Discover Nature (Missouri Department of Conservation) | KBIA

Discover Nature (Missouri Department of Conservation)

This week on Discover Nature, Eastern bluebirds begin arriving at breeding locations in Missouri.

   

The Eastern bluebird is a small thrush with a plump body and short, straight bill. Underparts are rusty in color, with white on the belly and under the tail feathers. Its upper body is bright blue in males, and gray-blue in females. 

The famous poet Henry David Thoreau once wrote that the bluebird “carries the sky on its back.” 

A blurry whistled series of notes comprise its distinctive, pleasant song. 

This week on Discover Nature take a walk outside, and you may hear one of the first serenades of spring on the horizon.

   

 

Spring peepers have spent the winter burrowed under soil – a natural antifreeze in their blood keeping them thawed.  

 

One of the first species to begin calling in the spring, this small, slender frog can appear pink, gray, tan, or brown, with a dark ‘X’ on its back.

 

Roughly one-inch in length, they breed in fishless ponds, streams and swamps with thick undergrowth.  

 

Eastern cottontail rabbits begin birthing their first litters of the year this week.

   

 

This medium-sized mammal with long ears, large hind legs, shorter front legs, a short fluffy tail and soft fur begins breeding in February. They may birth as many eight litters in a year. 

 

Each litter produces one to nine young – born about five inches long – that will leave the nest after about two weeks. 

 

This week on Discover Nature, turkey vultures begin to return to Missouri.

   

These large, black-bodied birds, sometimes called buzzards, are actually related to storks and flamingos. Turkey vultures have featherless, wrinkled, red heads, and are voiceless, except for a few hisses and groans they use to communicate with each other. 

Their bare heads and fee get cold and damp at night, so they begin their days by sunbathing to warm up. 

As temperatures freeze and thaw in late winter, one of the sweetest harvests awaits in the Missouri woods.  This week on Discover Nature, tap a tree, and collect a treat.

 

Freezing and thawing temperatures cause increased sap-flow in living trees. By drilling a small hole in the side of the tree, you can harvest its sap, and cook that down to make syrup. 

 

This week on Discover Nature, seldom-seen salamanders find love in late winter.

    

Eastern tiger salamanders grow to seven- to eight-inches in length, with striking yellow or olive and black patterns on their moist skin. 

They live in woodlands, swamps, prairies, and old fields near farm ponds. You may also occasionally find them in wells, basements, and root cellars. 

In autumn, these amphibians migrate to fishless ponds and swamps, where courting and breeding will begin in mid-February. 

This week on Discover Nature, listen for great horned owls hooting in the night.

These large owls have wide-set ear tufts, mottled brown feathers, and yellow eyes. 

They mate from January through early February, and this week in Missouri, they are incubating eggs in their nests. 

An average clutch consists of just two eggs, with incubation lasting about a month before chicks hatch. 

This week in nature, keep an eye out for groundhogs. Also known as woodchucks, or whistle pigs, these rodents in the squirrel family are active during daylight hours, and are breeding now.

 

With short, powerful legs and a medium-long, bushy tail, these mammals can grow to more than two-feet long, and weigh as much as 14 pounds. 

 

Groundhogs dig tunnels leading to a nest chamber, three to six feet underground. They hibernate from October until February when they emerge and begin breeding. 

 

This week on Discover Nature, Missouri’s most common squirrel species begin bearing litters.

Eastern gray squirrels are slender and wear a usually gray coat with white on the fringe of the tail and belly. 

Eastern fox squirrels are usually reddish-yellow in color, heavy-bodied and larger than the gray squirrel. 

These squirrels begin mating in late December and January. Pregnancy requires about 45 days, with most litters born in February or March. They mate again in late spring and early summer, giving birth to second litters in July and August. 

In the heart of winter, one Missouri shrub defies the dormant season: this week on Discover Nature, keep an eye out for Ozark witch-hazel.

 

This native shrub, with tight, gray bark, and alternate, egg-shaped leaves, brings some of the first color of the year to Missouri’s wooded landscapes. 

 

Yellow to dark-red, fragrant flowers adorn its branches from January through April.  In the fall, hard, woody fruits will pop open with enough force to throw seeds up to 30-feet away. 

 

While cruising down a Missouri highway this winter, keep an eye out for a predator on the prowl.

 

Often known as “highway hawks” for their roadside perches, red-tailed hawks are “brown above, and white below,” and adults have a rust-red tail with a narrow black band near the end.  They stand nearly two feet tall with a wingspan more than double their height.  

 

These hawks usually nest in open woodlands or in trees in a grassland and crop area – frequently within city limits – hunting snakes, squirrels, mice, and other small animals.  

 

Did you know there are more than 200 species of woodpeckers in the world? This week on Discover Nature, look and listen for the seven species that call Missouri home.

 

Hairy, downy, pileated, and red-bellied woodpeckers live in Missouri year-round, while the migratory northern flickers, red-headed woodpeckers, and yellow-bellied sapsuckers are temporary residents of the Show-Me state. 

 

Special adaptations help woodpeckers climb and drum on trees: 

 

The holiday season continues, but as we enter the new year and Christmas trees come down, consider giving one more gift – to nature.

   

 

Re-using cut Christmas trees can provide great habitat for fish, birds and other wildlife.  

 

Strip your tree of ornaments and consider placing it in a pond. By attaching a rock or other anchor to your tree you can help fish populations by creating natural cover for them… and possibly a new fishing spot for you.  

 

This week on Discover Nature, keep an ear, and an eye to the sky as Canada goose populations peak in Missouri.

   

One of our state’s best-known waterfowl species, Canada geese are common Missouri residents year-round, but migratory populations pass through in the fall as they head south for warmer winters. 

Missouri’s resident and migratory bald eagle populations peak in the winter, and now is a great time to look for these iconic American raptors.

 

Mature bald eagles are easily identifiable by their black bodies with white head- and tail feathers. However, for their first four to five years of life, juveniles sport all-brown feathers with white speckles. 

 

This week on discover nature, voles (also called meadow mice) are busily working under snow and soil.

Voles, often confused with moles and shrews, are more mouse-like: small, stocky brown rodents with short tails, small ears, and a blunt, rounded snout. 

Three species of voles call Missouri home: prairie voles and woodland voles reside statewide, while the meadow vole only inhabits the northern part of the state. 

Voles build runway systems above- and belowground, and they construct nests of woven grasses and other materials.

This week on Discover Nature, take a moment to admire and appreciate Missouri’s many gifts from nature.

   

Picture the vast geography of our state, as avian migrations pass over our prairies and plains, Ozark forests, big river systems, and marshy lowlands. 

Each ecoregion supporting its own array of animal and plant species that have constituted our state’s natural heritage from long before settlers set foot on Missouri soil. 

This week on Discover Nature, watch for white-tailed deer in rut. 

Each fall, fawns lose their spots, adults’ coats change from reddish-yellow to grayish brown, and bucks boast antlers to fight for territory and mating rights. 

Once abundant across Missouri, unregulated hunting nearly wiped them out completely. Thanks to decades of dedicated conservation efforts, our state’s rich habitat once again supports more than a million white-tailed deer. 

This week on Discover Nature, watch for an ecological engineer, and unsung steward of streams.

    

The American beaver is North America’s largest rodent and builds dams and dens in streams and streambanks for its home. 

Their webbed hind feet, with large, flattened tails, dark brown fur, and pronounced front teeth, all suit these mammals well in their streamside habitats. 

Beavers are usually nocturnal, but in they become more active during daylight hours in autumn as they gather food and prepare their lodges for winter. 

This week on Discover Nature, get outside and enjoy a show of fall foliage, fruits, fungi, and flowers. 

 

Fall color in Missouri’s trees has been off to a slow start, with much green remaining on the landscape. But, with cooler temperatures and waning daylight hours, chlorophyll – the compound that makes leaves green – is breaking down, revealing pigments that have been hidden all summer. 

 

In central Missouri, hickories and maples are turning red and yellow, while dogwoods continue to show off a muted purple. 

 

This week on Discover Nature, listen for the clear, loud calls of ground-dwelling birds just before dawn. 

 

Missouri’s native quail – Northern bobwhite live in groups of 5-30 birds, called coveys, from autumn to spring. 

 

Northern bobwhite are streaked or mottled reddish-brown and white, with a gray tail. Males have a distinctive dark brown cap and face. Their camouflaged colors help protect them from their many predators including foxes, coyotes, racoons, hawks, owls, and snakes. 

 

As autumn begins in Missouri, one of the state’s most fragile and unique species is active beneath the surface of some streams. 

Hellbenders are large aquatic salamanders, reaching lengths of more than a foot. Ozark and Eastern Hellbenders have a wide, flat head with tiny eyes and a broad, rudder-like tail. They breathe through their sensitive skin – usually grayish-brown in color, and covered in prominent folds. 

In late summer and early autumn, females lay as many as 200 – 700 eggs, which males fertilize and guard until they hatch. 

This week on discover nature keep your eyes peeled around dusk for groups of little brown bats.

 

Little brown myotises, or mouse-eared bats are only about three to four inches long, and weigh only a quarter of an ounce. They have yellowish- to olive-brown fur with a glossy sheen. 

 

In the fall, these bats gather at cave and mine entrances to mate before hibernation. However, fertilization of the ovum will not take place until spring, and mothers will bear a single offspring by mid-June. 

 

Discover nature this week and scout the understory of Missouri’s riparian woods for our state’s only native, tropical tree… and its ripening, custard-like fruits.

   

 

Pawpaw trees – Asimina tribloba – are small, with slender trunks and broad crowns.  

 

They grow in shaded colonies on moist lower slopes, ravines, valleys, along streams, and at the base of wooded bluffs. 

 

This week on Discover Nature, watch for a swift-flying migratory duck traveling through Missouri from the north. 

 

Blue-winged teal breed all across North America, and they leave their summer homes early, from as far north as Alaska, to overwinter along the Gulf of Mexico, and as far south as Argentina. 

 

Adult males – called drakes – are small, each with a dark gray head and a white crescent between the eye and bill. A light blue patch adorns the forewing just above a greenish patch of feathers called a speculum. 

 

Missouri Department of Conservation / L

Discover Nature this week as the American Black Bear (Ursus americanus) prepares for winter.

 

As the weather cools off and we head into autumn, black bears enter a phase called hyperphagia, in which they eat heavily, accumulating a layer of body fat that results in a 30-percent weight-gain. This layer of fat will provide nourishment and insulation during winter, when bears enter a deep sleep-like state called torpor, usually lasting until April.  

 

This week on Discover Nature, take a walk in the garden or tall grass, and watch for silken traps spun by tiny architects of the natural world.

 

Black and yellow garden spiders (Argiope aurantia) are common across Missouri in tall grasslands, gardens, fields, and urban backyards. 

 

Adorned with yellow-orange markings on its black body, fully-grown females are about twice as big as males, and can reach more than an inch in length. 

 

This week in the woods, or backyard garden, you’ll likely cross paths with the monarch butterfly.

   

 

In fact, you’ll find monarchs in a wide variety of habitats, including fields, roadsides, and landscape plantings. 

 

This large butterfly starts out as a white caterpillar with yellow and black bands, but transforms into a striking, flying insect, with distinct orange wings and black veins. 

 

This week on Discover Nature, watch – and listen – for a tiny, feathered pollinator that sings with its wings.

 

Ruby throated hummingbirds (Archilochus colubris) display metallic green feathers on their upper backs, and males sport a ruby red patch at their throat. 

 

Common across Missouri from April to October, other hummingbirds who nested farther north have already begun their fall migration and are arriving in Missouri – making now a great time to see their numbers peak here. 

 

Discover nature this week, and watch for baby snapping turtles, hatching from eggs near Missouri’s streams, ponds, and wetlands.

 

Snapping turtles occur statewide – anywhere there’s permanent water. They prefer bodies of water with mud bottoms, abundant aquatic vegetation, and submerged logs. 

 

Females travel overland during egg-laying season – mostly in late spring and early summer – and are often killed by cars. 

 

Females dig nests in deep sand or loose soil and deposit up to two clutches of 20-30 eggs per season. 

 

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