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Tag Archive | "observing nature niches"

Dust baths


 

Ranger Steve Mueller

By Ranger Steve Mueller

The drama outside our window provides unending fascination. Deer blinds are primarily used during hunting season but consider sitting in a blind throughout the year. My friends are more patient when it comes to blind use for observing nature niches.

My friend, Don Wollander, would spend the day in a wildlife blind, with camera focused on a bird nest. He captured outstanding photographs and was rated the number one in world nature competition 13 of 14 years. People find countless ways to enjoy the natural world.

Using our home as a blind, we see things we would miss when walking natural areas. When traveling outdoors, we witness things like a deer chasing a coyote recently described in my column. If you missed it search on line at the Cedar Spring Post (www.cedarspringspost.com) where niche articles are archived. Another time a young fawn saw me standing still and approached, touched my knee with its nose before it thought, “You are not my mama!” and bounded off.

A turkey taking a dust bath. By Charles & Clint (Flickr) [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

From our home, we can view our backyard fire pit where we burn brush, roast hotdogs, and make “Some Mores.” Karen woke me to look out the bedroom window where there was a thick gray cloud in the still air over the fire pit. It was hard to see the turkey thrashing in the ash.

A wild turkey was taking a health improving dust bath. Frequently we find hollows in the sand along sanctuary trails where turkeys dry bathe. Dust bath sand is important for wild turkeys and fowl like chickens that are kept by people. The attuned nature observer will witness woodpeckers, robins, and other birds dust bathing. Water bird baths in the yard are good and get used but dry dust baths have special advantages.

Birds lie in bare sand and use wings to stir dry earth on themselves. They work the dirt into feathers. The turkey that discovered our powdered ash hit the jackpot. The fine powder works better than sand for suffocating external parasites likes lice, fleas, bedbugs, mites, ticks, and fly grubs. The dust helps clog spiracles that allow for parasite oxygen exchange. It is not 100 percent effective but neither is slapping mosquitoes for us.

The parasites might move to get away from the dust and the bird will more easily dislodge them from its body. Observe birds actively using their beak and legs to rid the body of parasites. Infested birds scratch and preen frequently. They exhibit broken or missing feathers. Do not confuse molting loss with parasite damage. When molting, they lose the same corresponding feather on both sides. Notice each wing is missing the same opposing feather during molting.

Someone with me tried to help a nestling that had a mosquito on its head. He reached to remove the mosquito. Five young Eastern Phoebes jumped from the nest. We gathered the birds and put them back in the nest. I held my hand over the young until they calmed. Slowly I removed my hand and the birds stayed. My hand was black with lice. Nests are havens for parasites. When birds fledge the nest, they can begin behavior to reduce blood-sucking parasites that cause anemia, weight loss and general ill health. Dust baths are important health aids.

The very fine ash so light it was suspended in air like a cloud was excellent for helping the bird. It penetrated the feathers and coated the skin like an insect repellant. We are not the only ones that use nature to our advantage.

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

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