3-day celebration takes closer look at area birds

By Tom Vogt, Columbian science, military & history reporter


Updated: October 13, 2012, 11:53 PM

photoRuby, a turkey vulture, shows off her wingspan Saturday at the Audubon Society of Portland's BirdFest display.

BirdFest Sunday:

River S Unit: U.S. Fish and Wildlife bus tours of the River S Unit, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.; buses leave hourly from Ridgefield High School, 2724 S. Hillhurst Road; Audubon bird walks, 8:30 a.m. and 2:30 p.m.; Big Sit bird tally, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Carty Unit: Geology walk, 10:30 a.m.; Native American fishing, 12:30 p.m.; “Keeping Traditions Alive,” 1:30 p.m.; traditional salmon bake, 2:30 to 4:30 p.m.; family activities tent and Cathlapotle Plankhouse tours.

Davis Park (downtown): Family activities and Birders’ Marketplace, 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.; Audubon live bird display, 1 p.m.; Oregon Zoo display, 2 p.m.

Information: http://www.ridgef...

RIDGEFIELD — Turkey vultures poop on their feet.

As Deanna Sawtelle explains, that is the bird’s version of cleaning up after dinner.

A turkey vulture can be up to its ankles in its food; so when it walks away from the table (so to speak), its feet can be covered with sticky bits of rotting road kill.

“They poop straight down their legs,” Sawtelle told a gathering Saturday at View Ridge Middle School. “It kills the bacteria on their feet and legs.”

Sawtelle is volunteer manager for the Audubon Society of Portland, one of several organizations and agencies that are part of Ridgefield’s 13th annual BirdFest.

The three-day event wraps up today with several activities in and around Ridgefield, including both sites of the Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge.

The BirdFest is a celebration of wildlife and local culture; some of that culture, represented by the Chinookan people, goes back centuries.

Tours by paddle, path and passenger vehicle offered an opportunity to see birds in their natural settings. A pair of Audubon Society presentations provided a chance to see five different types of birds up close.

Suzanne Kimsey and her family saw American kestrels from both perspectives.

“We were on a kayak tour earlier and saw a kestrel on a wire,” Kimsey said at the Audubon Society’s second session, an afternoon display at Davis Park. That’s where Kimsey and her family could get a much better look at Lillie, a 2½-year-old American kestrel.

“It’s nice we could see it up close,” Kimsey said after viewing Lillie on the arm of Audubon volunteer April Brown, a Hazel Dell resident.

The four-ounce kestrel also drew some admirers in the middle school. Seven-year-old Sasha Olson has had her eye on a more mundane bird for a while, a robin that built a nest near the dining room window of her family’s Kennewick home.

“We got to see the egg,” said the second-grader, who says she will become a scientist. But a chance to come almost face to face with a kestrel — the smallest member of the falcon family — was quite an opportunity.

The Audubon Society also brought a raven, a great horned owl, a Northern spotted owl and a turkey vulture, named Ruby for her red head.

That featherless head, less likely to inadvertently mop up rotting meat, is another example of how the turkey vulture is suited to a life of finding and eating dead stuff. Sawtelle offered another example: the turkey vulture is one of the very few birds with a good sense of smell: It can pick up the scent of a dead animal from up to two miles away.

Then Sawtelle made a nice segue, with advice for bird-lovers who might have their own wildlife encounters. When people find a baby bird on the ground, they often are reluctant to put it back in the nest, because we “know” its parents can detect human scent on their baby.

Remember? The turkey vulture is one of the few birds with a good sense of smell.

“Song birds have a poor sense of smell, if any,” Sawtelle said. “Put it back in the nest.”

The BirdFest isn’t just about wildlife habitat, by the way. This area is our habitat, too, noted Jim Maul, president of the nonprofit Friends of Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge. Maul will lead a 10:30 a.m. geology walk today in the Carty Unit, just north of downtown Ridgefield, that traces the area’s topography back to the Missoula Floods thousands of years ago.

Tom Vogt: 360-735-4558; http://twitter.com/col_history; tom.vogt@columbian.com.