January: Week 4

Week 3  |  Week 4

A male hairy woodpecker

A femal downy woodpecker

Is it a Hairy or a Downy Woodpecker?


While exploring the winter woods at CWES, you are bound to encounter several woodpeckers. The most common are hairy and downy woodpeckers, but how do you tell them apart?

  • Beaks: A downy woodpecker has a beak that is shorter than the width of its head. A hairy woodpecker has a beak that is about as long as the width of its head. 
  • Size: The hairy woodpecker is about 1/3 longer than the downy and weighs almost 3 times as much!
  • Location: Downy woodpeckers usually stick to smaller branches and hairy woodpeckers to the trunk. 
Telling male and female woodpeckers apart is even easier. Male hairy and downy woodpeckers have a red patch at the back of their heads and females do not. As with other woodpeckers, the male is larger than the female. This allows the males to chisel deep into wood with their longer, stronger bill, where females pry under the bark with their shorter bills. These differences help a pair share food resources without competing with one another. Woodpeckers feed on all sorts of insects and spiders, and occasionally eat seeds and nuts. They are able to listen for their prey crawling beneath bark.

Did you know? The bristly feathers around a woodpecker's nostrils keep them from breathing in sawdust.

Learn more from Project FeederWatch

Hear a downy woodpecker's call and drum


Red fox

baby foxes

Red Foxes Begin to Mate

CWES is sometimes home to a den of red foxes. This month these typically monogamous creatures are getting ready to breed. A little less than two months from now, a litter of about five kits will be born in a dirt den. Raising the kits is a family process, with mom, dad, and sometimes older siblings all chipping in. The kits will stay with their mother at least until the fall when most of them will head off on their own.

The young foxes may only live for about three years in the wild; however, they can live up to twelve in captivity. These nocturnal hunters love to eat rabbits and rodents, but will also snack on berries and insects.

Did you know? Sometimes, non-breeding female red foxes will serve as nannies and help to raise another female’s young. Also, the den in which the young are raised will be re-used for several generations.

Learn more: Animal Diversity Web


painted turtle 
Painted Turtle
garter snake 
Common garter snake
wood frog 
Wood frog

What are Reptiles and Amphibians Up to?

Beneath the frozen surface of Wisconsin’s lakes and in the snow-covered forests and swamps, sleeps a very cool community of amphibians and reptiles. The disappearance of these creatures is hardly noticed during the winter months, but they are biding their time in a myriad of unique ways. While not every Wisconsin amphibian or reptile species over-winters the same way, there are some general patterns.

Many frogs (green, leopard, pickerel, and bullfrogs) swim to the bottoms of ponds and lakes. There they rest and may burrow into the mud. Their specialized body allows them to take oxygen in through their skin to breathe. In the cool water, their metabolic rates are so low that they do not feed and very slowly use a reserve of stored energy.

Painted and snapping turtles also spend their winters under deep water. They too require oxygen, but their skins are not as capable of exchanging gases as amphibians. A turtle survives this dilemma by taking water into its mouth and cloacae where the skin can exchange oxygen and carbon dioxide.

Most snakes hibernate below the frost line for as long as six or seven months. Some species, such as the common garter snake, gather in huge masses to hibernate in favorite locations called hibernacula.

Did you know? A few native frogs have the amazing ability to withstand freezing. The spring peeper, wood frog, and tree frogs can hide in leaf litter or under a piece of tree bark with up to 65% of their bodies frozen! During this time the frog does not breathe nor does its heart beat. Brain activity is un-measurable. The frog appears to be dead and rock-solid. Despite this apparently terminal condition, as temperatures warm, the frog awakens to spring.

Learn more: http://wildwnc.org/natnotes/animalsonice.html

See some amazing footage of a wood frog thawing:


snowflake 1snowflake 2
snowflake 3
Images by Wilson Bentley, a famous snowflake  photographer and observer.

The Science of Snow

At this point in the season we've already seen quite a bit of snow, but the next time the flakes fly take a moment to get a closer look. The tiny crystals you'll see once began their lives in a cloud. There, a tiny droplet froze into a particle of ice. Water vapor began to condense and freeze on its surface, and soon a six-sided prism began to form. Eventually, tiny side arms were added to the prism and it fell down to earth. The shape and pattern of that snowflake depended on many factors: the altitude it formed at, the temperature, the humidity, and the number of other crystals it bumped into as it fell to the ground. Because of all these factors, the chances of finding two identical snowflakes are very slim.

Did you know? The average snowflake falls at a speed of 3 miles per hour. The largest snowflakes ever recorded fell in Montana. The snowflakes were 15 inches in diameter!

Learn more: SnowCrystals.com