Happy vernal equinox! I trust all my loyal followers were dancing along with me (in their hearts, at least) last night during the Super Worm Moon festivities. For those of you who have no idea what I’m talking about, allow me to give a quick refresher on why this is one of my favorite times of year.
The sun is located over the Earth’s equator twice a year (spring and fall.) During this time, the sun rises due east and sets due west everywhere on Earth. The vernal (spring) and autumnal (fall) equinoxes are a time when day and night are of nearly equal lengths. Equinox is derived from the Latin words for “equal night” — aequus (equal) and nox (night.) While we are enjoying the advent of spring in the northern hemisphere, autumn is commencing in the southern hemisphere.
This year, our vernal equinox happens to fall during a full moon — a phenomenon which occurs approximately three times a century. The Native Americans and ancient civilizations, who were more in tune with the natural world, named the full moons for events that coincided with them. The March full moon is known, among other things, as the Worm Moon. This is the time of year in the northern hemisphere when the worms are emerging to feed the birds as they return along their migratory routes.
The moon’s path around our planet is more of an oval than a circle, so there are times when it is closer to us and looks slightly larger. As it rises and sets, the moon’s proximity to the horizon also makes it appear even larger. This is how some photos of “super moons” can seem so dramatic when merely looking at the night sky you can barely see a discernable size difference. March’s full moon also happens to be during this period of perigee (the point in the moon’s orbit when it is nearest to Earth.)
So, what does all this mean for Peace River Wildlife Center? A whole lot of lack of sleep! And not just because we are excited about all the lunar and solar anomalies. We are gearing up for baby bird season. If the number of baby mammals that have been flooding in the doors the past few months is any indication, we will be drowning in the little cheepers any day now.
The lengthening days and warmer weather mean the migratory birds will be returning to their northern breeding grounds and our resident birds will begin housekeeping in our backyards. Please check for nests before trimming or removing trees and bushes. The raptors and shorebirds have already started their breeding seasons and the songbirds are not far behind.
People often see a fledgling bird hopping around on a branch some distance from a nest or even on the ground. This is perfectly normal behavior for the growing bird. The best thing for these babies is to leave them alone. Mom and dad will care for them, even if they end up on the ground. If there is a dog or cat in the area, try getting the baby back up into the nest.
If the nest is too high or cannot be found, a makeshift nest can be constructed using a wicker or plastic basket or bowl. Drill holes into the bottom so water will drain through if it rains. Line the new “nest” with leaves and grass and place as high as possible in the tree near the old nest, where the baby was found, or where the parents are hanging out. Attach the nest with zip ties, wire, or screw or nail it right into the tree limb or trunk.
The same basic methods can also be used for displaced baby mammals. If the nest or den can be found, place the baby back into it or near it. Watch from a distance to see if mom returns. A mother mammal or bird will not return if a human is sensed too close to the nest, but she doesn’t care if you got your “scent” on the baby. If mom does not return after a few hours, or if the baby appears hurt — holding an appendage oddly or bleeding — it should be brought to PRWC for treatment.
Some mammals, like rabbits and deer, only return to feed their offspring twice a day, usually at dawn and dusk, to prevent attracting predators. If you find a bunny and are concerned that it has been orphaned, a little investigative work can be enlightening. Draw a circle around the nest (a slight depression in the yard, possibly lined by a few tufts of fur) with flour or a piece of string or thread. Check in the morning to see if the circle has been disturbed. If the bunny’s belly is full, mom has returned under cover of darkness to care for her kit. Despite our best efforts to raise kidnapped bunnies, his best chance at survival is to stay with his mother.
This concludes today’s lesson in astronomy, astrology, anatomy and anthropology. Tune in next week when we will discuss biology, bibliographies and botany. In case you missed last night’s celebration (because Josh refused to print WaterLine a day early in deference to this momentous holiday!) don’t feel like you must miss out completely. It’s not too late to throw that Super Worm Moon party tonight. But don’t bother to invite me — I’m still recovering from one worm too many last night.
Peace River Wildlife Center is a nonprofit organization, dedicated to the care, preservation and protection of Charlotte County’s native wildlife since 1978. They are open seven days a week year-round, including holidays. Tours are offered from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. PRWC receives no government funding and relies entirely on private donations. For more info, visit PRWildlife.org, email PeaceRiverWildlife@yahoo.com or call 941-637-3830.