Birds are already thinking spring

PHOTO BY GARRY BRANDENBURG It isn't often that one gets the opportunity to view an up close and personal detailed face-to-face encounter with a hawk. In this case it is a Cooper's Hawk surveying the area for its next meal. Its next meal is always another bird, anything from mourning dove to sparrow sizes. This speedy and skilled hunter will use existing objects such as buildings and trees to hide its swift winged approach. Then at the right time it will strike capturing a small bird with its needle sharp talon tips. Death is swift.

Today’s featured creature, a COOPER’S HAWK (Accipiter cooperi), has been the subject of previous Outdoor Today stories. So I won’t try to repeat all the biological fun facts this species has going for it except to say that Mother Nature figured ages ago the proper mix of predators to prey in helping to maintain food pyramids. Cooper’s Hawks are among the world’s most skillful fliers. They can maneuver through a tangle of forest trees and thick branches with ease during its pursuit of other birds. And one place to find lots of small birds is to utilize urban and suburban settings where people have set out bird feeding stations. Food attracts the small birds. Cooper’s take advantage of this to hunt and survive.

When it comes to nest building, the male Cooper’s does the work. A female Cooper’s will stay on the nest during egg laying and incubation. Her food will come from the male who has to feed her and himself. Two to six eggs may be laid in the stick structure home high in tall trees of a forest environment. Only one brood is raised per year. Incubation takes 30 to 36 days. Young Cooper’s hawks will leave the nest anywhere from 27-34 days after hatching.

Bird counts by biologists have determined this species is stable. According to the North American Breeding Bird Survey, its population estimate is 700,000. It lives in southern Canada, all of the United States and portions of northern Mexico.

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BALD EAGLES seem to be just about everywhere. On a short wildlife foray recently in the Three Bridges Park vicinity, I easily spied at least 10 eagles flying about in lazy circles or perched in nearby fields or tall trees. These majestic raptors have made a remarkable resurgence to its population during the last three decades.

People can and do spend a lot of time watching eagles and especially using the Decorah eagle camera website to view an adult pair on their nest. The remote tree top camera is brought to us by the Raptor Resource Project which specializes in preservation of falcons, eagles, ospreys, hawks and owls. The RRP creates, improves and directly maintain over 50 nests and nest sites. They also train other advocates of big raptors how to establish nest sites, do nest site management, and work with remote cameras to help educate people this aspect of the natural world.

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On their nests now are another species of raptor, the GREAT HORNED OWL ( Bufo virginianus). It is big, about 22 inches tall with wingspans approaching 5 feet. No, it doesn’t have horns. The feathered ear tufts sticking up above its head may look like horns, but they are just feathers. This species has yellow eyes a big white throat patch. It kills small mammals by using its silent winged approach to surprise the prey and seize it with long gripping toes tipped with curved black talons. The gripping power (squeeze factor) is measured in hundreds of pounds of force. A rabbit snagged by this bird is not going to get away. The range of Great Horned Owls is far reaching covering all of North America.

A smaller range suffices for the BARRED OWL (Strix varia) from northern United States and southern to mid Canadian lands. These are its primary habitats but is can alos be found in the far northern polar islands of Canada and along the coastlines of Alaska. This big owl is a tad smaller than its cousin the Great Horned, being about 20 to 21 inches tall. Its call if you should here it while hiking in a forest is like this … “who cooks of you, who cooks for you-all.” The Barred Owl has dark brown eyes, a rounded looking head without any ear tuft feathers.

In the did you know this department, owls ears are not equally located on the skull. If one was to examine a museum specimen owl skull, you will note that the cavities for the right and left ears are dissimilar. One side is lower and further forward. The other side is higher and further to the rear. This small distance difference allows owls to compute minute deviations in time for sounds of prey to reach its ears. Triangulation of these sound differences make for precise honing and directions to capture its next meal.

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You may have celebrated last Friday an unofficial holiday, GROUND HOG DAY. This hibernating large rodent, actually a very big ground squirrel that can weigh up to 20 pounds, may or may not temporarily wake up to emerge from its den for a short time. According to legend, if it sees its shadow, there will be six more weeks of winter. If the furry critter does not see its shadow, then there are only 42 days left of winter. Ground hog emergence as observed by people for ages of time was their way of knowing, and gauging, that the winter season was slowly going to end. So between now and the celestial end of winter on March 19, any snow storm events are supposed to be milder and short lived. Hint: Do not tell Mother Nature or she may play her ace card in the poker game of weather. If she gets mad, look out for lots of snow, a big bad blizzard, super cold air and strong winds. If she decides to stay laid back and easy to get along with, well, just enjoy it while you can.

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DUCKS UNLIMITED’s Iowa River Chapter fund raising banquet is scheduled for the Impala Ballroom in Marshalltown on March 17. Put this date on your appointment calendar. Doors open at 5 p.m. to be followed by a 7 p.m. buffet style supper. Games and raffles will be available, Silent auction items and live auction will follow the supper. Tickets in advance are $45 per adult. Call Rich Naughton at 641-328-0124 to order your ticket or tickets.

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This month of February will not have any full moon, a unique timing thing this year. January is now history and during its tenure, we had two full moons with the last being called a “blue moon” because of its orbit closer to the earth. Well, March of 2018 will also have two full moons. For the rest of 2018, only one full moon will happen each month. Keep watching.

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“A positive thinker sees the invisible, feels the intangible, and achieves the impossible.”

— Winston Churchill


Garry Brandenburg is a graduate of Iowa State University with BS degree in Fish & Wildlife Biology. He is the retired director of the Marshall County Conservation Board. Contact him at PO Box 96, Albion, IA 50005.