Nature: Animal friendships

Friends are important to all men and beasts and the different friendships formed are sometimes astounding!

A friend told me about his pigs and a flock of mallards at his farm near Blue Hill. Every morning his dozen or so pigs eagerly look forward to breakfast and every morning a flock of wild mallard ducks come to enjoy the feast. Both pigs and ducks feed together amicably.

In my own family we have had male dogs raising orphaned baby deer in all except providing milk. I know of an orphaned hippo and giant turtle friendship. Even dogs and fish have bonded.

There are countless stories of unusual friendships in all wildlife. In our own family we’ve experienced having a pot-bellied pig and dogs all living happily in the house with us. That was different but both pig and dogs were very clean. Seeing them all asleep on the couch was a funny sight! There are many stories of cats, dogs, birds, rabbits and even rats getting along and caring for one another.

Friendship knows no boundaries!

Those hardy souls going out on chilly nights this month have heard the woodcocks doing their sky dancing courtship rituals. This will be going on for a few weeks, so put it on your to-do list. It’s worth the effort to see this bird ritual.

The bird struts on the ground while making a strange buzzing sound and then takes to the air in a flutter, flies high above you, sings a lovely melody and then returns to almost to the same spot from which it took off and starts its dance again. All of this is done to impress a female feeding nearby in hopes of finding a mate.

Vultures have been seen flying over Ellsworth, so watch for them in the Mount Desert Island skies. These large scavengers do a wonderful clean-up job on the many road kills waiting for them every morning. Early drivers often see them feasting and cleaning up deer carcasses, dead birds and any mammals that have been killed by cars in the night. Without these scavengers our roads would be quite a mess.

Turkey vultures are the vultures we see here for the most part. Only occasionally will a black vulture be spotted. In Florida both black and Turkey vultures are seen regularly.

Vultures have featherless heads for a good reason. They often feed on rotten flesh and they stick their heads right into a deer carcass or the like. If the bird’s head was covered in feathers the vulture would have a huge, if not impossible, job keeping it clean. Instead, the bird was designed with a bald head that is easily cleaned.

Turkey vultures do nest in this area and you’ll be seeing these large birds in our skies for many months now that spring has arrived.

For many years turkey vultures were not commonly seen here in Acadia National Park but since the late 1980s more individuals are being seen each year and they are nesting here. Watch for them in our skies now. They are very large birds and fly with their large wings held slightly above the horizontal, forming a dihedral. They are not particularly pretty birds but they are very interesting.

Loons are changing back to their summer plumage as well as the common guillemots. All nature is getting ready for the nesting season. Gulls that lived together in peace this winter will now begin to argue about and defend nesting areas.

Snowy owls seen this winter will return to their arctic and more northerly nesting sites. Northern ducks will be here a little longer, and when the time is right, migrants will begin to arrive here from the south. It is an exciting time of year when watching wildlife.

Someone asked me about the nuthatches we see here. The common red-breasted nuthatch is the one most frequently seen at feeders. A few white-breasted nuthatches do come as well in some areas but this latter one is more common farther south in New England.

When I lived in Connecticut we rarely saw a red-breasted nuthatch. You will see both on the island but the red breasted is more common. Both nuthatches have strange voices. The red-breasted nuthatch sounds a lot like the taxi cabs in France. Its voice is very nasal.

Both nuthatches nest here. The red-breasted nuthatch digs its nest cavity in a dead stub 10-30 feet above the ground and habitually spreads sap around the entrance hole.

I accidentally discovered a nest once when I was walking through the woods around Lower Hadlock Pond. As I stepped along the narrow trail a nuthatch flew past my face and promptly disappeared into a hole just even with my head.

It had a nest right at my head level. I could hear babies in the nest anxious to get whatever food the parent had brought to them. I stepped back a few feet and waited to watch it come and go several times. That was a good hike!

The young are hatched in June. A white-breasted nuthatch usually uses a natural cavity for its nest. At a feeder both nuthatches are friendly birds and fun to watch. They do not migrate. Listen for the nuthatches singing their love songs now.

Watch for grackles to arrive just about now. Also, keep an eye on the berry-bearing shrubs and trees that attract numerous birds at this time of year near the Bar Harbor Hospital. Look there for waxwings, both cedar and Bohemian, robins, starlings and grosbeaks. Also, watch for mourning cloak butterflies flitting about on sunny spring days.

Enjoy each day as spring comes to MDI.

Send any questions, observations or photos to [email protected] or call 244-3742.

Ruth Grierson

Ruth Grierson

Send any questions or observations to [email protected] or call 244-3742.

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