One of Nature’s Mysteries to Solve

Hey there!

Here’s a good one for you–

What’s this mulch doing at the bottom of a tree in the woods?

I’ll check back in later!


Several of our readers guess correctly:

These chips fell from the tree as a Pileated Woodpecker chipped away at the tree. And how do we know it was a Pileated? Well, we saw him, but also the holes are squares, which is how a Pileated makes them.

This tree is skinny, so the woodpecker was after the wood-boring grubs in the tree, not trying to make a nesting cavity.


One of Nature’s Mysteries to Solve

Hey there!

Our mystery today comes to us from regular reader, Connie. Thanks, Connie!

Mystery #179

Yes, it’s those little blobs, about the size of a small acorn.

I’ll check back later for your guesses, but if you’d like a hint, scroll down:


Hint: Connie found these on her pontoon boat.


One brave reader guessed that these particles were the stuffing from the boat. No, but that was our first guess, too! No mice or insects were burrowing inside. This was deposited on the boat and appears nearly every morning, Connie tells us.

And every morning someone visits the boat.

Great Blue Heron on Lake Audubon Paul Hartke 2016

If the light is a bit too dim for you, here’s another photo.

Great Blue Heron on Lake Audubon

That’s a Great Blue Heron. A very old one, we believe, because his beard–the feathers trailing from his neck–is full. Now we squirrels had heard of owls regurgitating pellets of fur and bones after they eat, but not herons, so we did a bit of research. Turns out herons do as well, and it’s called “casting.”

fish bones in a Great Blue Heron casting

fish bones in a Great Blue Heron casting

If you look closely, this deposit, or regurgitation, contains small fish bones and scales!

Herons also have a throat pouch. When they have young in the nest, they swallow a fish or two and carry them back to the nest and regurgitate them for the young birds. Young birds might do the same if a predator attacks their nest to frighten it away.

Want to learn more about Great Blue Herons? The Cornell Lab of Ornithology has a camera on a heron nest and answers many questions about these birds on their Bird Cam FAQ website.

Pokeweed, leave it or weed it?

American Pokeweed

The berries of American Pokeweed, Phytolacca americana, are poisonous. And oh-so tempting to you humans, especially when they are in full ripeness –and at their most toxic!–this time of year.

Pokeweed in late summer

The plant is big and weedy and produces many berries. No wonder it can take over a farmer’s field!

Yet there are birds who will eat them with no harmful effects, like the Northern Cardinal, Northern Mockingbird, Gray catbird and Brown Thrasher.


Eastern Bluebird fledgling

The fledgling Eastern Bluebirds returned with their parents to our reader friend’s yard. Here are the photos she’s sent of them feeding!

Eastern Bluebird and flegdling

Eastern Bluebird gathering mealworms

The human reader have put out mealworms for the bluebirds. The parents have been regularly collecting them.

Eastern Bluebird feeding fledgling

Eastern Bluebird fledgling

Those little spotted birds are something to see, aren’t they?

One of Nature’s Mysteries to Solve

Hey there!

As we said earlier this week, the bird feeders are seeing some action.

Mystery #152

Recognize this fellow? Give us a guess who he is in the comments.

I–your mystery host, Hickory–will check back later!


We had a correct guess today! The Indigo Buntings have made their annual migration north to our area–in fact, to all of eastern North America–for the summer. They do eat mainly insects in the summer, but with a big bill like that you know they also eat seeds, so can be found hanging out at your feeder–especially if you put out thistle seeds!

Here in eastern North America, we have a few birds that are blue: Indigo Bunting and Eastern Bluebird are about the same size–the size of a House Sparrow. Two larger birds are the Blue Grosbeak–also almost all blue–and the Blue Jay, which is a lighter gray and blue.

Some of you humans might have guessed Eastern Bluebird, so here’s a male Eastern Bluebird for comparison:

Eastern Bluebird male

I usually post another photo of the mystery, so please don’t get confused. This is not the Indigo Bunting! To tell it’s a bluebird, look for the red belly. He also has a thinner bill.

Like the male bluebird, the male Indigo Bunting is bright blue–but on both the back and the belly. The female Indigo Bunting is much harder to spot because she is brown and similar to a House Sparrow. This helps her hide on a nest. We’ll let you humans check The Cornell Lab of Ornithology Indigo Bunting page for more photos to help tell these birds apart.

It’s fun to spot a different bird, but unlike flowers, they don’t stay still. Your eye has to go to the body parts to help identify them before they fly off!

Still bird feeding time

The flowers are blooming, but few have produced seed, and not really the seed many of us like.

Rose-breasted Grosbeak male

So keep those backyard feeders filled! Both the birds and we squirrels will keep visiting!

But, maybe not at the same time–did ya notice that seed-cracking bill on this male Rose-breasted Grosbeak?