February: Week 4


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barred owl
Photo (C) Laura Erickson

bared owl closeup

Barred Owls Begin to Breed

Keep an ear out for the barred owl at this time of year. Their monkey-like call of “Who cooks for you? Who cooks for you allll?” will be echoing through the woods soon as they establish territories and begin to breed. Like the great horned owl, barred owl pairs will perform duets while courting, with the male’s voice being lower. These pairs typically mate for life.

The barred owl prefers to make its nest in abandoned tree cavities. It will lay 2-3 white eggs there, which the female will incubate while the male brings her food. In about a month the eggs will hatch. If they make it to adult size, the birds will weigh about a pound and may live over 10 years. In order to survive, these owls will need to successfully hunt small mammals, rabbits, birds, amphibians, reptiles, and invertebrates. They will also need to avoid predators such as the great horned owl.

Did you know? Scientists estimate that an owl’s eyesight is about 100 better than ours in low light, and that their hearing about 10 times better!

Learn more: Cornell Lab of Ornithology

meadow jumping mouse

Tiny Slumberers

Let’s take a second to highlight a tiny, but unique creature sleeping beneath the snow and earth this season. At this moment, the meadow jumping mouse, a true hibernator, is nestled snuggly underground in a nest of grasses and leaves. While hibernating, it has a body temperature of just 36 degrees F. At 7-9 inches long (including their tail) these creatures have many larger predators to worry about, and most won’t live more than a year.

To help them survive, these mice have extremely long hind feet that allow them to jump up to 3 feet to safety. Not only are these little mammals great jumpers, they are also accomplished diggers and swimmers. In fact, this species prefers the grassy areas near water. The meadow jumping mouse will reemerge in mid to late spring to nibble on fruits, seeds, insects, and fungi.

Did you know? The meadow jumping mouse is the only mammal with eighteen teeth.

Learn more: Animal Diversity Web

pileated woodpecker

Why Don't Woodpeckers Get Headaches?

As you've watched the many hairy, downy, and pileated woodpeckers at CWES hunt for insect meals this fall, perhaps you've wondered how they keep their bird brains safe while hammering away at speeds of 15 mph?

Woodpeckers have several helpful adaptations working for them. First, their sturdy prop-like tail helps stabilize their entire body as they chisel away. Secondly, the woodpecker's skull is made of thick, spongy bone that encloses their brain so tightly that it doesn't rattle about while hammering. Lastly, they have thick neck muscles and cartilage at the base of their lower beak that absorb the shock of their blows.

Did You Know? Some woodpeckers have tongues that are longer than their bills and wrap around their skull, beginning at their upper beak, extending around the back of their skull, and ending in their mouths. Many woodpeckers also have tongues with barbed ends for spearing insects, and produce a glue-like saliva to ensure that their meal reaches their mouths.

woodpecker tongue illustration
winter scene

Get to Know the Local Landscape

While the trees are still bare, this is the perfect time to learn a little more about how the landscape at CWES was formed.

Go to CWES Essentials to learn how Sunset Lake was created.

Thanks to Tony Phillips from the SUNY Stony Brook Math Dept for use of the bird calls on this page. ​