Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Love is in the Air

It's mid-February, near Valentine's Day, and love is in the air. Literally. Many animals are anticipating or are in the midst of their breeding seasons right now, and they are advertising it through air with sound and scent. You've probably heard a few eager chickadees singing their "hey sweetie" love songs despite below-zero temps. They won't breed until April, but it doesn't hurt to get a head start impressing the ladies, right?

If you have owls near your home you may be hearing their eerie calls more often. Great horned owls and barred owls both mate this time of year, and are calling back and forth to communicate both with potential mates and potential competitors. One of the great horned owls' prey species, the wild turkey, has also been noticed strutting to impress the ladies recently.

Wolves have already been thinking amorous thoughts for a month or so. You may have heard them howling along with the owls. Within a pack, typically only the top male and the top female (the alpha pair) mate. They will announce their intentions with a "paired RLU." This is where the male initiates raised leg urination (RLU) to leave a scent mark, and the female then urinates next to his. If the female is in estrus, you may see a few drops of blood on the snow.

Bobcats are typically a solitary species, but this time of year the males and females will strike a tentative truce for mating season. Males and females will increase their scent marking behavior, which may help them learn about potential mates, and find each other when the time is right.

Two of the bobcats' favorite prey species, gray squirrels and red squirrels, are also starting to feel amorous. You may have noticed that the squirrels have been extremely active recently. Their mating rituals begin with a chase, as up to ten males compete for one female. Their arboreal acrobatics can be quite entertaining. Male squirrels can smell when a female is in estrus and ready to mate. This is a useful skill, since she is only fertile for one day.

Often in mid-winter I will notice little splotches of red in the squirrel tracks around my bird feeder. I haven't been able to find any information relating directly to this, but my guess is that it's a sign that a female is in proestrus, and, just like the wolf, is leaking a little blood. As spring keeps peeking at us from around the corner, we will continue to see even more amorous behavior in the woods.

What are your plans for Valentine's Day? Perhaps you will consider wooing your date with a sweet song or a designer perfume!

For over 44 years, the Museum has served as a guide and mentor to generations of visitors and residents interested in learning to better appreciate and care for the extraordinary natural resources of the region. The Museum invites you to visit its facility in Cable at 13470 County Highway M. The new exhibit, The Joy of Birds: Feathers in Focus opened in May, 2011. Find us on the web at to learn more about our exhibits and programs. Also discover us on Facebook, or at our blogspot,

No comments:

Post a Comment