Even though it was about 35 below in the meadow Wednesday morning, Feb. 20, I know spring is on the way.
Why am I so certain? Because Stan from Becida smelled a skunk Friday, Feb. 15 in the Guthrie area.
If the weather is mild, skunks do sometimes come out of their winter dens for a stroll and a meal. However, mid- to late February is the official start of skunk mating season, so I wouldn't be surprised if we all got a whiff of this springtime fragrance very soon.
Just in case you're wondering how striped skunks spend the winter, I can tell you a couple of facts:
n Female skunks often share a winter den with their young and as many as six other females. A single male skunk may den with females but most often dens alone.
n Most sources don't call skunks "true hibernators." However, striped skunks do undergo a period of "inactivity" from November until February or March.
n Male skunks are more likely to leave the den than females during winter, and older skunks seem to be more likely to leave the den during winter than youngsters.
"Who cooks for you?" That's supposedly what the call of a barred owl sounds like, and that's all I've ever personally observed of these owls.
Not so for Jeff Warnick. He was able to watch a barred owl for about two hours in early February. He wrote, "It was amazing to see it during the day, feasting on a rabbit."
To learn more about barred owls this week, I turned to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology Web site and - you guessed it - www.owlpages.com. (There's a Web site for everything.) Here's what I found out:
n The barred owl has also been known as the swamp owl, eight hooter, round-headed owl, wood owl, rain owl, and my favorite: le chat-huant du nord, which translates to "the hooting cat of the north."
n Barred owls have wing spans that measure from a little more than three feet to a little more than four feet.
n Barred owls call year round, but courtship begins in February and breeding takes place in March. Males chase females and give a variety of hoots and screeches.
n Eggs are white and almost round. They hatch in about 28 to 33 days.
n Males bring food to females brooding eggs.
n After about four weeks, young owls leave the nest. They can't fly yet, so they use their talons and beaks to crawl out. They perch on branches near the nest. At this time, the baby owls are called "branchers."
n Owlets fledge at 35 to 40 days, but parents go on caring for them for several more months.
n Barred owls have moved farther and farther west in the last century. They have sometimes displaced the endangered spotted owl. Sometimes the two species interbreed.
Donna Torgerson of Hay Creek saw a loggerhead shrike land on a feeder the afternoon of Feb. 11 and then fly away.
"We've never seen one before," she wrote.
Donna also stated that she read loggerheads were on the decline.
That is exactly right. According to the Cornell Lab, the birds were once "abundant" but are now almost gone from the northeastern part of their range and in decline everywhere.
Coming next week: local photos of trumpeter swans.
Thanks to all who wrote with news. When sending your reports, be sure to give your name and a little information on where you made your sighting. Send to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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