Supporting MCV has never been easier!

Contribute Now


Give a Gift Subscription

Update My Subscription

About MCV

Past Issues

School Resources

Contact Us

Annual report


Connect with us!

image of Facebook icon image of Twitter icon image of Google plus icon

Natural Curiosities

Early birds . . . Young gulls . . . Band info . . . Metro bobcats . . . Odd rabbit . . . Crab spiders


Why do birds sing first thing in the morning when it starts getting light? Usually I don't mind, but there are mornings when I'd like to sleep in and they seem to be going a little crazy.

Maria Shackett, Oakdale

Songs are a male songbird's way of announcing his availability to females and warning other male birds to stay out of his territory. Why dawn? One possibility, says DNR wildlife educator Jan Welsh, is that dim early morning light makes for poor insect hunting, so the birds aren't busy with foraging at that time of day. Another idea is that the cool, still morning air provides great conditions for sound to travel, so the message can go a long way. The timing would also work well for attracting females that just flew in from a night migration. But no one knows for sure. Something to think about, anyway, as you lie in bed with your pillow over your head, trying to sleep later than those early-bird songsters!

I spend a lot of time on the water in Minnesota, Ontario, Michigan, Wisconsin, North Carolina, and Florida. I often see gulls or pelicans. Why have I never seen a baby pelican or baby gull?

Hank Duerkop, Boy River

Unlike ducks and loons, which disperse their nests (and therefore young) across a variety of locations, gulls and pelicans nest in groups called rookeries. Newly hatched gulls and pelicans are relatively helpless and so remain in the nest rather than swim around with the parents. If you wanted to see young from these two kinds of birds, you would have to look in a rookery.

I found a pair of bird legs with bands on them. I assume the bird was eaten for lunch but would like to know what species the legs are from, and if anyone else needs to know about it.

Jeff Long, Prescott, Wis.

Band information is important to scientists who are trying to learn about how birds travel and what habitats we need to protect so birds can thrive. Report bands online or call toll-free 800-327-BAND (2263). If a band has numbers on it, someone should be able to tell you what species the former owner was.

How common are bobcats in White Bear township? I saw some tracks under a spruce tree on Lakeview Ave. last week. The tracks were about 1-1/2 to 2 inches in diameter.

Reed Walstad, White Bear Lake

According to DNR furbearer season specialist Jason Abraham, the statewide annual bobcat harvest has generally been increasing over the past 30 years, as has the overall bobcat population as modeled by DNR biologists. Some wildlife managers believe that bobcats are becoming more abundant in the northern Twin Cities metro area. Recent harvest statistics appear to support this opinion. In Pine County, for example, 12 bobcats were harvested in 1998-99. Ten years later, 101 bobcats were harvested. However, bobcats seem to be less common in more densely populated areas. The harvest of bobcats in Chisago, Washington, and Isanti counties, just south of Pine County, is very low. Read the 2009 furbearer harvest report.

On an evening walk in our neighborhood, we saw a rabbit with an extra set of ears. They were a little smaller, located behind its full-sized ears. We have never seen this before. How common is it?

Sadie and Henry Moore, St. Paul

The rabbit probably had Shope fibroma, an insect-borne viral disease that creates interesting growths on the head. Though usually not fatal, the disease can result in odd-looking animals like the one you saw. The legend of the jackalope might have started with a rabbit with Shope virus.

At my cabin last summer I noticed a bee that appeared to be pollinating a flower near my sauna, and it also appeared to be smothering some kind of a white spider with pink markings. The two never moved much, but did rotate around the flower. I snapped a few photos and then used my Conservation Volunteer to identify the bee. Can you help me figure out what the bee is doing to the spider?

Andy Kahn, Richfield

Not to ruin your lunch, but actually the spider has killed the bee and is in the process of converting the contents of the bee's body into predigested liquid that it will suck out to nourish the eggs it is developing. DNR entomologist Robert Dana says the spider is the well-known crab spider Misumena vatia, sometimes called the goldenrod crab spider. This spider, which waits on flowers to capture prey, can change its color between white and yellow (the pink markings remain more or less pink), depending on the color of the flower it is lurking on. The bee appears to be the rusty patch bumblebee, Bombus ternarius, and the flower is the invasive exotic oxe-eye daisy.

Looking for volunteer opportunities?