Tuesday, December 3, 2013

December Phenology

Phenology - the scientific study of periodic biological phenomena

Red squirrel drey
When winter weather is cold and wet with icy winds, squirrels will gather in their leafy dreys nestled high in tree forks; this is to conserve energy. Yet late December brings mating season when males can be seen chasing females, as well as chasing off other suitors. This ritual of chasing, occurs through the trees at top speed, performing some of the most breathtaking acrobatics imaginable.

Christmas Fern is the largest of the evergreen ferns in our region.  Snow may flatten its fronds to the ground, but once the snow melts, the Christmas Fern will reappear in all its green glory.


Barred Owl- Wikimedia

Barred Owls call "Who - Who cooks for you - who cooks for you all?"
Courtship begins in early December and although owls are more elusive to see at this time, their courtship “hoots” can be heard.  Two to four eggs will be laid in hollow trees or hawk nests in February or March.

Great Horned Owl- Greg Hume

Great Horned Owls courtship "hoots" can also be heard beginning in early December.  Listen for 
"Hoo   Hoo-hoo    Hoo-hoo." After mating they will adopt an unused hawk or eagle nest and lay one to six eggs in January or February.

Shelf or Bracket Fungi that grows on trees, stumps and fallen logs are very much part of the winter scene as they are very obvious and attractive when the foliage is off deciduous plants.  Look for the various colors of tan, brown, pink and rust found on the top surfaces.
White crowned sparrow- Wikipedia
Dark-eyed Junco MDC

Don't forget to stock up on bird food.  Winter is when the insects and fruits get scarce and nutrition is important for overwintering species.  All the usual suspects will show up at the feeder but be on the lookout for some winter species.  Dark-eyed juncos return, not dramatic in color but they make it up in "cuteness." You might also spot a white throated sparrow, visiting for a Christmas vacation.  They breed in Canada and come to "snowbird" in Missouri.

Thanks to Tana Pulles for putting together the December Phenology


  1. Nice post, Tana! I didn't know that about the owls, though it makes sense given their early hatching. (Also, that bottom-right bird is a White-crowned sparrow.)

  2. Thanks for correcting the typo- my error, not Tana's