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Natural Curiosities

burbot behavior . . . pheasant flavor . . . roundworms . . . owls' dinner . . . puny panfish

My grandparents live on Lake of the Woods, and I go up there to fish. We down-rig in the summer and fish in their ice house in winter. Fishing on the ice, we always catch slimy eelpout. Why don't we see them in the summer?

Lori Petrauski
Nashwauk

DNR aquatic education specialist Roland Sigurdson says you catch eelpout (also known as burbot) in winter because they like cold water. In summer they move to the deep, cold parts of lakes. In midwinter to early spring before ice out, they move to shallow water to spawn in pairs or in a ball of many fish.


Back when I was young, I enjoyed the distinctive flavor of wild pheasants that my dad would bring home for my mom to cook. When my husband and son returned from a pheasant-hunting trip, I could hardly wait to taste them again. To my dismay, they didn't taste like the pheasant I remember. As the old saying goes, 'it tastes just like chicken.' Have my youthful taste buds left me, or do they taste like chicken?

Judith Renard
Forest Lake

Gee, doesn't everything taste like chicken? To figure out why it seems so, we contacted folks at Pheasants Forever, who put us in touch with Chef Lenny Russo, co-owner of The Heartland restaurant in St. Paul. Russo says the flavor profile of meat reflects what the animal has eaten. If the pheasant had dined on a good amount of corn, it might taste somewhat like corn-fed chicken. A similar result goes for any grain or grass.

In today's world where more and more wild land is being cultivated, the flavor differences between the flesh of wild birds and that of domesticated birds are not as profound as they were in the past. Wild birds often dine on cultivated food sources and consequently taste more domesticated. And free-ranging, naturally raised domesticated birds taste wilder than do their caged, conventionally fed relatives.


I have hunted ruffed grouse in Minnesota for 40-plus years. In the last 10 years I have noticed that a few birds have roundworms in their digestive tract. Is this a large problem, or just natural?

Leon Kratzke
Pelican Rapids

Ruffed grouse host various internal and external parasites, says DNR grouse research biologist Mike Larson. Although a heavy load of parasites might affect the survival of an individual bird, parasites are probably not a major problem for the ruffed grouse population as a whole.


Last winter we found a partially eaten dead rabbit under our bird feeder. Two months later we found another dead rabbit under the feeder. It had been decapitated, and the head was nowhere to be found. What would be doing this?

Nancy Peterson
Baxter

You're likely looking at the remains of an owl's dinner. DNR wildlife educator Jan Welsh says the brains seem to be the best part of the beast from an owl's perspective. Since a rabbit is generally too big for an owl to carry, the bird most likely took what it could and then left the rest.


I have a place on Lake Lizzie in Otter Tail County and enjoy fishing for sunnies and crappies. They seem to be smaller than they were 10 to 15 years ago. Why?

Harriet Poss
Winona

Sizes of sunfish and crappies have been declining statewide, says DNR research scientist Peter Jacobson. Anglers tend to keep larger panfish and let smaller ones go, so over time the average size decreases. Anglers could help reverse this trend by releasing some larger ones and keeping smaller ones instead. The DNR is experimenting with special regulations for panfish. Early results suggest the regulations help improve the size of panfish, especially sunfish. More lakes could be set up with special regulations if anglers want to improve the size of panfish.


Once in a while I hear a woodpecker hammering on the wood siding of my house. Can woodpeckers sense insects within a piece of wood? Is the woodpecker informing me I have insects in the walls?

Dave Walter
Grand Rapids

"Yes, and yes," says DNR wildlife educator Jan Welsh. According to the Bell Museum of Natural History, a woodpecker may hammer on your house to search for a meal, advertise its territory, or excavate a nest hole. To deter pecking birds, the museum suggests hanging metallic party streamers, puttying holes, or tacking up netting or screen. For more information, send a self-addressed, stamped envelope to Woodpecker Packet, DNR Nongame Wildlife, Box 25, 500 Lafayette Rd., St. Paul, MN 55155.

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