Discover Nature | KBIA

Discover Nature

Listen at the water’s edge this week, and you’ll likely hear Missouri’s largest frog, and official state amphibian.

Growing up to eight-inches long, the American bullfrog (Lithobates catesbeianus) ranges from green to olive to brown, with small, dark blotches on its back, a large, round external eardrum (or tympanum) behind the eye, and distinct brown bars on its hind legs. 

Bullfrogs are ambush-style predators that will eat any live prey they can fit in their mouths, including insects, fish, mice, birds, and snakes.  

This week on Discover Nature, watch for an aerial hunter in Missouri, perched on fences, phone wires, and trees; flitting to catch insects and fend off avian intruders.

Eastern kingbirds have black on the head and dark gray on the back, with white underparts, a distinctive white band on the end of the tail, and a bright reddish-orange crown on its head – though this small patch can be hard to glimpse in the field. 

Bird nesting peaks in late spring, and paying close attention to this seasonal behavior can show us more about the birds we see around us every day.

   

 

While nesting behavior varies considerably among different birds, we can observe a typical nesting cycle in the American robin. In their case, both sexes share in building the nest, which is composed of a mixture of mud and grass. 

 

Wildflowers and warm weather signify the arrival of spring in Missouri… and one of the state’s largest, heaviest wild mammals enjoys the season as much as we do.

This week on Discover Nature, we recognize May as National Bear Awareness Month.  

Black bears mate now through June, but reproductive development pauses for 6-to-7 months, until bears enter hibernation.  Mother bears birth litters of two to three cubs in January and February, sometimes while the mother still sleeps.  

This week on Discover Nature, watch – and listen – for the northern cricket frog.

 

Commonly seen along the edges of ponds and streams, especially on mud flats and gravel bars, scientists are monitoring Missouri populations due to rapid declines in other states. 

 

The northern cricket frog can appear in a variety of colors from gray to tan to greenish-tan or brown, with a white belly. 

 

Their metallic calls resemble the sound of small pebbles being rapidly struck together. 

 

This week in Missouri’s woods, a native, thorny, locust tree displays clusters of fragrant white flowers.

 

The black locust (Robinia pseudoacacia) grows in dry or rocky upland woods, along streams, and in pastures, and thickets. 

 

A pioneer tree species, black locust easily invades disturbed sites, and some consider it a nuisance species. 

 

This week on Discover Nature, a poisonous perennial wildflower shows off bright red- and yellow-blossoming spurs.

   

Columbine (Aquilegia canadensis) is in full bloom in Missouri this week. Growing about two-feet tall, often in shaded areas in woodlands and hanging from rock cliffs, this hardy native wildflower is also a favorite among landscape gardeners. 

Slow and steady wins the race… but when it comes to crossing roads turtles often lose. This week, as you’re driving down the highway or backroads, keep your eyes peeled for turtles in your path.

 

Spring rains and warm weather trigger turtles to start wandering in search of food and mates, and they often need to cross roads that pass through their home areas. 

 

Box turtles commonly live to thirty years old, and can live as along as humans. They spend their quiet lives eating plants, earthworms and insects. 

 

This week on Discover Nature, crappie are spawning in shallow water across Missouri.

These popular panfish occur nearly statewide in open water or near submerged timber or other suitable cover in ponds, lakes, reservoirs, and slow-flowing backwaters of large rivers. 

During the spring spawning season, these fish find vegetation and submerged woody structure in shallow water.  

Crappie are most active in evening and nighttime, but can be observed at all times of day. 

This week on Discover Nature, listen for wild turkeys gobbling in Missouri woods and grasslands.

This popular gamebird, once a contender for our national bird, makes many other vocal sounds, as well, often described as purring, yelping, and putting.  

Adult males, called Toms, are large and dark, with a bare, red, white, and blue head, long legs, and bronzy feathers. Males and some females have a tuft of hair-like bristles, called a beard, in the middle of the breast. Females are smaller and less iridescent than males. 

Discover nature this week with a walk outdoors, and keep an eye out for blooming Eastern redbud trees (Cercis canadensis).

   

 

Find these small, ornamental, Missouri-native trees in woodlands, glades, and along rocky streams and bluffs, as well as in urban landscape plantings. Young trees have smooth, reddish brown to gray bark which will develop long grooves and short, thin, blocky plates as the trees grow older. 

 

This week on discover nature one of the oldest fish species alive today, and Missouri’s official state aquatic animal, is on the move.

   

 

Paddlefish are related to sturgeon and sharks and are historically found in the big rivers of our state. 

 

This large bluish-gray fish with an elongated paddlelike snout, or rostrum, has no bones in its body, and adults have no teeth. Paddlefish swim slowly through water with their mouths wide open, collecting tiny crustaceans and insects in their elaborate gill-rakers. 

 

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. 

This week on Discover Nature, watch for wild fungal fruits growing in the woods.

   

Oyster mushrooms grow in overlapping, shelf-like clusters on stumps, logs, and trunks of deciduous trees especially during damp weather. 

Broad, fleshy, shell-shaped caps are whitish to grayish to tan in color, protecting narrow membranes below, called gills. 

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, 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. 

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