A red-bellied woodpecker. PHOTO COURTESY OF DORENE BUTLER

Nature: Voles can run 12-minute miles

March came in like a lion and has been roaring ever since. In spite of the snow, ice and cold temperatures there is a change in the air when you go outside. Nature is stirring.

Woodcocks are doing their courtship rituals and sky dancing. Great horned owls are nesting. The female often has to sit on her eggs while she is covered in snow. You may look up some day and see a red-tailed hawk in the air once again. Maybe a vulture will soar overhead as well.

Watch our resident mallards for they are doing courtship rituals on any open water. Listen for purple finches nearby as they lustily sing their love songs. Black-backed gulls are now setting up their nesting territories. Any day now you may see a kingfisher just returned from the south.

Now is a good time to take to the woods and explore a pond or walk through a snowy field looking for tracks and the patterns they make. Students at the Somes Meynell Sanctuary in Somesville found tracks of a vole that had bounded through the snow.

Voles are very small and often confused with mice. There are two voles regularly found on this island. One is the boreal red-backed vole (mouse) Clethrionomys gapperi and the other is the meadow vole Microtus pennsylvanicus. The red-backed vole is very abundant in our coniferous forests and they’re out and about in the daytime. Their rufous-colored fur blends so well in the forest habitat that they often go unnoticed. They also may get mistaken for mice.

The meadow vole, as its name implies, prefers wet meadows, open woods and brush lands. Occasionally, I see them scampering across the road at high speed. When you see foxes hunting in open fields they you know they are trying to catch voles and mice.

Meadow voles are gregarious, aggressive and quite fierce. They hunt both in the day and at night and are active all year. Females can produce 17 litters a year so there are a lot of them for all the other creatures to pursue for food. These small mammals are eaten by other larger mammals, birds, snakes, fish and other voles. They can run up to five miles per hour and they are good swimmers and can dive.

The red-backed vole is a chatterer and it has a feisty disposition. It is commonly found on this island but not often noticed. If you stop in the Somes Meynell Sanctuary some day you may get to learn about their tracks and activities. Take advantage of this sanctuary’s activities. It’s a great place here on MDI to learn about wildlife.

Wild turkeys are much in evidence all over MDI now. It was not so when our family moved here in the 1970s. Now in 2019, flocks of these interesting birds are commonly seen. They are big birds and often comical in their actions. During the winter, wild turkeys may gobble even though they are more vocal in the spring when dominant males are in the courting mode.

Each tom will claim a small clearing for its own and there he will put on a real display with his strutting and fancy feathers in hopes of getting a harem of females to call his own. My daughter and I were able to watch this one year from the comfort of an old Georgia island inn as we ate breakfast. Right outside was a lawn area bordered by woods and there in full view were about 100 turkeys in full courtship ritual. It was quite a show to watch. The females pretended not to care and continued pecking on the lawn and sauntering about. The males fanned out their tails, and strutted about in a timeless ritual known to wild turkeys.

Here in Maine they wander by my log house in the woods and only once in a while do I catch view of a female with young slipping though the grass or in the woods. As I drive about the island it is always a good day when I get to see a big flock of hens with their young ones crossing the road or feeding in a field next to the road. They are quite beautiful when you see their feathers in the sunlight. Young turkeys are cared for entirely by the females. The young stay with her throughout the first winter and then they move out on their own.

A red-bellied woodpecker is coming to an island feeder these days. In spite of its name, the bird’s red is on the back of its head and its crown. It’s quite a beautiful bird to see and you know right away it is a woodpecker by the bill and the bird’s behavior. This woodpecker loves suet. The bird’s back is barred with black and white. Red-bellied woodpeckers are not commonly seen on MDI but each year individuals will appear here and there at island feeders.

Send any questions or observation 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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