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Archive for March, 2011

Song Sparrow

It’s no wonder that the hedgerow I was walking along yesterday seemed alive with the sound of song sparrows – not only was there an abundance of these small, brown birds, but each one’s peak song rate is 300 songs per hour! You can hear the song sparrow's song by going to Cornell's "All About Birds" site at

Eastern Bluebird

Eastern bluebirds are back, and are already staking out territories. Although people are often encouraged to clean out bluebird houses before bluebirds return, experiments show that these birds have a definite preference for nesting boxes containing old nests! The male eastern bluebird displays at his nest cavity or nesting box to attract a female. He brings nest material to the hole, goes in and out, and waves his wings while perched above it. Once he attracts and mates with a female, he takes a break. The male does not participate in nest building, nor does he incubate the eggs, or brood the young. He does, however, resume working in time to help the female feed their nestlings.

Black Bear Fecal Plug

Black bears recently emerged from four or more months of winter dormancy, during which time they did not eat, drink, defecate or urinate. After some intense foraging in the fall, black bear activity slows down, and eventually, as the food supply dwindles, they enter dens. During the months when they are dormant, black bears have what is called a fecal plug that blocks their gastrointestinal tract. Much of this plug consists of hair that the bear ingests while licking its coat. When the bear emerges in the spring, this plug is expelled. The pictured plug is roughly 6” long and 3 ½” at its widest point.

Eastern Phoebes Are Back

Eastern phoebes have arrived back in central Vermont. Their “phee-bee” song is a welcome sound of spring, but one can’t help but be concerned about their welfare -- the temperature outside this morning was 10 degrees F. Ninety percent of this flycatcher’s diet consists of insects (26% of which is made up of bees and wasps), and there aren’t many flying around in this weather. Fortunately, however, ten percent of a phoebe’s diet is small fruit, some of which still clings to trees and shrubs even at the end of a long winter.

Barred Owls Have Tough Winter

The deep snow and persistent cold weather this winter has made life very difficult for animals that stay active, as they must find food. Barred owl sightings are up in Vermont, probably as a result of the harsh conditions this winter. The small mammals that make up much of a barred owl’s winter diet have been well hidden beneath several feet of snow. Thus, visits to bird feeders, where both birds (barred owls will prey on birds up to the size of a ruffed grouse) and small rodents can be found, are frequently made by barred owls. The barred owl pictured naps 40 feet above a bird feeder during the day, but one hopes he fills up on resident rodents during the night.

Mink Slide

Something about the snow conditions (4” of powder on top of a hard crust) must be conducive to sliding on your belly, at least to members of the weasel family. Today I found numerous places (all down hills) where a mink had chosen to either save itself some energy or have fun (or both) by sliding down a slope. The longest run was about 25 feet, the shortest about 2 feet. The troughs, or slides, were roughly 3 1/2” in diameter. Interesting to note that whereas river otters will slide down hills, on flat terrain, and even sometimes up slight inclines, mink appear to limit their sliding to downhill.

Fisher Slide

While some members of the weasel family, particularly river otters, are known to slide downhill as well as on flat terrain, fishers are not, yet I have found two different fisher slides in the snow in as many days. One of the slides was downhill; it began at a hollow tree where the fisher had been resting and extended to the wetland below. The other instance, pictured in the photograph, occurred on level ground. The slide was about 15 feet in length and roughly 8” in diameter.