‘Small Axe’

The tufted puffin is a familiar bird on the Russian and U.S. Pacific coasts. In Russia it is known as ‘toporok’ meaning “small axe.”

Mature, breeding adult Tufted Puffin
(royalty free Unsplash)

Not only is this a nod to the shape of the bill but also to one of the main breeding sites, Kamen Toporkov (“Tufted Puffin Rock”) which is an islet offshore Bering Island.

Local Finds

We don’t have to go to Russia to see them as they are also found in our backyards (so to speak). This recognizable seabird nests on Oregon headland such as Cape Mears, Cape Lookout, Cape Foulweather, Yaquina Head, and further north at Three Arch Rocks.

Recognizing

The large triangular red-orange bill is definitely unique and is most visible on breeding adults during the summer reproductive season. The birds also develop a distinct white face with long cream-colored facial plumes and red feet.

The colorful breeding plumage and bill plates molt-off in the winter as the bird moves offshore to feed. The bird appears predominantly black similar to immature or non-breeding puffins. The body length is approximately 15-inches.

Nesting

Puffins, murres, and auklets are oceanic birds that live predominantly in the water. They only come to land to nest. Puffins gather on in dense breeding colonies often on treeless islands far out in the ocean.

They prefer offshore treeless islands and steep cliffs offer protection from mammal predators and may choose islands that are not in sight of land.

The ideal nesting site would be close to food, have relatively soft soil and grass to dig and build nesting burrows, and have a high enough elevation and steep drop offs that help the bird take flight.  

Puffin in burrow (royalty free from Unsplash)

Breeding Range and Habitat

The Puffin breeding range extends from British Columbia throughout the southeastern Alaska, Aleutian Islands, Kuri Island, and Japan. Puffins will also breed on Russia’s Kamchatka peninsula which has some of the worlds largest brown and rainbow trout.  

Nesting can occur as far south as the northern Channel Islands, off southern California (sightings have not occurred since 1997.

Flight and Forage

The wings are relatively short (a span of about 25-inches) and adapted for diving and swimming. These birds cannot gliding but can fly long and fast using strong breast muscles and a strenuous wing-beat cadence.

Wings are used to ‘fly’ through the water, tail spread to steer, streamlined body with feet back make the puffin a formable underwater hunter. The puffin often forages by surface diving and rapid swimming through schools of small fish and marine invertebrates.

The large axe-like bill can catch large quantities of food at one time. The bills also facilitate transporting food back to chicks.

Diet

Diet will vary greatly by age, location, and availability. Colony nestlings are more dependent on invertebrates. Adult birds also depend on invertebrates such a squid and krill. Puffins also feed, to some extent, on ocean floor species.   

Predators

Tufted puffin avian predators include Snowy owl, Bald eagles, and Peregrine falcons; gulls and ravens will scavenge eggs. Artic foxes prefer puffins over other birds.

A mass puffin die-off, attributed to climate change, occurred on St. Paul Island, Alaska between October 2016 and January 2017.

In the past, the Aleut and Ainu people hunted the Tufted Puffin for food and feathers. They used the skins to make parkas, and the feathers in ornamental work. Harvesting of tufted puffins is illegal or discouraged today.

Mature breeding adult, showing white belly feathers (royalty free from Unsplash)

REFERENCES:
–Oregon Dept. of Fish and Wildlife, Murres, Auklets and Puffins (https://myodfw.com/wildlife-viewing/species/murres-auklets-and-puffins)
–All About Birds, Puffins (https://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/Tufted_Puffin/id)
–Wikipedia, Tufted Puffins (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tufted_puffin)
–Audubon Field Guide (https://www.audubon.org/field-guide/bird/tufted-puffin)

Make like a raccoon

Raccoon, courtesy of ODFW.

Wash your hands. Wear your mask.
Be a bit mischievous and very curious.
Try to avoid being a nuisance and trickster, and
Culture a woeful “I really am cute” look.

You may have had one of these critters in your back deck, looking for treats. We had a family of five. Cute, but not cute enough to feed.

Raccoons can be large with a length up to 28-inches and weigh nearly 60 lbs. The most distinctive features are the ringed tail, facial mask, and front paws.

A dense underfur protects the raccoon against cold weather. The hind legs are longer than the front, giving the animal a high rump walking gait.

Habitat

Raccoons look for permanent water resources and large trees and can live almost anywhere in Oregon where those two elements are found. Some of your neighbors may claim that there are more Raccoons in the neighborhood than human residents.

They will often den in a hollowed-out tree. But they will also den in storage buildings, basements, attics, chimneys, and more.

Needless to say, they have adapted well to human settlements and are known for creating a fair amount of damage. Around 1,500 raccoons were imported as pets each year in Japan after the wild success of “Rascal the Raccoon” in 1977. It is estimated that these ‘pets’ caused over 30 million yen of agricultural damage on Hokkaido alone.

Raccoon in bird feeder (royalty free Unsplash)

Foraging

Raccoons have extremely dexterous front paws and long fingers that help them unscrew jars, uncork bottles, open door latches and knobs, and even complex locks.

These furry mammals forage night—it makes it easier to get into a garbage can unseen. They will also raid bird feeders, eat seemingly abandoned pet food, downed fruit and veggies, and more.

Aquatic foods are, however, their favorite. They prefer to eat invertebrates, but will eat plants, vertebrates, and stale dog food any day.

When foraging in streams, they will pick up a potential food item, examine it, and rub off unwanted parts in the water. It looks like they are washing their food (they are not).

But they are cute

Raccoons are generally not pets. With good reason. They can and frequently will create a great deal of problems if one starts feeding or housing them.

They are moody, carry a grudge, and remember details. Their emotional outbursts can lead to aggressive behavior towards pets and human owners (even if they were not involved). Their mischievous behavior often results in extensive property damage.  

Raccoon under dog bowl sleeping (royalty free Unsplash)

Pet or Pest?

It is legal in some states to keep a raccoon as a pet. This practice is not recommended by most for a number of reasons. Human-created foods, such as canned pet food, can be very harmful to a raccoon (obesity and gout), and cow’s milk will harm the kits.

As adults, raccoons can show aggressive behavior when their mobility is impaired, when they feel threatened, or when they are moody. They are unpredictable and resist learning commands used with more common pets.

There are exceptions however. US President Calvin Coolidge had a pet raccoon named ‘Rebecca.’ Rebecca had been sent to the White House from Mississippi for their 1926 Thanksgiving dinner. Instead she became the “White House Raccoon” that was known to unscrew lightbulbs, open cabinets, unpot houseplants, and walk outside on a leash.

Rabies

There are other reasons to not keep raccoons as pets. Raccoons make up nearly 30 percent of all rabies cases in the United States and can carry zoonic parasites and infectious diseases that can spread to humans and pets.

Did I mention that they bite?

These guys are smart and their bites seem to be targeted to cause the greatest pain over the longest time. One scuffle with our pet dog resulted in over 40 bites to her front leg and paw joints. Brutal and never forgotten by the dog or my pocket book.  

REFERENCES:
–Oregon Dept of Fish and Wildlife, Common raccoon (https://myodfw.com/wildlife-viewing/species/common-raccoon) and Living With Raccoons  (https://www.dfw.state.or.us/wildlife/living_with/raccoon.asp)
–Critter Control, Why raccoons are considered pets and not pets.com Racoons (https://www.crittercontrol.com/wildlife/raccoons/why-raccoons-are-considered-pests-and-not-pets-c
–Wikipedia, Raccoons (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Raccoon) and Rebecca (raccoon) (…wiki/Rebecca_(raccoon)).

What animal can be found in almost every state, and in northern Canada to southern Mexico?

A Deer Mouse

The deer mouse occurs as part of essentially all communities in North America below the treeline (high mountainous areas where trees do not grow). It has the broadest distribution of any species within the genus.   

Photo by David Cappaert, Michigan State University, Bugwood.org

Characteristics

You may not see it in the wild very often. Why? Because it is active at night and a rather small mouse-like rodent.

You may however, see it in a research lab. Deer mice are used because they are easy to care for and keep themselves clean.

This mouse is only three to four inches full grown with a multicolored tail that may be four to five inches long. The colorings, tail length, and markings vary widely with the soft fur color ranging from brown to black. The white underside and feet are consistent. The mouse got the name “deer” because its color pattern was similar to that of a white-tailed deer.

Nesting

During the day the species spends a lot of time in trees a common nest location. They are excellent climbers and swimmers. They will also build soil burrows, use rock crevices, and a variety of other locations for their nests.

Nests are created using grasses, roots, mosses, wool, thistledown, etc.  They are often communal. Deer mouse litters are kept in separate, away from the communal nest.

These mice often stay in their original home range to reproduce. They are social, and will recognize and interact with mice that have overlapping ranges. Communications are chemical, visual, and vocal (such as shrieks, squeaks, trills, and drumming out a warning.

OCD-like Behavior

Movement is usually on foot walking or running. They will also leap when threatened. Limited movement leads to intrafamilial mating and limited gene flow within a range.

This may contribute to OCD-like behaviors that become evident by two months old. One behavior is creating overly large nests in the lab when not necessary.

Reproduction

This rodent reproduces profusely compared to other species and even to local mammals. Food availability, rather than season, will determined breeding opportunities.

It is not uncommon for female deer mice to have three or more litters per year. Captive deer mice have had as many as 14 litters in one year.

Mice reach adulthood at six weeks.

Diet

Deer mice are omnivores and will change their eating habits based on the season. This rodent heavily consumes arthropods such as spiders and caterpillars in the winter with seeds, insects in the spring, seeds, fruits, and leaves in the summer. They will also consume fungi.

Deer mice hoard their food and will store up to one pint of food in ground holes, tree cavities, and nests.

Predators

They are prey for almost everything like larger mammals, snakes, domestic pets, and birds. Deer mice are can carry viruses.

Disease Carrier

One particular virus to note is the Hanta. These rodents can carry the airborne hantavirus. Hanta can be passed to humans during clean up operations and through contaminated food.

Minimize the Risk

To minimize these rodents minimize potential nesting locations such as rock piles, firewood, and vegetation (especially vines connecting trees to attics) before cold weather hits. Close up any openings to your home. Get some help eradicating an infection.      

REFERENCES:
–Oregon Dept. of Fish and Wildlife, Deer Mouse (https://myodfw.com/wildlife-viewing/species/deer-mouse)
–USDA Forest Service, Fire Effects Information System (FEIS) (https://www.fs.fed.us/database/feis/animals/mammal/pema/all.html)
–(Wikipedia, Peromyscus maniculatus (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Peromyscus_maniculatus)
–Orkin, Deer Mice (https://www.orkin.com/rodents/mouse-control/deer-mice)
–Animalia, Deer Mouse (http://animalia.bio/deer-mouse)