Wildlife Wednesday

A coyote scares up geese at Teller Farms in Boulder during the 2015 Christmas Bird Count. Photo by Jamie Simo.

Oh Christmas Tree

The tree decorated with tinsel and ornaments is a venerable tradition that dates back thousands of years. Most likely, it came from Germany in the 16th century, but long before then, people decorated their homes with evergreen boughs to ward away evil or remind them of spring and the new life to come while they waited out the long, dark winter.

The Christmas tree was a relatively late arrival to America due to the influence of the Puritans who enacted laws against pagan traditions. It wasn’t until the mass arrival of German immigrants in the 1800’s that the typical trappings of Christmas, including the Christmas tree, became ubiquitous in the American home.

Christmas tree lot. Photo by David Wagner. http://all-free-download.com/free-photos/download/christmas_tree_lot_195344.html
Today, for many people, selecting and, in some cases even cutting, their own Christmas tree is an annual rite of passage. According to Better Homes and Gardens, some of the most popular cut Christmas trees are Douglas fir, Fraser fir, Noble fir, Scotch pine, White pine, and Virginia pine.

Many of the more popular Christmas tree varieties actually don’t grow all that well in Colorado. A fir is probably the classic tree, but most firs grow best in more humid conditions or prefer cooler summer temperatures than Colorado, particularly along the Front Range, can offer. Therefore, most cut Christmas trees are imported from out of state. The top Christmas tree producing states are Oregon, North Carolina, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Washington.

My first cut Christmas tree. Photo by Jamie Simo.

As a kid, we always had an artificial tree, but this year, we bought my first cut tree. It’s a Noble fir, and while it requires more upkeep than an artificial tree (it drinks a lot of water), it smells fantastic and I can put it out in my yard for the animals when Christmas is over. Cut trees are a great option for sustainability because they don’t contain chemicals like lead or PVC that can cause health problems and don’t break down easily in the environment.


ID Challenge: Long-eared vs Short-eared Owl

This past Saturday a few of my fellow Audubon Master Birder classmates and I took a trip to find the Short-eared Owl (Asio flammeus) that’s been reported around Denver International Airport (DIA). Success! But wait, was that really a Short-eared Owl? eBird seems to think it was a Long-eared Owl (Asio otus). Why the confusion?

Short-eared Owl or Long-eared Owl? Note the orange wing patch and subtle barring on the tail. Photo by Jamie Simo.

Both Long and Short-eared Owls are medium-sized owls present throughout North America, including Colorado, particularly in the winter. They also share similar habitats, tending to forage in open grasslands for birds and rodents.

At rest, it’s fairly easy to tell the two species apart due primarily to the Long-eared Owl’s prominent ear tufts (feathers), but we only saw the owl flying and, in flight, those ear tufts tend to flatten back against the bird’s head. So what other clues can we use?

Short vs long
Short-eared vs Long-eared Owl from http://www.planetofbirds.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/05/20130503-215114.jpg.

In general, the Long-eared Owl is more orangey than the Short-eared Owl, which tends to be paler. The Long-eared also tends to have more extensive barring on the underparts, whereas the Short-eared tends to have more diffuse streaking confined mainly to the breast. While both have heavily marked backs and upperwings, the Short-eared Owl’s wings are also more contrasty than the Long-eared Owl’s. The dark bars on the Short-eared Owl’s tail are also broader and more apparent than the ones on the tail of the Long-eared Owl.

So what do you think? Did we roust a Short-eared Owl? Or was it a Long-eared Owl instead?