Both carnivores and herbivores cache, or store, food for later consumption. Black-capped Chickadees tuck seeds into bark crevices. Bobcats may cover their kills with leaves, grass, snow and even hair from their prey’s carcass. Grey Squirrels bury their nuts individually, while Red Squirrels often hide green cones in a pile of cone scales (middens) that accumulate at the site where the squirrels have previously eaten seeds, keeping the young cones moist so that they will retain the seeds within them.
Red Squirrels sometimes go one step further than most animals that cache food — they frequently preserve their food by drying it before storing it. You’ll recognize this when you see it – an apple or mushroom stuck in the crotch of two branches. Sometimes the dried food is collected and cached near their winter quarters, but often it remains lodged in tree branches until eaten. The pictured mushroom, which was hung out to dry, was reduced almost to mush by the torrential rains we’ve had lately. Eventually it will dry out and remain edible into the winter.
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The Northern Shrike (Lanius excubitor) is highly unusual in that it is a predatory songbird. Birds, mammals and insects are preferred over nectar, nuts and seeds. This tundra-nesting bird comes as far south as New England to overwinter, where it preys mainly on mice, voles and small birds. The Northern Shrike often kills more prey than it can immediately eat or feed its young, storing the excess food to eat later, when available living prey may be scarce. The manner in which it stores this extra food is what gave it the name “butcher bird;” it often impales prey on a thorn, broken branch (as in photograph) or even barbed wire, or it wedges prey into narrow V-shaped forks of branches, where they hang until reclaimed by the shrike. (Impaled mouse photo by Bridie McGreavy; northern shrike photo by MS Henszey)
Naturally Curious is supported by donations. If you choose to contribute, you may go to http://www.naturallycuriouswithmaryholland.wordpress.com and click on the yellow “donate” button.