September 16, 2019

But Bats Can Fly, Too…

Bat Monitors at the Aviary picked up the call of the Mexican free-tailed bat! This is one of Utah’s migratory bat species. Photo credit: Ann Froschauer on Flickr.

 

“How’s your climbing skills?”

With a sturdy stick, a microphone, and electrical tape on hand, the self-proclaimed bat lover, Kody Wallace, prodded me to scramble the trellis of the Chase Mill. Next to me, I could hear the chuckle of my colleagues in the Conservation Science Program, ecologists Cooper Farr and Bryant Olsen, as they patiently waited for me to accept the challenge ahead: strap a recording device to a high-up, open—yet subtle—place. Despite the pain of rock climbing the day prior still pounding through every conceivable muscle in my hands and back, Kody’s keenness and endless energy motivated me to ramp up for the task. Fortunately, a quick observation of the taller height of my co-worker, Suryaveer Singh, saved my sore fingers from ascending the wall. At a cool 6-feet, he was deemed capable of raising the microphone a suitable distance from the ground for attaching the stick to the Mill.

What in Darwin’s name were we doing? We were setting up a bat monitor! This is a device that kind of looks like a large radio with a microphone attached to it. The microphone is connected via a long cable, allowing us to strap the microphone, using electrical tape, onto the end of a stick to point it toward the sky and into open air where we expect bats to fly. The recorder itself (the “large radio”) is safely stored inside a weatherproof cargo box. Once it is turned on, the recorder does what it does best: listen for high-pitched sound.

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The bat monitor is programmed to record bat calls between 7:45pm in the evening and 7:15am in the morning because this is when bats are feeding.

As non-technical a stick and tape sounds, these are essential tools to take advantage of a powerful advancement in acoustic technology. Bat monitors are sensitive enough to take advantage of the noisy nature of bats by recording their echolocation. This is a special adaptation that allows bats to “see” their surroundings. They will produce a high-pitched sound—either a call or a click—and then listen for the echo. The bat monitor records these calls and allows us to translate them into “echolocation signatures.” This is akin to written language in that we can see the shape of the waveforms produced by their sounds. Each bat species has a unique echolocation signature, just how humans all have a unique tone to their voice. With practice, you can then play a matching game of the echolocation signature to the species of bat!

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 The echolocation signature of the Hoary bat, a migratory species that calls Salt Lake City their home in the spring, summer, and fall. Credit: Utah Bat Conservation Cooperative.

 

“But aren’t you an Aviary?”

A friend asked me this recently as I excitedly rambled on and on about Utah bats, Kody and her infectious passion for researching bats, and how fun it was to tinker with the monitors. My first thought was, “Hey, bats fly, too!” Although, with deeper thought, I realized that they were speaking to a broader question: why should the Aviary care about non-avian species? 

Aside from the commonality of bats being as capable of flight as many birds are, Tracy Aviary as a zoo certified by the Association of Zoos & Aquariums (AZA) is committed to conservation. This translates into: breeding programs that create assurance populations of threatened bird species, education initiatives that generate deeper understanding and appreciation for all living things, and protection of wild habitats and wildlife. All of these are tied to understanding, appreciating, and protecting not just birds, but the habitats in which they live. Doing this involves also paying attention to the other species—from microscopic invertebrates to large, charismatic animals—that live in these habitats. This is because, whether we know it or not, each species plays a critical role in the health of an ecosystem. For this reason, the Conservation Science Program conducts surveys all across the valley that takes a close look at not just what is going on with Utah’s wild birds, but also the status of mammals of conservation concern, such as the western grey squirrel in the valley and pika in our mountains.

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Tracy Aviary’s Conservation Science Program assesses health of local wild places and wildlife by surveying birds, mammals, and plants in select locations across the Wasatch Front.

 

Getting batty for bats in northern Utah

In northern Utah, we are blessed with an abundance of unique species…of conservationists! There is a plethora of organizations, community groups, and individuals that are all pushing for preservation of healthy air, lands, and water. Among these actors is Kody Wallace, a community scientist with Wild Project Utah. Petite in size, Kody carries a lot of punch for investigating seemingly simple inquiries that require tenacity to navigate the complex truths that they lead to. In just a brief conversation with her, she took me on a fifteen-year long journey of volunteering with conservation organizations like The Nature Conservancy in Utah and Wild Utah Project. By lending her skills in bat acoustics and mist netting, Kody has generously volunteered alongside biologists of various specializations to pin down where in northern Utah particular bat species roost, what happened to these roosts, where the bats went to, and how to recruit fellow bat-warriors to her cause.

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Did you know that bats eat up to 1,000 insects an hour? Lucky for Utah, we have 18 species of bats to keep insects like mosquitos, midges, and mayflies at bay. Featured here is one Utah’s migratory species: the Brazilian free-tailed bat. Photo credit: Kathleen Smith on Flickr

Kody is impressive in many ways, but I’d like to re-direct the attention here to the phrase “year-round bat research.” Most people believe bats to hibernate over the winter. While this is true of some bat species, others might not hibernate at all. In fact, they do just the opposite. These bats keep it moving all year round by traveling to Utah for the spring through fall and then flying south of us for the winter. Until now, most bat research takes place while these bats are accessible to us, but little to no studies have happened during the transition period into and out of the winter, when these bats are on the move.

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Kody Wallace (right) explains the protocol for setting up a bat monitor. Photo credit: Mary Pendergast, Wild Utah Project

As it turns out, the Aviary may be a destination for these flying mammals, especially for the handful of Utah’s bats that migrate south during our winter. The Aviary itself provides trees for bats to roost, while the ponds in the Aviary and on the south end of Liberty Park serve as water sources. These bodies of water also attract the insects bats like to eat. In 2015, we set out monitors that picked up on Brazilian free-tailed bats, a migratory species that is known to travel all the way to South America in the winter. Because of this detection, Tracy Aviary was selected as a pilot site. Bat monitors are up around town in other locations, too, including at the site of one of a fellow AZA-certified institution, Utah’s Hogle Zoo.

With the support of the Wild Utah Project, the bat monitors are currently being tested at the Aviary to find the best locations for recording bat echolocation and to identify an easy-to-do method for downloading data and maintaining the monitors. Eventually, Wild Utah Project would like to open this bat research to Utahns, like you, to get as bat crazy as we are by volunteering to maintain the monitors. We are so excited to see how well the monitors detect bat calls and which species we have living at and passing by the Aviary! Stay tuned with us as we wait for updates.

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The Nature Conservancy in Utah is interested in the movement of migratory bats as the move from their roosting habitats here in northern Utah (spring-fall) to their winter habitats deeper south in the US, Mexico, Central America, and South America. Stay tuned with us throughout the study as we discover more!

 

Learn More

Utah Bat Conservation Cooperative – Learn more about how bats are studied

Wild Utah Project – Learn more about an integral partner in the regional effort to better understand bats.

Bat Conservation International – Bat-ter up for more facts on bat here

 

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Interested in volunteering for conservation?

We are looking for volunteers for Fiesta for Nature, a family-fun extravaganza celebrating nature in all of its forms! Visit the Great Salt Lake Shorelands Preserve while enjoying free tacos and sharing your passion for conservation. This happens to be a place that is very important for bats, too! Click here to register as a volunteer.

 

 

- Lucila Fernandez, Conservation Outreach Biologist

Published in Bird Tweets

 

Tracy Aviary's conservation department has a lot of volunteer-friendly community science programs. These opportunites are unique ways for people of every age to enjoy the outdoors while taking action toward increasing their knowledge of birds and their natural habitat. We have something for people of every commitment level, with hikes and surveys for both families and for those looking for a challenge.  Dont just take our word for it, though. This is what one volunteer had to say about her experience with Tracy Aviary's Alta Bird Monitoring Project.

 

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This spring I volunteered for the Alta Nest Box Monitoring Project.  A training session was held at Tracy Aviary before the season started and volunteers were introduced to the importance of collecting data on nesting birds in Alta and on the history of how the project began. We learned how Tracy Aviary monitors nest boxes and how to take pictures inside owl and song bird nest boxes by using a camera attached to a paint roller extension pole. We were able to practice taking pictures inside the boxes by either placing the camera in the entrance hole of the owl box or by lifting up the top of the songbird box.  We were also taught how to use a GPS to locate the nest boxes at Alta and how data is recorded for each nest box. 

The actual nest box monitoring adventure began in March, on snowshoes and we were always accompanied by Cooper, Bryant or Lucila from the conservation department at the Aviary. I have never worn snowshoes before and it was a lot of fun, but definitely more strenuous than regular walking or hiking.  I fell down every weekend, sometimes on my face but I loved every minute of it. It was so beautiful being out in the wilderness snowshoeing to the nest boxes. I was surprised at how low the boxes were to the ground because the snow pack was so high this year and I was impressed with how knowledgeable Cooper, Bryant and Lucila were in pointing out which species we were hearing and seeing in the area while we were going to each nest box. They always answered any questions we had and I learned something new every week.  Early in the season we only monitored the owl boxes and unfortunately we had no owls nesting this year, but it may take several years for an owl to decide to nest in one of the boxes. 

 

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It was really exciting when the song birds started nesting later in the spring. We were able to learn what the different types of nests looked like depending on the species. I saw mountain chickadees and house wrens up close along with eggs and babies in the nest boxes. It was wonderful to watch the parents actively feeding the babies and to hear them inside the nest box. I really enjoyed watching a house wren chick poke their head out of the nest box waiting for the parent to come back with food.  It was very rewarding to know there was a successful nesting attempt and to see the babies grow up and eventually leave the nest.  It was great when people hiking by stopped us to ask what we were doing and we could tell them about monitoring the nest boxes.  One individual even borrowed binoculars to look at an active nest with a house wren feeding it's babies.  It was great to share the experience with them and to watch their face light up with excitement as they watched the adult feed their young. 

Volunteering for the Alta nest box monitoring project was very gratifying and I looked forward to going every weekend.  I highly recommend this wonderful experience where you can get outside, learn about the birds at Alta, get hands on experience in nest box monitoring and work with the great people from Tracy Aviary.

If you are interested in volunteering with Tracy Aviary's community science programs, please click the link below: 

http://www.tracyaviaryconservation.org/application

 

 - Melanie Jones, Tracy Aviary Volunteer

 

 

Published in Bird Tweets

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As you wander around the Aviary this month, be sure to be on the look out! Hidden among the beautiful botanical gardens and exotic birds is the cutest part of life here at Tracy Aviary: chicks! 

Along with the wonderful weather come lots of new questions for our team. One of the most common and important bird questions we get at the Aviary is, “What do you do if you find a baby chick in nature?” 

 

What do you do?

So what do you do when you come across a baby bird that is not in it’s nest? It depends greatly on whether it is a nestling (a chick that still lives in the nest, no feathering) or a fledgling (a chick that is leaving the nest, light fluffy feathering). Nestlings that have fallen or gotten pushed from the nest are almost always in need of rescue. They are too fragile and not capable of living outside of their nests. Fledglings that are not in their nests, however, are exactly where they are supposed to be - exposing themselves to new surroundings. Whether it is a nestling or a fledgling that you find, in most cases, you should never take it from it's home. 

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Nestling

 

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Fledgling

About 80% of baby birds that are found and taken to wildlife rehabilitations are not actually lost. The reason for this common misunderstanding is because most people either can’t find the nest, or they can’t find the bird’s parents. This leads them to think that the chick must be lost or abandoned. However, this is not usually the case. 

There are many reasons why a baby bird can be outside of the nest or alone. Nests can be anywhere; up in trees, on the ground, in bushes, etc. If you have come across a lost baby bird that is away from their home, be sure to look hard for their nest before taking them away from their surroundings. 

When a baby bird is alone, it’s usually ok! Parents leave chicks while they look for food. If a nestling is alone or has fallen or left the nest, it has a greater chance of surviving if the parents are able to find the baby when they return. If you find a baby alone, especially if its a fledgling, don’t assume that it is abandoned. It simply means it is getting used to life outside the nest.

 

When should you help? 

There are simple steps to figure out if the baby bird actually needs help: 

  • I found a baby bird and it's hurt: (unable to move wings, bleeding, weak or injured) If a bird is injured, call or take it to a wildlife rehabilitation immediately.
  • Is it a nestling or a fledgling? If it is a nestling, try to find its nest. If you are able to find the nest and reach it safely, gently put the bird back in it’s home. If you unable to find the nest, build a simple one for the baby in a safe place. Observe it for an hour or so just to make sure the parents come back. If it is a fledgling that you find, let it roam!  Exploring life outside of the nest is a vital part of a fledgling’s development. Just make sure the bird is safe from potential danger like dogs, cats or kids. Again, observe the baby for about an hour, if the birds parents don’t return, contact your local wildlife rehab.

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If you aren’t sure, or if you have any questions, call your local wildlife rehabilitation or the Division of Wildlife for your state. They are happy to help, and keeping birds safe and preventing unnecessary removal from a birds home is what they are there for. We all want to help our local birds and wildlife, and knowledge is how we can. For a fun graphic to hang on your fridge click: 

HERE

Wildlife Rehabilitation Center of Northern Utah: 801-814-7888, 1490 Park Blvd, Ogden, UT 84401

Utah Division of Wildlife Resources: 801-538-4700, 1594 W North Temple, Salt Lake City, UT 84116

 

-Mackenzy Johnson, Public Relations Coordinator

Published in Bird Tweets

Saturday December 15th will be Tracy Aviary’s sixth annual Christmas Bird Count for Kids (CBC4Kids). Why should you get out in the winter weather with us?

1 - Unplug and get moving!

In the winter, it’s easy to turn to screens for entertainment. The CBC4Kids provides a fun and easy way to be active and enjoy the outdoors.

2 - Spend quality time together.

The “for Kids” part might be a little misleading. This is for the whole family! Though children may be dropped off for the CBC4Kids, we love it when adults join the party. 

Why IS it called “for Kids” then? The CBC4Kids is a companion to National Audubon Society’s Christmas Bird Count, in which participants try to count EVERY BIRD in a 15-mile diameter circle within a 24-hour period. Sounds daunting for kids, right?! That’s why the CBC4Kids count is only 1 ½ hours in a much smaller area.

Is 1 ½ hours still too long for your kiddo? That’s why we developed the CBC for Little Chicks, ideal for ages 2-7, accompanied by an adult. It’s full of games, stories, and crafts that you can join and leave at your leisure.

3- Be a part of history.

The Christmas Bird Count has been happening every year since 1900! Learn how the old holiday tradition of the “Side Hunt” turned into the oldest citizen science project in the world at https://www.audubon.org/conservation/history-christmas-bird-count.

 4 - Do an act of service.

The birds we count in the CBC4Kids contribute to the international network of counts happening within a two week period around Christmas. This massive snapshot of where birds are during our winter contributes to scientific research that informs how we conserve our natural world. Your participation makes a difference!

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5 - Get to know your feathered neighbors.

Discover which birds can tough it out here in the city with us, even as temperatures drop.

6 - Gain new skills.

Experienced Aviary birders will give you a crash course in binoculars and bird identification before we get counting.

7 - Score a DEAL!

This is one of our most affordable programs at just $3/person, including admission!

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Ready to sign up? Learn more and register at www.tracyaviary.org/CBC4Kids 

Published in Bird Tweets