Nature: Antlers are a seasonal thing

Several questions this week have been about deer antlers. It is always exciting to see a buck with antlers and you just know he is proud of them! White tailed deer shed and re-grow a set of antlers each year. These antlers are shed sometime in the winter. As soon as they are shed, new antlers start growing. They actually can grow several centimeters a day. During this growth period a thick tissue called velvet encases the antler. You will often notice trees in the woods where deer have rubbed off the velvet after the antlers have calcified.

Deer mate in the fall when their hormone levels are high. The antlers fall off during the winter months. Age, genetics and nutrition determine the size of the antlers.

The shed antlers are gnawed by many other creatures in the out-of-doors and often prized by hunters and nature enthusiasts of all ages. As I have traveled for many years in Newfoundland I’ve seen antlers from moose and caribou decorating many houses, garages and barns.

If you want to see some excellent photographs of the development of deer antlers I strongly recommend going online to “Living Legendary Photographic Journey through the Seasons” by Charles Alsheimer. The photos are well worth seeing.

Someone planning a vacation to Maine this month asked where she would see puffins. Puffins are best seen on their breeding grounds later in the year in Newfoundland and even off the coast here in Maine, but right now is not a very good time. Puffins spend most of their lives far out at sea except when nesting. Their range spans the eastern coast of Canada and the United States to the western coast of Europe. Seeing puffins this month is not a realistic expectation.

On the nesting cliffs for puffins off the eastern coast of Newfoundland you get spectacular views of these tiny birds flying in the air by the thousands. The sky is black with birds and very noisy. On the cliffs and grassy, rocky slopes they have their nest, and parents stand about everywhere looking like toy birds. They busily fly in and out with fish, and try to escape being eaten by larger gulls, ravens and crows. It wasn’t a pretty sight but it was interesting to see a black-backed gull eating a fresh-caught puffin on the rocks.

Puffins are carnivores and live off small fish such as herring, hake and sand eels. When I see puffins flying they make me think of feathered bees. They flap their wings up to 400 times a minute and speed through the air up to 88 kph. They are noisy birds in a big flock.

Puffins are not only good fliers in the air, they are great swimmers as well. They are known to dive down 60 meters under water in search of their favorite fish. Their webbed feet act as a rudder.

Puffins have been known to pair with the same partner for 20 years. We do have a few puffins nesting on our outer islands so on a boat trip in the right season you could see them here in Maine. It would make a nice day or overnight trip and something to put on a to-do list this year.

Ravens have been seen collecting sticks and probably having thoughts about nesting. In Maine they usually nest in the first part of April or May. Their nests a bulky affairs, lined with softer material usually placed on a mountain ledge or in a forest tree.

One nest I was fortunate to find was on a seaside cliff you could easily see from the road on this island. I always made a point of going that way during the nesting season so I could watch the progress. How they managed to raise a family on such a precarious spot was a mystery to me.

One of the young did get too close to the edge of the narrow ledge where the nest was placed and died on the rocks below. Ravens mate for life and are very devoted to the family. Both parents raise and care for the young birds. Parents even share the incubation chores. They are wonderful scavengers and will eat just about anything they can find even if it is long dead. Both ravens and crows are very intelligent birds.

A young friend of mine was out and about in the snowy world recently and she found herself sitting near a beaver pond. There was a small opening in the ice not far from where she sat and she actually heard two beavers under the ice making what to her sounded like chirping sounds. That was a nice experience!

A lone flicker is still coming to local feeders. Offer it suet if you see it in your area. Food for this bird is hard to come by in the winter. April is the time we normally expect them to return from the south.

This is a good time to clean out your bird houses and to put them back up again in readiness for the new nesting season.

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.
Ruth Grierson

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