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)


Lewis: An Unusual Woodpecker

by Dave Hanks

Pink and green is an unusual color combination, but the LEWIS WOODPECKER is an unusual woodpecker. This bird is named for Meriwether Lewis, who shot a few specimens while on the Lewis and Clark expedition, and after returning home, gave them to the Philadelphia museum. There are very few American species that are pink or green. But, this one has a pink belly and a green back. This 11 inch bird, also, has a red face, and a white neck and throat – an interesting use of colors.

This is an unusual woodpecker, not only because of its coloration, but because of a habit of feeding in mid-air by catching flying insects. Berries and nuts are also eaten – the nuts stored in tree holes for winter consumption.

The Lewis Woodpecker is strictly a western species. Oregon and Northern California woodlands have been especially attractive to this species. These areas are abundant in open Ponderosa Pine forests, riparian woodlands (dominated by cottonwoods), and logged woodlands with standing snags – ideal for nesting. These are the habitats that the bird prefers.

There was a cottonwood tree (that has since been cut down) that was a favorite nesting site for Lewis Woodpeckers. It was on the upper entrance to the Harrington Fork picnic area – along Rock creek in Twin Falls County. We used to visit it every spring to see the woodpeckers. It was a sad day when it was no more. Since the loss of many special trees along Rock Creek, we have had to go further afield to find our pink-bellied friend. Once we visited a central Idaho campground, where the species was reported to have been seen. We were disappointed when the campground host told us that we were a couple of weeks late. But not so fast! I found one down by the river!

Loss of habitat has put this species in trouble. It would be a shame, if this neat bird became extinct!

Lewis Woodpecker Resting in a cottonwood tree by the Salmon River

Resting in a cottonwood tree by the Salmon River

Nature’s One-Tenth Rule

by Dave Hanks

The GRIZZLY is a top-of-the-line predator. For this animal to gain one pound of weight, it would have to eat 10 pounds of SALMON. Those 10 pounds of fish are the result of 100 pounds of FAIRY SHRIMP consumed. Likewise, that much Shrimp had to ingest 1000 pounds of ALGAE.

Matter cannot be destroyed. It will only change its form. Not so with energy which once used is lost. As the above example shows, there is a 9/10ths energy loss at each succeeding level of use. As a former breeder of beef cattle, there were goals I was trying to reach. One goal was feed efficiency. If the ratio of 10 pounds of feed to one pound of weight gain could be shortened, then that was real progress.

Our human species is susceptible to this rule – especially now that the world’s population is growing at such a fast pace. Over seven billion individuals are putting a great strain on the world’s resources. As Americans, we have been lucky to be able to eat at the top of the food chain. In third world countries, their populations are hard-put to be able to eat meat. They have to take a step back on the food chain. When food is scarce, instead of feeding 100 pounds of grain to livestock, it is eaten by the people. To eat meat is a luxury. Eastern Asia is an example of this and the reason they consume so much rice.

As much as we’d like to think we are immune, we are ultimately as subject to the laws of nature as our fellow species.

Grizzlies “making the rounds”

Grizzlies “making the rounds”

Two Orioles – East of the Rockies

Orioles are so brightly colored that it’s hard to imagine them as members of the Blackbird Family. If you “plucked” both an oriole and a blackbird, you would have a hard time telling them apart because of their similar body conformation. Our Bullock’s and the Baltimore are sub-species of the Northern Oriole. The black head of the Baltimore is the major color difference. Where their ranges overlap, they will hybridize and the offspring are fertile. This means both birds are of the same species.

The Orchard Oriole is the smallest North American oriole. It is easy to identify because of its dark, chestnut color. It is the darkest of the orioles. In fact, they may appear black until you get your binoculars on them. They are often found close to water bodies, on farms, or in parklands.

Both of these eastern birds inhabit the edges of deciduous and mixed woods. Orioles are monogamous birds that have adapted well to yards, city parks, and tree-lined streets. They are easy to attract to your yard because of their love for fruit and sweets. Grapefruit or orange halves, or sugar water (1 to 6 parts) in a baby chick watering device – all these are irresistible to these birds.

All orioles migrate and when they return to your yard, they will have just completed a remarkable round trip to Central America and back. Their flight over the Gulf of Mexico is non-stop and energy consuming.

The freshness of spring is enhanced
By the brilliant colors
Flitting amongst the foliage 
The black and brilliant orange of the Baltimore
As contrasted with the deep chestnut of the Orchard
Oriole colors make a fitting stimulus
To liven up your day
A day enhanced by their newly arrived presence!

      (Baltimore Oriole top – Orchard Oriole bottom)

Baltimore Oriole

Orchard Oriole


Life is found in layers and so are birds too.
		At a different vegetation level, a different bird to view.
Quail and Fox Sparrows, both do abound,
		As do Horned Larks and towhees, all on the ground.
Then bring your eyes up to shrub level.
		Notice the warblers trimmed in yellow.
			Now moving on up into low tree,
				Nuthatches and woodpeckers are there to see.
Up on the top, see the Lazuli Bunting?
		And do you see the owl? Well, keep your eyes hunting.
Looking into the air you can perceive with your eye:
		Hawks, eagles, and vultures that most of the time fly.
			Now isn’t that interesting, this awareness I give,
				That in each stratum, different birds live?
			To know each bird’s area can be helpful to you
				When looking for a specific species to view.	

The GREEN-TAILED TOWHEE, like all towhees, is a ground feeder and  is very wary. 
It lingers beneath bushes and then will cautiously creep out to feed – only to 
dash back under cover at the slightest provocation. This one has a long, olive-green 
tinted tail and a white patch on its throat. But the most noticeable field 
identification mark is its rusty-red crown. 

Towhees are members of the sparrow family. The Green-Tailed Towhee is a big sparrow 
(7 inches), but it’s the smallest towhee. Also, it is the only entirely migratory towhee.

(Dave Hanks)

The perky Pipilo chlorurus momentarily in the open

The Common Loon: Bird of Northern Lakes

Loons migrate though Idaho, on their way to Canada, in April. They will stop over at lakes on the way to rest and feed. Two such lakes are the Twin Lakes just north of Preston, Idaho. These lakes contain fish, and thus are inviting layovers. The aforementioned knowledge lured us to these water bodies in early April. April weather being unpredictable, gave us a bitter cold, overcast, and windy day and night before relenting into a decent day that followed. The loon population was not nearly as great as had been promised, but I did get some pictures – and that was what our objective was. Loons like to stay well out in the lake, which makes getting close-ups difficult.

Loons symbolize wilderness and solitude. They have one of the most haunting calls you will hear in the wild. It is this call that was central to the movie “On Golden Pond”. The Chippewa Indians believed the call to be an omen of death. Other tribes ascribed the call as a message of power.

Loon nests are constructed of weeds and grass and are found along lake shorelines. They use the same nest year after year, and nesting is the only time they spend on land, as they have trouble walking. However, they are built for speed in the water. If an enemy gets too close to the chicks, they do what is called a “penguin dance”. They fold their wings next to their body and swim upright in a maneuver that looks like a penguin.

Loons can stay underwater for 5 minutes and swim underwater for a half mile. Once up, it seems, they stay only briefly before diving again. They would much rather dive than fly – although they are good fliers.

Besides the common Loon, we also have the Yellow-Billed, the Pacific, the Arctic, and the Red-Throated – which also lives in the arctic on small water bodies on the tundra. There is something about this bird’s call that penetrates and leaves an impression – once heard, you’ll never forget it!

A common loon in the water Laying over during migration to the north at Twin Lakes, Idaho

Laying over during migration to the north at Twin Lakes, Idaho

Earth School’s Major Lesson

My grandchildren have a dog – a large black Lab. He is confined to a fenced-in back yard. He would love to be in the house or even to run free. But because he goes wild when let inside and raises havoc, he is immediately returned to his back yard abode. If he could just behave himself, he would have free run of the house. A bit more self restraint, on his part, would give him total freedom to roam the community, without bothering the neighbors or their property, and then to return home at the desired times.

The above is an apt analogy, I believe, for human progression. The main lesson, and also the hardest lesson to master in this life, is self discipline. There is a profound saying: FREEDOM IS A LUXURY OF THE SELF DISCIPLINED! This may sound false to many, but is so true that it boggles one’s mind. The more aspects of life that we apply self discipline to, the greater the range of activities that we can enjoy!