They have chisel-like front teeth, powerful legs, flexible ankle joints, furry paws, sharp claws, keen eyesight, sensitive whiskers, and they always have a multi-function colorful blanket at the ready. Their menu varies with the seasons, and December is their season for feasting on high-energy nuts and frosty tree fruits, and, of course, the seeds at your bird feeder. As I write these words, I’m watching one gnawing away at a black walnut from the security of a tree limb barely twenty feet from my door on the wilder side of Oakland County.
An unexpected encounter last month, while inspecting my Screech Owl nesting box, served as a reminder that assumptions of any kind may be wrong, especially when it comes to less-than-attentive observations of nature’s way. I had assumed the nest box to be empty since I had not noticed any activity, nor had I heard any of the whinny-like nighttime and territorial trills of this rather common cavity-nesting species of owl.
Eastern Gray Squirrels (Sciurus carolinensis) ignored last week’s icy duel between the seasons and continued full speed ahead with their spring home improvement projects. Gray squirrels don’t just survive in the midst of intense human activity and predation, they thrive thanks to their ability to adapt rapidly to changing situations while maintaining a healthy degree of wariness. It’s been that way for hundreds of years, going back to a time when gray squirrels migrated through tree tops in the vast unbroken hardwood forests of eastern North America. Gray squirrels greeted early settlers before they carved their open space niches into the landscape.
Winter is the perfect time to search for wildlife tracks. No matter how bold or stealthy the wanderings of a wild creature might be, tracks in the snow expose identities – and sometimes create mysteries. Tracking in snow can be fantastically easy, as in the case of clear raccoon tracks near a bird feeder, or it can be deceptively tricky when tracks distort and expand during snow melt. A bare footprint of a human in snow turns into something that is Sasquatch size, and a house cat track might morph into a mountain lion. One thing is certain, winter wildlife tracks are fun to explore, and many park agencies have winter tracking programs. Check with your nature center or park agency for details! Continue reading →
Deer, coyotes, red foxes, raccoons, skunks, rabbits, mice, opossums and Great Horned Owls. What do they all have in common? They are all “gastronomically grateful” for the existence of bird feeders. The same holds true for Cooper’s hawk, a fast flying accipiter that purses and eats other birds. Perhaps the most grateful creature of all purrs gently on your lap, but given half the chance, a house cat will wait in deadly ambush near a feeder. It’s all about adapting to opportunity, and bird feeders create opportunity, sometimes with unexpected consequences. The season of winter feeder wars and feeder frenzy has arrived. Continue reading →