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In The Country

Twitterpated

Tim Iverson
Seasonal Naturalist
Cunningham Falls State Park

(2/2012) As spring fast approaches or at least I am impatiently hoping so, things are getting ready to come back to life. Not long from now warmer weather will usher in a torrent of new life. Birds will be chirping, frogs will be croaking, and everything will be enveloped by a growing energy. Yep, pretty soon everything will be in frenzy and, to borrow a phrase coined by an owl in a Disney classic, becoming "twitterpated". Yes, itís something that happens to all animals and the process of finding a mate is just what being twitterpated is all about in the animal world. While toads, owls, and bears may not exactly celebrate Valentineís Day they do exhibit amorous behavior toward one another in hopes of forming a union.

As early as March, but generally in April, the Eastern American Toad will come out of hibernation and anxiously search for a mate. Males will begin calling to females with melodic and shrill chirps and then females follow the sound to the male and then breeding takes place. During breeding eggs from the female and sperm from the male are released simultaneously into water where the eggs are immediately fertilized. The eggs are laid in long strings of a jelly-like substance that can hold 4000-8000 eggs. These eggs will hatch in 3-12 days depending on temperature. From the very moment the eggs are fertilized the eggs are abandoned and the rest is left up to chance. Once hatched these oval shaped critters with a tale are called tadpoles, and will spend the next 40-60 days voraciously eating vegetation. After this period of time tadpoles will grow legs, shed their tale, and leave the water. Diet will also change from strictly plants and other vegetative material to insects and other small animals. While these new toads begin to make their way in the world it will take them about two to three years before they reach sexual maturity themselves.

Great Horned Owls are an oddity in the animal kingdom in that once they pair off they will stick with that mate for life. Nesting for these raptors will begin in January or February. The rite is initiated by hooting to each other, and then when they are close will bow to one another with drooped wings. This is all followed by mutual beak rubbing and preening of feathers. Once eggs are laid, usually in a group of two to four, the female will incubate them for approximately a month. During this time the female will do little else, and the male is responsible for catching prey and bringing it back to her. After the eggs have hatched the young will begin to venture out of the nest and onto adjacent branches in six to seven weeks and will begin to fly about this time. However, they will not be very strong at flying until the ninth or tenth week. Young Great Horned Owls will stick around the nest for a few more weeks while they are slowly weaned, and begin to search for a new territory all their own! A pair of Great Horned Owls will generally claim a territory about the one square mile in size. Itís not uncommon for the young to stay near or even within this area for the first year of its life. After the first year though the young will be considered competition for the parents and will need to seek all new territory.

Now the North American Black Bear operates on a different set of standards. Mating season for the black bear can run from May to August. During this time black bears (both males and females) will have several different mates. A female will leave scent trails by marking trees, small plants, and more in order to attract a mate. Males will follow these scent trails to find the female bear. Occasionally more than a single male will follow a trail, which leads to a fierce confrontation. After a male does eventually locate the female he will spend several days edging closer and closer to her while she becomes accustomed to his presence. Eventually the two will get close enough and they will begin to nuzzle one another and communicate. Itís after this ritual when their relationship is consummated. The male and female will generally spend two to three days in throes of love mating several times. Once their amorous behavior has ceased they will go their separate ways in attempts to find another new suitor. While a female bear may have fertilized eggs they will not develop or attach to the womb until she settles down for hibernation. Itís in late January and February that one to three cubs will be born and will nurse from their mother until they emerge in spring. These cubs will stay with their mother for approximately one year. After this period they will then set out on their own in search of new territory.

Cupidís arrow isnít limited to just mankind, but pierces the heart of even the beasts of the wild. Once the spring rains arrive flowers bloom and all that spring holds awakens plants and animals alike. This is when the flora and fauna will be taken with notions of romance and though delayed the theme of Valentineís Day will permeate. Yes, even the animal kingdom will awaken and everything will be as that old said "twitterpated."

Read other articles by Ranger Tim Iverson