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Wildlife Lookout

Wildlife Lookout: Weird Facts About the Wild Turkey

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by Chelsea Cochrane

Turkeys have long been associated with a traditional Thanksgiving feast, but how much else do we know about them? Here are some interesting and little-known facts about turkeys.

Turkeys are large birds native to the Americas in the genus Meleagris. This genus is split into two species: the wild turkey of northern, central, and eastern North America with six sub-species, and the ocellated turkey of the Yucatan Peninsula. The turkey species can be traced back over 20 million years on the North American continent.

Aztecs first domesticated a subspecies of wild turkey, the south Mexican wild turkey, sometime in the early Classic Period (c. AD 200–1000). Spaniards brought these tamed birds back with them in the mid 16th century, where they quickly gained popularity throughout Europe. The original pilgrims actually brought these domesticated birds back to North America, unaware that their larger cousins were already here.

From America, not Constantinople

Historians are unsure how this American bird ended up being called turkey. One theory is that at the time this fowl was being popularized in international trade, shipments to Britain were coming through the Levant and the bird became associated with Turkey. Another theory suggested the wild turkey was confused for a similar guinea fowl that was introduced to Britain by Turkish merchants.

The turkey is the heaviest member in the order Galliformes, which includes domesticated and wild landfowl. Wild turkey males will range from 10 – 25 pounds, with some reaching 30 pounds or more. This gives them the second heaviest maximum weight of birds native to North America, after the trumpeter swan. Still, these large birds are excellent fliers, unlike their domesticated cousins. Wild turkeys can run up to 25 mph and can fly as fast as 55 mph.

Andy Reago & Chrissy McClarrenWild Turkey

All the Weird Names

Anatomical structures on the head and throat of a domestic turkey. 1. Caruncles, 2. Snood, 3. Wattle (dewlap), 4. Major caruncle, 5. Beard
DrChrissy –  P041111 12.08.jpg

Male turkeys are called “gobblers” for their unique call, used to defend territories and call to females (called “hens”). The head of a turkey is very complex, made up of loose, elastic bare skin. The four distinct parts of its head and neck are: the “caruncles” on top its head and neck, the “snood” hanging off its beak, its “wattle” or dewlap hanging from the neck and the major caruncle along the lower neck. The plumes on the males’ chest are called a beard. Male turkeys are also called “toms”, and male juveniles are sometimes called “jakes”. The male mating ritual, which includes gobbling, fanning feathers, drumming and spitting, is often called “strutting”.

The male turkeys’ head changes color based on its mood. When he is excited, his head turns blue or even white. When he is aggressive it turns red. The loose skin around his head and neck will fill with blood and expand when he is alarmed. Body feathers of both males and females begin black and gray with a copper and brown sheen. The color of the male turkey becomes more complex as it ages, picking up metallic green and blue hues.

Gobble Gobble!

Gobblers gobble mostly to attract females, and to alert other males of their presence. These birds can produce a drumming sound by the movement of air sacks in its chest. Similarly, a spitting sound can be made by a sharp expulsion of air from these sacks. Females also gobble, but sparingly. The gobble of a wild turkey can be heard up to a mile away.

Ben Franklin Weighs In – Turkey Vs Bald Eagle

A common mythos surrounding the wild turkey is that Benjamin Franklin had suggested it for the national bird, over the bald eagle. Although he never publicly denounced the symbolic use of the bald eagle, a strongly voice letter to his daughter Sarah Bache dated January 26, 1784 had this to say on the matter:

“Others object to the Bald Eagle, as looking too much like a Dindon, or Turkey. For my own part I wish the Bald Eagle had not been chosen the Representative of our Country. He is a Bird of bad moral Character. He does not get his Living honestly. You may have seen him perched on some dead Tree near the River, where, too lazy to fish for himself, he watches the Labour of the Fishing Hawk [osprey]; and when that diligent Bird has at length taken a Fish, and is bearing it to his Nest for the Support of his Mate and young Ones, the Bald Eagle pursues him and takes it from him.
With all this Injustice, he is never in good Case but like those among Men who live by Sharping & Robbing he is generally poor and often very lousy. Besides he is a rank Coward: The little King Bird not bigger than a Sparrow attacks him boldly and drives him out of the District. He is therefore by no means a proper Emblem for the brave and honest Cincinnati of America who have driven all the King birds from our Country…
I am on this account not displeased that the Figure is not known as a Bald Eagle, but looks more like a Turkey. For in Truth the Turkey is in Comparison a much more respectable Bird, and withal a true original Native of America… He is besides, though a little vain & silly, a Bird of Courage, and would not hesitate to attack a Grenadier of the British Guards who should presume to invade his Farm Yard with a red Coat on.”

Learn more about turkeys:

https://www.smithsonianmag.com/science-nature/14-fun-facts-about-turkeys-665520/
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Turkey_(bird)
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wild_turkey
https://www.nwtf.org/hunt/wild-turkey-basics

Flora of Covington

Flora of Covington: Facts About the Bald Cypress

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There are many cypress trees in Covington, but how much do we really know about them? Learn more about Louisiana’s State Tree here!

Bald Cypress, Taxodium distichum, is a deciduous conifer native to the southeastern United States in the family Cupressaceae. This is a conifer family with worldwide distribution and includes junipers and redwoods. There are 130 – 140 species total in the family.

The genus Taxodium are native to North America. The generic name is derived from the Latin word taxus, meaning “yew”, and the Greek word εἶδος (eidos), meaning “similar to.” Taxodium species grow pneumatophores, or cypress knees, when growing in or beside water. The function of these knees is currently a subject of ongoing research.

The bald cypress was designated the official state tree of Louisiana in 1963. Some consider it to be a symbol of the southern swamps of the United States.

Common names include bald cypress, baldcypress, swamp cypress, white cypress, tidewater red cypress, gulf cypress and red cypress.

Bald cypress in French is cyprès chauve.

The native range extends from southeastern New Jersey south to Florida and west to East Texas and southeastern Oklahoma, and also inland up the Mississippi River.

Ancient bald cypress forests, with some trees more than 1,700 years old, once dominated swamps in the Southeast. The largest remaining old-growth stands are at Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary, near Naples, Florida, and in the Three Sisters tract along eastern North Carolina’s Black River. The Black River trees were cored by dendrochronologist David Stahle from the University of Arkansas. He found that some began growing as early as 364 AD.

In 2012 scuba divers discovered an underwater cypress forest several miles off the coast of Mobile, Alabama, in 60 feet of water. The forest contains trees that could not be dated with radiocarbon methods, indicating that they are more than 50,000 years old and thus most likely lived in the early glacial interval of the last ice age. The cypress forest is well preserved, and when samples are cut they still smell like fresh cypress.

It typically grows to heights of 35–120 feet (10–40 m) and has a trunk diameter of 3–6 feet (0.9–1.8 m). The tallest known specimen, near Williamsburg, Virginia, is 44.11 m (145 ft) tall, and the stoutest known, in the Real County near Leaky, Texas, has a diameter at breast height of 475 in (39 ft).

This species is monoecious, with male and female flowers on a single plant forming on slender, tassel-like structures near the edge of branchlets. The tree flowers in April and the seeds ripen in October.

In good conditions, bald cypress grows fairly fast when young, then more slowly with age. Trees have been measured to reach 3 m in five years, 21 m in 41 years, and 36 m in height in 96 years; height growth has largely ceased by the time the trees are 200 years old.

National Champion Bald Cypress at Cat Island

The National Champion Bald Cypress is recognized as the largest member of its species in the country and is listed as such on the National Register of Champion Trees by American Forest. The National Champion Bald Cypress is in the Cat Island Nation Wildlife Refuge, near St. Francisville, Louisiana, and it is 83 feet tall with an 85-foot spread, a diameter of 16.5 feet and a girth of 49 feet. It is estimated to be approximately 1,500 years old.

Oldest living bald cypress at Three Sisters Swamp
in North Carolina,
the oldest bald cypress swamp in the world

The oldest known living specimen, found along the Black River in North Carolina, is at least 2,624 years old, rendering it the oldest living tree in eastern North America.

Bald cypress cones don’t actually look like cones at all. Their cone structure is round and about one inch (2.5 centimeters) in diameter. When cones appear in autumn, they are tough and green, but they become woody as the season progresses. Each cone is made of a number of scales, and each scale is associated with two triangular seeds. Seeds are eaten by wild turkey, wood ducks, evening grosbeak, water birds, and squirrels.

The lumber is valuable for building construction, fence posts, planking in boats, river pilings, doors, blinds, flooring, shingles, garden boxes, caskets, interior trim and cabinetry. In virgin stands, yields from 112 to 196 m³/ha were common, and some stands may have exceeded 1,000 m³/ha. The odorless wood, which closely resembles that of other Cupressus species, has long been valued for its resistance to water.

Box made from sinker cypress

Still usable prehistoric wood is often found in swamps as far north as New Jersey, and occasionally as far north as Connecticut, although it is more common in the southeastern states. The density of the wood causes the logs to sink rather than float, allowing it to sit underwater for years to petrify, and leading to the common name ‘sinker cypress’. This partially mineralized wood is harvested from swamps in the southeastern states, and is greatly prized for special uses such as for carvings.

The bald cypress was used by Native Americans to create coffins, homes, drums and canoes.

The fungus Lauriliella taxodii causes a specific form of the wood called “pecky cypress”, which is used for decorative wall paneling.

Bald cypress logging and trade is historically an integral part of Louisiana economy, particularly between 1700 – 1960. French “swampers” traditionally would log by hand, securing enormous trees to rafts and transporting them on land by horse or oxen.

Interest in bald cypress as a landscape tree is considerable. Many landscape horticulturists use this tree in their plantings, and it is one of the top five tree species planted in Louisiana.

A botanical variety of bald cypress called pond cypress (Taxodium distichum var. nutans) has finer-textured foliage than bald cypress and is more upright. Foliage color can be attractive with new growth in spring, and most trees have rusty brown fall foliage that lingers into early to mid-December in south Louisiana.

Montezuma cypress is another variety to consider planting, but these are not as readily available at Louisiana garden centers. These bald cypress relatives have no knees.

Bald cypress provide a number of great benefits to the landscape. So consider adding Louisiana’s state tree to your landscape. September through November is a great time to plant one.

Sources:

Wildlife Lookout

Wildlife Lookout: Louisiana Bats

Published by:

by Chelsea Cochrane

Northern yellow bat

A common sight at dusk, bats are the only mammal capable of true flight. Their order, Chiroptera, is the second largest order of mammals after rodents, comprising about 20% of all classified mammal species worldwide. There are over 1,400 species of bats in the world – 45 are native to the United States, 11 can be spotted in Louisiana. These were originally divided into two suborders, the megabats and the microbats. Recently further knowledge of these unique mammals gave way to new classifications, dividing the order into the Yinpterochiroptera and Yangochiroptera suborders. The creation of these new subdivisions is largely based on molecular genetics data, unlike the old classifications which were more related to the bat’s eating or behavioral habits.

some species of bats hibernate for the winter

Despite what is presented in popular vampire culture most bats eat insects or fruit. In fact the largest bat species affectionately called “flying foxes” are harmless fruit bats (if you’re not a fruit farmer) including the impressive giant golden-crowned flying fox, Acerodon jubatus, which can have a wingspan of over 5 feet. We won’t see any of those here though – they prefer the tropics and subtropics of Asia. All bats found in the southeast United States are insectivorous, nocturnal, and locate food primarily by echolocation. Of over 1,400 species of bats, only three species feed solely on blood. These ‘vampire bats’ are found in Central and South America and rarely make their way into the US. Really.

Many tourist visit Carlsbad Caverns to see the massive colonies of Mexican free-tail bats

Insectivorous bats are generally deemed a good thing, as long as they are not nesting in your attic. These heavy feeders eat many pest insects, like crop-eating beetles, moths, and mosquitoes, reducing the need for pesticides. Their waste, called guano, is mined and used as a popular fertilizer. Some species nest in huge colonies whose nightly flight can be a popular tourist attraction. Unfortunately some bats make great hosts for many pathogens like rabies, and it is advised to never interact with bats, and to take special precautions if an interaction occurs.

Bats have long been admired for their precise and maneuverable flight. Their wings have hand-like digits that connect to a pivotal “wrist”, covered with a tight thin membrane of skin called patagium. The order name Chiroptera means “hand-wing”. This gives them an advantage in agility over birds. Many also use echolocation – emitting an ultrasonic frequency to determine the exact location of an object by its reverberations. The bat’s highly developed ears can pick up the fluttering of a moth’s wings, and even the movement of underground insects!

Bats in Louisiana

There are 11 documented species of bats that can be found in Louisiana. Here is a list with short descriptions.

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In the vesper bat family Vespertilionidae, the big brown bat occurs widely throughout the US, Canada, Central America and the Caribbean into South America. It’s large for a microbat, with a wingspan of up to 15 inches. Commonly seen just at dusk, the big brown bat can adapt to many environments, including urban settings.

Mexican free-tailed batTadarida brasiliensis
The Mexican free-tailed bat or Brazilian free-tailed bat of the family Molossidae is widely regarded as one of the most abundant mammals in North America. Nevertheless their natural habit of roosting in enormous numbers can cause massive fluctuations in populations due to habitat destruction and disease. The free-tailed bat holds the record for fastest documented flight speed of any animal, with a top ground speed of over 100 MPH.

Tricolored batPerimyotis subflavus
The tricolored bat is a member of the vesper family native to eastern North America. It was formerly called an eastern pipistrelle based on its resemblance to the European Pipistrellus species, however further genetic studies revealed it is more closely related to the canyon bat and those of the vesper family. The name is derived from three distinctive bands of color on its back. Once common in this area, the tricolored bat has suffered significant decline since 2006 due to a fungal disease. The tricolored bat along with the silver-haired bat are the two bats most associated with carrying rabies.

Eastern red batLasiurus borealis
Another member of the vesper family, the eastern red bat is considered among the most common in Louisiana, and is widespread throughout most of eastern North America. Its entire body is very furry, males are a rusty brick red, females have more gray dusting. Both have distinctive white patches on their shoulders.

Evening batNycticeius humeralis
Another quite common in our area, the evening bat is also in the vesper family, native to North America with a relatively small range over the southeast region. These small bats hunt strictly at night. They have short lifespans for bats but are heavy breeders – females will form “maternity colonies” consisting of 15 to 300 bats. 90 percent of births are twins, some singles and some triplets. They are known to be good pest-eaters.

Hoary bat Lasiurus cinereus
Also in the vesper family, the hoary bat can be found throughout most of North & South America, with some disjunct populations in the Galápagos Islands and Hawaii. It has a 15 inch wingspan and a thick coat of dark fur with white tips, giving it a gray-ish white frosted or ‘hoary’ appearance. The hoary bat is mainly solitary, though it will occasionally nest with other bats in a cave.

Northern Yellow BatLasiurus intermedius
The northern yellow bat has a very specific region bordering the Gulf of Mexico through the US and into Central America. It tends to inhabit wooded areas near a permanent water source with Spanish moss or palm trees. This species of vesper bat uses Spanish moss exclusively for nesting. Its coat can vary from yellow-orange to gray-brown.

Rafinesque’s big-eared batCorynorhinus rafinesquii
Sometimes called the southeastern big-eared bat, this species has big ears. Over an inch long, which is quite big for a bat averaging 3 – 3.9 inches long. They are vesper bats in the genus Corynorhinus, meaning “club-nosed”. These are not the most attractive bats, and they are fairly uncommon throughout their range. Similar to the Townsend’s big-eared bat.

Seminole batLasiurus seminolus
The seminole bat is another vesper with a relatively small distribution, found exclusively in the southeastern US. It is often confused for the red bat because of its similar coat. This bat feeds on a relatively large amount of ants, bees and wasps, as well as beetles, moths, flies and some cicadas. They also use Spanish moss for their nesting.

(c) adamdv18, some rights reserved
(CC BY-NC)

Silver-haired batLasionycteris noctivagans
A solitary, migratory species of the vesper family, the silver-haired bat is the only member of its genus. Its range consists of much of North America, wintering in the south just into Mexico and summering all the way up to Alaska. We are actually on the very edge of its range here in St. Tammany. This bat has dense black fur with white tips, giving it the frosted appearance for which its named. The scientific name translates to “night-wandering”, an ode to these creatures’ nocturnal habits.

Southeastern myotis batMyotis austroriparius
Another bat with a very specific range, centered closely around the Gulf. These small bats vary from gray to bright orange-brown, weighing 5 – 8 grams. This species nests and hunts around open water and can be found in thick hardwood forests. It sometimes roosts with the Rafinesque’s big-eared bat. This myotis stands out among its genus as a heavy breeder, often producing twins. During nesting season the southeastern myotis is an important food source for barred owls.

Wildlife Lookout

Hoot Dat! A Guide to Louisiana Owls

Published by:

by Chelsea Cochrane

long-eared owl

Owls are birds that make up the order Strigiformes, comprised of over 200 species. Mostly solitary and nocturnal, defining characteristics include upright posture, a large, broad head, binocular vision, binaural hearing, sharp talons, and feathers adapted for silent flight. These birds are classified into two families, the Strigidae or true owls and the Tytonidae or barn owls.

According to the Louisiana Bird Records Committee (LBRC) of the Louisiana Ornithological Society, there are four owls of the family Strigidae and one in the family Tytonidae that are common in Louisiana. Those are the eastern screech owl, the barred owl, the short-eared owl, the great horned owl and the common barn owl.

The Barn owl (Tyto alba) is set apart from true owls in its own family Tytonidae. This is due to its heart-shaped face, short tail and smaller eyes. Its a small family, comprised of only about 20 species, divided into two genera, Tyto and Phodilus. Nocturnal, barn owls hunt by swooping low over fields or marshes, listening for small rodents. Due to its white underside and pale plumage it can be mistaken for the larger snowy owl, especially in flight. So named for its habit of roosting in quieter parts of man-made structures like silos, church steeples or barn lofts. Barn owls are among the most widely distributed owls in the world and one of the most widespread of all birds.

Barn owls don’t hoot the way most owls do – instead they let out eerie screeches in about 2 second bursts. Purrs and hissing are also part of this birds vocale. Listen here: www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/Barn_Owl/sounds

All other owls are classified as true or typical owls in the family Strigidae. These owls have what is called a cosmopolitan distribution as they are widespread around the world, occurring on every continent except Antarctica. There are three accepted subfamilies comprising nearly 220 species: Striginae, Asioninae, and Surniinae.

The Eastern Screech-owl (Megascops aslo) is fairly common in our area, although most know it better by its signature call – not quite a screech, but more of a whinny and soft trills, becoming active at dusk. Screech owls are small, stocky bird, ranging from 6 – 9.5 inches in length. They are generally a speckled grey, although there is a rusty Rufous morph which tends to be more common in the south. The complex patterns provide excellent camouflage against tree bark. These shy, tiny birds are hard to spot but are actually quite common in residential areas, where a person may not know they have an owl for a neighbor.

Listen to the sounds of an Eastern screech owl here:
www.bird-sounds.net/eastern-screech-owl

The Short-eared owl (Aslo flammeus) are medium-sized, spotted brown, white underside, with a pale face rounded and yellow eyes, accentuated by deep black outlines. Ears are unnoticeable, generally only up in small tufts when the bird is in a defensive pose. These owls primarily hunt early in the morning or late day. It shares the widespread distribution and much of the same habitat as the barn owl, occurring on every continent except Antarctica and Australia.

From Wikipedia: Owls belonging to genus Asio are known as the eared owls, as they have tufts of feathers resembling mammalian ears. The genus name Asio is a type of eared owl, and flammeus means “flame-coloured”.

The short-eared owl is not especially vocal, but can be heard giving a series of a dozen or so hoots. Listen here:
www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/Short-eared_Owl/sounds

The Barred owl (Strix varia) is also maybe better known as the “hoot” owl for its distinct “Who cooks for you? Who cooks for you-all?” call. A large bird with brown eyes and brown-and-white-striped plumage, the barred owl is native to the east and is quite common in our area. Although mostly active at night, it is not as fully nocturnal as most owls, and can be spotted in the early morning, at dusk, and even on overcast days. Extremely vocal, other calls include a “siren call” and a “monkey call”. The barred owl is only slightly smaller than its cousin the Great Horned Owl, but markedly less aggressive, and in territory disputes will often leave to find a new home.

Listen here: www.audubon.org/news/hear-many-different-hoots-barred-owl

The Great Horned owl (Bubo virginianus) is the third largest owl in North America and fifth in the world. It is the largest owl here in the southeast, although rare sightings of its slightly larger cousin the Snowy owl have been documented. The great horned owls is the most widely distributed owl of the Americas, with a habitat ranging over most of North America. So named for its long, horn-like ear tufts, it is an intimidating looking bird, broad and barrel-shaped, with bright yellow eyes and a 3 – 5 foot wingspan, averaging 4.6 feet. Sometimes called “tiger owl” for its stripes, orange-red highlights and aggressive hunting practices. They are also sometimes called “hoot owls” for their deep, warbling “hoot”.

Listen here: www.birdnote.org/listen/shows/voices-and-vocabularies-great-horned-owls

Learn more about the Great Horned Owl here: www.covingtonweekly.com/2012/10/03/the-great-horned-owl/

Danny (left) with father and daughter

Local Danny Burke, owner of Life Somatics, shares these photos from 10 years ago of a baby horned owl who fell out of its nest and was in the street. The owl (nicknamed “Bud Light”) was brought to LSU Vet School for care and eventual release back to nature.

If you should ever find a wild animal in need and are not sure how to help the Louisiana Department of Wildlife & Fisheries has a list of Permitted Wildlife Rehabilitators here.

Owls in Local News

Photo credit Covington Police Department Dec 2015

Most of us remember a few years back on Christmas Eve when Officer Lance Benjamin was attacked by an owl that flew into his police cruiser. The incident made nation news: www.cnn.com

It appears a barred owl was the culprit. Both the assailant and the officer were able to depart the scene unharmed, relatively in the case of Officer Benjamin, who suffered minor clawing and pecking in the incident.