By: Carol Suits
Liberty Wildlife Volunteer
Happy New Year!
Our Superhero Club went on the road in January, electing to attend the 5th Annual Conservation Expo at OdySea in Scottsdale in place of our regular meeting at Liberty Wildlife. There were many vendors with exciting and informative displays including our friend and fellow club member, Jennifer Nerat with Litter Critters.
Kaitlyn watches a demonstration
Roger picks up litter under Jennifer’s watchful eye.
Superhero Club News for 2023
· We will meet the second Saturday of each month at 9:00 A.M.
· Our focus will continue to be empowering kids to help nature including
· Monthly published activities in Nature News/Kid Stuff. Kids are to accomplish age-appropriate ideas that are designed to build awareness and self-confidence
· Monthly on-campus meetings will provide reinforcement of published activities through discussion and interactive experiences
· Nature journals will continue to be emphasized as important growth tools. I will ask the kids to share their work with the group at each meeting.
Our first topic:
· What changes happen in nature when winter turns to spring – at home, at Liberty Wildlife, and on the Rio Salado?
· I’m excited to announce that City of Phoenix Ranger, Brian Miller, will be joining us to support our team. He has a wealth of knowledge to share (especially regarding his “territory,” the Rio Salado) and considerable experience working with young people.
Hummingbird gathers nesting material to get ready for spring babies
Superheroes are great at discovering ways to help Nature! When winter turns to spring and the weather gets warmer, all living things can use some habitat help. Good habitats have a source of food, water, shelter, and space to live.
Can you spot any of these animal homes in your yard, park, or schoolyard?
Match the home to the critter that made it!
Spider Ant Bird Fox Wasp
Is your yard or nearby area a good habitat for living things?
Try these Superhero activities to find out.
· Have adults help you build bird houses and bird baths if you don’t have them.
· Watch to see which birds come to your feeder and/or bath. Make a list in your journal.
· Make a log in your journal of the birds and other critters you see. Maybe draw them for each entry.
· Do a test with multiple types of bird foods to see which ones the birds like best. Share your findings.
· Choose a different wild animal. Plan and build a home for it. Take or draw pictures. Watch for use!
· Do an experiment to see which food other creatures like best.
o Find out what to feed the critters that come to your yard.
· Log every creature’s favorite food, hang out spot, and special behaviors.
· Create a food web of the critters or plants in your yard. Make a poster or have drawings in your journal.
These videos discuss habitats and animal homes
Question: How can Superheroes help wildlife when spring is almost here?
Answer: Provide nesting material for birds and other creatures!
All nesting material must be natural, free of chemicals.
Do provide any combination of the following:
· Dead twigs.
· Dead leaves.
· Dry grass (make sure the grass hadn’t been treated with pesticides)
· Plant fluff or down (e.g., cattail fluff, cottonwood down)
· Bark strips.
· Pine needles.
Stay away from man-made materials and chemically treated materials such as:
- Dryer lint
- Plastic strips
- Aluminum foil
- Webbing/Mesh material (e.g., onion bags)
It’s easy to be creative with holders. Here are some ideas:
§ Suet container
§ Homemade box of twigs or craft sticks (use outdoor, non-toxic glue)
§ Grapevine ball or wreath
§ Small or medium-sized basket
§ A bowl or saucer or small bucket
§ Cardboard egg carton, with holes cut out
§ Eggshells to make little people
§ Strawberry basket
§ Hollowed-out coconut shell
Whatever you choose, think about bird safety. Can birds land and fly away without getting trapped? For this reason, never use mesh bags — they can trap feet and legs or be a strangulation hazard.
Be sure to “test” your nester! Can birds easily pull out material?
Bring your “nester” to Liberty in February to share with other Superheroes!
Pirates of Tempe Town Lake
By Greg Martin
Liberty Wildlife Volunteer
Pretend that you are one of the trout regularly stocked in Tempe Town Lake. Plenty of water, ample companionship: avoid the occasional baited hook, and it’s a pretty good life.
One morning, a shadow falls over your idyllic paradise. You’re not that familiar with the sky, being a fish and all, but you do recognize light from dark. And you instinctively know that activity on the other side of the water’s surface is a harbinger of bad things to come. Your fellows scatter to the deep. You move to follow, but before you can make it down to safety, that shadow is upon you.
Now switch roles, putting yourself in the place of that shadow. You, an osprey, have perched on a nearby freeway light since dawn, waiting for some flicker of disturbance in the lake below to betray your breakfast. Predator or prey, both know to watch for shadows: the merest hint of movement is often the only warning there is. In today’s battle, you were quicker to spot the opportunity, and now you’re airborne again, sopping wet, but otherwise victorious. You’re made for this lifestyle: the pads of your feet bristle with barbs, giving you the perfect tools for wrestling down a slimy, writhing snack. You’re a corsair of the waterways, one of the most specialized predators in the raptor world.
You fish. And you’re good at it.
You’re on your way back to your perch, not a care in the world, when suddenly, a shadow descends upon you. It grows steadily bigger; you dodge and weave, but it stays right on your tail. You don’t have time to turn and look, but you know what it is. The undignified cackle of your tormentor belies one of the great predators of North America. Aggravated and afraid, you let go of your fish; you plundered it from the waves, but there’s no honor among thieves.
Now switch your perspective to that of the final victor. You terrified the fisherman into letting go, and before that easy meal hits the surface, you snatch it up. You’re a Bald Eagle, and you let that osprey do the hard work for you. It’s not honorable, but then survival isn’t a gentlemen’s duel.
Piracy is a fact of life in the animal kingdom. Every single action a predator undertakes expends energy; the more wasteful one is, the more likely it won’t have the reserves needed to score that next meal. And since those meals are the only way to sustain the perfect engine that is a hunter, it’s easy to fall into a lethal spiral of growing lethargy and looming starvation. Thus, they take what they can get, even if it means stealing it from others. Bald Eagles are no more nefarious than any other raptor. They certainly can, and do, fish for themselves; they simply have the benefit of being apex predators. If an osprey had the tools to bully its way to the counter, it would; but it doesn’t, and so it’s back to the lake for another go at it.
Raptors steal from one another the same way that lions and hyenas do. It’s a common theme for all predators, really. Practically every carnivorous animal flies the Jolly Roger, because the alternative is certain death. The only thing more energy efficient than stealing someone else’s kill is eating something that died of its own accord. Vultures aren’t the only ones with a taste for carrion; even the most regal eagle will gladly dive in. Mighty Red-tailed Hawks, among the biggest and most common hawks in North America, stop to eat grasshoppers as readily as they’ll chase down jackrabbits. They’ll also kill owls, and vice versa, in order to eliminate potential competition. No step can be spared in the quest to live.
For a bird of prey, protecting a meal is as much an imperative as securing it. Raptors aggressively shield their captured prey in a display known as “mantling,” extending their wings around the carcass like a protective dome. They simultaneously puff themselves up to look as dangerous as possible. Depending upon the bird and upon the meal, they’ll often carry their food to a secluded spot, whether up in a tree or down below a bush. The best case scenario is to avoid being seen in the first place. But if a rival does happen upon them, mantling makes it clear that they won’t give up without a fight.
Whether it’s truly worth battling over depends upon the circumstance. An osprey can more easily grab another fish than tangle with an eagle. But a raptor that’s hungry enough – or desperate enough – might have no choice. In that case, mantling isn’t camouflage, and it’s no mere bluff. It’s a threat:
Pirates, ye be warned.
Previously published in June 2019.
A Meeting at the Stalk
By Gail Cochrane
Liberty Wildlife Volunteer
Years ago, our Century Plant sent up a stalk, an asparagus-like projectile that shot up inches every day. Then the stalk bloomed, and clusters of flowers waved twelve feet up against the blue sky, swarming with bees. After the flowers dropped and the lower plant blackened, we cut down the stalk and remounted it in a PCV sleeve buried at the back of the garden.
That stalk has made us popular with all manner of birds. Hummingbirds, Curved-billed Thrashers, White-winged Doves, and Mourning Doves perch on the stalk and survey the area. Each species seems to have a season for use of the stalk and we see various birds up there in rotation.
Recently, on Martin Luther King Day, there was an incredible cross species gathering on the stalk. No less than four different types of birds convened. This congress was loud, as the participants called their cries rang across the day.
Drawn outside by the commotion I first noticed the loudest and most colorful. A pair of Gilded Flickers posed on the stalk, shrilling Keer! The brilliance of their breeding plumage sent me back inside for my camera. The male clung near the top of the stalk and his mate watched him from a side shoot. Down a bit on another branch, a female Gila Woodpecker peered up at the other two. From the block wall nearby her mate cried out and flashed his red crown.
The local Abert Towhee pair perched near him on the wall. We see these two scratching under shrubs for insects almost year-round. The towhees scrutinized the gaudy flickers and did not seem to make comment.
Lastly was the lone Curve-billed Thrasher who often serenades from the rocky hillside out back. CBT is also a frequent visitor to our yard, pecking for seeds and insects alongside Gambel Quails.
Did the Gilded Flicker pair come by to size up the territory for potential nesting sites? A couple of nice sized saguaros grow nearby, and it’s surely time to get started excavating a cavity for spring nesting. Gila Woodpeckers also make nests in saguaros. They certainly have skin in the game.
Did the regulars turn out in welcome or warning? Gilded Flickers mostly eat ants. They have long tongues that can be extended a couple of inches beyond their impressive beaks. At the end of these tongues are sticky bristles. Thus equipped, Gilded Flickers linger near ant hills, lapping up ants and ant larvae. Which seems a good reason to have them around.
Perhaps the meeting at the stalk was a negotiation, a coming to terms with some new neighbors. I hope they decided there are resources enough for all. I’m glad we have packed our property with native plants. It’s the best we humans can do to encourage robust populations of birds and other wildlife.