Nature wakes up in April and May. Birds sing, mushrooms pop from the ground, and fish get hungry enough to take your bait. With so much going on, sometimes it’s hard to decide what's for you to discover.
Ever wonder what it’s like to be a bird? Find out by building a nest. Gather about 300 twigs and pieces of dead grass. Weave them together to form a bowl about as wide and deep as your hand. Then, find a puddle and gather mud to cement the whole thing together. If building a nest seemed simple, try again. This time, however, use only your feet and beak— oops, mouth. It’s not as easy as birds make it look!
Before you start gnawing trees like a starving beaver, you should know two things. First, make sure the tree you’re about to eat is a redbud. They’re the ones with hot-pink flowers that bloom in early April. Second, eat just the flowers, which taste sweet and nutty, and avoid the rest of the tree, which tastes yucky. The best way to eat the flowers is to bury your face in a branch and nibble away like you’re eating corn on the cob. Just watch out for bees—they like redbuds, too.
What’s all the buzz about? Grab a magnifying glass and get outside to find out. Hundreds of kinds of insects call Missouri home, and some of the coolest come out in May. Listen for the romantic racket of cicadas singing for a mate, check your porch lights late at night to see giant silk moths, or prowl around a weedy field to smell the stench of a stink bug. For help figuring out what you’ve found, pick up a copy of Show-Me Bugs, available at www.mdcnatureshop.com.
Ever wonder what prowls around your backyard at night? It’s easy to find out. Get a shallow aluminum cake pan and fill it with dirt. Just before bedtime place the pan outside on the ground, wet the dirt down, and sprinkle a handful of cat food over the dirt for bait. The next morning, scan the pan to see who ate the bait and left their footprints behind.
To show off for females, male nighthawks fly high in the air then dive straight toward the ground. Just before splatting, they pull up and swoop back skyward. Air rushing through their wings makes a hair-raising boom. You can see—and hear—nighthawks perform their death-defying dives over parking lots and flat, graveled rooftops in towns and cities. Nighthawks dive at females, rival males and even people. So, if you’re going nighthawk watching, you might want to wear a helmet (just kidding)! BASH some TRASH.
Litter pollutes our water, harms wildlife and makes nature look like a dump. This Earth Day, gather your friends and a few parents for a “No MOre Trash!” Bash. Pick a stream, roadside or other area in need of spring cleaning, arm your team with gloves and trash bags, and pitch in to pick up after people who pollute. A prettier environment is reward enough, but if you report your cleanup by May 15, you’ll get pins for everyone who helped. For details, visit www.nomoretrash.org.
Few things beat the smell of wood smoke mixed with sizzling bacon, the curl of steam off a Dutch-oven cobbler, or the crunchy, gooey sensation of biting into a chocolatey s’more. So, wipe the drool off your chin, load your backpack with food and camping supplies—but mostly food—and hit the trail.
What’s covered in warts, eats bugs, and comes out only at night? It’s a toad, and you can coax these chubby amphibians to live in your yard by building a toad house. Just grab a small clay pot and find a cool, moist place in your garden. Dig a shallow hole, lay the pot on its side, and bury it halfway in the soil. To make your toad house toadally cool, decorate the pot with paint, or glue on a pattern of pebbles.
Looking for more ways to have fun outside? Find out about Discover Nature programs in your area at mdc.mo.gov/events.
Your guide to all the nasty, stinky, slimy and gross stuff that nature has to offer.
The praying mantis is nature’s ninja. Masters of camouflage, praying mantises will rock back and forth like leaves in the wind, patiently creeping up on their unsuspecting prey until they are in range, then WHAAM! They use their lightning-quick legs to capture their victims. Mantises use sharp barbs on the back of their unusual limbs to keep a strong hold on grasshoppers, bumblebees and other insects.
Prepare yourself for the invasion of the 13-year cicadas! Like something out of a horror movie, these red-eyed insects have spent the past 13 years wriggling around underground. This spring, they’ll crawl out of the ground, then out of their own skin—leaving behind an empty shell. They’ll take over the state, blanketing entire trees in some areas. Although cicadas are harmless, their buzzing may drive you batty. You’ll hear them for weeks as they hum to lure in mates.
Ruby-throated hummingbirds return to Missouri in April after spending winter in Central America. Although all ruby-throats have emerald-green feathers on their backs and heads, only adult males have a ruby-red throat. Hummingbirds hover like helicopters at flowers and bird feeders to slurp up nectar and sugar water. Their wings make a humming sound as they flap at blinding speeds—about 50 to 70 beats each second.
Speed bumps ahead. In April, box turtles begin plodding across roads to look for mates and places to lay their eggs. Although their shells are tough, they’re no match for a minivan. Help watch for these slow-moving reptiles, which can live for 60 years or more.
If birds played hide-and-seek, American bitterns would win every time. When pesky predators or nosy bird-watchers come calling, bitterns don’t move a feather. Instead, these cattail-colored birds try their best to blend in by standing dead-still with their beaks pointing straight up. Sometimes they even rock back and forth, hoping to look like a cattail swaying in the breeze. They hide so well, bitterns are more often heard than seen. Their mating call—a loud, booming unk-a-lunk—can carry half a mile across the marshes where they live.
Nichole LeClair Terrill