Heavy snows force wildlife to search harder for foodThe 2010-11 winter has really turned into one to remember with all the snowfall and cold temperatures.
The 2010-11 winter has really turned into one to remember with all the snowfall and cold temperatures. With the return of a more normal winter, wildlife activity around outdoor feeders has picked up. We have a variety of bird feeders both near our house and also in the corner of our yard that offer numerous opportunities to see some interesting sights.
Last year we took the time to enclose our yard with a fence so that we could allow our dogs access to the back yard off leash. In the past, deer would come into our yard to partake of the sunflower seeds left uneaten by the birds during the day.
My backyard abuts Paperjack Creek, which affords a corridor for wildlife to move through the Southview Addition. In the past I have seen a herd of more than a dozen deer file through my backyard as they made their way through the neighborhood feeding on fallen seeds and decorative shrubbery. The deep snow this year has not lessened these feeding forays.
Last week, just before dusk, four does came along the outside of my fence looking for a way into my yard. Judging by the size of the deer, two were probably last year’s fawns. My fence must have been a bit high for them to hurtle as they waddled through the deep snow.
The wooden fence along the back of my neighbor’s yard was more to their liking, however, as they cleared the three-foot obstacle effortlessly. We watched as they started to chew off the tips of the succulent bushes and trees planted there. Knowing how my neighbor John feels about his trees, I opened the back door to move them along. They merely looked at me and continued grazing. Only after I stepped out and walked to the end of our deck did they slowly move on to the east. The “city deer” have certainly become acclimated to urban life.
Deep snow makes it hard for wildlife to find food in normal places. A rooster and hen pheasant have taken to coming in daily to our feeders. I sprinkle a generous dose of seeds on the ground to provide easier access for the ground feeding birds such as the juncos and cardinals.
The pheasants have learned that this is a good place to fill their crop but must compete with our family of five grey squirrels and single red squirrel that reside in the corner spruce stand. The pheasants spend their leisure time in the cattail swamp behind the Heritage Center Greenway. When hungry, they fly or walk over to our yard then fly up to perch on the fence to case the area for dogs or bully squirrels. They then drop to the ground and begin to feed. The rooster is not intimidated that much by the squirrels but the hen gives them a wide berth. Next to our dogs, who feel their main job in life is to keep our yard squirrel-free, the squirrels are next up on the backyard pecking order.
Over the last few years, crows have realized that there is more opportunity to thrive in town than out in the country and many have taken up residence in urban backyards.
We’ve had a local family adopt us and, with the addition of an offspring last spring, the three make the maple stump in our backyard a daily stop. I’ve saved venison scraps from last year’s harvest to place there for their daily allowance of fat and protein. Crows are extremely intelligent animals and how they communicate between themselves and the other animals at the feeders is amazing. Like the pheasant, however, they are beneath the squirrels in the pecking order.
Missing this year is the immature red-tailed hawk that came to the stump last winter to compete with the crows for the venison scraps. Rabbits squeeze their way into the area between the corner fence posts to feed on the seeds and vegetable greens that we place near our compositor.
Numerous species of resident birds stop in and every once in awhile a few late migrants will make an appearance. Feeders placed in the appropriate places can offer a “mother lode” of viewing opportunities.
As the saying goes, “If you take care of your backyard wildlife, your backyard wildlife will take care of you!”
Prairie Flats South WPA Winter Visitor
by Tom Kerr
Recently, a rough-legged hawk has been spotted on the Prairie Flats South Waterfowl Production Area located just northeast of Somerset.
Although the “W” in WPA stands for “Waterfowl,” these public lands, which are purchased with federal duck stamp dollars, provide habitat for a myriad of wildlife species, including this northern visitor.
While many of our summer residents such as blue-winged teal and meadowlarks have migrated south to find suitable food and habitat in warm, sunny places like Florida or Mexico, it is amazing to think that this hawk has also migrated south ending up in Wisconsin to spend the winter.
The name “rough-legged” refers to their feathered legs, which are unusual since most North American hawks do not have feathers that go all the way to their toes. Rough-legged hawks breed in the Arctic tundra and taiga regions in the northern hemisphere. They generally build their nests on cliffs or in trees and winter in grasslands and open areas.
According to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology website, their nest sometimes contains the bones of caribou along with sticks. They primarily feed on small mammals and occasionally some birds.
Unlike the more common red-tailed hawks, the rough-legged hawks have a broad tail with white at the base and a broad dark tip. Looking up at the bird in flight you should also be able to see dark wing feather tips and a black patch at the wrist of the wing.
If you would like to try to spot the hawk or enjoy some of the other wildlife that use these WPAs, stop out to visit the Prairie Flats South WPA.
For a map of the WPA or more information on the St. Croix Wetland Management District, check out our website at www.fws.gov/midwest/stcroix/.
The Friends of the St. Croix Wetland Management District and the St. Croix WMD is sponsoring a winter ecology and nature walk on Saturday, Jan. 15, on the Oak Ridge Waterfowl Production Area from 10 a.m. to noon.
Oak Ridge WPA is located about two miles east of Star Prairie south of County Road H. Biologists Jim Riemer and Chris Trosen will lead you on a winter walk exploring the mysterious sights and sounds of nature during winter. Following the outing, hot chocolate will be available.
Space is limited so RSVP at 715-246-7784, ext. 16 if interested.