May
27

Wildlife Babies & Memorial Day Weekend

A couple days ago, Homey and his family were driving up the old Colockum Pass road, taking in the splendor of spring in Paradise. From moment to moment, they would pass a couple mule deer does or a random cow elk. Several of them looked like they had just recently dropped youngsters.

The conversation in the car revolved around the calves and fawns that were likely tucked away somewhere nearby – and which would likely be almost impossible to find even if you stumbled near one. The kids apparently opined that this was about brand new life, and it “would be so cool to go find a baby and pet it.” From that speculation came a fair bit of thought about this time of year, all the wild babies tucked in around us, and the absolute no-no of disturbing or picking up one of those babies – even if it seems abandoned.

Disappointed as the kids were, the drift of the conversation toward hidden and “invisible” young critters sparked a whole new conversation about Nature’s ways.

Many of us, at one outdoor time or another, have had similar experiences. You watch a family of birds or a mother and baby slip into a small patch of cover. Then, even with a slow, cautious and careful examination, you find no trace of them. Turn to leave, however, and the escape movements and noise of the adult stops your heart. That whole adventurous near-death experience flows from protective coloration – Nature’s camouflage – far more widespread and common than most of us realize.

To survive and grow, of course, new wild things have to avoid predators, and there are an amazing number of ways they do that. Deer fawns and elk calves are born camouflaged with spots. In the dappled light of the forest or brushy areas, those babies virtually disappear into the ground. They also have an innate ability to lie very still, and are almost scent-free in their first week or two.

Camouflage and holding (that ability to “sit tight” and not betray a presence) are common adaptations of birds, too. Most adult female birds, particularly those nesting in grass and weeds, will be mottled, to blend into their surroundings, while protecting their nests and helpless young.  The tiny hatchlings also commonly have mottled, drab feathers until they are mature enough to successfully flee predators. They blend into weeds, grass and brush so completely that they often can’t be seen from even a foot or two away – virtually melting into a small area of cover.

Bird camouflage ranges from this “mottling” to the complete seasonal plumage changeover from white to mottled brown of the ptarmigan. (Our snowshoe hare also depends on such protective changes through the year – as days shorten in fall, it takes on a winter white coat. By April, with lengthening days, it returns to the brown, mottled coat of summer, not unlike the ptarmigan.)

In addition to color patterns, many birds and young produce so little scent while holding during nesting times that a predator may pass right by them–even downwind.

Some of the little owls, with their mottled colors, are also well camouflaged, protecting them a bit from the hawks and larger owls which prey upon them. The little burrowing owl bears a pretty fair resemblance to the prairie dogs and ground squirrels with which it lives, even while standing atop its burrow with its neighbors.

Then, of course, there are the fascinating tiny voices of birds and other wild babies. The high pitch of the cries of new arrivals is actually another form of camouflage – it is all but impossible to locate the source of sounds in those ranges. (By the way, this holds true for human babies, also, in open, outdoor areas. Check it out.)

This is a great time of year for a nice long weekend in the woods and out in the wild, using eyes and ears and developing observational skills. Go for it; spend some time celebrating the new life all around us.

Camouflaged wildlife babies are almost everywhere. Look and listen closely, and maybe you’ll find them. But allow them their ruse and leave them be. After all, that is why they have that protective coloration. Then, too, there are all those pesky state and federal rules about messing around with babies left alone in hiding.

Somewhere in this glorious outdoor Memorial Day weekend, take a moment for a prayer of thanks to those who gave their all so that we can rear our kids and love our families in a Paradise with the freedom to go where, and as, we wish.

Written by Jim Huckabay. Posted in Uncategorized

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