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Apr 30, 2015

Damning distinction is Canada's shame

Cooper's Hawk photo by BarrytheBirder
British Columbia Cooper's Hawk
is "Most Polluted Bird" in the world
care2 (the environment and wildlife cause)  has announced this week that Vancouver, British Columbia, has the dubious honour of being home to what scientists are calling "the most polluted bird" ever found in the world.   That bird, a Cooper's Hawk, is dead, of course.   Its body was found near a waste transfer site near Vancouver, Canada's city-jewel on our Pacific coast.   Researchers analyzed the fat content in the hawk's liver and were stunned by the results.   Their study, published in the 'Science of the Total Environment' revealed the hawk's liver contained more flame retardent chemicals than any bird discovered previously - anywhere.   The bird's liver fat accumulated an incredible 197,000 parts per billion of polybrominated diphenyl ethers.   This amount is more contamination than has been tested in an electronic waste site in China.   Researchers dubbed this hawk as "flameproof".   PBDEs were banned in Canada in 2000, prior to which they were commonly use a flame retardant in many personal and household products: from carpeting to computers.   Old products containing PBDEs still end up in landfills.   The world most polluted bird ended up with the incredible level of pollutants from what it was eating, mainly other birds and small mammals; creatures that were ingesting PBDEs and passing on that contamination in concentrated form to hawks.   Longer term effects have yet to be determined but PBDEs have now been banned and there is reason for optimism.   Thanks to my wife for directing me to this story.
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Apr 29, 2015

Turkey Vulture checks out Schomberg birdhouse

Photo by John Bradbury
Turkey Vulture visits backyard birdhouse
My Schomberg birding friends, John and Babs Bradbury, had a surprise visitor this week at one of their birdhouses.   A huge Turkey Vulture boldly perched atop a birdhouse normally reserved for much smaller garden-variety songbirds.   John was in such a rush to get a photo of the remarkable vulture visit, that he did not take the time to dig out his Nikon, but chose instead to grab a photo, using his phone, and at a distance: hence the poor focus.   The moment was captured however, and John and Babs can show the photo, as proof, to possible skeptics.   I told John we once had a male Ring-necked Pheasant, in all his glory, perched atop a very small seed feeder in our backyard.   Sadly, I did not get a photo, but my wife Linda and I were very suitably impressed with its bravado.   Babs and John are very talented painter, by the way, and readers of this blog may see some of their charming work at
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Apr 28, 2015

Northern Lapwings in prison

Northern Lapwing
Vanellus vanellus
Photo by Niall Carson / PA
Surrounded by starlings, a nesting Northern Lapwing (above), one of the world's most threatened birds, has found a sanctuary in Maghaberry Prison, used for housing Northern Ireland's most dangerous inmates.   Prisoners, sentenced to life, helped create the habitat for 20 pairs of breeding lapwings which have made their home at Her Majesty's Prison Maghaberry, on a marshy, no-man's-land dominated by razor wire and lookouts behind reinforced glass.   The site is 20 kilometres southwest of Belfast.   
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Apr 27, 2015

Louisiana lovemaking

Photo by Gerald Herbert / AP
Great Egrets
Ardea alba
Two Great Egrets mate in their nest in the mangroves, on an island in Cat Bay, in Plaquemines Parish in Louisiana, U.S.A.   Cat Bay is approximately 60 kms. due south of New Orleans, on the edge of the Bay of Mexico.   During the breeding season, the Great Egret's bill changes from yellow to orange, the facial skin changes from orange to green (see photo below), and long plumes of feathers grow on the back past the tail.
Photo by Arthur Morris
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Apr 26, 2015

April sightings at Pt. Pelee and environs

Savannah Sparrow photo by BarrytheBirder
Sightings between April 2 and 22, 2015
Below is a list of sightings at Pt. Pelee, on Lake Erie, and at other notable birding sites* in the Windsor-Essex area of south-western Ontario, during the three weeks between April. 2 and 22.   Data are from the 'Latest Sightings' website of the Ojibway Nature Centre.

Savannah Sparrow                 Snow Goose                             White-eyed Vireo
Brown Thrasher                      Cattle Egret                              Chimney Swift
Purple Martin                           Yellow-throated Warbler         Wood Thrush
Dunlin                                       Veery                                        Cape May Warbler
Glaucous Gull                          Northern Parula                      Tricolored Heron
Ruby-crowned Kinglet            Fish Crow                                Common Merganser
Louisianna Waterthrush         Piping Plover                           Yellow Warbler
Green Heron                            House Wren                             American Avocet
Cliff Swallow                            Northern Waterthrush             Pileated Woodpecker
Blue-gray Gnatcatcher           Cape May Warbler                    Eared Grebe
Black-bellied Plover                Henslow's Sparrow                 Eurasian Collared Dove

* (sites include Hillman Marsh, Leamington, Holiday Beach, Wheatley, Amherstburg, Cedar      Creek, Windsor and Kingsville).
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Apr 25, 2015

More warblers from previous springs


Blue Warbler




Common Yellowthroat



Photos by BarrytheBirder

With thee conversing I forget all time, 
All seasons, and their change; all please alike.
Sweet is the breath of morn, her rising sweet,
With charm of earliest birds.
                                                                                   ~ John Milton, 1605-1674
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Apr 24, 2015

Just in case you were wondering...

Barred Owl photo by Nancy Wallace

International Ornithological Congress
(Version 5.1 / Jan. 15, 2015)

10,560 extant species
149 extinct species
20,811 subspecies

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Apr 23, 2015

St. Petersburg, Florida

Photo by Carlo Allegri / Reuters
Three anglers ~ Tampa Bay
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Apr 22, 2015

Fuji's Swan - by Swapnil Deshpande

Photo by Swapnil Deshpande / National Geographic Your Shot
Above is the April 15th National Geographic Photo of the day, taken by Swapnil Deshpande who was on a backpacking trip to Japan.   Swapnil had decided to spend a day on Lake Yanamaka in Hirano Village to photograph Mount Fuji and felt fortunate to get the swan in the morning light there.   It is a compelling black and white capture.
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Apr 21, 2015

How many warblers have I seen in my backyard?

Yellow Warbler

Indigo Bunting

Black-throated Green Warbler

Black and White Warbler

All photos by Barry the Birder
Magnolia Warbler
I have photographed and identified 16 warblers in my small backyard in King City, north of Toronto, Ontario, over the years.   Pictured above are five of those charming spring migrants.   I've identified and listed 26 warblers on my life list, here and about, but only have photographs of 16, as mentioned above.   But another spring has arrived and who knows what will show up in the lens this year.   
Ahhhh, the anticipation.
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Apr 20, 2015

Wild Turkey

Wikipedia Photo
Meleagris gallopavo
Domestic turkey populations in several american states are being dramatically culled this year because of H5N1, H5N2 and H5N8 viruses.   There are also outbreaks in other parts of the world infecting both wild and domestic turkeys, as well as chickens.   The risk to people from these HPA1 H5 infections is considered low, but the destruction of entire flocks numbers in the millions.   When most people think of flu outbreaks in turkeys, they picture domestic factory-farm birds, such as those in the bottom picture (below).   The difference in appearance between wild (top picture) and factory-farmed turkeys is, to me, stunning.   I believe the appearance of the wild turkey to be as spectacular as any feathered creature in the skies or on the ground, if not without equivalence entirely.  

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Apr 19, 2015

Contest for funky fotos of nests

                                                               Photo: Kathy West
Nest built on christmas light 
The photo above was an entry in the 2014 annual "Funky Nests in Funky Places" contest, hosted by the Celebrate Urban Birds project at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, in Ithica, New York.   The 2015 contest is underway and the deadline for entries is June 15 .   To learn how to participate, plus terms and conditions, visit   Prizes include everything from a mini-IPad, bird feeders, bird DVDs and CDs, field guides, etc.   
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Apr 18, 2015

Blue lights may stop bird-plane crashes

Photo above: Oleksly Maksymenko / Corbis                                             Grackle photo by BarrytheBirder
An online story in the Daily Mail reports that covering aircraft in blue lights, and only turning them on when taking off, could help stop birds colliding with aircraft.   A study led by scientists at Purdue University in Indiana found that cowbirds noticed blue light most readily, so a model aircraft was outfitted in this colour.   When the plane was stationary, the birds became alert more quickly when the lights were on.   But when the model aircraft approached the birds with its lights off, their response slowed and they only became more alert when the lights were turned on.   Moreover, the birds were more likely to get out of the way of the aircraft when the lights were pulsing, rather than being continuous.   When the plane approached them with its lights off, their response slowed.   The authors of the study say runways could be synced with aircraft to alert birds of incoming aircraft and avoid collisions.   Also, the lights could be off during taxiing but on during take-offs to alert the birds to move out of the way and thus avoid collisions.   The study suggests also that their methods could also help birds avoid collisions with buildings and wind turbines by also covering them in blue lights.   The number of accidents involving civilian aircraft is low, estimated at one fatal accident in one billion flying hours.   I think any improvement, of course, would be worth the time and money and effort.
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Apr 17, 2015

Hummingbird research at U.ofT.'s Koffler Scientic Reserve

                       Photo: Journal of Avian Technology
The two photographs above were taken at the University of Toronto's Koffler Scientific Reserve a few kilometres north of the village of King City (where I live), which is a few kilometres north of Toronto, Ontario.   The photos are part of avian research being conducted at the K.S.R. (a.k.a.'Jokers Hill') by Lily Hou, Michael Verdirame and Kenneth C. Welch Jr.   Their research project is entitled "Automated tracking of wild hummingbird mass and energetics over multiples time scales using radio frequency (RFID) technology.   The abstract published on this research states in part: "In a field study in southern Ontario, wild hummingbirds were captured, subcutaneously implanted with passive integrated transponder (PIT) tags, and released over a three-year period.   Tagged hummingbirds were detected at specially designed feeder stations outfitted with low-cost, low-power RFID readers coupled with a perch secured to a digital balance.   When tagged birds visited the feeder, transponder detection initiated the recording of the perched hummingbird's mass at regular intervals continuing as long as the bird remained.   This permitted a nearly continuous record of mass during each visit.   Mass data collected from tagged hummingbirds showed consistent trends at multiple temporal scales: the individual feeder visit, single days, and even whole seasons.   These results further confirm that RFID technology is safe for use in the smallest birds".   How cooperative of the Jokers Hill 'Hummers', but if you've got to have some take it where you can get it.
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Apr 16, 2015

The Cornell Lab ~ Global BIG Day

                                                                               Maps painted by Mark Seitz

May 9, 2015, is the date of The Cornell Lab of Ornithology's next 'GLOBAL BIG DAY' conservation fundraiser.   Birders worldwide can participate in the event which hopes to tally 4,000 bird species around the world and raise $1/2 million for conservation.   Cornell's own 'Team Sapsucker' will be birding in Panama, the birding hotspot between the American continents.   Anyone can join the project by spending a few minutes birding on Saturday, May 9th, and entering their sightings at More information is available at the Cornell Lab website.
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Apr 15, 2015

The personification of anticipation

Photo by Ping Yan / Rex Features
Asian Paradise Flycatcher
Terpsiphone paradisi
An Asian Paradise Flycatcher (Terpsiphone paradisi ) is photographed as it delivers an insect to feed its hungry chicks.   The picture was taken by Ping Yan in Nanchang County, Jiangxi Province, southeast China. 
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Apr 14, 2015

Overdevelopment, Overpopulation, Overshoot

Photo by Chris Jordan
Dead Cormorant
This photograph was taken on Midway Atoll, in the middle of the Pacific Ocean.   It shows an Albatross, dead from ingesting too much plastic, and decaying on the beach.   It is a common sight on the remote island.   The photo appears in a new book entitled 'Overdevelopment, Overpopulation, Overshoot', published by Global Population Speakout.   All of the hundreds of photos that appear in the book can be seen online by Googling the book's title.      The caption accompanying the photo above was taken from the Bible: Ecclesiastes 3:19... 'Surely the fate of human beings is like that of the animals - the same fate awaits them both, as one dies, so dies the other.   All have the same breath'.
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Apr 13, 2015

Feed ducks frozen peas instead of stale bread

 Photos by BarrytheBirder
Above are two photos which I took at Lake Wilcox Park, in Richmond Hill, north of Toronto, last year.   It has been a popular spot for decades to feed waterfowl, most of which are Mallards, with the odd hybrid duck in the mix, and the occasional Canada Goose or other duck species.   The feed runs the gamut from the ubiquitous chunks of stale bread to popcorn to sunflower and other seeds, plus God knows what else.   Word has come from Britain that feeding bread, in particular, to ducks is completely wrong.   So says The Canal and River Trust which is launching a campaign this spring to urge people to feed ducks with frozen peas, or sweetcorn, instead.   Ducks are, it seems, also partial to grapes, especially if cut into quarters for easier swallowing.   Apparently, people in England and Wales feed an estimated six million loaves of bread each year to ducks, which is not only bad for the ducks' health, but pollutes waterways.   As a result, ducklings are malnourished, while adults ducks become aggressive and lose their natural fear of humans.   The Canal and River Trust warns that bread is basically 'junk food".   the trust also advises that oats, barley, rice and vegetable trimmings are also acceptable replacements for bread.
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Apr 12, 2015

Black flamingo may be only one in the world

Photo: Akrotiri Environmental Education Centre

Photo by
An extremely rare black flamingo has been spotted on Cyprus.   The Flamingo is thought to be afflicted with a genetic condition called melanism.   Excess melanin pigment turns the bird black, rather than pink.   A black flamingo has also been seen in Israel, so it may be that both birds are one and the same, or there are in fact two birds.   It is such a rarity that expects said it it may be the same bird that was spotted in Israel in 2014.   The sighting in Cyprus occurred during a bird count in the vast salt lake near the Akrotiri Environmental Centre on the south coast of the island nation.   The black flamingo appears to to be the only one of its kind in a flock of 20,000 greater flamingos that descend on the salt lake each year.
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Apr 11, 2015

The long slow climb back for the Whooping Crane

Photo-Canadian Wildlife Federation
In recognition of National Wildlife Week (April 5-12), the Canadian Wildlife Federation has chosen to feature the Whooping Crane in its April 2015 Update (see photo above).   Any modern-day article about 'whoopers' dwells on the seemingly interminable comeback by these huge birds from the brink of extinction, in the 1940s. For my own information I decided to put together a bit of a time-line for the life of this species, from just before the arrival of Europeans in North America to the present.   I checked dozens and dozens of sources and what follows is an admitted random amalgamation of dates and numbers.   Hopefully, there is an acceptable degree of accuracy in the info.

1700  - 10,000 to 20,ooo birds
1860  - 1,400 birds
1870  - 1,300 birds
1940  - 23 birds
1950  - 16 birds
1967  - birds declared 'Endangered'
1970  - 57 birds
1995  - 149 birds
2000 - 260 birds
2003 - 306 birds
2007 - 485 birds
2008 - 523 Birds
2011   - 600 Birds

It's said birdwatching requires a lot of patience.   It is especially so watching a species like the Whopping Crane flying so low and slow, through the last 65 years.   I like to think of those bird-lovers who are helping the Whoopers to return, are also preserving the sanctity of all life.   We all must do our part, but first we must make sure there is a healthy place for all of us on this planet.
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Apr 10, 2015

Live hummingbird discovered in bouquet of flowers

Young Anna's Hummingbirds ~ photo by Dave Kemp
A woman  in Victoria, British Columbia, received a birthday bouquet of Easter flowers from her sister and was shocked to find a baby Anna's Hummingbird trapped in the bouquet with its feet stuck to the tape on the packaging.   The tiny bird was untangled from the tape but did not fly away.   Thinking the young hummer was probably cold and hungry, Nancy Packard filled a feeder with a nectar-like liquid, but the hummingbird was uninterested  and remained still.   It became more animated as it warmed up but still would not eat.   The local SPCA was contacted and the hummingbird was delivered to the Wild Animal Rehabilitation Centre.   Staff there began feeding it with a syringe.   Within days, the tiny bird, only a few weeks old, was feeding on its own.   Florist shop owner Steven Meier said a tiny bird's nest was found under some of the shop's decorating greenery and the tiny bird may have spent a few days in the shop's cooler.   The bird's metabolism may have been lowered by the cooler which allowed it to survive.   The plan is to keep the young Anna's Hummingbird for a few weeks until it matures, at which time it will be released into the wild. 
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Apr 9, 2015

Even disabled eagles look like they are forever

Photo by Michael Pachis / National Geographic Your Shot
Shaking it off
Above is a photo taken at the Memphis Zoo which houses Bald Eagles that have been too badly injured to be returned to the wild.   Photographer Michael Pachis reports that the eagles usually perch in their tree and watch the visitors.   The eagle pictured here however, has just finished dunking his entire head in the aviary water pool.   It looks refreshed and wet, but there is no mistaking the bold presentation of its inborn magnificence in this perfect picture.
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Apr 8, 2015

The harbinger

                                                                                                             Photo and verse by Barry Wallace                                                          
 I thought I saw a robin today,
So I opened my window to listen
For its sweet mellifluous yodel.
I heard its message both loud and clear;
'Spring is filling my feathers and heart'.
                                                                        Please comment if you wish.

Apr 7, 2015

Inspired by haiku...

Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird
by Wallace Stevens ~ 1917
I do not know which to prefer,
the beauty of inflections
Or the beauty of innuendos,
The blackbird whistling
Or just after.

I know noble accents
And lucid, inescapable rhythms
But I know, too,
That the blackbird is involved
In what I know.

I was evening all afternoon.
It was snowing
And it was going to snow.
The blackbird sat
In the cedar limbs.
Photos by Barry the Birder
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Apr 6, 2015

Australian lorikeets eat meat

Photo: www.Australiananimallearningzone
Lorikeets eat meat ~ who knew?
Australians have known for the last seven years that lorikeets eat meat. Care2Causes said this week that scientists have said they are surprised and a little baffled as to why a handful Rainbow Lorikeets (Trichoglossus haematodus) in Australia have been caught eating meat despite their tradition of vegetarianism.   Lorikeets are among the most common parrot species on the coasts of Australia and many people put out seeds for birds like lorikeets.   Some of them also put out minced meat for the corvids (crows, ravens, rooks, magpies, etc.) and currawongs, a.k.a. Crow-shrikes or Bell-magpies.   Lorikeets are well-known for their diet of seeds, fruit, the occasional insect, but seem best known for lapping nectar with their specialized tongues.   They seem to be exemplary vegetarians.   About seven years ago, lorakeets started to display a taste for the meat being left for the corvids, and went so far as to chase off other birds so they could have the meat for themselves.   The lorikeets seem perfectly healthy with the additional protein.   Still, scientists are astonished to see lorakeets eating meat.   Moreover, they know not the reason.   While some environmental factor is suspected, there are few theories.   But new research will no doubt cast light on this puzzle in the near future.   One of the interesting questions to be answered may be how many other species of passerines are meat-eaters.
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Apr 5, 2015

" of the most audacious migrations of any bird on earth"

 Photo by P.J. Turgeon
Blackpoll Warblers astound!
Scientists in Ontario and Vermont have discovered with irrefutable evidence that the tiny North American songbird (Dendroica striata) migrates 1,500 miles (2,400 kms) non-stop over the Atlantic Ocean, from New England and eastern Canada, to Puerto Rico and Cuba and then on to South America.   By fitting Blackpoll Warblers with tiny geolocaters (see photo below), scientists from the University of Guelph, in Ontario, and from Vermont Center for EcoStudies have proven that the Blackpoll Warbler completes the longest known overseas journey of any land bird.   Chris Rimmer, an ornithologist at the Vermont Centre for EcoStudies and co-author of the study, said: " There is no longer any doubt that the blackpoll undertakes one of the most audacious migrations of any bird on earth".   The challenge for the blackpoll is of course not just making the journey, but doing it without stopping.   Stopping would result in a fatal water landing.   Ryan Norris of Guelph University has been quoted saying "It's a fly-or-die journey".   Many songbirds, including blackpolls are experiencing dramatic population declines for a number of reasons.   Blackpolls, because of their life or death migration, are at greater peril than all the songbirds that take an over-land continental route.   

 Photo by Vermont Center for EcoStudies
Photo by Vermont Center for EcoStudies
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Apr 4, 2015

Waterfowl spreading their wings and getting down to business

Photo by Barry and Linda Wallace
The snow has gone (we hope) and the ice has melted, while Canada Geese and Mallard Ducks have landed on every farm field spring pond and puddle.   It is time for feeding, making nests, mating and raising goslings and ducklings.   The manifestations of the eternal spring can oft make one giddy.   It's odd.   When I was a youngster I Ioved autumn most.   Now that I am past my 'best-before' date, I love spring most.   Maybe it is nature's way of giving me hope, hope and more hope...that in one form or another I can embrace an infinite time.
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Apr 3, 2015


Photo by Dominic Roy
Blowy Snowy Owl
National Geographic's Your Shot of the Day for March 25, 2015, was entitled AGAINST THE WIND and was photographed by Dominic Roy.   The Snowy Owl was fighting against extreme winter weather conditions including frigid temperatures, strong wind and deep snow near Quebec City, Canada.   Prolonged periods of cold weather this year have set many all-time records in various parts of central and eastern Canada.
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Apr 2, 2015

My wings have been clipped...metaphorically

I won't be larking about (no
pun intended) as frequently as usual for a while.   Charcot's Foot has caught up with me and I will have a cast on my right foot for as long as one year.   The bones in my foot are becoming unattached to each other and the fix is to squeeze the bones back together, with the cast (see photo at right) until they become one large bone. Apparently it is a long, drawn-out process for the bones to fuse.   Meanwhile I plan to keep publishing my Barry the Birder blog but perhaps on a less frequent basis.   I hope I can continue to blog about birds in a way that will continue to interest you from time to time.   Have a wonderful spring and summer folks.

Please comment 
if you wish.


Photo by Linda Wallace

Apr 1, 2015

Sad fate for Harry Potter Owls

Photo by PETA
   People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (Peta) claims that owls are mistreated on the Harry Potter studio tour in Leavesden, England.   Ben Childs reporting in The Guardian writes that live owls which feature in a popular "studio tour" of the Harry Potter moves face "cruel" and "demeaning" conditions.   Peta posted a video to You Tube which it claims shows birds being mistreated by staff for the pleasure of visitors.   Peta said it investigated after receiving complaints from fans who took the Warner Bros. Harry Potter studio tour in Hertfordshire.   "'Trainers' supervising the tour showed gross negligence both in handling the birds and insuring public safety," said the organization on its website.   "Staff actively encouraged flash photography, despite the fact that owls have especially acute vision and find blinding camera flashes extremely distressing.   The owls respond by desperately chewing at their tethers and shaking their heads."   "A trainer also cajoled people to touch the frightened birds, ignoring signs telling people not to touch the birds".  
   "The Trainer irresponsibly encourages visitors to purchase their own owls, stating that they are inexpensive to buy and that 'do not have to have a licence'.   Companies frequently force animals into stressful highly unnatural situations and keep them shackled in small cages.   Peta pointed out that the "inexcusable mistreatment of sensitive wild animals" was contrary to statements made in the past by Harry Potter author JK Rowling, who said that keeping owls in confined domestic spaces is wrong.   
   A spokesperson for Warner Bros. Studion Tour London said owls at the exhibit were exclusively handled "for short periods" by an outside company, Birds and Animals, which owned the birds, but said it was "essential to us all that the welfare of the birds and animals in their care is of the highest standard".   According to the Hollywood Reporter, Birds and Animals has now begun a review of "issues raised" after viewing the Peta footage.   The studio tour opened in early 2012 and employs more than 300 people.   It centres on the making of the eight Harry Potter films.
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