By MDC | December 1, 2021
From Missouri Conservationist: December 2021

Got a question for Ask MDC? Send it to or call 573-522-4115, ext. 3848.

Q: We had this bird at our feeder recently. What species is it?

One of the best-known U.S. songbirds, the northern mockingbird, part of a family of birds called mimics, repeats phrases from songs of other birds and seems to sing endlessly, night and day.

In summer, northern mockingbirds forage on insects, spiders, lizards, snakes, crayfish, and fruits. As with most wintering fruit-eating birds, they will come to feeders stocked with fruits, such as raisins and cranberries, but they also appreciate mealworms. Their ability to switch back and forth between insects and fruits enables them to find food during the winter when insects are scarce. Planting native shrubs that provide winter fruits like flowering dogwood or winterberry are essential for overwintering fruit-eaters like mockingbirds. Mockingbirds defend certain fruit-bearing shrubs all winter, reserving them for their own food supply.

To learn more, visit MDC’s online Field Guide

Q. Squirrels’ nests seem to be very well constructed. How do they make them so sturdy?

Squirrels’ leafy treetop nests may be more visible in winter, but tree cavities are the preferred homesites, especially for winter and for nurseries since they provide better protection from weather and predators.

Suitable cavities occur most often in older, deciduous trees. Filled with leaves that serve as a warm lining for the young, the typical cavity is about 6 inches wide and 15 inches deep, with a 3-inch entryway.

In contrast, leaf nests are usually built in the tops of large trees about 40 feet above the ground. A leaf nest consists of a rough twig framework — 12 to 20 inches across — and a bulky pile of leaves heaped layer upon layer. The squirrel hollows out a nest cavity in the center of the leaves. Summer-built nests are flimsy affairs crafted from green leaves and twigs. Winter-built nests are made of bare twigs with separate leaves interlaced in the framework. The inside cavity is reached through a hole in the side of the nest.

Leaf nests can be constructed in less than 12 hours. If well-made and repaired, they usually last for six to 12 months. However, some large, refurbished nests may last 2–3 years.

Q: Last winter, we noticed something that resembled frost grass at the base of a large boulder. The ice looked as if it grew from the ground. What caused this phenomenon?

This is needle ice. Like frost flowers — which occur when moisture is extruded from the stem of a plant and freezes in curly ribbons — needle ice forms when the air is freezing, but the ground is not. Water rises to the surface by capillary action, freezes, and contributes to a growing needlelike ice column.


This Issue's Staff

Stephanie Thurber

Angie Daly Morfeld

Larry Archer

Cliff White

Dianne Van Dien
Kristie Hilgedick
Joe Jerek

Shawn Carey
Marci Porter

Noppadol Paothong
David Stonner

Laura Scheuler