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Celebrating spring, like an animal

Story and Photo by Tom Wiesen
Special to the DailyThe 6-inch northern pygmy owl is found perching on wires or branches of trees while hunting songbirds.
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New evidence of springtime appears each day. It is fun to observe the behavior of animals and birds so we too can experience the rituals of springtime.For me, springtime is about fulfilling an urge. It’s a deep emotional thing that says, “Just go do it.” And think about all of the “firsts” we’ll experience soon. The first day we’ll wear shorts again, the first time we’ll get back on our bikes, the first night we’ll camp out. These collective urges are fulfilled by a very large percentage of our local population, quite often simultaneously.

Animals, like humans, experience irrepressible urges through instincts. Many birds and animals are now gearing up for mating season. This urge to shack up and make babies surrounds us in the natural world each day.Today I saw a magpie carrying a stick in its bill, presumably for nest building. The male magpie presents the female with a delivered stick, and she weaves it into the nest, or if it’s not quite what she was looking for, she simply discards it and has him bring another. The conspicuous beach-ball sized magpie nest, often located in a cottonwood or a tall, thick shrub, consists of woven twigs and limbs that form a sturdy platform, which is then covered by a dome-shaped roof. The entrance hole is just large enough for the magpies to fit through, and is often ringed by thorny branches – a built-in security system to deter predators such as a great-horned owl. This is an example of how instinct guides magpies to build their nests using similar construction methods and similar habitats.

Early each morning lately, I’ve been hearing the drumming of woodpeckers interspersed with clear loud singing of pine grosbeaks. Territories are now being established and mates attracted. Males with the best songs and the most dazzling plumage are often the winners.Over the last several days I’ve also noticed an incredible amount of chasing going on between pine squirrels. Competing males chase one another in an attempt to mate with a ready female. She will mate with several partners until she becomes pregnant, somehow knowing this instinctively. These chases are fun to observe as the squirrels bound overland and sail between branches. So intense and raucous can the chase be that the pre-occupied squirrels may attract predators such as a pine marten or a goshawk and instead of winning a mate, they are instead met a flesh-piercing tooth or talon.



Tom and Tanya Wiesen are owners of Trailwise Guides, a year-round Vail Valley guide service specializing in daily private outings for hiking, mountain biking, snowshoeing, cross-country skiing, birding and wildlife watching tours. Contact Trailwise Guides at 827-5363.Vail, Colorado


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