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|Now is the time to get your bird nest boxes cleaned out and ready for new, incoming occupants..
Spring may officially be several weeks off, but now is the time to get your bird nest boxes cleaned out and ready for new, incoming occupants.
If you don't already have nest boxes up, this is the time to either build or buy and place them, following our specs at http://wdfw.wa.gov/living/projects/nestboxes/index.html.
Many backyard birding enthusiasts who use nest boxes leave them up year-round and leave nesting materials in them through the winter, when some birds will use them as nightime roost sites.
But migrating birds that use cavities for nesting, like bluebirds, swallows and wrens, will be returning next month and they prefer clean quarters to follow their instincts to build their own nests.
All nest boxes attract insects – mites, lice, fleas, flies, hornets, spiders and more. In small numbers they are relatively harmless to birds, but in larger numbers they can cause injuries and even fatalities to young birds.
Inspect all nest boxes to clean out insects and also to remove the old nesting material. Although some diligent and industrious birds will remove old nesting material before building their own particular nest, many more will just build on top of an old nest. That kind of layering can raise the nest dangerously close to the entrance hole where predators might reach eggs or young.
Your inspection may turn up dead nestlings or infertile eggs, which of course should also be removed. Be sure to use protective gloves, maybe even a dust mask, and dispose of everything you find in nest boxes away from the site to avoid smells that can attract predators.
Nest box maintenance includes tightening screws, loosening lag bolts, unblocking drainage holes, and generally making sure everything is secure and working right.
If you find a nest box in your collection that year after year goes unused, consider relocating it. It might not be in the appropriate habitat or suitable height location for the species it's built for, or perhaps it's in the right place but is not built correctly. Check the entrance hole size, overall size dimensions, and other factors that are important to, and different for, various species of nest-box-using birds. Details are available at http://wdfw.wa.gov/living/projects/nestboxes/index.html .
If the same nest box turns up dead nestlings or infertile eggs more than once, consider relocation to avoid competitors or predators, or remodeling to protect the species using the box. A predator block – just a one-inch thick piece of wood drilled with the appropriate size hole – mounted over the entrance hole to create a short tunnel into the nest, can deter starlings, raccoons, or squirrels that have chewed the original hole bigger.
Another improvement is to remove any perch post projecting out from the front of a nest box. Our native cavity-nesting birds don't need these perches but they are used by more aggressive non-native birds to harass nesting birds.
If you often have earlier-arriving starlings or English house sparrows dominating your nest box site, you may want to plug the entrance hole until later this spring when martins or swallows or other native species arrive. Small paper cups and other such plugs work well. Remember to remove the plug as soon as you see your "target" species return to the area, or when you otherwise learn of its return to your area. (Online birding chat groups can be a good source of news about migratory bird movements.)
If you watch a nest box closely enough this spring to know when birds have finished raising a brood, you can clean out the box again to encourage another pair to use it or the same pair to nest again. Just don't bother an obviously occupied nest box.
|It's the most common forest feline that we never get a chance to see -- the bobcat (Lynx rufus).
By Jamie Bails, WDFW habitat biologist
It's the most common forest feline that we never get a chance to see -- the bobcat (Lynx rufus).
My chance came on a drizzly morning in late October on a hike near Skykomish. We drove up the long, gravel road to an empty trailhead, complaining about the rain and missing the spectacular view. But a hike in the rain meant solitude in the Wild Sky Wilderness, so we donned raincoats and loaded backpacks with camp stoves, trail mix and packets of tea.
We went up the steep trail, chatting while our dogs stayed close by. Clearing another switchback, the path leveled out as we approached a south-facing ridge covered in young alder.
Suddenly my friend's dog jumped off the trail into the thick brush, sniffing the base of an old spruce tree. Stopped in our tracks, I heard her whisper "It's a bobcat!"
Just 20 feet away, balanced on the end of an alder branch, he sat, eyes wide open, staring at us, his mouth opening wide to hiss us away. Four paws tightly gripped the thin, bending branch, but his body was perfectly balanced in the air, like a walker on a tightrope. His body arched, thick fur standing on end, posed for escape.
I could barely see his eyes through the drizzly haze, but he did not blink. For a long minute I stared at him through the mist, holding my breath as I watched a wild cat in a tree, the first wild cat I had ever seen.
While bobcats are considered common enough in Washington to be classified as a small game and furbearer species that can be hunted and trapped, few people see them. As stalking predators they make it their job not to be seen. And if they are spotted, they disappear as quickly as they came, leaving you wondering if you ever saw it at all….
Bobcats, a close cousin of the Canada lynx (Lynx canadensis), are widely distributed over North America, ranging from southern Canada through the continental U.S. to southern Mexico. They are found in all habitats, from boreal forests to coniferous mixed forests, hardwood forests, coastal swamps, deserts and scrublands.
In Washington, bobcats are generally found below 4,000 feet elevation, mostly in wooded areas with escape cover, including suburban areas. In western Washington adult males have a home range of two to six square miles, half that for females. Eastern Washington bobcats have larger home ranges.
A male will mate with each of the several females who overlap his territory, and females will mate with several males. Each female may raise between two and four kittens a year depending on prey availability. The kittens are born in the spring and stay with mom for nine to 12 months, learning to hunt for themselves until they naturally disperse in late fall or early spring.
Bobcats are most active at dusk and dawn, hunting by sight and sound, watching and listening while perched on a stump or behind a tree, their spotted coats blending neatly with forest.
That spotted coat varies widely in color from tan to grey to reddish, as is more common on the west side of the state. They are named for the short bob tail, only up to six inches long, painted with black stripes at the top and bottom. Their back legs are longer than the front, which enable long leaps up to ten feet, and thick paws cushion the landing when they hit the ground. Males are larger, weighing up to 30 pounds and measuring over two feet long. Bobcats tend to be larger in the north and typically live 12-15 years in the wild.
The bobcat is an adaptable hunter, preying on anything from voles to rabbits to mountain beaver; it will even take prey twice its size. Once prey is sighted, bobcats stalk for a short distance, moving stealthily through the forest by placing their back paws in line with the front, followed by a quick leap and pounce on to the prey. If the prey is large, like a sick or weak deer, they stash it, covering it with brush and revisiting it until the prey is consumed. In suburban areas, bobcats may occasionally take a weak or sick, feral or domestic animal, but that is not typical.
Bobcats even share a prey species with their rare Canada lynx cousins – both cats hunt snowshoe hares. Bobcats aren't as well suited for deep snow conditions as lynx, which have longer legs and bigger, snowshoe-like feet. But over time, the smaller bobcat has adjusted to varying food and habitat conditions, surviving as more of a generalist in areas where the lynx cannot. As the climate changes and snow levels recede, the survivalist bobcat may take on territory and ranges once inhabited by the lynx.
The bobcat's curious nature often leads it into traps, says Brian Kertson, Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) carnivore specialist and researcher. In a cage trap set to catch a cougar for radio-collaring, he often finds a bobcat feeding on a free meal. Using a stick, he coaxes the bobcat out of the trap and resets it for the cougar. "The bobcat is full of piss and vinegar," he says, "and not easily discouraged from traps."
Bobcats spend the day sleeping in secluded hollow logs, stumps or brush piles, avoiding contact with other mammals, being solitary and unsociable. As I saw, they climb trees with ease when inadvertently disturbed.
Continuing up the trail, we quietly left the bobcat to return to its daytime sleeping spot, huddled inside the roots of that old spruce tree, awaiting dusk to search for a nighttime meal.
Finding a bobcat to experience an encounter like this is a long shot. But this winter, no matter the weather, take a long walk on a forgotten trail along the forest fringe, and don't be surprised if a bobcat finds you first.
To learn more about bobcats in Washington, see http://wdfw.wa.gov/living/bobcats.html