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From Missouri Conservationist: February 2017

What Is It?

Our photographers have been busy exploring the intricacies of outdoor Missouri. See if you can guess this month’s natural wonder.

What is it 01


  • Address: PO Box 180, Jefferson City, MO 65102-0180
  • Phone: 573-522-4115, ext. 3848 Email: AskMDC@mdc.mo.gov

Q. We have greater roadrunners on our land. Harsh winters can be devastating to them. Could you recommend supplemental food sources we could contribute to help them survive?

A. Greater roadrunners feed on insects, spiders, scorpions, centipedes, millipedes, lizards, small snakes, rodents, frogs, carrion, plant material, other birds, and eggs. Other animals make up about 90 percent of their diet, so it probably isn’t feasible to feed roadrunners.

Wild animals are adapted to sustaining themselves without human intervention. The Department of Conservation encourages people to let “wildlife be wild,” although there are some obvious exceptions to that rule, such as the help humans provide to passerine (perching) species in the form of bird feeding.

The boundary for the greater roadrunner has expanded north, possibly due to the series of mild winters in recent years. According to eBird.org, this species has been documented as far north as Jefferson City, and several people have reported seeing them near Lake of the Ozarks. If you see a greater roadrunner, reporting your sighting to eBird is a wonderful way to contribute to science and conservation. To learn more about the greater roadrunner and hear its calls, visit allaboutbirds.org.

Q. Sometimes when I’m visiting the Department’s conservation areas, I notice trees that are partially cut through and left standing to die. Why is this being done?

A. The term used for partially cutting through a tree is girdling.

Both wildlife biologists and foresters use this practice to thin forests and woodlands. It’s an efficient way to improve habitat. Thinning creates more mast and dead trees, called “snags,” for wildlife and opens the forest floor to more sunlight, thus allowing tree seedlings room to grow. By removing the competition for sunlight, water, and nutrients — and giving the best trees more room to grow — we create a healthier forest or woodland.

Q. From time to time we have had problems with beavers. This 4-foot-deep trench is like nothing we have experienced in the past. Is this normal procedure for these mammals?

A. Although beavers do not usually construct extensive canals in Missouri, in certain places in the state, particularly on smaller and shallower streams, a system of waterways may be built to float food and construction materials. Beavers also dig underwater runs, such as this one, to make movement through shallow parts of a wetland easier.

Furbearer Biologist Laura Conlee has seen this phenomenon before in recently drained wetlands.

“Beavers create runs through the wetlands, and if the water level gets extremely low, the runs are exposed. My thoughts would be that the run was dug when the water level was high — when the creek was running into the lake,” Conlee said.

This video clip illustrates the phenomenon: youtube.com/watch?v=6-kKRX6tR3E


What Is It?

Red-Bellied Woodpecker

Red-Bellied WoodpeckerMelanerpes carolinus Red-bellied woodpeckers are common statewide and found in forests, woodlands, parks, and suburban areas. They frequent backyard bird feeders during the winter months in search of sunflower seeds and suet. Red-bellied woodpeckers forage amongst the trees for acorns, fruits, and insects, using their strong bill to chip away at bark to expose hiding creatures. Their tongue is long, barbed, and sticky, and the woodpecker uses it to extract insects from crevices. Like many other woodpeckers, this species excavates nest holes in the wood of dead or decaying trees or limbs. Clutches comprise two to six eggs, which incubate for 12 days. Young birds fledge 24–27 days later. The red-bellied woodpecker’s wings are banded with narrow black-and-white lines. The male has a wide red band from its bill over the crown to the nape, while the female has red on the nape only.—photograph by Noppadol Paothong

This Issue's Staff

Editor - Angie Daly Morfeld
Art Director - Cliff White
Associate Editor - Bonnie Chasteen
Staff Writer - Heather Feeler
Staff Writer - Kristie Hilgedick
Staff Writer - Joe Jerek
Photographer - Noppadol Paothong
Photographer - David Stonner
Designer - Les Fortenberry
Designer - Marci Porter
Designer - Stephanie Thurber
Circulation - Laura Scheuler