Here at The Edge of the Wood…. well, we didn’t do so well on our SAT’s. But squirrels know how to ace it. A new study has shown that grey squirrels are quick learners capable of adapting tactics to improve efficiency and reap the best rewards. Pizza Ka Yee Chow of the University of Exeter, explains, “The results are quite remarkable – the squirrels made a decreased number of errors as they learned and progressively changed their tactic to increase efficiency and obtain the hidden rewards.” We would personal love to see study halls abounding with squirrel coaches… I hear they don’t mind getting paid peanuts.
A woodpecker’s beak is tough…and innovative! The spongy bones and nail hard beaks of woodpeckers are inspiring a new generation of shock absorbers, potentially shielding airplane black boxes, football players and other valuable materials from the forces of impact. Woodpeckers hammer their beaks into trees at the astonishing rate of 18 to 22 times per second, subjecting their brains to deceleration forces of 1200g’s with each strike. This is more than 100 times the g-force required to give a football player a concussion, according to research conducted by the NFL. Want to learn to be tough and beautiful? Talk to a woodpecker.
Here at The Edge of the Wood we remember our cheery school crossing guard with her blue uniform, white sash and bright red stop sign. Katie Sieving, a professor of wildlife ecology and conservation at the University of Florida, has found that tufted titmice act like “crossing guards” and that other birds hold back from entering hazardous open areas in a forest if the titmice sound an alarm. Here a little titmouse is sizing up our camera to see if it’s kosher. We hope she gives us the thumbs up so we can look forward to more of our bird friends stopping by.
Here at The Edge of the Wood we just tossed out our lawnmower and planted more bird- friendly-berry, bearing-bushes. We think of this as a win-win. Biologists Amy Belaire and Emily Minor found that landscape plantings in private yards play a much greater role in attracting a diversity of native birds in neighborhoods than do the surrounding parks, forest preserves, or streetside trees. Areas with bird-friendly yards had nearly twice as many species than neighborhoods whose private yards were less attractive to birds. So help a bird and help yourself. Sometimes a bird in the hand is worth less than two in the bush.
A recent study looked at the economic value city dwellers place on having birds in their communities. Researches asked how much residents would spend to conserve common bird species and what they’d spend, if anything, on bird food. In Seattle, the value of enjoying common birds is about $120 million in bird seed, housing and plantings. “We know that having a livable, green community that attracts birds also increases the value of homes in that area.” said John Marzluff, a University of Washington professor of environmental and forest sciences and the paper’s co-author. “This paper shows there’s an economic service birds are providing.” Home improvement doesn’t always have to involve a hammer and a saw.
Here at The Edge of The Wood we noticed that chipmunks can talk up a storm. They can sound alarm calls for as long as 30 minutes but what are they saying? Scientists noted three distinct alarm calls, one of which is called a “cluck.” It is a very specific warning of an aerial threat like a red-tailed hawk. So if you hear a cluck, don’t think chicken…a chipmunk might be warning you to duck!
Here at The Edge of the Wood we noticed that in urban areas there are more black squirrels than gray squirrels. Biologists believe that black squirrels may have been the norm several centuries ago, before large-scale deforestation. Today’s woodlands are much less shady than forests used to be, and cities, with their tall buildings, may mimic the darker environs of the early continent. In environments with more sunlight, “squirrel gray” can offer better camouflage. In New York City black-coated squirrels blend in perfectly with the urban human population. … after all, a little black dress is always in fashion.
Here at The Edge of the Wood we have come to understand that bird plumage descriptions can be confounding. The male Redstart is…orange. The red-bellied woodpecker’s head is brighter red than its belly. And, with that giant blue bill, why is it called a ruddy duck? Here we have the classic red tail of the red-tailed hawk, but you won’t find it on all of these fine raptors. Most juveniles have yet to grow one. Some morph in and out of rusty colors, and the western version of the species may not have it at all. What’s a bird lover to do?
Trish O’Kane thinks so. She runs a program at the University of Wisconsin that pairs university birding students with underprivileged middle school students in a unique environmental studies program. The kids explore nature and learn about environmental justice issues affecting their communities. They are shown that nature belongs to all of us and not just the few. So get outside and enjoy the bird songs…it might inspire you to do great things.
Professor Kelly Drew of the University of Alaska, Fairbanks has discovered that arctic squirrels lose synapses in their brains when they hibernate. What is remarkable is that when they wake up, the synapses grow back. “Synapses sprout when the animals re-warm. Indeed animals learn better after they come out of hibernation,” she states. Understanding how the squirrels do this could be the watershed moment for Alzheimer’s patients. We at The Edge of the Wood wish Dr. Drew much luck with her ground squirrel…oops we mean ground breaking discoveries.