Your pet may not be safe in the great outdoors

As we encroach on wild places, wild animals will see our pets as a food source

Your pet may not be safe in the great outdoorsOur pets are such an important part of our lives – loyal and forgiving – but there’s danger out there, even in your garden! Lots of things are trying to eat, infect or nibble on pets. It’s not possible to list everything that might hurt your pet in this column, but here are a few…

The elegant and essential cones of coniferous trees

Many birds explore the nooks and crannies of these seed-bearing pods as they try to pry the seeds loose or find minute insects

The elegant and essential cones of coniferous treesAs we welcome spring, we see the remnants of pine and spruce cones previously covered by snow. Few of us think about how important these cones are to the floral and faunal communities – as food and to ensure the next generation of trees is born. Many species of coniferous trees produce cones – pines,…

How we can keep birds from crashing into windows and dying

Bird Safe Buildings Across Canada and other organizations are working hard to encourage building owners to take bird-saving measures

How we can keep birds from crashing into windows and dyingEver since European settlers occupied North America, our influences on avian populations have varied between positive and devastatingly negative. I would love to just write about the good stuff, but an important issue needs to be discussed: windows and how they can be deadly to birds. A new grassroots organization has been founded by a…

Why birds sing before winter weather breaks

Many species court and breed in the dead of winter

Why birds sing before winter weather breaksWe may sometimes feel as if we’re still locked in the dead of winter, but to birds, mammals, insects and even plants, things are changing. Faithful readers will recall how I recently explained that my trees were getting ‘fat,’ as the buds enlarge in anticipation of spring. But they’re not alone in their rush towards…

Differentiating truth from myth about snowflakes

Marvel at these seemingly simple structures that rely on all the forces of nature for their beauty

Differentiating truth from myth about snowflakesAs I grow older, I like the cold less and less. I still love winter, but I wish it was warmer – wait, isn’t that summer? My favourite part of winter is when it snows – I never cease to marvel at the tiny flakes drifting down to earth, covering everything in a white blanket.…

Are owls wise, all-seeing and good luck – or harbingers of calamity?

One superstition about owls had it that making a potion from the ash of owl eggs improved vision

Are owls wise, all-seeing and good luck – or harbingers of calamity?Folklore abounds with superstition related to owls. I thought it might be fun to share some superstitions I’ve gleaned about owls, since this is the best time of year to see them. These nocturnal creatures often appear in horror films since tufts of feathers on the top of some owls’ heads give them the appearance…

Strange weather, stranger words to describe it

In the odds and sods category, hunch weather is windy and drizzly, so much so that one has to hunch over just to walk

Strange weather, stranger words to describe itYou’ll recall I talked last column about some unusual words to describe weather phenomena. I thought I could share some more I’ve discovered. Storm chasers will know that derechos are winds that strike in straight lines and often accompany thunderstorms. The damage they cause is from a downdraft where the winds rush toward the ground,…

Strange weather and the words we use to describe it

Some arise from folklore, some carry historical inferences and others are the result of superstition

Strange weather and the words we use to describe itThe media has created some of its own climate words and sometimes uses superlatives somewhat carelessly – worst storm ever, highest rainfall ever, greatest flood ever. And what the heck is a polar vortex? A Washington Post readers’ poll coined the word snowmageddon but it has no meaning in meteorological terms. Yet it’s used by…

Do reptiles and amphibians actually hibernate during winter?

No. Instead, they go through brumation and remain mostly conscious and are sometimes even active

Do reptiles and amphibians actually hibernate during winter?Man, it’s cold out there! I wonder where the snakes and turtles are? They can’t migrate so they must be here somewhere. Reptiles such as turtles, lizards and snakes, like so many other animals, have to survive our cold, long winters. Generally, they go underwater or underground and hibernate … or do they? They do…

Bird bullies are just protecting their resources

Sometimes we see smaller birds apparently bullying larger birds of prey. Here is why

Bird bullies are just protecting their resourcesWhen birds bully others of their own or other species, there are no malevolent feelings involved as is often the case with humans. Bullying is defined as “using superior strength or influence to intimidate, typically by force.” In essence, this is exactly what happens in nature on a very regular basis. Protection or retention of…
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