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home : columns : ron kuecker May 24, 2016

7/22/2014 8:24:00 PM
A big grove, dying maples and red-headed woodpeckers

Ron Kuecker
Outdoors Columnist

We called it simply Wornson's grove. It was probably the largest grove in Murray County and it was just across the road from our farm place.
It was younger brother and my biology laboratory for years. We learned about the birds and the bees there. The real kind, not the slang term.
The trees growing there were mostly big, mature silver maples and they had protected Ray Wornson's family and farm place for decades. You could probably ask long-term Windom residents Willie Metz or Steve Fresk, who grew up nearby, where Wornson's big grove was and they'd remember.
Many of the trees had begun dying or losing big branches when we moved there from Iowa. As the big branches broke off even with the trunk they left hollow knot holes behind. Those holes soon became home to squirrels, woodpeckers and small owls. Wood ducks were pretty uncommon in those days.
The squirrels were all big, bushy fox squirrels. We seldom, if ever, saw grays and the pesky red squirrel had not yet invaded southwest Minnesota from the north. Think about that for awhile global warmers.
There was usually a single great horned owl nest in those treetops and we heard the screech owls most summer nights. Hawks were less common except for occasional redtails. They were usually shot on sight because they preyed so regularly on the free ranging chickens on most farms of that era. There were certainly no Coopers or sharp-shinned hawks flying through the trees like they do now when so many have urban bird feeders.
But it was the birds we learned to know so well during our trips through that grove that I remember best, especially the red-headed woodpecker. We didn't realize it then but I do now, we actually had a colony of those red-heads.
They nested in those knot holes and usually raised four young each year. I'm guessing that grove may have produced 15 to 20 each year. We'd watch them leave their nest and begin circling the tree for a few days before they took flight. Then they'd fly with that characteristic down flight then swoop quickly upward to hook their claws into the tree trunk.
Their heads were a sort of gray/brown that first summer. They'd do their first molt that winter somewhere in the south. When they came back the next spring they had a new and beautiful red head.
But slowly they disappeared as a common bird in our area. Lost to a changing habitat of old groves to new ones. We had no desire to leave stately dead old trees stand. We cut them down or bull dozed them out, burned 'em up. No nest. No insects to feed on. No red-heads. I miss them a lot.
That's why I felt good about a week ago when friend, Ed Yonker, stopped me in the aisle at Hy-Vee. He knew of my lamentations about the red-headed woodpeckers demise. He happily said "I think I got a pair of red-headed woodpeckers in my grove." I'll be heading out there soon.
Bush did it
Bush Airport in Houston, that is. Pigeons were seen falling from the sky and an investigation found out that the airport was using Avitrol to disperse the birds.
Avitrol in sub-lethal doses causes convulsions and screaming in birds which is supposed to chase away others of their flock. Some could also die from eating too much of the pesticide-laced corn and thus fall from the sky.
Society will probably have to decide if they want too many pigeons crashing a jet full of people or a few convulsing pigeons. Novel idea in any case.
New rodenticide
The warfarin in D-Con was used to poison rats and mice for years. It caused hemorrhaging internally and was quite effective. It also could cause secondary death in the occasional animal that ate the dead mouse. Also, dogs loved it. The Humane Society came to the rescue and had it removed.
Over my career as a rural veterinarian, I treated poisoned dogs effectively with IV Vit K1 or in extreme cases a blood transfusion. There is currently no known antidote for dogs inadvertently poisoned with the new product, only supportive therapy. One step forward, two back.
Immigrant wolves
Most have now heard of the litter of five gray wolves brought to the Minnesota Zoo in Apple Valley. They were two weeks old when they were rescued from an abandoned den on the Kenai Peninsula after a forest fire.
That's a great way to handle them and we'll be able to see the pack at the zoo for many years. They were put into quarantine for 30 days to observe for and treat any disease they might have. Seems we are correctly concerned about that in animals but why not humans also?

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