Saturday, July 4, 2009

Celebrating the Red, White and Blue

Nature Watch
Celebrating the Red, White and Blue

By Susan Benson,
CNHM Director of Education

While enjoying the 4th of July festivities, keep your eyes and ears out for the red, white, and blue observations of three residents of the north woods. The red of the pileated woodpecker, white of the bald eagle, and the tasty blue of the blueberry can be a great part of any northern outdoor experience.
The woody woodpecker cartoons that many of us grew up with are modeled after the pileated woodpecker. The largest of North America’s woodpeckers, its bright red crest, loud ringing calls, and large, rectangular excavations in dead trees announce its presence in northern Wisconsin. Its call is a loud “kuk-kuk-kuk” and its drumming is loud and resonant from far away. Pileated woodpecker’s hollowed-out holes are broad and deep so they can fit their large bodies inside to find carpenter ants, wood-boring beetle larvae, or other insects. They also pry off long slivers of wood to expose their insect food. To go in search of a pileated, look or listen for them in large, older forests made up of mixed deciduous or coniferous trees.
The white head and tail of the bald eagle can be often seen in this area. We often see eagles while they are in flight. These opportunistic hunters get their food, preferably fish or other birds or mammals, by direct capture, scavenging, or stealing prey from other eagles or other birds and mammals. Eagles also can be seen wading in shallow water to catch fish. Young bald eagles can be seen fledging in late July, about 70 to 98 days after hatching. Before this, the young have been practicing flapping for weeks in preparation of their first flight. If one falls from the nest, the parents usually feed it on the ground. The parents encourage the babies to fledge by flying around the nest carrying food. After fledging, they usually stay with their parents for six weeks, being continually fed during this time. The young watch their parents fish, but don’t learn to catch fish for quite a while. The young begin “catching” carcasses on shoreline and then pick up dead fish floating in the water. Immature eagles won’t get the distinguishing white head until they are three to five years old, but still are an exciting sight to see.
For visitors looking for a tasty, blue treat, 4th of July may bring the delicious taste of wild blueberries. This plant grows in acid, sandy soil, so upland slopes and ridges and open woods are places where this plant can be found. A small shrub that grows about two feet tall, it has small, shiny medium green leaves. Their berries are a pale powder blue to black. For those who know what the plant looks like, and can avoid other possible look-alikes such as the blue-bead lily, blueberries can provide an excellent snack while out hiking.
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 and exhibits, the Curiosity Center and Brain Teasers 2, in Cable at 13470 County Highway M. Also find us on the web at to learn more about exhibits and programs.

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