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Natural Curiosities

I have four apple trees in my back yard. In the fall when the apples ripen, we find them in odd places all around the yard. A squirrel visits our back yard occasionally. Is it normal for squirrels to hide and eat apples, or do you think another animal is doing this?

Ryan Grow
Circle Pines

Either red or gray squirrels could be squirreling away the apples, says DNR wildlife educator Jan Welsh. Both species hide acorns, apples, and other food for future use.

Last winter while snowmobiling in northern Minnesota, I saw a "bobtail" timber wolf. Would the lack of a tail affect its place in the pack or ability to belong to one?

David Moe

Wolves do use tail position to communicate with each other, says DNR wolf/furbearer biologist John Erb. However, he suspects that a lack of tail alone is probably not going to make or break a wolf's status in the pack. But if the missing tail indicates some other problem, such as a broader genetic inferiority, disease, or parasitic infection like mange, it may be indicative of a lessened social status within the pack (or lack of pack affiliation at all).

This evening there was a house finch next to my feeding station with eye problems. The right eye was closed, and the left didn't look good either. The bird was very reluctant to fly and was very thin and unkempt. What's wrong?

David Claypool

The bird you saw probably has mycoplasmal conjunctivitis, says DNR wildlife educator Jan Welsh. This bacterial eye infection is spreading westward across the United States. If you'd like, you can participate in a survey tracking the disease. Learn more.

Last October my neighbor and I were walking by Lake Minnetonka. She noticed a flock of large birds flying quite high. They had white breasts and black wings and were moving in a circular formation. A couple of people we asked thought they might be pelicans. Where were they coming from, and where were they going?

Donna Young

They were indeed white pelicans, says DNR wildlife educator Jan Welsh. Pelicans nest in large colonies on Lac qui Parle, Devils Lake (North Dakota), and Lake of the Woods. Nonbreeding pelicans hang out in small groups on lakes in western Minnesota during summer. The birds form giant flocks and migrate to the southern United States for the winter. The circling behavior you observed is called kettling -- flying in circles on streams of rising warm air. This helps birds gain altitude with a minimal amount of energy expended.

My husband and I feed sunflower seeds to turkeys at the edge of our lawn. In the fall, up to 35 turkeys gather to feed. While the males plump themselves and fan out their feathers, the females seem to ignore them, unless several males separate and circle one female. When that happens she will lie on her side for a minute or two, then stand up and rejoin other females. What's happening? Is mating in the fall or spring? How long does it take eggs to hatch?

Judy Strommen

The hen's activity could be submissive behavior toward the dominant males, says DNR wildlife researcher Dick Kimmel. Turkeys mate in spring, with eggs hatching about 27 days after incubation begins.

I work at a middle school and am looking for a source of local tadpoles or frog eggs to raise as a classroom project, then release to help with the declining populations in the area. Are there programs available similar to this?

Lisa Mutch-Regge
Columbia Heights

DNR Natural Heritage and Nongame Research supervisor Rich Baker applauds your interest in bringing the issue of declining frog populations into your classroom. However, importation of frogs and collection from the wild for sale is illegal without a permit or license. Very few permits have been issued, so a legal source for buying tadpoles or frog eggs might not exist.

You may collect tadpoles or eggs from the wild for personal use if you have an angling license. However, Baker discourages the release of frogs back into the wild for several reasons. A captive animal can harbor diseases or parasites that it can introduce into a wild population. Also, while it may seem that adding animals to a wild population will help that wild population, research has demonstrated that augmentation is effective only for very rare species. In Minnesota the problem with frogs is not their ability to reproduce. Rather, the problems appear to be a combination of habitat loss, disease, contaminants, and environmental change -- none of which is remedied by adding more individuals to the wild.

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