Since the nest is relatively exposed and easy to find if you know where to look, this is her strategy to protect the future generation. 

So if you go out and about on a little nature walk, you may find yourself enjoying the show a killdeer will put on when you are near her nest. Enjoy the show, but try not to disturb the nest so future actors can put on a show! 

Monday, April 29, 2013

Lets have a hay day!

Every other week, we get a shipment of feed and hay and straw. The straw that we get is used for bedding in the animals' dens. It makes for a nice insulated bedding in the cold weather, is fairly affordable, and is easy to clean. The animals don't seem to mind it too much. They tend to snuggle down into their snug little beds and make a nest to sleep in for the night.

All the straw is loaded and ready to go out to the storage area in the turkey barn.

You and me and rain in the woods

Some days out on the trail are a bit soggy.  The rain doesn't seem to affect the critters too much, sometimes they even seem to like being out in a light rain. When early spring sneaks up on us, it always amazes me how quickly the trees green up and start getting their tender leaves, seeking the warmth of the earth and the sun.  Nature is almost magical in its transformation each year as we transition through the seasons, spring to summer, summer to fall, and fall to winter, winter to spring and so on.  Each season seems to have its own particular natural magic.  That being said, on one of the earliest days of the start of spring, I was able to catch the mood of the trail in the rain as I went about my early morning routine. For those of you who are familiar with the woods around the VLM, there is a small stream that runs through the forest in the middle section of the outdoor trail.  Here, I've taken a photo of the creek as it makes its way down to the lake:

Graceful leaves frame the rainy creek

When one of the more intense bands of rain was making its way through, I paused underneath the boardwalk beside the bobcat's exhibit to observe:

Boardwalk support crosses underneath the walkway
Here, the bobcat crouches underneath the trees to avoid the rain.  Can you see her?

 She's in there somewhere!
In the deer pasture, one of the does is staying under the gazebo. She's right beside one of the posts underneath the structure.

This is a nice place to rest
As the rain splashes down onto the trees, the bright green leaves start peeking out on the ends of their branches and frame the boardwalk and trail.

bright green and gray
A little bit later, as I was cleaning in the coyote building, another heavy downpour tumbled down from the sky! The golf cart I use to help with my routine is getting soaked.  Can you see the little robin that's hopping around looking for breakfast?

It's wet out there!
And finally, while inside the exhibit cleaning and picking up before the animals go out, I found a gorgeous little violet, one of the earliest flowers that is seen in springtime, that was kissed by the rain:

violet beauty
So even if it's raining outside, we are still here to take care of the animals and sometimes, even though it's very wet, it's really not all that bad, on occasion. 

Friday, April 19, 2013

It's Enriching!

This weekend, the VLM is hosting an Earth Day Celebration that includes an animal enrichment day.  There will be several chances to see the animals play and enjoy interactions with their keepers.  There will be many different critters out exercising in the new and improved animal playground.  Come see the critters climb over a gigantic animal friendly see-saw, or roll and dig in a sandbox and get covered with sand.  There's even a large wooden carved bear that an opossum enjoyed climbing up onto recently in the playground. Watch the otter interact with a plastic slide and sandbox on the shores of his swimming pond. Come out and see the animals play.

The raccoons have learned to paint with the assistance of our keepers
A pause to regroup for the next paw print
While at the festivities on animal enrichment day, you may see:

A bobcat in a box! Photo by Sarah Van Bavel

A Jolly Ball that the coyotes play with

The newly renovated animal playground

An opossum exploring the playground. Photo by Sarah Van Bavel

In addition to enjoying watching the animals, come and take a look at our local wildflowers and plants and take some home for your very own garden at home from the wild flower sale.  Kids! come check out the new playground that's just opened and climb onto a giant rope spider web, or explore the hobbit house. There will be various activities all around the museum's grounds so come and support your local Museums and learn about how to take care of mother earth. For more information check out the VLM website.

Monday, April 15, 2013

'Ello, mate!

Today, at the gray fox exhibit, there was a little visitor who was exploring the top of the fox's den. The pollen didn't seem to bother him one bit! Check him out:

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Spring has sprung and it's a time for new beginnings.  Since Easter is coming up this weekend, I though ya'll might enjoy some pictures of one of our program bunnies enjoying some love and attention from one of our keepers. This bunny is actually a domestic rabbit that has the coloring of a wild cottontail rabbit.  Wild cottontails do not do very well in captivity as they are high stress individuals.  Because of this, they aren't typically used in programs or kept in exhibits, so we have their domestic cousins who are willing to act as animal ambassadors for their wild cousins.
This bunny 's enjoying his beauty treatment  
After he's been brushed, he enjoys basking on the blanket that's been provided.

oh my, this feels quite nice!

As keepers, we try to enrich our animals' lives as much as possible. After being around the keepers, the animals get used to seeing us and having us take care of them.  However, they are still wild critters so that has to be respected as much as possible.  Although they may seem rather "tame", they can still have wild instincts that cause them to be stressed out.  So, as part of our job, we have to think about that on a daily basis and consider it when we are interacting with our critters.  Fortunately, most of the time, the animals don't mind us taking care of them.

After a grooming session, the bunny enjoys a treat of an oat bran biscuit back in his home.

So, Happy Springtime!

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Take care of the little critters who need us:

Time to get supplies! Taking care of a large group of native Virginia critters takes lots of shopping and cleaning. Each day we need to clean and feed and take care of the critters. This involves many activities, including trips to wholesale warehouses, grocery stores, or local feed stores.  In addition to gathering all those food supplies and goods, many hours are spent cleaning the areas where the animals stay. One of my favorite quotes from a keeper at a another facility : " Our quality of care is their quality of life" ( Meryle Nelson, keeper, Brookfield Zoo)

Tools of the trade for cleaning the wolf building

All loaded up and ready to go!

A trip to a local wholesale warehouse yields much needed supplies for cleaning and feeding the critters

Happy opossum on exhibit after housecleaning and breakfast

Thursday, February 28, 2013

Fun in the sun!

Yesterday was such a lovely day out on the trail.  It was nice to feel that spring may finally be on its way after all of these cold and damp days recently.  Because it was so nice out, Mr. Red Fox was in a very playful mood.  He found one of the fuzzy dog toys that we have placed out in the exhibit for him to play with whenever he wants to have a bit of fun.  It's part of the enrichment program that we have established for our animals on display.  Enrichment is an activity that encourages natural behavior within our collection's animals.  It can be anything from rearranging the exhibit, adding extra substrate into the exhibit, placing a new toy in the exhibit for the animals to interact with, or placing an unusual scent for them to sniff while on display.  Most animals need activities that would encourage their natural behavior since they have everything provided for them here at the Museum. Here, they have regular meals, a den to sleep in, and plenty of attention and love from the keepers.  Since they don't have the stresses of having to fend for themselves in the wild for various reasons, it's important that we provide activities for them to enjoy.


As you can see, Mr. Red Fox is enjoying some playtime with one of his doggy toys in the nice spring-like weather

Thursday, February 14, 2013

From Whence in the Woods did that Whinny Come?

Did you know the the VLM is home to a few non-releasable Eastern Screech Owls (Otus Asio)? This adorable little bird can be heard amongst the trees in the evening. The screech owl was given it's name because when it calls, amongst it's many vocalizations, it has a high pitched squeal, a tiny little whistle, and even a whinny like a horse.

various screech owl calls

Each morning when I come into work, I have the pleasure of hearing one of this little pint-sized birds "say hello" as I'm getting ready for my day.  The bird in a non-releasable red phase screech owl. Eastern Screech owls come in two color phases, one red and one gray, both of beautiful plumage.

The gray phase owl is on the left, and the red phase owl is on the right.



Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Will he or won't he?

It's feeling a lot like springtime out there today. This coming weekend, the VLM is having a groundhog's day celebration to answer the big question, will he or won't he? Will the groundhog see his shadow and scamper back into his burrow for 6 more weeks of winter? Or will he not see his shadow and stay out for the coming of spring? What will the answer to the question be? Come on out to the VLM for Groundhog Day celebrations,crafts, and special activities this Saturday. We look forward to seeing you here.

Peek-a-boo, I see you! The groundhog is watching the goings on outside of his exercise area.

He takes a hop off of a log perch

Come see what I do on Saturday!  I'd love to see you, come see me, won't  you?

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Critters in the snow:

Well, the weather has gotten a bit more wintry lately.  Last week, you may have noticed a bit of the white stuff on the ground.  I had a chance to snap a few pictures of some sights around the museum as well as some of my favorite critters playing in the snow (or not). 

Early sunrise over the lake looking out from the Wason Education Center

The sun casts shadows on the deck looking out from the red fox exhibit

The female coyote scampers through the snow

The bobcat strikes a pose.  Some of the staff were removing snow from the boardwalk when I took this picture.

What do you think of this snow?

And a few would rather sleep in....