Sunday, January 31, 2016


For the last couple of months, we have had a new resident in our neighborhood, and it's a barred owl.  Or maybe it's two barred owls.  Anyway, we hear an owl at night sometimes, and what it says is, "Who cooks for you?  Who cooks for you all?"  Of course, the answer to these questions is that Mom cooks for us.  My brothers, Tristan and Marius, have tried to tell the owl this by barking back when it hoots, but it still keeps asking the question.

Mom is worried about the fact that we have an owl living in our neighborhood because she is afraid an owl will decide that a little chihuahua might make a yummy meal.  So when we go out in the yard after dark, Mom goes outside with us and doesn't let us stay out very long.  Well, except for Tristan, who doesn't want to come in because he doesn't have the good sense to realize that he might get eaten by an owl.

When I did some in-depth research on barred owls, I learned that they eat small animals such as squirrels, chipmunks, mice, voles, rabbits, birds, amphibians, reptiles, and fish.  Nowhere did it say that owls eat chihuahuas, but Mom still thinks that if an owl can eat a rabbit, it can eat a chi.  Owls swallow their prey whole, except the bigger prey, which they have to rip into pieces first.

Fresh frog for supper!  Yum!

The scientific name for a barred owl is Strix varia.  Other names for it are hoot owl, eight hooter, rain owl, wood owl, and striped owl.  It has brown-and-white striped feathers, brown eyes, and a yellow beak.  All the other owls in this country have yellow eyes, so that is one way you can tell the barred owl apart from them.  Adult barred owls are 16-25 inches long, and they have a 38-49 inch wingspan.  They weigh between 1.1 and 2.3 pounds.

Owls generally roost during the day and hunt at night.  They are territorial and chase intruders away by hooting loudly.  They are most aggressive during nesting season.  Their preferred habitat is a large, mature forest, often near water.  Owl pairs probably mate for life. They like to nest in tree cavities.  But if there is not one available, they might use an abandoned stick platform nest made by a crow, hawk, or squirrel.  These owls do not migrate, so if a nest is suitable for them one year, they may use it again the next year.

Two to four eggs are laid in early spring, and the female broods them until they hatch four weeks later.  It takes four to five weeks for the young owls to fledge.  The main predators of the eggs and owlets are hawks, raccoons, weasels, cats, and great horned owls.  Barred owls live for about ten years in the wild and up to twenty-three years in captivity.

Two-week old chicks

Originally, barred owls were only found in eastern U.S. forests.  The Great Plains were a barrier to them due to the lack of suitable habitat.  But as the central part of North America became settled and was planted with trees, the owls were able to spread westward.  Once they reached the Pacific Northwest, they began to compete with the endangered spotted owl for habitat.  In some cases, barred owls and spotted owls have produced a hybrid species.

Recent studies have shown that suburban neighborhoods can also be an ideal habitat for barred owls.  In fact, scientists discovered that populations are increasing faster in suburban areas than in old growth forests.  One explanation for this may be the availability of rodents in urban areas.  Because the owls need larger, older trees for nesting, they will not move into newly developed neighborhoods.  The main danger to owls in suburban settings is from cars, but an increased number of offspring help make up for deaths from cars and disease.

©Ed Schneider, Lafayette, Louisiana, March 2009

So I guess that explains why we have barred owls living in our neighborhood now.  I just hope they came here to eat the chipmunks and squirrels, and not to eat any little dogs they might see!

Tuesday, January 19, 2016


Since it's still the Year of the Sheep (or Goat), I thought I would write an entry about the Rocky Mountain goat, which is an animal that is well known for climbing around on cliffs and crags that most animals would fall off of.  But imagine my surprise when I learned that the mountain goat is not really a goat at all!  Instead of being in the goat family, it is in a subfamily called Caprinae, or goat-antelopes, which includes species such as sheep, the chamois, and the muskox.

The range of the mountain goat includes the Rocky Mountains, the Cascades, and other mountain regions of the Western Cordillera, from Washington, Idaho, and Montana, through British Columbia, Alberta, southern Yukon and southeastern Alaska.  There are also introduced populations in other areas of the U.S.  In all, there are thought to be 100,000 members of the species in North America.

Glacier National Park; photo by Ron Niebrugge

Mountain goats are the largest mammals to live in high-altitude habitats that sometimes exceed 13,000 feet.  Most of the year, they stay above the tree line, although they migrate seasonally to higher or lower elevations within that range.  They feed on grasses, sedges, herbs, shrubs, ferns, mosses, and lichen.

Male mountain goats are called "billies," and females are called "nannies," just as if they were real goats.  Both males and females have beards, short tails, and long black horns which contain yearly growth rings.

Learning to be Mountain Goats

The reason why mountain goats are so good at climbing is because they have cloven (divided) hooves that can spread apart to improve balance.  Their feet also have rough inner pads on the bottom of each toe to provide traction, and sharp dewclaws to prevent slipping.  The animals are so strong and nimble that they can jump 12 feet in a single bound.

Bad Hair Day

 Mountain goats are white, and they have double coats.  The dense woolly undercoat is covered by an outer coat made up of longer, hollow hairs.  These thick coats allow the animals to withstand temperatures as low as -50ºF and winds of up to 100 mph.  In the spring, the goats molt by rubbing against rocks and trees.  The males molt first, and the females shed their coats after their kids have been born.

Glacier National Park; photo by Wingchi Poon
Nannies come into season in late October through early December.  Billies may dig rutting pits and put on showy fights to attract the attention of females.  Both males and females usually mate with more than one partner.  At the end of the breeding season, males and females go their separate ways, and the females form loose-knit nursery groups of up to 50 animals.

Kids are born in late May or early June.  Each nanny generally has only one offspring that weighs about 7 pounds at birth.  Within hours, kids start trying to run and climb.  After a month, the youngsters are mostly weaned, but they will follow their mothers closely for the first year of life.

Nannies protect their kids fiercely from predators such as eagles, wolves, wolverines, lynxes, bears, and cougars.  They will also position themselves below their kids on steep slopes to stop freefalls.

One time my mom saw a Rocky Mountain goat.  It was in Glacier National Park.  But I don't care if I ever see one because they live way up high where it's cold and snowy, which is not the kind of place any sensible chihuahua would want to go!

Monday, January 4, 2016


My Grandpa Claude, who was my mom's dad, got drafted during World War II.  This is something that happened to a lot of young men back in those days because the military did not have enough volunteers.

There had been a draft during WWI, but it was discontinued when that war was over.  In 1940, a new national conscription was started, even though it was still peacetime -- at least in the U.S.  This new draft required all men between 21 and 45 to register, and if their names were drawn by lottery, they would serve for one year.

In August 1941, the term of service was changed to two years.  Then after Pearl Harbor, the service was extended to the duration of the war plus 6 months, and all men between 18 and 64 were required to register.  During the course of the war, 49 million men were registered, 36 million were classified, and 10 million were inducted.

Anyway, Grandpa Claude got called up in February of 1943.  At that time, he was 31 years old, and he had been married for two and a half years.  He apparently registered for the draft in Clay County, MO, but then transferred his registration to Wyandotte County, KS, where he and Grandma Helen were living.  Grandpa Claude was working in the Fairfax bomber plant, spray-painting planes.

For his induction, Grandpa Claude went to Ft. Leavenworth, KS, which is a military base that has been around since 1827.  It is used to train a lot of officers, including some from other countries.  There have been a number of famous officers there, such as Dwight D. Eisenhower, Omar Bradley, and George S. Patton.  There is also a maximum security military prison at the base.  But it should not be confused with the Federal Penitentiary in the town of Ft. Leavenworth.

Ft. Leavenworth
Anyway, while Grandpa Claude was sitting around, waiting to find out if he would have to go to war or not, he got some Red Cross stationery and wrote down all the stuff that was happening.  Mom thinks he must have been really bored because he wasn't the type of person who usually kept a diary or anything like that.  So here's what he wrote, including all the original spellings.

Friday 12 A.M.  K.C.K
   Left home at 5:15 via taxi and arrived at buss station at 5:30.  Had to stand outside untill 6 when they opened the doors.
   We dine inside and wait untill 6:40 when we get on the buss for Fort Leavenworth.  Was 33 of us from Ward 4 on one buss and two other buss loads from K.C.  Arrived at induction station at Fort Leavenworth.  We file out of buss and line up in road 4 abreast.  They ask if we have had breakfast.  Most of the boys had'nt had their brk.  So we start marching to mess hall no 3.  Was quite a walk and was cold.  After breakfast we march down to no 4 where we get lined up to go for medical examination.
   After putting bag in no 4 basement we go inside.  The room is packed, was lucky to get to set down.  After waiting for about an hour our names was called and we lined up, got our papers and struck out for no. 1 medical examination.
   We have another wait.  Soon we have an order to strip.  We strip[,] check our clothes and line up for another wait.  We finally get started.  X Ray is first and so on down the line.  We go all over the building which takes about 45 minutes.  We get around and get clothes and get bussed.
   Time is quarter to twelve, and are marched back to mess hall for chow with orders to be back at 12:30.  We [eat] and go back[,] wait untill about 1:10.  Finally our names are called.  I get a small slip of paper and go to checking station.  My paper calls for an x ray Sat AM with no breakfast.
   Wait for an hour in station then go back to no four for my bag.  Then we march over to 15 recreation hall about one mile.  Were assigned to barracks 14.  We stand around untill 4 oclock and are called out and lined up and marched back for chow.
   We eat and march back   is 5:15  we stand around and watch the pool games for a while then go over to our barracks and make our beds lay around untill 9 when lights are out.  The wind is blowing a gale and the old stove papers rattle.  The fire builders are in every hour to build up the fires and make a lot of noise.

Sat 13
   Up at 5:30 make our beds and go to the latrine and wash.  at 6 we march to chow and back to station no one.  It isn't open and we stand around and shiver.  At 6:50 we get in and wait till 7:10 when we are sent to checking station.
   All the fellows in my barrack are either sworn in or rejected and have gone home.  at 8 they [pick] a bunch of us up at checking station and take us in ambulance to hospital.  Another hours wait and strip for stomach view and X Rays.  Another wait and we are picked up and taken back to checking station.  We march back to barracks and then back for chow.  March back and go to barracks.
   Two calls are made but my name isn't called.  at 4 we go to chow and back, and read till 9
 lights out.

Sun 14
   5:30 up.  6 chow  lay around and wait.  12:  chow.
   4 chow and march.  No calls   suppose will be here another day.
   I hate this waiting around.

That is all he wrote, but Mom knows the end of the story, which is that the Army rejected him and sent him back home to paint bomber planes.  What those x-rays showed was that he had a deformed duodenal cap which was being irritated by a duodenal ulcer.  It's just as well, really, because Grandpa Claude still helped the war effort by painting lots of planes that olive drab color that the Army always liked to use.  If Grandpa Clause had gone off and got killed, Mom would never have been born, and I would not have anyone to feed me and snuggle with me at night.  Which would have been a tragedy worse than war, if you want my opinion!