Tuesday, December 04, 2007

John Blakeman on Squirrels and the Germ, Plus Crow Games and Fleeing Migrants.

John Blakeman explains succinctly, what the "heart" in the parlance of Wisconsin or the "germ" in more general speech, of a kernel of corn is. And just why the squirrels stick to that portion only.


Squirrels eat only the "germ" portion of a corn kernel, leaving the rest for other creatures.

The part they eat has the embryonic plant for growth after germination. It also has a moderate concentration of lipids (oils and fat) and proteins, all of which are used during seedling growth.

The rest of the kernel is mostly starch, which the squirrel doesn't need much of. The rodent wants to concentrate on packing in energy- and nutrient-dense foods. For an ear of corn, that's only in the germ, so the rest of the kernel is cast aside.

--John Blakeman

And here, an example of the field corn the Squirrels have been eating. The white tip of the kernel holds the germ, the portion the squirrels eat.

What's field corn? Field corn is the kind of corn fed to cattle or used to produce ethanol as opposed to the kind people consume undried and eat as corn-on-the-cob. That's sweet corn.

Here is an example of a squirrel consuming said field corn. Consuming it on the Cobbs-A-Twirl which unfortunately is not a twirl. At this point there are eight squirrels consuming various kinds of food in the feeding area. Tsk, tsk, the squirrels aren't sharing. Therefore, I throw a couple of handfuls of unshelled peanuts out away from the feeding area in an attempt to distract the squirrels.

And who did I catch gleaning peanuts? A Crow. She walked over and instead of flying off with a peanut in her beak or breaking it open and eating it on the spot, she somehow pushed one into her throat. Which due to its size made her neck bulge and caused her beak to gape open slightly. Then she picked up a second peanut in the tip of her beak.
At that point she saw me and flew up into one of the Maples. When I leaned and saw her a scant few seconds later, her head was behind part of the tree trunk.

Ten seconds later when her head came out and looked at me, there was no peanut in her beak. And as her beak is closed there isn't one pocketed in her throat either. She's stashed them, I think, in an old Robin's nest that is attached to branches behind that tree trunk. Therefore, when she saw me she didn't just fly off to just anywhere up the tree that was handy to get out of my view. She specifically went to that spot to immediately cache the peanuts.
After seeing that I was still watching, she went up even higher in the tree. I had to get onto all fours to get her in view again.

There she was waiting. Watching to see if I'd reappear.

She then turned, gave me a last look, and took off to the south. I opened the door, looked south, and saw her curving back east to perch across the street high in a neighbor's tree. I'm betting she waited a few minutes, then came in over the roof where I wouldn't spot her, retrieved her peanuts, and took off with them.
Crows often make food calls when they discover food. The extended family then flies in from where ever they are in the area to share in the bounty. In this case she didn't call. Was it because there weren't many peanuts or are peanuts a personal favorite and she'd decided not to let her group in on her favorite treat? Or more likely perhaps she isn't working in a communal group at the moment.
Earlier in the day when I'd gone out to refill the bird bath, I heard Chickadees making alarm calls and a squirrel whining two yards away. Then Crows started a cacophony to the west. I looked that way and there was a Red-tail hot winging it across the park with four Crows in pursuit. Half way across the park the Crows all perched in the top of a deciduous tree and continued making their racket but didn't continue the chase. Was it the invisible edge of their territory? Was there a second Red-tail waiting in the wings over there, which might have made continuing the chase dangerous?

I was too late to investigate this one, but I'll try to find out during the next interlude of Red-tail vs Crow hostilities.
I then turned back to the house, and remembered I was attempting to find ways to make the squirrels share. I marched into the house and put together a taller pole for the cylinder feeder. In the cylinder feeders case, it wasn't just that my squirrel friends weren't sharing but one of them had chewed a perch off. Bad form.

Ta da! I'm figuring that as the feeder is the same that it won't take long for the little birds to find it.
It's then I hear a goose call from the sky, then another responds, and then a group calls. Looking up I can see nothing but white. I realize that the cloud cover is remarkably dense. The geese must be calling so they can stay together. Amazing, of course, it makes perfect sense. Yesterday, Harry Studebaker, a gentleman born in the wrong time, he's a mountain man in a modern world, told me he heard Sandhills migrating through again. Flock after flock of birds, some even migrating at unusual times of day attempting to stay ahead of the oncoming weather.

It's now late enough in the day for the squirrels to have gone to their nests. The birds have the feeding area to themselves. How many Mourning Doves can you find in the above photo?

In no time, the House Finches have found the cylinder feeder and are making up for lost time.

I look out and the other birds have flushed. This little hen has stuck and looks taken aback. Or is she just leaning back looking at something?
Then I looked up as well. Wind is tossing the branches. I realized it had begun to snow, heavily, yet again

I think of the birds still in flight, their beating wings, their labored hearts, breathing in chilled air, calling to one another, trying to stay together, navigating through pure white, using everything they have, straining. Flying before the storm.
Donegal Browne

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