ANIMALS AT THE MEEC
There are many animals in the forests, fields and ponds at the MEEC. Some are easily seen and others like to hide.
Animals leave clues showing where they live and where they have been. They make tunnels, leave tracks, eat plants and even leave fur, feathers, and skin behind. All of these things are evidence of animals. You have to be a good detective to find the clues that animals leave behind.
Owls play an important role in nature. They help to control the population of mice, rats, and rabbits, which might otherwise overrun the earth.
Owls are birds of prey. They means that they hunt for food. Birds of prey, owls, hawks, eagles and falcons are called raptors. Raptors have talons (sharp claws) on their feet for catching prey and hooked beaks for tearing it apart.
Most owls are nocturnal. This means that they are very active after dark. The nighttime makes it easier for them to hunt mice and other small animals that are also active a night. An owl's eyes are huge so that they can gather more light. An owls eyes are very similar to a humans. They can see objects in 3-D. This makes it easier for them to hunt. An owls eyes cannot turn from side to side like a humans. An owl has to turn his head to see to the side.
Owls have extremely sharp hearing. The ear openings face forward just like the eyes. They are located on the facial disc. Some people think the ear tufts (feathers on top of the head) are the owls ears! They have nothing to do with hearing. The facial disc focuses sound waves into the ears. The ear opening on the right side of the facial disc is higher than the one on the left side of the facial disc. This provides 3-D hearing for the owl.
Owls can be very small like the 5 inch elf owl or pretty big like the 2-foot tall great gray owl. Whether large or small, they all look stocky with large head and soft feathers.
Owls are content to just hang out. They are not very active unless they are hunting or feeding their young. Some owls do have strange behaviors. If a sleeping owl is disturbed during the day, it will try to pretend to be a part of the tree it is resting on. The blend almost completely into the branches fooling enemies. Another behavior appears when an owl is threatened. It will fluffy out its feathers making it look twice as big as it really is.
Has anyone every told you that "you are as busy as a beaver"? Beavers are busy most all the time. They reengineer the landscape better than any other animals. Beaver like to burrow into the banks of rivers and lakes. They can make an unsuitable habitat into a nice home by building dams and creating ponds.
Beavers are among the largest rodents. They are herbivores
or plant eaters. They dine on bark, twigs, roots and aquatic
plants. Soft bark is their favorite food; however, they will
eat poplar trees, carrots, cattails, mushrooms, potatoes, berries,
and fruit. Sometime a beaver will even sit up like your dog
and eat just like you do when you eat corn on the cob!
Beavers can swim underwater. They have very large lungs and can hold their breath for about 15 minutes. When they swim, they use their tail as a rudder. If they turn their tail to the right the beaver will go left and if they turn their tail to the left they will turn right. When beavers go under water they have special valves in their ears and nose that close and block the water. They also have an extra set of eyelids that act like goggles under the water. Beavers are very graceful in the water, but they are ungainly and waddle on the land. They have large webbed rear feet that act like swim fins. This helps them to swim up to 5 miles an hour.
A beaver's home is called a lodge. A lodge can be 10 - 20 feet around and 5 - 8 feet tall. The lodge has several doorways or entrances underwater. By putting the entrances underwater, the beavers are protected from predators. The lodge is make of sticks, logs, mud, and leaves.
Beavers protect themselves by diving under water. Humans are the main enemy of the beaver; however wolves will hunt beaver. When a beaver is on land looking for food it is in danger. Coyotes, bobcats, bears and sometimes even wild dogs will attack a beaver. Beavers are hard for an animal to kill if they can reach the water. Sometimes a beaver will even bite an enemy and drag it into the water to drown it.
Beavers communicate with a very weak voice. They also communicate by leaving a scent post. This is a small hill made of grass and mud. They then put musk-smelling oils from their castor glands on the hill. The smell attracts beavers and other animals. This scent also helps them to find a mate.
Fox squirrels in Georgia tend to live near long leaf mature
pines. Mature Piedmont and Coastal Plain pine stands with open
understories and herbaceous ground cover seem to be especially
dominated by fox squirrels.
Fox squirrels will use leaf nests (dreys) and cavity nests. Fox squirrels tend to use more leaf nests than other squirrels.
Fox squirrels usually breed in late winter and again in late summer. Not all females will raise two broods a year, however. About two or three young are born in each litter. The female raises the young squirrels. The babies are born blind and helpless. The mother cares for and feed them for 8-12 weeks. Fox squirrels usually live about 10 years in the wild. The biggest enemy of fox squirrels are snakes and raptors (owls and hawks) and even foxes and bobcats.
At the MEEC you may see several different types of ducks. In the United States there are 55 different species of ducks. In Georgia, there are two main types of ducks: dabblers and diving ducks. These two groups are very different.
Dabbling Ducks: These ducks are found in shallow water or puddles. They like to dabble or stick their head under the water to feed. Their legs are near the middle of their body. You may see them walking on the banks of the ponds or near the water. They will usually have bright colors on their wings. When they leave the water to fly away, they seem to jump, almost vertically, straight from the water.
Wood Ducks: The wood duck is the most common duck in Georgia. It likes forested wetlands, beaver ponds and the shallow ponds at the MEEC. They nest in tree cavities and in the wood nesting boxes that you will see on the ponds. After hatching, the ducklings jump down from the nest and make their way to the water. The mother duck calls them but doesn't help them in any way. The wood duck spends the winter in this area. They like to eat seeds, fruits, insects, acorns, smartweed, millet, duckweed and panic grass.
Mallard Ducks: The mallard is one of the most recognizable ducks in Georgia. They can be found from rivers to ponds to lakes to back yard ponds, and even on golf courses water hazards. The male mallard has a green head, a thin white ring around its neck, reddish chest, gray or brown back and a yellow bill. It has two dark tail feathers that curl upward. The female does not have bright colors. She has mottled brown and black feathers, a dark streak through the eyes and an orange and brown bill. The male and the female both have orange legs and feet. Mallards like to eat seed of bulrushes, pondweeds, millet, sedges, smartweeds, acorns, and crops such as corn sorghum, rice and soybeans.
Diving Ducks: Diving ducks dive underwater and use their eyes to locate their food. They can dive several feet under the water. They are better swimmers than dabbling ducks, but they cannot walk on land as easily as the dabbling ducks. When they get ready to take off and fly, the diving ducks seem to run across the top of the water before they take flight. The most common diving duck in Georgia is the ring-necked duck.
Alligators have been around for thousands of years. Alligators are the only reptiles still living that are related to dinosaurs. They have been on earth for more that 200 million years.
Alligators are cold blooded. This means that they have to depend on the sun and their surroundings for their body heat. The sun warms their body and the water cools their body.
The United States in one of two countries where the alligator is native. This means that it was not brought in from another country and raised here.
Recently alligators have found their way to the MEEC. The ponds offer a good food supply for the alligator since it is a carnivore. The alligator has between 70-80 teeth. When the teeth wear out new ones grow in. An alligator usually has between 2000-3000 teeth during its lifetime. Alligators grow from 6-12 in length and weigh around 500 pounds when fully grown. An alligator has 5 toes on its front feet and 4 toes on its back feet. The back feet are webbed to help the alligator swim.
Alligators usually hunt during the night. They like to eat fish, snakes and turtles. They do not chew their food, but swallow it whole. If the food is too big to swallow whole, the alligator with swing its head from side to side until the prey is torn into smaller pieces. Some times an alligator will attack a large dog or even a deer. They will drag the large prey into the water and try to drown it.
The female alligator lays eggs on the land. As the babies hatch, the mother picks them up with her mouth and moves them to the water. The mother is very protective of her nest and babies.
McDuffie Environmental Education Center - Connecting the Classroom to the Environment