Q: I have a tree in my yard that has a rather uniform grid of shallow holes in the bark of the trunk. What caused that, and will it harm my tree?
A: You are most likely seeing the work of a type of woodpecker called the yellow-bellied sapsucker. As the name implies, the small holes are drilled to give the bird access to the sweet tree sap that pools in the holes. The birds will also eat the inner bark and catch insects that are attracted to the sap. Flying squirrels may also feed on the sap at night as will hummingbirds during the day, if the sapsucker does not run them off. Sapsuckers may be found in Missouri from early September through April but they spend the breeding season in Canada and the northern U.S. The marks on a tree trunk will persist for years and the same tree may be visited periodically. The shallow holes do not generally result in significant damage to tree health. Here’s a link to information on woodpecker damage, including that from sapsuckers: extension.missouri.edu/p/G9449.
Q: I recently saw a squirrel in my yard carrying a dead bird in its mouth. That is something I have not seen before. Do squirrels eat birds?
A: The diet of squirrels is extremely varied. While they are primarily vegetarian, they will also eat insects and insect larvae, mushrooms, shed deer antlers, old turtle shells, frogs, small rodents (including their own young), eggs, young birds from nests, and occasionally a small bird that is not a nestling. I usually receive a report or two each year from people who observe squirrels carrying or eating small birds. I do not know what causes them to sometimes eat meat, but I expect that they have a need for minerals and nutrients that are not available from accessible plant materials. The behavior is rare enough that most people who observe it have never seen it before.
Q: What are the white-flowering trees that usually begin blooming in March in Missouri forests?
A: We have several species of native plums that can bloom in March, but I think you are referring to another native tree called serviceberry (Amelanchier arborea). Other common names include shadbush, sarvis tree, and shadblow. It frequently grows on forested upper slopes and ridge tops. It opens its white flowers while most other trees are still dormant, so it stands out in the mostly gray forests in late winter. Its flowers appear before its leaves unfurl. The bark is smooth and gray on younger trees but develops some long grooves as it ages. Serviceberry is in the rose family and is therefore related to apples and plums. The fruits of serviceberry are edible and somewhat resemble small (about 3/8 inch in diameter) apples that turn from green to reddish-purple in June or July. Many species of birds and mammals eat the berry-like fruits.
Ombudsman Tim Smith will respond to your questions, suggestions or complaints concerning Department of Conservation programs. Write him at PO Box 180, Jefferson City, MO 65102-0180, call him at 573-522-4115, ext. 3848, or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
March brings a variety of fishing opportunities for citizens to enjoy throughout Missouri. March 1 also marks the first day of the new permit year for Missouri anglers. Obtain your 2013 permit at a local vendor, Department office, or online at mdc.mo.gov/node/9258. Don’t forget to get a copy of the 2013 Summary of Missouri Fishing Regulations and read up on the fishing regulations in our state. You can also find a PDF of the summary at mdc.mo.gov/node/3104.
Besides no-permit violations, conservation agents also encounter violations such as fishing equipment not properly labeled, keeping more than a possession limit of fish, failing to keep fish separate or distinctly identifiable from one another, and fish of illegal length.
While regulations may seem burdensome to some, remember that fish and game laws are designed to protect the resource, protect the user, and provide equal harvest opportunity. Your Conservation Department works hard to educate anglers and all outdoors enthusiasts on the rules governing their activity. These efforts include printed information, radio programs, web pages, social media, classes, and newspaper and magazine articles.
Take the time to educate yourself on the rules and regulations governing your sport or activity before heading out to enjoy Missouri’s outdoors. If you can’t find the answer to your regulations question, feel free to contact one of the Department’s offices or the Ombudsman.
Nick Laposha is Kansas City Regional Supervisor. If you would like to contact the agent for your county, phone your regional conservation office.
A male wood duck in breeding plumage. Wood ducks are common summer residents. They form pairs in midwinter and usually have two broods a year. Clutches comprise 6–16 eggs, which are incubated 28–37 days. The young are covered with down when they hatch and jump from the nest cavity a day after hatching. Nest cavities can easily be 60 feet above ground in a hollow place in a trunk. Wood ducks also readily use specially made nest boxes. Habitat loss and overhunting caused severe declines in the wood duck’s population by the late 1800s, but federal and state conservation laws helped rescue this species, and artificial nesting boxes have helped increase populations to where they are now stable.—Noppadol Paothong
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