Category Archives: Mammals

With Their Mind But No Wings

Coyote pouncing, Golden Gate National Recreation Area (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

27 January 2023

Coyotes (Canis latrans) are highly adaptable and very smart about food and humans because their lives depend upon it. Of course they live where food is plentiful but in places like Pennsylvania, where they’re hunted or trapped without limit all year long, they hide from humans and operate at night. In locations with less human pressure they forage during the day and encounter their familiars — ravens and sometimes crows.

Coyotes and Corvids often meet when it’s time to eat, especially at carcasses in winter. The carcass below attracted ravens and a black-billed magpie along with the coyote.

Coyote with ravens and magpie at a carcass in Wyoming’s National Elk Refuge (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

Ravens apparently realize that coyotes are smart for they sometimes enlist their help by leading them to a carcass they cannot open on their own.

Coyote near a raven at Metzger Farm Open Space, Colorado (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

How do Corvids describe a coyote? Perhaps like this, as described by Doug Anderson.


Hunch in the trees
to gossip
about God and his inexorable
about deer guts and fish so stupid
you could sell them air
and how out in the deserts
there’s a dog called coyote
with their mind
but no wings. …

— excerpt from Crows by Doug Anderson from Blues for Unemployed Secret Police Curbstone Press ©2000.  (Reprinted by permission, Click here for the full poem.

Common raven perched on a car (photo by David Kay from in 2011)

No wings? No problem. Here’s a coyote.

(photos from Wikimedia Commons and Shutterstock; click on the captions to see the originals)

Humpback Whales Love Anchovies

Humpback whales lunge-feeding on anchovies in Monterey Bay (photo by Robin Agarwal via Flickr Creative Commons license)

25 January 2023

Every autumn humpback whales (Megaptera novaeangliae) migrate past California on their way to spend the winter off the coast of Mexico. They will linger, however, if they find lots of anchovies. Humpback whales love anchovies.

The California anchovy population typically rises and falls in 10 to 30 year cycles based on ocean conditions and fishing pressure. It surged in 2013 when the New York Times made this video (click on the image below) …

Screenshot from New York Times article... Click here or on the image to see the video

… and surged again this summer. In June 2022 there were so many anchovies that people reported small fish raining down from the sky in San Francisco, probably dropped by passing seabirds. In July anchovies were trapped in oxygen-poor water and died near shore, making a smelly mess.

There were still lots of anchovies when the whales showed up this fall. Robin Agarwal took a whale watch out of Monterey Bay in early October and captured these scenes of lunge-feeding humpback whales.

The anchovies crowded close as the predators approached. The whales forced them to the surface where the tiny fish leapt out of the water to escape.

Humpback Whales lunge-feeding on Northern Anchovies (photo by Robin Agarwal on Flickr)

The whales opened their mouths and anchovies fell in.

In a surge year for anchovies, people feast too.

Anchovies at Valley Bar + Bottle Shop, Sonoma, California (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

Read more about the 2013 anchovy surge in the New York Times: With Extra Anchovies and Whale Watching.

See more of Robin Gwen Agarwal’s photos here.

(humpback whale photos in Monterey Bay by Robin Gwen Agarwal on Flickr, Creative Commons license, food photo from Wikimedia Commons; click on the captions to see the originals)

If You Think Gray Squirrels Are Cute …

Gray squirrel (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

20 January 2023

Squirrels can be annoying at bird feeders but their expressions can be endearing.

If you think our eastern gray squirrels (Sciurus carolinensis) are cute you ought to see the native red squirrel of Europe (Sciurus vulgaris).

These native squirrels have been declining in the UK, Ireland, and Italy due to competition from eastern gray squirrels, imported from North America in the 1890s and spread by humans to new locations(*).

However, the native red squirrels are stabilizing in Scotland, in part because European pine martens (Martes martes) are increasing and they selectively prey on gray squirrels.

The European pine marten is pretty cute, too.

European pine marten (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

p.s. Gray (grey) squirrels are invasive in the UK but a 2016 study found that their populations are genetically distinct from their neighbors and they didn’t invade new places on their own. Humans spread them!

One of the worst offenders at spreading grey squirrels was the 11th Duke of Bedford, Herbrand Russell. Russell was involved in many successful animal conservation projects, but released and gifted many grey squirrels around the UK from his home at Woburn Park.

Russell also released populations [of grey squirrels] in Regent’s Park, likely creating the London epidemic of greys. 

Imperial College London: Don’t blame grey squirrels: their British invasion had much more to do with us

(photos from Wikimedia Commons; click on the captions to see the originals)

Fermented Fruit Tastes Too Good

Groundhog hanging onto a tree (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

19 January 2023

Fermented fruit tastes so good that wild animals large and small overindulge until they can barely walk.

Some, like this red squirrel, are puzzled by the odd feeling that overcomes them.

Groundhogs just keep going despite that wobbly feeling, not realizing that it’s hazardous to stand up. This particular groundhog got grouchy. He’s not a happy drunk.

And then there’s the story of a drunken moose who got stuck in a tree.

(photo from Wikimedia Commons)

Busy Beaver at Frick Park

Beaver at Frick Park, Jan 2023 (photo by Malcolm Kurtz @woodlandpaths)

13 January 2023

This winter Frick Park has a returning resident though he or she may not be the same individual that used to live there.

In late December Malcolm Kurtz photographed and video’d a busy beaver in Nine Mile Run which he posted to his Instagram account @woodlandpaths. (page to the right below to see video)

Malcolm’s story was picked up by the Pittsburgh Park Rangers @pghparkrangers who named the beaver Castor — part of his scientific name Castor canadensis.

The Park Rangers’ story was picked up by CBS News at Park rangers watching over Castor, the new resident beaver at Frick Park. This beaver is a celebrity.

If you visit Frick Park’s Nine Mile Run valley, keep an eye out for Castor. Beavers are nocturnal but Castor is apparently a daytime camera hound.

(photo by Malcolm Kurtz @woodlandpaths via Instagram; posts are embedded)

Drunk On Fermented Fruit

Cedar waxwing in Ohio (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

28 December 2022

After five days of extremely cold weather the temperature is rising into the 40s today and will stay above freezing in the week ahead. Hard fruits that were softened by the freeze are now poised to ferment in warmer weather. Soon we may see drunken birds.

Birds leave crabapples and Callery pears on the trees in November because they’re too hard to eat. Freezing breaks down the starches into sugars and when the fruit thaws it is soft and yummy. However yeast gets into the fruit and ferments it. Birds gobble up the soft tasty fruit. If they eat too much they get drunk.

Callery pear fruit, before and after freezing (photos by Kate St. John)

When abundant rowan berries fermented in Gilbert, Minnesota in October 2018, waxwings gorged on them and became quite drunk.

This black-billed magpie didn’t care that he was eating fermented apples until he could barely walk. He staggers among the apples and is only slightly more agile by the end of the video.

Pumpkins are a fruit and, yes, they can ferment. When they do, squirrels get drunk.

Discarded pumpkins in Bloomfield, Dec 2020 (photo by Kate St. John)

In 2015 a study reported that fermented fruit is becoming more common because of climate change. There’s more news in this vintage article.

(photos by Kate St. John and from Wikimedia Commons; click on the captions to see the originals)

Baby Wolf Howls

Baby wolf (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

9 December 2022

Happy Friday with this video from Voyageurs Wolf Project @VoyaWolfProject, a research program of the University of Minnesota.

Learn more about the project and see more videos at the Voyageurs Wolf Project.

(photo from Wikimedia Commons, click on the caption to see the original)

Dolphins Just Wanna Have Fun

Northern right whale dolphin, Monterey Bay, Calif. 30 Nov 2022 (photo by Robin Agarwal via Flickr Creative Commons license)

4 December 2022

Dolphins are very intelligent and engage in many kinds of play. Robin Agarwal photographed their antics while on a pelagic tour in Monterey Bay on 30 November 2022. For instance …

The northern right whale dolphin (Lissodelphis borealis) in mid-leap, above, looks super sleek because he has no dorsal fin.

A Pacific white-sided dolphin, below, went way beyond mere jumping. He leapt, turned, and sometimes entered the water tail first. Somersaults!

Dolphin somersaulting! Pacific white-sided dolphin

Here’s a calmer view of this species (Lagenorhynchus obliquidens) with a cape of bubbles from his spout.

Pacific white-sided dolphin surfaces with a cap of bubbles on its back, Monterey Bay, Calif, 30 Nov 2022 (photo by Robin Agarwal via Flickr Creative Commons license)

Another favorite dolphin game is to ride the pressure wave at the front of a fast moving boat. Called “bow riding,” the bow wave pushes dolphins fast forward without any flapping on their part.

Dolphins like this game so much that they rushed toward the whale watch boat. Robin Agarwal says of this photo, “Pacific White-sided Dolphins and Northern Right Whale Dolphins stampeding towards the boat to bow ride – my favorite sight in the world.”

Dolphins stampede toward the whale watch boat in order to bow ride, Monterey Bay, Calif. 30 Nov 2022 (photo by Robin Agarwal via Flickr Creative Commons license)

Here they are bow riding with an “unusual swirl color morph” among them.

Unusual ‘swirl’ color morph Northern Right Whale Dolphin joins the other NWRDs and Pacific White-sided Dolphins at the bow

Dolphins just wanna have fun!

Check out the great photos by Robin Gwen Agarwal on Flickr.

(photos by Robin Gwen Agarwal on Flickr Creative Commons license.)

The Largest Living Organism is Dying of Deer

Pando in October snow, 2021 (photo by Beth Moon via Flickr Creative Commons license)

29 November 2022

In 1976 Jerry Kemperman and Burton Barnes discovered that 106 acres of quaking aspens (Populus tremuloides) in the Fishlake National Forest of Utah were actually all the same male plant, one root with thousands of suckers that grew into trees. It came to be known as Pando — “I spread.”

Quaking aspen, Pando, in fall (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

Pando weighs 6,600 tons making it the heaviest known organism on Earth and it is very old, though no one is sure whether it’s 10,000 or 80,000 or even a million years old.

Aerial image of the location of the single aspen tree, Pando (highlighted in green) at Fishlake National Forest, Utah (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

However, almost as soon as Pando was discovered researchers found that sections of it were not rejuvenating because new sprouts were being overbrowsed by deer. In that part of the U.S. the species is mule deer (Odocoileus hemionus).

Mule deer in Colorado (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

So they fenced it — twice — one fence in 2013, another in 2014.

Map of 2018 Pando study partially funded by U.S. Bureau of Land Management, Grant/Award Number: L21AC10369 (map downloaded from Wiley Online Library)

Then in 2018 Paul Rogers and Darren McAvoy of Utah State University conducted a followup study sampling Pando’s health inside and outside the deer exclosure fences and concluded that the fencing was not working.

According to September 2022 Sci.News “The unfenced areas are experiencing the most rapid aspen decline, while the fenced areas are taking their own unique courses — in effect, breaking up this unique, historically uniform, forest. … Fencing alone is encouraging single-aged regeneration in a forest that has sustained itself over the centuries by varying growth.”

“One clear lesson emerges here: we cannot independently manage wildlife and forests.”

Sci.News, October 2018: Pando, World’s Largest Single Organism, is Shrinking

Aldo Leopold’s experience in his early career when he worked to eradicate wolves from the American West changed his perspective on trees and deer. At one point he shot an old female wolf and was there to see the green fire go out of her eyes as she died. He wrote …

I thought that because fewer wolves meant more deer, that no wolves would mean hunters’ paradise. But after seeing the green fire die, I sensed that neither the wolf nor the mountain agreed with such a view.…

I now suspect that just as a deer herd lives in mortal fear of its wolves, so does a mountain live in mortal fear of its deer. And perhaps with better cause, for while a buck pulled down by wolves can be replaced in two or three years, a range pulled down by too many deer may fail of replacement in as many decades.

Aldo Leopold: Sand County Almanac, “Thinking Like a Mountain”

Pando’s days are numbered because new trees are not growing up to replace the old ones. This is how a forest dies.

(photos from Wikimedia Commons, map from Wiley Online; click on the captions to see the originals)

Did You Sleep Enough?

The Nap (painting by Jan Verhas, 1879)

20 November 2022

Last week as I walked past a team of Allegheny Goatscape goats munching invasive plants in Schenley Park, I noticed a sign that described their sleep cycles. The goats, who are guarded by a donkey, sleep 5 hours in a 24-hour day. The donkey sleeps only 3 hours. Imagine being able to function normally on so little sleep!

Goats and guard donkey at Frick Park in Aug 2020 (photo by Kate St. John)

Some animals sleep less than we do, some sleep more.

We humans, who average 8 hours per day, are well aware of our pets’ sleep cycles. Cats sleep 12 hours a day (so do mice!). When this man gets up his cat will curl up in the warm spot and go back to sleep.

Cat sleeping on man (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

Adopted greyhounds are champions at sleeping 18 hours a day.

Greyhound sleeping (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

Brown bats have one of the longest sleep cycles at almost 20 hours (19.9 hours per day according to this table).

Little brown bat sleeping (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

Birds are in the middle, sleeping 10-12 hours a day, but their sleep is highly variable by species, place and season, especially in the Arctic where a summer “day” can be 24 hours long.

Sleeping duck (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

Guppies sleep slightly less than humans at 7 hours a day.

Trinidadian guppies (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

And giraffes win the prize for the least sleep at only 1.9 hours a day!

Giraffe (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

Did you get enough sleep last night? No? Then it’s time for a nap!

For more information see:

(photos from Wikimedia Commons except where indicated; click on the captions to see the originals)