Column: Of jack rabbits, Martins, Monarchs

Published 12:00 am Sunday, July 23, 2006

Al Bat, Nature’s World

My neighbor Crandall stops by.

&160;&8220;How are you doing?&8221; I ask.

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&160;&8220;My grandkids run wild and my granddogs are sent to obedience school. I just painted my house.&8221;

&160;&8220;It needed some help. Your standard of living improves when you go camping. I can’t believe you painted your house in this hot weather. You’re not even drenched in sweat,&8221; I say.

&160;&8220;That’s because I used a paintball gun to paint The Bog. And I prepared for the job. Everywhere I drove in June, I went with my car heater on full blast. That way I’m ready for the heat of July and August.&8221;

&160;&8220;Ah, a time of the year when you become the human fly.&160; Oh, you don’t climb buildings. You just go to picnics and bother people,&8221; I say.

&160;&8220;You know, Longfellow, the years have been kind to you. It’s the months that have done all of the damage. Just because your head is pointed doesn’t mean you’re sharp. I went golfing last week.&160; I’m giving the game up. I golfed with Still Bill.&160;He drove me crazy. Every time I hit the ball, he would look at his watch. It bugged me so much that my game was even worse than usual. It less fun than painting a potato. I told him to stop looking at his watch.&8221;

&160;&8220;What did Still Bill say?&8221;

&160;&8220;He told me that it wasn’t a watch, it was a compass.&8221; &160;

Purple Martin Festival

It was my great pleasure to attend the Purple Martin Festival held at Sharon Wangen’s farm near Albert Lea.

It was a wonderful time of learning and camaraderie.

A friend, Bill Nepper of Winona, told me of someone putting a pie plate on a post in order to offer oyster shells to Purple Martins.&160; A Mourning Dove nested in the plate out in the open.

Another good friend, Keith Radel of Faribault, is one of the great people of the Minnesota Bluebird Recovery Program.&160; Keith, an enthusiastic and knowledgeable bluebirder, tells me that his group recorded 12,000 bluebirds fledging in Minnesota last year. Keith mounts his bluebird nestboxes on 1/2-inch electrical conduit slipped over 1/2 inch rebar that was driven into the ground. He steel wools the conduit every spring and then waxes it with car wax or furniture wax in order to keep the raccoons away. Keith has had great luck with this technique. It is true of bluebirds as well as most of our nesting songbirds that they can take heat much better than the cold.

A presenter, Dave Kunze of Hutchinson, advised keeping Purple Martin houses 30 to 120 feet from your house. He advised keeping the martin colony at least 40 feet from the outer branches of trees in order to give the martins a clear look at any hawks. Using a Purple Martin decoy may cause a hawk to attack it. This will warn the other martins. Accipiters (and predators in general) go for the weakest and slowest member of a flock. The decoy would be that member. The decoy should be moved regularly to keep the hawks from becoming accustomed to it. Some people feed crickets to their martins in order to provide food in emergencies such as cold weather.

Great Horned Owls are major predators of Purple Martins. The owls reach into the houses to grab the martins or beat the house with their wings in order to flush the birds. The owls can reach any birds in a 6 by 6 by 6-inch compartment.&160;Purple Martins feed a large number of dragonflies to their young. Raising Purple Martins is like farming. It’s dependent upon good weather.

Don Wilds, a very successful Purple Martin landlord from Park Rapids, said he has had martin houses up for 45 years. He didn’t have martins for 29 of those years. Then he moved to a home on a lake. The water made it much easier to get tenants.

It’s fun to put out small chicken feathers for the swallows. I enjoy throwing a feather in the air and seeing the swallows dive, grab the feather, carry it high into the air before dropping it. A bird grabs it again and the play begins anew. Dave Kunze told me of a swallow grabbing a feather right out of someone’s hand.&160;

My thanks to Sharon Wangen and her family for hosting the Fourth Annual Purple Martin Festival.

Monarch miracles

The Monarch flying in your garden does make it to Mexico, but this individual butterfly does not return from Mexico to Minnesota. In July, the monarch begins the 3,000-mile trip south. They have been known to fly 100 miles a day and reach speeds up to 30 mph with a tailwind. The average flight speed is 10 mph. In February the monarch begins the trip north. The females stop to lay eggs on milkweed plants along the way and then die. This first generation lives 6 to 9 months. The second and third generations live six weeks and the fourth generation returns to Minnesota. They produce the fifth generation, which makes the trip to Mexico.

&160; A male monarch can be distinguished from a female by the presence of a black scent gland on each hind wing.

Suet recipe

Here’s a simple recipe for suet that the birds enjoy and it doesn’t melt quickly in the summer’s heat.

4 cups cornmeal

1 cup all-purpose flour

1 cup peanut butter

1 cup shortening

Combine all the ingredients; mix well. Place in a suet feeder.

Jack rabbits

Jack rabbits are hares, meaning that they are born well-furred with their eyes open. The animal got its name because of those ears, which grow to more than 5 inches long and resemble the ears on a donkey, or jackass. The term rabbit ears (TV antennae) came &160;from the jack rabbit.&160; Jack rabbits are crepuscular. That means they are active at twilight.

&160; I don’t see as many jack rabbits as I once did. Our dogs would always give chase to the jacks, but I never saw a dog catch one.

Injured critters

If you find an injured bird or animal, who are you going to call?&160; Give the good folks at the Wildlife Rehabilitation Center in Roseville a call. Their number is 651-486-9420. They are wonderful people (many volunteers) who do great work.

Thanks for stopping by

&8220;The greatest happiness in the world comes from making others happy.&8221;&160; &045;&160;Luther Burbank

&160; &8220;We learn more by looking for the answer to a question and not finding it than we do from learning the answer itself.&8221; &045;&160;Lloyd Alexander

&160;DO GOOD.

(Al Batt of Hartland is a member of the Albert Lea Audubon Society. E-mail him at