Food for Courage

An all-caterpillar diet does not have to be boring.

That’s what I concluded as I watched Baltimore Oriole parents feed their nestlings during my recent nest-watch. They brought wiggly larvae in all colors, sizes, shapes, and textures: green, white, black, skinny, plump, smooth, striped, bumpy, and hairy. Aside from the occasional dragonfly and moth, the nestlings’ diet seemed pretty predictable.

Until they were about four days old.

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Milady Makes a Nest

Baltimore Orioles are building a nest outside my window.

Thinking they deserve better than he, she, or it, I asked Facebook friends for names. I reminded everyone that five years ago, we named some nesting Pileated Woodpeckers Lucy and Ricky, inspired by their blazing red crests. For my new bird neighbors, friends suggested Fred and Wilma, Bogey and Bacall, Cal and Ripken, and Earl and Weaver, among others. But my favorite names were (sorry, baseball fans) Lord and Lady. I’m sure Cecilius Calvert and Anne Arundel, the Second Lord Baltimore and his Lady, wouldn’t mind.

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A Labor of Leaves

Squirrels are industrious little creatures.

They’re famous for indefatigable filching at bird feeders. For hoarding and hiding nuts. And for building dreys, those treetop nests made of seemingly random clumps of leaves. But there’s nothing accidental about drey fabrication. The nest has multiple layers for warmth and strength. Dreys are carefully woven shelters that withstand severe winds, hail, and driving rain. Here’s a cross-section view one blogger posted.

I’ve never witnessed a drey construction project. Don’t I wish I could film that bit of creature behavior! But this spring, I watched a squirrel use leaves to great advantage in a tree cavity.

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High Drama

The cute Eastern Gray Squirrel appeared to have nefarious intent.

Woodpecker nestlings are loud, and their high-pitched squeaks are constant. Every squirrel in the neighborhood was no doubt aware they’d taken up residence in the tree.

So, when I spotted the bushy-tailed rodent repeatedly peeking into a Hairy Woodpecker nest cavity, I was pretty sure it was shopping for a meal.

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Slumber, Lumber Raccoon

Ungainly, clumsy, and cumbrous.

A raccoon exits our broken tree, and those three words come to mind. The animal’s slow, lumbering descent is unlike a nimble raccoon I watched three years ago.

This year’s raccoon has been climbing in and out of what’s been a nesting snag for woodpeckers, wood ducks, starlings, and squirrels. The snag is like a high-rise condo, with more than a dozen visible cavity entrances. Judging from the creatures’ in-and-out behavior, I believe many of the cavities are discrete–they don’t interconnect. The upper cavity, where the raccoon catches its 40 winks, doesn’t offer much shelter. Here’s what I mean:

Considering that broken top, I’ve assumed this is a raccoon snoozing spot and not the den of a nesting female.

But then… there’s that cumbrous descent. The animal’s gait is increasingly labored, and it reminds me of my own ponderous waddle decades ago, when my babies neared full term.

Is my masked neighbor a nesting mama, after all? Continue reading “Slumber, Lumber Raccoon”

Squatter’s Rights

A dozen doors and a skylight.

That’s the approximate count of cavity entrances in the old, broken snag outside my window. I love that ugly remnant of a tree! It brings a daily wildlife show to my front-row seat.

The tree has been occupied by Pileated Woodpeckers, nesting squirrels, Wood Ducks, European Starlings, and Red-Bellied Woodpeckers—several of them simultaneously.

This nesting season, I watched Juliet Squirrel quiver from her balcony in this tree, as she was courted by a Romeo. Soon after, I watched Juliet pad the cavity with leaves, a sure sign she’s expecting. I was looking forward to watching Juliet’s kits take tentative (and comical) first steps outside the cavity.

And then another creature exercised squatter’s rights.

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Mama Sings the Squirrel Blues

Say quaaaaaaaa

Use your saddest raspy voice, and you’ll sound like a squirrel singing the blues.

Quaaa is how biologists describe the squirrel screech that catches my ear from time to time. If you live anywhere near a tree, you’ve probably heard it, too, along with the critters’ kuks and moans, the other documented squirrel sounds.

The scientists call the quaaa an alarm sound, but after seeing one mama perform an extended quaaa soliloquy, I think they’re misinterpreting the lady’s meaning.
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Please Pass the Fish

Loons are world-class divers.

But not the young ones; at least not for several weeks. On a recent Algonquin paddling trip, I noticed Common Loon parents diving for fish and then surfacing to pass the goodies to their chicks. The fluffy-feathered kids appeared to be good swimmers and sometimes they disappeared momentarily under the water. So why weren’t they foraging their own food?

The answer, it turns out, is in those fluffy feathers.

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Bon Appetit!

What’s on the Menu?

This past spring, I watched Hairy Woodpecker parents feed their nestlings. They would fly to the door of the tree cavity, poke their heads and torsos inside, and shake. All I could see was tail feathers bobbing rapidly as the parents pushed and the babies pulled to swallow the regurgitated food. After a couple of weeks, though, the tail movement stopped, even though the parents were still flying to the tree cavity every hour or so.

I worried: Had mom and dad stopped feeding the kids?
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Mama Raccoon’s High Wire Act

Circus acrobats have nothing on Mama Raccoon

When a raccoon nested in one of our snags, I was surprised to see how often she left her kits alone in their tree cavity. Mama departed five or six times daily during daylight hours, and she probably made a few nighttime trips. She was surely hungry and thirsty from nursing her babes.

Mama was cautious, too. Well, cautious like a high-wire walker.
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