While riding in the Florida Horse Park on a daily basis there is ample opportunity to see the many species of wildlife that either reside in the park or visit the park while migrating. These are the few species that have been sighted within the Florida Horse Park during horseback rides. Several of these birds, reptiles, and animals are on the endangered species list. The Florida Horse Park offers a rare opportunity to view these animals in their natural habitat.
Great Horned Owl
2 1/2-3 1/2 pounds
There are about ten different subspecies of Great Horned Owls in its present range, and they vary in size and color; however, the general appearance of each race is similar. In the New World, only the Great Gray Owl and the Snowy Owl are larger.
The Great Horned Owl is characterized by large ear tufts, yellow eyes, an owl’s facial disk, a lack of a visible neck, and feathers down to the talons. As with most birds of prey, the females are larger in size.
Plumage varies from very dark in the Pacific Northwest to very pale in the Arctic. A typical adult is mottled gray-brown above, buff below, barred dark brown, with a tawny face and a distinctive white throat patch. Juvenile or immature owls are similar to adults but have a lighter or more rufous color until they mature. Their ear tufts are smaller and the white throat patch is less distinctive.
The Great Horned Owl is a bird of the New World and has a present range that covers both North and South America from the Arctic to the Straits of Magellan.
Habitats vary from woodlands to open country, urban parks to semi-deserts. They also live from low altitudes to below the timberline high in the mountains.
The Great Horned Owl is a non-migratory bird.
Sherman's Fox Squirrel
The fox squirrel (Sciurus niger) weighs from one to three pounds, and exhibit color variations which range from a buff color to gray, and in some instances black. The under parts are usually lighter, and typical specimens have white noses and ears with black faces and feet. They are noted for their long, bushy tails and for their strong hind legs which allows them to leap easily from place to place. The skull of the fox squirrel has 20 teeth: gray squirrels have 22 teeth. The fox squirrel probably was named after the fox because of its comparatively large size and peculiar way of running along the ground which gives the appearance of a small fox.
The fox squirrel may be found throughout Florida in open woods, pine and cypress stands, and mangrove swamps, but they are protected from hunting throughout the state. Of the three subspecies found in Florida, two are listed as protected species. Sherman's Fox Squirrel, Sciurus niger shermani, a species of special concern, is found in the open piney woods of central and Northeastern Florida. The Big Cypress Fox Squirrel Sciurus niger avicennia, a threatened species is found from the Everglades region, in Lee county, to the southern part of Dade county. Fox squirrels in the western panhandle belong to a less vulnerable, more widespread subspecies.
Mating occurs in late winter and midsummer, and young are usually born in late winter/early spring and in the summer.. Females breed when they are about one year old and produce one litter a year. Gestation (the period in which offspring are carried in the uterus) is approximately 44 days, and litter size may vary from one to five, but usually two or three. Young are weaned at two to three months.
The diet of the fox squirrel consists primarily of plant material such as nuts, seeds, fungi, fruit and buds. Pine seed is their favorite. They have also been known to occasionally eat animal material such as insects and bird eggs.
Fox squirrels are much less numerous than gray squirrels, but can sometimes be observed foraging for food in pastures or openings adjacent to forested areas. They spend more time on the ground than intrees and often attempt to escape enemies by running rather than climbing.
Red Tailed Hawk
The Red-tailed Hawk (Buteo jamaicensis) is a bird of prey, one of three species colloquially known in the United States as the "chickenhawk," though it rarely preys on chickens. It breeds throughout most of North America, from western Alaska and northern Canada to as far south as Panama and the West Indies, and is one of the most common buteos in North America. Red-tailed Hawks can acclimate to all the biomes within its range. There are fourteen recognized subspecies, which vary in appearance and range. It is one of the largest members of the genus Buteo in North America, typically weighing from 690 to 1600 grams (1.5 to 3.5 pounds) and measuring 45–65 cm (18 to 26 in) in length, with a wingspan from 110 to 145 cm (43 to 57 in). The Red-tailed Hawk displays sexual dimorphism in size, with females averaging about 25% heavier than males.
The Harlan's Hawk (B. j. harlani), often considered a separate species, is treated below in the Taxonomy section.
The Red-tailed Hawk occupies a wide range of habitats and altitudes, including deserts, grasslands, coniferous and deciduous forests, tropical rainforests, agricultural fields and urban areas. It lives throughout the North American continent, except in areas of unbroken forest or the high arctic. It is legally protected in Canada, Mexico and the United States by the Migratory Bird Treaty Act.
Because they are so common and easily trained as capable hunters, the majority of hawks captured for falconry in the United States are Red-tails. Falconers are permitted to take only passage hawks (which have left the nest, are on their own, but are less than a year old) so as to not affect the breeding population. Adults, which may be breeding or rearing chicks, may not be taken for falconry purposes and it is illegal to do so. Passage red-tailed hawks are also preferred by falconers because these younger birds have not yet developed adult behaviors, which can make training substantially more challenging.
The Red-tailed Hawk also has significance in Native American culture. Its feathers are considered sacred by some tribes, and are used in religious ceremonies.
The gopher tortoise (Gopherus polyphemus) is a cold-blooded reptile that averages 25 cm (10 in.) long and 4 kg (9 lb.) in weight. They are extremely long-lived animals; estimates for wild tortoises range from 40 - 60 years, while tortoises in captivity can live more than 100 years. Their range extends from southeastern Louisiana to southeastern South Carolina and throughout all 67 counties in Florida. The gopher tortoise is federally protected as a threatened species except in Florida, where it is listed as a Species of Special Concern by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.
The Pileated Woodpecker
The Pileated Woodpecker (Dryocopus pileatus) is a very large North American woodpecker, almost crow sized, inhabiting deciduous forests in eastern North America, the Great Lakes, the boreal forests of Canada, and parts of the Pacific coast.
Adults (40–49 cm long, 250–350 g weight) are mainly black with a red crest and a white line down the sides of the throat. They show white on the wings in flight. Adult males have a red line from the bill to the throat, in adult females these are black. The only North American birds of similar plumage and size are the Ivory-billed Woodpecker of the Southeastern United States and Cuba, and the related Imperial Woodpecker of Mexico. However, unlike the Pileated, both of those species are extremely rare, if not extinct. Most reports of the Ivory-billed Woodpecker are believed to be erroneous reports of the far more common Pileated.
The call is a wild laugh, similar to the Northern Flicker. Its drumming can be very loud, often sounding like someone striking a tree with a hammer. This bird favors mature forests, but has adapted to use second-growth stands and heavily wooded parks as well.
These birds mainly eat insects, especially carpenter ants and wood-boring beetle larvae, fruits, and nuts. They often chip out large and roughly rectangular holes in trees while searching out insects.
Pileated Woodpeckers raise their young every year in a hole in the tree. In April the hole made by the male attracts a female for mating and raising their young. Once the brood is raised the Pileated Woodpeckers abandon the hole and will not use it the next year.
These holes, made similarly by all woodpeckers, when abandoned provide good homes in future years for many forest song birds. Ecologically, the entire woodpecker family is important to the well being of many other bird species.
They usually excavate large nests in the cavities of dead trees creating habitat for other large cavity nesters. A Pileated Woodpecker pair stays together on its territory all year round. It will defend the territory in all seasons, but will tolerate floaters during the winter.
The Pileated Woodpecker also nests in nest boxes about 15 ft (4.6 m) off the ground.
Pileated Woodpeckers make such large holes in dead trees the holes can cause a small tree to break in half. The roost of a Pileated Woodpecker usually has multiple entrance holes. Pileated Woodpeckers have been observed to move eggs that have fallen out of the nest to another site, a rare habit in birds. The cavity is unlined except for wood chips. "Both parents incubate three to five eggs for 15 or 16 days. The young may take a month to fledge."
The Corn Snake (aka Red Rat Snake)
The corn snake (Elaphe guttata), or red rat snake, is a North American species of rat snake that subdue their small prey with constriction. The name “corn snake” comes from the fact that they have a maize-like pattern on their bellies and because they were found in corn fields. The Oxford English Dictionary cites this usage as far back as 1676. Corn snakes are found throughout the southeastern and central United States. Their docile nature, reluctance to bite, moderate adult size 1.2–1.8 metres (3.9–5.9 ft), attractive pattern, and comparatively simple care make them popular pet snakes. In the wild, they usually live around 15–20 years, but may live as long as 23 years in captivity.
Corn Snakes are rat snakes and they are non-venomous.
Wild Corn Snakes prefer habitats such as overgrown fields, forest openings, trees, palmetto flatwoods and abandoned or seldom-used buildings and farms, from sea level to as high as 6,000 feet. Typically, these snakes remain on the ground, but can ascend trees, cliffs and other elevated surfaces. They can be found in the southeastern United States ranging from New Jersey to the Florida keys and as far west as Texas.
In colder regions, snakes hibernate during winter. However, in the more temperate climate along the coast they shelter in rock crevices and logs during cold weather, and come out on warm days to soak up the heat of the sun, a process known as brumation. During cold weather, snakes are less active and therefore hunt less.
Corn Snakes have a diet primarily consisting of rodents, mostly mice and rats. Prey is killed by constriction. They are proficient climbers and may scale trees in search of birds and bats. As litters of infant mice are difficult to find in nature, many neonate Corn Snakes are known to eat small lizards as their first meals, and anoles are the preferred choice. Some individuals retain these dietary tendencies well into adulthood.
Corn Snakes are usually fed by their owners on a diet of commercially available rodents, predominantly mice, while younger and smaller specimens may eat live or dead rat or mouse pups of various sizes. Frozen mice that have been thawed to room temperature are usually preferred, as live prey can possibly carry disease or injure the snake if it has not been raised on live prey.
Corn snakes usually breed shortly after the winter cooling. The male courts the female primarily with tactile and chemical cues, then everts one of his hemipenes, inserts it into the female, and ejaculates his sperm. If the female is ovulating, the eggs will be fertilized, and she will begin sequestering nutrients into the eggs, then secreting a shell.
Egg-laying occurs slightly more than a month after mating, with 12–24 eggs deposited into a warm, moist, hidden location. Once laid the adult snake abandons the eggs and does not return to them. The eggs are oblong with a leathery, flexible shell. Approximately 10 weeks after laying, the young snakes use a specialized scale called an egg tooth to slice slits in the egg shell, from which they emerge at about 5 inches in length.
The Barred Owl (Strix varia)
Barred owls are large owls with round heads and NO ear tufts. They are brownish-gray with brown and white bars across their chest. (That’s why they’re called "barred" owls.) Their legs are covered with feathers. The barred owls’ eyes are dark brown, while most other owls have yellow eyes. Their beaks are sharp, but very small, so they are almost covered up by facial feathers. Owls can see very well at night, but they can also see during the day. They have a special inner eyelid which blocks bright sunlight - owl sunglasses! Most birds have eyes on their sides of their head. This helps them to see sideways and backwards. Owls, however, have both eyes in the front. This gives them good depth perception (helps them to tell how far away something is). Unfortunately, it means they can’t see sideways or backwards. To deal with this, owls can turn their head ALMOST all the way around. But they can’t spin their head in a full circle; their head would twist off! Owl ears are just holes on the sides of their head covered with feathers. These holes are higher on one side than the other. This helps the owl tell if a sound is coming from above or below. When you hear a sound, and you can’t tell where it’s coming from, don’t you tilt your head to listen better? The owl doesn’t have to tilt his head. His ears are tilted already! You also cup your hand over your ear to help you hear, right? Owls don’t have hands, but they can fluff the feathers around their ear holes to make a little funnel, just like your hand. The ear tufts that some owls have are NOT ears. They’re just feathers that might scare away predators. The barred owls’ sense of smell is probably not that strong. They even eat skunks.
The coyote (pronounced /kaɪˈoʊtiː, ˈkaɪ.oʊt/) (Canis latrans), also known as the Americanjackal or the prairie wolf is a species of canid found throughout North and Central America, ranging from Panama in the south, north through Mexico, the United States and Canada. It occurs as far north as Alaska and all but the northernmost portions of Canada. There are currently 19 recognized subspecies, with 16 in Canada, Mexico and the United States, and 3 in Central America. Unlike its cousin the Gray Wolf, which is Eurasian in origin, the coyote evolved in North America during the Pleistocene epoch 1.810 million years ago alongside the Dire Wolf. Unlike the wolf, the coyote's range has expanded in the wake of human civilization, and coyotes readily reproduce in metropolitan areas.
The color of the coyote's pelt varies from grayish brown to yellowish gray on the upper parts, while the throat and belly tend to have a buff or white color. The forelegs, sides of the head, muzzle and paws are reddish brown. The back has tawny-colored underfur and long, black-tipped guard hairs that form a black dorsal stripe and a dark cross on the shoulder area. The black-tipped tail has a scent gland located on its dorsal base. Coyotes shed once a year, beginning in May with light hair loss, ending in July after heavy shedding. The ears are proportionately large in relation to the head, while the feet are relatively small in relation to the rest of the body. Certain experts have noted that the shape of a domestic dog's brain case is closer to the coyote's in shape than the wolf's. Mountain dwelling coyotes tend to be dark furred while desert coyotes tend to be more yellowish in color.
Coyotes typically grow up to 30–34 in (76–86 cm) in length, not counting a tail of 12–16 in (30–41 cm), stand about 23–26 in (58–66 cm) at the shoulder and, on average, weigh from 15–46 lb (6.8–21 kg) . Northern coyotes are typically larger than southern subspecies, with the largest coyotes on record weighing 74¾ pounds (33.7 kg) and measuring over five feet in total length.
The coyote's dental formula is I 3/3, C 1/1, Pm 4/4, M usually 2/2, occasionally 3/3, 3/2, or 2/3 × 2 = 40, 42, or 44 Normal spacing between the upper canine teeth is 1⅛–1⅜ inches (29–35 mm) and 1–1¼ inches (25–32 mm) between the lower canine teeth.
The upper frequency limit of hearing for coyotes is 80 KHz, compared to the 60 kHz of domestic dogs. Compared to wolves, and similarly to domestic dogs, coyotes have a higher density of sweat glands on their paw pads. This trait, however, is absent in the large New England coyotes, which are thought to have some wolf ancestry.
During pursuit, a coyote may reach speeds up to 43 mph (69 km/h), and can jump a distance of over 4 m (13 ft).
Though coyotes have been observed to travel in large groups, they primarily hunt in pairs. Typical packs consist of six closely related adults, yearlings and young. Coyote packs are generally smaller than wolf packs and associations between individuals are less stable, thus making their social behavior more in line with that of the dingo. It has been theorized that this is due to an earlier expression of aggression, and the fact that coyotes reach their full growth in their first year, unlike wolves, which reach it in their second. Common names of coyote groups are a band, a pack, or a rout. Coyotes are primarily nocturnal, but can often be seen during daylight hours. Coyotes were once essentially diurnal, but have adapted to more nocturnal behavior with pressure from humans (McClennen et al., 2001).
Coyotes are capable of digging their own burrows, though they often prefer the burrows of groundhogs or American badgers. Coyote territorial ranges can be as much as 19 kilometers in diameter around the den, and travel occurs along fixed trails.
In areas where wolves have been exterminated, coyotes usually flourish. For example, as New England became increasingly settled and the resident wolves were eliminated, the coyote population increased, filling the empty biological niche. Coyotes appear better able than wolves to live among people.
Coyotes have been known to live a maximum of 10 years in the wild and 18 years in captivity. They seem to be better than dogs at observational learning.
Female coyotes are monoestrous, and remain in heat for 2–5 days between late January and late March, during which mating occurs. Once the female chooses a partner, the mated pair may remain temporarily monogamous for a number of years. Depending on geographic location, spermatogenesis in males takes around 54 days, and occurs between January and February. The gestation period lasts from 60 to 63 days. Litter size ranges from 1 to 19 pups; the average is 6. These large litters act as compensatory measures against the high juvenile mortality rate, with approximately 50-70% of pups not surviving to adulthood. The pups weigh approximately 250 grams at birth, and are initially blind and limp-eared. Coyote growth rate is faster than that of wolves, being similar in length to that of the dhole. The eyes open and ears become erect after 10 days. Around 21–28 days after birth, the young begin to emerge from the den, and by 35 days they are fully weaned. Both parents feed the weaned pups with regurgitated food. Male pups will disperse from their dens between months 6 and 9, while females usually remain with the parents and form the basis of the pack. The pups attain full growth between 9 and 12 months. Sexual maturity is reached by 12 months. Unlike wolves, mother coyotes will tolerate other lactating females in their pack.
The Black Racer (Coluber constrictor)
Description: As their name implies, Black Racers are relatively large – to 60 in (152 cm) – fairly slender, solid black snakes. They have smooth scales, large eyes, and often have some white coloration under their chin. The belly is generally uniformly dark gray or black. Adult Racers can be mistaken for any of the other large black snakes present in our region including black rat snakes (which are generally restricted to the Piedmont and Mountains in our region), black-phase eastern hognose snakes, eastern or black kingsnakes, or dark coachwhips. However, Black Racers are generally more slender and uniformly black than those species. Additionally, Racers lack the upturned nose of hognose snakes and keeled scales of hognose and rat snakes. When observed from a distance, behavior is often the best way to differentiate a racer from other species. While rat snakes, king snakes, and hognose snakes generally freeze when approached, racers usually flee rapidly or sometimes stand their ground and attempt to strike.
Young racers do not resemble adults and are generally tan or grayish with a series of brown or reddish blotches running down the center of the back. These blotches are more rounded (less square) than those of young rat snakes and watersnakes. Additionally, young racers are more slender and have larger eyes than juveniles of most other snakes in our region. The juvenile pattern of young racers fades to black when the snakes are about 12 in long.
Range and Habitat: Black Racers are found throughout the eastern U.S. , from southern Maine to the Florida Keys . Other subspecies such as Yellow-bellied Racers are found in the Central U.S. and in scattered areas of the West. Racers are found in all areas of South Carolina and Georgia and among the most common snakes in nearly all habitats.
Racers are habitat generalists and can be found in nearly any habitat in the Southeast. However, they are most abundant in edge habitats such as forest edges, old fields, and wetland edges. They are also often found in moderately disturbed or agricultural habitats.
Habits: Black Racers are only active during the daytime and are most active in warm weather. At night and during cool weather they take refuge in burrows or under cover such as boards or tin. Racers hunt by sight and are often observed actively foraging during the day. They are not active at night. They eat a wide variety of prey including insects, lizards, snakes, birds, rodents, and amphibians. In turn, they are preyed upon by a variety of predatory birds, mammals and snakes such as kingsnakes and larger Racers. When captured, prey are not constricted and are consumed alive. Racers are faster than most other snakes, very agile, and generally flee when approached, often climbing into small trees or shrubs. If cornered, however, they do not hesitate to bite. Although primarily terrestrial, they climb well and are occasionally observed sleeping in vegetation at night. Racers mate in the spring, and females lay up to 36 eggs in early summer. Eggs hatch in late summer or early fall.
Conservation Status: Racers are common in our region and are not protected.
Plummer, M. V., and J. D. Congdon. 1994. Radiotelemetric study of activity and movements of racers (Coluber constrictor) associated with a Carolina bay in South Carolina. Copeia 20-26.
Account Author: J.D. Willson
The Northern Bobwhite, Virginia Quail or (in its home range) Bobwhite Quail (Colinus virginianus) is a ground-dwelling bird native to the United States, Mexico, and the Caribbean. It is a member of the group of species known as New World quails (Odontophoridae). They were initially placed with the Old World quails in the pheasant family (Phasianidae), but are not particularly closely related. The name "bobwhite" derives from its characteristic whistling call.
Northern Bobwhites are distinguished by a dark cap stripe behind the eye along the head, black in males and brown in females. The area in between is white on males and yellow-brown on females. The body is brown, speckled in places with black or white on both sexes, and average weight is 5–6 ounces (140–170 g). Bobwhite quail chicks are very small, and need to be kept warm for a number of days. The Northern Bobwhite's song is a rising, clear whistle, bob-White! or bob-bob-White! The call is most often given by males in spring and summertime. Other vocalizations include a range of squeaky whistles.
This fowl primarily inhabits areas of early successional growth dominated by various species of pine, hardwood, woody, and herbaceous growth. However, quail habitat varies greatly throughout its range which extends from Mexico east to Florida and north into the Upper Midwest and Northeast. In the southern U.S., a variety of different foods are preferred by the bobwhite. Among their favorites are pearl millet, Egyptian wheat, milo sorghum, and other grains. However, bobwhite quail are particularly fond of successional weeds and forbs such as ragweed, partridge peas, various vetches, and beggarweed. Of course, forbs are also attractive to insects such as grasshoppers which serve as the primary diet of young bobwhites and are eaten by adults as well.
Quail form what are known as "coveys", groups of five to 30 birds, during the non-breeding season (roughly October-April). During the breeding season, typically beginning in mid-April, the Bobwhite coveys dissolve. Social pairs are typically formed between individuals of unknown relationship. These social pairings potentially result in the formation of a mate bond and subsequent female fertilization and egg formation. Eggs are laid at a rate of about 1 per day, and they hatch after 23 days. Eggs are normally white in color with a more pointed end than normal chicken eggs.
Both males and females can incubate nests, with most nests predominantly incubated by females. If the first clutch of eggs is unsuccessful, a breeding pair (may be the same pair or a different pair as that which led to the previous nesting attempt) will attempt to lay, incubate, and hatch additional clutches. If the clutch is successful, chicks are precocial and will leave the nest approximately 24 hours following hatching. The breeding season continues until mid-October, and successful nesters (females) can potentially lay, incubate, and hatch up to 3 clutches.
The Bobwhite Quail is a popular and economically important gamebird, particularly in the southern United States. It is the official game bird of the U.S. states of Tennessee and Georgia. Habitat degradation threatens wild populations, so it is propagated in captivity in large numbers for release on hunting preserves or natural areas as required by US wildlife agencies. It is moderately resilient to hunting pressure, and locally can disappear entirely from overhunting. It is also found in many aviaries and is on display in some zoos.
If a Bobwhite Quail is stationary, it is nearly impossible to see (in a forest). This coat of camouflage is important because quail are preyed upon heavily. Foxes, Coyotes, Raccoons, Virginia Opossums, hawks, owls, and humans eat quail.
Recently, habitat restoration and preservation efforts have been led by a variety of conservation groups such as Quail Unlimited and research experts such as the Tall Timbers center in Tallahassee, Florida. The focus has been primarily on restoring the weedy, protective, and food-rich "edge" that bobwhite quail prefer. Most observers have held that bobwhite habitat has been destroyed by the onset of large-scale agriculture and grazing involving huge row-crop fields and pastures planted with imported grass species such as bahia and fescue which are detrimental to bobwhite populations. In the first half of the 20th century when native bobwhite quail were plentiful, smaller farmers practiced a variety of management techniques that were positive: small gardens and crop "patches" divided by overgrown hedgerows and fencerows that provided close cover for birds. These farmers also practiced controlled burning and hunted predators aggressively. Among other factors now believed to be harmful to bobwhite quail are large plantings of small pines, overgrowth of hardwoods, red imported fireants, and overall lax management of vegetation.
The Northern Cardinal is a fairly large, long-tailed songbird with a short, very thick bill and a prominent crest. Cardinals often sit with a hunched-over posture and with the tail pointed straight down.
Male cardinals are brilliant red all over, with a reddish bill and black face immediately around the bill. Females are pale brown overall with warm reddish tinges in the wings, tail, and crest. They have the same black face and red-orange bill.
Northern Cardinals tend to sit low in shrubs and trees or forage on or near the ground, often in pairs. They are common at bird feeders but may be inconspicuous away from them, at least until you learn their loud, metallic chip note.
Look for Northern Cardinals in inhabited areas such as backyards, parks, woodlots, and shrubby forest edges. Northern Cardinals nest in dense tangles of shrubs and vines.
The gray fox is distinguished from most other canids by its grizzled upper parts, strong neck and black-tipped tail, while the skull can be distinguished from all other North American canids by its widely separated temporal ridges that form a U-shape. There is little sexual dimorphism, save for the males being slightly smaller than females. The gray fox ranges from 800 to 1125 mm (31.5 to 41.3 inches) in length. Its tail measures 275 to 443 mm (10.8 to 17.5 inches) and its hind feet measure 100 to 150 mm (4.9 to 5.9 inches). It weighs 3.6 to 6.82 kg (7.9 to 15 lbs). It is readily differentiated from the red fox by the lack of "black stockings" that stand out on the latter.
The gray fox's ability to climb trees is shared only with the Asian raccoon dog among canids. Its strong, hooked claws allow it to scramble up trees to escape predators such as the domestic dog or the coyote, or to reach tree-bound or arboreal food sources. It descends primarily by jumping from branch to branch, or by descending slowly backwards as a house cat. The gray fox is nocturnal or crepuscular and dens in hollow trees, stumps or appropriated burrows during the day.
The gray fox is monogamous. The breeding season of the gray fox varies geographically; in Michigan, the gray fox mates in early March, in Alabama, breeding peaks occur in February. The gestation period lasts about 53 days. Litter size ranges from 1 to 7. Kits begin to hunt with their parents at the age of 3 months. By the time they are 4 months old, the kits have developed their permanent dentition and can forage on their own. The family group remains together until autumn when the young reach sexual maturity and disperse.
The gray fox is a solitary hunter and is largely omnivorous. It frequently preys upon the Eastern Cottontail (Sylvilagus floridanus), though it will readily catch voles, shrews, and birds. The gray fox supplements its diet with whatever fruits are readily available and generally eats more vegetable matter than does the Red Fox (Vulpes vulpes).
Description: The indigo snake (Drymarchon corais) is a massive, black snake. It is the longest snake native to the United States, ranging in size from 60-84 inches (152-213 cm), and is entirely shiny bluish-black color, including the belly. The chin and sides of the head are usually colored reddish or orange-brown. Juvenile indigo snakes look very similar to adults but have much more red on their heads. Indigo snakes are sexually dimorphic, with males growing to larger lengths than females.
Range and Habitat: Indigo Snakes are restricted to Florida and southern areas of Georgia , Alabama , and Mississippi . Although reported historically from extreme southern South Carolina , Indigo Snakes have not been confirmed in the state in recent years and the early records are questionable. In the Southeast, Indigo Snakes are restricted to areas of xeric pine-oak sandhills, which are usually inhabited by gopher tortoises. These snakes use gopher tortoise burrows as shelter during the winter and during the warmer months for nesting and refuge from intense summer heat.
Habits: Indigo snakes are active strictly by day. During the summer they prefer wetland edges where prey is abundant but move to drier habitats in the winter. Indigo snakes breed in the winter and are more active in cold weather than most other snakes. When cornered, they may flatten their heads, hiss and vibrate their tails, which produces a rattling sound. Despite these intimidating acts, the indigo snake rarely bites. Indigo snakes regularly feed on mammals, birds, frogs and other snakes, including rattlesnakes and cottonmouths. Also, these snakes will occasionally feed on young gopher tortoises.
Conservation Status: The indigo snake is currently listed as a federally threatened species in Georgia and Florida , due primarily to habitat loss.
Stevenson, Dirk J., Karen J. Dyer, and Beth A. Willis-Stevenson. 2003. Survey and Monitoring of the Eastern Indigo Snake in Georgia . Southeastern Naturalist 2(3):393-408.
Account Author: Andrew M. Grosse, University of Georgia – edited by J.D. Willson
Red Shouldered Hawk
Males are 43 to 58 cm (17 to 23 in) long, weigh about 550 g (1.2 lbs) and have a wingspan of 96 cm (38 in). Females are slightly larger at 48 to 61 cm (19 to 24 in) in length, a weight of about 700 g (1.5 lbs), and a wingspan of about 105 cm (42 in). Adults have a brownish head, a reddish chest, and a pale belly with reddish bars. Their tail, which is quite long by Buteo standards, is marked with narrow white bars. The red "shoulder" is visible when the bird is perched as seen in the image to the right. These hawks' upper parts are dark with pale spots and they have long yellow legs. Western birds may appear more red while Florida birds are generally paler. The wings of adults are more heavily barred on the upper side. Juvenile Red-shouldered Hawks are most likely to be confused with juvenile Broad-winged Hawks, but can be distinguished by their long tail, crescent-like wing markings, and a more flapping, Accipiter-like flight style.
Food and feeding
While in forested areas, these birds typically wait on a perch and swoop down on prey. When in clearings, they sometimes fly low in order to surprise prey. Small mammals are typically the most important prey, with voles, mice and chipmunks locally favored. Other prey can include amphibians, reptiles (especially small snakes), small birds, and large insects. During winters, they sometimes habituate to preying on birds commonly found at bird feeders, such as House Sparrows, Mourning Doves, and European Starlings.
These birds are permanent residents throughout most of their range, though northern birds do migrate mostly to central Mexico. The major modern threat to these birds is deforestation, which has eliminated these birds as breeders in some areas.
The American Crow is a distinctive bird with iridescent black feathers all over. Its legs, feet and bill are also black. They are 40–50 cm (16–20 in) in length, of which the tail makes up about 40%. Each wing is around 27–34 cm (7–8 in) long. The bill length is on average 5 cm (2 in), varying strongly according to location.
The most usual call is a loud, short, and rapid caah-caah-caah. Usually, the birds thrust their heads up and down as they utter this call. American Crows can also produce a wide variety of sounds and sometimes mimic noises made by other animals, including other birds. Most wild American Crows live for about 7–8 years. Captive birds are known to have lived up to 30 years.
The range of the American Crow extends from the Pacific Ocean to the Atlantic Ocean in Canada, on the French islands of Saint-Pierre and Miquelon, south through the United States, and into northern Mexico. Virtually all types of country from wilderness, farmland, parks, open woodland to towns and major cities are inhabited; it is absent only from Pacific temperate rain forests and tundra habitat where it is replaced by the raven. This crow is a permanent resident in most of the USA, but most Canadian birds migrate some distances southward in winter. Outside of the nesting season these birds often gather in large communal roosts at night.
The American Crow is omnivorous. It will feed on invertebrates of all types, carrion, scraps of human food, seeds, eggs and nestlings, stranded fish on the shore and various grains. American Crows are active hunters and will prey on mice, frogs, and other small animals. In winter and autumn, the diet of American Crows is more dependent on nuts and acorns. Occasionally, they will visit bird feeders. The American Crow is one of only a few species of bird that has been observed modifying and using tools to obtain food.
Like most crows, they will scavenge at landfills, scattering garbage in the process. Where available, corn, wheat and other crops are a favorite food. These habits have historically caused the American Crow to be considered a nuisance. However, it is suspected that the harm to crops is offset by the service the American Crow provides by eating insect pests.
American Crows are monogamous cooperative breeding birds. Mated pairs form large families of up to 15 individuals from several breeding seasons that remain together for many years. Offspring from a previous nesting season will usually remain with the family to assist in rearing new nestlings. American Crows do not reach breeding age for at least two years. Most do not leave the nest to breed for four to five years.
The nesting season starts early, with some birds incubating eggs by early April. American Crows build bulky stick nests, nearly always in trees but sometimes also in large bushes and, very rarely, on the ground. They will nest in a wide variety of trees, including large conifers, although oaks are most often used. Three to six eggs are laid and incubated for 18 days. The young are usually fledged by about 35 days after hatching.
Sand Hill Crane
Sandhills are the most common of all the world's cranes. A fossil from the Miocene Epoch, some ten million years ago, was found to be structurally the same as the modern sandhill crane. Today, these large birds are found predominately in North America. They range south to Mexico and Cuba, and as far west as Siberia.
Migratory subspecies of sandhill cranes breed in the Northern U.S., Canada, Alaska, and Siberia. Each winter they undertake long southern journeys to wintering grounds in Florida, Texas, Utah, Mexico, and California. En route, more than three-fourths of all sandhill cranes use migratory staging areas in a single 75-mile (120-kilometer) stretch along Nebraska's Platte River.
Most sandhill cranes live in freshwater wetlands. They are opportunistic eaters that enjoy plants, grains, mice, snakes, insects, or worms. They often dig in the soil for tubers and can sometimes cause significant crop damage, which brings them into conflict with farmers.
The birds are naturally gray and their heads are topped with a crimson crown. Some cranes preen themselves by adding mud to their feathers and thus taking on a temporary brown hue. This may happen because the birds use their bills to probe for food in muddy wetland soil.
During mating, pairs vocalize in a behavior known as "unison calling." They throw their heads back and unleash a passionate duet—an extended litany of coordinated song. Cranes also dance, run, leap high in the air and otherwise cavort around—not only during mating but all year long.
Sandhill cranes usually nest in wetlands and create a structure from whatever plants may be at hand. Females typically lay two eggs, which both parents incubate. Males take responsibility for defending the nest.
Armadillos are small placental mammals, known for having a leathery armor shell. The Dasypodidae are the only surviving family in the order Cingulata, part of the superorder Xenarthra along with the anteaters and sloths. The word armadillo is Spanish for "little armored one".
In the United States, the sole resident armadillo is the Nine-banded Armadillo (Dasypus novemcinctus), which is most common in the central southernmost states, particularly Texas. Their range is as far east as South Carolina and Florida and as far north as Nebraska; they have been consistently expanding their range over the last century due to a lack of natural predators and have been found as far north as Illinois, Indiana and southern Ontario.
Armadillos are prolific diggers. Many species use their sharp claws to dig for food, such as grubs, and to dig dens. The Nine-banded Armadillo prefers to build burrows in moist soil near the creeks, streams, and arroyos around which it lives and feeds. The diet of different armadillo species varies, but consists mainly of insects, grubs, and other invertebrates. Some species, however, are almost entirely formicivorous (feeding mainly on ants).
Armadillos have poor vision. The armor is formed by plates of dermal bone covered in relatively small, overlapping epidermal scales called "scutes", composed of bone with a covering of horn. In most species, there are rigid shields over the shoulders and hips, with a number of bands separated by flexible skin covering the back and flanks. Additional armor covers the top of the head, the upper parts of the limbs, and the tail. The underside of the animal is never armored, and is simply covered with soft skin and fur.
This armor-like skin appears to be the main defense of many armadillos, although most escape predators by fleeing (often into thorny patches, from which their armor protects them) or digging to safety. Only the South American three-banded armadillos (Tolypeutes) rely heavily on their armor for protection. When threatened by a predator, Tolypeutes species frequently roll up into a ball. Other armadillo species cannot roll up because they have too many plates. The North American Nine-banded Armadillo tends to jump straight in the air when surprised, and consequently often collides with the undercarriage or fenders of passing vehicles.
Armadillos have short legs but can move quite quickly, and have the ability to remain underwater for as long as six minutes. Because of the density of its armor, an armadillo will sink in water unless it inflates its stomach and intestines with air, which often doubles its size and allows it to swim across narrow bodies of water.
Gestation lasts anywhere from 60 to 120 days, depending on species, although the nine-banded armadillo also exhibits delayed implantation, so that the young are not typically born for eight months after mating. Most members of the genus Dasypus give birth to four monozygotic young (that is, identical quadruplets), but other species may have typical litter sizes that range from one to eight. The young are born with soft leathery skin, which hardens within a few weeks, and reach sexual maturity in 3–12 months, depending on the species. Armadillos are solitary animals that do not share their burrows with other adults.
We will continue to watch for different types of wildlife and add them to this list.