Robin Red-breast

 The melting snow has softened the ground into mud, luring out of the earth a host of worms. This is the robins’ favorite season. These ground-dwelling thrushes mainly survive on earthworms, as they aren’t designed to digest seeds. They come back North at the same time as the earthworm migration. (It sounds crazy, but worms do migrate. However, they migrate vertically: in the winter they dig deep under the ground & huddle up until spring.) The robins sense the worms reappearing, & it brings them in flocks. Some robins do stay the winter, feeding on whatever fruit or berries they can find. In the spring then, it’s obvious which robins stayed & which flew south, for the migrating robins are always significantly plumper than their wintering cousins.

Instant Snowstorm

This morning, the weather was sunny & moderately warm. (For February anyway.) In a few hours, it changed to a blizzard it’s hard to see in. The weather here is pretty much instant. For some reason today, the wild turkeys were out, just hanging around on the streets in the middle of everything. Many of the animals don’t mind the cold, & actually seem to be more active in bad weather, gathering food. Probably this is to keep themselves warm. But with their thick winter coats, the cold doesn’t bother them very much.

Heading South

The geese, ducks, & some other birds have finally begun to go south. There are always a few that stay, because the Mississippi never completely freezes here, but usually a bunch of birds will pack up & move in the fall. They’ve finally begun to migrate, but they were later than usual this year – they must have finally decided it was cold enough to leave.

The Smokies!

I was camping in the smoky mountains a few nights ago. It’s full of white-tailed deer, wild turkeys, & even black bears! It was hot – somewhere over 100°.  I didn’t see any bears, but there were plenty of white-tailed deer. They were quite used to people, & in the morning there were always a few of them hanging around the campsite. I got to see a few of them at really close ranges – maybe 8 feet away. It stunned me how they can survive in the wild when they are SO noisy. They tramp through the woods making a huge racket, but they must be able to move quietly when they want to or how would they survive?

The Smokies

Wood Ducks!

Mostly there are only mallard ducks & canada geese around here. Those are the only birds I ever see on the Mississippi. But lately from time to time I’ve seen a couple of wood ducks around. Actually, I usually see them hanging around in little ponds next to the highways. They like to huddle in little groups of 3 or 4 on the edge of a dock & sleep, but if anything startles them they jump into the water & paddle away. Their feathers are a huge arrangement of different colors; of course the males are quite a lot more stunning than the females, but the females are a sort of shimmering blue-gray with white wing bars. Check out the link to hear their call. It’s not at all what you’d expect from a small duck: http://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/Wood_Duck/sounds.

More Rabbits

Eastern cottontail rabbits are becoming much more common here. There are always a few around, but in the summer & winter they are usually much easier to find. They come & nibble on the plants & leaves on the ground, but they are more timid than squirrels, & they are quicker to run if they are startled. However, they will choose to forage for plants much closer to people than squirrels will, & if you do not move in their direction, you can pass by very close to them.

Nest Fest – Part 2

A pair of european starlings is nesting across the street from me in a neighbor’s cable & telephone box. It’s a metal box, about the size of a shoebox, with wires sticking out in every direction. There’s a small hole in the bottom of the box, & the starlings fly in & out all the time, squishing past the wires.

Yesterday I got a look into the sparrow’s nest. It’s very interesting. The birdhouse is filled to the brim with twigs & such, & there’s a tunnel going into it that slants upward. After a few inches of this it drops down into the nest hole, where the eggs are.

Nest Fest – Part 1

'A pair of swallows built their nest under the birdfeeder roof.'

Today I was hiking at a nature center, & I saw a family of geese passing by. The nature center is on a marsh, & Canada geese are very common there. There was a mom & dad & 3 goslings. The goslings are almost half the size of the adults. Their bodies are stumpy, fluffy, & a dirty yellow color, but their legs are just as thick as they’ll be when they are fully mature. They wander all over exploring the world, but when their parents start to move they fall right into line. I bet they never get lost. Geese with goslings to take care of can be very aggresive, but I passed within 4 feet of the geese & they didn’t show any attention to me at all, except to move slightly farther away.

There also were Barn Swallows there. There must have been 8 – 10 pairs around the building, & I’m sure there are many more in the woods around it. They had built their nest all around the building, placing their nests right under the eaves. One pair had even built a nest on top of a bird feeder, under the domed roof placed over the feeder to shed rain. There is a species of swallows in Africa that constructs their nests on the underside of the leaf of a certain plant, sticking it on with a special glue they make. Then they glue their eggs into the nest so they don’t fall out. What beats me is how the chicks don’t fall out when they hatch. Google ‘African Palm Swift’ to learn more. Swallows are created to fly. Their wings are longer than their entire body, & their legs are so short in relation to the rest of them that it’s exteremely hard to lift off from the ground. Swallows are insect-eating birds & can hundreds of bugs in a single day.

Squirrel Munchies

The squirrels love to sit in the grass in my yard & nibble away at fallen Elm tree branches. They strip the twigs of all their leaves, until nothing but a few veins of the leaves are left uneaten. The freshest ones they like the best, & hesitate to run if someone approaches, they are so intent on eating. It seems like in the summer they are less worried about their food supply, & seem more relaxed & less frantic in their search for things to eat. I’m sure this is because food is much more abundant. 

Squirrels eat almost anything, & are eaten by many predators too. They have a unique adaptation that helps to survive, however: if a predator grabs a squirrel by the tail, the squirrel’s tail will snap off, & the squirrel will run away. I’ve found squirrel tails lying on the sidewalk around my house several times, but with 

'this is the Elm leaf'

no trace of a dead squirrel nearby. After a while, the squirrel’s tail grows back, although it remains stumpy aft- 

'this is what the twig looks like after the squirrels have nibbled it'

erwards. 

New bird

'the new bird'

I saw a new bird in my neighborhood recently. I believe it is either a Gray Catbird or a Northern Mockingbird. It is about the size of a lean Robin & gray all over. I couldn’t get a very good look because it would hide in thick clusters of leaves high up in a tree (I did not get to hear it sing either). Hopefully it’ll come back again soon so I can have a better look at it. I’m leaning toward gray catbird, but I’d have to see it more clearly. They come to MN in summer to breed, but then leave in the fall. 

Spring News

'the sparrows nest'

It’s been really hot around here – the sun’s out all the time now, it’s about 78° F at the hottest. The bugs are loving it, especially the bees. (I’ve had more than one of them in my house in the past few days.) 

A pair of sparrows that has been building a nest in a birdhouse in my yard finally finished after over a month of flitting around collecting twigs, string, reeds, & all sorts of ‘comfortable’ things to nest on. It’s awfully messy, but the sparrows are very proud of it. 

Bird Behavior

'either birds or squirrels knocked over the birdbath'

Either the birds or the squirrels recently took my birdbath & knocked out the stone I had put in their so that it didn’t blow away. (It’s pretty light.) So now it is stuck under a bush in my yard. For some readon today the feeder was chock full of sparrows, which is pretty uncommon since sparrows usually prefer to feed on the ground. I have a new food in my feeder, which could be changing things. Instead of only Black Oil Sunflower Seed, I have a seed mix, which they seem to like just as well.

Bees

Bees constantly buzz around all over now. They dash from plant to plant, looking for a bit of nectar. They never notice me when I walk by, too busy in their search for nectar to notice anything else. Bees are responsible for much of the worlds pollination, because when they walk on flowers to get at the nectar inside, the pollen sticks to their legs & they carry it to the next flower they land on. Butterflies & a few other insects do this too.

Robins

'robins weave sticks & string to build their nests, then hold them together with mud'

Robins are one of the most common birds in my yard now. They come every day & eat sunflower seeds dropped under the feeder. 

The robin nest layed on my gutter unfortunately came to a sad end. One day I went outside & I found it on the ground. It looked as if there had only been 1 egg in it, but predators may have carried others away. Raccoons, opossums, & even other birds will eat bird eggs. I can’t figure out why it had been knocked down. The fork between the gutter & the roof may not have been very stable, or for some strange reason the parents may have knocked the nest down. )-:

Dragonflies

I saw one of the 1st dragonflies of spring today. As nymphs, they live underwater, & once they become adult dragonflies, they fly away & live on land. They still spend much of their time near water though. Dragonflies eat on the go, using baskets formed on their legs to catch insects while flying. They can fly so fast this is usually not a problem for them (but it is for the other insect). They are predators from nymphhood, eating smaller insects & even tadpoles & small fish. They can be virtually any color, & different species often look nothing alike. 

Rain, Rain, & More Rain

It’s been raining hard here for several days now, & the sun is rarely out for more than a few moments a day. It’s also very cold, although it’s mid-May. I noticed that the birds really don’t mind though. They’re hopping around on the ground (& trying to get under the roof of the birdfeeder) with their feathers all fluffed out, searching for the least soggy seeds. The squirrels also are out, but I see them less often. I think they are mostly all curled up in their holes staying dry.

Female Grackles

'common grackle feeding'

There have been Common Grackles in my yard for a while now, but it seems as though the males came first & the females followed. The females look nearly identical to the males, but if the light’s right, it’s possible to see that they are actually more brown than black, & they are slightly smaller. They are also slightly less glossy. The birds are ground foragers, but I see them quite often up on the birdfeeder, scaring away the other birds, & eating all the bird seed in a few minutes. They like sunflower seed especially, & often 3 or 4 of them will be on the birdfeeder, all trying to eat at the same time. (If there isn’t enough room in the feeder, they perch on top waiting for a chance at the seed.) Grackles are very aggresive, they have been known to raid nests, & kill & eat other adult birds. However the birds here sort of enjoy them, because they kick tons of seed off the feeding platform when they land to eat.  

Nuthatches

'white-breasted nuthatch'

 Today I saw a White-breasted nuthatch climbing up a tree in my front yard. They are more common in the winter, but I occasionally see them in the summer. Once in a while I see Red-breasted nuthatches too, but not as often. They’re known for their ability to climb up & down trees head 1st. I have never seen a Pigmy nuthatch or a brown-headed nuthatch, but I’ve seen a Brown creeper once. (Creepers are closely related to nuthatches.) There are actually a couple dozen species of nuthatches & creepers in the world, but hardly any of them live in North America. The link has a list of all the nuthatches & creepers that live in the world compared to the ones that live in the                    U.S.: http://www.birdpost.com/groups/30.

Red squirrel, Gray squirrel

Yesterday I saw a red squirrel running up & down a tree. I got pretty close to it, & it didn’t run away. Instead it looked at me & started shaking & chattering so loudly I started looking around to see if there were actually 2 squirrels – I couldn’t believe 1 tiny squirrel could make that much noise! Red squirrels are much tinier than gray squirrels, & less common. They mostly live in northern pine forests, although some live as far south as Iowa. They build their nests in the fork of a large tree, or if it’s available an empty tree cavity. Sometimes they will even occupy abandoned bird nests. Red squirrels do not hibernate, but they are less common in winter since they stay in their nests to conserve body heat.