Ornitharium in Sokolniki: why a parrot needs antidepressants and a falcon needs drones

February 25

Almost 40 years ago, on 19 February 1983, the All-Union Ornithological Society under the USSR Academy of Sciences was established. Since then the Ornithologist Day is celebrated on that date. This is a landmark holiday for all workers of the Ornitharium in the Sokolniki Park, including those who have no ornithologist diploma but used to take care of birds at the call of their hearts.

From the story of mos.ru you’ll learn how birds find themselves in the Ornitharium and who takes care of them.

Falcon yard and the biggest pigeon house

The Ornitharium territory has a lot of aviaries with birds. Huge black ravens, magpies, hawks, wood owls, kestrels and saker falcons live outdoors even in wintertime as they are not afraid of low temperatures.

Photo by Maxim Denisov, Mos.ru

A yard with perches shaped as special rings where birds can seat and spread freely their wings, if necessary, is arranged for falcons. As Vadim Mishin, Ornitharium Director, explained, perches are a century-old tradition of managing hunting birds that help them to maintain their feathers in ideal state.

The Sokolniki Park also accommodates the biggest pigeon house in Moscow with an area making up 250 square meters. Special holes are provided in the roof that are used by birds for freely leaving the house and flying back in.

Migrant birds live in a warm building - they do not stay outdoors right up to spring. These include hobby falcons, honey buzzards and sparrow-hawks. Premises for workers are also located here.

How come there are no falcons in Sokolniki?

The Sokolniki Ornitharium was established eight years ago. Its founder, Vadim Mishin, was in no way related to birds by profession, and the idea of arranging a falcon yard occurred to him spontaneously.

“Some day my friend asked me: ‘How come there are no falcons in Sokolniki?’ As historically this is the place where tsars practiced falconry. This is how the idea of arranging a falcon yard appeared. I shared it with the Park director and he liked the idea,” Vadim Mishin says.

Hunting birds are purchased from breeding stations. Specialists who train adults to the ancient art of falconry keep their birds here as well.

Vadim Mishin. Photo by Maxim Denisov, Mos.ru

The initial plan was to put emphasis on the falcon yard but it appeared that the ornitharium is also needed as a place for rehabilitation, treatment and management of birds. Birds that need constant care get to this place. Some birds are brought by their owners who understand that they cannot take care of a feathered pet on their own.

Another important thing is that this is an open project meaning that people may come to see the birds, inquire about their condition, make donations or bring food. The Ornitharium accepts any birds irrespective of species, value or rareness.

“We accept any birds including pigeons and crows. We don’t sort them by value. Our mission is to cure, nurse and then release them. So, if we understand that a bird will be able to go back into the wild, we try not to take a fancy to it and even avoid giving it a name. It’s important that a bird does not become wholly domesticated,” Vadim Mishin explains.

Some birds are adopted by volunteers. But not everyone can be entrusted with such responsibility: a volunteer must be able to take care of a bird, know needs and specifics of a certain species.

Filling for a woodpecker and antidepressants for a parrot

There is a probationary ward for newly arriving guests where birds will live while tested to find out if they need medical aid (and what kine of aid, if needed). If a bird still cannot live in the wild after the quarantine period, it is transferred to an inpatient department. Here feathered patients get necessary treatment. Birds with incurable injures are left to live in the Ornitharium.

For example, there is a raven a with broken wing amongst permanent residents. It was decided to abstain from surgery as such manipulations are hard for birds and the raven would not be able to fly again anyway. A honey buzzard fell a victim to poachers has been living here for four years now. The bird got into a snare and damaged its legs heavily.

A female of golden eagle named Kaylas found itself in the bird shelter quite recently. It is 15 or 16 years old already which is a considerable age for golden eagles that live up to 20 years old in the wild. Kaylas had a craniocerebral injury, besides it has diabetes, heart and lung failure.

Veterinary-ornithologist Natalia Anisimova treats feathered patients and helps taking care of them. Sometimes she has to invent unusual methods. For example, she came up with an idea to make “plaster” from the material used by dentists for tooth filling in order to cure a woodpecker with a flaking beak. This helped, so now the woodpecker has a newly glowing solid beak enabling it soon to get back into the wild.

“Small birds often suffer from brain injuries as they crash into windows,” Natalia says. “Sometimes birds are hit by cars, pigeons are often attacked by predators. Unfortunately many birds, especially crows, fall victims to brutal amusements when people use them as live targets.”

According to workers’ comments, air guns which are sold without any license are most dangerous for birds. Such bullets do not kill them immediately but crush their bones and stay deep in the body. If a bird does not get into the hands of a veterinary, it dies slowly and painfully.

Even the administration office has cages with parrots whose former owners could not keep them to themselves. They met strangers by flapping their wings and kept up the conversation in their bird language.

“When it is silent here, the birds are also silent,” Vadim Mishin explained. “And as we are talking, they want to take part in the conversation too.”

Just like people, birds can suffer from mental disorder. Such problems manifest themselves in birds plucking their own feathers. That is why, for example, one of the gray parrots has to take antidepressants. Now the patient feels much better and has beautiful, recently grown grey-blue feathers.

Birds have good memory, they remember the good and the evil. Birds that suffered from people can have a serious psychological trauma. As time passes, such birds, once cured, can calmly react to workers and visitors of the Park, however it is hard for people to restore their credibility completely.

And on the contrary, some residents of the bird shelter take the fancy to people insomuch that they do not want to leave them even after recovery.

Once a nest with three young starlings was brought. We nursed them, two birds flew away and one bird stayed. It was named Sonny. The starling used to sit on peoples’ shoulders, followed them everywhere and took part in checking visitors’ tickets once. When time came to fly to the south, it left the Ornitharium but returned during several years successively and lived in a birdhouse in the territory of the Ornitharium.

“We had a hawfinch that was released into the wild about five times. But then it would find some person in the Park and start pecking him until it is brought back to the Ornitharium,” Vadim Mishin tells another fun story.

European honey buzzard and gadwall: Rare birds return to Moscow

Proud and faithful

The falconer profession is deemed to be one of the rarest that is why cooperation with specialists is highly appreciated at the Ornitharium. The falconry art is mainly an ability to establish a connection with a hunting bird. You need to become its friend but not a master, to get on with it – these are the aspects a falconer should devote most of the time to. Not only a man chooses a bird to work with, but a bird chooses a man too.

Hunting birds require a special approach: the carrot and stick approach used for training animals is not applicable here. Every falconer knows: if a proud bird is shouted at or punished, it can pay with aggression or even fly away. That is why specialists only encourage their pets during training.

Nowadays falconry almost lost its practical purpose. That is why we are planning to organize sport falconry with dummy drones used instead of live victims. In order to take part in this sport, a bird must be trained in hunting exactly a dummy, and drones will be provided with pieces of meat as a reward.

Hunting birds are useful not just for hunting: falcon services are used to chase away birds, for example, in the vicinity of large grain storages. Flocks of birds nesting close to airports are also hazardous: if digested by aircraft turbines, they can cause a crash. The only efficient way to chase them away is to keep predators.

Vadim Mishin is sure that the variety of bird species should be preserved.

“For example, we grow flowers, develop new varieties of flowers, cherish them on flowerbeds, nurse them – why? Because of their beauty, because of our need for it. Birds may be called heavenly flowers. And in many cases, especially in urban environment, they won’t coexist with us if we leave them unaided. Only crows and pigeons will probably stay but that’s not enough,” he says.

The Ornitharium is open for visitors from Tuesday to Sunday (Monday is a cleaning day). The Ornitharium is open from 11.00 a.m. till 7.00 p.m. on weekdays and from 11.00 a.m. till 8.00 p.m. on weekends.

Source: mos.ru

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