Br’er Fox moves furtively through my yard.
Br’er Fox moves furtively through my yard. AL BATT/BLUFF COUNTRY NEWS

According to research done by AYTM (Ask Your Target Market) in 2015, more than 40 percent of U.S. households feed birds. That’s more than 52 million Americans.

In 1994, Congressman John Porter of Illinois read a resolution into the Congressional Record. “I would like to recognize February, one of the most difficult months in the United States for wild birds, as National Bird-Feeding Month. During this month, individuals are encouraged to provide food, water and shelter to help wild birds survive. This assistance benefits the environment by supplementing wild bird's natural diet of weed seeds and insects. In addition, backyard bird feeding is an entertaining, educational and inexpensive pastime enjoyed by children and adults. Bird feeding provides a needed break from today's frantic lifestyles. Adults enjoy the relaxation and peacefulness afforded by watching birds — nature serves to relieve the stress and can get one's day going on a tranquil note.”

The guy from just down the road

My neighbor Crandall stops by.

“How are you doing?” I ask.

“Everything is nearly copacetic. I’m still trying to perfect my imperfections and the weather continues to pay me no mind, but I had a great breakfast. My charms were luckied. I bought some new socks. I wear nothing but white socks. That’s because when I was a kid, I had only black socks.”

“Why?” I say. 

“It was easier to patch black socks with a black magic marker. We were poor folks.”

“How poor were you?” I ask.

“I wore patches with clothes on them.”

Glimpses of nature 

The cardinal is the first at the feeder in the morning and the last at the same feeder when the day’s light has grown dim. A cardinal’s low-light vision must be good. I watched a male cardinal feeding goldfish in a friend’s pond one summer day. The gaping mouths of the fish triggered the cardinal’s instinct to feed. This urge to fill an open mouth transcended species.

I heard the double squawk of a rooster pheasant. “Cow cat,” it crowed. It is a sign that daylight is lengthening.

By the time I’d staggered outside to answer the call of the world, the wind had picked up. It was a lazy wind. It went through me instead of around me.

Echoes from Loafers Club

Could I pick your brain? 

Of course. Why? 

Because the one you picked isn’t working.

Is it proper to limbo out of a restroom?

I went off to college with two electrical devices. One was a toaster that I’d bought used. The other was a radio I’d received as a gift. I loved them both, but I didn’t spend much time staring at either one. I didn’t miss out by not having digital devices, but I sometimes wish that I’d had a camera. I don’t wish that for long. There is nothing more useless than wishing things had been different in the past.

Digital devices are, as we all know, handy. A friend advised my wife to always take her cellphone with her when she uses a public restroom. He’d used one facility in which the lock had broken. The door couldn’t be opened from the inside. He was locked in. What do you do when that happens? You could yell for assistance. Some folks might not be willing to respond to cries of help coming from a bathroom stall. Or as in this case, there were no other ears in the restroom. He could have done the limbo dance under the door over a floor that might carry a germ or two. What he did was to call someone on his cellphone. I’m not sure whom he called — 911, his wife or Ghostbusters. Whoever he called, it worked. He is a free man today.

Things that made me go “Hmmmm”

CandyStore.comused sales data to determine the favorite Valentine’s Day candy in each state. In Iowa, M&M’s are the state’s most popular Valentine’s Day candy. Conversation hearts came in second, followed by Ghirardelli chocolate. Conversation hearts are the candy of choice in Minnesota followed by cupid corn and heart-shaped boxes of chocolates.

Queen Elizabeth brings her own toilet paper when she travels.

Deep sleep declines significantly as we age. We tend to lose slow-wave or restorative sleep. This becomes most pronounced in senior citizens. REM (dream sleep) reduces only slightly with aging.

Nature notes

The light of the day a year ago arrived in breathtaking 3-D. I was in a Mayo building in Rochester and hooked up to tubes and pumps. I looked out a window, watching a peregrine falcon bother a large flock of pigeons, when a volunteer stopped to ask if there was anything she could do for me. I wanted to say, "Make me well," but there are enough smart Alecs in the world. Instead, I thanked her for being a volunteer. She told me she'd been volunteering at Mayo for four years and added, "It's the best job I’ve ever had."

The peregrine had perched by this time. There were no pigeon volunteers. 

Peregrine falcons nearly went extinct due to the excessive use of pesticides. When DDT was banned in 1973, recovery efforts began for many threatened species, including the peregrine falcon.

Mayo Clinic began hosting the falcons in 1987. The falcons typically settle in during early February. They nest on the roof of the 20-story Mayo Building, where the female lays two to four eggs in late March to mid-April. Eggs hatch after 32-35 days of incubation. The nestlings grow rapidly and fledge at about six weeks of age. Most peregrine falcons in the Midwest nest on buildings, rather than on cliffs, which are their natural habitat.

Reported to be the fastest bird in the world, it clocks in at over 200 miles per hour in a hunting dive. They often prey upon pigeons, which makes for good hunting around the Mayo Clinic. Visitors can monitor the falcons with a falcon cam and informational display in the subway level of the Mayo Building (next to the patient cafeteria) and on the Mayo Clinic Television Network for patients.


“I saw a beautiful red fox recently. What does it eat?”

It’s an omnivore that eats a wide variety of foods including fruits, berries, grasses, fungi, birds, eggs, small mammals (squirrels, rabbits, voles, rats and mice), crickets, caterpillars, grasshoppers, beetles, crayfish, frogs, lizards, fish, worms, pet food, carrion and garbage. The fox stores extra food under snow, leaves or dirt.

“Why doesn’t a cowbird sing like its foster parents?”

Brown-headed cowbirds are brood parasites, laying their eggs in the nests of other bird species. The foster parents hatch the eggs and rear the chicks. Baby cowbirds are raised by birds that don’t look or act like them, sometimes in strange habitats as eggs are laid in the nests of more than 220 species of birds. Somehow, cowbirds learn to recognize other cowbirds by sound and sight. Nestlings are particularly responsive to the cowbird’s chatter call. Some scientists believe this call triggers something in a young cowbird’s brain, like a password that allows a young bird to recognize its own species.

“I’ve heard that cold kills emerald ash borers. Is that true?”

U.S. Forest Service and USDA research found that when larvae are subjected to 0°F, 5 percent die; at -10°, 34 percent succumb; at -20°, 79 percent die; and at -30°, 98 percent perish. Larvae are provided insulation from the outer bark and from below the snow line if situated at the base of trees. It might require sustained periods at an ambient temperature before temperatures under the bark drop to that level. Gypsy moth die-offs begin at -20, but they are insulated by bark, tree and snow, too. Leaf litter and snow provide insulation for many species of insects. Many crop pests die in cold weather. They migrate or are blown here by storm fronts the next year.

“Can birds survive being bitten by a cat?”

Great numbers of birds are rescued from the mouths of cats and submitted to wildlife rehabilitation centers for treatment. From the statistics I could locate, the majority of birds bitten by cats die without immediate treatment or antibiotics; approximately 40 percent die from the direct effects of the bites and about 60 percent from infection.

Meeting adjourned

“Kindness is in our power even when fondness is not.” — Henry James 

Thanks for stopping by

"Keep away from people who try to belittle your ambitions. Small people always do that, but the really great makes you feel that you, too, can become great." — Mark Twain

"The natural world is the refuge of the spirit, remote, static, richer even than human imagination. But we cannot exist in this paradise without the machine that tears it apart. We are killing the thing we love, our Eden, our progenitrix, and sibyl." — E. O. Wilson 


© Al Batt 2018