Seasonal and climate changes bring different species

As cold weather returns to the Iowa City area, so do bald eagles. If you’re new to Iowa and you’ve never seen this magnificent bird, you will have plenty of opportunities this winter – and you won’t even have to leave campus.

The recovery of the bald eagle population is an object lesson in the importance of building a sustainable world. In the not-so-distant past, this species was in serious trouble. Loss of habitat, illegal shooting and contamination of its food source by DDT sadly drove this bird to the very brink of extinction. It was the Endangered Species Act that brought protection of its habitat, a ban on the use of DDT that reduced mortality, and a new-found respect for our national symbol that helped it recover to point where there are now nesting pairs in Iowa.

During the very cold months, eagles will be seen soaring over our campus. I’ve started noticing them the past few days. Look for their black silhouettes high in the sky. These are truly large birds and their wingspans can reach 6-7 feet. Eagles hold their wings out straight while soaring, unlike turkey vultures, which hold their wings in a V-shape. Mature bald eagles will appear dark blackish-brown and have a white head and tail, but immature birds will appear dark brown all over with mottled white patches.

The best place to see these birds on campus is around and below the Burlington Street dam. Bald eagles will typically take dead or dying prey so you can often see them sitting in trees along the river, looking for floating fish which may have been stunned by an unexpected trip over the dam. When the river is frozen, eagles will land directly on the ice. Please use proper outdoor etiquette when watching birds or any wildlife – this means you should view the birds from a distance and avoid making any loud noises. Leave your pets at home. It is now a federal offense to harrass, disturb or injure a bald eagle.

The legacy of the bald eagle is this: it is not until we understand the complex and interlocking relationships existing in our world do we fully realize the impact our actions can have. This study of connections is the very heart of sustainability.

There’s another lesson here, too. I think the story of the bald eagle shows us how strong and resilient natural systems can be when given a chance to flourish. Promoting healthy natural systems is good for all species, including us.

On another wildlife note, I read this article by Stephanie Shepherd who works in the Iowa Department of Natural Resources wildlife diversity program. If you think climate change only means more rain and hotter summers, think of its impact on wildlife. Many species are extending and changing their ranges. There are probably lots of reasons why the following is occurring but I can’t help but think climate change has a role. Many thanks to Stephanie for sharing this article:

The nine-banded armadillo (Dasypus novemcinctus)

The nine-banded armadillo (Dasypus novemcinctus)

Alien Invasion…

Not of little green men but of smallish gray mammals with body armor and a pointy snout. Since early September we have received three reports of road-killed armadillos found in scattered locations in southern Iowa; Scott, Jefferson and Montgomery Counties. Armadillo sightings in Iowa are nothing new, but there have never been so many reports in such a short time period and from such widespread locations. Before too long, it is likely that this strange little critter will become an accepted member of Iowa’s fauna.

The species of armadillo (little armored one in Spanish) found in North America is the nine-banded (Dasypus novemcinctus) and its original range in this country was the South Central U.S. Its range has been rapidly expanding over the last several years however and it has also been seen in Illinois and Nebraska. Its habit of jumping straight up in the air when surprised often has the unfortunate result of a collision with the fender or undercarriage of a vehicle which is why most armadillos reported to us are road kill.

By: Stephanie Shepherd
Iowa DNR Wildlife Diversity Program
Boone Wildlife Research Station

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