Montana Public Radio

Montana Natural History Center

Loon Calls: From Inquisitive To Bone-Chilling

Jul 29, 2019
When a boat steers too close to a nest, the owner loon will snap its bill open and closed, transforming air into wavy notes that writer John McPhee described: “If he were human, it would be the laugh of the deeply insane.”
(PD)

Loon calls flow through our veins, seep into our bones and sinew. For a moment, we become the wild flute music that curls into every recess of the lake. The echo pulses within us long after the stillness returns.

Loons call in four ways, each carrying a meaning that, at some level, humans have come to understand.

Birds Of A Feather Flock Together ... To Bathe In Ants?

Jul 7, 2019
A blackbird sunning ... or is it anting?
Hornbeam Arts (CC-BY-NC-2.0) https://www.flickr.com/photos/hornbeam/9272137714

Anting is a bizarre form of bird behavior that has often been observed but is not well understood. It typically involves a bird picking up ants and rubbing or jabbing them into the feathers, especially under the wings and tail. The action is so rapid and vigorous that the bird will often knock itself over onto the ground.

Creating A Backyard Banquet For Butterflies

Jul 1, 2019
Keenan Adams, U.S.F.W.S. (PD)

I recently listened to a Field Note about the joys of designing a backyard landscape for wildlife and birds. As you’re scheming and poring over seed catalogs, consider the smaller winged creatures in your plans. Butterflies not only bring their own delight to a garden, but butterfly gardens have real conservation value. A garden that’s free of pesticides and full of nectar sources and food plants can become habitat for dozens of brightly-colored flitting jewels.

How Spider Webs Can Detect Air Pollution

Jun 2, 2019
Studies are analyzing the chemicals and pollutants caught in spider webs to determine the health of certain environments.
Flickr user PermaCultured [CC BY 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)]

Classic spiral spider webs are made by orb-weaving spiders which weave them deadly traps for flying insects. But orb spider webs are also electrostatically charged, making them perfect for capturing not only prey but pollen and other small pollutants, indicators of an environment's health.

Clark's Nutcracker
Ryan Mitchell (CC-BY-2.0)

As a bird biologist who studies bird songs, I immediately recognize most sounds I come across in nature: the winnowing of a Wilson’s Snipe, the smack of a Dark-eyed Junco, the zee-chubbity-chub of a Rufous Hummingbird, just to name a few. For me it is a matrix of sound, as diverse and varied as the surrounding landscape. When I hear a strange sound in nature, I can’t give up until I determine its source.

Western meadowlark.
Kevin Cole (CC-BY-2 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)]

It’s spring in the Rocky Mountains, the air is filled with birdsong and my feathered neighbors are back again. Recently, a pair of American robins arrived and set up housekeeping in the neighbor’s maple tree, just as a pair did last year. There’s a song sparrow in residence again in the lilacs near the creek, belting out its bubbling song. Riding my bike to work takes me past a small field, and sure enough, there’s a western meadowlark back again singing from the same telephone pole and claiming that field for his own.

Truffles, Trees And — Squirrels?

Apr 7, 2019
Truffle With A Squirrel Bite
FLICKR USER, SCOTT DARBEY (CC-BY-2.0)

Walking through the woods recently, I saw a red squirrel digging in the litter of the forest floor. I assumed it was burying a pine cone, but on closer inspection I found a piece of mushroom. Little did I know I was witnessing a process critical to the survival of a forest.

Do Bobcats Kill Deer? 'Field Notes' Investigates

Mar 26, 2019
Bobcat kittens
Summer M. Tribble (CC-BY-SA)

Bobcats are relatively common in patchy habitats all across the U.S., but we don’t see them often because they are crepuscular or nocturnal and well camouflaged. But after a recent bobcat sighting, I'll be on the lookout for bobcats much more than I have before.

Flickr user, Ingrid Taylar (CC-BY-2.0)

I’m not sure if I’ve ever been on a river, at any time of year, and not seen a Great Blue Heron. They seem to stand as solitary sentries on the rivers of Montana, but also on rivers from Canada to South America.

Snow Fleas
FLICKR USER, LINDSEY (CC-BY-2.0)

Every autumn I begin to wonder – where do all the bugs go? Unlike people, and other warm-blooded critters that can maintain a consistent internal temperature, insects cannot. So, you might wonder, what do insects do to survive the cold?

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