Wildlife Articles

Life’s web in a chipmunk’s cheek

Article written by Bobby Schopler for Chapel Hill News. Schopler is the founder of Piedmont Wildlife Center, and veterinarian at Duke Lemur Center.

The more I learn about any one life form, the more impressed I am with the interrelations between all life forms. Take, for example, chipmunks. You may know that they transport food to their burrows in their voluminous cheek pouches. This makes them really cute to watch but there is much more to the story.  These small rodents eat a wide variety of foods including seeds, nuts, fruit, insects and fungi.  When they bring these items back to their woodland burrows to cache for the winter they end up “planting” some of the seeds inadvertently. They also supply fungi to the roots of trees allowing them to better fix nitrogen and grow better! Thus, the chipmunk can actually improve the health of area trees, while planting future trees and seed or fruit-bearing plants. For the favor, some of the plant seeds, nuts and berries go to feed the chipmunk and their offspring. Of course, their numbers are carefully balanced by predators – snakes, birds and small carnivores. This fascinating interrelationship makes the fabric of life as we know it!


Black bears hibernate in an unusual way

Excerpt from an article in The News & Observer by Thomas H. Maugh II

February 28, 2011

Black bears have a method of hibernation previously unobserved in any mammal, researchers say.

Although their body temperature drops only about 10 degrees Fahrenheit, their metabolism falls by more than 75 percent and allows them to sleep through the winter, researchers reported in the journal Science.

Typically, hibernating mammals lower their metabolism by about 50 percent for every 18-degree drop in body temperature. The bears, however, lower their metabolism 75 percent with only a 10-degree drop.

When the bears emerged in mid-April, their body temperatures returned to normal, but their metabolism remained at only about 50 percent of normal for nearly a month before returning to summertime levels. If researchers could figure out how to trigger the conditions in humans, experts said, it would provide a good way to preserve life following accidents or a medical emergency. In the longer term, it might make it easier for humans to endure long voyages in space.

Read the rest of the article here.

Bald Eagles Get Wild on NCSU Web Cam

Excerpt from an article in The News & Observer by Katelyn Ferral

Nesting bald eagles are nothing new to the Triangle, but this year one eagle couple has a much bigger audience as they raise two chicks on Jordan Lake.

A camera mounted above their nest provides streaming online video of the family’s activities, giving viewers an inside look as the parents take turns keeping the chicks warm and bringing in freshly caught fish.

The eaglets hatched this month, and the website has received tens of thousands of hits and about 1,500 visitors from more than a dozen countries since it was put up in December. The chicks should remain on the nest until they fully develop in mid-April.

To view the web cam Click Here

Quicktime plug-in required.

Crossing paths: Our wildlife neighbors leave more than footprints behind

Excerpt from an Article in the Chapel Hill Newspaper, Also published in the Durham News

Jan 31, 2010 By Deborah R. Meyer

A jar containing bird feathers. Field guides illustrating wildlife, their tracks and scats. An album filled with fur samples including rabbit, rat, and skunk.

These are some of the tools that educators use when teaching the skill of wildlife tracking. Sarah Haggerty, an educator at Piedmont Wildlife Center, said tracking greatly enhances an understanding of the natural world and strengthens our connection to it.

“Tracking unlocks a story in the land,” Haggerty said.

Gumby Montgomery, another educator at the center, said many first-time students think tracking is all about animal footprints. “But it is a state of mind,” Montgomery said. “You use your senses as acutely as you can and when you think you are exhausted, push further.”

“The majority of our teaching happens outside,” added Haggerty. “That is where the real art of tracking comes alive.”

So we left the center’s classroom and headed to a scent station, essentially a large sandbox in the woods, that Montgomery built to observe animal tracks.

To collect tracks someone smoothes out the sand, puts peanut butter coated sticks upright in it, and then the next day examines the marks left by visitors.

“One of the things that we say is that everything is a track. It means understanding that everything you see, hear, and smell is participating in telling you a story,” Haggerty said. “All the animals that have come through have left signs of themselves and we can interpret and read them. The more you get into it the more you can see things that are invisible.”

In the box and in the woods around the center, the pair has seen tracks from raccoons, coyotes, gray foxes, skunks, deer, mice, squirrels, and rarely, bobcats.

Next, we head down Leigh Farm Road toward an office development next to the center’s property near the junction of Interstate 40 and N.C. 54. There an expanse of cleared, undeveloped land edged by woods is a natural classroom.

“One of the coolest things to find when we hold camps is a kill site,” Montgomery said.

If a bird has been killed, the educators collect feathers to look for predators’ marks. Mammals and birds can leave different marks. and these clues provide yet another way of narrowing down the story that unfolded.

Jon Young, founder of the Wilderness Awareness School in Washington states and wildlife specialist Mark Elbroch have inspired Haggerty and Montgomery, but “the animals are our teachers,” Haggerty said.