Monthly Archives: February 2015

Weekly Puzzler Answer #49

So wow, what about this sound? If you’ve ever been outside and heard it, you know it can go on for quite a long time. You may even have decided it is made by a bird, soaring high in the sky, some sort of raptor you think but maybe you’ve never gotten a close look. Well this sound is made by one of our most common raptors–a Red-shouldered Hawk. hawk49-

This hawk is smaller than a Red-tailed Hawk, with a length of 16.9-24 inches and a wingspan of 37-43 inches. Like many raptors, the female is larger than the male. Mature adults have a lovely reddish-brown chest and a strongly banded tail. In flight they seem to be often noisy, giving their repetitive krrrr, krrrr, krrrr as they sail through the sky.

(Sound by Lang Elliot from Nature Sound Studio)

hawk49-1990Do you know what they eat or how long they live? Do you know if they live in your neighborhood? Have you ever seen one? Do you know what the baby birds are able to do when they are just 5 days old? If this bird interests you, check back next week as it will be this week’s Creature Feature. In the meantime, enjoy the NEXT puzzler, or last week’s Creature Feature.

Have a wonderful weekend!

Weekly Puzzler #50

50-5538What’s wrong with this squirrel? Have you ever seen a squirrel that had these odd growths? Do you know what they are or what caused them? CLICK HERE  to learn the answer to this Week’s Puzzler.

Quote of the Week #8

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10 Facts About the N.A. Owl with the Most Varied Diet

screech-0124A few weeks ago I featured the call of an Eastern Screech Owl as the Weekly Puzzler. Now I am featuring it again, this time as the Weekly Creature Feature.

Here are some things you may not know about this small owl:

 1. Eastern Screech Owls are among the smallest of the North American Owls. (The burrowing owl and saw-whet owl are also tiny owls) Screech Owls have yellow eyes and are 6.3 -9.4 inches long, with females being larger than males, as is typical in many raptors. These owls have a wingspan of 19-24 inches and weigh in at just 5-6.8 ounces.

2. Screech Owls have the most varied diet of any of the North American Owls. They will eat just about anything they can catch, be it in the air, on the ground or in the water. They are active dusk and into the night, hunting the most during the first four hours after darkness falls. Some things on their menu are crayfish, night-active insects including moths, katydids, crickets, amphibians like frogs and toads, small birds, small mammals, reptiles and even earthworms.

A katydid

A katydid

3. Like other owls, Screech Owls do not digest the bones, fur and feathers of the animals they eat. This material is formed into an oval ball, called an owl pellet, and regurgitated. Looking through owl pellets is an extremely interesting activity–allowing you to piece together many of the critters the owl feasted on that day. Small soft-bodies animal like insects and earthworms however will not be represented.

4. Eastern Screech Owls make a variety of sounds, though admittedly, the most famous of all is the quavering, low-pitched trill that seems to find its way into so many movies to “set the scene” for some nighttime action. Because of this, many people associate the sound with something scary, not knowing the source is a small, pint-sized owl. Click below to hear some of the sounds this owl makes. (This from Lang Elliot and Nature Sound Studio)

5. Screech Owls nest in tree cavities and will readily use an available nest box (except the one that is in my yard and has been prepared and offered to them for the last 3 years! Read about my two spy cams HERE.)

6. Unlike many other owls, including a Barred Owl, Eastern Screech Owls DO NOT have asymmetrical ears, suggesting they have better vision than hearing. (Many owls have asymmetrical ears which means they are not directly across from each other, but one is higher than the other. This allows them to triangulate their prey very accurately.)  By the way, those tufts on their head that are often called “ear tufts”–well those are not ears at all! They are just feathers on their heads that help with camouflage. Their ears, like all owls’ ears, are holes on the sides of their head under their feathers.

7. Most Eastern Screech Owls are monogamous and mate for life. Some males will mate with a second female though and then she will evict the first female and will carry on incubating both sets of eggs.

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Raccoons will eat eggs and young owls if they can find them.

8. Screech Owls have one brood each year, usually 3-4 eggs, laid in early March. The female incubates them for 28 days starting after the last egg has been laid. She will be fed by the male, who stays close-by and defends the nest against predators like raccoons, opossums, crows, blue jays, squirrels, and black rat snakes. The owlets will fledge in mid to late May and then will remain dependent of the parents for another 8-10 weeks.

9. Eastern Screech Owls live in much of the United States, east of the Rocky Mountains, south to Mexico and north to southern Canada. They can be grayish or reddish and are a different species than the Western Screech Owl.

10.  Nesting Screech Owlets will fight fiercely among each other, sometimes killing a sibling that is smaller, especially in years when food is scarce or conditions challenging. This is not uncommon in birds of prey and is called Siblicide.

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A Barred Owl

Want to read about another OWL common to North America? CLICK HERE to read about the Barred Owl.

Weekly Puzzler #49

A few weeks ago I spent 5 days kayaking in northern Florida where spring was already in full swing! The temperature was comfortable, some of the trees were budding, turtles were basking, peepers were calling, birds singing… This week’s Puzzler is the loud, repetitive call from the video below. What animal is responsible for this sound? Check back next weekend for the answer!

Weekly Puzzler Answer #48

puzzler48-6884Where I live in western North Carolina, the ground is covered with an icy white blanket that makes it seem like spring it a long way off. Of course, with March just around the corner, this isn’t true at all. Last week’s Puzzler however was a pair of butterflies resting on a daisy, something we likely won’t see for a few months yet, even if spring IS on the way.

I took this picture along the Blue Ridge Parkway last summer, having discovered these butterflies in the wild space next to one of the many parking lots. I love this famous roadway for its views, but also for the many “tiny wonders” I so often find in the places few people seem to notice.

These are Great Spangled Fritillaries. The upside-down one is the female–females are larger than males and have slightly darker coloring. You can attract these lovely butterflies to your yard by planting such flowers as milkweeds, thistles, violets, ironweed, dogbane, mountain laurel, verbena, vetch, bergamot, red clover, joe-pye weed, and purple coneflower.

Here is the Next Weekly Puzzler.

The Bird with the Tiny Body but Large Brain

akinglet-1127Years ago I read an amazing book called Winter World: The Ingenuity of Animal Survival by Bernd Heinrich. This is a book I still own and reference often as it is packed with fascinating information about common animals. In this book was where I first learned about the Golden-crowned Kinglet–the subject of this week’s Creature Feature. (CLICK here for last week’s Creature Feature)

Have you ever seen this tiny bird? Did you identify it in the Weekly Puzzler? Let’s see what else we can learn about this amazing little bird:

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Chickadee

1. Golden-crowned Kinglets are smaller than a chickadee but larger than a ruby-throated hummingbird. They are only 3.1-4.3 inches long with a wingspan of 5.5 -7 inches. They weigh in at just .1 -.3 ounces!

2. According to Bernd Heinrich in his book Winter World, kinglets have massive brains, accounting “for an incredible 6.8% of their whole body weight.” Ours is 1.9% of total weight. Bernd says, “although a kinglet’s total brain mass does not amount to much in absolute terms, it does represent an enormous commitment to neurons given the size of the bird.”

3. Golden-crowned Kinglets eat insects and  invertebrates, including fleas, springtails, aphids, insect eggs, caddis flies, mayflies, moths, butterflies, caterpillars, flies, beetles, lacewings, lice, grasshoppers, spiders and more.

Kinglets survive on caterpillars during winter

Kinglets survive on caterpillars during winter

4. Golden-crowned Kinglets have two broods each year. Both males and females work on the nest, which they will build up to 60 feet high in a confer tree. The nest takes 4-6 days to build. The pair collects materials from within 65 feet of their new home, including moss, spider silk, downy plant matter, lichen, parts of insect cocoons, and, bark strips. They will line the nest with finer insulating materials including snowshoe hare down, deer fur and feathers from small birds–some nests might contain more than 2,500 feathers!

5. Amazingly, when the first brood of babies fledges(leaves the nest), the female stops feeding them and gets started right away on laying eggs for her next brood. The male takes over feeding the first set of babies as well as himself and his mate. Considering that the size of Kinglet’s broods might be up to 9 babies, this is a lot of feeding for one bird to do! Think of all those insects and spiders he must find!

aking-10966. Kinglets maintain a body temperature of 43-44 degrees C (109 degrees F) even in the dead of winter when in the north temperatures can fall to -40 degrees. This temperature is 3 degrees higher than most birds. To conserve heat they, like other birds, fluff out their feathers thereby “increasing the depth of the insulating air layers that surround them.” (Winter World, p.111) In addition, they stick their heads into their feathers when sleeping.

7. If in winter Kinglets are without food for only one or two hours during the daytime, they will freeze to death. They must eat to maintain their high metabolism and body temperature. But yet, you have to wonder what insects can they possibly find in the middle of winter? Bernd Heinrich studied this and after much observation, he concluded that the birds are able to find caterpillars. If you’ve ever watched a Golden-crowned Kinglet, you know they never sit still! Instead, they hover, dart, jump and twirl, constantly picking off microscopic mites, aphids, caterpillars and other invertebrates from conifer needles, branch tips and even under tree bark.

8. Golden-crowned Kinglets used to nest exclusively in boreal, spruce forests but have extended their range southward. Now, they can be found in conifer stands in the midwest as well as in the Appalachians. Here where I live in western NC, it is not unusual to see Kinglets.

9. Each nostril of a Golden-crowned Kinglet is covered by one tiny feather. 

Kinglets never stop moving!

Kinglets never stop moving!

10. The oldest Kinglet on record was at least 6 years, 4 months old. It was a banded bird, discovered in Minnesota.

If you have anything interesting you’d like to add, please let me know! It is always fun to hear from my readers.

Happy day!