Discover Nature | KBIA

Discover Nature

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. 

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. 

This week on Discover Nature, watch for river otters on frozen water. 

  

Well suited for life in water, otters have streamlined bodies, fully webbed feet, and long, tapered tails.  Dense, oily fur and heavy layers of body fat keep them insulated. 

Otters are graceful, powerful swimmers and can remain submerged for three to four minutes.  On land, they travel with a loping gait, and on snow or ice, they alternate loping with sliding. 

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. 

 

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. 

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. 

 

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 grasslands and crops – frequently within city limits – hunting snakes, squirrels, mice, and other small animals.  

 

This winter, consider a style of hunting that doesn’t require any special equipment, and has no bag limit. This week on Discover Nature, head outside in search of deer sheds.

 

Each year, between April and August, white-tailed bucks grow antlers made of calcium, phosphorous, and protein. Bucks use these hard antlers as weapons when sparring with other bucks for territory and mates during the fall rut, or mating season. 

 

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.  

 

Now that most leaves have fallen from Missouri’s trees, look for the smooth, white limbs of a giant rising over streams and river banks: Discover Nature this week with the American Sycamore (Platanus occidentalis). 

A living sentinel of our streams, sycamores provide year-round food and shelter for river wildlife. 

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: 

 

Over the river and through the woods… whether out for a hike, or on the hunt for your next Christmas tree, Discover Nature this week, and watch for Missouri’s Eastern red-cedars.

Eastern red-cedar trees are not true cedars – they actually belong to the juniper genus of the cypress family. True cedars belong to the cedrus genus in the pine family.


Nonetheless, these aromatic evergreens offer food and cover for birds and wildlife, often providing windbreaks and wildlife corridors in cemeteries, farmyards, and neighborhoods.

On a crisp Missouri night, take a walk in the woods and listen for the sultry calls of courting owls. 

Long-entwined in human history and folklore, science has stripped away superstitions that once connected these birds to witchcraft and death.  Instead, we now recognize the unique role they play in controlling populations of mice, rats, and snakes. 

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; the karst sinkholes and cave systems that filter our water below our feet and harbor sightless, unseen lifeforms.


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, set up bird-feeding stations to help keep feathered friends fed through the cold season.

  

To keep warm in frigid weather, birds must feed almost constantly. A drop of twenty degrees can double their metabolic rate. So, keeping food available can be especially important, and rewarding for birdwatchers when the weather turns cold. 

This week on Discover Nature, watch for white-tailed deer in rut, and celebrate 75 years of modern deer hunting in Missouri.

In the fall, fawns lose their white spots, adults’ coats take on a grayish-brown color, and bucks boast antlers to fight for territory and mating rights.  

Deer were essential to American Indians and early settlers, providing food, hides, sinews for bowstrings, and bones for tools. 

This week on Discover Nature, listen for the eerie calls of bobcats in the wild.

Several hundred years ago, bobcats lived throughout the United States. They were largely eliminated from much of the U.S., but are still scattered throughout areas with sufficient habitat. 

On cool fall evenings, listen for their hisses, growls, snorts, and screams coming from the woods. 

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. 

 

This week on Discover Nature, keep an eye to the sky after midnight and in the predawn hours, as the annual Orionid meteor shower peaks.

  

 

In autumn each year, just as hunters are taking to the woods and fields here on Earth, a hunter in the sky puts on a show of his own. 

 

This week on Discover Nature, we’ll look for one of Missouri’s late-blooming native wildflowers.

    

 

The New England aster is the tallest of Missouri’s native asters – growing up to eight feet – dotted with dozens of quarter-sized flower heads, usually in shades of purple, with a yellow disk in the center. 

 

Members of the Daisy family, these hardy wildflowers tend to bloom earlier than most other asters, and stay in flower for longer.  

 

Discover Nature this week, and listen for the sounds of autumn, as a sonorous chorus of crickets carries across the night air. 

 

Frogs such as spring peepers may get the glory of signaling warmer seasons, but field crickets are the celebrated singers filling the soundscape of fall.  

 

Field crickets may have black, brown, or tan bodies, about an inch long, and adult females have a needlelike, though harmless, ovipositor extending from the abdomen. 

 

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. 

 

Celebrate the arrival of autumn this week, and watch for a variety of ripening tree nuts falling to the ground.

 

Many Missouri native trees produce this protein-rich food for wildlife and people, and aid in the trees’ reproductive process. 

 

Watch for walnuts, hickory nuts, hazelnuts, horse chestnuts (buckeyes), acorns, and pecans, falling from above, and scattered on the ground. 

 

This week along Missouri waterways, watch for one of our state’s bright-red wildflowers in full bloom.

 

Cardinal flower (Lobelia cardinalis) grows in wet environments – especially along Ozark rivers and streams, in openings of bottomland forests, ditches, sloughs, swamps, and lakes. It also grows well in cultivated rain gardens with rich, wet soils, and tolerates medium shade. 

 

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. 

 

A rust-colored mother bat cradles her grayish-colored babies under her wings, hanging from a white towel.
Photo credit: Josh Henderson/Wikipedia.

Discover nature on a warm summer evening this week and watch the sky for Missouri’s only true flying mammals as the stars come out.

  

 

Flying and feeding, mostly at night, bats rely on keen hearing and sonar-like echolocation to find and identify prey mid-flight.  

 

Bats often get a bad rap for spreading disease, but in fact, disease incidence and transmission to humans is very rare. 

 

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. 

 

This week on Discover Nature, find a spot to escape the summer heat in a pond or pool of a cool stream, and you may find one of the largest wildflowers in Missouri.

 

Hairy rose mallow (Hibiscus lasiocarpos) produces flowers that resemble hibiscus, with five white- or rose-colored, papery petals, and a central wine-purple spot. The tall, perennial herb sometimes develops woody stalks and can grow to eight-feet in height. 

 

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. 

 

If you’ve stepped out to enjoy the night air lately, you’ve likely noticed a loud newcomer to the chorus of night sounds.  This week on Discover Nature, listen for the nocturnal chorus of katydids.

    

 

Close relatives of grasshoppers, many species of katydids call Missouri home – each with very different characteristics. 

 

The northern, or common true katydid has long, slender legs, and large veined wings resembling green leaves, although a genetic mutation causes some specimens to appear pink. 

 

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