Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Summer Stroll Along the Boardwalk with a Keeper

Hello, critter friends.  In case you aren't aware, starting in June there is a special behind-the-scenes tour called Walk with a Keeper.  This tour has been very popular the past few summers and it will return this year with a few minor changes.  Every Tuesday morning, at 8:15, if you are so inclined, you can meet up with one of our animal keepers and take an early morning stroll along our boardwalk and learn a little bit about how we take care of our critters when they are going out on exhibit for the day. During the tour, you will get a glimpse of life as an early morning keeper.  The tour takes you through some of the service areas behind the scenes where you will see various animals waking up to begin the day.  You'll get a chance to see the otter slip gracefully into the water and swim over to the shore by the observation deck, eagerly awaiting breakfast that you may get to feed as he smiles up at you, with an expectant look.  Or you may get to marvel at the size of the beavers up close as they awaken to greet the day.  Wander over to the aviary and enjoy the peaceful serenity of the lake early in the morning.  You may get to see some of the wild critters that share the Museum's grounds with our own critters.  Stop by the outdoor aviary to feed some pelicans and ducks, then head on out for some more early visits with our animals.

There you are! where's breakfast?
 At the red wolf exhibit, set up an early morning treat to feed to the red wolves.  It's kind of yucky, but the red wolves love their breakfast.

hmmm....wonder what's inside?

Ewwww! meat! Tasty, according to wolves

oh boy! I just got a treat :)

 After a visit with the red wolves, your professional animal keeper guide will take you over to the other side of the boardwalk. You may get to see the bobcat go out for the day while you observe an early morning training session.  Or maybe giggle at the turkey antics as he greets the day when they come out to explore the exhibit for the day.  Along the way, you may see many of  our animals out and active in the coolness of the early morning. Each Tuesday, the tour begins at 8:15.  The tour is NOT included with Museum admission.  If you decide you want to stay a little longer, tickets can be purchased after the keeper tour at the front desk to visit the Museum for the day.  Due to the nature of the tour and preparation needed for the tour, tickets can only be pre-purchased before the day before the tour.  There WILL NOT be a tour if there aren't any pre-purchased tickets.  The tickets may be purchased at the desk or on the website BEFORE you come.  If you come as a walk-in, and you want to take this particular tour, you will be asked to purchase a ticket for Walk with a Keeper for another time, or there is a behind-the-scenes tour later in the day, but it is not the Walk with a Keeper tour that is conducted on Tuesday mornings. You will get to see some of the behind-the-scenes areas, but the tour doesn't focus as much on the keeping aspect of taking care of our critters.  When you go on the Walk with a Keeper tour, you will be with a guide the whole time, and the tour lasts about 45 minutes.  The cost of the Walk with a Keeper tour is $10 for members or $12 for non-members.  The tour goes rain or shine. In the event of extreme weather, the tour may be altered to include some indoor areas.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Be EGG-cellent to your feathered friends and their youngsters.

A broken egg is a clue to the fact that a young bird has hatched
Hey there animal friends,
It's time for another post.  Wildlife questions and baby animal calls have been coming in quite a bit lately.  At this time of the year, many young animals are coming out of the protective embraces and nests of their parents to start exploring the big wide world and learn to become successful adults like mom and dad. We get many calls right now about baby birds that are on the ground and can't fly.  This is a normal stage of growth that these young ones need to accomplish to become a successful adult. Contrary to what you may think, these babies are not injured.  They are often pushed out of the nest or fall out of the nest on purpose so they can start to be on their own.  Believe it or not, the parent birds are still taking care of these wayward youngsters while they are learning to forage.  The parents will often go away and leave these little guys alone for periods of time.  The babies stay on the ground because their tail feathers haven't fully grown in and they need a little time to fill out.  Most of the time, they are perfectly alright if left alone and not picked up.  It's a crucial stage in a young bird's growth cycle and it has a better chance of survival if it's left in its parents' care.  Many well-meaning folks will pick up these youngsters thinking they are helping when really they may be doing more harm than good.  The situation could be called a "kidnapping" of sorts, if the young bird is picked up and removed from its surroundings. It's difficult to leave a cute little critter outside on the lawn when it's hopping around and calling out, but if you approach the baby, often mom and dad will be nearby watching what you are doing.  If you're pretty observant, and listen closely, you may see an upset parent hopping and fluttering around up in the trees or shrubs around the location of the baby. You will hear the parent bird above, calling and fussing quite aggressively, which is bird talk for "Oh no, a big and scary predator is near my baby and is going to hurt my baby, but I'm too nervous to come down....because the big and scary predator might get me too...."  The best and most helpful thing to do is to leave to young bird where it is if at all possible.  It's most likely not "orphaned" as you might think.  If there's a threat near by such as the neighbor's cat or dog, or even some inquisitive neighborhood children, it's alright to scoop up the baby and place it under cover of a nearby shrub, tree, or high grass.  When you do that, you may hear the parents scolding you, but they usually calm down once they know the baby is not going to be in danger.  A few birds are exceptions to staying up in the tree and fussing. They may decide to dive at you as you are interacting with the youngster, but they will often warn you before actually making contact with your head or body.  Some examples of these more aggressive parents might be Robins, Thrashers, Mockingbirds and Bluejays.  If they are super aggressive, a way to avoid feeling the wrath of the bill is to wear a hat or baseball cap while you are moving the baby.  Once the baby is moved out of harms' way,  mom and dad bird, as well as junior, will be much happier and less stressed if left alone. By leaving them alone and letting the parent birds do their job, we help them to become more strong and successful, because mom and dad bird can raise their babies to become healthy adults.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Some-bunny loves you:

With the coming of spring, it's time to remind folks about what to do if you happen to find baby wild animals.  Often, when you come across a nest of wildlings, be they feather or fur, it's best to leave them alone.  Out in the wild, wild mothers will leave their youngsters unattended for brief periods of time if they go off to forage.  Consider this: if they were able to build a nest without you necessarily knowing their secret hiding place, then they would probably prefer to try to raise the next generation without being disturbed. Some nests are very elaborate, intricately weaved with the finest talent and skill by a wild parent, or sometimes, the nests are merely a little scrape in the ground with a few blades of grass placed over the top of the scrape.  Such is the case with baby bunnies.  When folks are getting out in the yard for springtime cleanup, a nest of rabbits may very well be disturbed. If you find a nest of rabbits, there are usually 2 to 4 babies, curled up in a pile.  Do not be alarmed.  Mama bunny will leave her little ones all alone pretty much for the whole day and only come back to take care of the kids at dawn and dusk.  More than likely, mama bunny will not be seen too much throughout the day as she stays away from the nest to keep would-be predators away from her babies. If you do come across them and disturb them, quietly place them back where you found them, cover up with a bit of soft grass, and try to keep curious children and pets out of the vicinity if possible. A way to tell if the babies are being taken care of  is to put a soft string, or a couple of light twigs over top of the bunny nest and come back the next day to see if mama has moved them to take care of the babies.  You can also place a very light layer of unscented baby powder around the nest and look for paw prints as well. Hopefully you will be able to tell if mama has come back when no one is looking.  Another thing you may not know about baby bunnies, is that, believe it or not, they are on their own within a month.  If you catch a baby bunny that's about 4 inches long and has its eyes open and is out in the yard, it's pretty much on its own at that point.  Sometimes, if they are just right out of the nest for the first time, they will freeze in fear and not move.  This is a strategy of theirs to hide from you in plain sight.  Wild bunnies are very nervous creatures, and can become easily stressed out if handled and actually die of a heart attack, so it is best to NOT disturb them if at all possible.  After a while, if they are left alone they will most likely move on and keep to themselves, hiding in the softly wafting blades of grass watching from the safety of a little hidey hole in your yard. Next time, I will tell you about baby birds and what to do if you happen to find a young feathery friend hopping around in your yard, that's seemingly injured, but in all likelihood, is not truly injured.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Snow fun

Working as an animal keeper on a snowy day has its own unique challenges and rewards.  The animals still have to be taken care of even in bad weather, so animal keepers have to come in and take care of the animals when everything else has been shut down.  During a snow day, it can be very rewarding to see the animals enjoy playing in the snow.  Animals that particularly enjoy playing in the snow include the red wolves, the coyotes, the bobcat, and the otter.  Many of the other animals would prefer to hunker down and wait out the invasion of  the cold wet stuff.  The red foxes will curl up in a ball, often with their tails tucked over their noses like a scarf.

Here, Mr. Red Fox looks up to see what is going on around his home

Lovely lady red fox looks out over her enclosure

The eagles don't seem to be concerned about the fact that there's snow in their enclosure.  They are looking out over the boardwalk to keep an eye on what is going on while the Museum's boardwalk is being cleared of the blanket of snow:

In order to clear away the snow on the boardwalk, the maintenance crew has a tractor with a snow blower attached to the front to push away the snow.  Here, before the eagles go into their enclosure, a member of the maintenance crew works diligently to clear the boardwalk:

Although the lake may be frozen, the snow piled up, and the Museum closed for the day to the visitors, there is much work that still occurs on those cold snowy days when the white stuff falls down and covers everything in a white blanket.

You otter love some snow!

Last month, the animals at the VLM got to experience a snow day play day. Many of the animals found the snow quite entertaining, but others were not overtly happy to see the cold white stuff. Here's a video of our otter enjoying some snow play time:

Saturday, January 25, 2014

What will the woodchuck whisper? Winter or Spring?

What will the Groundhog say? Will there be 6 more weeks of winter? Or is spring just around the corner? During the first part of February, there is a custom that the groundhog, or woodchuck,  will come out of his den to predict what weather we may see with the coming of spring.  According to folklore, if the day is sunny and bright and the groundhog sees his shadow, he is said to be scared of his shadow and runs back into his den to sleep and  hide for 6 more weeks of winter.  But if the day is gray and cloudy, and he doesn't see his shadow, then spring is not far away.  Each year, Punxatawny Phil, the most well-known groundhog, comes out of his den to let his fans know if they should bundle up and stay in for a few more weeks, or if they can get out and about and enjoy warmer weather.  Groundhogs, also known as woodchucks, marmots, or whistle pigs,  are members of the rodent family who burrow into the ground and stay in warm dens to keep out of the cold during the winter season.  The critters, Marmota monax, are elusive creatures who hide in their burrows for a few months in winter weather. They're typically grizzled brown and of a uniform color.  They have a bushy tail, small ears, and short legs.  Feet are typically dark brown or black.  Woodchucks are active during the day, especially in early morning or late afternoon.  In preparation for winter hibernation, they will build up a heavy layer of fat in late summer or early fall.  They will dig a winter burrow with a hibernation chamber, in which they will curl up in a ball on a mat of grass.  Once the weather warms up in the spring, they will emerge from the den and begin looking for a mate. Woodchucks will feed on green vegetation, such as grass, clover or alfalfa, or sometimes they will feed on corn and can cause some damage to a crop.  If the woodchuck gets alarmed, it will give a large, sharp whistle, followed by softer whistles as it runs to its burrow then cautiously peeks out. (source: National; Audubon Society Field Guide to Mammals) This whistling behavior is where it gets one of its unusual nicknames, the whistle pig.   The Virginia Living Museum is home to a non-releasable male woodchuck who is Newport News' very own weather prognosticator and we are having an event to honor this whistle pig on Sunday February 2. On our Facebook page, we are having a contest to name our little guy, so take a look and cast your vote. His name will be revealed during our Groundhog Day celebration, so come and see if we will have 6 more weeks of winter or if spring is just around the corner.

Thursday, January 2, 2014

Gone, but not forgotten.....always in our hearts

And so begins a year of new beginnings. I'm sad to report  that in December, our animal care staff lost one of our animal friends.  The female otter, affectionately known as Sweet Pea to the keepers, had been on display for many years.  "Sweet Pea" passed away due to a heart condition based on her old age.  This otter was 14 years old and came to us from an Amish otter breeder up in Pennsylvania.  Because of her age and inability to keep up with our younger male otter, she had been retired from the exhibit for about a year.  So as the end of 2013 has come and gone, let us look forward to the adventures to come in the year of 2014. 

To Absent Friends....

I see you in my eyes.....
And you'll always be in our hearts, Sweet Pea.