Alligators have sensitive jaws

by Dave Hanks

It’s hard to imaging an animal that is so big and covered with armored skin to be sensitive to anything. Yet the skin around the top of the snout and along the jaws is more sensitive than our finger tips. They can detect touch that is too faint for our fingers to feel. Their most sensitive areas are in the gums along their teeth.

Cats of all kinds have sensitive whiskers and elephants very utilitarian trunks; traits that rival the gators sensors and help each species in their struggle for survival. These sensitive areas can allow animals to identify prey, or whatever they come in contact with.

Alligator jaws that can shut with a tremendously powerful force are, otherwise, weak enough that one could hold their mouth shut with one’s hands – a striking contrast between force and gentleness. The touch sensors allow a special gentleness when the female responds to peeping coming from her ripened eggs, which she carefully opens and then carries her new babies in her jaws to safety. Clumsiness would result in a lot of young ones getting accidently chewed up.

Alligators are more adaptable than their crocodile cousins. This has allowed them to spread farther north. They are top of the food chain predators that feed on a wide variety of animals: fish, amphibians, reptiles, birds, mammals, and even your dog. They shape habitats where they live by digging “gator holes” which can modify the wetness or dryness of an area. Other organisms benefit from these modifications.

 

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Resting and warming in the Texas sun

I Really Like to be in Southern Texas

by Dave Hanks

I REALLY LIKE TO BE IN SOUTHERN TEXAS!

It’s pleasant in winter time, when temperatures are low.

This is the time of year when it’s best to go

To the Rio Grande Valley to enjoy the birdie show.

I REALLY LIKE TO BE IN SOUTHERN TEXAS!

All sorts of perchers like these conditions too

Just put out some feed and they soon come into view.

They are there in abundance, and I will name a few:

I REALLY LIKE TO BE IN SOUTHERN TEXAS!

To see Woodpeckers, Jays, Thrashers, and the Kiskadee;

Cardinals and Titmice, and an Oriole in a tree

And so many, many others, are there for you to see.

One gulf coast denizen is the Tri-Colored Heron. It is also known as the Louisiana Heron. They will be there stalking the shallows to catch and ingest almost anything that they can get down their gullet. This 26 inch tall bird inhabits the saline waters of the gulf’s marshes and mangrove swamps.

Audubon Oriole is another southern Texas joy to find, with its yellow body and black head and neck. Texas has more bird species than any other state in the union, and when we can take a trip there, it is always rewarding.

 

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Turkey Vultures prefer their road-kill to be fresh

by Dave Hanks

Scientists, as a result of poor concepts involved in conducting experiments, concluded that birds could not smell. However, better devised experiments of more recent times have shown that birds can indeed smell. Turkey Vultures, that at one time ignored rotten meat placed under a log, do have a very good sense of smell. It’s no surprise that they react very quickly to a recent kill.

Although they are meat eating birds, they do not kill, but survive on carrion. They soar very high, and with their excellent eye sight, can survey a large area in search of dead animals. While perched, you can see their red head and brownish/black body. But in flight, the silvery/white trailing edges of their wings are now visible.

There are 7 species of New World vultures, including the California and Andean Condors. They are two of the world’s largest flying birds with wingspans of over 9 feet. DNA evidence has shown that Old World vultures are unrelated. Their claws, beaks, and behavior patterns are different. American vultures have weak, chicken-like feet which are suitable for running but not for grasping. They must put a foot on the food source to hold it in place while eating. Their beaks are thinner and not as strong as the Old World birds.

Buzzard is not a very attractive term. It is incorrect to use it on American species. It is a term for several hawk species of the Eastern Hemisphere. It does not apply to vultures.

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Resting but alert

Deferred Maturity

by Dave Hanks

Young song birds hatch, fledge, and are ready for migration. The young birds usually resemble the female parent. However, by the following spring the males acquire their adult breeding plumage and assume parenthood. Their development is relative simple and quick. However, most raptors and gulls go through several stages before reaching sexual maturity. Large birds like eagles or buzzards have 4 to 5 stages of development. Hawks usually have two stages to go through over a two year period to reach maturity.

Buteos are large hawks with broad wings. The FERRUGINOUS HAWK (pictured) is the largest American Buteo. Only the Bald Eagle, Golden Eagle, and female Snowy Owl weigh more than this hawk. Ferruginous Hawks go through three stages after the nestling stage: juvenile, sub-adult, and finally adult – three years from hatching to adulthood. This species has been known to live for 20 years (determined by re-catching banded birds), although the majority die within a 5 year period –which allows a five year old bird two opportunities to nest.

Ferruginous Hawk’s first year mortality is estimated at around 66% and adult mortality at about 25% per year thereafter. This ground nesting bird is preyed upon by Coyotes, Golden eagles, and Great horned Owls. Jackrabbits rank high on this species food list. When prey sources are at a low, many hatchlings will die of starvation. Illegal shooting of adult birds has also caused a problem to this not-so-common species.

This magnificent hawk has been used as a falconry bird in its native range.

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A young Ferruginous in the sub-adult phase

 

Two Ecological Terms and Examples

by Dave Hanks

Symbiosis or (Mutualism)

The above term refers to species that depend upon each other for the
benefit of both organisms. This points out the fact that we all depend
upon others for our own wellbeing. In fact, others depending on us
makes their return help to us even more beneficial.

Here are some special symbiotic relationships:

CLARK’S NUTCRACKER and LIMBER PINE – The bird feeds on the nuts
and in return spreads the pine’s seeds, which the tree, being
rooted in the earth,is unable to do.

GRAY WOLF and BARREN GROUND CARIBOU – The caribou furnish the
wolf its food, and the wolf gets rid of the diseased and
unproductive, thus keeping the caribou population healthy and
at its maximum.

SHARK and REMORAS (a tiny fish) – The Remoras are hygienic
because they clean the shark’s teeth. In return they get some
food and much protection from potential enemies by staying close
or in the shark’s jaws.

HONEY BEE and FLOWERS – Bee gets nectar and plant gets pollinated.

Ice Cream Species

This refers to an animal’s favorite food – that food it will always
select if it is available.

Here are some preferences:
GRIZZLIES -> Ground Squirrels
SWAINSON’S HAWK -> Rabbits
CARIBOU -> Lichens
MOUNTIAN LION -> Deer
Isolated or semi-isolated areas, with good deer populations, are also
endowed with healthy Mountain Lion populations

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Black-Tailed doe – a sub-species of Mule deer

 

Arizona: A winter month bird bonanza!

By Dave Hanks

First, this southerly location receives visitors from Mexico – a country with birds not found in the more northern states of America. Also, its desert landscape causes many species to be in abundance in the less arid and lusher areas. Some special areas Carolyn and I would visit during winter months to do photography start at the top of the state and extend into its southeastern corner.

Just below Flagstaff at Cottonwood is Dead Horse Ranch. It has many water birds, many scrubland species, and River Otter. This spot has always been productive enough for a several day stay.

South of Phoenix is Picheco State Park with its desert adapted species. Further south at Tucson is a very rich area. The Sonora Desert parks, both west and east portions add more variety, and all three parks increase the winter picture bounty.

Perhaps, Catalina State Park, north of Tucson, has yielded the most variety: Cardinals, Pyrrhuloxia, Cactus Wrens, Roadrunners, Goldfinch, Thrashers, and several Woodpeckers to name a few.

Further south, just north of Nogales, is Madera Canyon. This higher elevation provides a woodland habitat of Scrub Oak, Juniper, and Yucca. It sports four special species: Arizona Woodpecker, Bridled Titmouse, White-Breasted Nuthatch, and Scott’s Oriole.

From Patagonia Lake we travel to the Chirricahua Mountains and Portal in the southeastern corner. This is the real bird capital of Arizona. One can hardly get the feeders out before the birds that are waiting in the trees swoop down to feast. Peccary and Coati Mundi are two mammals that are there to experience also.

Crissel’s Thrasher: An exciting discovery and photo session

Crissel’s Thrasher: An exciting discovery and photo session

The Importance of Mom!

by Dave Hanks

The legal courts have long recognized the importance of the mother to a child. Dad can be a big help, but in divorce proceedings – the mother has to be very incompetent to not be awarded the children. She will be the winner in almost all cases.

Mothers are vital in non-mammal species as well. Many birds have the father’s help in raising the chicks, but it’s the exception. The brightly colored male is a hindrance when close to the nest. His colors could even attract a predator to feast on the little ones. Some duck hens can be seen swimming with their chicks on their backs – safe from any danger below. Alligator young, at hatching, are carefully carried in mom’s mouth away from danger to the “gator hole” where she will aggressively protect them.

It seems strange that milk producing species almost exclusively depend on mom for security, as well as their food source. In fact, the male may be a very real danger. Lions are known to kill cubs, and boar bears welcome any available bear cub as a tasty meal. The cub may even be the boar’s offspring. Little does he care.

Moose research has shown that for every mother raised calf that dies, eight die that are orphaned. Orphans in their first winter are stressed twice as much by other adult moose than their compatriots. Why they are attacked more is not known. Hypotheses suggest that other mothers are trying to reduce the competition for food resources. It could also be a case of just plain “bullying” – much like the odd hen in the hen house that gets pecked to death. Nature seems to abhor misfits.

Many mammal mothers will put themselves at risk of death when protecting their offspring. One can not escape the tremendous importance of moms of every species.

(Picture: Young moose away from Mom and in trouble & Black Bear cubs ready to climb a tree at Mom’s warning)