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A Talk on the Wild Side.

Black-capped Chickadees: Tiny Winter Wonders

Black-capped Chickadee
This photo is copyright (c) 2013 Dave Smith and made available under a CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 license.

As winter approaches, many birds are headed south. One tiny species, however, will hang around and tough it through the cold months. The black-capped chickadee is a common visitor to refuges and backyards across the Northern states. Weighing in at less than half an ounce, it’s incredible these birds survive freezing temperatures.

Right now (and every autumn) black-capped chickadees stash food for winter. During the summer months, these birds primarily chomp on caterpillars and other insects. In the winter they’ll eat more seeds, berries and even fat from dead animals. Black-capped chickadees would be thrilled to find your seed or suet backyard feeder this winter!

Another way they stay warm is their winter coat. A half-inch layer of feathers keeps black-capped chickadees fully insulated. At night, their body temperature drops 12-15 degrees, reducing their rate of fat consumption by about 25%. This is essential for conserving energy.

RELATED: How do birds keep warm in the winter?

If you’re interested in welcoming these birds to your yard, you can offer seed or suet feeders. Providing a roosting box, snags or evergreen trees can offer shelter from harsh elements. Enjoy these delightful winter birds!

Note: Black-capped chickadees are very similar in appearance to Carolina chickadees. This visual comparison should help you tell the difference

Protecting Sea Turtles in Vietnam by Cultivating Local Stewards and Taking on Traffickers

Levi Novey, in our International Affairs Program, tells us about some of the work of the Marine Turtle Conservation Fund

sea turtle
A green sea turtle rests atop a bed of sea grass, one of its primary food sources. Photo by Baillieux Daniel via Flickr under a Creative Commons license

In partnership with the International Union for Conservation of Nature – Vietnam (IUCN-Vietnam), the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, through our Marine Turtle Conservation Fund, is cultivating community backing and supporting a volunteer program to monitor and protect nesting green turtles in Vietnam’s Con Dao National Park, home of the most important sea turtle nesting beaches remaining in the country.

Volunteers help Con Dao’s park rangers protect more than 1,000 green turtle nests and about 250 nesting females. With a small staff, the rangers need volunteers to ensure that they can patrol the many remote beaches scattered throughout the Con Dao Archipelago, and protect the sea turtles and their nests from theft and disturbance. More than 500 applicants compete for 50 volunteer positions that rotate every 10 days throughout the peak of the nesting season. Volunteers, including teachers, students and health workers, camp out in remote locations, often a new experience for them.


Acushnet Sawmill Property Transformed into Natural Park

Acushnet Sawmill
The restored Acushnet Sawmill.

The Buzzards Bay Coalition and the towns of Acushnet and New Bedford recently celebrated the restoration of the former Acushnet Sawmill property and opened a milelong walking trail to the public.

Using more than $3 million from the New Bedford Harbor Natural Resource Damage Assessment and Restoration, the coalition purchased the 19-acre commercial sawmill property and transformed it into a natural area, complete with native wildflower meadows, wetlands and the meandering, free-flowing Acushnet River. Trails wind across the property and through the woods to an outlook over the river. One of the mill’s historic buildings has been carefully restored by local vocational students and turned into an environmental learning center. Bald eagles soar overhead and ducks and herring have returned to the river. Since restoring fish passage to the river in 2007, abundance of river herring has increased 16-fold!  

On the blustery November day of the celebration, nearly 200 people turned out to see the property. Community leaders spoke enthusiastically about bringing residents and students back to the river and local natural areas. Speakers also noted that the environmental transformation would help to offset and restore the impacts that have resulted from polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) in New Bedford Harbor. As Congressman William Keating said, “The sawmill took natural resources and transformed it into the infrastructure of our economy. We’re now taking revenues from the penalties of the harmful effects of industrial growth and putting it back into natural resources.”

National Wildlife Refuges and Community

 Edith Thompson, on right, with Tamarac Refuge visitor services manager Kelly Blackledge
Edith Thompson, on right, with Tamarac Refuge visitor services manager Kelly Blackledge, who is responsible for environmental education programs each year, among other tasks.

Edith Thompson tells us about her recent job swap, which involved trading Washington, DC, for Minnesota.


For 30 days, from October 26 through November 20,  I acted as project leader at Tamarac National Wildlife Refuge in Minnesota, a position vastly different than my normal U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service job in Washington, DC, working as a Congressional and Legislative Affairs specialist.

The job swap with Tamarac Refuge project leader Neil Powers was part of the 10-month Advanced Leadership Development Program that trains future leaders and provides new horizons for Service staff.  It’s a chance to get to places you might not otherwise work.


Atlantic Shorebirds Get International Help

 American oystercatcher with chick. Credit: USFWS
American oystercatcher with chick. Photo by USFWS

There's lots of conservation going on to help shorebirds in the Atlantic Flyway from their breeding grounds in the Arctic to their wintering grounds in the Caribbean and South America. The Atlantic Flyway Shorebird Initiative, in which the Service is involved, has set a goal of increasing focal shorebird populations 10% by 2025.

Take a look at this storymap to see how the initiative is addressing threats to the shorebirds.

A Welcome Dose of Wisdom

Kiah Walker, Midway Atoll National Wildlife Refuge and Battle of Midway National Memorial volunteer, captured this photo of Wisdom and her mate.

Wisdom, a Laysan albatross and the world’s oldest known banded bird in the wild, has returned to Midway Atoll National Wildlife Refuge and Battle of Midway National Memorial.

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9 Wild Animals to be Grateful for This Holiday Season

On Thanksgiving we're used to showing our gratitude to friends and family, and this year we're hoping to extend that appreciation to wildlife! With or without knowing it, these species provide us with exceptional benefits and it's time we say thank you.

  1. Pollinators: Food for a feast. Squash bees pollinate pumpkins, which makes tasty holiday pie possible.
  2. Squash BeeThis photo is courtesy of Nancy Adamson and the Xerces Society.

  3. Squirrels: Planting trees. Tree squirrels bury acorns in the ground to store food for winter. The ones they forget turn into oak trees!
  4. Squirrel with AcornThis photo, “Squirrel Acorn” is copyright (c) 2011 niXerKG and made available under a CC BY-NC 2.0 license.

  5. Oysters: Keeping water clean. An adult oyster can filter up to 50 gallons of water per day.
  6. Oyster Bed Close UpThis photo is courtesy of the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department.

  7. Bats: Tequila this holiday season? Lesser long-nosed bats pollinate agave and other cactus flowers.
  8. Lesser Long-nosed BatsPhoto courtesy of US Forest Servce.

  9. Vultures: Clean-up crew. These birds eat dead bodies of animals, preventing a world covered with decaying carcasses.
  10. Turkey VulturePhoto courtesy of Roy W. Lowe.

  11. Thistle: There are many instances of biomimicry for which we can thank nature for its incredible design inspiration. One particular case is thistle. The prickly seed burrs stick relentlessly to clothing as one walks through. These properties led to the invention of velcro!
  12. Burdock ThistleThis photo, “Pretty Dead Things” is copyright (c) 2007 Ian Muttoo and made available under a CC BY-SA 2.0 license.

  13. Snakes: Many species are beneficial to gardeners and farmers. Garter snakes eat slugs. Gopher snakes and rubber boas eat mice and rats. Sharp-tailed snakes eat Japanese beetle grubs.
  14. Gopher SnakeGopher Snake, Photo courtesy of USFWS.

  15. Sea otters: This keystone species has a major impact on its ecosystem. They eat crabs and urchins to keep the nearshore marine ecosystem healthy and stable.
  16. southern sea otter foraging for shore crabsPhoto courtesy of Lilian Carswell, USFWS.

  17. Wild turkey: This gorgeously awkward bird can be seen at many wildlife refuges across the country. Not to mention it’s the main event for many holiday feasts this time of year.
  18. Wild Turkeys Wichita Mountains Wildlife RefugeThis photo, “Wild Turkey 2 3-7-15” is copyright (c) 2015 Larry Smith and made available under a CC BY 2.0 license.

If you're looking for a way to show your gratitude for conservation this holiday, take the time and purchase a Duck Stamp.

Celebrating Manatee Awareness Month

African manatee
A young manatee swims in Gabon. Photo by Lucy Keith Diagne

Did you know that November is Manatee Awareness Month? These gentle, slow-moving marine mammals have endeared themselves to generations and long inspired tales of the sea. Early explorers of the ocean once mistook manatees for young women, fueling legends of mermaids.  In several African countries, a manatee may be known as a “mamiwata” a name given to a spirit believed to be embodied by the manatee.

Through our International Affairs Africa Regional Program, we’re working to conserve African manatees, which inhabit 21 countries in Africa.

African manatees (Trichechus senegalensis) are hunted for their meat and are caught incidentally in fishing nets.  Threats to the species are rising because manatees are a preferred bushmeat species and wildlife laws designed to protect manatees are not well-enforced. The International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) predicts that African manatee populations will decline by one-third or more within the next century.


8 Fascinating Facts About Snowy Owls

It's that time of year again, when birders and wildlife enthusiasts hope to catch a magical glimpse of a snowy owl. Historically the birds travel southward (well outside their normal range) every four years or so. This is called an irruption. But, for many reasons, not all understood, snowies have been "irrupting" more often, and some predict another banner year for Southern sightings. We figured people might start talking about snowies as sightings increase, and wanted to equip you with some interesting facts to share. 

  1. Bristles on their beaks help them sense nearby objects. The beak (nearly covered by facial feathers) is hooked and used for gripping prey and tearing flesh.

    Snowy Owl BeakThis photo, “Snowy Owl Detail 2” is copyright (c) 2015 Mark Kent and made available under a CC BY-SA 2.0 license.

  2. Needing insulation from Arctic temperatures, snowy owls have a lot of feathers. This makes them one of the heaviest owl species in North America.

    Snowy Owl FeathersThis photo, “Do I need a haircut” is copyright (c) 2015 Mike Norkum and made available under a CC BY-ND 2.0 license.

  3. Their feet are covered with feathers, like fluffy slippers. This provides ample insulation for the cold Arctic climate.

    Snowy Owl FeetThis photo, “Arctic Owl in Fuzzy Slippers” is copyright (c) 2007 Danny Barron and made available under a CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 license.

  4. They swallow small prey whole. Snowy owls will eat a variety of food including lemmings, Arctic hares, mice, ducks and seabirds.

    Snowy Owl With Prey Photo by Rick Bohn

  5. Females remain with the young, males bring the food and then females feed it to the owlets.

    Snowy Owl Female and OwletThis photo, “Snowy Owl” is copyright (c) 2006 Tony Hisgett and made available under a CC BY 2.0 license.

  6. Their wingspan is 4-5 feet on average. These powerful wings help them silently sneak up on or accelerate after prey.

    Snowy Owl FlightThis photo, “3” is copyright (c) 2010 Pat Gaines and made available under a CC BY-NC 2.0 license.

  7. Male snowy owls are almost completely white, while females are white with dark bars on her otherwise white plumage.

    Male Snowy OwlPhoto courtesy of Alaska Peninsula/Becharof National Wildlife Refuges.

  8. The Arctic summer forces snowy owls to hunt by daylight. Unlike most owls that are nocturnal, snowy owls are diurnal.

    Snowy Owl in FlightThis photo, “Forecast...Snowy” is copyright (c) 2010 Pat Gaines and made available under a CC BY-NC 2.0 license.

What to do if you see a snowy owl:

  • Keep a safe distance to observe quietly.
  • Do not play bird calls from your phone or other device.
  • Don't feed the owls
  • Avoid flashes when taking photos.
  • Keep noises to a minimum. 
  • If you find an injured owl: contact your state wildlife agency or local rehabilitator.
  • If you find a dead owl: contact your state wildlife agency.

Snowy owls on refuges across the country:

Arctic National Wildlife Refgue in Alaska

Snowy Owl at Edwin B. Forsythe NWR

Snowy owl at Edwin B. Forsythe National Wildlife Refuge in New Jersey, USFWS.

Snowy Owl at Siletz Bay NWR

Snowy owl at Siletz Bay National Wildlife Refuge in Oregon by Roy W. Lowe, USFWS.

Snowy Owl at Cypress Creek NWR

Snowy owl at Cypress Creek National Wildlife Refuge in Illinois by John Schwegman.

Snowy Owl at Hamden Slough NWRSnowy owl at Hamden Slough National Wildlife Refuge in Minnesota by Lee Kensinger.

Snowy Owl at Benton Lake NWR

Snowy owl at Benton Lake National Wildlife Refuge in Montana, USFWS.

Many Hands Makes Small Work

stream crossing
 The new stream crossing.

Craig Springer
, of our Southwest Region, tells about a new stream crossing in the Navajo Nation that benefits people and native fishes.

It’s fair to say that they earned an honest sweat—one boulder at a time.  

Staff from the Service’s New Mexico Fish and Wildlife Conservation Office (NMFWCO) along with biologists from the Navajo Nation Department of Fish and Wildlife (NNDFW) teamed up to fix a stream crossing—one to get fish upstream and to get people safely across a creek. It all happened in the rugged, high-elevation terrain of the Chuska Mountains inside the homelands of the Navajo Nation on Whiskey Creek. 

The stream pours out of the Chuska Mountains into Chaco Wash cutting a path through Canyon de Chelly National Monument, then toward the San Juan River near Mexican Hat, Utah.  Along its path these waters afford habitat for two important fish species, speckled dace and bluehead sucker. The latter of the two is considered a candidate for listing under the Navajo Nation Endangered Species List.


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