The Incredible Articulating Pinky

Can you say ‘zygodactyl’ three times, fast?

You learn the most interesting things when your bedtime reading is the Peterson Reference Guide to Woodpeckers. My most recent discovery is about woodpecker feet. I already knew that most woodpeckers have zygodactyl feet: Two toes face forward. Two toes face backward. That toe arrangement gives them superior grip strength when clinging to a tree trunk. Their massive claws help, too.

What I did not know is that the multi-talented woodpecker has articulating pinkies.
Read more and see the video

Life in a Snaggy Wood

Snaggy—that’s a technical term I just made up to describe our wooded backyard.

Our little forest has a lovely sprinkling of snags, the forestry term for standing dead and dying trees. I became a snag advocate (a snagvocate?) soon after moving into our home in the woods. In defense of the dead tree, I’ve convinced Bert that we should remove dead wood only as needed to keep our view of the lake below, and to protect the house from hazard in a storm. Otherwise, we leave the dead trees alone.

And oh, the rewards for benign neglect!
Read more and see the video

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?
Read more and see the video

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.
Read more and see the video

Drum Beat of the Northern Flicker

We hear a lot of woodpecker drumming in our woods, and it’s not always clear who is doing the percussion work. But when I hear a deep, resonant drumroll, I immediately look to what I’ve come to call the timpani tree. It’s a magnet for northern flickers. Or, perhaps this instrument serves the same flicker over and again. My reading tells me that flickers are territorial, and they may drum to send a warning to interlopers.

For at least three years, flicker drumming has led me to this tree. Well, ‘tree’ may be a bit of a misstatement, because it’s really a remnant of a long-dead tree; one of the many snags that grace our property.

This snag is well suited to its percussive task. You don’t have to look very closely to see that it’s hollow, and the tree wall is quite thin. The result is a particularly resonant sound under the staccato strike of the flicker’s bill.

Speaking of staccato strikes, there’s something peculiar about the flickers’ drum beats on this tree.

Read more and see the video

Father’s Day in the Forest

Some of the neighborhood birds are pretty impressive fathers.

Some of our neighborhood creature-dads play an important role in child-rearing. Others, not so much. It’s Father’s Day, so I thought I would pay tribute to the feathered fathers whose parenting roles I’ve been privileged to observe.

Which treetop dads help out with the parenting? And which forest fellows leave the child-rearing to mom?

read more and see a video

Not Ready to Leave the Nest

Mama squirrel says: It’s really time to go.

What we’ve long called our ‘squirrel tree’ gave us a special treat this spring. A mama squirrel nested in a corner of a craggy snag that’s easy to see from the house. Most of her kit-rearing took place out of view, deeper in the tree. But when it was time for Mama to nudge the kids from the nest, we got a front-row seat to her parenting.

I’m glad I had the video cam ready. You will really want to see Mama’s get-them-out-of-the-house technique.

read more and see the video

From Creature Tales to Children’s Books

I can write 500 words in my sleep.

Or, so I thought.

I write about business finance, and I’ve produced thousands of pages of course material, journal articles, and books. Naturally, I assumed writing a 32-page, 500-word picture book would be both fun and easy. The stories unfolding out my window practically tell themselves, like the bad-boy nestling story in this post’s video clip.

Turning these stories into children’s literature should have been a walk in the park. Or in my case, a walk in the woods.

I could not have been more mistaken.

read more and see the video

A Nestling Discovers Raindrops

Prepare to say awwwwww.

Not the doctor-looking-at-your-tonsils aww, but the one you bring out when you see something impossibly cute. Or the aww that means something has tickled your sense of wonder. I was struck by a little of both on a day of nonstop gloom, cold, and drizzle. It was a June day masquerading as early April.

But as you’ll see, what I saw in the trees made me grateful for the day’s miserable weather.

read more and see the video

Hang On Tight, Raccoon Kit

For ten years, it was the squirrel tree.

Squirrels popping in and out of holes like whack-a-mole, minus the whacking. Chase scenes straight out of Disney—squirrel nose chasing squirrel tail, three and sometimes four in a line, circling the trunk and diving into this hole or that one. This was nature’s comedy routine.

And then a mama raccoon exercised squatter’s rights.

read more and see the video