Category Archives: Mammals

Only The Size of a Squirrel

Geoffroy's tamarin at a bird feeder at Cerro Azul, Panama (photo by Donna Foyle)
Geoffroy’s tamarin at a bird feeder in Cerro Azul, Panama (photo by Donna Foyle)

When I see photographs of monkeys I think they’re at least the size of chimpanzees but this monkey, native to Panama and northern Colombia, is only the size of a squirrel.

Geoffroy’s tamarins (Saguinus geoffroyi) are small colorful members of the marmoset family with bodies only 9 inches long but tails up to 15 inches.  They live together in family groups of three to five individuals, traveling through the trees to find their favorite foods of insects and fruit.  The brave ones visit bird feeders.

Bird feeders in the tropics are different from ours at home.  Pennsylvania birds are attracted to seeds, suet and mealworms but tropical birds eat fruit so Panamanians put bananas, mangoes and papaya in their feeders.  This inevitably attracts the monkeys.

At Cerro Azul we met a homeowner who feeds Geoffroy’s tamarins in her backyard every day.  If she isn’t quick to fill the feeders they whine at her from the trees, but they are shy and won’t come down unless she is alone.

We all stood far away and Donna Foyle took pictures while the homeowner stabbed fruit chunks with the tip of a knife to hand it to the monkeys.  Later she handed fruit to them directly.

Homeowner feeding backyard monkeys at Cerro Azul, Panama (photo by Donna Foyle)
Homeowner feeding Geoffroy’s tamarin at Cerro Azul, Panama (photo by Donna Foyle)
Geoffroy's tamarin grabs fruit off the knife at Cerro Azul, Panama (photo by Donna Foyle)
Geoffroy’s tamarin grabs fruit off the knife at Cerro Azul, Panama (photo by Donna Foyle)
Homeowner feeding backyard monkeys at Cerro Azul, Panama (photo by Donna Foyle)
Homeowner feeding backyard monkey at Cerro Azul, Panama (photo by Donna Foyle)
Geoffroy's tamarin eating fruit offered by a homeowner at Cerro Azul, Panama (photo by Donna Foyle)
Geoffroy’s tamarin eating fruit offered by a homeowner at Cerro Azul, Panama (photo by Donna Foyle)

Squirrels are scarce in the Panamanian jungle.  We saw only one in Panama and it was at the airport hotel.  So Geoffroy’s tamarins fill the niche of squirrels at the bird feeders.

These “squirrels” have thumbs!

 

Read more here about Geoffroy’s tamarin and see a photo of one with a baby on its back.

(photos taken at Cerro Azul on 23 March 2018 by Donna Foyle)

Puzzling Peanut Feeder

Chipmunks emerged from their winter lairs last month.  Meanwhile blue jays are gathering to prepare for the breeding season.

What happens when both species encounter a peanut attached to a screw?

Let’s see …

 

p.s. Why does the blue jay pick up each peanut and set it down?  I learned this week that blue jays weigh the peanuts and then take the heaviest (best) one.

(video from My Backyard Birding on YouTube)

Tomorrow is a Really Big Day

Groundhog Day in Punxsutawney, 2013 (photo from Wikimedia Commons)
Groundhog Day celebration, 2013 (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

Tomorrow at a huge celebration a famous groundhog in western Pennsylvania will predict the weather for the next six weeks.

Who is this groundhog?

And, an even harder question, how do you spell the name of town where he makes his prediction?

On Throw Back Thursday, learn all the answers at Tomorrow Is A Really Big Day.

 

(photo from Wikimedia Commons; click on the image to see the original)

Pretty Kitty: Bobcat in Minnesota

Bobcat Pretty Kitty 2015 from Sparky Stensaas on Vimeo.

 

Last week I wrote about bobcats in Pennsylvania, Florida, and Arizona.  Here’s one in Minnesota, filmed by Sparky Stensaas in 2015.

Read about her at his blog:  Pretty Kitty — Carleton County Bobcat.

 

p.s. Sparky Stensaas is the Executive Director of the Friends of Sax Zim Bog.  If you’ve never been to Sax Zim Bog in the winter, I highly recommend it!  The Sax Zim Bog Birding Festival is February 16-18 this year.

(video by Sparky Stensaas, The Photonaturalist)

An Adaptable Cat

Bobcat in Florida, 2013 (photo by Don Weiss)
Bobcat in Florida, 2013 (photo by Don Weiss)

Because I live in western Pennsylvania I’m always excited to see a bobcat.

Bobcats (Lynx rufus) are descendants of Eurasian lynx that likely crossed the Bering Land Bridge 2.6 million years ago.  Twice the size of house cats they have short tails, wide faces (actually long face fur) and tufted ears.

Bobcats range from Canada to Mexico but there’s a gap in their distribution from western New York to eastern South Dakota.

Bobcat range map (image from Wikimedia Commons)
Bobcat range map (image from Wikimedia Commons)

The gap is a mystery to me because we have everything they need.  Their preferred habitat is woodland interrupted by old fields and rocky outcrops and they are opportunistic hunters. They eat mostly rabbits, but also squirrels, rodents, birds, frogs and even fish!

Bobcats hunt just like house cats. They crouch and wait for food to walk by, then pounce on it. This technique means they have to be camouflaged so their fur color varies depending on where they live.

The bobcat Don Weiss photographed in Florida, shown at top and below, has dark fur and small spots.

Bobcat in Florida, 2013 (photo by Don Weiss)
Bobcat in Florida, 2013 (photo by Don Weiss)

 

This bobcat in Arizona is much paler with big spots. Donna Memon noticed it in her Tucson backyard when one of them (a family of three!) growled from a distance as if to say, “Stay away. I’m worried that you’re dangerous.”

Bobcat in the backyard, Tucson AZ, 8 Jan 2018 (photo by Donna Memon)
Bobcat in the backyard, Tucson AZ, 8 Jan 2018 (photo by Donna Memon)

It’s normal that the bobcats would be wary of us. We humans and our dogs are their #1 threat.

Bobcats can’t outrun dogs but they can climb … even on telephone poles.

Bobcat on wires at Merritt Island, Florida (photo from NASA via Wikimedia Commons)
Bobcat on wires at Merritt Island, Florida (photo from NASA via Wikimedia Commons)

So why aren’t bobcats in western Pennsylvania?  Well, maybe they’re moving in.

In the mid 1970’s, bobcats were considered so scarce in Pennsylvania that they were listed as Vulnerable.  Back then they lived completely isolated from humans and those locations were disappearing fast.  However, the bobcats adapted.  By 2000 their population had grown enough that the Game Commission allowed limited trapping and now, almost 20 years later, our bobcat population is still growing and expanding its range.

Perhaps bobcats will make it to Schenley Park some day.   🙂

 

(photo credits: bobcats on the ground by Don Weiss and Donna Memon. Map and bobcat on wires from Wikimedia Commons; click on the image to see the original)

Protection For an Ant Eater

The pangolin is not an anteater but he resembles one because he, too, eats ants.

Native to Africa and Asia, pangolins feed on ants and termites by digging up their colonies.  It’s a painful business without protection so the pangolin’s body has built-in defenses against biting, swarming ants (shown in the video).

Pangolins are protected against ants but they’re at the mercy of humans.  Their meat is a delicacy in China and Vietnam and their scales are used in Asian medicine.  They’re hunted illegally until extirpated, even in parts of Africa.  As a species they’re in severe decline.

Four years ago the Western world began to take notice: the pangolin needs protection.  This 2014 article lists 7 Ways to Help Save the Pangolin.  Read an update at the World Wildlife Fund.

 

(YouTube video from National Geographic Wild; click on the YouTube icon to see it full screen)

The Reindeer Quiz

Santa, sleigh, and reindeer (image from Clipart Library)
Santa, sleigh, and reindeer (image from Clipart Library)

Legend says that reindeer will pull Santa’s sleigh tonight.

What do we know about real reindeer (Rangifer tarandus)?

Here’s a quiz based on Reindeer: 12 Fascinating Facts About These Amazing Creatures on the National Wildlife Federation website.  Click on the 12 Facts link to see the answers and even more information.

THE QUIZ:

a. Reindeer live in Europe, Asia and North America, but on our continent they have a different name.  What are they called?

Map of reindeer range (image from Wikimedia Commons)
Map of reindeer range (image from Wikimedia Commons)

b. Among moose, elk and white-tailed deer, only the males grow antlers.  What about reindeer?

c. Reindeer coats change from winter to summer and so do their hooves.  What’s different about their hooves and why do they change?

Reindeer in Svalbard (photo by Per Harald Olsen via Wikimedia Commons)
Reindeer in Svalbard (photo by Per Harald Olsen via Wikimedia Commons)

d. “Some subspecies have knees that make a clicking noise when they walk.”   What’s the advantage to making this noise?   (Do your knees click?  Here’s an excuse for it.)

e. Reindeer do migrate and those in North America travel quite far.  How far do they go?

f. Reindeer used to live in the Lower 48.  Which state?  And how long ago was that?

g. Where did we get the idea that reindeer can pull sleighs?   Here’s a visual answer.

Reindeer pulling a sleigh circa 1900 in Archangel, Russia (photo from Wikimedia Commons)
Reindeer pulling a sleigh circa 1900 in Archangel, Russia (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

h. Who is the leading predator of reindeer calves?  (Hint: It’s a bird!)

 

Visit Reindeer: 12 Fascinating Facts About These Amazing Creatures for the answers.

 

(clipart from Clipart Library; photos from Wikimedia Commons. Click on the images to see the originals)

Inspired By A Mountain Lion

Five years ago a wildlife camera at Griffith Park, Los Angeles photographed an unexpected animal — a mountain lion!   Also called a puma or cougar, the big male cat had crossed two 10-lane freeways to make his home in the park that houses the HOLLYWOOD sign.

Since then he’s been radio-tagged as Puma #22 (P-22) and seen repeatedly on the park’s trail-cams.  He was even recorded vocalizing though no one knows what he was saying.  (Click to hear The Sound of Our Griffith Park Mountain Lion:  P-22 and the Mysteries of Puma Communication.)

P-22 is very shy of humans and stays away from busy areas yet he’s garnered a fan club anyway.  His presence has taught Angelenos about the dangers wildlife face and prompted his fans to help him.

Because of the freeways P-22 is stuck inside 8 squares miles instead of the 200 square miles that mountain lions prefer, so his supporters are raising $50 million to build the largest ever wildlife bridge.   When it’s completed P-22 will be able to roam and find a mate.

It’s an ambitious project inspired by a mountain lion.

Watch the movie trailer for The Cat that Changed America and click to read about A Day In The Life of P-22 in the L.A. Times.

 

(trailer for The Cat that Changed America on YouTube)

Watch Out! Deer Damage Ahead

Deer in Schenley Park, 22 Feb 2014 (photo by Kate St. John)
Deer in Schenley Park, 2014 (photo by Kate St. John)

Nowadays I don’t have to go far to see white-tailed deer in southwestern Pennsylvania.  The deer population in Schenley Park has grown by leaps and bounds since I first noticed them a decade ago.

When I don’t see the animals, I see their evidence. In July, they eat so much jewelweed that it looks like the trail edges were weed-whacked.

Jewelweed eaten by deer in July, Schenley Park (photo by Kate St.John)
Jewelweed eaten by deer in July, Schenley Park (photo by Kate St.John)

In winter they eat shrubs like this arborvitae on Schenley Golf Course until there’s no green near the ground.

Arborvitae eaten to the browse line, Schenley Park Golf Course (photo by Kate St. John)
Arborvitae eaten to the browse line, Schenley Park Golf Course (photo by Kate St. John)

And they eat small trees. More than a year ago they ate the leader shoot of this hackberry seedling.  The next year two branches sprouted to compensate and the deer ate those.  And on and on and on.  The tree grows old but never tall.

Deer damage on hackberry twigs, Schenley park, Nov 2017 (photo by Kate St. John)
Deer damage on hackberry twigs, Schenley park, Nov 2017 (photo by Kate St. John)

These signs of deer damage indicate their over-population in Schenley Park but the scariest sign is the growing number of deer crossing the road.

Last week I saw an 8-point buck ambling across Greenfield Road while pedestrians stopped and stared.  He was majestic and he was lucky.  No cars were coming.

Last June a deer leapt over a guard rail in Indiana County and landed on the hood of Marcy Cunkelman’s car.  She couldn’t see it coming and she couldn’t see to drive after it crumpled the hood. The deer didn’t survive the accident but Marcy and her family were fortunate.  They were fine and the airbags didn’t deploy.

Deer damage to Marcy Cunkelman's car, 19 June 2017 (photo posted by Marcy Cunkelman)
Deer damage to Marcy Cunkelman’s car, 19 June 2017 (photo posted by Marcy Cunkelman)

That happened in June when deer are less distracted than they are in autumn.  This month there’s a much higher chance of hitting a deer because they’re on the move and they aren’t paying attention.  It’s mating season.

Pennsylvania is the #3 state for vehicle-deer insurance claims.  According to State Farm’s annual report, there were more than 142,000 vehicle-deer collisions in Pennsylvania from June 2016 to June 2017.  On an annual basis we have a 1 in 63 chance of a hitting a deer but during mating season that likelihood more than doubles … to maybe 1 in 30.  Yikes!

So stay alert!  Watch out for deer, especially at dusk.  Click here for State Farm’s tips on what to do.   … And good luck.

 

p.s.  Wear blaze orange if you’re going into Pennsylvania’s woods, especially during PA’s deer (rifle) season, Monday Nov 27 through Dec 9, 2017. Click here for PGC details on antlered/antlerless dates and locations.

(deer and plant photos by Kate St. John. Car damage photo by Marcy Cunkelman)