Vol. 19, No. 9 • Mailed monthly to over 12, 400 homes in the Gateway & Parkrose Communities Free • JANUARY 2004
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A guide to winter wildlife watching

By Metro naturalist James Davis, reprinted with permission from the Metro GreenScene

Winter rains bring a big increase in the activity of two underground animals-earthworms and the moles that prey on them. You will see more of the fresh piles of dirt that moles push out of their tunnels and up to the surface. We have the smallest and the largest moles in the world right here.

Harder to see are “worm piles” made by night crawlers as they drag food into their burrows. Look for little clumps of tiny twigs and leaves about the size of half a ping-pong ball. They are especially common in thin parts of lawns under trees.

Winter turns the region into a waterfowl wonderland. Tens of thousands of ducks, geese and swans spend the winter in the northern Willamette Valley and lower Columbia River basin. Places like Smith and Bybee Lakes Wildlife Area, Sauvie Island and Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge offer spectacular viewing of large flocks of many different species. All hunting is finished by the end of January, so February provides the most hassle free viewing.

By the end of November all the leaves are gone from the deciduous trees. That means it’s a great time to see wintering raptors. Not only are the birds of prey easier to see in the bare trees, there are actually more of them here in the wintertime. Red-tailed hawks and bald eagles arrive in the Portland area in large numbers for the winter, joining the year-round residents. Expect to find eagles hanging out in areas with lots of wintering waterfowl, feeding on the ducks and geese that don’t make it through the winter. Two other raptors seen here in winter are the rough-legged hawk and the merlin.

Look up in the big, bare deciduous trees in old neighborhoods and parks and you are likely to see two different kinds of clumps of plant debris. These are crows’ nests and dreys. Think of a pirate ship and you’ll know where to look for the crows’ nests-they are near the top of the tallest trunk in a small group of trees. (Small wonder how the ship’s lookout got the name.) Crow’s nests are made of little sticks and are basically cone-shaped. A drey is the nest of a tree squirrel, but the term is not commonly used in the United States. The dreys most commonly seen in Portland are balls of leaves made by the introduced Eastern fox squirrel, the biggest tree squirrel in North America. Their nests are about the size of a soccer ball, made almost entirely of dried leaves with a few sticks, and are usually placed close to th trunk and lower in trees that crows’ nests. Every winter, you will see a new batch of these structures since they rarely survive the winter weather.

Winter is the time of the most activity at bird feeders. Birds need more calories at the same time that food is getting scarce, so they come to your feeder for those tasty and energy-rich sunflower and other seeds. Some common ‘feeder birds’ are rarely seen at other times of the year. Dark-eyed juncos are even called ‘snowbirds’ by some folks since this little sparrow is only at feeders during winter.

Other winter visitors are the plain pine siskin, often mistaken for a female house finch, and the varied thrush. These winter visitors join the regulars seen as feeders any time of year such as song sparrows, house sparrows, house finches, spotted towhees, chickadees, scrub jays and Steller’s jays. If you are lucky, you might also get to see white-crowned and golden-crowned sparrows and American goldfinches. If you put out suet, expect to see downy woodpeckers, red-breasted nuthatches, bushtits and more chickadees.

To enhance your winter wildlife experiences, check the MEMO Calendar for Metro events this month or request a copy of the Metro GreenScene at 503-797-1850 option 3 or find it online at www.metro-region.org.
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