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Categorized | Featured, Outdoors

Ranger Steve’s Nature Niche

By Ranger Steve Mueller


National Bird Feeding Month (Part 4)

Irruptive Species

Unseasonal March warming caused early flowering of fruit trees and was followed by killing cold in April that significantly reduced most of Michigan’s agricultural fruit harvest. To compound farmer sale losses and public’s fresh produce buying potential, a summer drought worsened 2012 production.

We are self-interested and focus on how environmental occurrences impact us. For the nature observer, it is apparent that wild neighbors are also impacted. Often they are more impacted than us because they cannot have produce shipped in from around the world to compensate for regional shortfalls. It is important for us to maintain native ecosystem plants in yards to help wildlife in stressful years.

Plants were greatly stressed in 2012 by the double whammy of weather events. Some stressed trees, shrubs, and non-woody plants died and others were weakened. In the north country, plant seed and fruit production was reduced much like it was here. I predicted this should be a great winter for an irruptive occurrence of northern species coming south in search of food. So far, my prediction is only partly correct but people that maintain native nature niches in their yards are seeing northern species.

Redbreasted nuthatch.

Redbreasted nuthatch.

Many people are seeing Red-breasted Nuthatches they do not recall seeing previously. January and February produced more Bohemian Waxwings at fruit bearing plants than most people recall occurring in the area. Common Redpolls are unusually abundant and are showing up in unexpected places. I do not recall them visiting the small open area in my yard. Usually they prefer larger open expanses. More unusual is the presence of Hoary Redpolls in our area that normally are far south when they reach the Upper Peninsula from Canada.

I expected to see Pine Grosbeaks but so far there have been no visits. March may bring them to berry trees. A few Evening Grosbeaks have been reported but none have come my way.

High in the trees, Bohemian Waxwings have flooded the area while other species I expected have not shown irruptive numbers. Snowy Owls are being seen but in not large numbers. Last year was an irruptive year for the snowys. Irruptive means being present in numbers more abundant than usual. It is different from the term invasive that refers to species that enter ecosystems and replace native species.

Invasive species tend to arrive, replace native species and reduce species diversity by crowding out native populations. They establish a long-term presence and alter habitats that animals depend on. During winter, irruptive species move into the area temporarily in search of food to help them survive a period when adequate food is lacking in their usual winter habitats.

Red and White-winged Crossbills are searching spruce and pinecones for seeds in our area because northern seed production was reduced by weather conditions. Larger numbers of Northern Saw-whet Owls moved through our area this fall presumably due to reduced rodent populations in the north.

It is helpful when people plant native species of trees, shrubs, and non-woody plants that produce food suitable for helping irruptive wildlife survive difficult years. Non-native invasive species tend to be poor for helping native resident wildlife or irruptive species that are forced south in search of food. Consider allowing more native plants to grow in your yard that support wildlife instead of maintaining large sterile lawns. The coming Nature Niche article will address landscaping for wildlife.

Natural history questions or topic suggestions can be directed to Ranger Steve (Mueller) at the odybrook@chartermi.net Ody Brook, 13010 Northland Dr, Cedar Springs, MI 49319-8433, 616-696-1753.



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