Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Birds in November

Nature Watch
November 19, 2008

By Susan Benson,
CNHM Director of Education

Each day that goes by, I wonder if I am taking my last bike ride along the Namakagon River – for the season, that is. Sunday I went again, and was surprised at the muted colors, and the silence of the Riverway except for the bubbling of the water. This was such a dramatic change from previous weeks. Gone was the belted kingfisher I had previously seen and heard chattering. No eagles flew above my head. The occasional chickadee or nuthatch was all that I heard. It is the time of year when we know that our part-time residents, the migratory birds, have left us behind for some time. We are left with and comforted by the presence of our solid, cheery residential bird populations.

Merely 16 days ago I was greeted along the Riverway by the loud rattling cry of the belted kingfisher as it hovered above the water on a perch, waiting to plunge in head first into the water for a fish meal. Kingfishers are also known to eat other aquatic invertebrates, insects and small vertebrates. This bird is noticeable by its striking, slate blue head, large white collar, a large blue band on the breast, and white underparts. Belted kingfishers are one of the few bird species in which the female is more brightly colored than the male. The territory that they defend against other kingfishers can be a streamside and riverbed that is just over a half mile long. Now our kingfisher friends have left us to migrate to the coast, streams and lakes in the southern United States, Mexico, Central America, or northern South America.

At the same time I am saddened to see our non-residents leave our community, I am comforted by our residents, such as the red-breasted nuthatch. Identified by its white eyebrow with a black stripe through its eye, a black top head, gray back, with reddish underparts, this bird is found commonly in coniferous and mixed conifer forests of our area. Most people enjoy watching them as they climb down trees head first, probing crevices in tree bark looking for insects or spiders, eating conifer seeds, or storing food for later use under bark, in holes, or in the ground. Fiercely aggressive during mating season, the red-breast will chase away nest hole competitors such as the wren, white-breasted nuthatch, or downy woodpecker. This behavior continues beyond nesting season towards predators or competitors. This nuthatch even applies sticky conifer resin to the entrance of its nest hole (the male places it outside the hole, and the female puts it around the inside) to again keep out what they see as their enemies.

Over 110 bird species divide their time between Wisconsin and Belize, and many other species that enjoy other southern climates during our winters. These well-traveled birds bring us great diversity and enjoyment. From warblers to eagles, from ducks to robins, birds are the wildlife we experience most often and part of what makes our area special. We cannot take their songs for granted. The same may be true of our local, human population of “snowbirds”. Best wishes to all those “birds” who leave us, if only for a short few months.

Nature Watch is brought to you by the Cable Natural History Museum. For 40 years, the Museum has served as a guide and mentor to generations of visitors and residents interested in learning to better appreciate and care for the extraordinary natural resources of the region. The Museum invites you to visit its facility in Cable at 13470 County Highway M or on the web at to learn more about exhibits and programs.

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