The Northern Cardinal

Species: Cardinalis cardinalis                     Order: Passeriformes

Chrissy Bowker of Texas asks, “What’s this animal?”

The bird in the picture above is none other than a young Northern Cardinal, Cardinalis cardinalis. This one in particular is very young, presumably a recent fledgling from the nest. Hatchlings leave the nest about 10 days after hatching and look similar in coloration to adult females, with the exception of having a dull colored beak. The Northern Cardinal is a primarily granivorous (though they will eat insects), passerine bird thats range extends from Canada, the eastern half of the US, down to Texas, and parts of Mexico. Its most identifiable characteristics are its vibrant red coloration in males, black mask, visible crest, and its notable cheer-cheer-cheer song. It’s primarily a woodland bird and a common backyard bird. Fun Fact: They used to be a popular caged pet until the Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918 was put into effect.

Listen to a Northern Cardinal call and song here:



The Spotted Apatelodes

All the way from Texas, Patti Nelson asks, “What’s this animal?”

Well Patti, it looks like you’ve got an early flyer there! That’s the Spotted Apatelodes, Apatelodes torrefacta, a beautiful moth of the Bombycidae (Silkworm Moths) family which is commonly mistaken for the somewhat similar looking Sphinx Moth. I say early flyer because they are most commonly in flight between May and August. These fellas go through 3 generations per year, 2 in the south and 1 in the north.

Any more questions? Feel free to ask!

Have a picture of an animal or plant and can’t seem to figure out what it is? Send it my way and I’ll identify it for you! Send submissions to or message ‘The Wild Life’ on Facebook.

The Tree Swallow

Species: Tachycineta bicolor                      Order: Passeriformes

Chrissy Bowker of Texas (who, yes, also happens to be my mother) asks, “What’s this animal?”

The bird in the picture above is none other than the Tree Swallow, Tachycineta bicolor. The Tree Swallow is an insectivorous, migratory passerine bird that breeds in North America and spends its winters in Mexico, Central America, and the Caribbean. Its most identifiable characteristics are its deep-blue, iridescent backs in stark contrast to their snow white front-sides, pointed wings, and split-notched tail. You’ll see them in fields and wetlands, chasing after insects and fellow swallows in a manner reminiscent of fighter jets in a dog fight.

Listen to a Tree Swallow call here:

Tree Swallow song:

Have a picture of an animal or plant and can’t seem to figure out what it is? Send it my way and I’ll identify it for you! Send submissions to or message ‘The Wild Life’ on Facebook.

How To: “Life-Size” Eagle Nest Display

Sometimes understanding something is as simple as putting yourself in someone else’s shoes, or in this case, nest.

I spent a summer working as a Park Ranger for Gull Lake Recreation Area in Brainerd, Minnesota for the US Army Corps of Engineers. While there, I did weekly interpretive programs as any park ranger does, but I wanted to take my programs to the next level by creating something more immersive. So, I decided to build a human-size bird nest which could double as a wildlife-viewing platform/overlook for the channel between Gull Lake and the Gull River. By the time I was finished, I had developed an entirely new level of respect for the vast variety and intricacies of nests in the animal kingdom.

Here’s how I did it

I won’t go too much into detail because the pictures show the process better than I can explain anyway. I started with four 4-foot tall 4×4’s (that’s a lot of 4’s) and two 2-foot tall 4×4’s, attaching 2- foot long boards about 4 inches up.


After that, I brought the frame out to its new home, still unattached. I set it up in a semicircle shape and used spare boards to brace the frame together by drilling them into the tops of the post. That held it in place so that I could start at the bottom and work my way up. All of the wood used was either fallen vine, limbs of trees which were taken out by the summers storms, or pieces I found on the forest floor. Nothing was taken or cut down in order to make the nest.

The method was pretty simple. I wove the largest pieces through the post along the outside. I drilled some of those into the post to add some extra sturdiness to the frame. That’s really it! It was a lot of looking for the best spots to wedge in sticks, twigs, branches, and whatever other filling I could find.

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After I had the outside pretty filled out, I attached a board on the front base and filled in the empty space with class 5 and then tamped it down by hand. For the finishing touch, I spray painted the frame and added wood-burned displays.

The Finished Product

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For those of you wondering, my initial plan was to place the post into the ground to brace it that way. As it turned out, digging in that particular area was prohibited as part of some agreements due to the fact that the area used to be the site of an Ojibwa settlement, meaning I had to figure out an alternative way of building it so that it is actually above ground.

As far as stability goes, to the best of my knowledge, the nest is still there. We had some major storms come through that summer and none of them so much has moved a stick out of place. I’m no bird, but all-in-all, it turned out great.

What do you think? Have you ever seen or used a display like this? What types of interpretive programs do you think it could be used for? Let me know in the comments!

Living with Raccoons

You’ve got to hand it to them. Raccoons are some of the most resourceful and opportunistic creatures out there. They, like us, are omnivores. Meaning they’ll eat basically whatever they can get their tiny little hands on. Their size and their incredible dexterous hands make breaking-and-entering your home/garage/shed/chimney/doggy door a simple task.

To many, they are a nuisance (“a plague on all your houses!”). They get into trash and have a habit of getting into your pets food if you place it outside. Hey, you left food outside and a raccoon’s gotta eat, am I right? Here’s the thing. As humans have built up suburbs and urbanized, we have begun to encroach on the habitat of other animals. While most species don’t do too well with that change of scenery, opportunistic raccoons have found an endless source of food and shelter.

The Solution

If you feed your dog or cat outside, just be sure to bring in any excess food. All living things are programmed to look for the most calories for the least amount of effort. Your pets food on the back porch is like placing a Big Mac and a dozen donuts under a neon sign that reads “Come and get me!”. Are they getting into your trash? Invest in trash cans with locking lids. If possible, keep the bins in your garage (with the garage door closed, of course) until trash day to minimize their accessibility. What if you’re a fan of raccoons and don’t mind having them around? The same rules follow because your neighbors might not agree. Avoid feeding, touching, petting, or overall interacting with raccoons. Watching them can be really entertaining, but don’t let their peculiarity and cuteness distract you from the fact that giving them to much attention isn’t good for either of you. After all, you don’t want them to become dependent on you, or people in general.