Tag Archives: Conservation Education

A lesson in Humility from Bird Seed

File Feb 10, 9 04 16 AM


I love birds, except for blue jays. Why my hate of them? There was a blue jay last year that destroyed the barn swallow nest under the patio. The swallows laid four clutches of eggs and with every clutch, the blue jay would eat the eggs. On the last attempt by this blue jay, the nest that had been there for years was destroyed. That was the same nest that gave a winter home to a Carolina wren.

With my love of birds, I feed and water them, especially during the winter when they have limited resources on the high plains of Texas. While checking out in Wal-Mart – I relearned a valuable and humble lesson and it came with the purchase of bird food.

The friendly and talkative young girl checking me out was probably no more than twenty. She commented on many of my purchases like all the cheese I was buying – yes – I love cheese to Lamb Chop (Azrael’s favorite toy), but it was the comments on the birdseed cake that caught my attention the most.

When she asked what kinds of birds I had I replied back that they were wild birds. I immediately could tell by the confusion on her face she did not understand what I meant by wild birds. She thought I actually had birds living in my house. Then I thought about my friend, June who has Archie and our conservation that morning. Archie was squawking loudly in the background. Apparently, there was a wild bird outside he that had peaked his interest.

As I tried to explain about doves, robins, and other birds, I could still see the confusion on the girl’s face, I took a patient breath and explained to her that the birds I was feeding were all outside wild birds that come and go. Some have dark heads, some have red colors, and some are almost entirely bright blue. They live in the trees, as well as travel all over town and Texas.

Sadly, she still didn’t get it. How do I know she didn’t get it? Because – her last comment said it all “well its cool that you don’t have them in your house.”

As I walked to my car and drove home, I reflected more on that exchange than I probably should have. But it truly bothered me knowing that this girl did not know about wild birds.

I cannot imagine not being raised outside and knowing what birds are or even a bobcat, toad, butterfly, or the smell of wildflowers. I must stop and realize that not everyone was raised around wildlife and exposed to the outdoors. I climbed trees like a monkey growing up and came into contact with a variety of bird nests and birds. I hiked with my dad on all of our trips across the states. I saw birds of many colors never knowing what they were. Someone did tell me what a magpie was in Wyoming and it soon became my favorite bird.

I cannot imagine not having the multitude of wildlife experiences I had. I certainly cannot imagine anyone else knowing what even birds are. But sadly – I did encounter someone who had no clue about wild birds. I can only hope to run into this girl again with bird food and try my best to explain to her again about wild birds.

In reflection, this was a hard lesson for me. But it these kinds of lessons that remind me of my humanity and that sharing my wildlife knowledge is one of the most important things I can do.

Secrets of a Feral Hog Skull

In a cleaning event at the Comanche Springs Astronomy Campus, a feral hog skull was rediscovered. I’m not sure how old the skull is, but it was in need of repair to stabilize it for future conservation education programs with the 3 Rivers Foundation.

To start the cleaning process I placed the skull in a bucket of bleach to whiten, clean off dirt, and remove the lasting bits muscle. This process took several days. After it was fully cleaned it was allowed to dry thoroughly.


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During this entire process, Azrael inspected nearly every move I made with the skull. She’s a rather curious shepherd.


I then glued the fragile bones back in place, as well as the teeth. I even went back and reglued several areas to ensure everything was set. The final touch was applying several coats of clear sealant to help preserve the skull even more. Its still a fragile skull, but the teaching opportunities will be immeasurable, especially given one of the major the secret’s the skull holds.

As I was working during the regluing stage, I wondered how could I tell if it was a boar or sow skull. It took a bit of research but I soon discovered that it was a young boar skull. The mystery was solved by the holes on the sides of the lower mandible. The tips of the terminal end of the tooth root are known as the root apex. The root apex of this skull goes to the second molar. Viola – boar! A female’s root apex only goes to under the first to third premolar.




In researching a bit further I discovered that when they are born both sexes of feral hogs already have deciduous or milk teeth. We all know that male and female wild hogs have tusks and use them for defense. Boars have a tendency to slash and stab with their tusks, while sows would rather bite.

Feral pigs have a total of 44 permanent teeth. The top teeth are hollow and serve as a grinding machine for the longer lower teeth, which continue to grow throughout the animal’s life. For teaching, purposes to show this other secret of their skull I left out one of the upper teeth to illustrate the hollowness of their teeth. These teeth remain hollow except in very old pigs.

Another secret the skull shows is how small their eyes are. Eye sockets of feral hogs are very small which gives them poor vision.

Some other interesting scientific facts about feral hogs you might now know:

  • Early Spanish explorers were the best bets for introducing hogs in Texas over 300 years ago.
  • Feral hogs are unprotected, exotic, non-game animals. They can be hunted all year long, with no bag limits and taken by any method, as long as it’s not your car. A hunting license and landowner permission are needed.
  • Feral hogs travel in family groups called sounders, comprised normally of two sows and their young.
  • Feral hogs are omnivorous. Meaning they do eat both meat and plants.
  • Feral hogs can carry a lot of potential diseases and include pseudorabies, swine brucellosis, tuberculosis, bubonic plague, tularemia, hog cholera, foot and mouth disease, and anthrax. Scary, huh?
  • Capable of producing at least two litters per year.
  • Current estimated population in Texas is about 1.5 million feral hogs.
  • Pigs don’t sweat.



Here is a good photo showing a “sounder.”