February

The yellow-green male catkins and reddish upright, female flowers of hazel alder.

It’s February, and what happens in February besides the Super Bowl and, this year, the Olympics? Spring! Well, not quite, but we’re getting there.

To prove it, hazel alder is blooming (happens here at the Museum in Feb.), brown-headed nuthatches are excavating nest holes, and the red wolves are feeling amorous (sort of).

The wind-borne pollen of the long, pendulous male flowers of the alder are now attempting to pollinate the small reddish, upright female flowers of the wetland growing shrubs. You can see them on the right side of the path on the north side of the wetlands just past the vending area. Stop by, give the catkins a gentle tap and watch the pollen fly.

Each year at this time (Feb – March) as I walk the paths here at the museum, I hear the tap, tap, tap of a bird hammering away at the trunk of a tree. It’s usually a group of brown-headed nuthatches pounding on a willow or pine tree (both soft woods). They’re making a nest hole, or nest holes.

Brown-headed nuthatch working on nest hole in willow.
Another nuthatch about to enter partially completed hole.

There’s typically three or more birds, two seem to be honestly working while at least one appears to be inspecting the construction. Brown-head nuthatches nest in tree cavities of their own making. They’re cooperative nesters, helpers contribute to the netting process, including nest construction and feeding of the incubating female and young, once the eggs hatch.

Through my observations, they excavate more than one nest hole. One of the group decides which hole is the best, or more suitable to the job at hand, and only that hole is used. It’s probably the female who makes the decision, although I don’t know for sure. Here at the museum, chickadees seem to be the inheritors of the unused nest holes.

If you look carefully, you can see the wood chips fly as this bird pounds away.

Brown-headed nuthatches are the smaller relatives of the more widespread white-breasted nuthatch. They can be found nearly everywhere there are stands of pine trees in the southeastern states. They consume insects from the bark and branches of the tree and eat pine seeds during the cold months. They’ll come to your feeder. Try attracting them using suet.

It appears our female red wolf is just passing through proestrus (the period in the estrous cycle when there is a discharge from the animal but she is not receptive to the male) and is entering, or has already entered, the estrus stage of the cycle. Although the two wolves have been very chummy of late, I’ve not, or do not know of anyone who has, actually seen them mating. We’re patiently waiting.

Female (top) sniffs male from behind. He seems, at the least, mildly annoyed.
Later, the dirt flies as our male digs into the hillside.
The female (right) looks on with fixed curiosity.
She sniffs as he marks the spot.

In the mean time, it’s fun to stop by their enclosure and just watch the wolves go about their daily routines.

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