Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

What Do I Do If I Find A Baby Bird?

Monday, June 28th, 2010

1. If the baby is in immediate danger (in a road or near a predator), move it to a higher branch or other cover as close as possible to where you first found it. Confine cats and dogs.

2. Withdraw to a good distance and simply watch the bird, preferably through binoculars. Allow the parents, if they are present, to attend the baby. Don’t immediately assume it’s not being cared for, even if an hour passes without seeing a parent arrive.

3. Look and listen for others of its species. Constant contact calls given by fledglings serve to keep their parents apprised of their whereabouts.

4. If you see an adult of its species nearby, especially one carrying food, you may assume that it will be fed and cared for.

5. If several hours pass and you do not see an adult tending the baby, walk the area around it, looking and listening for other fledglings giving the same calls. It’s probable that this one has just become separated, and it may need to be carried over to join the rest. Head for the thickest nearby cover: Parent birds lead their young toward cover soon after fledging.

6. Resist the temptation to carry out a friendly abduction. A baby bird’s best chance for survival is always with its own parents. Plus, removing a fledgling is illegal unless you are a licensed rehabilitator. Playing a recording of the bird’s song can be a good way to summon the parents. Note where the first answer comes from and try to locate the family there. Be quite careful when doing this, though, and never overdo it–there is always the risk of disturbing other birds in the vicinity during nesting season.

7. If you are sure the parent birds are nowhere to be found, it’s time to contact a wildlife rehabilitator. State environmental departments, local wildlife officers, nature centers, some bird-feeding and supply stores, and some veterinarians keep lists of people to call.

Click here to see The Wildlife Rehabilitation Information Directory. You will be able to locate a rehabber near you.

What is Nongame Wildlife?

Monday, June 28th, 2010

A GREAT variety of wildlife and wild plants … and the forests, grasslands and wetlands they inhabit … represent a natural heritage of enormous interest and priceless value.

Herons, bitterns and frogs are conspicuous occupants of marshes–a rapidly vanishing habitat. Our many rivers and streams harbor creatures such as the rare Northern Redbelly Snake, the wintering Bald Eagle, and the House Wren. Our forests would not be forests without the sights and sounds of the woodpeckers and owls, and the stately figure of a bur oak or ponderosa pine. Grasslands are brought alive by the presence of the melodious Meadowlark and the Prairie Falcon diving with a ground squirrel in its sights.

The urban environment, with its cardinals, robins and Purple Martins, constitutes an important
element of man’s well being because of its closeness to the everyday life of the city dweller.

At one end of the wildlife spectrum are the game species and furbearers, such as the Ring-necked Pheasant, deer, Beaver and trout that people hunt, fish or trap. At the other end are the endangered or threatened species of wildlife and plants, whose continued existence is in some degree of jeopardy.

Such species include the Whooping Crane, Black-nosed Shiner, Swift Fox, River Otter and the blowout penstemon, a plant with beautiful, fragrant blossoms that finds it necessary to grow under inhospitable conditions.

Most wildlife are not hunted and are collectively referred to as “nongame” species. Hundreds of species of birds, mammals, reptiles and amphibians fit this classification, including hawks and owls, bats, herons, sandpipers, songbirds, turtles and frogs. Some of these species are endangered, being on the brink of extinction throughout all or a significant portion of their range.

Others are threatened or likely to become endangered within the foreseeable future. Species as the Jack Rabbit, Spotted Skunk and Short Horned Lizard are protected and classified as in need of conservation.

What is the value of nongame wildlife?

For the game and furbearer species, that value is real and tangible food, furs and recreation. But the value of nongame wildlife is less tangible difficult to express in words and impossible to show on a bank statement Nongame wildlife certainly has worth in terms of aesthetics as well as recreation.

Bird watchers and wildlife photographers might even be able to calculate the number of hours of recreation they derive from wildlife and assign some sort of value to those hours. The rest of us simply see, hear and appreciate wild things in our parks, our fields and our backyards. No one can calculate the value of wild creatures, but we know that our world would be virtually intolerable without them.

There are, of course, more practical values of wildlife. Wild species serve as a barometer of our environment. The decline of the Peregrine Falcon, for example, called attention to the ominous buildup of DDT in our environment, as well as other persistent pesticides; chemicals which can threaten all life.

Scientists study wildlife to learn how the environment works and how it supports all creatures, including man. In the complex web of life, what happens to one species affects us all.

Go Wild With Your Landscaping

Monday, June 28th, 2010

IF YOU want to landscape your yard to attract birds and other wildlife, the first rule of thumb (a gardener’s green thumb, that is) is to go native.

Plants that are native to our soil and climate provide the best overall food sources for wildlife and support from 10 to 50 times more native wildlife, mostly insects, than exotic or non-native plants.

You’ll also want to be sure to choose a variety of plants. Some evergreen trees and shrubs for shelter year-round, some deciduous trees. Trees and shrubs that bear fruit in the late summer and fall can provide food for fruit-eating birds all winter long. Dense shrubs can provide places for birds to court, nest and raise their young.

Start by assessing your yard and determining how you want to enhance what you already have. WindStar’s website offers information that can help you get started. It includes a list of shrubs, trees, flowers and evergreens that are native to your area.

Wildlife gardening tip: Allow flowers such as cosmos, marigolds and composite varieties to go to seed.Goldfinches and other seed eating birds are fun to watch as they skillfully glean these delicate seeds in late summer and fall.

Who doesn’t smile at the sight of butterflies flitting through the yard, stopping here or there for a sip of nectar? If you’d like to attract these summer stars to your yard, you’ll need the right nectar plants and the right host plants. Butterflies use host plants as a place to lay their eggs and as a food source for the caterpillars that hatch from those eggs.

For instance, Monarch Butterflies lay their eggs only on milkweed plants. Once the caterpillars hatch from the eggs they eat the leaves of the plant. The silvery blue butterfly has the same relationship with wild pea blossoms.

Development and use of insecticides have wreaked havoc on butterfly habitats. But these creatures are an important part of the ecosystem–pollinating crops and plants and providing joy to many people.

Most adult butterflies feed on nectar from a variety of nectar producing plants. Some, such as the Red Admiral, Painted Lady, Tiger Swallowtail and Mourning Cloak, will feed from butterfly nectar feeders. Use a solution of one part sugar to 18 parts water. To help butterflies find the feeder, place rotten fruit, such as bananas and pears, on top of the feeder.

You’ll also want to consider providing a source of water for your birds, and sources of shelter and nest boxes for birds to raise their young. –Times Leader

What Is the One Best Hummingbird Plant?

Monday, June 28th, 2010

By Nancy L. Newfield

IF THERE WERE just one perfect plant for all parts of the country, for all situations, for the entire calendar year, I wouldn’t have much to talk about. Of course, there are a number of plants (or family groups of plants) that work well over most regions of North America, and every hummingbird gardener should have several of them.

Salvia splendens, a native of Brazil, is marvelously useful, and it was in my mother’s salvia garden that I met my first hummingbird, a male rubythroat. Vast trays of salvia are displayed in nurseries, discount centers, and supermarkets around the country each spring. These plants are easy to find and even easier to grow. Horticulturists have outdone themselves in developing varieties to fit every nook and cranny around the yard. Several varieties get no larger than six inches, whereas others may grow to be three feet tall. Salvias are grown as annuals in most places, but they can become small shrubs in frost-free regions.

The array of salvia colors is impressive. Red is a beacon to all hummingbirds and it has proven to be the most effective color for attracting them. These plants aren’t picky about their soil, but they like lots of sun and good drainage. One bed with half a dozen red salvias, or better yet, a dozen, will pull birds in for weeks. When the blossoms have finished and the plant is looking a bit ratty, snip off the spent flowerheads and another couple of blossom sets will spring forth.

The salvia family is large and extremely useful for attracting hummingbirds. South American anise sage (S. guaranitica), with its indigo blue flowers and aromatic foliage, is an excellent choice for many locales. Anise sage is drought tolerant, yet can thrive in a rainy environment as long as water drains from the roots promptly. It performs as well in partial shade as it does in full sun. And it can be grown as a perennial as far north as the Carolinas. Farther north it might need to be replaced every season.

Another good all-around salvia is tropical or Texas sage (S. coccinea). Native to South America, it has become naturalized in many parts of the Deep South. A lovely red form is marketed under the name “Lady in Red,” and there are several nice pink ones. Essentially, this plant is a weed, but an easygoing one. Grown as an annual, it produces a bountiful number of seeds. New plants sprout up all over the garden in southern climes.

Several other members of the salvia clan are widely useful. Mexican native pineapple sage (S. elegans) works well in California and the Southern states, but the brilliant red blossoms appear after most migratory hummingbirds have departed more northerly haunts. Autumn sage (S. greggii), comes from southwest Texas and adjacent Mexico. Numerous color varieties guarantee a blaze of glory from spring to early fall. Mexican bush sage (S. leucantha) makes a splash of purple in early spring and again in the late summer, just when migrating hummingbirds need their nectar most.

Canna lilies
Cannas are popular with professional landscapers because their red or yellow blossoms make stunning displays, yet the plants require little maintenance. These hardy plants are not picky about soil, moisture, or hours of sun. The large, floppy hybrid types are prettier than the small-flowered species, but often hummingbirds find it difficult to reach the nectar in those with big blossoms. Compact varieties with small, simple flowers will bring hummingbirds from far and wide.

Though they must be lifted each fall where the ground freezes, in southern zones cannas form deep, long-lasting roots. It isn’t unusual to find ancient patches of them around abandoned homes and where most other traces of human habitation have disappeared.

Bee Balm
Monarda didyma draws rubythroats from far and wide when its vibrant flowers light up eastern forests in midsummer. Whorls of raspberry-colored blossoms begin opening in midsummer and continue for weeks. Horticulturalists have also perfected varieties with white, red, and violet flowers.

Bee balm is a popular “old garden” perennial in much of the continent, but it doesn’t flower consistently in the hot, humid South, so there lavender (M. citriodora) and red (M. pringlei) are better choices. In the arid Southwest, light purple heads of horsemint (M. fistulosa) blossoms summon black-chinned hummingbirds to dinner.

Honeysuckles are vines or shrubs that grow over vast regions of the United States and Canada. Coral honeysuckle (Lonicera sempervirens) can be grown over much of North America. The soft red blossoms are typical hummingbird attractants—tubular and nonfragrant.

The first spring flowering is a show-stopper. In the South, where it is native, flowers unfurl just about the time the first contingent of ruby-throated hummingbirds reach their nesting grounds. Sporadic blossoms appear throughout the year, hence the name sempervirens—evergreen. The fleshy red seeds are a favorite of mockingbirds as well.

Other native honeysuckles are more regional in their distribution, but are very useful where they are found. Twinberry honeysuckle (L. involucrata); tatarian honeysuckle (L. tatarica); Arizona honeysuckle (L. arizonica); orange honeysuckle (L. ciliosa); and chaparral honeysuckle (L. interrupta) all put forth nectar-filled flowers to tempt whichever hummingbird species might be in the area.

Members of the hibiscus (Rosa sinensis) tribe are favored for its lush tropical appearance, but cold-hardy varieties are being developed so that they can be enjoyed during the warm days of summer in the North. Small-flowered varieties in bright colors will prove much more useful than frilly ones the size of a dinner plate and those of pastel hues.

Althaea, or rose of Sharon (H. syriacus), is another widely grown member of the clan that is a magnet for hummingbirds. Pink, purple, or white flowers blanket this tall shrub most of the summer and into the fall. Hummingbirds are better able to reach the nectar of varieties with “single” flowers rather than those with “doubles.”

Sultan’s turban (Malvaviscus arboreus var. drummondii) is used extensively in the Southeast and on the West Coast. The first clear red blossoms appear in midspring and continue month after month. Visitors to Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge in south Texas often find buff-bellied hummingbirds feeding on this plant around the refuge’s parking lot. Giant turk’s cap (M. arboreus var. mexicanus) flowers in the winter. These massive shrubs are useful in regions with frost-free winters.

Butterfly Bush
Buddleia davidii and B. alternifolia aren’t just for butterflies! Called “summer lilac” in the South, the tiny purple, pink, or white flowers are borne on gracefully arching branches that dance about in the slightest breeze. Butterfly bush makes a medium-sized or large shrub that gives the birds a fine lookout perch.

Rufous hummingbirds in Oregon enjoy buddleias as much as rubythroats do in Georgia. The fragrant flowers also attract bees and moths. THIS CAN BE INVASIVE IN SOME REGIONS.

Flowering Quince
Chaenomeles speciosa and C. japonica bloom in early spring when most hummingbirds are just beginning to arrive at their nesting destinations. But in the deserts of southern California, the small pink flowers exude abundant nectar while young Costa’s hummingbirds, still in the nest, require an ever-increasing quantity of food.

Quince has a fairly short flowering period, timed perfectly to bring in hummingbirds at a time when few other nectar sources are available. The attractive shape and colorful fall foliage make quince an overall good garden choice.

Aquilegia formosa, A. canadensis, A. elegantula, A. caerulea, and A. chrysantha are all indigenous to mountainous regions, though they can grow comfortably in most sections of the United States. In the wild, columbines are often found growing amid streamside rocks, so thorough watering will benefit them in areas of little rainfall.

The columbine’s unusual spurred petals and the airy, fernlike foliage belie the toughness necessary for high-country plants to survive. Some columbines are red or red and yellow, whereas others come in shades of yellow, blue, or purple. Many birders have added white-eared hummingbird to their life lists at a marvelous stand of butter-yellow columbine near Comfort Spring in southeastern Arizona.

Lantana horrida, L. camara, and L. montevidensis are hardy plants that offer clusters of florets to every passing bird. Flowers of the most common lantana variety are red and yellow. Clever nurseryfolk have created carmine red, butter yellow, and some lantanas that glow pure orange. Trailing types in purple or yellow are sometimes used as groundcovers.

The tenacious roots of lantana give it a plus in public areas where horticultural care may be haphazard. My first trip to California was made complete when I found a female Anna’s hummingbird defending a large patch of bright red lantana at an apartment complex I was visiting.

Hemerocallis are ubiquitous in tidy suburbs and rural landscapes across the continent. Hybridizers have gone hog-wild developing new daylily colors and interesting shapes, and ease of care only adds to their appeal for those wanting to create a hummingbird-friendly landscape. These plants withstand deluge and drought with equal aplomb.

Daylilies with single yellow flowers perched atop tall stalks seem to be the type hummingbirds prefer. Because they like to grow in full sun, daylilies can be like beacons to all hummingbirds passing by.

Cardinal Flower
Lobelia cardinalis is native to the Southeast and a few parts of the West, yet its glowing scarlet flowers illuminate dark, damp corners of gardens almost everywhere. But these erect perennials aren’t afraid of the sun, so put them in sunny spots as well. The three- to four-foot-tall plants are a natural near fountains and around ponds. Late-summer flowering is an asset to migrating hummingbirds.

If the proper conditions are created, cardinal flower is self-seeding, so garden chores are simplified. Just wait for new seedlings to increase the size of the bed.

Trumpet Creeper
Campsis radicans grows as an aggressive vine in many parts of the United States, but in colder regions it is a large shrub. The large, waxy, trumpet-shaped blossoms are usually bright orange, though some individual plants produce red or yellow blossoms. Hummingbirds aren’t choosy about the colors. I remember finding one scrambling over a stone wall in the west Texas town of Fort Stockton. Black-chinned, broad-tailed, and rufous hummingbirds swarmed all over the vibrant red flowers one fall morning.

The popular hybrid ‘Madame Galen’ must not produce any nectar, because the birds seldom visit its luscious-looking peach-colored blossoms. Trumpet creeper forms a deep root system and it reaches ever skyward, grasping on to everything in its way, so don’t put this giant too close to the house.

Zinnias don’t have the look of hummingbird flowers, but they are cultivated all over North America for their bright, sunny appearance. People speculate that hummingbirds primarily seek tiny insects in the center of the bloom. Nevertheless, the zinnia’s attractiveness to the birds is unchallenged. Watch carefully to see how your hummingbirds extract the nectar and insects.

Every hummingbird gardener dreams of finding the perfect plant. This mythical bit of botany would be easy to grow and drought-resistant, yet tolerant of “wet feet.” It would produce colorful, attractive flowers nonstop all year. And this imaginary all-American hummingbird plant would flourish as easily in Limestone, Maine, as it would in Bisbee, Arizona. Such a plant does not exist, but several of this baker’s dozen come very, very close. Happy hummingbird gardening!

EDITOR’S NOTE:  Nancy L. Newfield, co-author of Hummingbird Gardens, originated the study of hummingbirds wintering in southern Louisiana.

Global Warming Said Killing Some Species

Monday, June 28th, 2010

By Seth Borenstein
WASHINGTON, DC–Animal and plant species have begun dying off or changing sooner than predicted because of global warming, a review of hundreds of research studies contends.

These fast-moving adaptations come as a surprise even to biologists and ecologists because they are occurring so rapidly. At least 70 species of frogs, mostly mountain-dwellers that had nowhere to go to escape the creeping heat, have gone extinct because of climate change, the analysis says. It also reports that between 100 and 200 other cold-dependent animal species, such as penguins and Polar Bears are in deep trouble.

“We are finally seeing species going extinct,” said University of Texas biologist Camille Parmesan, author of the study. “Now we’ve got the evidence. It’s here. It’s real. This is not just biologists’ intuition. It’s what’s happening.”

Her review of 866 scientific studies is summed up in the journal Annual Review of Ecology, Evolution and Systematics.

Parmesan reports seeing trends of animal populations moving northward if they can, of species adapting slightly because of climate change, of plants blooming earlier, and of an increase in pests and parasites.

Parmesan and others have been predicting such changes for years, but even she was surprised to find evidence that it’s already happening; she figured it would be another decade away.

Just five years ago biologists, though not complacent, figured the harmful biological effects of global warming were much farther down the road, said Douglas Futuyma, professor of ecology and evolution at the State University of New York in Stony Brook.

“I feel as though we are staring crisis in the face,” Futuyma said. “It’s not just down the road somewhere. It is just hurtling toward us. Anyone who is 10 years old right now is going to be facing a very different and frightening world by the time that they are 50 or 60.”

While over the past several years studies have shown problems with certain species, animal populations or geographic areas, Parmesan’s is the first comprehensive analysis showing the big picture of global-warming induced changes, said Chris Thomas, a professor of conservation biology at the University of York in England.

While it’s impossible to prove conclusively that the changes are the result of global warming, the evidence is so strong and other supportable explanations are lacking, Thomas said, so it is “statistically virtually impossible that these are just chance observations.”

The most noticeable changes in plants and animals have to do with earlier springs, Parmesan said. The best example can be seen in earlier cherry blossoms and grape harvests and in 65 British bird species that in general are laying their first eggs nearly nine days earlier than 35 years ago.

Parmesan said she worries most about the cold-adapted species, such as emperor penguins that have dropped from 300 breeding pairs to just nine in the western Antarctic Peninsula, or polar bears, which are dropping in numbers and weight in the Arctic.

The cold-dependent species on mountaintops have nowhere to go, which is why two-thirds of a certain grouping of frog species have already gone extinct, Parmesan said.

Populations of animals that adapt better to warmth or can move and live farther north are adapting better than other populations in the same species, Parmesan said.

“We are seeing a lot of evolution now,” Parmesan said. However, no new gene mutations have shown themselves, not surprising because that could take millions of years, she said. –Newsday

What Makes a Photograph an Original?

Monday, June 28th, 2010

By Ron and Sharon McConathy
TODAY PHOTOGRAPHY can be found everywhere from printed media such as books, catalogs, advertisements and newspapers, to websites, and even to movies, if you think of them as a series of rapidly projected still photographs. We are constantly exposed to other photographer’s interpretation of the world around us.

Does all of this sensory input influence us in some way? Undoubtedly it must have some effect, and yet each of us still retains our own view of our environment. This unique way of seeing is what makes our photography “original” and what distinguishes it from that of others.

If you were to give a group of experienced photographers the task of photographing within the confines of a small garden, the resulting images will be surprisingly diverse, even though the environment is the same. What do these photographers have than enables them to produce such diverse and original work? Technical skill, passion, patience, focus, imagination, opportunity, understanding, diligence and love.

Most of us are familiar with what is needed to be technically skilled. Being able to determine proper exposure, decide what should be in focus, and create an effective composition require study and practice. Becoming technically skilled doesn’t happen overnight, and many of us struggle to achieve technical excellence. Today’s modern cameras help by offering auto exposure, auto focusing and image stabilization. The creative photographer applies technical ability to consistently produces original images and doesn�t rely on camera automation or luck.

Even though most accomplished photographers work hard at their photography, all those who are really well-known show great passion for their work. Patience goes hand in hand with passion, and these photographers are rarely satisfied to stop after just a few images. Through practice, they can quickly recognize a promising subject. And then they examine it from many angles and distances and see how it is affected by different light. These passionate photographers get up early and stay out late, and they wait patiently for the best moment. They photograph each subject many times. They focus intently on the subject, ready to trip the shutter at the exact instant the subject makes eye contact, jumps, stretches, or expresses itself.

Being able to imagine the finished photograph before it has been taken is a great advantage. In addition, imagination can be assisted by advances in equipment. New camera lenses offer different ways of seeing subjects. For example, the first macro lens allowed close-up images of subjects not previously possible. A newly constructed viewing platform at a waterfall provides opportunities that were previously either very dangerous or impossible. Occasionally new locations become accessible to photographers. The first images made of these new places are all “original” in the sense that the area hasn’t been seen before. Photographers who visit these places later face more of a challenge to capture the scene in an original way.

Finding new opportunities can also offer a path to originality. Professional photographers are constantly looking for new uses for old equipment or want to be the first to try out a new camera or lens or be the first to photograph a foreign land. These kinds of opportunities for originality sell and attract attention!

Practically speaking, however, most of us are content with familiar equipment, well-known subjects, and locations that are not necessarily unique. For us, being original requires more experimentation, which of course means there will be many throw-aways! The willingness to try new techniques and to study our failures help us understand where we need to improve. Coupled with diligent effort, this path can lead to new discoveries and great successes.

Here are just a few ideas you may want to try:

  • Look for an unusual camera angle when photographing a common subject.
  • Place your camera under a flower with the sky as a background rather than standing up and shooting down on the subject.
  • Wade into the water to photograph the water lily looking back at the shoreline.
  • Construct a blind to use for photographing shy creatures.
  • Don’t be afraid to try something you haven’t seen done before.

You don’t have to be original to be a good photographer, but after a while ordinary photographs are like eating a bologna sandwich for lunch every day. Boring! Letting your imagination flow and trying new approaches and techniques can have the side benefit of bringing passion back into your photography. And while others may find your new approaches intriguing, you will be the one to ultimately gain the most.

Most of us take photographs for the sheer love of it rather than for any economic benefit. Giving ourselves the freedom and encouragement to stretch beyond our comfort zone, to try new angles and new techniques, to create images that are “original,” at least for us, will bring new life and love into our photography. The spark of our original vision will touch others and enable them to see the world in different and wonderful ways.

Giant Constrictor Snakes Invade Florida

Monday, June 28th, 2010

EVERGLADES NATIONAL PARK, FL–Burmese Pythons, an invasive species now spreading across south Florida, could find comfortable climatic conditions in roughly a third of the United States, according to new “climate match” developed by the U.S. Geological Survey, USGS.

Although other factors such as type of food available and suitable shelter also play a role, Burmese Pythons and other giant constrictor snakes have shown themselves to be highly adaptable to new environments, the USGS says.

The newly released USGS maps can help natural resource agencies manage and possibly control the spread of non-native giant constrictor snakes, such as the Burmese Python, now spreading from Everglades National Park in Florida.

Biologists with Everglades National Park confirmed a breeding population of Burmese Python in the Florida Everglades in 2003, likely the result of released pets.
Burmese python in the Everglades.

Python populations have since been discovered in Big Cypress National Preserve to the north, Miami’s water management areas to the northeast, Key Largo to the southeast, and many state parks, municipalities, and public and private lands in the region.

“Wildlife managers are concerned that these snakes, which can grow to over 20 ft. long and more than 250 pounds, pose a danger to state- and federally listed threatened and endangered species as well as to humans,” said Bob Reed, a USGS wildlife biologist at the Fort Collins Science Center in Colorado, who helped develop the maps.

“Several endangered species,” he noted, “have already been found in the snakes’ stomachs. Pythons could have even more significant environmental and economic consequences if they were to spread from Florida to other states.”

Burmese Pythons have been found to eat endangered Key Largo Woodrats and rare Round-tailed Muskrats.

“This makes it that much more difficult to recover these dwindling populations and restore the Everglades,” said park biologist Skip Snow, “and all the more important that pet owners be responsible in their choice of pet and dispose of it properly should they need to. Releasing them into the environment is bad for that pet, bad for native species, and also illegal.”

The USGS “climate match” maps show where climate in the United States is similar to places in which Burmese Pythons live naturally–from Pakistan to Indonesia.The maps show where climate alone would not limit these snakes. One map shows areas in the U.S. with current climatic conditions similar to those of the snakes’ native ranges. A second map projects these “climate matches” at the end of this century based on global warming models, which significantly expands the potential habitat for these snakes.

Control of exotic species is often prohibitively expensive once they have become established. Therefore, prevention through screening and risk assessment is of great importance, especially when protecting continental areas from invasive reptiles, said USGS invasive snake expert Gordon Rodda, also of the Fort Collins center.

Currently, scientists with the USGS and Everglades National Park are investigating where the snakes might go next and their likelihood of survival. USGS researchers are also conducting a risk assessment for nine species of giant constrictors–including Boa Constrictors and Yellow Anacondas–that are prevalent in the pet trade and as such, potential invaders in the United States.

Due to be completed by early 2009, the assessment evaluates the risk of invasion for these species and the potential for social, economic, and environmental impacts. The two agencies are also developing and testing tools to control invasive snake populations and prevent their spread, especially to the Florida Keys where several listed species would be threatened by the presence of pythons or other constrictors. –ENS

What Was That 4-Legged Critter?

Monday, June 28th, 2010

By Jeff Mill
CROMWELL, CT–That four-legged blur that flashed by your car while you were en route to work last week. Was it really a coyote?

More than likely the answer is yes, said Cheryl Gagnon, the town’s animal control officer. “We have coyotes everywhere, all over town.” But it’s not a question of coyotes suddenly invading town, she said. “They have been here even when we didn’t know they were here.I’m aware that coyotes have been in this town since the early 1980s,” one veteran police officer recalled.

However, “because there is such a surge in building now, you’re seeing them everywhere,” Gagnon said. “We’re just seeing more of them because we are disrupting their homes, their dens.”

Police Chief Anthony J. Salvatore said he was looking out his kitchen window last week when he saw one saunter by. “There’s nothing wrong with seeing a coyote,” Gagnon said. And yet, just seeing a coyote can cause a tremor of anxiety among some people, she acknowledged.

‘The biggest thing people worry about is a coyote attacking their child,” Gagnon said. And yet, she said, “a healthy coyote won’t even bother you. They’re more afraid of you than you are of them.” Still, Gagnon encouraged residents to give coyotes a wide berth. If you do see a coyote, if you make a noise it will usually run away. But if you do make a noise and it doesn’t leave,” Gagnon said, “then you should go back inside and call the police.”

A coyote looks like a small to medium dog, and can run from 15 to 45 pounds. If they are in good health, they usually have a full coat of brownish or gray hair. Coyotes have two distinguishing marks: their ears stand straight up, and they have a long bushy tail that is usually black on the tip. The tail points down,” Gagnon said, unlike dogs whose tails can be up when they run.

Coyotes primarily travel as a family, she continued. You will usually see an adult male and female and maybe a few pups. However, they tend to be solitary hunters. “Most of the time, you will see only one of them,” Gagnon said.

Coyotes are not the only wildlife that inhabits Cromwell. In the parts out in the western edge of town in particular, it is not uncommon to see deer, Wild Turkeys, foxes, and Raccoons as well as coyotes, Salvatore said. “We’re still very fortunate in Cromwell to have a lot of open space, particularly on the west side of town that will never be developed because of the highways,” the chief said.

Sometimes the interactions between humans and wildlife go awry. Of course there are accidents involving deer, Gagnon said. But she also remembered one incident in which a Wild Turkey got into a house in town, and of course became frantic trying to get back outside.

When those interactions do go wrong, it is usually the animal that loses, Gagnon admitted. State law prevents any effort to relocate wildlife, because it disrupts existing territorial patterns, she explained.

Sightings of wild animals have increased as development has increased in town, Gagnon said. And as more of more of the town is developed, those sightings will become more common, too. “Ultimately, we have moved into their backyard,” she said. “So I do expect to see more sightings because of all the building that that is going on in town.”

Coyotes are very adaptable, Gagnon said. Not only can their change their locations as development intrudes, but they can change much more: what and when and where they sleep and eat, for instance. Usually, they eat small mammals, she said. But if the need arises, they will switch to eating fruits, insects, birds and even frogs, she said.

Coyotes have shown a predilection for domestic cats, Salvatore noted. At present, there is no predator that intrudes on the coyote except man, Gagnon said. And yet, that can be a blessing–for people, she suggested.

“As with all wildlife, they should be observed and respected,” Gagnon said. “But if you’re in your house and you see a coyote in your backyard, or indeed any wild animal, go to the window and look,” Gagnon said. “And teach your kids to respect them.” –Middletown Press

Garlic Mustard Is Severe Threat To Native Plants

Monday, June 28th, 2010

GARLIC MUSTARD is an exotic invasive plant from Europe that invades woodland habitats in North America and impacts forest biodiversity.

In some woodlands, dense stands of garlic mustard in the spring threaten showy spring blooming ephemerals like spring beauty, trilliums and trout lilies. Other research points toward potentially negative impacts on timber species and forest health. Many land managers consider it to be one of the most potentially harmful and difficult to control invasive plants.

Garlic mustard is a cool season biennial herb with stalked, triangular to heart-shaped, coarsely toothed leaves that give off an odor of garlic when crushed. First-year plants appear as a rosette of green leaves close to the ground. Rosettes remain green through the winter and develop into mature flowering plants the following spring. Flowering plants of garlic mustard reach from 2 to 3-½ feet in height and produce buttonlike clusters of small white flowers, each with four petals in the shape of a cross. 

Several white-flowered native plants, including toothworts (Dentaria), sweet cicely (Osmorhiza claytonii), and early saxifrage (Saxifraga virginica), occur alongside garlic mustard and may be mistaken for it. 

Garlic mustard poses a severe threat to native plants and animals in forest communities in much of the eastern and midwestern U.S. Many native wildflowers that complete their life cycles in the springtime (e.g., spring beauty, wild ginger, bloodroot, Dutchman’s breeches, hepatica, toothworts, and trilliums) occur in the same habitat as garlic mustard.

Once introduced to an area, garlic mustard out competes native plants by aggressively monopolizing light, moisture, nutrients, soil and space. Wildlife species that depend on these early plants for their foliage, pollen, nectar, fruits, seeds and roots, are deprived of these essential food sources when garlic mustard replaces them. Humans are also deprived of the vibrant display of beautiful spring wildflowers. 

Garlic mustard also poses a threat to one of our rare native insects, the West Virginia white butterfly (Pieris virginiensis). Several species of spring wildflowers known as toothworts (Dentaria), also in the mustard family, are the primary food source for the caterpillar stage of this butterfly. Invasions of garlic mustard are causing local extirpations of the toothworts, and chemicals in garlic mustard appear to be toxic to the eggs of the butterfly, as evidenced by their failure to hatch when laid on garlic mustard plants. 

Garlic mustard frequently occurs in moist, shaded soil of river floodplains, forests, roadsides, edges of woods and trails edges and forest openings. Disturbed areas are most susceptible to rapid invasion and dominance. Though invasive under a wide range of light and soil conditions, garlic mustard is associated with calcareous soils and does not tolerate high acidity. Growing season inundation may limit invasion of garlic mustard to some extent. 

Garlic mustard was first recorded in the United States about 1868, from Long Island, New York. It was likely introduced by settlers for food or medicinal purposes. 

A single plant can produce thousands of seeds, which scatter as much as several meters from the parent plant. Depending upon conditions, garlic mustard flowers either self-fertilize or are cross-pollinated by a variety of insects. Self-fertilized seed is genetically identical to the parent plant, enhancing its ability to colonize an area.  Additionally, because White-tailed Deer prefer native plants to garlic mustard, large deer populations may help to expand it by removing competing native plants and exposing the soil and seedbed through trampling. 

Because the seeds of garlic can remain viable in the soil for five years or more, effective management requires a long term commitment. The goal is to prevent seed production until the stored seed is exhausted. Hand removal of plants is possible for light infestations and when desirable native species co-occur. Care must be taken to remove the plant with its entire root system because new plants can sprout from root fragments. This is best achieved when the soil is moist, by grasping low and firmly on the plant and tugging gently until the main root loosens from the soil and the entire plant pulls out. Pulled plants should be removed from site if at all possible, especially if flowers are present.

For larger infestations of garlic mustard, or when hand-pulling is not practical, flowering stems can be cut at ground level or within several inches of the ground, to prevent seed production. If stems are cut too high, the plant may produce additional flowers at leaf axils. Once seedpods are present, but before the seeds have matured or scattered, the stalks can be clipped, bagged and removed from the site to help prevent continued buildup of seed stores. This can be done through much of the summer. 

For heavier infestations, where the risk to desirable plant species is minimal, application of the systemic herbicide glyphosate (e.g., Roundup®) is also effective. Herbicide may be applied at any time of year, including winter (to kill overwintering rosettes), as long as the temperature is above 50 degrees F. and rain is not expected for about 8 hours. Extreme care must be taken not to get glyphosate on desirable plants as the product is non-selective and will kill almost any plant it contacts. Spray shields may be used to better direct herbicide and limit non-intentional drift.

Fire has been used to control garlic mustard in some large natural settings but, because burning opens the understory, it can encourage germination of stored seeds and promote growth of emerging garlic mustard seedlings. For this reason, burns must be conducted for three to five consecutive years. Regardless of the control method employed, annual monitoring is necessary for a period of at least five years to ensure that seed stores of garlic mustard have been exhausted.

When Pets and Wildlife Collide

Monday, June 28th, 2010

By Jerry Large
PEOPLE like to draw neat lines.

There’s a line between cities—where humans live, sometimes with their little tame friends—and the outdoors, where wild creatures live. But sometimes other animals have their own ideas about boundaries.

Recently, three species of animals have been quarreling over the little patch of earth my family occupies. There’s a gray cat, a family of Raccoons and some crows.

The cat has another home nearby, but he’s made our house part of his territory, inside and out. The other day, he was lying just outside the front door when we heard a big crash and a howl.

A large Raccoon had displaced the cat, who arched and hissed. A couple of crows were cawing loudly, swooping across our deck like Blue Angels. The cat and Raccoon vanished in the seconds it took us to get out the door. We’ve been worrying that the Raccoon might kill the cat. She didn’t, but this was not their first run-in.

We’ve been seeing a lot of the big Raccoon lately. She moved into our neighbor’s rockery under some bushes next to our deck, and one of the neighbors said he saw her with babies. He also said he saw a coyote running down the street early one morning.

We live near Seward Park, so I asked Annie Morton, education director at the Seward Park Environmental and Audubon Center, about the Coyote sighting in the area.

“They are part of the natural ecosystem,” she said. “If we want to have balanced, healthy ecosystems, we have to have predators.”

One of the reasons Coyotes have been successful here is the absence of Cougars and wolves. They would keep the Coyote population down.

“They’re part of the urban habitat just like people are,” Russell Link told me. He is a wildlife biologist with the state Department of Fish and Wildlife. Since we’re going to be living together, he said, we need to make it work.

He and Morton blame people for many of the problems between animals and people. They say we should keep our cats indoors, walk our dogs on leashes and quit putting pet food outdoors.

Pets act like animals too. Dogs sometimes bite. Cats kill rats and birds. But we worry more about wild animals, especially this time of year when we’re out more, and so are lots of other animals.

About the Raccoons, Morton said, “They’re overworked parents, which is why you are seeing them. They’re out trying to feed the family.”

Washington Fish and Wildlife has a web site full of information about urban wildlife and tips for managing our relationships:

I learned that Raccoons like to change dens often. So once those babies are a little older, our masked neighbor will be moving on. Maybe to your yard!–Seattle Times

When Wildlife Gets Too Close To Home

Monday, June 28th, 2010

By Michelle Theriault
BELLINGHAM, WA–Raccoons hang out on mailboxes. River Otters slither under the foundations of houses. Squirrels burrow into attics.

When habitat and homes intermingle, wildlife bumps up against settlement and cute animals become urgent problems. That’s when Dave Vinke gets involved: he’s the guy you call when wildlife gets too close for comfort.

As a nuisance wildlife control operator licensed by the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, Vinke runs interference between wild animals and humans.

“With our urban sprawl, it’s a big old mess for everybody,” says Vinke. “They’re cute and cuddly until they’re causing problems.”

Requests for special trapping permits are expected to reach 1,000 by year’s end, up from 789 in 2005, according to Sean Carrell, who issues special trapping permits for Fish and Wildlife. The increase is an indication that nuisance wildlife complaints are on the rise, says Lt. Richard Mann.

Today, Vinke is barreling down the road in his beat-up Toyota 4Runner, on his way to save the day for three traumatized homeowners.

His job involves some unpleasantness—like fending off angry Raccoons and spending time in crawlspaces filled with animal feces —but it allows him to be outdoors and among the wildlife he often finds as breathtaking as his clients find problematic.

“I love my job,” he says. “Well, most of it, anyways.”

Tools of the trade
In the back of Vinke’s SUV are the essentials he needs to do his job.
They include a biohazard suit, rubber gloves, marshmallows, granola, Chicken Soup for the Dog Lover’s Soul brand dog food, a cooler full of tilapia fish, Fig Newtons, cages and a vial labeled “otter scent.”

Vinke, who lives “out in the county” near Ferndale, is a tall rangy man who has the weathered looks of someone who spends a lot of time outdoors. He has giant, calloused hands that look too big for his skinny frame and a loud, kind manner that puts his clients at ease. His career as a trapper started on his grandpa’s farm in Omaha, where he’d get Pocket Gophers that were wrecking mowers and harassing cattle.

He’s one of five nuisance wildlife control operators licensed in Whatcom County to take care of problem wildlife, which is defined as an animal causing damage to private property or posing a threat to public health, says Mann.

Vinke and other nuisance wildlife control operators don’t work for (Washington) Fish and Wildlife but are licensed by the agency, which means they’ve taken courses in trapping and animal control. They charge a fee for their services but are not paid by the state.

A day’s work
A bunch of River Otters have been terrorizing a Birch Bay waterfront home, his first stop of the day. River Otters are the most commonly found type of otter in the Northwest. They’re cute, but they can cause more damage to a home than almost anything else. These homeowners have been complaining about smells and sounds coming from underneath their house.

“Otters, if they travel, are bad news,” Vinke says.

After checking out the perimeter of the home, Vinke puts on his bright blue hazardous materials suit, slips on gloves and a respirator to protect him from the fumes, and folds his lanky body into the crawlspace under the house.

“This is a giant otter toilet,” he says, muffled by his respirator. He disappears completely under the house. After a few minutes, he comes out.


After inspecting the slope from the water up to the deck, he finds the otter’s route. He baits a cage with a dangling rubber duck toy and spears a whole tilapia, arranging the trap where he thinks the otter is entering the yard.

“They’re smart,” he says. “But I’m smarter.”

Vinke gets paid to remove the animals. In accordance with state wildlife laws, that often means euthanizing them with the same lethal injection method that dogs and cats are “put to sleep” with. It’s the part of the job that Vinke hates, but he says it’s necessary.

“We do not authorize relocation of nuisance wildlife,” says Mann of Fish and Wildlife. “The reasoning for this is that we don’t want problem animals just moved to a new area to create the same problems. (That) does not benefit the wildlife already filling those niches.”

Meanwhile, Vinke leaves the house, hoping the otter will take the bait.
At the second house, also in Birch Bay, a neighbor has been feeding Raccoons fat saucers of dog food for years, and now there are 12 or 13 around. Others in the neighborhood want the Raccoons gone and say they’ve been threatening their dogs.

They also worry about disease and the Raccoons seem to have become more brazen, with whole families walking across the street like the Beatles crossing Abbey Road. Some perch on mailboxes or hide in trees. Homeowner Brock Barron says a Raccoon jumped out of a tree at her miniature poodle, Marco.

Vinke sets a trap with Fig Newtons and stops to smoke a cigarette. Neighbors watch from the street.

Suddenly, a head pops up with the unmistakable bandit eyes and alert ears of a Raccoon.

“Already,” he says. It smells the trap and wiggles up. Vinke is pacing and the Raccoon is snuffling the ground. If this animal is trapped, it’ll be euthanized. Many animal problems such as this are avoidable, says Mann.

“It’s a tough one with the growth in our state,” he says. “People ask, ‘Why do you have to kill them?’ Well, they wouldn’t be with us if they had other places to go. We fill their habitats, and they don’t have anywhere else to go.”

In the end, the Raccoon takes the bait.

“He’s in the trap!” Vinke says.

“Oh my gosh, he got one already!” Barron cries, clutching her poodle in her arms. “I don’t want Marco to see it. I don’t want him to think it’s OK to go near those.”

Vinke carries the cage over to his truck. The Raccoon lunges and growls and nearly bites him. It’s breathing fast.

“I’m sorry little guy, I really am,” says the neighbor, Liz Keith, whose driveway they stand in. “But that’s the way life is.”

“If I didn’t have dogs, I wouldn’t care,” says Barron.

Everyone looks at the Raccoon, which has backed himself into the corner of a cage and is baring his teeth. Vinke sighs. “This is the part I hate.” — Bellingham Herald

Where the Wild Things Are

Monday, June 28th, 2010

EDITOR’S NOTE: Improving wildlife habitat is a worldwide issue as shown in this article.  Jackie French is the author of The Secret World of Wombats (Angus and Robertson/Harper Collins). The Amazing World of Wallabies and Roos will be out early next year. See how similar and different her habitat is with yours.

By Jackie French
ATTRACTING birds and animals to a suburban garden is a matter of providing a few basics, writes Jackie French.

I’m writing this with a Wombat sitting on my foot (his name is Feisty) and a Lyrebird digging up the potato patch outside the window. In other words, I live in the bush in Australia.  In fact, at times the bush lives in my house, too.

However, most of us assume the bush is the best–and only–place for wildlife. But with a bit of dedication city gardens can have even more wildlife than the bush–a few afternoons’ work a year will provide wildlife with a lot more food and shelter than nature ever managed.

Why bother attracting native animals to your garden?
Partly because of the sheer joy of living in a complex world with more than humans for company. Partly because wild animals deserve a share of the planet–not just our pets, and those animals we find useful.

But also because many of us these days have little contact with the natural world and perhaps– just perhaps–working out how to bring wildlife back to our cities might help us understand our roles in ecology. Maybe a bit of micromanagement at home might lead to better macro management of the planet–especially for our children.

Backyard wildlife may also be the answer if you’re looking for a pet that feeds itself even when you’re on holiday. Watching birds or opossums feeding in your garden can be magic for a child. Many lizards will become used to humans quite quickly, especially if you’re willing to sit still for long periods with small amounts of food on a rock beside you. But always tell children that these animals are wild–no touching or petting. Teach children they’re the animals’ protectors, not their owners.

What animals?
You’re unlikely to get Wombats or Kangaroos in a suburban garden (except one near the bush), no matter how wildlife-friendly your garden.

But you can encourage Ringtail Opossums, Brush-tailed Opossums, an extraordinary range of reptiles such as Blue-tongue Lizards (which can become quite tame), Skinks and Geckos, small insect-eating bats, flying foxes, butterflies and dozens–if not more than 100–different bird species.

And putting out the welcome mat for an extraordinary diversity of wildlife is as simple as following the following steps.

Provide water
All birds and animals need water and there’s often not much around when they need it. Many springs and soaks have been drained and trees, with their water-filled hollows, have been cut down.

Be wary of bird baths, though. Birds and animals may start to rely on your bird bath for their water, then when you go away no one will fill it up. Instead, use a device consisting of a big container suspended on a drinking dish that you fill every week or two. (Such devices are often used for chooks.) Or leave a single dripper slowly refreshing the bird bath while you are away.

Whatever method you choose, ensure the water is constant, in the shade, clean and fresh and in the same place every day–most birds and animals are creatures of habit. Also ensure there’s a spot for birds to perch and preferably a spot where they can observe and wait their turn.

Provide year-round fruit, nuts, seeds and flowers
Flowers attract insects, which are food for insect-eating bats, birds and lizards, and provide nectar for honeyeaters and other birds. And the fruit and nuts will be food for birds, possums, fruit bats and even some lizards (our blue-tongues love a nibble of ripe avocado).

If you don’t want to make the effort of pruning, feeding and preventing fruit fly, try the following: plant one crab-apple, especially “gorgeous” or another with good-size fruit; a cherry guava; male and female kiwifruit vines, or one of the small “wild” varieties that don’t need male and female; two avocados (Currawongs love avocados, and once they’ve pecked a hole in them small birds eat them too); a lilly pilly; a calamondin (often mislabelled as cumquat); an olive; and a tamarillo. Smaller native figs, such as the sandpaper fig, are great if you have room. Add a few lomandra or poa tussocks for seeds.

To ensure you have flowers year-round try a patch of winter-blooming red hot pokers and a mix of long-flowering varieties of salvia. Don’t cut out mistletoe–several species of butterfly need mistletoe and if your tree is healthy mistletoe won’t harm it.

For real five-star wildlife tucker, add a wattle, one of the smaller eucalypts, a bursaria bush, two thryptomene, two leptospermums and melaleucas; the birds, bats, possums and butterflies will be ecstatic.

Provide shelter
Everything needs a safe place to live. Low-growing and thorny or prickly shrubs with lots of litter underneath offer excellent protection for lizards and frogs and bigger thickets are great places for small birds to nest. Mossy rocks or rock walls (not the concreted variety) and terraces with sleepers or small rock walls are great places for lizards to bask or shelter. Even paling fences are pretty good.

To create a nice thicket, cover your fences with rambling roses and plant a group of three or more of the pricklier grevilleas, such as G. rosmarinifolia or G. juniperina and their hybrids. The taller, shrubbier salvias also make great habitats for small birds and lizards. All of these plants are very drought tolerant and easy to look after.

Finally, add at least one tall tree with strong branches for birds to perch on.

10 hints for wilder suburbs
? Keep cats and dogs indoors after dusk.

? Ensure trees and roosting spots are safe from cats–put wide collars around tree trunks and large tree branches to stop cats encroaching while bats are feeding or sleeping.

? Allow some of your lawn to go to seed for seed-eating birds. Long grass doesn’t look messy as long as it’s much the same height.

? Leave spiders’ webs on your eaves for birds to use in their nests.

? A small, solar-powered garden light will attract insects for night-flying birds and bats – and for frogs, too, if it’s near a pond.

? Use mulch. Mulch feeds worms and other small creatures, and they’ll feed birds and lizards. Mulch is also a great shelter for all sorts of things. It’s good for gardens, too.

? Don’t scrape lichen off trees–it not only provides nest material but harbours a wide range of insects, many of which are beneficial to trees and can be food for wildlife.

? Paperbarks and other trees with loose bark also provide nesting material. No paperbarks? Leave the castings from your brush or comb near the bird feeder and they’ll probably be foraged instead.

? Cover chimney tops with chicken wire to stop opossums falling in.

? Avoid pesticides and herbicides. When birds, bats, lizards and other creatures eat the insects killed by pesticides, they may die, too, or it may affect their breeding. Herbicides may also kill frogs and tadpoles. –Sidney Morning Herald

White-breasted Nuthatch Offers New Perspective

Monday, June 28th, 2010

By Michael Burke
THE GRAY-BROWN, deeply furrowed trunk of a venerable oak rises 80 ft. into the winter sky, casting a sharp black shadow on the pale yellow siding of our neighbor’s house. The bare tree’s intricate shadow suggests a contemplative Japanese ink painting.

Interrupting the static design, though, is an energetic little bird. He is clinging to the trunk, but heading headfirst down the tree—a Cirque du Soleil acrobat whose powerful barrel chest easily supports his inverted frame.

The White-breasted Nuthatch, which has a narrow black cap and nape leading to a blue-gray back and wings, stopped for a moment and craned his head back at a right angle, In that distinctive pose, his white face and breast are his most pronounced features. Moments later, he continued down the trunk in search of insects.

I am recovering faster than I expected from recent surgery, but not yet ready to go trekking through the woods in search of some hardy winter birds. Instead, I’m in the house, enjoying the quiet of an early December afternoon and watching the seasons change. Thanks to the big oak, I’m also getting a chance to enjoy the nuthatch, a bird that’s not usually seen in suburban yards.

Many small birds cling upside down while feeding on pine cones, flower seeds or even our backyard thistle feeders. But nuthatches are unique in their ability to climb down a tree trunk in search of food.

At just less than 6 inches and weighing about three-quarters of an ounce, the White-breasted Nuthatch (Sitta carolinensis) that I am watching is a small– to average-size songbird. But in the diminutive world of the nuthatch family, he is the largest of the five species found in North America.

White-breasted Nuthatches are relatively common birds, found in wooded areas with plenty of mature trees. Oaks and pines are their favorites. They are seen in virtually every state where the habitat is suitable, and their numbers are thought to be increasing in most parts of the country.

In some respects, the White-breasted Nuthatch looks like a woodpecker. It has a rather long bill, hunts for food in the crevices of trees and has the undulating flight characteristic of woodpeckers. Watch long enough, and one can even see the bird hammer away with its sturdy beak, which has a slight but noticeable upward tilt on the bottom bill.

Unlike woodpeckers, though, the intent of the hammering is usually not to open up rotting wood to expose insects for consumption. Instead, the White-breasted Nuthatch, after grabbing a nut or seed, will frequently fly to a nearby limb. There, the bird wedges its meal into a crevice and pecks at it to open the seed or shell. It is this behavior that gives the bird its name: He is a nut “hacker.”

In addition to nuts and seeds, White-breasted Nuthatches eat insect eggs and larvae. They hoard excess food during the summer and fall for use during the winter, as they are generally year-round residents wherever they live. These food caches can be quite numerous, but each one is very small, sometimes consisting of a single seed.

The bird’s cousin, the Brown-headed Nuthatch, is one of the few North American birds to use tools. This southeastern bird will use bits of wood to pry off loose pieces of bark to get at the insects that lie within.

The sexes look very similar. In the female, the cap and nape are more gray than black, and her back and wing coloration is also slightly paler and less sharply defined than the male. Immature birds, as is the norm, resemble females.

White-breasted Nuthatches have a buff patch at the base of their bellies in an area called the vent. This is usually not seen except in flight. Also visible on the wing is the short, wide tail with its vertical white stripes. Given its foraging methods, it is no surprise that this nuthatch has strong feet and toes.

The birds nest in tree cavities, although White-breasted Nuthatches don’t excavate these holes themselves. They lay their eggs in a nest of wood chips and vegetable matter. Typically, they hatch one brood each year, and the next generation is ready for breeding in a year. The birds are monogamous during the season, but appear to take different mates in successive years.

Ornithologists are uncertain why White-breasted Nuthatches have evolved that odd behavior of climbing down tree trunks headfirst. Some suggest that the change in perspective allows the nuthatch to see insects and seeds that upward-facing birds might miss in the labyrinth of a big tree’s bark.

As I look out at the world from the enforced confinement of my recovery, I am inclined to support this theory. My schedule has been turned upside down. Instead of my usual hectic activity level, I am approaching life at a slower pace. The change allows me to take advantage of some overlooked opportunities. Unread books come off the shelf. Uncommon birds appear in plain view. I watch the nuthatch successfully navigating the world from his unique perspective and realize that sometimes all that is needed is a change in viewpoint to reveal a world of new opportunities.–Bay Journal

Who Is the American Bird Watcher?

Monday, June 28th, 2010

THERE was a fascinating report released recently by the Outdoor Industry Foundation which profiled the ” American Bird Watcher” as having the following characteristics:

  • Balanced by gender and marital status
  • Just over a third will have children under the age of 18 living in their household
  • Over two-thirds will be over the age of 35 with half over the age of 45
  • Equally distributed across regions
  • More than 8 out of 10 birders will be Caucasian (similar to findings for hunting)
  • Hiking will be the most popular additional outdoor activity
  • Went on bird watching excursions 12 times on average during the year
  • Close to a one-third will limit their activity to only a single outing during the year
  • Only 5 percent will go on 31 or more field trips a year.

Demographically, according to the foundation, the bird watching population has remained very stable over the years, but there has been a recent drop in the number of Americans birding and the number of field trips taken. (2001 had 18.3 million birders taking an average of 31 outings a year; 2005 had 15.6 million birders taking an average of 12 outings per year.)

For more details, see the summary report

Whooping Crane Population Hits Milestone

Monday, June 28th, 2010

By Sylvia Moreno
AUSTWELL, TX–One of the most beloved groups of winter Texans is back, in the largest number in a century and with a record 45 youngsters in tow, including an even rarer seven pairs of twins.

They flew 2,400 miles from Canada’s Northwest Territories and can be seen munching on blue crabs and bright red-orange wolfberries among the marshes of the Aransas National Wildlife Refuge.

The Whooping Crane, the tallest bird in North America, whose numbers dwindled to fewer than 20 in 1941, is not only back from the brink of extinction but also thriving–a comeback story, federal wildlife officials say, that illustrates how a coordinated conservation effort can save a species.

“The Whooping Crane continues to mirror the success of endangered species recovery when man sets his mind to it,” said Tom Stehn, the national Whooping Crane coordinator for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. “We have come a long way, but we do have a long, long way to go.”

This year, the nation’s only natural wild population of Whooping Cranes reached a milestone. Stehn’s mid-December census of the migratory crane flock at the wildlife refuge, where he is based, numbered 237. Combined with the number of birds in captivity in three special flocks raised for reintroduction to the wild and those in zoos, the crane population now numbers 518. This is the first time in more than a century that Whooping Cranes have numbered more than 500.

Deboarding from the tour boat Skimmer at Aransas one sunny morning a few days before Christmas, Mike Dixon explained why he and his family drove in from West Texas just to see the huge white birds and their rusty brown chicks.

“Those birds out there are the result of a whole lot of effort, money and concern to save a species, and that’s exciting,” he said.

Recovery efforts date to 1938, a year after the federal government established the Aransas Wildlife Refuge along the south Texas Gulf Coast. The salt marsh was known to be the winter home of several species of migratory birds, including the majestic whooping crane, with its long sinuous neck, height of 5 ft. and wingspan of 7 ft.

The cranes numbered just over 20 in the first census, in 1938. By 1941, the migratory flock was down to 15, largely because of shooting, the conversion of grasslands to agriculture and the draining of wetlands.

“This species was virtually four nesting females away from extinction, and that’s why this is so significant,” Stehn said. “It was just such a close call, such an incredibly close call.”

The crane’s breeding grounds were unknown until 1954, when a fire crew flying over Wood Buffalo National Park in Canada’s Northwest Territories accidentally discovered the migratory flock. In the United States, the Whooping Crane was listed as a threatened species in 1968 and moved to the endangered list two years later, prompting a series of efforts to increase the flock’s size.

From the mid-1970s to the late 1980s, Whooping Crane eggs were placed in Sandhill Crane nests in Idaho so the Sandhill Cranes could teach the Whoopers how to survive in the wild, when to migrate and where to winter. But that Whooping Crane flock never paired or reproduced, and the last Whooper in the Rocky Mountains died in 2002.

U.S. scientists also developed a technique in the 1980s for raising Whoopers in captivity by using crane handlers–humans dressed in costumes that resemble cranes–to raise chicks in isolation from actual human contact, so they grow up to be wild. Starting in 1993, many of those captive cranes have been released yearly in central Florida, where they have stayed because they never learned how to migrate, behavior that would normally be passed on by their parents.

In 2001, the Whooping Crane Eastern Partnership, an American-Canadian partnership of governments, nonprofit organizations, citizens and corporations, developed a method to teach captive-raised Whoopers how to migrate so they could be introduced to the wild. Since then, young cranes have been led in migration every fall by gliders flying from the Necedah National Wildlife Refuge in Wisconsin to the Chassahowitzka National Wildlife Refuge in Florida, 1,200 miles away. The cranes return on their own in the spring.

These efforts involve the Canadian and U.S. governments; federal agencies such as the Fish and Wildlife Service and the Geological Survey; state agencies; conservation groups such as the Whooping Crane Eastern Partnership and the International Crane Foundation of Baraboo, WI; and local zoos.

“For all of us, this is exactly what we are all about: trying to get animals reproduced and back out in the wild,” said San Antonio Zoo bird curator Josef San Miguel. His staff specializes in costume-rearing Whooping Crane chicks, some of which are donated yearly to the International Crane Foundation for the glider migration project.

“It’s a group effort, and when you hear the birds are doing what we need for them to do, it makes us all feel good,” San Miguel said.

Extremely good nest production this summer in Wood Buffalo National Park is credited with producing this winter’s record flock at the Aransas refuge. Stuart Macmillan, a biologist at Wood Buffalo, cited favorable breeding conditions such as adequate water levels in ponds where cranes build their nests, an ample food supply and fewer natural predators.

Today’s threats to the species are power lines, which cranes crash into during migration; loss of stopover habitat; a lack of genetic diversity; disease; and a decline in habitat conditions at the Aransas refuge because less freshwater is flowing into the salt marsh.

“There are a lot of threats out there on the horizon, and that’s what worries us,” Stehn said. The Whooping Crane is likely to remain on the endangered species list until the migratory flock numbers more than 5,000, he said. –Washington Post

Why Are the Birds Disappearing?

Monday, June 28th, 2010

Why Are the Birds Disappearing? By Dr. Joseph Mercola
TENS OF MILLIONS of the most common birds in North America have disappeared, and their absence is signaling a silent alarm bell about the state of our ecosystem.

According to a report by the National Audubon Society, the numbers of some species of birds have plummeted by 60 percent to 80 percent.

The video ( explains some of the dramatic environmental disruptions that are contributing to the decimation of the bird population, and what their disappearance means to the future of our planet.

Like the tragedy of the disappearing honeybees, the disappearance of millions and millions of birds means that something has gone terribly wrong in our environment.

There are many likely contributing factors for this observation, everything from pesticides to urban sprawl and pollution, but there is an extremely pervasive, silent killer out there that hardly anyone is mentioning: Information-carrying radio waves.

These radio waves are coming from your cell phones and other wireless technologies, and they have increased exponentially in the past three or four years alone.

It’s already known that birds living near mobile phone base stations do not breed well. It’s also known that exposure to these frequencies causes disorientation in migratory birds.

Now, at the end of 2007 there were 4 billion cell phones on the planet. What this means is that even if you are one of the few who decides not to use a cell phone, you are being exposed to information-carrying radio waves at unprecedented levels, and so are all of the birds, bugs and wildlife that live among us.

According to Dr. George Carlo, who is clearly the world’s leading expert on cell phone safety, “The background level of information-carrying radio waves has now reached saturation point.”

In other words, they’re everywhere.

And when we talk about these radio waves you have to understand that there is no safe level of exposure. This is completely different even from electromagnetic fields (EMFs), which are well-known to cause brain cancer, tumor growth, and maybe even Alzheimer’s disease.

But according to Dr. Carlo, we have built up certain defenses against EMFs, which are actually two parts: the magnetic field and the electric field. We have been exposed to a magnetic influence simply because of gravity, while lightning and other natural sources have exposed us to some level of electric fields.

As a result, we can be exposed to low levels of EMFs and perhaps not be affected. But this is not so with radio frequencies (RF) and information-carrying radio waves.

“We do not have any controls that make the information-carrying radio wave manageable from a public health point of view,” says Dr. Carlo.

And this is a major red flag. According to Dr. Carlo:

“Here is why we have a problem … Before 1930, almost none of this exposure existed and up until about the 1980s, most of the exposure that had to do with information-carrying radio waves … only occurred high in the sky.

Like your television, your radio, the signal would go from a big antenna on top of the mountain to the antenna on top of your house and then it would be hardwired back down into your television for example. Information-carrying radio waves were not at the street, but this wonderful invention called the cell phone brought the information-carrying radio waves to the street.”

The huge explosion in cell phone use and their corresponding information-carrying radio waves is causing the following problems:

* Damaging cell membranes

* Decreasing intracellular communication by disrupting microtubular connections that allow biophotons to communicate between cells

* Increasing deposits of heavy metals into your cells, which increases intracelluar production of free radicals and can radically decrease cellular production of energy thus making you incredibly fatigued

Why Backyard Feeders Are Empty

Monday, June 28th, 2010

By Scott Shalaway
JUDGING from my mail, the question of the month is, “Where are my birds?” I’ve received dozens of letters and e-mails from readers reporting few birds at their feeders.

Unusually mild weather is responsible. With temperatures well above freezing and as warm as the 60s some days, birds have no problem finding natural foods. Mild temperatures keep insects active and that keeps most birds well fed. The only exception to that are finches, which eat seeds almost exclusively regardless of season.

Eventually winter will roar, temperatures will plunge, snow will fall and birds will flock to feeders. And soon after that at least some readers will wonder how their feeders empty so quickly. Birds can’t possibly be eating all that food every day, can they?

Often squirrels are responsible. And if food vanishes overnight, deer, raccoons, opossums and flying squirrels may be the culprits. But there’s another reason food can disappear from feeders more quickly than birds can possibly eat it. It may be the work of seed hoarders.

I learned firsthand about seed hoarders many years ago. I watched a pair of White-breasted Nuthatches as they repeatedly visited the feeders. About half the time they took a single sunflower seed, flew to a nearby perch and wedged the seed in a crevice in the bark. The nuthatch then hammered the seed with its dagger-like bill and extracted the kernel.

But as often as not, they didn’t eat the seed. Instead they flew to a nearby dead tree and stashed the seeds behind a slab of peeling bark. The first time I observed this I peeled off of a piece of bark and a handful of seeds poured upon the ground. The birds were storing about half the seeds they gathered for later use.

Other birds also cache food. Chickadees and titmice sometimes store food in roosting cavities when weather gets cold and snowy. I’ve occasionally found such caches during mid-winter nest box inspections.

Red-bellied Woodpeckers feed in a manner similar to nuthatches– one seed at a time. But occasionally they appear to take a mouthful of seeds and fly off to a nearby tree cavity.

One day I noticed a red-belly fly directly from a feeder to a knothole on the side of an abandoned outhouse. It inserted its bill into the hole, the returned to the feeder. Then, after cramming its mouth full of seeds, it returned to the outhouse and cached the seeds.

After watching this for several minutes, I opened the outhouse door and found a pile of sunflower seeds on the floor. What the red-belly failed to understand was unless the outhouse door was propped open, it wouldn’t be able to get to the seeds. Unless it planned to enlarge the knothole so it could get into the outhouse.

This reminded of classic food hoarding behavior by Acorn Woodpeckers, which are native to the Southwest. They collect and store acorns, and in one published account, an industrious Acorn Woodpecker made its daily deposits in a knothole on the wall of an abandoned cabin. But those acorns didn’t go to waste; the cabin’s mice surely enjoyed the easy meals.

Like Red-bellied Woodpeckers, Blue Jays also jam their cheeks with large quantities of seed. I’ve often watched them carry off mouthfuls of sunflower seeds, shelled nuts and even peanuts in the shell. Then they bury their stash just like squirrels.

They fly to the edges of the yard and tug at tufts of dried grass. Then they deposit their treasure in the shallow hole. Who knows who finds more of these food caches, the jays or the squirrels? In the long run, however, it probably evens out when jays find nuts buried by squirrels.

Blue Jays are probably responsible for more missing food than other birds because they visit feeders in flocks. A group of a dozen hungry jays can empty a feeder in a hurry. Nuthatches and woodpeckers visit feeders individually or in pairs.

So if food seems to mysteriously disappear from your feeders, don’t assume squirrels or night visitors are responsible. It may simply be seed-hoarding nuthatches, woodpeckers and jays. –Pittsburgh Post Gazette

Future of Wildlife Might Be Linked To Biofuels

Monday, June 28th, 2010

Future of Wildlife Might Be Linked To BiofuelsBy Dennis Anderson
MINNEAPOLIS, MN–During the next 10 years, Minnesota could resemble a farmland wildlife Mecca in which pheasants and other upland birds thrive in vast fields of native grasses grown for fuel.

Or it could resemble a monocultural wasteland, with relatively few acres enrolled in state or federal set-aside programs, corn stretching from border to border–and state pheasant numbers teetering near all-time lows.

Not since the loss of the Soil Bank in the early 1960s and the reign of “Plow It All” Earl Butz as agriculture secretary a decade later has farmland wildlife faced so much uncertainty. The reason: Government biofuel mandates intended to reduce the nation’s dependency on foreign oil and find economically viable replacements for the world’s finite crude oil deposits have helped spike commodity prices, particularly corn.

Already, corn starch is used to make ethanol in some 17 Minnesota plants, with more under construction. Minnesotans burned more than 250 million gallons of corn ethanol in their vehicles in 2006. The state’s rush to corn ethanol is a disaster for wildlife that likely will only get worse, said University of Minnesota economics professor C. Ford Runge.

“It’s a dark forecast for fish and wildlife in Minnesota for the next 10 to 15 years,” Runge said. As the price of corn increases, he said, it is capitalized as a value of the land, “and it becomes untenable to use it for other purposes.”

Still, corn is unlikely to provide the fuel of the future. Researchers worldwide, including at the U, are racing to develop alternative fuel sources. Some would be made from wildlife-friendly switchgrass and other native plants, as well as wood fiber and perhaps corn and other waste. In the latter scenario, ethanol generally would be made from cellulose rather than corn starch. Instead of corn, the raw material could be a mix of grasses and other plants.

To a great degree, the future of Minnesota farmland wildlife depends on what “fuel” is grown here.

“If the cellulosic industry becomes profitable, we could see significant amount of corn acreage replaced by willow trees, hybrid poplars and switchgrass,” said U agronomy professor David Mulla.

Mulla is part of a team developing a long-range statewide conservation plan for the Legislative-Citizen Commission on Minnesota Resources. But the technology to produce cellulosic ethanol on an industrial scale, at a competitive price, is undeveloped. Runge is among those who don’t expect it soon.

“I hope they’re correct in the long run,” he said. “But these ‘Gee Whiz Mr. Science Guys’ out there acknowledge the economic efficiencies just aren’t there now.”

Meanwhile, Runge said, the “dead zone” at the mouth of the Mississippi River is growing due to higher nitrogen loads on farmlands upriver–including in Minnesota–that accompany increased corn production.

“The worst thing to ever happen to fish, duck and pheasant habitat is corn-based biofuels,” he said.

Pheasants Forever, a non-profit conservation organization, was among the first wildlife groups to push Congress to include broad-scale, wildlife-enhancing set-aside programs in the federal farm bill. In 1985, the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) debuted in the federal farm bill, and has been included in each similar measure since. But rules for lands qualifying for enrollment change with each new bill. Recent provisions exclude many Minnesota lands that previously could have been enrolled.

Now farmers–lured by high corn prices–appear to be exiting the program in droves. Minnesota has already lost 80,000 CRP acres. According to Minnesota Department of Natural Resources wildlife research biologist Kurt Haroldson, about 800,000 more Minnesota CRP acres could be gone by 2013, as landowner contracts expire.

New enrollees might make up part or all of the difference, Haroldson said, depending on how the new farm bill–awaiting action in a Congressional conference committee–ultimately is written.

“It’s a question of what the rates will be and how many landowners sign up,” he said. Few producers will set aside land when they can make more by planting it to cash crops. “The future is more uncertain than I’ve seen it for a long time. In the short term, we’re going to take some pretty serious hits. Farmland conservation is simply going to cost more money. In the long term, we could come out OK if grass biofuel is developed the right way and we achieve the goal of a diversified farmland landscape.”

The DNR is advocating that land and water conservation be primary considerations as the biofuels industry develops, said fish and wildlife division director Dave Schad.

“Our challenge is to manage natural resources in the face of a lot of uncertainty,” Schad said. “By ‘being at the table’ as this industry evolves, we can ensure that we have options and the ability to respond.”

How far away is the future? Jim Bowyer believes development of cellulosic ethanol efficiencies are inevitable and could occur in as few as five years.

“Some people say it will be three to five years, some say as many as 10,” said Bowyer, an emeritus professor in the U’s bioproducts and biosystems engineering department. “Whenever it is, the day it does, corn ethanol goes away almost the next day.”

Future unknowns are many, Bowyer said, but a relative certainty is that the Earth–perhaps in the next two to three decades–will reach a point where it will not be possible to produce enough petroleum to match rising global consumption. Meanwhile, he said, as long as oil stays above, say, $55 a barrel, research will continue into alternatives.

If in the meantime cars are developed that achieve 100 miles per gallon, the equation changes, he said. And genetic engineering is likely to continue to improve yields of whatever is grown on the landscape–also potentially changing how the future unfolds.

And if a switch to cellulosic ethanol is eventually made from corn starch ethanol, government incentives, or safeguards, might be necessary for farmers, because two to three years are required to establish alternative sources of cellulose, such as native prairie plants or tree plantations.

The good news for wildlife and conservationists, Bowyer said, is that soil productivity must be maintained, no matter what is grown on the land.

“That’s got to be the priority, always,” he said. “And part of that is maintaining our groundwater. So no matter what we grow, soil conservation must be part of the equation.” –Star-Tribune

Free-range Kids Have An Advantage

Monday, June 28th, 2010

Are American parents raising children who are never allowed to take risks, or are they simply protecting them?

By Gloria Goodale
WHEN APPLIED to poultry, the term “free range” evokes images of chickens running freely in wide-open spaces. When used to describe human offspring, the moniker “free-range kids” is intended to conjure up the same sort of unencumbered wandering with few boundaries.

For New York Sun columnist Lenore Skenazy, who coined the term in April, the idea blossomed after her decision to allow her 9-year-old son to ride the New York public transportation system – subway and crosstown bus–from Bloomingdale’s in midtown Manhattan to her home just off 34th Street.

The humor writer penned a column regaling readers with her son’s triumphant foray into independent urban living and was stunned to find herself at the center of a firestorm of controversy. Many people called her a threat to her child’s safety. But, she says, more readers wrote in support of her desire to teach her child to be self-sufficient, so she and her husband decided to found a website ( to further the emerging dialogue.

In the weeks that have ensued, it is clear that Ms.Skenazy and her family have touched a nerve in the national psyche, say educators, medical professionals, and sociologists. For a complicated mix of reasons, including the high cost of gasoline, America’s slipping position of global leadership, and unprecedented levels of stress on the American family in a 24/7 culture, these observers see an urgent and growing desire among families to reassess their lifestyles.

More Balanced Parenting
Many say the much-written-about “helicopter” or hovering parents of recent years need to give way to a more balanced form of parenting, one that allows for more independence and risk-taking.

“We used to see the notion of a ‘vulnerable child’ only in medical terms,” says Dr. Robert Coleman of the American Academy of Pediatrics. The term meant that a child might be at risk for specific physical reasons but was otherwise considered “safe.” However, in the past four decades, that definition has expanded, leading to what he calls an “epidemic of seeing all children as vulnerable, all the time.”

Beyond the obvious stress that this constant state of anxiety induces in both parents and children, a generation of kids raised without learning to handle or even face risks won’t be prepared to take leadership positions in business or civic life, experts note. “We have begun to lose sight of the notion of comparative risk,” says Richard Louv, author of “Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder.”

“We are dangerously close to becoming a society that is so risk-averse that we drain the lake because one child drowns.” This attitude actually puts the larger society at risk because, says Mr. Louv, extending the metaphor, with no lake, no child would learn to swim.

Businesses have already begun to identify this as a serious problem, says consultant and Washington-based speaker Silvana Clark. For example, in initial job interviews, the tech giant Microsoft will often ask applicants to describe a risk they took in a previous job and how they handled the consequences.

“More and more companies are finding young job seekers simply don’t have this skill set,” says Ms. Clark. Innovation requires risk, she adds, and for American business to retain a leadership position, risk must be reintegrated into child-raising.

Many parents want to change their ways but feel trapped by fears about safety and keeping up, says Bob Livingstone, a clinical social worker in San Mateo, Calif. “They feel bombarded by our 24/7 culture, where the media have a field day with every incident involving a child, and they worry constantly about getting their kids into the best schools….”

But a quick look at actual statistics on child abductions reveals that the number of abductions by strangers has remained steady at under 200 for decades. That stands in stark contrast to the level of fear and worry about the safety of minors that Mr. Livingstone says he sees in his family practice.

Change isn’t as simple as merely allowing a child to walk unescorted to a friend’s house. Real progress will come only when fundamental attitudes begin to change, says Louv, who is a passionate advocate for the role of nature in a child’s education.

The natural world is the best environment to challenge and develop a child’s innate abilities, he says. “Two-dimensional environments like television and video games do not provide the spontaneous stimulation that nature does.” He points to pending legislation in Congress dubbed “No Child Left Inside,” as evidence that this view is gaining momentum.

An Ongoing Dialogue
In fact, although Skenazy came up with the term, “free-range kids” as she and her husband contemplated children raised with “no cages,” the free-range notion of child-raising has circulated among thinkers at least since Britain’s progressive educational experimentation at Summerhill in the 1920s.

Skenazy says her website and nascent movement are moving forward with an ongoing dialogue about just what free-range kids should act like. On her website, she freely fields comments and letters from all points on the spectrum, but has gone to great pains to explain that she is not reckless.

She believes in bicycle helmets, air bags, and car seats. The message she wants to get out is fairly simple: “The world is nowhere near as dangerous as the media would have us believe and maybe not as safe as some would like it to be.” But, she adds, “How will our kids ever learn that if we don’t let them out until they’re 21?” –Christian Science Monitor

Wildlife Corridors Benefit Plant Biodiversity

Monday, June 28th, 2010

GAINESVILLE, FL— Wildlife corridors appear to support not only wildlife but also plants—especially the oft-threatened native variety.

A six-year study at the world’s largest experimental landscape devoted to the corridors—links between otherwise isolated natural areas—has found that more plant species, and specifically more native plant species, persist in areas connected by the corridors than in isolated areas. The results suggest that corridors are an important tool not only for preserving wildlife but also for supporting and encouraging plant biodiversity.

“From the perspective of whether corridors are an important conservation tool, the big question is whether they preserve a large diversity of species,” said Doug Levey, a University of Florida professor of zoology. “The answer, for plants anyway, appears to be yes.”  Levey co-authored a paper on the study that appeared recently in the journal Science.

In recent decades, many states and communities have set aside land for wildlife corridors. They are even planned on a regional scale, with one proposed corridor, for example, stretching 1,800 miles from Yellowstone National Park to the Yukon Territory.

The rationale behind the corridors is that linking natural areas allows plants and animals to spread across them, helping them to thrive, reducing localized extinctions and increasing biodiversity. But until recently, scientific evidence for that rationale was surprisingly slim, with most corridor studies conducted on very small scales.

Levey and his colleagues’ massive outdoor experiment at the Savannah River Site National Environmental Research Park on the South Carolina-Georgia state line is steadily filling in the holes in scientists’ knowledge.

The site consists of eight sets of five roughly two-acre clearings in the forest. In each set, a corridor connects the central clearing to one peripheral clearing, with the others remaining isolated. Plants and animals thrive in the clearings, which consist of longleaf pine savannah, an endangered habitat. They do not do well in the areas of surrounding forest. The difference between the habitats is similar to the difference between the urban and natural areas, where corridors are most often used.

In two earlier papers, the researchers concluded that corridors encourage the movement of plants and animals across the fragmented landscapes. They also found that bluebirds transfer more berry seeds in their droppings between connected habitats, suggesting that the corridors could help plants spread.

The latest research tackled a much broader question: Do corridors increase plant biodiversity overall? To get at the issue, researchers Ellen Damschen and Nick Haddad, of North Carolina State University, did a detailed census of evenly distributed plots in six sets of connected and unconnected patches. They started in summer 2000 and returned every year through 2005 except for 2004, when a fire burned the landscape.

The site was set up in 1999, when forest service loggers carved out the plots, and there was little difference among plot covers just one year later in 2000. But a different pattern became clear in ensuing years. Not only were there more plant species in connected plots than unconnected ones, there were more native species.

“They started with the same diversity and then diverged,” Levey said. “Native species definitely benefited, and yet there was absolutely no evidence that exotic species benefited.”

The difference arose because unconnected patches gradually lost native species, whereas the natives persisted in connected patches. Over the five years, the unconnected patches lost about 10 native species. Meanwhile, the corridors seemed to have no impact on the number of exotic or invasive species in the connected and unconnected patches.

“It seems that exotic species either were already everywhere and did not rely on corridors for their spread, or they remained in one place,” Damschen said in an e-mail.

Levey said the scientists think that invasive species, which by definition are good at spreading, are little affected by corridors. Native species, by contrast, are less invasive and so assisted more by the corridors. “It may be that corridors play to the strengths of native species,” he said.

Levey said the National Science Foundation recently renewed a five-year grant to continue research at the site, committing about $500,000 for another five years.