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.
Continue reading “A Labor of Leaves”
Five years ago, Pileated Woodpeckers friended me.
Okay… strictly speaking, it’s been a one-way friendship: Me admiring some magnificent birds.
It began in April 2015. I was home every day, all day, recovering from surgery. I felt confined, not unlike today’s stay-put virus isolation. My sanity-saver was our expanse of sliding glass doors. They overlook a steep, wooded bluff that brings some trees’ crowns near eye-level, just yards away.
When I first noticed two woodpeckers pounding persistently, I assumed they were foraging. The tree they were pecking wore fungus on its trunk. There had to be insects under the bark.
A week later, I realized my error.
Continue reading “An Avian Friendversary”
What do squirrels eat? Plenty.
Squirrels like nuts, of course. In our corner of the woods, that means mostly acorns. They love seeds, flowers, bark, and mushrooms—the kinds that cling to trees whose insides are rotting with fungus. On the darker side, they’re known to raid birds’ nests—usually for the eggs, and sometimes they’ll take a nestling. All these squirrel snacks make perfect sense, even the bark. That toothsome treat provides starches, sugar, vitamins, and minerals.
This week, I noticed two additional foods in the squirrels’ diet. One makes me want to cheer, and the other has me scratching my head.
Continue reading “When a Squirrel Needs a Snack”
You’ve probably seen birds fluff their feathers in winter.
The fluffy feathers form little puff pockets of air warmed by the birds’ bodies. But… have you ever seen a bird with feathered feet?
In the past few weeks, I’ve watched geese stand immobile for thirty minutes or more on ice and in shallow, frigid water. They seem unconcerned about freezing their feet. Turkey vultures poop on their feet to cool them off in summer. Is it possible, I wondered, that the geese are dropping little toe warmers, and I never noticed?
I reviewed hours of video featuring geese on ice. Nope. Nary a plop.
Continue reading “Fluffy Feathers and Frigid Feet”
Mites and lice and fleas: Oh my!
Have you ever watched a scratching squirrel? Those little paws move incredibly fast, and I swear, their under-the-armpit maneuvers mimic taking a shower. I wrote a blog post about itchy squirrels a year ago, surmising that their den was infested with fleas. This past week, quite a few creatures’ itchy behavior caught my eye: the squirrels, a juvenile bald eagle, adult and juvenile swans, and two kinds of ducks—goldeneyes and mergansers.
So, what’s with all the picking, poking, biting, and scratching?
Continue reading “Scratch that Itch!”
A squirrel perched on a patch of snow.
Why, I wondered, had he selected this icy spot? There was plenty of dry seating nearby. The furry fellow sat perfectly still, his face disclosing no sign of discomfort. I zoomed in to see if he was shivering. That’s one way that squirrels stay warm.
Studying the squirrel through the lens, I could count his whiskers. But seeing no sign of a shiver, I stepped back from the camera.
That’s when I saw the second face.
Continue reading “Snag Face”
The Bald Eagles were brawling on the ice.
At least, that’s what I thought I saw. I had been watching two juveniles for about twenty minutes. Motionless in the frigid wind howling over Lake Allegan’s ice, the eagles appeared to be scanning for fish.
That was unusual, however. Our eagles typically conduct surveillance from high in the nearby trees. An island—aptly named Eagle Island by Michigan’s Department of Natural Resources—provides a broad view of the surrounding water. But these birds stood next to a narrow gap in the ice. Their horizontal line of sight would allow only a limited view of open water flowing in the lake’s main channel.
Then, as I pondered, one of the eagles dive-bombed the other. Perhaps they were not fishing, after all. Were they having an avian tiff?
Continue reading “An Icy Eagle Encounter”
In a driving rain, a squirrel sat on my favorite snag.
Snags are dead and dying trees, like the broken beech behind our home. Over the years, this tree has welcomed nesting woodpeckers, starlings, flycatchers, and wood ducks. In winter, squirrels move in. They leave their summer dreys—the leafy nests we see in the crooks of branches—for warmer quarters.
On that wet, cold morning, I wondered: Why wasn’t the squirrel sheltering inside the tree? There are several cavities within the hollow snag. He wasn’t scampering for food. Instead, he sat placidly in the rain, perched on the very top of the tree.
Then—well, with a small dose of imagination—I realized what he was up to.
Continue reading “No Soap Needed”
Our screen house took a direct hit. Bang! In a long bounce, the acorn slammed the deck below. Clang! It ricocheted to a metal table. Seconds later, a repeat performance.
This percussion suite continued for an hour until the musicians—squirrels nibbling in the oaks above—finished their early evening harvest. Acorns littered the deck, tables, and chairs.
Along with the mess came a mystery.
Continue reading “Bing! Bang! Clang!”
That seems an apt descriptor for a Bald Eagle. Lacking any natural predators, these powerful birds have little to fear in our placid Lake Allegan neighborhood.
That doesn’t mean they’re not wary. We’ve learned not to dash to the window when an eagle lands in one of our trees. They notice the tiniest motion and move on. You can picture me tiptoeing across the room like a Great Blue Heron, trying to sneak to my camera unnoticed. If I succeed, I shoot video through the glass, lest I make noise moving the sliding glass door.
A few weeks ago, an eagle stopped by. True to form, it saw my careful approach and bolted. But the creature didn’t go far. It took a short hop to the aptly named Eagle Island opposite our home. He was far enough away that he didn’t care if I stepped out of the house, but (barely) in range to capture some decent video.
The entertainment started when I realized he wasn’t the only bird perched on an island branch.
Continue reading “How to Annoy an Eagle”