I've always remarked that getting to know the names of plants and animals is a good thing. Not just for the mere knowledge, but for the fact that no matter where you're at in the field or forest, you'll never feel alone if you only take the time to get to know the names of the resident flora and fauna.
There are two beloved and familiar Minnesota woodpeckers that most everyone knows about and enjoys observing. And though each species looks remarkably similar, the two are distinct in both subtle and obvious ways. You might've guessed already which species I'm writing about. Indeed, they're the hairy woodpecker and its look-alike diminutive cousin, the downy woodpecker.
We often hear this species of bird before we see it. One sound is produced from the bird's throat, whereas the other sound is produced from an action unrelated to its vocal cords. In this case, the bird's loudly delivered rattling call is often preceded or superseded by the sound of a loud splash into the water. Indeed, this is from none other than the handsome and very unusual belted kingfisher. Belted kingfishers are seasonal residents here in Minnesota, but anyone who's frequented
There exists a familiar feathered friend that all of us generally observe each spring and each fall, but normally never in between these two periods of time. A common looking bird, not very distinct looking, and not vociferous in any way. What this bird represents to most people with an eye to the calendar and an interest in phenology, is that the dark-eyed junco is an avian harbinger, to be sure.
I appreciate Minnesota's four seasons, including our winters. We are a hardy lot, we Minnesotans, and we're among some of the healthiest people in the nation. I liken our hardiness to the tenacity of our feathered friends that forgo warmer climes for our coldest months. The black-capped chickadee is one such bird. Black-capped chickadees, a common year-around bird seen on our backyard feeders and throughout Minnesota, are, despite their small size, among the hardiest of the hardy. Have you ever wondered how such a small creature can survive in such a harsh environment?
I would argue that a more fitting bird for Minnesota's official state bird would have been the ruffed grouse. Indeed, here's a bird that can be found throughout a large swath of Minnesota, not to mention being a year 'round resident. And as beautiful a bird as the common loon is, the loon is much less "common" in our state than Ol 'Ruff is. Considered by many a hunter as the most challenging of upland game birds to hunt, Minnesotans can boast about living in the premier ruffed grouse hunting state.
Until Labor Day night 2018, I had never seen a wild, live Virginia opossum. The only wild opossum I had ever seen before this was about 10 years ago near Keokuk, Iowa, but those animals were dead along a highway. So as I was driving in southeast Minnesota in a light rain not far from Forestville-Mystery Cave State Park a few nights ago, a small creature scampered across the blacktop. Though the animal was at the farthest extent of my high-beams, I immediately recognized the animal as none other than an opossum. Cool! My first 'possum.
Grouse belong to a very large order of birds, Galliformes. Wild turkeys, bobwhite quail, and the non-native ring-necked pheasant and gray or Hungarian partridge are also members of this order. Grouse chicks, which include all of Minnesota's native grouse — spruce grouse, ruffed grouse, sharp-tailed grouse, and prairie chicken — are down-covered and capable of moving about on their own soon after hatching.
Of the four North American species of nuthatches, Minnesota is home to two species — the red-breasted nuthatch and the white-breasted nuthatch, the latter being the most widespread of them all. The other two species, the brown-headed nuthatch and the pygmy nuthatch, occur primarily in southern-eastern United States and western North America-Mexico, respectively.
My commute to work from my home near Becida to the north end of Lake Bemidji takes me about 40 minutes one way. Traveling on the "Mississippi Great River Road," the route is never short of scenery and wildlife. On my return trip home one early evening recently, I was surprised by the sight of at least 50, possibly more, black-billed magpies flocked together on a freshly mowed hayfield a couple miles north of Becida.