Spring has finally sprung… for muskrats

Spring has arrived, muskrats are on the move. This muskrat was seen walking across the Nordic Ski Club parking lot on Feb. 2.

Muskrats spend most of their lives in water where their waterproof fur, paddle-like hind feet and flattened, furless tail acting as a rudder, are important assets. They can remain under water for a little over three minutes at a time. Muskrats feed upon pond weeds and other plants, as well as insects, frogs, and fish with cattails being their most favourite food. In winter they build ‘push-ups’ by chewing through the ice and creating a house of frozen vegetation to use as feeding and resting stations.

Rather than building a house, muskrats often burrow into the bank of a lake or stream and construct a bank den with many entrances below the water level. The den may have several chambers in which a number of muskrats may live. Occasionally overcrowding occurs and one or more of the young are driven away which is perhaps what happened to the one in this photo.

The behaviour of some animals is often similar to that of humans. Remember the days when you were young and went to large gatherings to have some fun or perhaps to just meet someone of the opposite sex. When ravens flock to a frozen carcass of an animal exposed as the snow melts, the juvenile ravens often find their mates among the crowd. Once paired up, the mating ritual begins. The ravens fly across the sky, swooping and twisting where after a few rolls, they plummet to the earth only to swoop up and repeat the whole performance. Thereafter a nest is soon built and a new generation begins.

The Canada jay also known as the gray jay or whiskey jack is another early nester. In late February or early March a nest of twigs, moss, feathers and fur is built making it very well insulated to help keep the eggs and nestlings warm during the cooler temperatures common at this time. Since the female remains on the nest for 17 to 22 days and never leaves the nest until the young are fledged, the male and juvenile birds bring food to her. Much of this food has already been gathered during the previous fall and winter by the two adults and their juvenile offspring from that spring. The food was glued to tree trunks by a sticky mucous produced from the specialized salivary glands of these birds and is now awaiting consumption.

The Rainy River Valley Field Naturalists would like to send a special thank you to Mrs. Bonner Vickers’ Grade 8 class for painting birdhouses this year. They will be used this spring in the establishment of a new “birdhouse trail” for bluebirds and tree swallows in an area north of Devlin. More on that next time.