Snakes, birds: an update

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Wild Turkeys now occur in every county in the state, and Alabama has more than any other southeastern state. Estimated number: 450,000.
But according to authorities, this number is 20 percent less than occurred five years ago. Wildlife biologist Ray Metzler with the State Department of Conservation and Natural Resources says the department is cooperating with Auburn biologists in an effort to determine why the decline has occurred. Speculations center around habitat loss, predation and even weather as contributing factors.
In a recent column I mentioned the possibility that deer may be adversely affecting ground-nesting birds. They have been observed eating quail eggs. Another potential predator that caught my attention is the gray rat snake.
Two weeks ago, Janie exclaimed, “Bob, Sally (one of our dogs) is attacking a snake in the yard!” The snake was a large gray rat snake, and Sally had bitten the snake, piercing its body cavity. From the inch-long incision, a yellowish substance was exuding. I picked up the snake and put it in a pillowcase. The next morning the snake was alive and had regurgitated fragments of eggshells and what appeared to be remnants of eggs.
Initially I thought the snake might have raided a hen house, but no one in the vicinity has chickens. After careful consideration, I concluded that the snake had  swallowed eggs of wild turkeys.
I doubt that, as scarce as they are, gray rat snakes are a major threat to turkeys.
Speaking of snakes, almost all have emerged from hibernation. One of my dogs had a confrontation with a venomous snake and was bitten on her jaw. I assume that the snake was a small copperhead. I hope the bite taught her to avoid close encounters with venomous snakes.
Phenology is a branch of science dealing with the relations between climate and periodic phenomena, such as bird migration and plant flowering. I’ve always been interested in phenology, especially as it pertains to frogs and birds. At present, loud choruses of Fowler’s toads and green treefrogs are emanating from the pond next to my house. It’s almost as if each is trying to drown out the other. Bullfrogs and leopard frogs are just now beginning to call.
During daylight hours, I sit on my deck for about an hour each morning and again in late afternoon. I watch a pair of Bluebirds taking turns incubating their eggs in a box on a pier post and a Phoebe flying back and forth from its nest under the pier. Tufted Titmice and Chickadees eat seeds from a feeder, and a pair of hummingbirds sip sugar-water from their feeder. A Carolina Wren has constructed its nest in a cabinet on the deck and pays no attention to me seated only a few feet away.
Other than those mentioned above, the calls of Cardinals, Crows, Blue Jays and a few woodpeckers are the major contributors to the aural ambience.
I look forward to hearing at least one Chuck-Wills-Widow, if one shows up. When we first moved here, several serenaded me each evening. A few years later, there were four, then three, and now only one. The decline of these birds and their first cousins, Whip-Poor-Wills, is enough to bring tears to my eyes.
Crows now have babies in their nests. I know because I saw a crow carrying something white in its mouth. Baby crows’ poop is extruded in an envelope, which is carried away by the parent. Crows are fastidious about keeping their nests clean.
I have yet to hear or see Great Crested Flycatchers, Eastern Kingbirds or Yellow-billed Cuckoos. They tend to be late arrivals, and they will probably be back in another week or so.
The beautiful Northern Parula Warblers are back. They prefer strands of Spanish moss to nest in. One was calling this afternoon, and I hope these birds will choose to nest in the Spanish  moss I have provided, as they have in each of the past five years.
Remember to clean your hummingbird feeders and supply sugar-water for the little fellas. One part sugar dissolved in four parts of water.
Stay tuned.
Bob Mount is a Professor Emeritus with the Department of Zoology and Entomology at Auburn University. He is also chairman of the Opelika Order of Geezers, well-known local think tank and political clearing house. He writes about birds, snakes, turtles, bugs and other assorted conservation topics.

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