Why Do Geese Love Lawn Mowers?

Artful Dodgers

Walking one of Cedar Rapids’ trails sometimes is like a skier racing a slalom course.  Instead of weaving between flags, pedestrians must dodge piles of goose poop.

It wasn’t always that way. Before the mid-1980s few geese lived in town. Cedar Rapids began restoring them.  About 125 of the giant birds were released near downtown.   Few predators pester them and are they prolific! A goose couple can live for decades and raise upwards of a dozen goslings a year.   That is a lot of geese!

Geese Mixed Blessing

Canada geese are a blessing.  We love hearing “goose music” as they wing over our house. Watching such attentive parents teach their babies to swim and find food is great fun.

Canada geese are a curse, mostly because there are so many of them and they enjoy living, and pooping, in town. Their droppings are more than a walking nuisance.   Loaded with nitrates and bacteria, they stimulate algae growth, lowering water quality.

Geese Requirements

Geese love water but don’t need massive remote lakes. They prefer the dozens of small ponds at golf courses, corporate and school campuses, and parks. A lawnmower is a goose’s best friend. Well, maybe not a mower, but close-cropped lawns have tiny tender grass shoots that make fine goose dining. Running a mower down to a pond’s edge creates goose paradise.  And problems for landowners.

People sometimes put snarling coyote mannequins near their pond to scare the big birds.  It might work for a minute or two, but geese are smart. They figure out it’s a fake and nibble tender grass right under the phony predator.

How to Discourage Geese

Some cities reduce goose numbers by locating their nests, shaking the eggs to kill the embryos, which is called addling, or coating the eggs with oil so they won’t hatch. It may work to reduce flock size, but geese are protected by federal and state laws. Destroying eggs without a permit is illegal.

Legal Tricks

Here are less lethal and legal tricks that work, at least to some degree to discourage geese:

  • Hold the chow. Folks love tossing stale bread to waterfowl, but it just encourages the crowding of the pesky birds.
  • Stow the mower and let the grass grow. Geese shun tall grass. Even better, plant tall prairie grasses near the water’s edge.
  • Fence ‘em out. For some reason geese don’t usually cross even small low barriers they could hop or fly over. A fence of lightweight plastic pipe set parallel to the edge of the water may discourage them from entering small areas.

We’ve got them.  Geese are fellow city residents. We need to coexist, but a few simple tricks can discourage them from certain areas while still letting us enjoy delightful goose music as they wing overhead.

November Makes 12

Meeting a Challenge

A few years ago, we received an email from the National Wildlife Federation asking us, and millions of others, to camp in the backyard once during the summer.

Upping the Ante

Man by tent

November makes 12.

We took it to heart and then went further. Over the past twelve months, Rich and occasionally Marion camped out at least once a month. The first time was on an unusually mild December night in 2020. The last one as November 2021 ended. In brilliant sunshine, Rich set up his backpack tent about 20 feet from the garage and spent a night punctuated by coyotes and owls vocalizing in nearby woods. The night completed his camping every month for the past year.

 

 

Some months – like in the dark of winter – Rich tented in the back yard.  After an evening of reading or watching a Great Courses DVD Rich bid “Good night” and stepped into the cool evenings, snuggled into the thick sleeping bag – preheated with “Hot Hands” packs, and enjoyed the evening serenades.

Watching the Weather

January and February 2021, Rich camped back to back.  The predictions were mild for January 31st and February 1st. And, cold was on its way. So, Rich pushed away snow and set up his tent next to the barn where the chickens sleep.  He was aroused at 4:00 a.m. when the light we use to wake the birds did just that.  Between the bright light shining in his tent and the rooster’s crowing Rich gave up and came in about 4:30 a.m.  Still, the overnight counts!

Combining Interests

In warmer months when fishing beckoned, he would head to NE or SE Iowa and come back with a string of trout or panfish.

The few times we traveled further afield, we tented – March in Kansas with the campground to ourselves; September and October in the East under beautiful stars and in the pouring rain.

Why Backyard Camp?

Backyard camping is great fun, even in a tiny urban yard.  It also has these advantages over trekking to a distant state or national park:

  • Spontaneous decision. No need to take time off work or school. Just set up the tent behind the house, add a sleeping pad and bag, and camp.
  • Choosing the weather. If it’s cold, hot, windy, rainy, or (gasp) snowy, wait for a more pleasant night.
  • No camping fee or need to drive anywhere.
  • Easy to drag in many blankets and pillows that might not be taken on a camping trip somewhere.
  • During winter’s long dark nights just stay inside to watch tv or read before sleeping in the tent.
  • It’s an adventure….at least for kids.

With 12 months down, will Rich’s streak of every month camping continue?????    We’re not sure, but likely it will.

How Hardy is the Eastern Red Cedar?

On a windy cold Thanksgiving afternoon, we did something nutty. After tossing buckets and shovels into our pickup we drove north until we spotted greenish foliage popping through the road ditches dry grass.
There, we rescued six red cedar trees that are now at home in our yard.

A Hardy Tree

Few American trees have such a love-hate relationship with people as the red cedar, which is actually a Juniper. Perhaps it’s unpopular because of the plant’s amazing adaptability. Sure, it needs full sunlight but given that it thrives in heat, salty roadsides, and terrible soil it is one hardy plant! Even stiff grass competition that snuffs out other baby trees doesn’t seem to bother it.

Red cedars thrive from the Great Plains eastward to the Atlantic Ocean. In many places they are small bushes, but sometimes the tree grows big enough to interest loggers. The  aromatic wood  is used to craft cedar chests, closet linings, and even pencils. Fence posts made of it last for decades.

Why Ranchers and Farmers Dislike Cedars

Ranchers curse cedars because they spread in pastures. Cattle don’t like dining on prickly cedar twigs, and within a decade or two cedars replace the grassy food that cows love with a green desert of scrubby trees. 

What’s to Love About Red Cedars

But, a cedar grove isn’t really a desert.   Birds, especially cedar waxwings, love eating their tiny blue berries, and dense stands of cedars protect many species of wildlife from howling wind, searing sun, and predators.  

There’s more. We live in Cedar Rapids, a city named for the rugged trees that grow in rocky bluffs over the Red Cedar River. They’re small and twisted but some are over 400 years old.

We planted our cedars on the edge of our property where they will form a screen from the wind and passing car headlights. They also will give us privacy, and be a  safe home for birds that visit our feeders.

In mid-December, we’ll return to the road ditch and cut a six-foot red cedar for our Christmas tree. Cedars are scraggly and unsymmetrical, but we don’t put our tree up in the house. It will grace the Holiday season on our back deck. Pouring a few cups of sunflower seeds in its foliage creates a  living stream of ornaments as goldfinches, chickadees, cardinals, and nuthatches come and go.   

For information on red cedars and many other trees visit the website of the National Arbor Day Foundation.

Deer and COVID-19

Two years ago, hardly anyone knew what the novel Coronavirus was, but since then this crafty virus and the nasty disease it causes, COVID-19, has hardly been all over the news.  Like most people we thought it was a disease of only humans.

We were astonished to learn that a high percent of Iowa tested deer has been found positive for COVID.   With deer hunting season approaching we wondered if deer pose a threat to people either butchering an animal or eating the meat. So, we contacted Dr. Tyler Harms.  He’s the Iowa Department of Natural Resources Deer Program Leader.

Gloves and knives for cleaning deer.

Dr. Tyler Harms, head of deer project in Iowa recommends safety gloves and hand washing when processing and preparing venison.

According to him the threat seems minimal, however, he recommends the following actions for anyone processing a deer:

  • Wear rubber gloves when processing an animal.
  • Wash hands and equipment thoroughly after handling deer meat

According to Dr. Harms, Iowa’s deer are asymptomatic. They don’t seem to be getting sick or dying.

 

 

 

 

Buck in woods

Bucks are still active in December.

December is Iowa’s main deer hunting season. Over 100,000 animals are likely to be harvested. Here at Winding Pathways, we enjoy venison as local, organic, free-range meat.  But we’ll be sure to follow Dr. Harm’s advice when handling meat.

 

 

 

In many ways COVID is a mysterious disease. Where it came from remains a hazy mystery, and its variants continue to perplex people.  Now it’s been found in animals.  Iowa’s deer aren’t the only animals that test positive.  The disease has been found in leopards in zoos and mink.   It’s likely that many other animals and deer nearly everywhere carry COVID.  How they got it and how it’s spread is a mystery.

Woolly Bear Fun

Woolly Bear

You see woolly bears crossing roads and drives.

When we walked out to our mailbox on a blustery early November afternoon, we learned we weren’t alone. A solitary woolly bear slowly inched its way across our driveway.  It must have seemed like an endless walk for this intriguing creature.

Sometimes we struggle to coordinate our two legs, so we’re glad we don’t have 13 body segments like our woolly bear friend.

 

 

It gets cold in Iowa. Very cold. On some winters it’s been 25 below zero at Winding Pathways, so how do insects whose larvae emerge in the fall survive?   Well, they have it figured out.  The insect finds a safe place and just lets the freeze come. Their body actually freezes solid, and sometimes we find one tucked into our woodpile on a frosty winter morning.

Woolly bears’ larvae aren’t picky eaters. They enjoy snacking on many types of vegetation but don’t seem to do much damage.  The slow-moving caterpillars of fall become Isabella tiger moths next year.

Can they predict how severe the coming winter weather will be? Probably not and they may not even care.  They’ll spend winter frozen solid and worrying about nothing.

We love seeing woolly bears each fall and someday we may visit one of the five wooly bear festivals.  They are held in Vermillion, Oh; Banner Elk, North Carolina; Beattyville, Kentucky; Oil City, Pennsylvania; and Little Valley, New York.

Woolly bears are always fun to see. Fortunately, they have a huge range across the northern part of North America.

Why Do Woodpeckers Hammer?

“A woodpecker is hammering on my house. It’s damaging my siding and driving me nuts. What can I do?” asked a longtime friend.

Woodpeckers often hammer on buildings, and we’ve taken dozens of calls from homeowners seeking relief. There are ways to discourage the plucky birds.

Woodpeckers bang on wood for at least three reasons:

  1. Drumming. Drumming on wood or metal in a rapid burst announces the bird’s presence to others.  It is loud advertising.
  2. Nesting. Woodpeckers excavate cavities, usually in dead trees, to make a safe comfortable nest in the spring. A snug nest within an insulated wall is a great substitute for a tree.
  3. Food.  Woodpeckers make their living dining on insects lurking in wood.  Commonly this is a fall and winter activity, especially on home sided with rustic
    T 111 plywood.

We love woodpeckers, and so do most people. But, no one wants damage to their home. So, how can it be prevented?

Prevention

It’s tough to stop drumming, but the good news is that it is usually of short duration in the spring and rarely damages the home.

It is difficult to stop birds from excavating a nest, but fortunately this is relatively rare.  The long-term solution is to side the home with a durable hard material. Bricks are ideal.

Foraging may be the most common home damage. It can be extensive and comes with annoying noise as the bird removes wood to expose hidden bugs. Here are some solutions:

If building a new home, specify siding that lacks holes and cracks. If no insects can enter woodpeckers have no reason to try to extract them.

  • With a caulking gun and putty knife plug every possible hole in the home’s exterior in late winter or early spring. This prevents insects from entering.
  • If a woodpecker is foraging on a small section of the house draping light duty netting, the material sold to keep birds off cherry trees, will physically keep the birds away. Sometimes it can be stapled to an overhanging eve and to the siding below.
  • Luring a bird away from the home may work. Erect a suet feeder 40 or 50 feet away from the house. The woodpecker might prefer eating easy-to-get suet instead of digging bugs out of the home.

Perhaps the best strategy for enjoying woodpeckers but preventing damage is to protect nearby dead trees. If a tree poses no falling threat to a structure, car, or person, leaving it in place gives woodpeckers a place to drum, nest, and find tasty insect meals.

Woodpeckers are amazing and beautiful animals that bring us joy. We are fortunate to have hairy, downy, red-bellied, red-headed, pileated, flicker, and sapsucker at Winding Pathways. They enjoy our feeders and leave the house alone.