Weekly Notes February 3, 2013

Someone asked me recently, why is it that people in Maine call the Deer and Moose antlers, Horns?  Good Question.  To clarify, first you need to understand that although the word is spelled horn, Mainah’s pronounce the word as hohn which makes a difference, they aren’t really calling them horns.  Technically speaking Deer and Moose are members of the family of Cervidae that grow and drop antlers in a yearly cycle, while the family of Bovidae which includes Bison and Mountain Sheep found out west, have horns that continue to grow throughout their entire lives.

Antlers are a crown of vitality displaying the health of the individual that bears them.  They begin to grow in the late spring and are fully developed by the time of the fall rut (mating season). Their growth is dependent on nutrition, genetics and age of the animal.  A small set of antlers on an otherwise large animal indicates the lack of calcium, phosphorus and protein in the diet which reveals a less desirable mate due to poor nutrition.

Beginning sometime in January these animals will drop their antlers.  Another Maine term meaning the antlers loosen from the head of the animal and fall off.  So if you hear of someone who talks about being in the woods to look for ‘drops’, you’ll know they were hoping to come upon a deer or moose antler on the ground.

With that understood we can take a closer look at a Moose horn in the winter landscape.  Everything in nature is recycled and antler drops are no exception.  They become a source of nutrients for other mammals including small rodents, porcupines, coyotes and even the deer and moose themselves.  These animals gnaw on the antler to obtain the nutritional value important for their own survival.  In the pictures you will see a Moose that has recently lost his antlers leaving the exposed pedicle, the place the antler grows from.  The next two pictures are of a Moose antler that was found with significant evidence of gnawing by several species of animals.  The inner part of the antler is soft and close inspection reveals larger tooth marks than the tines which were gnawed by animals with smaller teeth.  By the way, Maine has a National Wildlife Refuge named The Moosehorn, visit the link here...

The last week of January brought more unseasonable weather across the state.  After the bitter cold from the previous week, mild temperatures and high winds brought rain from Kittery to Allagash reducing the snow depth to only a few inches across most of the state and no more than 10-12 in the highest elevations to the west.  Click here for the current snow depth map…

We often think of snow as melting but much of the snowpack has evaporated with the lengthening days and warm sun and the wind.   According to the National Weather Service in Caribou, temperature variations within a 24 hour period had a greater degree change than the average temperature differences from January to July.   Temperature drops were 25 to 40 degrees.  Fortunately the temperatures were mild on Thursday with the wind gusts that brought power outages to many areas.

Wind Gust chart January 31, 2013

Wind Gusts on January 31, 2013

Speaking of lengthening days, in this month’s Astronomy report, Bernie Reim tells us the winter is now half over.  This week the moon will be a waning crescent as it approaches the new moon next weekend.  Keep an eye low in the west after sunset to see Mercury and Mars.  Read Bernie’s report in the Portland Press Herald here...

In wildlife news, The Allagash buck pictured on January 12, 2013 has dropped his antlers.  Snow depth is down and the deer are able to move about easily to find food.

There has been a report of a bobcat stalking and killing chickens and ducks.  Animals that are typically very shy are less intimidated when food supplies run short often taking the easy route to prey on barnyard animals.  In another report, the Center for Wildlife in Cape Neddick had an Ermine in their outdoor hawk and owl enclosure.  We typically think of a hawk preying on the smallest of the weasels, but within an enclosed area roles are reversed and the Ermine quickly becomes the predator especially towards the smaller of the birds such as the Saw-whet Owl and Kestrel.  Volunteers were able to scour the enclosure and repair the tiny openings that allowed the Ermine to squeeze through.

Also from The Center for Wildlife in Cape Neddick.  They admitted a Big Brown Bat this past week.  If able to find shelter, Big Browns and Little Browns will stay within the state to hibernate.  This one was found in a house and will stay at CFW until spring when it can be released.  The bat population in Maine and the northeast has suffered from White-nose Syndrome.  Bats are an important part of the ecosystem and if you do find one hiding where it doesn’t belong, give the Center for Wildlife a call.  Their link is here….

Big Brown Bat with Wing Extended.

Big Brown Bat with wing extended.


Big Brown Bat CFW

Big Brown Bat