Friday, March 1, 2013

Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum

On Monday we visited the Arizona-Sonora Desert museum, which is just west of Tuscon. It's like a zoo, but there are a lot of things besides animals there - like meteorites, caves, and plants.

Western Screech-Owl
To the left is a Western Screech-Owl. The handler for this bird said the owl doesn't actually screech, and the name isn't accurate.

American Kestrel
On the right is a live male American Kestrel. Notice that the handler is wearing a glove to protect his hand from the sharp talons. In the wild, those talons are used for killing prey. This particular bird has never used its talons on live prey, however. It was born in captivity, and has never been fed anything alive. Because of this, the bird hasn't developed the skills it needs to survive alone in the wild.
Here's a Harris's Hawk. Notice how much larger it is than the Kestrel:
Harris's Hawk
In a tree behind the Harris's Hawk, I saw a Cactus Wren for the first time.

After that, we had a look at a meteorite exhibit, and then a cave. You can see a photo of the cave below. The photo was taken with flash, so it looks much brighter than it really was; in reality, it was almost pitch black.

The cave was actually artificial, but I thought it was real for the longest time - even after smelling hints of chlorine near the streams in the cave. If it hadn't been so dark, maybe I'd have found out sooner.

After we left the cave, we looked at some animals in fenced-off areas. We also saw animals that weren't in captivity; my dad saw a male Northern Cardinal, but I missed it and only saw a female. That was the first time I had ever seen a cardinal that I can remember; we don't have them where we live.

After that, we ate lunch. An almost tame squirrel hung around, eating scraps that fell to the ground. He came within a few inches of my foot as he sniffed for food.

Then we went on Desert Loop Trail; the following photo is of some sleeping javelinas we saw in a fenced-off area by the trail:

A little after that I stopped at the cactus garden, with the intention of photographing the cacti and learning all the names for a later blog post. After a few minutes of looking at all the labels for similar cacti, and not even being able to tell which cacti each label belonged to, I gave up and left.

I went to the aquarium next. The garden eels were the coolest things there, because of the way they could slide down into the sand when threatened, and then slide back out again when whatever threatened it moves on. It looks really weird the way they do that.

Slide down, slide up
Happy to be inedible
This balloonfish was neat, too, mostly because of how it can harm predators: when it inflates, its sharp spines prick out and can injure anything that attacks it, and it gets large enough to get caught in the attacker's throat, choking it to death. If the predator is quick about things and manages to swallow the fish before it inflates, he gets poisoned - the balloonfish's liver and ovaries, as well as other parts of its body, contain tetrodotoxin, a poison about 100 times more powerful than potassium cyanide.
There were 2 other interesting types of fish: the first is the seahorse, and the other was a fish that could change genders. Below is a photo of one of the seahorses.

My favorite exhibit was the walk-in aviary. I could have stayed in there all day, but I couldn't even stay long enough to take pictures, because my family moved on. In the aviary, I saw all kinds of birds I had never seen before, like thrashers or white-winged doves. There was a Steller's Jay that really wanted my sister's orange-colored lip balm; he flew up and flapped in her face and tried to snatch it away for himself. He must not have learned the 7th or 10th commandments. When nobody was waving attractive lip balms in front of him, though, he seemed really nice and quiet, almost tame. When he was sitting on a branch, I tried to touch his feathers; I slowly reached my hand out, bringing it closer and closer to the dark blue. He looked at my finger, and gently nibbled on it with the tip of his beak; but he shuffled further up the branch before I could touch his feathers.

I also enjoyed the hummingbird exhibit. It was like the other aviary, only better suited for hummingbirds. The hummingbirds in there were used to people; they would buzz right up to within a few inches of me, and when one man there pointed at a perched hummingbird, the bird left the branch and practically attacked his finger. I tried to get a hummingbird to land on my finger when it was hovering really close, but he flew away.

Between exhibits, I was able to get photos of wild birds that we don't have where we live. To the right is a photo of a male Gambel's Quail. He can be distinguished from a female by the copper feathers on his head, and the black and white on his face.

Below is a photo of a Cactus Wren. Male and female Cactus Wrens look identical, so I don't know which this is.

I really enjoyed the visit to the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum. If we ever move to Arizona, we'll have to get a family membership; I would like to go there many times more.

For the next post in the Arizona Road Trip series, go to

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