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Ribbons of Life

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Published on: Sep. 2, 1998

Last revision: Nov. 2, 2010

safe place to incubate eggs. The adult birds don't abandon the nest as turtles do, but tend it carefully until the young are ready to leave.

As you might guess, timing is everything. Kingfishers have to wait until after spring floods to start nesting, but the young birds have to be fledged before the water rises again. Kingfishers nest in river banks and fish the nearby waters for food. Kingfishers are part of the river, but without the high mud banks there would be no home for them.

Sycamore trees cling to the banks of the river, their leaves shading the waters below. During spring floods, the tangled roots and sturdy trunks of sycamores slow down and direct the water's flow. Herons and eagles perch in the large branches, and raccoons, otters and wood ducks find homes in the hollows of mature trees.

When these old trees get washed into the river, those same hollows become homes to catfish. Though we plant sycamore trees in lawns and along city streets, their rightful place is along the river. Many animals that live in our rivers and streams need sycamores.

Beyond the sycamore trees we find the river floodplain, which supports a diversity of fish and wildlife. Life in a floodplain is influenced by dramatic changes in water levels at various times throughout the year. Few species, plant or animal, have adapted to full-time living here.

Many floodplain inhabitants are highly mobile animals. Deer, for example, grow strong and healthy along rivers and streams, where they find plenty of food and cover and a reliable source of water. Although they can swim, they have no special adaptation to living in a floodplain beyond the ability to leave it when necessary.

Many species of birds live in bottomland forests. Red-shouldered hawks soar over the bottomland forest and nest in high branches. Chickadees and cerulean warblers forage high in the leaves of tall trees. Pileated woodpeckers hunt for insects in dead and dying branches in the forest canopy. Many birds depend on the floodplain, but most are ready to leave when the water gets high.

Beavers are clearly not aquatic, but everything about them, from their thick well-oiled fur to webbed toes, allows them to live successfully in rivers and streams. Beavers depend on the plants and trees growing in river floodplains, stripping the bark and eating leaves and buds from the trees they dropped into the water. Beavers are excellent

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