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NATURE NOTES - Number 25 July 28, 2021
If you spend much time outdoors, you are going to find some wild critters. They’ll probably find you first, but let’s think about…
Our current topic: Wildlife Behavior
Learning about wildlife behavior can greatly enhance your ability to see and understand wildlife. Their behavior is almost never random. Keep in mind there are four things that motivate animals to do something: the need find food (and water); the need to reproduce; the need to protect their territory and young; and need to escape perceived danger. Virtually all wildlife behavior will fall into one of the above categories. Also remember that animals usually have to be very energy efficient in what they do. They may not have the luxury of taking a scenic route to a safe place. That takes energy that requires food that may be in scarce supply. Since most of them have a territory that is “home” to some degree, their behavior will likely not take them far out of that territory. Going outside that zone will result in competition from other animals; risk of predators; possibly exposing its young; and requiring more energy to get back. As humans, we will often first see or hear wildlife when they spot us. They may sound an alarm, or simply see us as a threat and dart away. If we sit quietly for a bit, they may begin to ignore us as a non-threat. If they see us frequently in a familiar location, they will also accept us and not behave erratically. Chickadees in your yard are a good example. Watching birds at a feeder is a great animal-behavior show. Notice how they frequently flock to a feeder in mixed species. Their need is food. But the many eyes of the flock serve as a security system for all. If one bird spots a threat, they all respond by flying away. As soon as the threat has gone, or determined not to be a real threat, they will return. Another good illustration of energy conservation among birds can also be seen near a feeder. Ever notice an exploded pile of feathers in your yard? A good chance that it was a Cardinal or Blue jay. You seldom see little drab-colored feathers. This is because that hawk can nail that Cardinal a lot easier (it’s bright red!) and can carry away a lot more calories than using the same energy on a little Chickadee. Notice how behavior is being explained by some basic principles? During nesting season you can observe the behavior of birds that may be nesting in your yard when the birds start scolding the cat, snake, crow, or owl that has invaded its territory and is a threat to the eggs or young birds. Deer or turkey hunters learn about behavior of their prey quickly. What are their routes? What time do they move? Is that big buck usually behind or in front of the doe? Animals are creatures of habitat. You can learn their habits. If you are a deer that senses danger, you don’t have a lot of thinking-time. You react. Your escape mode kicks in. On the other hand, ever notice a skunk strolling across your yard at dusk? Not afraid of much, just going out to dinner. So when you see animals, birds, reptiles, even fish and insects, figure out what they were doing before you showed up and interrupted them. Watch their reaction. Watch them watching you. Is their back to you for a fast get away? Have they turned to get a better look at you? Are they curious about you? Have they already spotted that bag of bird seed in your arm?
Scouts can understand much better what they see in nature when they begin to think about the behavior of animals. Challenge them to think about that deer, rather than just “we saw a deer”. Why was it there? Where was it going? What time of day is it? Was it alone? Did it watch us? I know it’s difficult, but see if you can get your scouts to sit still in the woods for about 15 minutes, and just wait, watch and listen. You might be surprised at what is going around you. Don’t just see wildlife. Watch wildlife. You’ll learn so much more.