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Wisconsin Natural Resources magazine

Wisconsin Natural Resources magazine

April 2008

Readers Write

More Crow Feedback
Float the St. Croix to See Eagles
Fascinating Fox Trot
Updates:
Bullsnake Sighting Project Reports Productive First Year
Target Feral Pigs, DNR Urges
Door County Festival of Nature

More Crow Feedback

After reading the story about crows (Cunning corvids, October 2007), I thought this would be of interest. I'm 68 years old now but when I was in seventh grade a friend found a baby crow, took it to the vet and had its tongue cut. The crow had a 40-word vocabulary and put any parent to shame. It talked so clearly you would have thought someone was in the next room. The crow gave us a lot of fun for many years. At the end it had over 100 sentences it could say.

Dale Belke
Sheboygan

It was once widely believed that in order to teach crows to speak, their tongues had to be split. This was probably based on the fact that unlike a mammal's, a bird's tongue has a bone in it. The centuries-old myth held that if the tongue was split, it would be more flexible and speech would be easier. Modern veterinary practices totally disavow the practice because birds don't use their tongues for articulation and can mimic dozens of sounds, including human speech, without having their tongues split. Don't do it.

In reference to your article on cunning corvids, I don't especially like crows, but I enjoy the great outdoors and most of the creatures that we have. Just to let your readers know, crows don't only destroy nesting birds. I have seen crows take bats off the sides of buildings and destroy turkey eggs. All the young snakes, tree frogs and toads in our area have all but disappeared. What really worked around my buildings was shooting one crow and the others would not return for about a year. A close second for destroying eggs and young birds is the blue jay.

Marv V. Clark
Sparta

Float the St. Croix to See Eagles

We so enjoyed the article Bald and beautiful in the December 2007 issue. If anybody has a chance, float the St. Croix or upper Namekagon rivers and you will discover an abundance of eagles nesting and watching as you float by. We have experienced catching a sucker and letting it float ahead of us on top of the water just to watch Mr. Baldy snatch it off the water with great ease. We named a point on the St. Croix River for just the spot to do this. What a great article!

Bill Dubek and Jack Gasparac
Danbury

We will visit the St. Croix in June as part of the 40th anniversary celebration of its designation as a Wild Scenic River.

Fascinating Fox Trot

Thank you for bringing to us readers another excellent issue! The cormorant story in the February 2008 issue (Cormorant conundrum) was of special interest and value to many of us living in Door County. The outstanding story, Sociable encounters, regarding the red fox was also of high appeal to me in that I have had many fascinating experiences with these wily creatures. The beautiful photograph at the top of page 27 clearly indicates to me that the red foxes were performing their own version of the fox trot!

I had the good fortune several times, during the years 1964-1990 when I managed the Ridges Sanctuary at Baileys Harbor, of following a red fox trail in the snow, coming upon where it had gone down into the deep snow, caught a shrew, killed it but left it lying upon the snow uneaten. All I could deduce was that the taste of a shrew did not appeal to the fox.

On another occasion while living at the Ridges Sanctuary I was able to record at pre-dawn the loud, far-reaching, agonizing and wailing screams, one after another, "WHAAaa, WHAaa," of a red fox which was unsuccessfully trying to break into my neighbor's fenced-in chicken coop. The fox was so intent on its mission that I was able to approach to within about 50 yards while using my portable tape recorder and a parabolic reflector with which to capture the drama. Thanks again for your high quality magazine. Keep them coming!

Roy Lukes
Egg Harbor

Updates:

Bullsnake Sighting Project Reports Productive First Year

A project to document bullsnake sightings, kicked off in the April 2007 issue (More bluff than bite), had a very successful first year, according to project coordinator Josh Kapfer. This harmless constricting rodent-predator, one of the largest snake species in North America, has experienced a marked drop in population throughout the Upper Midwest because of habitat loss. The Bullsnake Sighting Initiative offers a resource for citizen naturalists to report sightings online for review by state herpetologists.

"Reports to the website began coming in by mid-April, which corresponds with the species' emergence from winter dormancy," reports Kapfer. "Sightings continued through early September, with the last substantiated bullsnake report coming in on July 17, 2007. A total of 43 snake sightings were submitted."

Ten bullsnake sightings from four counties (Monroe, Sauk, Dane and Columbia) were substantiated by photographs. Four more sightings from Grant, Richland and Crawford counties were not verified by photo but were considered valid due to observer experience. Ten additional sightings were possibly of bullsnakes, but could not be fully verified. Kapfer stresses that such reports are still valuable in guiding future survey efforts by state herpetologists. Two unsubstantiated sightings from Jackson and Burnett counties were of particular interest because both locations represent the periphery of this species' range and more information from such locations is important to its conservation.

"We're not done yet!" says Kapfer. "We ask that you please continue to submit your observations at Report a Bullsnake Sighting. You'll also find photographs of bullsnakes, photographs of confusing similar species, a range map and life history information. I can't emphasize enough the importance of submitting pictures with your sightings. The success of this initiative relies on the diligence of citizen naturalists and those who own private land, which may be suitable for this species. Snakes are members of that oft-maligned, frequently ignored niche of wildlife that need your support. So, please continue to watch where you step, carry a camera and tell your friends to be on the lookout for some of Wisconsin's most elusive creatures!"

Joshua M. Kapfer, Ph.D., until last August, was a herpetologist with DNR's Bureau of Endangered Resources. He is currently a wildlife biologist with Natural Resources Consulting, Inc. (Cottage Grove, Wis.). If you have any questions about native amphibians and reptiles, please contact him at Josh Kapfer.

Target Feral Pigs, DNR Urges

Since first sighted in Wisconsin in 2000, feral pigs have been reported in 29 counties and DNR wildlife managers continue to encourage hunters and landowners to shoot them year-round. Hunters need a small game license, but landowners do not.

Dave Matheys, wildlife biologist for Vernon and Crawford counties, recently told the Green Bay Press-Gazette that 32 pigs were harvested in 2007 in Crawford County, the only county in Wisconsin with a self-sustaining wild pig population estimated at 50 to 100 animals. Matheys said last year DNR received reports of wild pig sightings or shootings in Calumet, Clark, Crawford, Eau Claire, Jackson, Marathon, Oneida, Pierce, Polk, Sauk, St. Croix and Wood counties.

Aside from being non-native to Wisconsin, wild pigs are undesirable because they damage agricultural lands and wildlife habitat, and pose a threat to domestic swine from diseases like brucellosis and pseudo rabies. Feral pigs reproduce any time of year, adapt well to a range of habitats and are very smart. During the warmer months they tend to be nocturnal, but in winter they are more active in early morning and late afternoon. They can be hunted 24 hours a day because they are an unprotected species.

Matheys said DNR has plans to survey Crawford County lands where pigs are concentrated so hunting and trapping efforts can target those locations. "We really want to do more trapping because hunting alone hasn't eradicated the pigs."

Door County Festival of Nature

Mark your calendar for this three-day event Thursday, May 22nd through Saturday, May 24th. Experienced naturalists will be leading field trips to search out wildflowers, birds and insects. Lectures, night hikes, canoe trips and a barn dance Saturday night add to the festivities. Sponsored by the Door County Land Trust, Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, Crossroads at the Creek and The Clearing. Visit The Ridges Sanctuary for details, registration information and costs.